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Faculty of Science fund gives a boost to new researchers

Thu, 10/22/2020 - 00:42

The Faculty of Science has created a fund to help early-career faculty members cover the costs of getting published in high-profile scientific journals.

The New Faculty Publication Support Fund supplements publication costs of high-impact journal articles, such as open access fees or costs associated with journal cover publication. It provides a maximum of $1,000 to new faculty to support publication costs of one peer-reviewed journal article in the first four years of their tenure-track appointment.

Tricia Carmichael is a chemistry and biochemistry professor and was interim associate dean of graduate studies and research in the Faculty of Science when she helped design the fund. She says she knows how difficult it can be getting published initially, with substantial publication costs for open access or for fees associated with having original artwork published on journal covers — all running into the thousands of dollars.

“This high cost is challenging for most new faculty to support with start-up or initial grant funds,” says Dr. Carmichael. “However, with these high costs comes a potentially high value in raising the profile of both the research and the researcher.”

She says open access articles are highly accessible, increasing the reach of an article and potentially the number of citations. Journal covers attract great attention from journal readers and can be used to promote the research and researchers on social media.

Marcus Drover, hired in 2019, is an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. He was very excited when his research group was selected as the fund’s inaugural recipient. His article, Octaboraneyl Complexes of Nickel: Monomers for Redox‐Active Coordination Polymers, was published online in Chemistry – A European Journal in April 2020 and features the work of three UWindsor undergraduate researchers.

“I vividly recall my first journal cover as a graduate student. I was very excited. I printed no less than 25 copies and gave one to everyone,” says Dr. Drover. “These initiatives are particularly important for starting groups who are endeavouring to obtain international recognition.”

Drover says this initiative highlights the Faculty of Science’s commitment to young researchers and provides them and their research with an artistic outlet to gain international exposure. For his cover article he used original artwork created by biochemistry major Chelsea Ymana, a member of the  Science Meets Art (SMArt) program in the USCi Network.

“I am very grateful to this program and its talented students," says Drover.

Peer-reviewed journal articles supported by the fund will be promoted by the Faculty of Science on social media, DailyNews, and other media opportunities. For more information, go to the New Faculty Publication Support Fund website.

—Sara Elliott

Marcus DroverChelsea YmanaTricia CarmichaelStrategic Priority: Pursue strengths in research and graduate educationRecruit and retain the best faculty and staffAcademic Area: ResearchScience

UWindsor students help lead cross-border tech conference

Fri, 10/09/2020 - 00:16

Members of the UWindsor Google Developer Student Club are helping organize the first Great North DevFest, a conference bringing together tech industry professionals and students from across Canada and Michigan.

The club is collaborating with Google Developer Groups in Detroit and Ann Arbor to create a virtual conference featuring skill-building technical workshops and networking opportunities on Saturday, Oct. 17.

One of the event organizers, biochemistry and computer science student Aislyn Laurent, is Google’s Women Techmaker Ambassador for the Windsor-Essex region.

“It’s the one chance this year students will meet with professionals from Vancouver to Halifax,” says Laurent. “Working with the GDGs has been an incredible experience, and we’re thrilled to bring the same networking opportunities to students across campus.”

Proceedings will take place online and admission is free. Topics include machine learning, cross platform development, and cloud computing.

Spencer Briguglio, vice president of research development for Enactus and student-in-tech for the Entrepreneurship Practice and Innovation Centre, will volunteer on the day to help run things behind the scenes and says students in all faculties should consider participating.

“This isn’t something just for computer science students,” he says. “Having completed a degree in biochemistry, I can tell you these technical skills have major cross-disciplinary applications.”

Registration for the event is now open. Find more information and reserve a ticket on the Great North DevFest website.

Aislyn LaurentSpencer BriguglioStrategic Priority: Promote international engagementAcademic Area: ScienceComputer Science

Underwater robots help Great Lakes scientists collect data during pandemic

Thu, 10/08/2020 - 00:32

While COVID restrictions have made scientific fieldwork in the Great Lakes difficult, researchers at the University of Windsor have continued to gather vital data using an underwater robot.

Researchers at the Real-Time Aquatic Ecosystem Observation Network (RAEON) have worked with partner institutions in the United States to deploy an AUV— an autonomous underwater vehicle. The AUV, which they’ve named the Cormorant, is being used to study harmful algal blooms and low oxygen levels in Lake Erie.

“The Cormorant has been a vital alternative to scientific cruises, surveys, and other fieldwork,” said Katelynn Johnson, director of RAEON. “It can be deployed for weeks and months at a time, providing continuous data that can’t be collected with normal sampling methods by scientists aboard ships.”

The Cormorant is a Slocum glider, a bright yellow, torpedo-shaped vehicle. Scientists have used gliders to collect data from deep ocean waters, but RAEON Is using the Cormorant in shallow areas of Lake Erie. Its mission has already identified areas of low oxygen called hypoxia which can negatively affect fish and compromise treatment processes for drinking water.

“2020 was to be a big rollout year for RAEON to support multiple research programs across the Great Lakes, but then the pandemic hit,” said RAEON science director Aaron Fisk, a UWindsor professor who holds a Canada Research Chair in trophic ecology, the study of feeding relationships among organisms in an ecosystem.

“We are fortunate to be able to carry out a glider mission to provide needed data for research and models in Lake Erie.”

Dr. Fisk said RAEON will expand the Cormorant’s use, using it and other gliders for research across the Great Lakes.

RAEON, headquartered at the University of Windsor, is funded by a $15.9 million grant from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation and the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation. Its cutting-edge research positions Canada as a global leader in the conservation of freshwater ecosystems.

—Sarah Sacheli

Aaron FiskKatelynn JohnsonStrategic Priority: Pursue strengths in research and graduate educationAcademic Area: ResearchScience

Computer science student promoting clarity in communication

Thu, 10/08/2020 - 00:29

The success of any tech company depends not just on innovation, but also on seamless communication, says computer science student Ashley Newton.

“That extends not just between you and your team, but between your company and your users as well,” she says. “Good documentation is key to transferring crucial knowledge to make sure no one gets left behind.”

Newton, a technical writer for the software company SaltStack, will share some of her successes and challenges in scaling software documentation in a presentation entitled “Open-minded collaboration at scale” at the Great North DevFest on Saturday, Oct. 17. Hosted by the Google Developer Groups of Windsor, Detroit, and Ann Arbor, the conference for software developers will feature a full day of online talks on technology.

“I feel passionately that open-sourcing knowledge, tools, and best practices is the best way to work smarter and get results,” says Newton.

That passion has led her to start a local chapter of Write the Docs, a global community working together to improve the art and science of documentation: programmers, tech writers, developer advocates, customer support, marketers, and anyone else who wants people to have great experiences with software.

To learn more, contact Newton at

Ashley NewtonAcademic Area: ScienceComputer Science

Research facility claims people’s choice award

Mon, 10/05/2020 - 00:23

The Faculty of Science’s newest research facility is the winner of the Ontario Association of Architects 2020 people’s choice award.

The Essex Centre of Research (Essex CORe) won the association’s design excellence award in September and beat out competitors across Ontario, as well as in Alberta and the United States, for the people’s choice award.

The building’s designers, Hariri Pontarini Architects, said they were inspired to merge and engage the dense work of science within the welcoming, collegial, and natural environment of the University of Windsor.

The award was announced Oct. 1 at the virtual OAA Celebration of Excellence. The ceremony is available on Youtube.

—Sara Elliott

Facility ServicesAcademic Area: Science

Awards to recognize student dedication to equity in STEM fields

Thu, 10/01/2020 - 00:13

The Office of Research and Innovation Services has created two awards valued at $500 each to be given to students in a STEM-related discipline who have demonstrated a dedication to and mastery of the principles of equity, diversity, and inclusion.

The award was created in lieu of a speaking fee for Lisa Willis of the University of Alberta, who gave a seminar titled “Writing Effective EDI Statements” to the University of Windsor community on Sept. 15.

Students can nominate themselves or their peers. Faculty are also invited to nominate students. Nominations are due by 4 p.m. Oct. 21 using the form at:

Results will be announced during the week of Nov. 9. For more information, email

Office of Research and Innovation ServicesAcademic Area: EngineeringScience

Report identifies Detroit River ecosystem’s most pressing environmental issues

Wed, 09/30/2020 - 00:33

Algal blooms, toxic substances, invasive species, habitat loss, and land use changes are among the eight most pressing environmental problems that continue to plague the Detroit River and western Lake Erie, according to a binational report released Tuesday.

The State of the Strait Report, based on information collected by more than 40 organizations in Canada and the United States, said the Detroit River ecosystem needs additional clean-up and restoration despite gains in the recovery of plant and animal life since the 1960s.

“Western Lake Erie is now at risk of crossing several potential tipping points caused by the interactions of a variety of drivers and stresses,” said conservation scientist John Hartig, visiting scholar at UWindsor’s Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research and one of the experts who helped prepare the report.

“Addressing any of the eight environmental and natural resource challenges identified in the report is demanding, but mitigating them all at once and in the face of the climate change crisis is daunting,” Dr. Hartig said.

The State of the Strait is a collaboration of government managers, researchers, students, environmental and conservation organizations, and concerned citizens. They meet once every two years, producing a report on the status of the Detroit River and western Lake Erie ecosystem. This report is the product of the last conference, held at the University of Windsor in November 2019.

It identifies eight key environmental and natural resource challenges threating the health of the ecosystem:

  • climate change;
  • excessive nutrients from runoff causing algal blooms and death of animal life;
  • toxic substance contamination;
  • invasive species;
  • habitat loss and degradation;
  • nonpoint source pollution;
  • human health and environmental justice; and
  • population growth, transportation expansion, and land use changes.

The report calls climate change a “threat multiplier,” in which warmer, wetter, and wilder climatic conditions amplify the other threats.

“This report is an excellent example of synthesis of science to comprehensively assess ecosystem health and of strengthening science-policy linkages in support of ecosystem-based management,” said Mike McKay, GLIER’s executive director.

“This report showcases how the intellectual capital of this binational region can be leveraged to help understand and address the region’s most pressing environmental and natural resource challenges.”

The State of the Strait is sponsored by the University of Windsor, Eastern Michigan University, Wayne State University, the University of Michigan-Dearborn, the University of Michigan’s Environmental Interpretive Centre in Dearborn, the International Wildlife Refuge Alliance, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Detroit River Canadian Cleanup, the International Joint Commission, Friends of the Detroit River, the Michigan Office of the Great Lakes, DTE Energy, and the government of Canada.

—Sarah Sacheli

John HartigMike McKayGreat Lakes Institute for Environmental ResearchStrategic Priority: Engage in community partnershipsPursue strengths in research and graduate educationAcademic Area: ResearchScience

Essex CORe wins design award, up for people's choice

Mon, 09/28/2020 - 00:16

The University’s stunning Essex Centre for Research needs your vote!

The building recently won an Ontario Association of Architects’ design excellence award and is in the running for its people’s choice award.

Hariri Pontarini Architects, the visionaries behind Essex CORe, said they were inspired by the design to merge and engage the dense work of science within the welcoming, collegial and natural environment of the University of Windsor.

Voting is done online and closes today at 4:30 p.m.

The winner will be announced on Oct. 1.

Visit here to vote for the Essex Centre for Research.

Essex Centre for ResearchAcademic Area: Science

UWindsor vaping research grabs international attention

Tue, 09/22/2020 - 00:48

Research by UWindsor’s Drew Marquardt into how vaping injures the lungs has captured the attention of the chemistry world. 

A recent paper by Dr. Marquardt and his team, published recently in the journal Chemical Research in Toxicology, is featured in the American Chemical Society’s latest news release.

The paper is based on the research carried out at the National Institute of Standards and Technology Centre for Neutron Research in Maryland. Earlier this year, Marquardt’s research was featured by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee after scientists there selected his project for study.

Marquardt and his team have uncovered how vitamin E acetate contributes to EVALI— e-cigarette or vaping associated lung injury. Marquardt’s research suggests vitamin E acetate, an oily substance found in some vaping liquids, interacts with the pulmonary surfactant— the liquid lining the alveoli in the lungs over which oxygen breathed in and carbon dioxide passes. The research suggests vitamin E acetate could increase the fluidity of the surfactant, causing the surfactant layer to collapse, resulting in inflammation and shortness and breath.

Vitamin E acetate has been found in the lungs of patients with EVALI. The number of patients with EVALI number in the thousands, the majority of them under the age of 35.

The paper that spawned the recent publicity is authored by Marquardt and his UWindsor research team of Mitchell DiPasquale, Omotayo Gbadamosi, Michael H. L. Nguyen, Stuart R. Castillo, and  Brett W. Rickeard; and Elizabeth G. Kelley and Michihiro Nagao of the U.S.’s National Institute of Standards and Technology.

They note their experiments were done on models without protein components or actual alveoli, so more research is needed.

Their research is funded by the University of Windsor, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Ontario Graduate Scholarship program, the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Center for High Resolution Neutron Scattering, the National Science Foundation, and the WE-SPARK Health Institute.

—Sarah Sacheli

Drew MarquardtMitchell DiPasqualeOmotayo GbadamosiAcademic Area: ScienceBiologyChemistry & Biochemistry

Quarterly report details WE-Spark Health Institute progress

Tue, 09/15/2020 - 00:10

WE-Spark Health Institute has published its first quarterly report, entitled Achieving More, Together.

Executive director Lisa Porter said that title will set the direction for the year ahead.

“We are committed to transparency and accountability to our partners, and to our community and will be reporting our ongoing progress through quarterly impact reports,” she said.

The report highlights the key accomplishments for each of the institute’s goals for the first quarter of 2020-21, covering May to July 2020. Read the full report here.

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

Insect collection kits to ease distance learning by entomology students

Thu, 09/10/2020 - 00:55

Just because the COVID-19 pandemic keeps students in the fourth-year course applied entomology away from campus doesn’t mean they have to miss out, says Patricia Okpara.

As the graduate assistant for biology professor Sherah Vanlaerhoven, Okpara has assembled and distributed kits that will enable the students to complete a full collection of insects.

“We’re doing everything we can to make sure the students get the most out of the experience,” says Okpara, a doctoral candidate of integrative biology.

She has already distributed more than 30 kits, both by mail and by pick-up through the Leddy Library. Each contains collection vials, pins, brushes — a full set of apparatus for students to prepare and display what they capture.

The students are graded on the variety of orders and families represented by the specimens they collect by the end of the semester, and Okpara notes that diligence pays off.

“It takes some dedication, but you have to get moving early,” she says. “It gets a lot harder to find insects once November rolls around.”

She will be available each week for an online lab to help students identify their samples, and will narrate dissections over a web camera.

“At the end of the course, the students will understand insect anatomy and their importance in ecosystems,” says Okpara. “It’s a really cool course for people who are geeked out about insects.”

Patricia OkparaSherah VanLaerhovenStrategic Priority: Provide an exceptional undergraduate experiencePursue strengths in research and graduate educationAcademic Area: ScienceBiology

Student designing toolkit for communicating health research

Tue, 09/08/2020 - 00:31

A UWindsor student is designing a toolkit to help health researchers disseminate information about their work.

Ryan Palazzolo is working on knowledge translation, creating messaging that simplifies information to match the expertise of its target audience. His project will help researchers apply for grants, communicate with other experts, or explain their work to the general public.

“One of the most important things that you have to consider is how do you tailor your information for a diverse audience,” said Palazzolo, a recent graduate from the health and biomedical sciences program who is now taking additional courses in preparation for medical school.

An additional goal of the research is to create a network of students who can form a knowledge translation team experienced in organizing outreach events and putting out educational information about local health research.

Palazzolo’s research is being funded by the University. He is one of 107 UWindsor students receiving $6,000 grants as part of $642,000 in overall funding for research internships.

UWindsor is contributing an unprecedented $471,000 toward these research opportunities. The grants are going to undergraduate and graduate students from Canada and abroad, and are across all disciplines, said K.W. Michael Siu, UWindsor’s vice-president, research and innovation.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has affected research internships for students everywhere,” said Dr. Siu. “At the University of Windsor, we are trying to make sure our students continue to have exceptional research opportunities despite the current circumstances.”

The project is the first of its kind at the University of Windsor, said Dora Cavallo-Medved, the biomedical sciences professor who is supervising it.

Pointing to the recent spate of grants for local COVID-related research through the WE-Spark Health Institute, a research partnership involving the University of Windsor, Windsor Regional Hospital, Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare, and St. Clair College, Dr. Cavallo-Medved said the project fills a need.

“It is apparent that health research teams require support to develop and implement knowledge translation plans to deliver the latest research findings to both the academic and clinical communities, as well as the general public,” she said.

Palazzo is building on volunteer work he has done in public outreach with the Windsor Cancer Research Group. The Windsor native said he hopes other students will be able to pick up where he leaves off.

“There’s not a lot of formal training in this in the sciences,” Palazzolo said. “It’s critical for funding and for community engagement.”

—Sarah Sacheli

Ryan PalazzoloK.W. Michael SiuDora Cavallo-MedvedStrategic Priority: Provide an exceptional undergraduate experiencePursue strengths in research and graduate educationAcademic Area: Graduate StudiesResearchScienceBiology

Science Academy engages high schoolers in online outreach

Fri, 09/04/2020 - 00:45

Even in a virtual format, the Science Academy helped grade 12 students experience life as a UWindsor student.

Now in its seventh year but its first online, the outreach program featured presentations from departments across the Faculty of Science, engaging activities, a science-art challenge, chats with undergraduates, and a showcase of student experiences including undergraduate research.

Nida Almas, a secondary student entering her senior year at Vincent Massey Secondary School, said the experience helped her narrow down the options for post-secondary education.

“The virtual presentations, activities, and challenges were informative and allowed me to explore the departments, resources, and experiences offered at UWindsor,” said Almas. “Upon the completion of Science Academy, I had a better understanding of myself and my preferences in regard to my post-secondary education.”

Her schoolmate Sona Regonda agreed.

“The activities, discussions, and lessons truly enlightened me and opened my eyes to a whole new world of possibilities,” Regonda said.

She was part of a local team sponsored by the Faculty of Science that placed second at the Youreka Canada National Symposium. The resulting research is being published in the Canadian Science Fair Journal.

The Science Academy also introduced attendees to UWindsor projects on COVID-19 being undertaken by undergraduate and graduate student researchers.

“Science Academy provided me with the opportunity to teach and discuss COVID-19 related research with very engaging young people,” says Cory Coba, a doctoral student of chemistry who presented his research on the development of novel COVID-19 diagnostic tests. “I think initiatives such as this are critical to increasing scientific literacy and ultimately helping individuals make more informed, science-based decisions when appropriate.”

Science Academy participants earned a certificate of completion and had the opportunity to compete for one of 10 entrance scholarships to a Faculty of Science program.

—Karthik BaskaranKarthik BaskaranCory CobaAcademic Area: Science

Video series to connect tech talent

Fri, 09/04/2020 - 00:43

A new video series aimed at connecting students, professionals, and educators with the technology community in Windsor-Essex responds to the remote nature of education today, says Yvonne Pilon.

President of the regional technology hub WEtech Alliance, which sponsored the series, she hopes instructors at the secondary and post-secondary levels will share the videos with their students.

“Along with online learning comes a number of barriers, including isolation and disengagement,” Pilon says. “Knowing that connectedness is a key element of a thriving ecosystem, we wanted to provide a virtual way for first-year and existing students to learn how they can connect to tech amid COVID-19.”

UWindsor students Noah Campbell and Aislyn Laurent are featured in the videos, covering such topics as tech community groups, events, initiatives, news, employment, entrepreneurship, and mentorship opportunities.

“With the loss of in-person networking events due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it can be incredibly difficult for students and young professionals to learn how they can get involved with the many initiatives our tech community continues to champion,” Campbell says.

“The Tech Connect video series addresses this need by outlining opportunities available to community members in an easy-to-digest format.”

To learn more about the Tech Connect initiative and watch the video series at

Aislyn LaurentNoah CampbellYvonne PilonWEtech AllianceStrategic Priority: Engage in community partnershipsAcademic Area: Science

Healthcare researchers and executives to engage in conversations on COVID-19

Thu, 09/03/2020 - 00:49

WE-Spark Health Institute is hosting a series of conversations during the month of September pairing healthcare executives with award-winning researchers, each bringing their unique perspectives and updates on local research.

Each event in the COVID Conversations series runs from 10 to 11 a.m.

Sept. 9, “Nurses: Health and Well-being in a Border City.” Hear frontline perspectives from Janice Kaffer, president and CEO of Hôtel Dieu Grace Healthcare, along with psychology professor Dana Ménard, a WE-Spark grant recipient who is conducting research in this area.

Sept. 16, “Environmental Monitoring.” Adam Dukelow, interim executive vice-president and chief medical officer of the London Health Sciences Centre, will speak about the public health perspective of environmental monitoring. Joining him is Mike McKay, executive director of the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research, discussing his recently-funded NSERC project studying wastewater and COVID-19.

Sept. 23, “Screening and Detection.” David Musyj, president and CEO of Windsor Regional Hospital, will provide a hospital perspective on COVID-19 screening and WE-Spark grant recipient Simon Rondeau-Gagné, a professor of chemistry, will discuss his team’s “lab-on-a-chip” innovation, which aims to advance COVID-19 detection.

“Returning students will learn about the research and activities that have been happening in healthcare over the past several months in our region,” says Lisa Porter, WE-Spark executive director. “This is an exciting and unique opportunity for them to interact with our leaders in the research and healthcare fields.”

COVID Conversations is open to all students, faculty, and staff at its four partner organizations — the University of Windsor, Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare, St. Clair College, and Windsor Regional Hospital — as well as members of the public.

Register at

Dana MénardMike McKaySimon Rondeau-GagnéLisa PorterGreat Lakes Institute for Environmental ResearchStrategic Priority: Engage in community partnershipsAcademic Area: Arts, Humanities and Social SciencesPsychologyScienceBiologyChemistry & Biochemistry

Campus community mourns death of retiree Helen Bunt

Tue, 09/01/2020 - 15:50

Campus flags will be lowered Wednesday, Sept. 2, in memory of retired secretary Helen Bunt, who died Aug. 25.

She joined the UWindsor staff in 1968 as secretary in the Department of Mathematics, a position she held until her retirement in 1996.

Funeral services were held Aug. 28. Find details in her obituary online.

Academic Area: ScienceMathematics & Statistics

Computer science student designing algorithms to identify risk of social isolation

Thu, 08/27/2020 - 00:27

When Saghi Khani began working on computer algorithms to identify people most at risk of social isolation, little did she know the world would soon be in the throes of a pandemic making that condition more pronounced.

Khani is a Master’s student in computer science at the University of Windsor. She began working with professors Pooya Moradian Zadeh and Saeed Samet on the artificial intelligence project in January. She looks at networks of people and converts a given community into a social graph, the isolated individuals represented as “outlier nodes.”

“I like to work in this field because of its direct impact on society, improving the quality of life of our community members, reducing the chance of depression, heart diseases, diabetes, and mental illnesses such as dementia among older adults and young people who suffer from social isolation,” said Khani.

“I have always been interested in how computer science and A.I. can benefit healthcare systems.”

Khani's research is funded by the University of Windsor and Mitacs, a national not-for-profit organization that creates partnerships among Canadian academia, private industry, and government to provide research and training opportunities. She is one of 107 UWindsor students who are receiving $6,000 research training grants.

In all, the University of Windsor is contributing $471,000 to the $642,000 in research internships. The internships are across all faculties, ensuring students still get training opportunities despite the current pandemic.

Khani said she never imagined how timely her research would turn out to be.

“I was already working on it before COVID-19, and it is crucially relevant now,” she said.

Collaborating on the project is the Windsor-Essex Compassion Care Community, a coalition of people and agencies from all sectors of society looking to improve the quality of life for local citizens.

An international student born and raised in Iran, Khani completed her undergraduate degree in her home country.

“I heard of Canada's diverse and welcoming nature, and I wanted to experience a new life and have an education completely different from what I am accustomed to,” she said of how she decided to pursue her Master’s degree at the University of Windsor.

“It was my way of exploring more of what the world had to offer and, at the same time, expanding my horizon and opportunities.”

—Sarah Sacheli

Saghi KhaniPooya Moradian ZadehSaeed SametStrategic Priority: Pursue strengths in research and graduate educationAcademic Area: Graduate StudiesResearchScienceComputer Science

Microbe study designed to create early warning system for water health

Thu, 08/27/2020 - 00:26

UWindsor researchers flew halfway around the world to sample the smallest known living organisms found in freshwater lakes.

Christopher Weisener, a professor in the School of the Environment and researcher at the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research (GLIER), along with Master’s student Emily Varga and doctoral candidate Nick Falk, joined a massive field research project called Lakes380 out of Cawthron Institute in New Zealand.

Lakes380 is a five-year initiative to create a natural archive of the environmental history of water quality by collecting lake sediment from 380 New Zealand freshwater lakes.

The UWindsor team collected samples of microbial communities in New Zealand with a plan to compare them to those found in stressed environments in the Great Lakes and the Detroit river ­— all in hopes better understanding their response to environmental stress and to try and create a universal tool for detecting when the health of a body of water may be tipping towards deterioration.

“Like the canary in the coal mine, the microbial communities are the first to tell us about stress in an ecosystem,” says Dr. Weisener. “Early on, these microbial communities can alert us to a potentially unhealthy situation, giving us time to react and hopefully reverse the stress or clean the waterbody before the rest of the ecosystem’s health is threatened.”

Weisener and his graduate students flew by helicopter to sample microbial communities in pristine lakes, then worked there way down to lakes adjacent to farmed land, where agricultural runoff is likely.

“Back in the lab, we’ll study their characteristics and gene expression to paint a picture of how microbes behave in healthy environments as well as in disturbed ones,” Weisener says.

His lab has been developing a unique process of tracking the health of an ecosystem by studying bacterial function and gene expression. Extracting functional messenger RNA (mRNA) from sediments and applying transcriptional profiling allows scientists to determine how key genes are expressed when microbes are living in pristine environments versus conditions that are damaged by agricultural practices.

Piggybacking on Lakes380’s field work will give GLIER a unique opportunity to potentially identify and develop universal bio-markers for geographically diverse ecosystems.

Creating bio signatures, Weisener’s team could help create an early warning detection system, a universal tool that monitors the health deterioration of lakes and rivers.

“This is really important as we expand in Canada’s northern communities because we are putting more stress on freshwater systems,” he says. “Microbiology is extremely sensitive because the communities replicate in hours and days vs. in months or years, so our detection method will see changes much earlier than the conventional approach of monitoring insects, birds, fish, and plants.”

Susie Wood, a senior scientist at Cawthron, says her team appreciates the collaboration with the UWindsor researchers.

“It was great to have them join us in the field and to sample some of News Zealand’s highland and remote alpine lakes with them,” says Dr. Wood. “We are very excited to work with them and explore how the metagenetic techniques they have been developing will advance knowledge on the role of microbial process in these unique systems.”

A scientist from the Cawthron Institute was set to visit the GLIER lab to get trained in the mRNA extraction technique, but that plan is on hold until the restoration of travel between the two countries.

—Sara Elliott

Christopher WeisenerEmily VargaNick FalkGreat Lakes Institute for Environmental ResearchSchool of the EnvironmentStrategic Priority: Promote international engagementPursue strengths in research and graduate educationAcademic Area: Graduate StudiesResearchScienceEarth & Environmental Sciences

Opinion piece calls for health care investment

Tue, 08/25/2020 - 00:14

Despite headlines about high deficits caused by expensive COVID-19 programs, governments must avoid the knee-jerk reaction to drastically cut spending, says a UWindsor business and economics instructor.

“While deficits can be problematic if left unchecked and persistent for too long, history and context matter a great deal,” argues Imran Abdool in an article he co-authored with Hance Clarke, director of pain services at Toronto General Hospital.

Published in Policy Options, a magazine produced by the Montreal-based Institute for Research in Public Policy, their piece makes the case for Canada as a great opportunity for investors.

“Canada has the natural resources that the world will need for a very long time,” they write. “It has an educated, modern, and robust knowledge economy.”

They call for the creation of a sovereign wealth fund to invest in the country’s health care system.

Read the entire article, “A sovereign wealth fund for our health care system isn’t far-fetched,” online in Policy Options.

Imran AbdoolAcademic Area: BusinessResearchScienceEconomics

Registry to bring together research studies and participants

Thu, 08/20/2020 - 00:28

WE-Spark Health Institute has launched a new research registry that brings research studies and participants together in a central location. Researchers can post their studies, and the public can learn about local health projects and choose to participate.

The institute’s executive director, biomedical science professor Lisa Porter, notes that local researchers conduct studies and clinical trials in a range of disciplines — from helping to predict organizational resilience and employee engagement to understanding the effects of a pandemic on the mental health of children.

“Whether registering a study, or participating in one, everyone can play a role in informing future health practices and decisions that will have a positive impact on our local community and around the world,” she says.

For more information, visit

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