To Light The Darkness

Explorers of uncharted territory, pushing at the edges

July 1 1997

To Light The Darkness

Explorers of uncharted territory, pushing at the edges

July 1 1997

To Light The Darkness


The Thinkers

Explorers of uncharted territory, pushing at the edges

Some satisfy their curiosity in science, in the mysteries of the atom or the labyrinthine world of digital communication. Still others find their muse in medicine, stalking viral killers, or in the fields of pure research. And some—less scientific, but no less rigorous in their thought—trace the workings of history or dissect the foibles of modern mores to create biting satire. They dare to dream, and to explore.

Jennifer Gould

WRITER Watching the collapse of the Soviet Union from the suburban beat of The Philadelphia Inquirer, Gould longed to bear witness to that moment of history. As a cub reporter, fresh from the University of Toronto and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, she would likely have waited years to earn a foreign correspondent’s post.

“It didn’t make sense to wait,” says the Toronto-born Gould. ‘When you’re older, you don’t take as many risks.” At 24, she left the Inquirer, and with $2,500 in savings, three weeks of Russian lessons and sheer chutzpah, landed in Moscow in 1992 at the peak of post-Communist euphoria. “It was a time when I was very young and more innocent,” she laughs, “and so was the country.”

Over the next four years, both for the English-language Moscow Times and as a freelancer, Gould charted Russia’s swift descent into chaos. While most Western correspondents were waxing euphoric over the country’s capitalist milestones, she carved out her own niche, and name, chronicling the plight of what she called “democracy’s disenfranchised”—among them, the 100,000 angry youth living on Moscow’s streets. Cruising the shadowy club scene with mafiya millionaires or stumbling through Chechnya’s bloody horrors, Gould saw the dark underbelly of the emerging nation up close. And when no other Western journalist could snag a Playboy interview with the bad boy of the Russian ultraright, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, she pulled off that coup, pestering him all the way onboard a Volga river yacht, where he mused on tape about the possibility of an orgy with her.

This spring, Gould wove those experiences into a compelling narrative, Vodka, Tears, and Lenin ’s Angel, which critics have hailed for vividly conveying the textures and Kafkaesque twists of Russian life. Now a staff writer for The Village Voice in New York City, she still tracks the mushrooming Russian mob presence on this continent, and, at 29, is toying with the notion of another foreign stint. “There’s a real pompousness to this concept that you have to be older to understand politics,” says Gould. “In Russia, the ministers were in their 30s. You don’t have to be old to run a revolution, let alone a country.”

Mark Kingwell

PHILOSOPHER He is a social theoretician fascinated by everyday life, a provocateur who champions the importance of civility, and a thinker determined to make the case for reason in an era consumed by what he calls “millennial madness." An assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto, Kingwell, 34, touched a popular nerve last year with Dreams of Millennium: Report from a Culture on the Brink. A wide-ranging look at the technological, political and cultural forces shaping modern society, it ends with a heartfelt plea to reject apocalyptic cynicism—and to search instead for ways “to make this world one in which we feel at home." In April, the New York City-based Conference for the Study of Political Thought presented Kingwell with the prestigious Spitz Prize for A Civil Tongue: Justice, Dialogue and the Politics of Pluralism—an impassioned defence of the importance of open and honest dialogue in a democratic society. “We must remind ourselves that it is humans who create meaning,” says Kingwell, “and that it is in our grasp to work together to make the world a meaningful place.”

Thomas Edward Mason

PHYSICIST Among his fellow physicists,

Mason has earned an international reputation, a result of his groundbreaking research into one of nature’s great puzzles.

The 32-year-old University of Toronto physicist employs neutron scattering to study the magnetic properties of lanthanum strontium copper oxides, a newly discovered family of high-temperature superconductors.

While the existence of superconductors— materials that allow electricity to flow unimpeded by resistance—has been known for some time, little is known about precisely how and why the high-temperature variants | function as they do. Mason has been looking d for those answers in laboratories around the i world. ‘We’re trying to get at the underlying 5 origins of superconductivity,” says the native | of Dartmouth, N.S., whose work recently won him a prestigious two-year Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship. A pure scientist himself, Mason can nevertheless see “economic payoffs” down the road in cheaper energy transmission costs, expanded telecommunications and a whole new generation of magnetic resonance imaging scanners. “MRI scanners in hospitals that diagnose

tumors and other injuries could soon become less expensive and more portable,” says Mason. “In telecommunications, high-temperature superconductors could quadruple the capacity of existing cell-phone networks. We can expect more and more applications appearing over the next five to 25 years.”

Alister Campbell

BUSINESSMAN/POLITICAL STRATEGIST His salient quality, he says, is “contagious enthusiasm—I don’t do it if it ain’t fun and cool.”

That effervescence is precisely the quality that is helping Campbell, 36, shake up two institutions—the insurance industry and the Conservative party. His pedigree is certainly pin-striped: a graduate of the London School of Economics and the Wharton School of business, the Kingston, Ont., native joined Zurich Canada as vice-president, marketing and sales, two years ago. Under his stewardship, Zurich’s group sales division has grown from six employees to 100 in 18 months. In politics, Campbell helped to write provincial Tory Leader Mike Harris’s Common Sense Revolution, and then went on to co-engineer the successful Conservative campaign in 1995.

“From a pure marketing perspective,” says Campbell, “it was a great experience.” This year, he branched into federal politics, co-writing Conservative Leader Jean Charest’s electoral platform—a less gratifying experience, he concedes, “but still a great process to be part of.”

Ian Goldberg

COMPUTER WHIZ Since graduating from the University of Waterloo in 1995, Goldberg, 24, has already made a name for himself south of the border. Just months after starting graduate studies at the University of California at Berkeley, he drew international attention when, along with an office mate, he discovered a flaw in the Web browser Netscape’s security system—one that let cybercriminals track credit-card information or bank account numbers of anyone using the Internet for commerce. (The bug has since been fixed.) Naturally, Goldberg, a native of Thornhill, Ont., is now pursuing a PhD with an emphasis on computer security. ‘The weather is great,” he says. “But the political climate is odd.” The reason: until last December, a securityconscious U.S. government treated cryptography software as munitions—and it is still illegal to export the privacy-protecting programs, even via the Internet. “When I want to get actual work done,” says Goldberg, “I have to go back home.” Only in Canada.

Arthur Fuller

RESEARCHER Growing up in Regina, he showed an early appreciation of music: having started piano at 7, Fuller performed in his high-school jazz band and played flute and oboe in the concert band. “I guess I wasn’t your average teenage rock ’n’ roll fan,” says Fuller, 26, who went on to get his electrical and computer engineering degree from the University of Regina. Now a doctoral student at the University of Alberta, Fuller has transformed his lifelong love of music into a passion for the sound of music. Working with supervisor Dr. Behrouz Nowrouzian, who calls his student “one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met,” Fuller is researching how digital audio signal frequencies can be manipulated so that tones can be enhanced or diminished. The research offers great promise for the hearing impaired. If sound can be processed through digital hearing aids to meet specific needs of individuals, they too will be able to share Fuller’s appreciation of music. Companies have already expressed interest in Fuller’s research, which could be commercially available by the end of 1998.

Russell Smith

WRITER To his growing band of admirers, it will come as no surprise to learn that Smith is the first to admit he does not “lead a very settled life.” Born in Johannesburg, raised in Halifax, nurtured in Paris, the 33-yearold budding novelist and accomplished journalist has now made Toronto both his home and the wellspring of his inspiration. The desperately hip denizens of downtown Toronto are Smith’s people, a group he explored with devastating wit in his first, best-selling novel, How Insensitive, nominated in 1994 for a Governor General’s Award for fiction. Often compared with American “Brat Pack” authors, Smith himself claims: “My major literary influences have not been American but British—Evelyn Waugh, Kingsley Amis, Margaret Drabble—and French, especially [Emile] Zola and [Honoré de] Balzac.” He is currently at work on his second novel, Noise, scheduled for publication next year. “It’s another comedic look at people in Toronto leading dissipated, dissatisfied lives,” he says. “But the tone is darker, more bleak, a lot more serious.”

Jerry Pelletier

CANCER RESEARCHER He loves science. “It’s like playing,” says the 38year-old native of St-Jean, Que. “It’s like trying to solve a puzzle.” And Pelletier, an associate professor of biochemistry and oncology at Montreal’s McGill University, is proving to be very adept at putting together the pieces of a puzzle called Wilms’s tumor, a kidney cancer that affects one in 10,000 children under the age of 5. Last month, the National Cancer Institute of Canada gave Pelletier the prestigious William E. Rawls Prize, an annual award that recognizes outstanding achievement by a promising young investigator. Pelletier won the $1,000 prize—funded by Eli Lilly Canada Inc.—for his work on WT1, one of several genes linked to

Wilms’s tumor. He first helped identify the gene as a postdoctoral fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1990. In the past six years, Pelletier and his team found the mutations on the WT1 gene that cause the disease and developed a simple blood test to screen for the mutations. Because it provides a relatively simple model for the progression of cancer, Pelletier hopes that his research into Wilms’s tumor will also shed new light on the development of breast, lung and other adult cancers. Says Pelletier: ‘The challenge in the future will be to identify some of the other tumor-suppressor genes associated with the disease.”

Anne Lea Israeli

DOCTORAL STUDENT Some might call her a typical overachiever, the only child of disabled parents who pulled herself out of reduced circumstances to stand on the threshold of a bright career. But Israeli, a 25-year-old award-winning PhD candidate in clinical psychology at Halifax’s Dalhousie University, does not choose to view matters that way. “I see my background as a definite advantage,” she says. “I matured a lot earlier than some of my friends and I learned a lot sooner the value of hard work.” Born in Moncton, she was raised in the low-income housing districts of Newcastle in the Miramichi River valley. Both her parents were well-educated but unable to work. A neurological illness incapacitated Israeli’s mother, an artist and teacher, while her father, a Romanian-born quantum chemist, was disabled by spinal injuries, the result in part of his experiences as a Holocaust survivor. Still, says Israeli, “I was brought up in an enriched environment.” And she has excelled from an early age: graduating from the University of New Brunswick, she took the faculty of arts prize for highest standing and won several scholarships to finance her doctoral studies at Dalhousie. Eventually, she plans to return to New Brunswick, setting up a practice to treat eating and anxiety disorders. ‘There are not many practising psychologists with PhDs back home,” she says. “I should do well.”

Steffanie Strathdee

EPIDEMIOLOGIST Tacked onto a bulletin board above her computer are the photographs: a respected colleague, a PhD supervisor, a close friend. All are dead—all from AIDS. “They are what drive me to do what I do,” says Strathdee, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia. “This is not a job.

It is a mission.” As one of the project managers of the Centre of Excellence in HIV/AIDS Research, the 31-year-old Scarborough, Ont., native runs two major studies into how the disease is spreading among injection drug users and young gay men in Vancouver, which has Canada’s highest known incidence of HIV infection. To reach those groups, Strathdee has combined her scientific expertise with a streetwise sensibility. Drug users and gay men sit on her team’s two community advisory boards. And a recruitment campaign with the slogan ‘Take pride, take care, take part” has convinced 600 gay men under the age of 30 to chronicle their attitudes and sexual practices for Strathdee and her colleagues. Such efforts helped to earn her The Young Investigators Award in Epidemiology at last year’s International AIDS Conference in Vancouver. “My most important work,” says Strathdee, “is convincing people at risk that their lives are worth saving.”

Susannah Scott

CHEMIST It all sounds mind-bogglingly complex. In her laboratory at the University of Ottawa, Scott creates high-density polyethylenes and studies chemical reactions that occur on the surfaces of inorganic oxides. But the work of Scott and other scientists in the field of chemical catalysts, she is proud to point out, “affects almost everything anyone touches or buys.” Scott’s own work has potential to be used by companies that produce the plastic used in a range of products from pop bottles to surgical catheters. It is research that earned her the prestigious Polanyi Prize in 1994, a $15,000 award given to outstanding young Canadian researchers. The 30-year-old chemist is also passionate about teaching: she has developed and teaches her own course in the emerging field of environmental chemistry. And in April, the Arizonabased Research Corporation gave her a $50,000 Cottrell Scholar Award, which recognizes young professors who have established a solid reputation in both research and teaching. “I think almost everyone is curious about science when they are children,” says Scott. “My curiosity just stayed with me. It became my obsession.”