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Life, the Universe and TV

Three views on scientific investigation

Contrary to popular belief, most successful scientists don’t experience a “eureka” moment. The vast majority work away in their labs quietly, making incremental discoveries that, over many years, add significantly to our knowledge and understanding of a subject.

That’s how Dr. Peter St. George-Hyslop, the director of Uof T’s Centre for Research in Neurodegenerative Diseases (CRND), characterizes his work in Alzheimer’s disease over the past 15 years. “You get an interesting result, you follow it up and you do a bit more work,” he says. It’s only when you start to add up all those “interesting results” from years of painstaking lab work and detailed analysis that you can see just how far you’ve come. This fall, I spoke with St. George-Hyslop and other CRND researchers about their groundbreaking study of Alzheimer’s (see “Untangling Alzheimer’s”), a debilitating brain illness that destroys a patient’s memory and all higher thought processes. Although a cure is likely still many years away, CRND’s discoveries have yielded some intriguing possibilities for new ways to treat the disease.

Medical research tends to grab the headlines, but these are exciting times in physics, too. In May, a team of international physicists will switch on the world’s largest particle accelerator, built deep underground near Geneva, Switzerland. Scientists hope that experiments planned for the $8-billion facility will yield answers to some of the most puzzling questions about the nature of the universe. Last summer, writer Dan Falk visited the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) while it was still under construction, and spoke with some of the University of Toronto scientists involved with the project (see “God’s Laboratory”). He found their excitement contagious. Many of them, such as physics professor Richard Teuscher, consider their LHC work a high point of their careers, and hope the experimental results will resolve longstanding debates in the physics community over the fundamental forces and particles in the universe.

Uof T law grad David Shore is neither a doctor nor a scientist, but he has created a compelling television character who is – Dr. Gregory House, a maverick medical genius who heads a team of young diagnosticians at an American hospital. Shore conceived of the show as a hospital whodunit, with House, his medical detective, taking inspiration from Sherlock Holmes. As managing editor Stacey Gibson writes in her profile of Shore (see “The House That Dave Built”), the lawyer-turned-writer shares more than a few characteristics with his fictional creation. Both are highly irreverent, rebellious by nature, very successful and like to push the envelope – although there’s one important difference, says Shore: “House is smarter than I am.”

We’d like you to push your own creative envelope by entering The Great University of Toronto Photo Contest. Take a colour shot of something (or someone) related to Uof T, read the contest rules and send in your entry. We have some great prizes to give away, and winners will be published in the Summer 2008 issue. The deadline for entries is March 1, 2008, so get snapping!

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