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How do you ship a 300 million-year-old tree stump? Very carefully





In the technical shop at the Museum of Natural History in Halifax, a stone column is being prepared for shipping.

But this is no ordinary column. It’s a fossilized tree stump.

The stump is from a tree from 300 million years ago. It was part of a tropical forest south of the equator at the heart of the supercontinent Pangea.

“Trees at this time had quite a bit of hollow space, their vascular structure was around the bark area, and the inside was very loose,” said Tim Fedak, curator of geology at the Nova Scotia Museum. “So as fossils they formed because sand filled in the inside of the tree.”

Over millions of years, the tree moved thousands of kilometres, as Nova Scotia drifted northward. The fossil was discovered in the cliffs at Joggins.

Tim Fedak is the curator of geology at the Nova Scotia Museum. (Moira Donovan/CBC)

Now, it’s about to be moved again, to join other fossils from across Canada in a new “Dawn of Life” gallery at the Royal Ontario Museum.

“It’s a really important exhibit that’s opening at ROM,” said Fedak. “And this becomes a beacon to bring people’s awareness and attention … to Nova Scotia.”

Making sure the tree arrives at the ROM in one piece is “almost an art form,” said Fedak. 

“You can’t just put it in a box and and wrap it in Styrofoam,” he said.

When an object like this needs to be moved, a crate is built specifically for the purpose. Senior preparator Corey Mullins said the process has two guiding philosophies. 

“One, you build a crate that looks like it’s going to fall apart so people are really careful with it. Or you build a crate that, you know, someone could drive a truck over. And we usually use the second philosophy.”

A silicon rubber mould of the tree. (Moira Donovan/CBC)

When the fossil is ready to be shipped, it will be wrapped in a waterproof membrane and put into a crate equipped with a set of inner ribs. Then it will be sent to Ontario with a shipper specializing in moving museum goods.

Construction on the new gallery is set to start this year and is due to open in 2021.

But while the stump is at the ROM, it’ll still have a presence in Nova Scotia.

The museum has made highly-detailed moulds of the stump from silicon rubber. Casts from these moulds can be sent back to Joggins, to other museums or used in exhibits like augmented-reality displays or dioramas that show what the inside of one of these trees would have looked like.

The tree will travel to Ontario is this wooden crate. (Moira Donovan/CBC)

“It’s actually the inside of these trees that’s the most spectacular thing about Joggins and the reason Joggins is what it is today, said Fedak.

“Because in the mid-1800’s, paleontologists William Dawson and Charles Lyell were walking along the beach at Joggins and they found the bones of early reptiles inside the stumps of these trees … so historically the site’s been really important for those bones.”

Representing Nova Scotia ‘to a really high level’

For more than a hundred years, these Lepidodendron trees have been helping people understand the Carboniferous period.

Now, Fedak said this fossil will spread that knowledge to more than a million visitors to the ROM a year.

“The stump will eventually come back to Nova Scotia,” said Fedak. “But while it’s there, it represents Nova Scotia to a really high level, and it speaks back to a history that goes back to 1850 — the dawn of paleontology science and geology.”

This stump will also be representing a more recent legacy, Fedak said — that of Don Reid, the man who found it.

Reid died in 2016. In his life, he was named “the keeper of the cliffs” and recognized with the Order of Nova Scotia for having played an essential part in the designation of the Joggins fossil cliffs as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

John Calder, Reid’s longtime friend, said walking the cliffs was a daily ritual for Reid. Through a lifetime of careful collecting, he amassed a huge collection of fossils, which he bequeathed to the fossil centre.

“And it became, and it still is, the heart of the collection of the World Heritage site,” he said.

Prized collection

The fossilized stump was prized part of that collection.

Calder says Reid would be delighted to know that it’ll now form part of a gallery aimed at teaching even more people about the dawn of life.

“He just had this incredible love for the fossils of the cliffs, and he really wanted to share his love of the fossils and his fascination with them with other people,” Calder said.

“And so the idea of this fossil emissary going to the ROM to speak for Joggins and … this whole time period of Earth history — he would be thrilled.”


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





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





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





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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