This blog is part of a series that highlights new research and the innovative educators behind these stories. Here are some of the exciting research ideas that came across Top Hat’s radar – from Jupiter’s moon to the malls of America.

An ear for Europa

For the first time last fall, we got to see images of water geysers erupting on Jupiter’s icy moon Europa. News that its underground ocean may support Earth-like life further added to the intrigue.

While some scientists are looking closely at the distant moon, researchers at Arizona State University are learning how to listen to it.

Associate Professor Hongyu Yu is leading the team designing a ‘planetary stethoscope’ that could help understand the contents of the moon’s mysterious ocean.

“We want to hear what Europa has to tell us,” Yu, an exploration systems engineer told ASU Now. “And that means putting a sensitive ‘ear’ on Europa’s surface.”

Their seismometer won’t be landing on Europa anytime soon—instead, they’ll first create and test a miniature model here on Earth. Through funding from NASA, Yu’s team aims to build a 4-inch-scale model rugged enough to survive landing yet sensitive enough to detect the ocean’s tides and movements.

Exercising to keep cells young

A pool of sweat could prove to be a fountain of youth for cells, according to new research.

A study led by Brigham Young professor Larry Tucker found that adults who engaged in intensive physical activity had cells that appeared nine years younger than adults who did not exercise.

Tucker’s research looks at telomeres, the caps at the end of each strand of DNA that protect chromosomes. Telomeres become shorter as they age and as such function as biological clocks. The paper suggests regular physical activity may reduce disease risk by preserving telomeres.

Results showed that adults who exercised regularly had longer telomeres than those who were sedentary. Furthermore, the longest telomeres were observed in women who worked out intensely for 30 minutes per day and men who did 40 minutes a day, five times a week.

What is luxury?

The study of luxury covers anthropology, fashion, business, and many other disciplines. While scholarship around luxury is well-established in Europe, two universities in southern Ontario, Brock and Ryerson, looked at how the term applies in Canada in a conference this month: Nouveau Reach: Past, Present and Future of Luxury.

Panels probed everything from the symbolism behind Toronto’s World MasterCard Fashion Week to locally-made menswear and public artwork in Vancouver. Scholars also looked at the global influences that drive ‘Canadian luxury’ with panels such as “From Tehran to Tehranto: The Rich Kids of Iran and How They Impact the Taste for Luxury in Canada.”`

According to co-organizer and Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures professor Nigel Lezama “critical luxury studies gives us a large box of tools to analyse the things and experiences that we consider luxuries. It allows us to determine where value lies, whether it’s in the thing or experience itself, or whether it’s imposed by systems like capitalism, or an internal system like psychology.”

Rise and fall of the mall

As malls across America sit eerily empty and shoppers turn online, many wonder if malls will become relics of the past.

But Concordia professor Tingyu Zhou says mall culture is not dead—it’s just changing.  She says malls of the future need to become “experiential showroomsthat give customers a reason to shop there instead of just going online, like Apple stores.

Zhou recently published a study on how department stores act as “anchors” for malls and can determine whether they close or expand. This builds on her previous study of major U.S. shopping centres’ expansion and contraction from 1995–2005.

Zhou’s research highlights different types of “anchors” that help malls not only survive but thrive. While malls can incorporate art galleries, skating rinks, and college campuses, the biggest impact is when similar large stores open in the same space—a strong negative effect results.


Juanita Bawagan

Juanita Bawagan

Juanita Bawagan is a Toronto-based science writer.