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ROM plans ‘Dawn of Life’ gallery to tell story of earliest life on Earth

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Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum announced plans on Wednesday to create a “Dawn of Life” gallery that will tell the story of the earliest life on Earth.

The Willner Madge Gallery, Dawn of Life, which would be the first of its kind in North America, will contain a collection of fossils from across Canada.

ROM officials say the gallery will feature fossils from such places as Burgess Shale in Yoho and Kootenay National Parks in B.C., Joggins Fossil Cliffs in N.S., Mistaken Point in Newfoundland, and Miguasha National Park in Quebec. 

“Through its long journey, life evolved, diversified, and faced major crises,” Dr. Jean-Bernard Caron, the Richard M. Ivey Curator of Invertebrate Paleontology, said in a news release on Wednesday.

“This new gallery will invite the public to become time travellers and to discover where we all come from,” said Caron, who will oversee the creation of the gallery. 

A fossil of trilobites known as Xenasaphus Devexus. This fossil, from 460 million years ago, was found in the area of the Volkhov River, St. Petersburg, Russia. (Tina Mackenzie/CBC)

According to the ROM, the permanent gallery will be 10,000-square feet in size and is being made possible through a donation of $5 million from Toronto philanthropists Jeff Willner and Stacey Madge. All funds are in now in place for the building of the gallery, which is funded entirely through the support of donors. 

More than 100 people have donated money to support the gallery, with donations ranging from $10 to $5 million, the ROM said.

Construction is expected to begin in 2019 and the ROM hopes it will open in 2021.

The collection will trace the history of early life on Earth from nearly four billion years ago until dinosaurs appeared, Caron said at a news conference on Wednesday.

“It’s a long story,” he said.

Caron said the museum will be guided by the principle of evolution in the gallery, which will combine hundreds of fossils, interactive displays, scientific discoveries, and new media technology.

This cast of Coelophysis bauri, a theropod dinosaur, is one of the earliest known North American dinosaurs. Evidence of its last meal, a crocodilian, is preserved in its abdominal cavity. This dinosaur dates from the Late Triassic period, about 200 million years ago. The fossil is from New Mexico. (Tina Mackenzie/CBC)

The gallery will tell the story of four mass extinction events, he said. Some of these events wiped out 95 per cent of all species on Earth, he said.

“Telling the stories will provide way for the public to reflect on current issues, such as climate change and our ultimate survival on this planet,” he said.

“This family friendly gallery, which is scheduled to open in 2021, would be unique in the world and would become a key destination for many ROM visitors and visitors of this global city.”

More than half of the fossils will be from Canada, with nearly every province and territory represented, he added. It will display “national treasures,” he said.

In the release, the ROM said it makes sense for the gallery to be in Canada.

“As a leader in scientific research in early life paleontology, and home to one of the largest and most significant early life collections in the world, with many of the specimens originating from sites across Canada, the ROM is in a unique position to tell this story,” the museum said.

“This is both a global story about our shared history and an important Canadian story, as the history of life on earth can be found in the very landscape and rocks of Canada.”

The ROM said it will include its own early life collection, much of which has not been displayed before.

Gallery to ‘unlock the mysteries’ of the past

“This gallery is not only about the past, but also about the future, as the collection and associated research activities will contribute to ongoing scientific discoveries that will help us unlock the mysteries behind our distant beginnings and broaden our understanding of the world around us,” the release said.

“It’s a fascinating and perplexing story, and one the ROM is well equipped to tell.”

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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