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The Sweet Smell of Exhaust
by George Heidekat
Peter St George-Hyslop
“I've been around sports cars and racing cars for as long as I've been around science,” says neurologist Peter St George-Hyslop. “My parents were scientists, and my father had a passion for cars. I distinctly remember the smell of racing fuel and Castrol R from when I was two.”
St George-Hyslop is an HHMI international research scholar at the University of Toronto who works on the molecular mechanisms that cause neurons to degenerate in Alzheimer's disease. In his office, the original engine block from a vintage Jaguar he's rebuilding serves as a coffee table.
Sports-car restoration is, refreshingly, “a more constrained problem” than probing the internal machinery of a cell, he says. “When something doesn't work in the car, you can hit it with a spanner, swear at it, and walk away. With science, if it isn't working, you've still got to keep plugging.” Still, biology “does give you fewer skinned knuckles.”
St George-Hyslop did a bit of racing as a student in the 1970s and never really hung up his driving gloves. “No hairy crashes, but I checked out the grass and weeds in the ditch on several occasions. Severely injurious to one's pride, but not to one's car. Since then, I've owned Jaguars and similar sorts of sporty cars, including a souped-up, Porsche-engined VW and a Triumph TR6.
Photo: Finn O'Hara