Batteries, and ladybugs, and green crabs — oh, my!

Better put on your thinking cap, Toto. Graduate Science Research Day at UPEI is this coming Tuesday, April 6, at the K. C. Irving Chemistry Centre.

The day starts at 9 a.m. in KCI 104 (full schedule and abstracts found here) with welcomes from the Dean of Science and Assistant Vice-President of Graduate Studies. Dr. John VanLeeuwen, Professor of Epidemiology and Ruminant Health Management at the Atlantic Veterinary College, then shares insights from his research and observations in both Canada and Kenya in his keynote address: “Epidemiological investigations: finding answers to real-world health questions close and not so close to home.”

At 10:30, our graduate students in science take over with a full slate of diverse presentations. Topics include the native and invasive species of ladybird beetles in the Maritimes, the effects of cranberry extracts on human prostate cancer cells, the role of rechargeable Lithium batteries as a green technology, and many others.

UPEI Graduate Research Days 2010 continue over the next two months. Check back with the ORD Blog for details. Meantime, here’s the schedule and location for upcoming Graduate Research Days.

Faculty/Department       Date                      Location

Science                            April 6                   Rooms 104 & 128, KC Irving
Education                         April 14                 Don and Marion McDougall Hall
MAHSR                            April 14                 Don and Marion McDougall Hall
AVC                                 May 13-14           AVC Lecture Theatre A

Graduate Research
 Recognition Day              May 18                 Don and Marion McDougall Hall 

Photo credit

More power, underwater

Cover the business end of a garden hose with your thumb and you can generate a fair amount of pressure. Shove that hose, thumb and all, in the water of the kids’ pool, and, suddenly, the pressure is nearly gone. The same problem that has plagued 8-year-old boys for so long is now shared by a mussel industry trying to find a better way to fight an invasive species.

“Tunicates were first found in PEI waters about 12 years ago,” says Dr. Jeffery Davidson, professor of Health Management at UPEI’s Atlantic Veterinary College. “They’re an invasive aquatic species that attaches to mussels and farming gear. They also increase in population much quicker than mussels, so they can be a real problem.”

Mussels grow on long strands of material, called socks, hanging from the surface of the water. The current treatment for tunicates involves hauling the socks out of the water, and spraying them with high-pressure water.

“It’s effective,” says Davidson. “But it’s also a lot of work. The high-pressure water also tends to knock a few mussels off in the process, which is obviously not what the farmers want. What would be ideal would be to spray them while they’re still under water.”

This is where Davidson and his team run into the same problem as the 8-year-old with a garden hose. As soon as the spray nozzle goes under water, the resistance from the surrounding water is too great, and the pressure drops off. Davidson has found technology in Ontario that may help.

“A company called VLN Advanced Technologies has developed a nozzle that uses something it calls Reverse Flow Cavitation,” explains Davidson. “The technology creates air bubbles within the water stream, allowing the stream itself to move underwater with less resistance. We took a few mussel socks infected with tunicates for a test, and were very pleased with how the technology worked.”

Davidson’s team will conduct further tests this summer on PEI. It’s part of a three-part AIF-funded project through the PEI Aquaculture Alliance.

UPEI researchers in the news, part ten

Dragonflies in the Arctic?

The Charlottetown Guardian published a feature March 18 about a two-year, NSERC-funded research project in the Canadian North by UPEI, McGill, and the University of Toronto. The project, The Northern Biodiversity Program (NBP), uses insects and spiders to track environmental changes in the boreal, sub- and high-arctic ecosystems.

One of the components of the project is the creation of a database to catalogue millions of insect specimens collected in the North since the 1950s. Another includes a current two-year survey to update the collection.

The article quotes Dr. Donna Giberson, professor and chair of biology at UPEI, who will contribute her knowledge and experience in the Canadian Arctic to NBP. She’s a veteran of seven collection trips over ten years.

In the article, Giberson mentions many recent first sightings of insects in northern communities, including that of a dragonfly in Kugluktuk, Nunavut (formerly Coppermine).

“’Those are a strange looking bug to suddenly fly by you,’ smiles Giberson.

‘And that’s what’s happening in the Arctic right now. They’ve got all of these insects they’ve never seen before and they don’t know if they’re flying north and moving their distribution or if they’re just getting off the plane or off the boat. I think more than anything it’s just going to be alerting people to (things like) this.’”

Read the entire article here. To follow the progress of the BNP, read their blog

(Photo, compliments of Dr. Donna Giberson, of Yvonne Meulenbroek, a high school student from Norman Wells, NWT. And, yes, that is a dragonfly on her nose.)

Mr. Potato Head: champion of open-source technology

Most researchers wouldn’t appreciate being called Mr. Potato Head. UPEI’s University Librarian Mark Leggott is not most researchers.

Dozens of Mr. Potato Head dolls line the windowsill of Leggott’s office in UPEI’s Robertson Library. One is dressed as the arch-villain of the Star Wars movies (Darth Tater); another wears Indiana Jones’ trademark hat and leather jacket (Taters of the Lost Ark). Others are more obscure, such as the replica of the original Mr. Potato Head, created to mark the toy’s 50th anniversary.

“In a way, Mr. Potato Head is a perfect metaphor for open-source software,” says Leggott with a grin. “One team builds the core software, then releases it to the world, asking: what could you stick in this thing to make it better?”

Leggott’s potato is Islandora: an open-source software platform to manage and archive large amounts of digital data, no matter what the format. Islandora brings together a number of other open-source programs, most notably Fedora and Drupal.

“Drupal is the front end,” explains Leggott. “It’s a content management system that’s quickly growing in popularity as a web tool. The White House’s website is created using Drupal, as is UPEI’s. Fedora is the repository for the data, and in a sense is the most important part. To be a useful, sustainable archiving tool, it must be secure, stable, and migratable. Fedora is all of that.”

Islandora was born two years ago when Leggott was building UPEI’s Virtual Research Environments, or VREs. Each VRE allows research teams to collaborate, communicate, and manage and archive their work in a secure environment.

“We ended up using the same tool to manage the University’s digital collections,” says Leggott. Eventually, Islandora would be used to create other projects such as IslandLives, which archives community and church histories from around Prince Edward Island, and IslandScholar, a digital repository for scholarly publications from the UPEI community.

As open-source software, Islandora is freely available for download. Later this year, Leggott will use Atlantic Innovation Funds, announced recently, to create a spinoff company to service Islandora users, and create software bundles, or “sprouts,” to complement the core program for specific needs.

Islandora is catching the attention of researchers and universities around the world. The University of New Brunswick and University College Dublin have installed Islandora to manage and archive some of their data; other institutions are sure to follow. 

(Photo credits)

UPEI researchers in the news, part nine

Informing the world about the dangers of sea lice in aquaculture, and discrediting an annoying piece of business jargon in Australia. Here’s a roundup of UPEI research in the news from the past few weeks.

In late January, the Charlottetown Guardian wrote a profile of a woman who had developed dementia, and the difficulties both she and he husband experienced in coping with the changes it was creating in their lives. The Guardian quoted Dr. Colleen MacQuarrie, a professor of Psychology here at UPEI.

“With a life partner you have this trajectory in your head; when dementia comes into the picture that is disrupted.”

Read the whole article here.

Also in January, the CBC Radio program Maritime Noon spoke with Dr. Larry Hammell, Innovation PEI Industry Research Chair and associate professor of Health Management at the Atlantic Veterinary College. Dr. Hammell explained some of the challenges salmon farmers are experiencing with sea lice (more details in this previous ORD Blog post).

Download or listen to the full interview here.

The Guardian published on January 30 a front-page feature on the work of UPEI’s Centre for Veterinary Epidemiology, or CVER. The article touched on a year of successes for CVER, including the announcement of two new funded research chairs, and a spot on the shortlist for one of 20 prestigious Canada Excellence Research Chairs. The story ends with a quote from Dr. Don Reynolds, Dean of AVC, about a centre that’s become a world leader in its field.

“As Atlantic Canadians, we should be proud that the world’s best are a part of our community and are so deeply committed to making a difference. It is quite remarkable to have a centre of this calibre, a world leader, in our own backyard.’’

Read the entire article here.

In February, UPEI’s Tourism Research Centre was back in the news for a report it prepared about the visiting trends of people from the other Maritime provinces. It said that while 65% of visitors to Prince Edward Island are from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, only 40% of people from those provinces have visited within the last five years.

Read the full story here.

Dr. Larry Hammell returned to the CBC Radio airwaves in February, this time on Information Morning in Saint John, New Brunswick. Dead and dying lobsters were discovered on the shores of the Bay of Fundy, some of which appeared to have been killed by a banned pesticide called Cypermethrin, which is sometimes used to control sea lice in aquaculture settings in Europe. Dr. Hammell helped people understand what this chemical is, and where it may have come from.

Listen to the whole interview here.

Lastly, UPEI research proved invaluable in explaining the confusing meaning behind a business cliché, apparently popular in Australia. The Work in Progress blog from the Sydney Morning Herald wrote a post breaking down the meanings of many popular clichés, including:

“…‘a fish rots from the head down’. Fish, in fact, rot from the gut, not from the head, as verified by fish pathologists at the University of Prince Edward Island.”

Read the whole post, “The Milli Vanilli factor and other business clichés”, here. 

(Photo: Dr. Jeff Davidson of the Shellfish Research Group appears in the Guardian)