Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Headshot of Anne McIlroy. (Bill Grimshaw)
Headshot of Anne McIlroy. (Bill Grimshaw)

Spectrum

A celebration of science, with guest star Stephen Hawking Add to ...

The Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ont., is celebrating its 10th anniversary with a "Quantum to Cosmos" festival in October -- and there is a chance that celebrity physicist Stephen Hawking may be able to make it.

Prof. Hawking, who has motor-neuron disease, is still recovering from a serious chest infection that sent him to hospital in April. The cosmologist, considered to be among the top tier of theoretical physicists in the world, had to postpone a summer visit to the institute, where he holds a distinguished research chair.

Institute director Neil Turok says he met recently with Prof. Hawking, who is out of the hospital and recuperating at home, and there is a chance he will be able to attend the festival. If not, he will appear via multimedia presentations.

The Perimeter has become a destination for top physicists, who come to Waterloo to tackle some of the most fundamental questions in science. But this festival also will feature big names in other disciplines, such as neuroscience and evolutionary biology, discussing such forward-looking subjects as the physics of the brain, the possibility of colonizing space, new forms of quantum communication, robotics, green technologies, personal genetics.

Added attractions include informal pub talks with researchers and a full-scale model of the next Mars Rover, due to leave for the Red Planet in 2011.

THE SCHWARZENEGGER EFFECT

By the age of 80, the average person loses 40 per cent of his or her muscle mass. But a discovery by Canadian stem cell researchers could lead to a drug that would rebuild aging biceps and quads or protect them from shrinkage in the first place.

The University of Ottawa's Michael Rudnicki and his colleagues found that a protein called Wnt7a increases the number of stem cells in muscle tissue in adult mice, leading to leg muscles that are 20 per cent bigger.

"If that was us, we'd feel like Arnold Schwarzenegger," Dr. Rudnicki says.

Stem cells build our bodies as embryos, giving rise to every type of cell. They continue to replenish our tissues after we're born, but as we age they become increasingly dormant. The Wnt7a protein, or a drug that mimics what it does, could be a way to encourage elderly stem cells to reproduce and get back into body building because the protein stimulates stem cells to reproduce and build muscle tissue.

So far, the research has been in mice, not people, and is still very preliminary. Dr. Rudnicki says this kind of work, aimed at getting the cells we already have to work harder, offers enormous promise for clinical applications.

SMILE, STAY MARRIED?

A new study has found that people who flashed big toothy smiles in their yearbook photos were less likely to have divorced over the course of their life than those who managed a more minimalist grin.

Matthew Hertenstein and colleagues at DePauw University in Indiana tracked down more than 600 former students between the ages of 21 and 87, and asked them about their current relationship and whether they had been divorced. Then researchers went back and looked at the yearbook photos of the volunteers. People with the tightest of smiles had five times the chance of being divorced than those with the brightest of smiles.

In a second study, the researchers asked people in a small Midwestern town who were over the age of 55 to send in their photo. Again, those with wide smiles were less likely to have divorced than those with only a hint of a grin, even if the pictures were snapped when they were five years old.

The researchers say how much we smile in photos may indicate emotional dispositions that affect our lives and relationships. Still, there were plenty of people in the study who didn't smile and had enduring relationships.

"One's smile in photos is not one's marital destiny," Dr. Hertenstein says.

To can learn more about Dr. Hertenstein's work, visit http://www.depauw.edu/learn/lab/

ZERO-TOLERANCE FOR TEENS

Many parents let their teenagers have a beer, a glass of wine or other alcoholic drinks in hopes of encouraging moderate consumption. But preliminary research done at Penn State University suggests that a zero-tolerance policy may be more effective.

Researchers surveyed 300 college freshmen, and found those whose parents allowed them to consume alcohol were more likely to binge drink than those who had been told that booze was off-limits.

Unfortunately, the researchers failed to differentiate between students allowed to have a drink with their parents at mealtime and those who'd been given permission to drink outside the house.

Anne McIlroy is The Globe and Mail's science reporter.

 

In the know

Most popular videos »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular