UPDATED: UPEI researchers in the news, part two

 *Updated August 27th to include TSN feature on AVC's Laurie McDuffee.

Want to know what makes a true Islander? Concerned about wildlife in and around Alberta’s oil sands? Wondering what role smaller universities will play in Canada’s education system? UPEI provided answers this week.

 In an article Saturday, August 22nd, the Charlottetown Guardian asked the question, “Are you an Islander?” Guardian reporter Teresa Wright spoke with Island residents who weren’t born on the Island about the sense of isolation they often feel, not being part of what they feel to be an exclusive club. She also quoted UPEI’s Godfrey Baldacchino, Canada Research Chair in Island Studies.

“’Many of them are fairly concerned about the labeling that’s going on,’ Baldacchino said. ‘A settler to P.E.I. from another province or country is often referred to as a CFA (Come-From-Away). But this label is seen as prejudiced and mean-spirited by many new residents… It’s creating a class of second-class citizens who will never be able to belong and I think that’s an issue.’”

Tuesday the 25th, CBC Television’s Compass filed a report about the work UPEI researchers Michael van den Heuvel and Natacha Hogan are carrying out in northern Alberta. Part of the remedial program in the oil-sands project includes the construction of lakes, with waste from the oil sands making up the material for the bottom of the lake. Hogan and van den Heuvel’s research concentrates on the health of fish in these lakes. You can read the CBC News story here.

Also on Tuesday, TSN, who was on campus for the Canada Summer Games, broadcast a feature on AVC's Laurie McDuffee.  McDuffee's research involves using stem cells to promote healing of musculoskeletal tissues in horses and dogs.  Watch the feature here.

Wednesday the 26th, UPEI president Wade MacLauchlan was invited to take part in a phone-in on CBC Radio’s Maritime Noon. They asked, “With limited post-secondary funding, how do we decide where the money goes?” The phone-in was in response to a recent story in the Globe and Mail in which the so-called G5, made up of five of the largest universities in Canada, proposed that Canada centralize research and graduate studies among an elite core of universities. Maclean’s also recently ran a two-part series on the same subject.  MacLauchlan today followed up his interview with the CBC with a column in the Guardian.

Float like a volleyball player, sting like a bumble-bee researcher

Harrison Carmichael sits back in a chair in the sunny foyer of UPEI’s Duffy Science Centre. If he looks a bit awkward in this setting, it’s for a good reason: this may be the first time he’s sat still all summer. Carmichael is a third-year Biology student working on a summer research project; he’s also a setter on Prince Edward Island’s men’s volleyball team for the Canada Summer Games.

“Most days of the week, I’m in the lab in Charlottetown all day,” explains Carmichael. “Then I’m in Summerside that night to practice for the Games. Oh, and I volunteer at the hospital. This summer has flown by.”

As a researcher, Carmichael is working this summer with Donna Giberson on a project comparing the Island’s population of bumble bees with that of Cape Breton.

“We collect the bees from various sites around the Island, bring them back to the lab, freeze them, and mount them in the university’s collection,” he says. “We keep a record of what type of flower we found it on, where we found it, and what variety and sex it is.”

A student from CBU, working under UPEI adjunct professor Dave McCorquodale, is performing a similar study this summer on Cape Breton. They’ll compile notes for an eventual comparison of the two islands. 

Carmichael’s inter-provincial cooperative spirit ends, however, when he’s on the volleyball court.

“We can beat Nova Scotia, no problem,” he says with a confident grin.  “We’re the strongest team In Atlantic Canada. Our first game is against Alberta — they’re the toughest team in the country; I think we’ll give them a good game.”

That match against Alberta is 2 p.m., Monday, August 24th, in the gym of UPEI’s Chi-Wan Young Sports Centre. For more game times, check the Canada Summer Games 2009 website.

“Aren’t you going to ask me if I’ve been stung by a bumble bee?”  Carmichael asks at the end of his interview with the ORD Blog.  “Everyone else does. No, I haven’t. But I’ve been bitten by a ladybug. We have one variety of ladybug on the Island that bites, and I found it!”

UPEI undergraduate research symposium expands across the country

“To be honest, I was quite nervous four years ago when I first presented,” says Mostafa Fatehi Hassanabad, co-chair of the 2009 Computer Science Engineering Mathematics Physics Undergraduate Research Symposium, or CEMPURS. “But I think that’s half the point of the conference. It’s great practice. This was my fourth year, and I was much more comfortable, much more able to talk about my research.”

 CEMPURS began six years ago at UPEI as a forum for undergraduate students to present their findings after a summer of research. It expanded in the last few years to include students from Ryerson University, and this year brought in even more participants with the addition of University of the Fraser Valley. Presentations this year included mathematical modeling of the growth of cancerous tumours, and computer simulation of the movement of polymers through nanopores (tiny holes) in a membrane.

Dr. Daniel Ryan became UFV’s Dean of Science last summer. Before that, he was Chair of Mathematics here at UPEI,” explains Fatehi. “He was able to put us in touch with students in Abbotsford, B.C., which added a really nice dynamic to the symposium.”

CEMPURS helps give undergraduate students experience at presenting their research in a friendly, low-pressure environment. In the weeks before the symposium, participants were walked through the process of writing abstracts and making presentations in a seminar put on by Dr. Derek Lawther and Dr. Shannon Murray.

“The symposium is formal enough to give experience, but not so formal that you’re terrified of a poor reception. Almost everyone is in the same boat as far as experience. The audience is almost entirely made up of undergraduates and their faculty advisors.”

CEMPURS also expanded this year to include students from the Chemistry Department. Fatehi says they didn’t bother adding a new letter to the acronym.

“We let the ‘C’ do double duty,” he jokes. “I think maybe its C squared.”

 CEMPURS was held August 12th, in the Atlantic Veterinary College.

Using Nigerian frogs to help understand an Island problem

“Grade-five curiosity and frogs definitely go together!” laughs Dr. Natacha Hogan, associate professor of Biology and associate fellow of the Canadian Rivers Institute. “My research student, Ashleigh, understands the importance of the work, but she still sends me gleeful e-mails letting me know when our tadpoles have sprouted legs.”

Hogan’s lab began this summer building a colony of frogs called Xenopus tropicalis. What started as a gift of six adult frogs from her former lab in Ottawa quickly grew into several tanks filled with wriggling tadpoles at various stages of development.Day 19Day 19

“These particular frogs are native to Nigeria,” says Hogan, using a small net to fish a tadpole from a bubbling aquarium. “They’re handy for lab work for many reasons. They’re completely aquatic, and never require habitat other than a tank of water. And, they mature to adulthood in six months. If we were to study a native species, such as the northern leopard frog, we’d need complex habitats so they can spend time out of water, and they wouldn’t mature for at least two years.”

Xenopus tropicalis also go through metamorphosis, or change from a tadpole into a frog, in the same way that our native species do. That’s why she can use them to help understand how frogs on Prince Edward Island respond to stresses in their environment.

“I can create environmental stress simply by removing some of the water from a tadpole tank,” explains Hogan. “The hormone pathway that controls metamorphosis says, ‘Uh oh, the water is getting low. It must be late in the season. I’d better hurry up and turn into a frog.’ The result is tiny frogs.”Early metamorphsEarly metamorphs

Hogan says the various hormone pathways that make up the endocrine system are often studied independently of each other, but they don’t work in isolation. She’s studying the points at which the paths intersect.

“So if one system is interrupted, what happens to the other systems? If metamorphosis is compromised, what happens to reproduction? That’s what we’re examining.”AdultAdult

Hogan says frogs in the wild can be exposed to contaminants such as pesticides that block hormone pathways. “Take thyroid hormones, for example. Thyroid hormones control metamorphosis. Block that process, and it won’t take very long before you have a serious problem with the health and survival of the Island’s frog population.”

Hogan’s project is funded by an NSERC Discovery Grant and is called Impact of Thyroid Hormone on Reproduction in Amphibians.

She also works with Dr. Michael van den Heuvel, Canada Research Chair in Watershed Ecological Integrity, on a project assessing fish health in man-made oil-sands affected lakes in northern Alberta. Read the ORD Blog’s profile of that project here.

Photo credit: Ashleigh Allen

Research: not a bad way to spend a summer

One of the benefits of studying at UPEI is how early in your academic career you can get your hands dirty in research. It’s not unusual to see undergraduate students working here alongside faculty on cutting-edge research.  We'd like you to meet our next generation of researchers. 

This summer, 15 UPEI students won Undergraduate Student Research Awards (USRAs) from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC): some helped in the development of new, environmentally friendly batteries; some devised mathematical equations to help us better understand the growth of cancerous tumours; some performed a survey of an invasive crab species to analyze it effect on the native oyster population. (Note: these links go live on Monday, August 17th)

To read more about what these students worked on for their summer research projects, visit this web site.