Current Events

A great mind lost too early: RIP Clyde Hertzman, OC

I arrived breathless into the second year of my graduate degree in public health – thrilled to be, finally, exactly where I wanted to be and amazed to find I was sort of good at it. But it was at a small symposium of northwest public health schools and faculty in 2008 when the light truly went on – Clyde Hertzman’s keynote blew my mind.

I remember the UBC professor, medical doctor, and public health researcher showing, unequivocally, how providing universal public healthcare had pushed Canada’s childhood health indicators to near the top – and conversely, the wide economic disparities made worse by a lack of access to healthcare had been pushing US childhood health indicators down for years. But before the Canadian professors in the room could puff up their chests, he offered this warning: The tide was turning in Canada – and had started turning when healthcare was short-funded during lean times in the early 1990’s, and it had never been returned to the system when the economy rebounded. We would see a similar decline in the health and intellectual capacity of our children if we didn’t correct the problem, and fast.

I had never experienced such a clear, eloquent and urgent argument illustrated so well with public health statistics. Clyde made me excited and proud to be going into a career where we joke that if you do your job right, nobody notices. His presentation was narrative, his figures were clear and inspiring, and his delivery was folksy but knowledgeable. I admit to a pretty big science nerd crush on Dr. Hertzman. I entertained thoughts of doing a PhD with him one day, long before economic considerations diverted me from further study.

Clyde died far too early – 59. I can’t help but wonder what caused his death – so strangely, found dead on a couch at a friend’s home in the UK. Spontaneous aortic dissection? Massive cardiac event? What would he have said about a death like his? Age, vulnerability to chronic disease, stress, workload… who knows. His research assistant quoted some of his last words to her, soon before his death: “Ziba, life is good.” All I can think is what a loss – potentially 20 more years of brilliant research, teaching, and policy development, lost prematurely in perhaps an ironic statistical aberration. A great mind lost too early.

I don’t have many science heroes. Marie Curie, Louis Pasteur, Norman Bethune, Nikolas Tesla. But Clyde Hertzman is certainly among them – for applying his work for good every step of the way, never ceasing to ask good questions and be unafraid of stating the implications of his research for public health and public policy; for showing what an enormous impact early childhood health and wellbeing had on later health and intellectual ability. Because of Clyde and his Human Early Learning Partnership, a generation of BC kids probably will grow up smarter and stronger than we did. And we can do no better for Clyde’s legacy than making sure that public policy is informed by his discoveries for generations to come.





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Merry Christmas!

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All Higgs’ Eve!

At approximately 4am Vancouver time (that’s 1300 CET/Geneva time) on December 12, in the mysteriously-named Filtration Plant at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) near Geneva, Switzerland, the world’s largest and most expensive research instrument, scientists and journalists will gather in a very crowded lecture hall to finally hear what’s come of the search for the Higgs boson.

From the Press Conference:

Update on the search for the Higgs Boson by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN
Geneva, 6 December 2011. A seminar will be held at CERN on 13 December at which the ATLAS and CMS experiments will present the status of their searches for the Standard Model Higgs boson. These results will be based on the analysis of considerably more data than those presented at the summer conferences, sufficient to make significant progress in the search for the Higgs boson, but not enough to make any conclusive statement on the existence or non-existence of the Higgs.
…Journalists following the webcast may submit questions through Twitter using the hashtag #Higgsupdate.
Webcast does not need accreditation.


So – after more than 1000 participating scientists, $7.5 billion Euros, and more than four years of research, we get to find out what all of these smart people have been up to lately. It’s a fascinating project, to be sure: to try to recreate the conditions that birthed our universe – if even for a second – in order to find out if the Standard Model works or not (essentially a single theory that describes the physical properties of our universe as we know it) is one of the most fundamental questions we have. Why does matter have mass?

What I’m most impressed about, however, is how researchers were able to convince their respective government agencies to spend a FORTUNE to find something they weren’t really sure existed in the first place, that the general public are scared of, and that there is no tangible benefit from.

Don’t miss Bryan Cox’s TED talk on the Higgs Boson!

Some good “real-world” analogies for the Higgs Field.

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Check it! New blog

Hi all! Here’s a first post on the new blog. It’s an interesting time to be in research… hope you’ll stick around and give your feedback!



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