Two UWindsor graduate students of integrative biology beat out competitors from around the globe at the North American Forensic Entomology Association’s annual international conference to win two out of three awards for best graduate presentations at the Master’s level.
Theresa Tran (BSc 2018) and Madison Laprise presented at the 2020 conference, hosted virtually out of Texas A&M University, along with presenters and attendees taking part online from across Canada, USA, Australia, and Singapore.
Tran presented her talk “Variation in Oviposition Behaviour of Blow Flies (Diptera: Calliphoridae) due to Abiotic and Biotic Factors.”
“My research involves evaluating the effect of relative humidity on the egg-laying behaviour of three local blow fly species when given a choice of where to lay on a temperature gradient.” says Tran.
“I am focusing on humidity because there is little research looking into humidity as a factor that affects the behaviour of blow flies and I’m hoping my project can answer some questions that can be applied to forensic science, as well as thermal and behavioural insect ecology.”
Laprise’s presentation, titled “Are carrion resources as scarce as we think?”, looks at using geospatial technology to predict the availability of decaying flesh in Essex County based on land-use attributes. She says this allows her to trap blow flies across a spatial and temporal scale, employing this land-use gradient.
“Carrion is a spatially patchy and rare resource for flies, making it difficult to predict in space and time. Essentially, I’ve created a map model that helps break down these barriers and bring some of these predictors to light,” says Laprise.
Their research in forensic entomology will provide further insight into blow fly habitat preferences and locations, thus furthering the scope of knowledge when looking at time and location of death in medico-legal investigations, says professor Sherah VanLaerhoven.
She says she’s extremely proud of the two for this international recognition of the quality of their research.
“Only three students were awarded top presentation awards at this conference, so for University of Windsor to take home two of the three awards is incredible,” says Dr. VanLaerhoven.
“It is fantastic to see Madison and Theresa's hard work be rewarded by the academic and applied community, especially during these challenging times.”
—Sara ElliottTheresa TranMadison LapriseSherah VanLaerhovenStrategic Priority: Pursue strengths in research and graduate educationAcademic Area: Graduate StudiesResearchScienceBiology
What is it about some communities that allows them to manage a pandemic and return to normalcy faster than others?
A UWindsor team led by engineering professor Edwin Tam will delve into that question with sweeping research into municipalities’ experiences under COVID-19. The research team will examine demographics, governance, infrastructure, and services to create a template to help Windsor and Essex County and other cities prepare for future pandemics.
“We hypothesize that specific municipal characteristics enhance a community’s resiliency,” said Dr. Tam. “Our overall goal is to assess if there are physical characteristics, demographic profiles, infrastructure, policies, and practices specific to a community that enhance its ability to withstand and overcome a pandemic.”
Put simply, he said: “We want to know what it is about a city that helps it combat the spread.”
Tam, who specializes in research in environmental engineering, has partnered with fellow engineering professor Tirupati Bolisetti and math and statistics professors Mohamed Belalia and Myron Hlynka on the one-year project. Law professor Anneke Smit, founding director of the Windsor Law Centre for Cities, will bring her expertise about governance issues as another partner on the research.
The team will be looking at all manner of municipal services and policies. It will examine the overlap of pandemic response and other emergency or public health planning, Tam said. In heat emergencies, for example, people would normally be directed to shopping malls, community centres, or municipal pools. With facilities closed during the pandemic, how are communities responding?
Using flooding as another example, Tam asked, “How do you deal with climate change during a pandemic?”
The team will use data on municipalities collected by the Canadian Urban Institute, a national platform for people interested in building better cities.
Tam said his team also hopes to compare Windsor to Detroit.
The severity of the impacts varies by country and by city, with city characteristics such as size, population, and density playing a role, Tam said. “However, these alone cannot explain all differences, and similar regions or cities have not experienced the impacts equally.”
He said the project will be an opportunity for students to do research. He intends to have the team’s analysis completed early next year.
Tam has been awarded a $5,000 grant to begin collecting data and doing interviews. The money comes from UWindsor’s Office of the Vice-President of Research and Innovation and the WE-Spark Health Institute, a research partnership involving the University of Windsor, Windsor Regional Hospital, Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare, and St. Clair College.
It is one of 21 local COVID-related projects WE-Spark is supporting through its COVID-19 Rapid Response grant program.
—Sarah SacheliEdwin TamTirupati BolisettiMohamed BelaliaMyron HlynkaAnneke SmitStrategic Priority: Engage in community partnershipsPursue strengths in research and graduate educationAcademic Area: EngineeringCivil and Environmental EngineeringLawScienceMathematics & Statistics
When the School of Computer Science launches its Master of Science Artificial Intelligence Stream in Fall 2020, five members of the first cohort will bring with them a total of $87,500 in scholarship money from the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence.
“To receive five scholarships in the first year this stream is offered gives Windsor recognition as a destination to study AI and credibility in the industry,” says Ziad Kobti, director of the School of Computer Science.
“With recognition from Vector, we can recruit the best students — they don’t need to go to elsewhere to get an excellent higher-level education that will afford them employment opportunities as AI experts in a growing industry.”
Computer science professor and graduate chair, Alioune Ngom, says the program will introduce students to advanced topics in AI and related subjects and applications, as well as to new technologies that are in high demand for computer professionals in industry.
“By the end of this program, graduates will have a comprehensive understanding of leading-edge AI techniques and will be able to apply this knowledge to solve real-world problems,” says Dr. Ngom.
The stream also offers an optional co-op placement. Ngom says students can go anywhere in the world for these positions.
“This will put them ahead of the curve when they compete globally with other AI graduates for employment in government and private industry as machine learning scientists, consultants, data scientists, and software engineers,” he says.
Dr. Kobti says although the AI stream is new this year and has no graduates yet, the School of Computer Science is already graduating highly qualified individuals in the field.
“Earlier this year, my former student Kumaran Ragunathan (MSc 2020) called me just two weeks after his thesis defense to say he got a job as an associate data scientist at Quicken Loans Rocket Innovation Studio. This new stream will just continue this successfully trend.”
The 2020-21 Vector Scholarship in Artificial Intelligence awards $17,500 per recipient for one year of full-time study at a Vector accredited institution. The university’s new professional stream is a research thesis-based program. The five UWindsor scholarship recipients are: Sheena Hora, Vishakha Gautam, Shuvendu Roy, Nazia Siddiqui, and Farzaneh Jouyandeh.
—Sara ElliottZiad KobtiAlioune NgomSheena HoraVishakha GautamShuvendu RoyNazia SiddiquiFarzaneh JouyandehStrategic Priority: Pursue strengths in research and graduate educationAcademic Area: Graduate StudiesScienceComputer Science
The University of Windsor will host what may be the first official university-level competitive intercollegiate esports team in Canada this September.
Through the combined efforts of the Office of Student Experience, the Student Success and Leadership Centre, the Faculty of Science, and the School of Computer Science, the program will bring together students from across campus to celebrate their passion for competitive video gaming.
Esports is a billion-dollar industry worldwide that features both professional and recreational teams in online gaming competitions. In 2019, esports had an online viewing audience of 443 million, with numbers continuing to grow. At the time of writing there are more than 200 collegiate esports teams in the United States and Canada, including St. Clair College.
Paul Meister, a PhD candidate in chemistry, is leading the project. He calls it an “incredible opportunity” for the University of Windsor and the community.
“Our students have been waiting for their chance to compete on the international stage,” he says. “I’m excited to finally give it to them with the support of the phenomenal partner ecosystem we’ve established.”
Meister and his team started last year and since September 2019, have signed on more than 250 UWindsor students from all faculties, including large contingents from engineering, science, and arts, humanities and social sciences.
The initial launch will involve a modest investment with a vision toward growth says Cindy Crump, director of the Student Success and Leadership Centre, which will be the home base of Lancer Gaming.
“Esports represents a great way to enhance the student experience and raise the profile of the University across the globe,” Crump says. “We’re excited to start a conversation with partners who want to see the University grow in this way.”
Chris Houser, dean of science, has supported esports activities, calling them an “innovative way for UWindsor to stand out” in the increasingly competitive recruitment environment, and noting that they present opportunities for research.
“Esports is not only about computer science and gaming, it also has ingredients of business, marketing, creative writing, visual and dramatic arts, and several other academic areas,” Dr. Houser says.
Lancer Gaming will make resources available for students to participate, including a room in Vanier Hall outfitted with high-speed internet and gaming consoles for those without access to suitable equipment.
Meister plans a 10-person team to represent UWindsor in upcoming international League of Legends tournaments and to have the school join the Ontario Post-Secondary Esports league set to launch this fall.Student Success and Leadership CentrePaul MeisterCindy CrumpChris HouserStrategic Priority: Provide an exceptional undergraduate experienceAcademic Area: ScienceComputer Science
If birds sing in a tropical forest, and no one is around to hear them, do they make a sound? Yes they do, according to a new bioacoustic study from a University of Windsor biology team.
Working in one of Earth’s most imperiled ecosystems, the dry forests of Central America, researchers Kiirsti Owen and Dan Mennill used automated recorders to sample the sound of biodiversity.
“It’s really quite impressive what they’ve done in Costa Rica,” says Owen, a Master’s student in the Department of Integrative Biology and the lead author of the new study. “Through an ambitious effort to protect this forest, they managed to save some of the last remaining patches of these unique forests. Not only that, but they’re regrowing forests that were cleared.
“We wanted to know how birds are using those regrowing forests, and we collected recordings of their sounds to answer this question.”
Using the tools in Dr. Mennill’s bioacoustic lab, Owen deployed devices in forest patches of different ages, recording the distinctive sounds of almost 5,000 birds from more than 80 species. She combined the acoustic data with vegetation measurements collected by a team of collaborators.
“Our data show that older patches of re-growing forest provide homes to an increasingly diverse community of birds, including some birds that will only use old-growth forests,” said Owen.
Tropical dry forests are special ecosystems that harbor plants and animals not found elsewhere. However, these forests have been greatly reduced because they are easily converted to pastureland.
“This unique ecosystem experiences two seasons each year,” explained Mennill, who has been working with his students and collaborators in the Guanacaste Conservation Area in northwestern Costa Rica every year since 2003.
“There is not a drop of rain from November to April, but between May and October the forest receives torrential rainfall. We found that bird diversity increases in these recovering dry forests both during the dry season and the wet season.:
The article “Bioacoustic analyses reveal that bird communities recover with forest succession in tropical dry forests” appeared online this week in the open-access Canadian journal Avian Conservation and Ecology.
“This is really great news for birds and tropical dry forests,” concluded Owen, who will defend her Master’s degree this summer before beginning doctoral studies at the University of New Brunswick in the fall. “We have been able to show that conservation and restoration are working. It’s very rewarding to listen to bird communities and hear evidence of birds returning to these forests as they regrow.”Kiirsti OwenDan MennillStrategic Priority: Promote international engagementPursue strengths in research and graduate educationAcademic Area: Graduate StudiesResearchScienceBiology
The first cohort of Continuing Education’s health informatics offering has successfully wrapped up, marking a significant achievement for the learners and course collaborators in the faculties of nursing and science and at TransForm Shared Service Organization, which is responsible for the implementation of a state-of-the-art hospital information system in Windsor-Essex and Chatham hospitals.
Lyn Baluyot, vice president, chief transformation officer, says the program is uniquely relevant to the region.
“The provincial government has recognized this growing field as a required skill set to advance the health-care system to meet the increasing demand to integrate technology and clinical workflows to provide the best care to the patient and enable those caring for patients,” she says. “It is important that these skills be developed and be developed locally, as Erie St. Clair region will need to have the right individuals to support the evolving needs of the health system.”
Course graduate Gagan Bisla already holds a Bachelor of Science degree in health information management and is planning on taking the Canadian Health Information Management Certification exam to become certified as a health informaticist.
She says that she took the UWindsor course to home in on the local sector, particularly the information technology aspect.
“I wanted more insight about health-care IT as health care is changing drastically here in Ontario and Canada,” says Bisla, citing learning about the role of Artificial Intelligence and data management as a key takeaway from the program.
The regional focus of the course is reflected throughout its curriculum, which also includes elements of project management and group work based on local issues currently faced in our systems.
“The group project allows us to apply our learning from each module into a project, and help come up with a solution for the issues that are currently being dealt with regarding the implementation of the Health Information System across the Erie St. Clair Hospitals,” Bisla says.
This applied learning was an important component for the course developers and instructors, drawn from TransForm SSO staff and the UWindsor faculties of nursing and science.
“Health informatics is a vital aspect of health care administration and delivery, however our students are exposed only to an introductory level throughout their undergraduate experience,” says Linda Patrick, dean of the Faculty of Nursing. “This course is an excellent opportunity for those interested in digging deeper and wanting to explore a career in this area.”
Baluyot agrees and is hopeful that its graduates will consider employment at TransForm SSO.
“We are interested in creating a pipeline of qualified applicants for anticipated employment opportunities within the health system in our region,” she says.
Continuing Education will run the course again in January 2021. Prospective students are encouraged to learn more about the program at continue.uwindsor.ca.Linda PatrickStrategic Priority: Engage in community partnershipsAcademic Area: NursingScience
Although governments have used the public health rules and environmental challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic to justify rolling back environmental regulations, these changes carry large risks, says Brynn Devine.
A post-doctoral research fellow in the UWindsor Department of Integrative Biology, she is one of three authors of an article on the subject published Monday in the Conversation, which shares news and views from the academic and research community.
“Although they may only last a few months, the environmental impact may be much longer,” writes Dr. Devine with her co-authors James E. Paterson of Trent University and Gideon Mordecai of the University of British Columbia. “Short-term environmental damage can have long-term effects.”
They cite the examples of Alberta suspending monitoring requirements for oil companies, federal suspension of at-sea observers of fisheries, and removing requirements for public consultation during environmental assessments.
The piece argues that new technologies may help to close the gap, including online platforms for public consultation and remote-sensing instruments for monitoring pollution and wildlife.
“During the pandemic, environmental regulations have changed rapidly, and Canada has not been immune to pressures to lower environmental standards,” says Devine and her co-authors. “But relaxing these standards places Canada’s communities and biological diversity at greater risk and so should only be done when the immediate public health risk is real.”
Read the entire piece, “Rolling back Canadian environmental regulations during coronavirus is short-sighted,” in the Conversation.Brynn DevineAcademic Area: ResearchScienceBiology
Greenland sharks are commonly caught as bycatch in northern Greenland halibut fisheries. A UWindsor research team plans to tag individuals of the world’s longest-living vertebrate species, to help create a more detailed picture of how capture may impact populations and develop practices to maximize survival rates.
Liber Ero post-doctoral fellow Brynn Devine and Nigel Hussey, professor in Integrative Biology, received an Ocean Stewardship Fund from the Marine Stewardship Council for nearly $90,000 to tag Greenland sharks in the Eastern Canadian Arctic in order to quantify bycatch survival and mortality rates.
“Unwanted catch is an issue both ecologically and economically,” says Dr. Hussey. “The fate of discarded animals is often unknown with uncertainty for the population status of species if they are caught in large numbers. This is an important issue which resource managers and industry wish to address to ensure best practices.”
As a common bycatch species in northern fisheries, Greenland sharks are vulnerable to capture in a variety of gear types, including trawls, longlines and gillnets. Using pop-up satellite archival tags, the Hussey Lab team will remotely assess survival of bycaught sharks released in varying degrees of health, by providing data on depth, temperature, and swimming behaviour of individual sharks for months following their capture.
This research will quantify survivorship and mortality through tagging, explore fishing practices to reduce bycatch, and develop protocols for safe handling and release. These results will generate mortality estimates essential for sustainable fisheries management.
“Working directly with industry stakeholders will enable us to collect real-time data within normal fishing operations and utilize at-sea fisheries observers for long-term tagging to minimize need for additional researchers aboard,” says Dr. Devine. “The tools for achieving sustainable fisheries are often available, but the certification (from the Marine Stewardship Council) will help provide the incentive to implement these tools to work toward sustainable fisheries management.”
Greenland sharks may take 150 years to reach maturity. The shark is currently listed as a “near threatened” species as designated by International Union for Conservation of Nature, but many data gaps prevent more thorough assessments.
“There are still many unknowns about the basic biology, physiology, ecology, and behaviour of this understudied and long-lived deep-water shark,” says Devine. “I’m excited to receive funding for this project that will help us understand what effect encountering fishing gear may have on local populations.”
The 2020 Ocean Stewardship Fund grants focus on reducing impacts on threatened species and tackling abandoned fishing gear, known as “ghost gear.” UWindsor’s project includes considerable additional funding from WWF-Canada and the Nunavut Fisheries Association.
—Sara ElliottBrynn DevineNigel HusseyStrategic Priority: Pursue strengths in research and graduate educationAcademic Area: ResearchScienceBiology
A UWindsor chemist already inventing consumer products to fight COVID-19 has been awarded another federal grant to design a new drug to combat the virus.
John Trant is receiving a further $50,000 from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. He will use the money to run computer simulations to understand how certain proteins, amino acids, and enzymes could be used to prevent the virus from infecting human cells.
He will then go into the lab to synthesize molecules and send the most promising combinations to his collaborator at Laval University, Louis Flamand, for experimentation on the virus responsible for COVID-19.
“We need to be ready with tools to fight this virus the next time around,” Dr. Trant said. “Future waves of COVID-19 and similar viruses are almost definitely coming.”
COVID-19 is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It is the third coronavirus in the past 15 years capable of reaching pandemic proportions. The first, SARS, appeared in 2004. MERS followed in 2012.
Other scientists around the globe are experimenting with existing drugs to see if any are effective on this virus. Trant likens joining that research to “jumping into an already crowded pool with lots of people and balls flying everywhere.”
His research, meanwhile, is into designing an entirely new drug. “We’re taking a different approach. We’re going to be in a big, empty pool where almost no one is playing.”
Trant makes his research sound simple. He will analyze the structure of the virus cell’s bumpy surface and look for ways to fill in the dents and pockets with molecules. Tampering with the virus’s outer membrane in this way will prevent it from binding with human cells and penetrating them to replicate itself.
The key, Trant explained, is studying the proteins that make up the virus and learning how they interact with the proteins in human cells.
“Disabling that interaction is like closing the door so the virus can’t enter our cells, or locking the virus in a cell so it can’t get out, or taking away its clothes so it can’t leave the cell.”
He has partnered with Canadian pharmaceutical company Devonian Health Group in the hope of finding a drug capable of disabling the virus.
Trant’s computational team in his larger research group includes six post-doctoral fellows and three graduate students. It’s one of the larger chemical modeling teams in Canada with ready access to high-performance computing using specialized software.
His lab experiments on the rat coronavirus. It’s not infectious to humans and is a good substitute for developing therapies that will work on the human version of the virus. For experiments on the human coronavirus, Trant collaborates with labs like the one at Laval.
Trant an earlier $50,000 grant from NSERC to explore the development of an anti-viral coating that can be applied during manufacture to frequently-touched surfaces such as key pads, elevator buttons, and the handles on gas pumps. He is also inventing a degreaser than can clean especially dirty hands without water, and coming up with a gel formulation of hand sanitizer in the face of a worldwide shortage of gelling agents.
His lab has already come up with the formulation of a liquid hand sanitizer being distributed throughout Windsor and Essex County and to front-line workers elsewhere in the province.
The grants Trant has received are the maximum available under a special $15 million fund NSERC established to respond quickly to COVID-19. To date, NSERC has awarded four grants to UWindsor researchers for COVID-related research.
—Sarah SacheliJohn TrantStrategic Priority: Engage in community partnershipsPursue strengths in research and graduate educationAcademic Area: ResearchScienceChemistry & Biochemistry
UWindsor biology professor emeritus Jan Ciborowski’s 35-year commitment to protecting the Great Lakes has been acknowledged with the International Association for Great Lakes Research (IAGLR) 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award.
“Jan Ciborowski’s distinguished career has been characterized by selfless, tireless dedication to his students and to the Great Lakes community,” says Mike McKay, executive director of the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research. “Jan’s legacy through formation of the Lake Erie Millenium Network and his contributions to ensuring the success of the Cooperative Science and Monitoring Initiative laid the foundation for the successful collaborative binational research network we see today in the Lake Erie basin.”
The award recognizes important and continued contributions to the field of Great Lakes research over a period of 20 years or more. Dr. Ciborowski started at UWindsor in 1984, where he became a dedicated mentor to more than 265 students over his career. In 2019, he retired and took a position at the University of Calgary, but he continues to serve as a co-advisor for UWindsor graduate students.
When Ciborowski received word via email that he had received the IAGLR Lifetime Achievement Award, he thought from the subject line that it was a general announcement of this year’s award winners.
“I'm always interested to hear which deserving colleague is announced each year,” says Ciborowski. “It was quite a shock to see the message inside saying that I was the committee’s choice for this year!”
Ciborowski is a recognized expert in monitoring and in organism stressor-response relationships, and his technical expertise includes working with nutrients, toxicity assays, algae, and invertebrates of aquatic ecosystems. He has received numerous awards for his work, including from the Great Lakes Fishery Commission (2008), the International Joint Commission (2003), Ohio Sea Grant (2017), and in 2016 he received UWindsor’s Faculty of Science Lifetime Achievement Award.
In his western Canada research, which he started while in Windsor, Ciborowski evaluates the success of mining companies’ efforts to build new wetlands on reclaimed landscapes in the Alberta Oil Sands area, using a testing a method he developed.
“The wetlands being built look very green and promising,” he says, “but there aren't any objective methods by which to evaluate them. Both the companies and the regulators need tools to predict if the wetlands will be functional parts of the landscapes as they age.”
The IAGLR is a scientific organization made up of researchers studying the Laurentian Great Lakes, other large lakes of the world, and their watersheds, as well as those with an interest in such research. It conferred Ciborowski’s award in an online presentation on June 11 as part of its annual Conference on Great Lakes Research.
—Sara ElliottJan CiborowskiAcademic Area: ScienceBiology
Lancer Gaming will host a Rocket League tournament geared towards high school students Saturday, June 13. The event builds on the success of its April 4 #StayHomePlayGames tournament, which brought together over 150 students from across Canada and the United States as social distancing was enforced.
Organizers hope the next event in the series will engage an equally diverse group of students. Rocket League enables cross-platform gaming, meaning students can play with their friends on Xbox, PS4, PC, or Nintendo Switch. Games will be streamed live on Twitch and include live commentary, making the action accessible to viewers worldwide.
High-quality recruitment opportunities like this have been made possible with the support of the Office of Student Experience, the Student Success and Leadership Centre, the Faculty of Science, and the School of Computer Science, who have all invested in the future of UWindsor esports.
“I’m thrilled that we have the support to continue, even in these complex times,” says Paul Meister, who is leading the esports charge on campus. “High school students have been isolated from their communities, and esports is a great way to engage and connect with them right now. This will be a fantastic way to show them the UWindsor difference.”
Esports is quickly becoming a critical part of the new online student experience at the University of Windsor, with participation from faculties including business, human kinetics, science, engineering, nursing, and arts, humanities and social sciences. In collaboration with Lancer Recreation, Lancer Gaming has helped to facilitate the first-ever esports intramural league, with more than 100 students participating.
“Events like this and the Rocket League tournament for high school students helps to build community both on and off campus,” says Meister. “I can’t talk about it yet, but I’m beyond excited for what’s coming in June.”
He invites those interested to stay tuned: “Lancer Gaming has been putting in hard work and we are looking forward to sharing more about the future of esports on campus soon.”
Stay up to date with UWindsor Esports by following the group on Twitter @UWinEsports.Paul MeisterStudent Success and Leadership CentreOffice of Student ExperienceLancer RecreationStrategic Priority: Engage in community partnershipsAcademic Area: ScienceComputer Science
Within only three days of making it available, the UWindsor club Women in Cybersecurity has signed up more than 50 students and community members for an educational platform in protecting devices and data.
The chapter has partnered with the Mossé Cyber Security Institute to give its members access to an MRI Online Internship and Vetted Cyber Talent Freelancing, with 65 exercises.
Watch an interview with the company’s CEO, Benjamin Mossé.
Third-year computer science major Philip Pham has already signed on.
“I like the hands-on approach style of teaching, rather than just learning by reading or watching videos and doing multiple choice or short-answer tests,” he says. “This platform allows one to actively practice white-hat hacking with professional feedback and gives you lots of experience that is relevant for the workplace in a cybersecurity position.”Provide an exceptional undergraduate experienceAcademic Area: Graduate StudiesScienceComputer Science
The University of Windsor is leading a cross-Canada training program that will give students the opportunity to train in freshwater fisheries and fish conservation. The Fisheries management and conservation Careers in Science and Technology (FishCAST) program will provide mentoring and experience to undergraduate and graduate students, and post-doctoral fellows.
“The economic value of freshwater fisheries and aquaculture production, coupled with the current and future pressures on our freshwater resources is driving strong demand for highly qualified personnel to fill jobs within academia, industry, government, and NGOs, and this program will help students develop those marketable skills,” says program director Christina Semeniuk, a professor of integrative biology cross-appointed to the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research (GLIER).
UWindsor secured the $1.65 million grant from Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s (NSERC) Collaborative Research and Training Experience Program (CREATE) for the six-year FishCAST program.
As part of a CREATE grant, FishCAST will provide training in four areas:
Mentorship will feature prominently: in addition to the academic partners, FishCAST has more than 50 external collaborators from myriad organizations, including conservation authorities, museums, First Nation communities, commercial and recreational fisheries, and government ministries.
“Our collaborators jumped at the opportunity to be involved by providing internship opportunities, access to data, field and laboratory experiences – it’s a real community involvement,” Dr. Semeniuk says. “They benefit in the long term because they are helping create the next generation of Canadian scientists.”
Chris Houser, dean of the Faculty of Science, says FishCAST is a pivotal project that will contribute to making UWindsor the Destination Science program in Ontario by providing students with unrivalled training opportunities to place them at the forefront of a competitive global field.
“CREATE is notable for providing a unique value-added training program in job readiness and job placement due to the already existing close partnerships co-applicants have cultivated with employers engaged in fisheries and fish culture,” says Dr. Houser.
“This comprehensive, career-oriented training will give our students a competitive edge in the global job market, build on Canada’s global leadership in the field, and place them into economies that matter for Canada by contributing to the effective management and conservation of fish resources.”
Semeniuk says the sustainability of freshwater fish for future generations is particularly pressing within Indigenous communities. One particular focus will be on building and maintaining strong partnerships with Walpole Island First Nations and Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation. There will be dedicated scholarships for Indigenous students to ensure that emerging leaders are mentored in science pathways that align with specific issues directly relevant to their communities.
“With Canada being a global leader in sustainable fisheries research that partners science with Indigenous communities, fostering further training at this nexus is not only strategic, but uniquely effective as well” says Semeniuk. “FishCAST also acknowledges that many groups are still vastly underrepresented in fisheries science in Canada. We will be addressing these systemic issues by promoting a culture of inclusivity, ensuring equal opportunity in our research activities, and focusing on the recruitment and retention of trainees from underrepresented groups.”
FishCAST is distinguished from traditional fisheries programs in Canada in that it is solely freshwater-based. Semeniuk says although freshwater fish contribute significantly to Canada’s economy, environment, biodiversity and food security, they are referred to as the “hidden harvest” because their significance is often overlooked in favour of marine resources.
“Freshwater fish lie at the intersection of two fundamental environmental and social issues facing Canada and, indeed, the world — food security and biodiversity loss,” she says. “We’re at a critical juncture with a quarter of the more than 200 species of freshwater fish considered to be at risk. Since the 1970s alone, 85 per cent have been lost.”
Semeniuk says the first year of the program begins this fall and involves gathering applicants and matching them up with projects, collaborators, and academic mentors. In the long run, her expectations are that FishCAST will be a success in placing trainees into economies that matter for Canada.
—Sara ElliottChristina SemeniukChris HouserGreat Lakes Institute for Environmental ResearchStrategic Priority: Engage in community partnershipsPursue strengths in research and graduate educationAcademic Area: ResearchScienceBiology
UWindsor researchers are trying to revolutionize the testing process for COVID-19 by developing a portable device that is quicker, cheaper, and more accurate than current laboratory tests.
Dubbed Lab-on-a-Chip, the device would allow healthcare workers to test and diagnose patients on the spot, said Jalal Ahamed, one of four UWindsor professors behind the research.
“Accurate, rapid, on-site, and point-of-care detection has paramount importance not only in Canada but also worldwide for early intervention and infection control,” Dr. Ahamed said.
“Development of such a device will be highly impactful in our fight against COVID-19.”
Currently, testing is performed in sophisticated laboratory settings. Patients are swabbed and the samples are sent away to labs, with the turnaround time for results usually measured in days. Lab-on-a-Chip devices could give results in minutes.
Ahamed, who is working on the project with fellow engineering professor Mitra Mirhassani, and chemistry professors Yufeng Tong and Simon Rondeau-Gagné, has been awarded a $50,000 grant from Canada’s Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. It is the third COVID-related project at UWindsor NSERC has funded at the maximum amount available under a special $15 million fund established to address the pandemic.
The research team has partnered with APAG Elektronik Corp., a Swiss firm with a Windsor production site that manufactures electronics and lighting components.
“Our device is based on detecting the electrical signal produced when a viral protein binds with the virus receptor of human cells called ACE2, short for human angiotensin converting enzyme-2 protein,” Dr. Tong explained.
The company will lend its electronic manufacturing and distribution know-how to the project, building on the UWindsor researchers’ expertise in developing sensors.
“Until a vaccine is developed, our ability to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 is directly dependent on the capacity to rapidly test, diagnose the virus, and place those infected in isolation,” Dr. Mirhassani said.
“With this new device in our hands, our response to this crisis will be significantly improved, helping healthcare providers fight the virus and reduce its spread.”
NSERC announced funding for Lab-on-a-Chip before the deadline for applications had passed. The federal agency is trying to respond rapidly to the pandemic by funding projects as it receives worthy applications.
Dr. Rondeau-Gagné in April secured $10,000 in start-up funding for the project from the office of UWindsor’s Vice-President of Research and Innovation and the WE-Spark Institute, a research partnership involving the University of Windsor, Windsor Regional Hospital, Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare, and St. Clair College.
—Sarah SacheliJalal AhamedMitra MirhassaniSimon Rondeau-GagnéYufeng TongStrategic Priority: Pursue strengths in research and graduate educationAcademic Area: EngineeringResearchScienceChemistry & Biochemistry
UWindsor research using sewage as an early warning system for the next wave of COVID-19 is getting $50,000 in federal funding.
The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) has awarded its maximum grant amount to a project led by Mike McKay, executive director of UWindsor’s Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research. Dr. McKay’s research team has partnered with wastewater treatment plants in Amherstburg and Lakeshore to study viral loads before and after processing.
“We know that the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 can be found in the feces of infected people, so the amount of virus coming into the treatment plants could be an indicator of the true infection rate in the community,” McKay said.
“It appears many people infected with the virus are asymptomatic or experience less severe symptoms and do not seek medical care or are otherwise not tested.”
The research will also delve into how long the virus can survive in the environment should it be discharged into Lake St. Clair or the Detroit River.
Between them, the water treatment plants in Amherstburg and Lakeshore serve a population of nearly 50,000. In addition to weekly samples, staff at the water treatment plants will provide data relating to the physical and chemical makeup of the wastewater and the volume of it processed.
McKay, who is normally focused on algal blooms, has teamed up with fellow Great Lakes researchers Ken Drouillard, Daniel Heath, and Chris Weisener; UWindsor cancer researcher Lisa Porter; and UWindsor civil and environmental engineers Nihar Biswas and Rajesh Seth. They are also collaborating with University of Tennessee researcher Steven Wilhelm, a GLIER adjunct professor who studies the behaviour of viruses in nature.
“We’ve all had to pivot and apply our expertise to COVID-19,” McKay said.
The team is co-ordinating its research through the non-profit Canadian Water Network and the Canadian Coalition on Wastewater-Related COVID-19 Research. The local pilot project is one of a handful across Canada implemented to demonstrate the value of this important public health tool, McKay said.
The research project will last one year, but McKay hopes to start rolling out data by mid-summer.
NSERC deemed the research worthy of a grant under a special $15 million fund established in response to COVID-19. The federal agency began funding important projects even before the application deadline to respond rapidly to the pandemic.
McKay’s research is the second UWindsor project to receive funding under the program. More funding announcements on COVID-related research at UWindsor are expected in the coming days.
—Sarah SacheliMike McKayKen DrouillardDaniel HeathChris WeisenerLisa PorterNihar BiswasRajesh SethGreat Lakes Institute for Environmental ResearchStrategic Priority: Engage in community partnershipsPursue strengths in research and graduate educationAcademic Area: EngineeringCivil and Environmental EngineeringResearchScienceBiologyEarth & Environmental SciencesEnvironmental Studies
Given the higher rates of COVID-19 infection in the U.S., a quick return to pre-pandemic border rules would have little popular support in Canada, but we need to start finding solutions now or risk long-term harm to the country’s economy, researchers from the Cross-Border Institute warn in an opinion piece published last week.
Bill Anderson, Marta Leardi-Anderson, and Laurie Tannous ask “What is the path to easing and ultimately eliminating border restrictions, without endangering public health?” in their piece for TheFutureEconomy.ca, a Montreal-based web publication that presents analysis on improving Canada’s competitiveness and sustainability.
“The conditions that precipitated the border restrictions in the first place are not going to disappear,” they write, while noting that given the internationalization of supply chains, trade is highly dependent on cross-border travel.
“The point is that being there still matters, and for Canadian business, being there often means crossing the border.”
Read the entire article, “Cross-Border Personal Mobility in the COVID-19 Crisis.”Bill AndersonMarta Leardi-AndersonLaurie TannousCross-Border InstituteStrategic Priority: Engage in community partnershipsPursue strengths in research and graduate educationAcademic Area: Arts, Humanities and Social SciencesPolitical ScienceResearchScienceEconomics
Chris Houser will begin a second five-year term as dean of the Faculty of Science on July 1, 2021, provost Douglas Kneale announced Thursday.
“In the four years that he has served our Faculty of Science, Chris has demonstrated effective leadership in many areas, including student recruitment, curriculum development, and community outreach,” said Dr. Kneale. “He has brought students to science, and he has taken science to the community.”
Kneale noted success in fundraising, collaboration with regional partners through extension initiatives, and the promotion of innovative research as broadening the faculty’s profile and providing new opportunities for students and professors.
Dr. Houser said he is proud to continue in the position.
“Working alongside an amazing group of faculty and staff, my focus will be to build on our ongoing success in enrolment and research, while continuing to enhance the student experience to ensure that we remain the Destination Science program,” he said.Chris HouserDouglas KnealeStrategic Priority: Recruit and retain the best faculty and staffAcademic Area: Science
UWindsor researchers will soon be able to track and precisely measure cancerous tumours in real time.
Biomedical sciences professor Munir Rahim received a $150,000 NSERC RTI grant, along with a $20,000 UWindsor Research Stimulus grant and $5,000 in funding from the Department of Biomedical Sciences, to purchase a specialized instrument capable of high-resolution imaging by luminescence or fluorescence inside (in vivo) or outside (ex vivo) of an organism.
“This would be the first in vivo imaging machine of its kind in Windsor-Essex,” says Dr. Rahim. “Having an imager that can track fluorescent and luminescent cells is absolutely essential to the success of many research and training programs at UWindsor — from cancer and stem-cell research to monitoring drug delivery.”
The imager allows researchers to monitor multiple whole, living animals and plants as well as tissue. The researchers can tag specific cells with a fluorescent or luminescent dye. This makes the cells fluoresce, or light up, so they can be monitored at the cellular level, in real-time, in a range of colours.
Rahim says the non-invasive in vivo imaging lets him visualize cellular functions that would ordinarily be impossible to see. His research focuses on developing immune therapy by looking at how immune cells can recognise cells that are cancerous or that have been infected with viruses. He says this instrument will be most helpful in his cancer research program where he investigates ways to make tumours more visible to the immune system.
“Previously we had to use a caliper to manually measure a tumour. This method can be error-prone and tedious, and it was limited to tumours visible to the naked eye,” says Rahim. “Use of fluorescence and luminescence imaging allows us to label and track cells internally, make far more precise measurements, see how fast a tumour is growing, and follow the growth of that tumour over time.”
The instrument will benefit diverse areas of scientific research across campus. Rahim says it will prove most beneficial to stem-cell and cancer researchers, along with those studying drug delivery.
“Many of us were limited without an instrument like this one, especially those of us studying cancers as well as the biochemists who need to accurately track the precise path a drug takes after injection using various targeted drug delivery systems — this is going to be very useful for a lot of us.”
Further down the line, it could also prove useful to computer science, physics, and chemistry research as well. This equipment will enable comparative studies for development of new and improved imaging equipment in the Faculty of Engineering.
“I am grateful for the support we’ve received from the University in the form of a Research Stimulus Fund, my co-applicants who have supported this application, and many researchers who have shown interest in the machine,” says Rahim. “It is really a collective effort to acquire this instrument.”
—Sara ElliottMunir RahimStrategic Priority: Pursue strengths in research and graduate educationAcademic Area: ResearchScienceBiology
The Faculty of Science has created a video to congratulate the graduating Class of 2020 and holding a virtual celebration via Zoom this morning — Wednesday, May 27 — at the time that science students would have been walking across the convocation stage.
“Because we are not able to celebrate the accomplishments of our graduating students in person, we thought that it was essential to recognize this memorable moment in their lives,” says Chris Houser, dean of the Faculty of Science.
The video includes a message from UWindsor president Rob Gordon and a welcome by the Alumni Association, along with congratulatory (selfie) videos from faculty, staff, and students across the Faculty of Science.
Footage for the video was shot by Dylan Kristy of Public Affairs and Communications, and the video was produced by Sameer Jafar, an alumnus of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry who now runs his own production company, Blackcap Ltd, in Toronto, highlighting science stories.
The video is available through the Faculty of Science YouTube channel at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ywfh7sfp0I4&feature=youtu.be.Chris HouserSameer JafarDylan KristyPublic Affairs and CommunicationsAcademic Area: Science
Does vaping and smoking e-cigarettes put you at higher risk of COVID-19 complications?
UWindsor’s Drew Marquardt is trying to answer that question with research into how the toxicants in the oils of vapes and e-cigarettes affect lung function.
“What we’re trying to find out is how does this connect to complications if you catch COVID-19,” Dr. Marquardt said.
It’s believed there is a link between vitamin E acetate — a modified form of vitamin E found in vaping oils and e-cigarettes — and the lung injury found in people who use those products. A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine focusses on the presence of vitamin E acetate in the lungs of people with EVALI, short for electronic-cigarette/vaping-associated lung injury.
With the help of fellow UWindsor chemist James Gauld and researcher Charu Chandrasekera, head of the Canadian Centre for Alternatives to Animal Methods, Marquardt will study how vitamin E acetate interacts with the pulmonary surfactant — the liquid lining the alveoli in the lungs. He will develop models and send samples to a national laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee where scientists will test the surface tension of the pulmonary surfactant using small-angle neutron scattering.
“We want to find out how the vitamin E acetate disrupts the mechanical properties of the pulmonary surfactant in the model system,” Marquardt said. Using a 3D-bioprinted human lung tissue model, the team will then determine how lung injury induced by vitamin E acetate influences the virus that causes COVID-19.
EVALI is a new condition, identified in the past year, Marquardt explained. COVID-19 is even newer, with the nexus of the two conditions yet to be explored.
What is known is that 78 per cent of people with lung injury due to vaping and e-cigarettes are younger than 35. This is the age demographic expected to least likely suffer complications from COVID-19.
Marquardt suspects healthcare workers are too overburdened to look into the factors behind complications in patients in this age group.
“I don’t know how deeply the hospitals are able to delve into this,” he said. “You’ve got a disease that the world was not prepared for.”
Oak Ridge National Laboratory has selected Marquardt’s project for study under its current program offering rapid remote access to its instruments for COVID-19 research.
His research project has received funding through the University of Windsor’s Office of Research and Innovation and the WE-Spark Health Institute, a research partnership involving the University of Windsor, Windsor Regional Hospital, Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare, and St. Clair College. It is one of 21 local COVID-related research projects WE-Spark has financially supported through its COVID-19 Rapid Response grant program.
—Sarah SacheliDrew MarquardtJames GauldCharu ChandrasekeraStrategic Priority: Pursue strengths in research and graduate educationAcademic Area: ResearchScienceChemistry & Biochemistry