July 17, 2012
When I spoke recently to Faye Mishna about online bullying, she showed me, as an aside, a video of an iPad-savvy one-year-old who can’t work out why magazine images don’t scroll and zoom at the touch of a finger.
The video concludes with the line, “For my 1 year old daughter, a magazine is an iPad that does not work. It will remain so for her whole life. Steve Jobs has coded a part of her OS.”
Way to freak me out, Internet.
My first child just celebrated his first birthday and number two is due to touch down in November. Naturally, I’m in a perpetual tizz about the ubiquity of glowing rectangles. TVs are everywhere – restaurants, doctors’ waiting rooms, shopping malls, highway billboards. Not to mention my own collection of touch-sensitive devices courtesy of Jobs.
So far, we’ve been good about keeping our devices switched off when the boy is awake, but the New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum, suggests that might all change soon.
“As a new parent, I dutifully followed the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines—no TV until two,” she wrote recently. “I did so in the manner of other parents I knew, which is to say with my first child. By 2007, when I was juggling a two-year-old and a newborn, a little TV watching in the pre-early morning seemed pretty appealing.”
Way to freak me out, legacy media.
Am I crazy to worry that glowing screens are effectively the zombie apocalypse, eating my kids’ brains and leaving them obese, sleepless, aggressive and unable to concentrate on one thing for more than a few minutes?
I asked Donna Kotsopoulos, a math educator and researcher at Wilfrid Laurier University. She pointed me to those same recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics on media use by children under two years (briefly, they strongly discourage television for kids that age, but don’t go so far as to forbid it).
I can watch them endlessly, and have such a wide range of personal reactions (Cute! Terrifying! Fun! Don’t hurt your brain! Ten years from now, you will dominate me technologically!) that I ultimately want to seek refuge in data. As it happens, Kotsopoulos is part of a research project aimed at finding out more about the effects of mobile devices on young brains.
“We are in the middle of a study right now with tablets – funded through the Ontario Centres for Excellence,” she told me. “The one we are investigating is the VINCI . The research is rather grey on the issue because most of the [current] research or policy statements do not consider mobile devices.”
Kotsopoulos and her colleague Joanne Lee run a program called LittleCounters. In these workshops, they use interactive whiteboards but they will wait to see the results of more research before they consider using tablets.This puts my mind at greater ease, as this fall, I’m planning to participate in one of these workshops with my son, and report back here. I will also update any new research results related to kids and mobile devices.
Way to not freak me out, world of university research.
The whole package
Teresa Pitman | September 26, 2014If you’ve ever bought ready-to-eat sushi, you may have noticed a blob of wasabi on the tray. It’s a convenient way to add pungent flavour to your lunch, but it also serves another purpose: it protects your food from micro-organisms. As food science professor Loong-Tak Lim explains, wasabi contains allylisothiocyanate, (AITC) a natural and potent anti-microbial that kills yeast and bacteria. Of course, not every food is enhanced by the strong flavour of wasabi, so Lim has developed a packaging system that offers the same antimicrobial benefits . Lim derives his AITC from ground mustard powder, and uses a patented nanotechnological process to spin tiny fibres that encapsulate the naturally sourced agent in the packaging. “The conventional approach to adding preservatives has been to add them to the food,” says Lim's research colleague Suramya Mihindukulasuriya. “But processing the food may break down the preservative. By having the preservative in the packaging, we don’t need as high a concentration to enhance the shelf-life, safety and quality of the food.” So-called “active packaging,” responds to changes in the environment and the food itself, Lim says. In this case, the membrane responds to a certain level of moisture and releases a preservative to prevent spoiling. Other active packaging materials respond to heat and light. Mihindukulasuriya works with a preservative called hexanal, the volatile organic compound you smell when you cut grass or slice a cucumber. Hexanal helps preserve cell membranes of fruits and vegetables so they don’t become soft or soggy as they ripen. The preservative also has some anti-microbial properties, which are activated by heat and humidity. Mihindukulasuriya calls her technique of enclosing the preservative using ultra-high electrical forces “electrospinning.” Lim jokes that “we are like Spiderman, spinning tiny fibres.” And the fibres are tiny – about 400 times smaller than a human hair. When exposed to humidity or water, these fibres become permeable and release the hexanal. During her PhD studies, Mihindukulasuriya also developed an oxygen indicator that is activated by ultraviolet radiation. When there is little or no oxygen in the package, the indicator is white, but if the package is damaged or torn, allowing oxygen to enter, the indicator turns blue. This matters because oxygen causes rapid deterioration of some foods, and higher levels of oxygen encourage the growth of more micro-organisms. These foods are sealed in vacuum packs or in packages flushed with nitrogen to remove the oxygen, but if the package becomes damaged at some point, oxygen can get inside. That’s where Mihindukulasuriya’s product comes in: a label with a blue line would indicate that the package should not be purchased. What’s next in active and intelligent packaging? Mihindukulasuriya is planning to develop a compound that will detect the volatile compounds produced by food when it spoils and indicate to consumers that the food should not be eaten. The technique would supplement expiry dates, which are only estimates based on typical situations. Not only would such packaging warn people that food had spoiled, it could also reassure them when it was safe to eat – even if the expiry date had passed. “People throw away lots of food that has expired but is still perfectly good to eat,” says Lim. This article was originally published by the University of Guelph. It has been edited for brevity, clarity and style, and is republished here with permission.