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Research aimed at boosting inclusion in science

Thu, 01/14/2021 - 00:58

A research team in the Faculty of Science is speaking with students, staff, and faculty to create a better picture and develop a deeper understanding of the academic climate. Through a series of research studies, members will collect and analyze data with an end goal of improving equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) within science.

Postdoctoral fellow Michael Godfrey (BHK 2014) started the research series in Fall 2020 by conducting semi-structured interviews with faculty, staff, and students from within science with the project called “Exploring the academic climate for LGBTQ2S+ students in science.”

“The volunteer interviewees shared their personal perspectives of the atmosphere that they feel exists for LGBTQ2S+ science students — and ultimately how this climate may influence a student’s career aspirations,” says Dr. Godfrey.

“We will be using the findings from the interviews to educate students, faculty, and staff, as well as administration, about the current climate within the Faculty of Science and inform interventions to maximize LGBTQ2S+ students’ comfort and persistence within STEM fields.”

Participation was completely voluntary and responses confidential. Godfrey created the interview with colleagues Tricia Carmichael, chemistry and biochemistry professor, and psychology assistant professor Dana Menard. Together they recruited volunteers through email and social media campaigns.

“We interviewed individuals who belong to the LGBTQ2S+ community, as well and those who do not, because we understand the importance of gaining multiple perspectives to garner a more holistic understanding of the current climate,” Godfrey says.

After finishing his human kinetics degree at UWindsor, Godfrey went on to complete Masters and doctoral studies with a focus on sports psychology, looking at how cultural diversity affects the cohesiveness of teams and group dynamics.

He says he explored how cultural diversity, specifically ethnic diversity, influenced cohesion and he found that with university teams, the more diverse the team, the more united the team was in practice and game situations. With this post-doctoral position, Godfrey will carry over his research expertise to explore EDI in science, as he discovered there is a minimal amount of Canadian research into the effects of diversity in academia.

“Our research results will not only be used to educate and inform interventions to maximize LGBTQ2S+ students’ comfort and persistence within STEM fields at UWindsor from the administration down, but we plan to expand our research to a nation-wide platform, so we can compare academic climates across Canada,” he says.

“We’ve already made some strong steps forward towards positive EDI progress with efforts like the annual LGBTQ2S+ in STEM conference organized by the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and we want to capitalize on the momentum to continue raising awareness for this under-represented community.”

The team is currently preparing a second study, “Ethnic Diversity in Science Research Group/Lab Contexts,” with plans to look at diversity in research labs, how the ethnic and cultural make-up affects cohesion of the lab team.

Dr. Carmichael says the postdoctoral research position arose from an EDI working group, which recently turned into a task force.

“There is a deep need for this type of open discussion accompanied by the ability to adapt and change — to successfully create an inclusive climate where everyone on campus feels comfortable,” says Carmichael, who leads the task force.

“We are providing a space to encourage everyone in science ­— the interviews have been very successful and we will continue this research.”

The EDI taskforce is now actively recruiting members for the taskforce. Interested students, staff, and faculty may email Carmichael at tricia.carmichael@uwindsor.ca. To volunteer for an interview, contact Godfrey at Michael.Godfrey@uwindsor.ca.

Godfrey notes it is important to make changes at the departmental and administration levels, but there are also simple gestures we can all make.

“Hanging rainbow stickers on our office door or adding pronouns to our email signatures identify us as an open-minded community of allies,” he says. “Don’t underestimate the power of micro-support to set new norms.”

—Sara Elliott

Michael GodfreyTricia CarmichaelDana MénardStrategic Priority: Provide an exceptional undergraduate experienceAcademic Area: Science

Geographic overlap promotes different feather colours, but similar songs, in birds

Wed, 01/13/2021 - 00:30

Animals exhibit a tremendous diversity of colours and sounds, but closely related species often have similar characteristics, such as leopards and jaguars. When related species occur in the same geographic area, however, they may instead possess distinctive features that serve as signals of species identity.

A new investigation, published Wednesday in the scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, explores how geographic overlap might impact two common bird characteristics: feather colour and song. The University of Windsor research team measured the feather colour and songs of 90 species of North American warblers. The results show that birds with more overlap in geographic range exhibit greater differences in feather colouration, but more similar songs.

“Our research is unique because we demonstrate that overlapping geographic ranges impacts how two different signals evolve,” says Rick Simpson, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Windsor and the lead author of the study.

According to Stéphanie Doucet, the senior author of the study: “our findings suggest that feather colouration is likely an important signal of species identity in North American warblers.”

The authors used state-of-the-art instruments to measure the feather colour of specimens from natural history museums for each of the 90 species of songbirds. Next, they measured the acoustic features of the songs of these same species. The team of five researchers then compared plumage and song features to the geographic ranges of the birds.

“We were surprised to find that bird songs were more similar when two species had highly overlapping ranges,” said biology professor Dan Mennill, who contributed his bioacoustic expertise to the investigation. “Bird species with highly overlapping ranges have more similar songs even though their feather colours are different. We speculate that different forces shape the evolution of song, such as selection for enhanced transmission through similar habitats.”

Another interesting finding from this new study concerns crowding. When more species of warbler co-occur in a geographic area, it is harder for them to stand out from one another.

“Think about trying to distinguish yourself from other people at a costume party. If there are only a few people in that room, it is easy to stand out! But if that party is very crowded, you are more likely to have a similar costume to someone else,” explained Dr. Simpson.

“These bird signals work the same way. For example, there are only so many colours in the palette of bird feathers, and if there are 30 or more species all in the same geographic area, it is much harder for them to appear different than if there are only two or three species.”

Overall, the study illustrates the complex ways in which bird communication signals can be affected by overlap in their geographic range. This work by Simpson and his colleagues provides important new insight into how bird signals, especially feather colour, became so diverse.

Rick SimpsonStephanie DoucetDan MennillAllison MistakidisStrategic Priority: Pursue strengths in research and graduate educationAcademic Area: ResearchScienceBiology

Physics celebrating star students

Tue, 01/12/2021 - 00:30

The Department of Physics is celebrating two of its brightest scholars with the announcement of fourth-year undergraduate Emma Blanchette as the recipient of the 2020 Lucjan Krause Scholarship, and doctoral candidate Aaron Bondy as the winner of the Tom & Mylo Drake Physics Research Prize.

Blanchette, an Outstanding Scholar, takes the Lucjan Krause award and $1,000 for her consistent record of academic achievement, her outstanding service to the department and the University, and three years researching bacterial pathogen detection using laser induced breakdown spectroscopy with her supervisor, Steven Rehse, head of the Department of Physics. She says Dr. Rehse’s exemplary dedication to mentoring his students is not only encouraging, but inspires her to succeed.

“I was very excited about winning the Lucjan Krause scholarship,” says Blanchette. “It is extremely encouraging to receive a scholarship in recognition of the academic and departmental work I’ve done, and it has certainly motivated me to reach even further.”

Blanchette was also a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Undergraduate Research Awards 2020 summer student. She presented her lab group’s research on developing a nearly real-time medical test for the diagnosis of pathogenic bacteria with their poster, Signal Optimization and Chemometric Analysis of Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy Bacterial Spectra to Quantify Detection Limits and Improve Classification Accuracy, online during the Canadian Association of Physicists annual Congress, June 2020.

Bondy will receive $1,200 as the third student to win the Tom & Mylo Drake Physics Research, a prize created by university professor emeritus Gordon Drake ­to recognize and celebrate excellence in physics research achievements, in honour of his family.

The doctoral candidate specializes in theoretical atomic physics research where he computes and analyzes the effects of atomic processes such as radioactive beta decay, where one atom changes into another. He says this probes for fundamental new physics beyond what we currently know, to reveal genuine differences between theory and experiment.

“The award means a lot to me. I thoroughly enjoy the research I do, and it is nice to be recognized for it,” says Bondy. “This award bears the name of my supervisor, Dr. Drake, and is named after his parents — this adds tremendous value to the award as Dr. Drake has been a great mentor to me and I am very grateful for this.”

Bondy was selected for his exceptional record of research achievement that has been recognized nationally and internationally. He won an NSERC Canada Graduate Scholarship - Michael Smith Foreign Study Supplement; studied for a semester at Drake University in Iowa; won first place in the Division of Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics Canada’s (DAMOPC) Divisional Oral Presentation Competition; and ranked third in the overall Oral Presentation Competition of the 2020 Canadian Association of Physicist's Congress.

Rehse says Blanchette and Bondy truly demonstrate students’ commitment to service within the Faculty of Science and the University, and bring recognition and honour to the Department of Physics.

“These scholarships provide an exceptional and supportive learning experience for high-achieving students, emphasizing depth and breadth of research-based academic inquiry, strong and ongoing faculty-student mentorship, effective communication of research achievement, and achievement of external recognition of academic excellence,” says Rehse.

Lucjan Krause headed the Department of Physics through the formative decades of the 1960s and ’70s. His family established the scholarship to recognize deserving undergraduate students in any physics program who bring recognition and honour to the University of Windsor’s Department of Physics through their academic and scientific endeavors.

—Sara Elliott

Emma BlanchetteAaron BondySteven RehseGordon DrakeAcademic Area: SciencePhysics

UWindsor researchers listed among top academics in their fields

Wed, 01/06/2021 - 00:51

Researchers at the University of Windsor rub elbows with Nobel laureates and other great minds in a new database listing the world’s top academics in their respective disciplines.

The searchable database, developed by researchers at Stanford University, lists more than 100,000 of the most-cited academics in their fields of study. Twenty-eight current and retired UWindsor professors rank in the top two per cent of most-cited researchers in the world.

“This list shows the quality and quantity of ground-breaking work being done by UWindsor researchers across the spectrum of disciplines,” said K.W. Michael Siu, UWindsor’s vice-president, research and innovation. “I’m delighted so many of our academics have been recognized in this way.”

The study, published recently in the journal Plos Biology, is based on metrics that assess the publication records and citations of more than 6.88 million academics from 1965 to 2019. The formula corrects for self-citations.

Of the 28 UWindsor researchers on the list, eight are from the Faculty of Engineering, including dean Mehrdad Saif.

“I am honoured to be on the list of the top two per cent of engineers in the world,” said Dr. Saif. “It is also an honour to be in the company of 27 other past or present distinguished scholar colleagues and friends from the University of Windsor. I congratulate them all for their notable research accomplishments and look to see more members of our university community joining the list in future years.”

Dean of science Chris Houser also made the list. He explained that there are faculty members with more publications and citations than he has, but they got edged out because they are in more crowded disciplines.

Fifteen of the UWindsor researchers on the list are from the Faculty of Science. Also on the list are two former business professors and three from the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.

—Sarah Sacheli

Mehrdad SaifK.W. Michael SiuChris HouserStrategic Priority: Pursue strengths in research and graduate educationRecruit and retain the best faculty and staffAcademic Area: Arts, Humanities and Social SciencesBusinessEngineeringResearchScience

Co-op students work with COVID-tracing technology start-up

Mon, 01/04/2021 - 00:17

Four UWindsor students — three majoring in computer science and one in business — had an opportunity to make a direct impact on the spread of COVID-19, securing co-operative education placements with a company developing products to help manage testing for the disease.

The start-up, Audacia Bioscience, specializes in immunoassays and has used that expertise to develop antibody and antigen tests as well as virtual clinical trial software. The four students — Julia Garant, Raj Patel, Jenil Bhindi, and Max Ouellette — worked with the organization at the infancy stages of understanding the pandemic back in March, tasked with the development and launch strategy for one of its products that collects data from tests and trial.

They learned new skills as they were onboarded remotely and worked in a fast-paced environment in uncertain times from their desks at home.

Jon Brooks, chief operations officer at Audacia Bioscience, said each of the students make a unique contribution to advancing the project.

Patel is an “exceptional” back-end programmer, Brooks said: “Immediately understanding how the needs of the business can intersect with the technical challenges of platforms is extraordinarily helpful in bringing projects to completion.”

Bhindi was largely responsible for the contact tracing portion of the firm’s Employee Assessment App

“At the time, the contact tracing component was a very new and unique piece of technology,” said Brooks. “Jenil was able to unpack it, understand it, and very quickly work to integrate it into our current tech.”

He called Garant’s contributions “critical” as a designer and programmer of the user experience.

“Working remotely, one of the big challenges is conveying what you want out of a layout or an idea. In person, it's easy enough to sketch out an idea, or use examples to illustrate your needs,” he said. “With remote work, the ability to pick up on the key points of a layout through virtual meetings or instant messaging and transform that into a working model that developers can use and understand is invaluable.”

Brooks also praised Ouellette, a student of the Odette School of Business.

“Max was integral in developing our sales channels and helping set up our supply chain in a wildly unpredictable time,” Brooks said. “Max worked on the market research required to secure clients, as well nailing down pitches that were curated to different market segments.”

Kristen Morris, manager of Co-operative Education and Workplace Partnerships, said she was excited by the opportunities afforded these students by the federal Student Work Placement Program.

“This funding allowed us to bring this employer from never hiring co-op students before to securing four students in one term,” said Morris. “This type of industry exposure at the infancy stages of a pandemic would not have been possible otherwise and we are happy to partner with organizations to secure funding allowing them to move faster and have the latest classroom learning come alive within a project like this.”

Julia GarantRaj PatelJenil BhindiMax OuelletteKristen MorrisOffice of Experiential LearningCo-operative Education and Workplace PartnershipsStrategic Priority: Engage in community partnershipsProvide an exceptional undergraduate experienceAcademic Area: BusinessScienceComputer Science

UWindsor researchers helping to develop COVID19 immunity test

Fri, 12/18/2020 - 00:56

After receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, you will want to know if you have gained immunity to the very contagious and potentially life-threatening virus. UWindsor professor John Trant is working with a biomedical industry partner to develop a simple antibody test that will quickly tell if the vaccine has boosted your immune system enough to create antibodies that will fight off the coronavirus.

“With just a few minutes and a drop of blood, we will be able to determine if the vaccine has made you immune to COVID-19,” says Dr. Trant, a chemistry and biochemistry professor.

A joint partnership grant of $75,000 from Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and Ontario Centres of Excellence through their Alliance VIP Partnership for Industry, along with support from the industry partner, Windsor-based biomedical company Audacia Bioscience, will finance the COVID-19 Neutralizing Antibody Test Kit.

Trant and his team of graduate students are helping test the chemistry of the antibody test, which is made as a lateral flow test: using a simple device called a lateral flow cassette, the tool detects the presence of a target substance in a liquid sample.

“Most people are familiar with a home pregnancy test which uses a lateral flow cassette to look for and measure the presence and level of the Human Chorionic Gonadotropin Hormone in a woman’s urine,” Trant says.

“With the COVID19 test, the cassette tests for the presence of antibodies in your blood. You only need to prick your finger and the cassette can detect and measure the number of antibodies, so in this case two pink lines mean you can celebrate COVID-19 immunity.”

Phillip Olla is the CEO of Audacia Bioscience, which he runs with his partner, chief scientific officer Stephen Bartol. Dr. Olla says even with availability of the vaccine, a certain percentage of the population must be inoculated and demonstrating immunity for life to return to normal.

“It is critical that we have an uncomplicated and fast way to determine the state of the immune response to various vaccines, including how long that immunity will last, whether that is three months, six months, or two years,” says Olla. “Determining if a patient has immunity, and for how long they have immunity, will be valuable in knowing who may need a booster shot or who may need to try a different vaccine altogether.”

The research team is currently investigating a prototype test to check how long protection lasts and what level of antibodies determine an immunity level.

“We are making sure this rapid test is reliable and can do what we need — that the buffer fluid works quickly enough, that the test’s sensitivity is accurate to measure low, medium, and high antibody level,s and that the materials we’ve chosen will not damage or destroy the antibodies,” says Trant.

Once his research team has validated the cassette, Audacia Bioscience will start testing immunized individuals. This data will start to paint a picture and they could even be able to determine how gender, or different ethnicities, may affect reactions to the vaccine.

Much of this project is about building up irrefutable scientific data, says Olla, data that will help the public understand and therefore trust the safety of various vaccines.

“We need 70 per cent of the population to voluntarily get vaccinated to eradicate the virus, or at least make it scarce,” he says.

“More people will get the vaccine if they feel safe, so it is crucial we start collecting the data now, and that researchers openly shares their results, so six months from now when the vaccine is more widely available, we will have collected an appropriate amount of information — it’s building trust through data.”

John TrantStrategic Priority: Engage in community partnershipsPursue strengths in research and graduate educationAcademic Area: ResearchScienceChemistry & Biochemistry

Collaboration to train students in creatively communicating STEM research

Fri, 12/18/2020 - 00:49

The Faculty of Science and Faculty of Engineering are collaborating with partners from the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences on a project that aims to enhance students’ science communications skills through arts training.

The Science Communication Skills grant is a one-year pilot program funded with $20,000 from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

The partnership will ensure UWindsor trains future scientists and engineers to become effective communicators in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields through writing, film and media, drama, music, and visual art.

“By improving science communication skills, we see an increase in science literacy, as well as introduce the role of using science in evidence-based decision making, while countering science-related misinformation — this strengthens the appreciation of science in Canadian society,” says Chris Houser, dean of science.

Students, mainly from the faculties of science and engineering, will be challenged to translate scientific knowledge into engaging common language through creative means, while maintaining scientific accuracy. A masterclass series will offer students training in creative writing, dramatic arts, visual arts, music, and film and media, taught by leading FAHSS arts scholars.

The project includes experiential learning specialist Michelle Bondy from the Faculty of Science and learning specialist Lisa Salfi from the Faculty of Engineering. They will recruit students from their respective disciplines, share results of the classes through the various school and community outreach programs, and help plan the masterclasses.

Prof. Salfi says many students struggle with writing their complex ideas in simple and clear terms. She says this project encourages students to translate their contemporary science and engineering issues to communicate to non-specialists.

“In order for their ideas, ingenuity, and critical work to be understood and adopted, engineers and scientists must be capable of communicating clearly and effectively to various audiences,” she says.

“Clear communication through audience accommodation will help to prevent the scientific misinformation that is widespread today with the prevalence of social media and internet news sources and will, in turn, protect public welfare, which is the cornerstone of engineering.”

Dr. Houser has been championing the integration of the arts into science since his arrival in UWindsor in 2016. He is joined in that passion, and in this project, by biomedical sciences professor Dora Cavallo-Medved, faculty advisor for the USci Network. In 2017, they helped establish a student-led initiative called Science Meets Art (SMArt). Under the SMArt umbrella, artists, who are also UWindsor science students, have put on showcases, created original artwork for scientific journals, and designed a range of creative inclusivity posters.

In 2018, Houser collaborated with drama professor Michelle MacArthur to offer the science-based drama course, Staging science.

“We tend to focus student training on discipline-specific research and analytical methods,” says Houser. “Yet employers seek graduates who are able to communicate with a diverse audience, putting our future scientists and engineers at a disadvantage in communicating their science to non-specialists in a world of democratized knowledge through social media.”

Participants will not receive course credit for the masterclasses, but will be acknowledged through student recognition programs such as the LEAD medallion program and certificates. They will also have an opportunity to learn skills by participating in both STEM faculties’ various outreach programs as well as showcasing their masterclass projects in a proposed one-day SMArt Communications Symposium.

Masterclass workshops will launch in Fall 2021. The pilot grant also plans to develop a universal, usable model for other institutions to adapt into their curricula.

“It is not just about expanding the capabilities of our science and engineering training here at UWindsor,” Houser says. “It is about creating an adaptable model for other institutions to follow, so future scientists and engineers everywhere are able to effectively communicate.”

—Sara Elliott

Strategic Priority: Provide an exceptional undergraduate experienceAcademic Area: Arts, Humanities and Social SciencesCommunications, Media & FilmCreative ArtsDramaEngineeringScience

Cleaner energy work earns recognition for science researcher

Wed, 12/16/2020 - 00:28

UWindsor professor Marcus Drover has been awarded the 2020 John Charles Polanyi Prize in Chemistry in recognition of his work in developing cleaner energy sources as an early-career researcher in the province of Ontario. The award, valued at $20,000, is given to five Ontario researchers in the fields of Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, and Economic Science.

Annually since 1987, the Council of Ontario Universities has recognized five researchers in the early stages of their careers, in honour of Dr. Polanyi, the 1986 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. This is only the second time a UWindsor researcher has received this award; in 1996, Sang-Chul Suh from the Department of Economics won.

“It is an incredible honour to win such a prestigious prize in a highly competitive pool of early-career researchers — and moreover, to be the first to win in the natural sciences in the history of UWindsor,” says Dr. Drover. “It’s an incredible feeling.”

Drover, hired in 2019, is an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

As a synthetic chemist, Drover says he likes to make “molecules with a purpose, molecules with the potential to combat the global energy crisis as rates of fossil fuel consumption continue to skyrocket.

“To ensure the well-being of future generations, it is imperative that we work to curtail greenhouse gas emissions, invest in alternative energy sources, and discover superior and more efficient routes for the synthesis of speciality chemicals, such as pharmaceuticals for health, agrochemicals to enhance crop yield, and advanced chemicals such as those found in organic light emitting polymers for display technologies.”

In spring 2020, he received an NSERC Discovery grant and early-career supplement for his research program, “New Technologies for Sustainable Chemistry: An Organometallic Future in Clean Energy.” Drover says his research team believes in an “organometallic future” to clean energy, employing chemical synthesis and metal-based reactivity to target these goals.

“My group’s interests comprise concepts broadly related to catalysis using novel constructs having structure and/or bonding properties that can be leveraged for the development of new reactions with creative design elements inspired by nature,” he says.

“We are looking at alternative fuels, and energy-based research by revamping and reusing waste products and turning them into value-added molecules and sources of energy.”

In March 2020, as the academic conference season shut down in response to the pandemic, Drover co-founded an online chemistry discussion group that allowed chemists to share research and forge new collaborative partnerships. The Global Inorganic Discussion Weekend continues to draw a crowd and has now hosted more than more than 80 speakers from around the world.

Drover says starting his career at UWindsor has been incredible — phenomenal facilities and openness of others to collaboration really makes the University a fantastic training ground for young inorganic chemists.

“At the end of the day, students need to gain a certain skill-set, and they will most certainly get that opportunity here,” he says. “It is inspiring and satisfying to apply transformations that could be applied to actual real-life problems, and most importantly, we’re having a lot of fun doing it!”

—Sara Elliott

Marcus DroverStrategic Priority: Recruit and retain the best faculty and staffAcademic Area: ScienceChemistry & Biochemistry

Research team exploring municipal resilience in pandemic

Wed, 12/16/2020 - 00:24

The current global COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 is poised to create a humanitarian crisis in terms of the loss of human life, long term health impacts, and socio-economic upheaval. However, the severity of such impacts varies widely by country, by region, and even city and by city.

A column written by civil engineering professor Edwin Tam for the latest issue of WE, the Faculty of Engineering’s annual magazine, notes that months in, there are still widely varying incidents of COVID-19 within the same region as the world faces ongoing waves of the pandemic.

A team of UWindsor scholars — Anneke Smit from law, Tirupati Bolisetti from civil engineering, and Myron Hlynka and Mohamed Belalia from mathematics and statistics, as well as Dr. Tam — is researching what are preferred characteristics and actions for municipalities to improve their resiliency to respond to and recover from pandemic scenarios.

“The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted how critical the medical services, transportation of goods and services, information technologies, and municipal utilities are to maintaining a functioning community. What differs by location is the resiliency to sustainably deliver goods and services, and the disruption to work, education, and social activities,” writes Tam.

“Our communities face calls to be bold and to emerge with a better, more sustainable, more resilient and fairer society out of the recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. This ongoing research will help us to rethink our urban settlements to ensure they are equitable and resilient as we confront the challenges facing us in an uncertain 21st century.”

Read the full article in the latest issue of WE, the Faculty of Engineering’s annual magazine.

Edwin TamAnneke SmitTirupati BolisettiMyron HlynkaMohamed BelaliaStrategic Priority: Pursue strengths in research and graduate educationAcademic Area: EngineeringCivil and Environmental EngineeringLawResearchScienceMathematics & Statistics

Software buy “a game-changer” for local health researchers

Mon, 12/14/2020 - 00:02

Acquiring a license for a web-based application to build and manage online research projects is a game-changer, says Lisa Porter, executive director of the WE-Spark Health Institute.

The institute purchased Research Electronic Data Capture (REDCap), used around the world to support clinical and translational research studies.

“With the number of collaborative, cross-institutional research projects growing across our region, we needed to have shared tools available to all health research stakeholders to enhance collaboration and reduce redundant systems” Dr. Porter says. “REDCap is a game-changer and puts us on the map with other world-class research institutes.”

The app will enable researchers across Windsor-Essex to collect, store, and share de-identified health research data with collaborators under one platform. Its flexibility and customization will allow users to increase the quality of their research data and increase efficiencies in the data lifecycle management.

To be granted a REDCap account, individuals must be members of WE-Spark Health Institute and belong to one of its partner organizations: Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare, St. Clair College, University of Windsor, or Windsor Regional Hospital. For more information, click here.

Lisa PorterStrategic Priority: Engage in community partnershipsPursue strengths in research and graduate educationAcademic Area: ResearchScienceBiology

Professor creating opportunities for student success during COVID-19

Wed, 12/09/2020 - 00:18

How do professors introduce first-year students to university expectations when teaching online? Dora Cavallo-Medved responds to this challenge by doing her best to recreate the in-person experience.

Currently Dr. Cavallo-Medved is teaching cell biology in two different timeslots, each with about 300 students. With this number of students, it is far more difficult to create a sense of what in-person university learning is, and to prepare first-year students for upcoming years at the University of Windsor.

By hosting real-time lectures and encouraging her students to attend them, she tried to stay as close as possible to what her class would normally be. As usual, there are labs every week and though they are less hands-on due to the limitations of creating an online lab environment, they help to create an environment where student connections can continue to be made.

Cavallo-Medved herself met many of her friends in university through the labs that she attended and has worked to create a similar environment for students. Each lab has 10 to 20 participants, allowing for more intensive discussions between students than lectures.

She has also created “Open Learning Sessions” where she covers skills pertinent to student success and creates opportunities for students to review what they have learned. Oftentimes this will include playing games such as Kahoot, having question polls, or having a session on tools for student success. Each cell biology section has one live open learning session and one lecture per week.

Dr. Cavallo-Medved advises students to consider these points to ensure success:

  1. Are you up to date?
  2. Do you have a plan to continuously self-reflect on your learning?
  3. What strategies do you have for taking exams?
  4. Ask for help.

—Bridget Heuvel

Dora Cavallo-MedvedStrategic Priority: Provide an exceptional undergraduate experienceAcademic Area: ScienceBiology

Research into COVID-19 subject of online presentation

Mon, 11/30/2020 - 00:10

UWindsor biomedical sciences professor Lisa Porter will join Wassim Saad, chief of staff at Windsor Regional Hospital, for an interactive, live webcast on the topic of research into COVID-19 at noon Wednesday, Dec. 2.

The event is part of a series hosted by the hospital to give those coping with COVID-19, their loved ones, and those who just want to learn more about the virus, a forum to share stories, ask questions, and get answers in real time.

The webcast will go live on the hospital’s Facebook page. Questions may be sent in advance to cwc@wrh.on.ca or posted in the comment section during the livestream.

Lisa PorterStrategic Priority: Engage in community partnershipsPursue strengths in research and graduate educationAcademic Area: ResearchScienceBiology

Opposites attract when forming cross-disciplinary research projects

Thu, 11/26/2020 - 01:06

As real-life social circles shrink, the Faculty of Science is looking to expand its research social circle with the 2020 Research Stimulus Fund program, Science Xcelerate.

The program is designed to encourage new cross-disciplinary projects involving Faculty of Science researchers. These projects can involve scientists working together from various Faculty of Science departments, or scientists connecting with researchers from other disciplines or even beyond the University.

“We are interested in accelerating new research ideas that connect researchers from across disciplines,” says Dan Mennill, associate dean, graduate studies and research. “We’ve already had interest from several unconventional research pairings. I am excited to find out what innovative, cross-disciplinary collaborations will arise from this program.”

The Office of Research and Innovation Services established the Research Stimulus Fund under the purview of the Vice-President, Research and Innovation, to build upon research strengths, promote future research collaborations, and enhance graduate training and experiential learning. The fund is supported by Tri-Council money arising from grant holdings from science researchers over the past three years.

This year, the Faculty of Science will use a portion of its RSF allocation to support the RSF: Science Xcelerate program. The fund will likely support two or three projects with a flexible budget of approximately $25,000 per partnership, with an expected timeline of two years.

Dean of science Chris Houser, says the faculty is especially interested in funding projects that will lead to ongoing collaborations, and projects that will leverage support in future funding competitions from outside the University.

“This new collaborative opportunity is sure to spark exciting new ideas and with just our internal RSF: Science Xcelerate announcement, we’ve already had a fantastic response,” says Dr. Houser.

For application details, or for more information, go to the Faculty of Science’s funding for faculty webpage. Applications are due no later than Friday, Dec. 11, at noon.Dan MennillChris HouserAya El-HashemiStrategic Priority: Pursue strengths in research and graduate educationAcademic Area: ResearchScience

Province’s doctors honour UWindsor professor

Thu, 11/26/2020 - 01:00

The Ontario Medical Association has extended honorary membership to UWindsor biochemistry professor Siyaram Pandey in recognition of his contributions to science.

The organization represents the political, clinical, and economic interests of Ontario physicians. Its awards citation noted Dr. Pandey’s research on apoptosis — cell suicide — which is central to various aspects of human health, including neurodegenerative diseases and cancer.

“While we are not able to gather in person this year to celebrate your achievement, I want to express my personal thank you for all that you do to support the profession and the health of Ontarians,” the association’s chief executive officer, Allan O’Dette, wrote in a letter to Pandey announcing the award.

Pandey said he was humbled and honoured by the recognition from the medical community.

“As a biochemist and scientist, I am grateful to OMA for recognizing our medically relevant research contribution,” he said. “I thank my students, collaborators, and generous support from the community for our project working on basic and applied research with naturally-derived materials with anticancer activity and neuroprotective activity.”

Siyaram PandeyAcademic Area: ScienceChemistry & Biochemistry

Record attendance marks success of cancer research conference

Thu, 11/26/2020 - 00:54

The culmination of months of planning, the fifth Biennial International Cancer Research Conference, Nov. 19 to 21, had everything, organizers say.

A record 270 registrants attended the conference, hosted virtually from Windsor by the Windsor Cancer Research Group, WE-Spark Health Institute’s flagship program.

“This was a conference that brought together all the ingredients that make cancer research and innovation flourish,” said Dora Cavallo-Medved, the group’s translational research director.

“From renowned researchers and surgeons to a visionary devoted to helping women with breast cancer. Inspiring patient stories to dynamic student presenters. An intimate EDI conversation where panellists shared their personal experiences to highlight how we can make healthcare and research more equitable, inclusive and diverse, to a virtual networking social for participants to make global connections.”

Keynote addresses were delivered by Sheila Singh, chief pediatric neurosurgeon from McMaster University, and Lucy Godley, professor of medicine from the University of Chicago. Liana Roodt, a surgeon from Cape Town, South Africa, shared her journey of launching Project Flamingo — a non-profit that provides free breast cancer surgery.

“It has been amazing to see the collaborative nature of researchers, health care professionals, students and community partners as they share their latest research findings,” said the group’s clinical research director, Caroline Hamm. “Their continued dedication to moving cancer research forward, even during a pandemic, is remarkable and will lead to better health outcomes for our patients locally and around the world.”

Attendees logged on from the Philippines, Iran, Switzerland, and South Africa, as well as Canada and the United States.

“Hosting an international cancer research conference allows us to showcase the research excellence happening in our region,” said Lisa Porter, executive director of WE-Spark Health Institute. “This puts us on the international stage and brings great recognition for what we are doing here in Windsor-Essex.”Lisa PorterDora Cavallo-MedvedStrategic Priority: Promote international engagementPursue strengths in research and graduate educationAcademic Area: ResearchScience

Online sessions an opportunity to spark research collaborations

Fri, 11/20/2020 - 00:09

WE-Spark Health Institute is hosting its second in a series of virtual Think Tanks on Friday, Dec. 4. The event will begin with an overview of three projects, followed by breakout sessions.

“Our Think Tanks provide unique opportunities for researchers, students, and our Windsor-Essex community to ignite ideas and move into research collaborations,” said executive director Lisa Porter.

The presentations include:

  • “Creating Research Teams that Impact Cancer Care for the LGBTQ+ Community,” UWindsor professors Lisa Porter (biomedical sciences) and Laurie Freeman (nursing) and Krista Naccarato, research manager at Windsor Regional Hospital;
  • “Breaking the cycle: Insufficient sleep, cerebrovascular dysfunction and sleep apnea,” kinesiology professor Anthony Bain, University of Windsor;
  • “Is Intracranial Pressure (ICP) Just a Number? The Analysis of ICP Data and Predicting Patient Outcomes within the First Hour of Monitoring,” Andrea Kassay, student, Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry - Windsor Campus.

The outcomes will focus on moving each project forward and building collaborations across Windsor-Essex.

The WE-Spark Think Tank will run 1 to 3:30 p.m. and is open to everyone. Click here for more information and to register.

Anthony BainLaurie FreemanLisa PorterAcademic Area: Human KineticsNursingResearchScienceBiology

Fish genome project attracts early attention

Thu, 11/19/2020 - 00:59

Fish farm operators and environmental consultants are beating a path to the doors of Daniel Heath and his colleagues to be first in line to use a new genomic toolkit to assess the health of freshwater species.

Dr. Heath, a professor of integrated biology at UWindsor’s Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research, is leading a $9.1 million national research project that involves, in part, developing a chip to determine whether fish are suffering from environmental problems like low oxygen levels, pollution or abnormal temperature.

The technique relies on gene expression, using minimally invasive blood samples or gill cells from fish and allowing the specimens to be sampled in the field then immediately released. It will replace traditional techniques that require fish to be caught and killed before testing — not ideal for species whose low populations put them at risk of extinction.

Heath said the technology will be ready to roll out to end users in the middle of next year at the earliest. But he’s already hearing from anxious fish farm operators and consultants who do environmental assessments for land developers. Testing for gene expression could prove to be cheaper and easier, they say.

“We had no idea people would be so interested,” said Heath, who joked he anticipated having to scrounge around for willing participants. “The level of buy-in is really high.”

The four-year research project, named GEN-FISH, aims to develop a suite of procedures to identify species and monitor stressors based on gene expression. They will also develop web-based resources and software to help users monitor and react to threats.

At UWindsor, Heath is collaborating with fellow researchers Christina Semeniuk, Trevor Pitcher, Hugh MacIsaac, Oliver Love, Phil Karpowicz, Dennis Higgs, and Amy Fitzgerald. They are among more than 70 researchers from British Columbia to New Brunswick on the project that holds the promise of ensuring the sustainability of freshwater fish stocks in Canada for generations to come.

The project will also develop management tools based on a technique called environmental DNA, or eDNA. Heath is a pioneer in eDNA, which involves the collection and analysis of water to identify all the species that exist in the ecosystem from which the water sample was drawn.

The eDNA process relies on identifying genetic material in the water. It is less invasive and more comprehensive than traditional techniques that require specimens to be captured.

The process will be used to create what Heath calls a “fish survey toolkit” in the initial part of the project. The second part of the project involves creating the “fish health toolkit” which identifies gene expression markers to denote if the fish are healthy or stressed.

The toolkits GEN-FISH researchers are developing will make Canada a world leader in the complete and accurate assessment of freshwater fish populations. They will help scientists and managers overcome the logistics of surveying and monitoring Canada’s more than two million lakes and the rivers and streams that connect them.

“This is the largest application of genomic tools for freshwater fishery management and conservation in the world,” Heath said.

The project has received funding from the federal and provincial governments, with more in-kind contributions coming from other partners.

GEN-FISH has secured its funding with the help of Ontario Genomics, a provincial agency that works with federal funding agency Genome Canada to encourage genomics innovation. Ontario Genomics is also administering the project’s funding.

“This project is a perfect example of how genomics is foundational for the development of tools and technologies that provide solutions for our most pressing problems,” said Bettina Hamelin, president and CEO of Ontario Genomics.

“At Ontario Genomics, we envision a world of healthy people, a healthy economy, and a healthy planet through genomics innovations. The GEN-FISH team’s work aligns with our goals to protect our natural habitats that constitute the livelihoods of rural, northern and Indigenous communities.”

GEN-FISH began in earnest in January, but the pandemic forced researchers to rethink their approach.

“Many of our government partners shut down or scaled back on field work,” Heath said.

Researchers were able to get back into the field by late summer, but in the interim, they relied on previously collected data, compiling eDNA profiles of fish communities, he said.

“We’ve actually made significant steps forward. We’re making progress despite the restrictions of COVID.”

—Sarah Sacheli

Daniel HeathChristina SemeniukTrevor PitcherHugh MacIsaacOliver LovePhil KarpowiczDennis HiggsAmy FitzgeraldGreat Lakes Institute for Environmental ResearchStrategic Priority: Pursue strengths in research and graduate educationAcademic Area: ResearchScience

Profs tout solutions to address income inequality

Tue, 11/17/2020 - 00:47

Economic data indicate that Canadians who were well-off before the pandemic are benefiting, while those who had been marginalized are suffering, two UWindsor instructors argue in an opinion piece published Sunday in the Toronto Star newspaper.

“Research suggests that income inequality is reaching worrisome levels,” write economics professor emeritus Ron Meng and Imran Abdool, lecturer in economics and finance. “COVID-19 and its congruent economic crisis is an opportunity to implement key changes that will set Canada’s economic trajectory on the right path.”

They suggest three measures: a universal basic income with automatic stabilizers; high-quality, affordable child care; and a well-designed wealth tax.

“Any increase in government revenues could be used to shore-up our health-care system and its backlogged cases, or to keep our education system competitive — critical to our long-term prosperity.”

Read their entire piece, “Canada’s K-shaped recovery is deepening the lines between rich and poor. Here’s how we can shift our economy toward a fair outcome for all,” online.

Ron MengImran AbdoolStrategic Priority: Pursue strengths in research and graduate educationAcademic Area: BusinessResearchScienceEconomics

Cancer conference a unique opportunity for research connections

Tue, 11/17/2020 - 00:45

The Windsor Cancer Research Group (WCRG), WE-Spark Health Institute’s flagship program, is holding its fifth Biennial International Cancer Research Conference – Virtual Edition from Nov. 19 to 21.

Keynote speakers include Sheila Singh, pediatric neurosurgeon and professor at McMaster University, and Lucy Godley, professor of medicine and human genetics at the University of Chicago.

Over 200 registrants will be attending from across Canada, the United States, the Philippines, Iran, Switzerland, and South Africa. Almost 70 abstracts have been submitted from a diverse background including medical oncology, biology, physics, chemistry, medical biophysics, psychology, and machine learning. Registrants include students from all levels, researchers, and physicians who will have the opportunity to highlight their research projects through talks and poster presentations.

Sessions will include patient perspectives; equity, diversity, and inclusion discussions; and a special presentation by the Canadian Cancer Society’s Research Information and Outreach Team.

“This international conference is an excellent forum for people to showcase their latest research projects and ideas,” said UWindsor professor of biomedical sciences Lisa Porter, executive director, WE-Spark Health Institute. “Although we have always looked forward to a face-to-face conference, this virtual format is a unique opportunity for people from all over the world to connect and share the latest advancements in cancer diagnostics, treatments, and care.”

The virtual conference is free; registration is open to everyone interested in cancer research until Nov. 21. Click here for the detailed conference schedule and to register.

Lisa PorterStrategic Priority: Pursue strengths in research and graduate educationAcademic Area: ResearchScience

Webinar series to inspire physics enthusiasts

Wed, 11/11/2020 - 00:41

A series of virtual seminars this semester and next will provide upper-level undergraduate students of physics an opportunity to meet with researchers in the field.

Faculty and adjunct professors will deliver talks on their cutting-edge research projects Fridays from 4 to 5 p.m.

Session 1:

  • “Skating on spin ice: A tour of frustrated magnetism and fractionalization,” Nov. 13
  • “Can ultrafast laser pulses make water magnetic? (Ultrafast pulse scattering by molecular clusters),” Nov. 20
  • “Healing Humanity One Spark at a Time: Diagnosing Bacterial Pathogens with Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy,” Nov. 27
  • “New physics in atomic Coulomb explosions following nuclear beta decay,” Dec. 4

Session 2:

  • “Ultrafast and ultrasmall: manipulating individual electron motion,” Jan. 8
  • “Affordable Magnetic Resonance: from Million-Dollar MRI to A Backpack Scanner,” Jan. 15
  • “Neutrons for health and materials: New sources and opportunities,” Jan. 22
  • “Laser nuclear-spin-polarization and its applications,” Jan. 29
  • To be confirmed, Feb. 5

There is no cost to attend, but advance registration is required. For schedule and registration, visit the Seminar Series webpage. For more information, email physics@uwindsor.ca.

—Sara Elliott

Paola FloresStrategic Priority: Provide an exceptional undergraduate experienceAcademic Area: ResearchSciencePhysics