The SFU Science Undergraduate Blog


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SFU Undergrad Researcher: Cherlene Emma Chang

Introducing Cherlene Emma Chang of the Department of Biomedical Physiology and Kinesiology!

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Name: Cherlene Emma Chang
Department: Biomedical Physiology and Kinesiology
Year: Third
Supervisor: Dr. Tom Claydon

Q: What do you want to be when you grow up?
A: A bioinformatical and clinical researcher. Computation is an increasingly invaluable skillset in the life sciences to quantify
scientific observations, while clinical relevance engages research with the treatment and management of patients to improve their
quality of life.

Q: How did you get involved in research?
A: I got involved in research through the BPK Co-op Program. Co-op is great for students to explore their career options and gain
valuable experience in their respective fields.

Q: What have you been working on in your research so far?
A: I have modelled the effects on the cardiac action potential as a result of the action of low pH on hERG potassium channels.
Myocardial ischemia occurs when blockage of coronary arteries reduces blood flow, preventing adequate oxygen perfusion. One
major consequence is acidosis, a reduction in local pH, contributing to cardiac arrhythmia. Acidosis profoundly affects hERG
potassium channels which provide a major repolarizing drive in the heart, and may suppress the protective mechanism of hERG
channels in preventing premature heartbeats.

Q: What will you be working on this summer?
A: This summer, my project is on zebrafish (Danio rerio) hearts as an excellent model of human cardiac electrophysiology. I will
use zebrafish hearts to study the action potential duration and cytoplasmic calcium handling using optical mapping techniques. I
aim to assess the effects of acidosis on irregular heartbeats using computer simulations.

Q: What is a typical “day in the life” in the lab for you?
A: I strike a balance between computational analysis and running experiments, where I write code in MATLAB and record ionic
currents in frog eggs (Xenopus laevis oocytes). I find that analyzing the data I collected firsthand enriches my research experience
through offering a well-rounded perspective on how each task fits in the bigger picture.

Q: What’s your favourite course that you have taken so far in your degree?
A: Introduction to Biological Physics (PHYS 347). Specifically, the electric circuit model of action potential propagation along a
neuron offered a fresh quantitative perspective on physiology.

Q: If you were a scientific lab instrument, which one would you be?
A: If I were a scientific lab instrument, I would be a computer. I enjoy modeling experimental data to equations, generating figures
for publications, and preparing powerpoint slides for presentations.

Q: What’s the funniest thing in research that’s happened to you?
A: During the 2017 BPK Research Day, I tripped down the stairs in the auditorium in my three-inch platform boots and spilled water
on myself. I laughed it off. Surprisingly, this incident calmed me down for my upcoming three-minute thesis and poster
presentations.

Q: What scares you the most in research?
A: The uncertainty of the future. Researchers apply for grants to get funded. Oftentimes there are more up-and-coming researchers
than grants available. Nonetheless, I will put my best foot forward in securing future grants.


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SFU Undergrad Researcher: Natalie Maslowski

Introducing Natalie Maslowski of the Department of Biology!

Name: Natalie Maslowski
Major: Biology
Year: 1
Supervisor: Dr. Isabella Cote

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Q: What do you want to be when you grow up?
A: (Short term wise) I am currently aiming to be a part of a biology related research team. (Long term wise), I have always been interested in pursuing a career as a Professor (or some career in academia), when I was much younger I had always been interested in marine biology, so Marine biology Prof?Although I am keeping an open mind towards any possible opportunities in any interesting field, that may come my way.

Q: How did you get involved in research?
A: The first glimpse I got into anything professionally research related, was when I was in grade 11, I volunteered to work under Dr. Cote, as a part of a science co-op in high-school. There I worked with her graduate students, doing very basic tasks volunteering in their lab. However, this summer I hope to delve further into the world of marine research, as a diving assistant to a graduate student.

Q: What will you be working on this summer?
A: This summer I will be working as a marine research assistant diver with a graduate student ( Lilly Haines). The project I will be working for, focuses on fish behavior in a particular species. Essentially testing to see how far away across open sand a Damsel fish will swim to get home, before deciding it’s too dangerous. (Further details are still to be announced).

Q: What’s your favorite course you have taken so far in your degree?
A: So far I have really enjoyed BISC 101/102. I can’t choose between them, I loved learning about plant adaptations and their behavioral responses, as well as learning about community ecology and the beautifully complex interactions between each species.

Q: What scares you the most in the lab or the field?
A: I am afraid to get really sick, I have bad luck when it comes to getting colds, so I hope I leave that bad luck behind when I get to the Bahamas. However, I also fear dropping an oxygen tank on my toes, those are super heavy!


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SFU Undergrad Researcher: Andy Zeng

Introducing Andy Zeng of the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry!

Name: Andy Zeng
Major: Molecular Biology and Biochemistry
Year of Study: Fourth
Supervisors: Angela Brooks Wilson (Genome Sciences Centre, BC Cancer Agency and SFU BPK) and Benjamin Kwok (Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer, Université de Montreal)

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Q: What do you want to be when you grow up?
A: A clinician-scientist! I would ideally see cancer patients 1-2 days/week and spend the rest of my time running a cancer research lab to improve our standard of care. This fall, I’ll be entering the MD/PhD program at the University of Toronto for my first 8 years of training towards that career!

Q: How did you get involved in research?
A: In first year undergrad, I applied to a bunch of profs to do a summer undergraduate student research award (USRA) with them. Most profs didn’t take me seriously as a first year and didn’t respond, but Angie pretty much offered me a pity interview because it would make for a good learning opportunity. It turned out that I was the only applicant to read her papers before the interview and ask her semi-intelligent questions about it, and that’s how I got the USRA! I used that experience to land an internship in Montreal the following summer, and then finished my thesis in third year summer.

Q: What will you be working on this summer?
A: I’ll be spending the first half of my summer in Vancouver, brushing up on statistics and bioinformatics and learning the basics of machine learning through online courses (datacamp, coursera, EdX, etc). For the second half of my summer in Toronto, I’ll hopefully be getting involved in research on cancer stem cells and getting started on my PhD research.

Q: What have you been working on in your research so far? (What is your research about?)
A: In Angie’s lab at BC Cancer I analyzed the somatic mutational spectrums in mitochondrial DNA (yes, the powerhouse of the cell) of B-Cell Lymphoma patients. We wanted to see if any of these mutations, which affect cell metabolism, contributed to lymphomagenesis. In Ben’s lab at IRIC I designed and ran cell biology experiments testing chemical inhibitors of a cancer-promoting protein on cancer cells.

Q: What’s your favourite course that you have taken so far in your degree?
A: MBB426 & 427- The workload for 426 is soul crushing but you walk out of the courses knowing a mind-blowing amount of immunology! But to be honest, I believe that the most enriching learning experiences during undergrad comes from extracurriculars and research.

Q: Favourite science joke or meme from your field?
A: Haemolytic Memes for Anaemic Teens (Facebook Page) is a lot funnier than it should be. Every time I laugh, I’m reminded that I am a huge nerd who appreciates these memes a little too much. It’s odd – these memes somehow manage to make you both smarter and dumber at the same time.

Q: What scares you the most in the lab or the field?
A: Failure and negative results. It happened in my Montréal work term and it’s inevitable. But if you ask the right questions, understand the larger reason for why you are doing the work, and strive to enjoy the process (being open to learn and genuinely curious about what you’ll discover), then it minimizes the blow.

A quick word of advice for those embarking on a research term:
Your research term is not just a 9-5 job, it’s a learning opportunity that can be far more enriching than a semester of classes. Treat it as a learning opportunity: dive into the literature and put in the same amount of effort into your research as you would in a 5-course semester. You’ll be surprised at how much you’ll grow, and you might even get some publications out of it!
 


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SFU Undergrad Researcher: Stephanie Lam

Introducing Stephanie Lam of the Faculty of Health Sciences!

Name: Stephanie Lam
Major: Health Sciences
Year of Study: 3rd
Supervisor: Dr. Angela Devlin, UBC Faculty of Medicine

STEPHANIE LAM

Q: What do you want to be when you grow up?
A: Pediatrician

Q: How did you get involved in research?
A: I was particularly interested in medical research and I started to do my own research on areas of research within the faculty of medicine. Luckily, I came across many researchers located in CFRI that researched areas that were very interesting to me and I contacted Dr. Devlin to see if there is anything I could get involved with.

Q: What have you been working on in your research so far? (What is your research about?)
A: I am helping out with a human project that aims to understand cardiovascular outcomes that are affected by second-generation antipsychotic treatment. We are also trying to identify biomarkers that can be used to identify children who may be at risk for cardiometabolic side effects.

Q: What is a typical “day in the life” in the lab for you?
A: DNA/RNA extraction from blood cells, genotyping, blood processing, mouse work

Q: What scares you the most in the lab or the field?
A: The thing that scares me the most in the lab is making a small mistake that could cost the lab a lot of money and time. When working with such tiny amounts of samples, I am often scared that my lab technique is inadequate and won’t give the desired results. With the nature of this project, our samples are often very limited and must be used carefully.


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SFU Undergrad Researcher: James Marquis

Next up in our series of brilliant SFU undergrads, we have James Marquis of the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry!

Name: James Marquis
Major: Molecular Biology and Biochemistry
Year of Study: 4th
Supervisor (PI): Dr. Dipankar Sen

JAMES MARQUIS

Q: What do you want to be when you grow up?
A: I always want to become a biochemist and an innovator who develops better products for not only scientists but also the general public.

Q: How did you get involved in research?
A: I was randomly browsing the SFU biology web page back in my first year here. I saw an advertisement for a research position to analyze avian blood sample. I was just curious what they are doing with bird blood, so I applied and got in. Then I have been working in different labs in both biology and MBB since then.

Q: What will you be working on this summer?
A: I will be writing a research proposal for a master project that develops new DNA aptamer that catalyze the ruthenium-catalyzed olefin metathesis. It is simply to screen for potential catalytic DNA that can facilitate large-sized ring closing reaction.

Q: What have you been working on in your research so far? (What is your research about?)
A: My first lab project was about quantifying red blood cells precursor in avian blood to predict the bird’s oxygen carrying capacity. Then I moved on to a side project that looked that the effect of male bird social behaviour (singing) on female birds breeding phenology and performance. Then I switched to a genetic/developmental biology lab to work on the Wnt/Wingless signaling in Drosophila (fruit flies) in my third year. Right now I am preparing to start my master degree studying the catalytic activity of DNA/RNA.

Q: What is a typical “day in the life” in the lab for you?
A: I’m usually in the lab around 9am doing lab work till 5pm in the evening, nothing exciting.

Q: What’s your favourite course that you have taken so far in your degree?
A: I would the special topic course (MBB420) taught by Dr. Sen / Dr. Hawkins

Q: If you were a scientific lab instrument, which one would you be?
A: I would be a pipet, because I am a sucker for science.

Q: Who is your biggest science crush?
A: Dr. Peter Schultz. I was very privileged to meet him in person at a conference and he really inspired me to pursue my interest in the biochemistry field.

Q: What’s the funniest thing in the lab that’s happened to you?
A: We dressed up as Christmas trees and worked in the lab during the holiday season one winter, and it was quite funny and memorable.

Q: What scares you the most in the lab or the field?
A: Getting no data from my experiments


SFU Undergrad Researchers: Jennifer Yi

Next up in our series of brilliant SFU researchers, we have Jennifer Yi of the Faculty of Health Sciences!

Name: Jennifer Yi
Year: First Year
Major: Health Sciences, Concetration in Life Sciences
Supervisor: Dr. Glen Tibbits

 

Q: What do you want to be when you grow up?
A: I want to work in the healthcare system or work with World Health Organization.

 

Q: How did you get involved in research?
A: I got involved in research through a science fair project on Type 2 Diabetes and Interleukin 6 at the BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute two years ago. I wanted to keep conducting scientific research at a lab at SFU so I applied for a NSERC USRA at Dr. Tibbits’ lab in the SFU Molecular Cardiac Physiology Group this semester.

 

Q: What will you be working on this summer? 
A: I will be working on a project trying to detail how a TNNI mutation may be related to sudden unexpected death in infants in terms of causing hypertrophic cardiomyopathy by arrhythmia.

 

Q: What have you been working on in your research so far? (What is your research about?)
A: So far, I have been busy catching up on knowledge about cardiomyocytes for this summer and learning how to use CRISPR, which is very exciting.

 

Q: What’s your favourite course that you have taken so far in your degree?
A: BISC101: Dr. Megan Barker made this course the best one I’ve taken out of all my classes at SFU.


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SFU Undergrad Researcher: Ruvini Amarasekera

Next up in our series of brilliant SFU researchers, we have Ruvini Amarasekera of the Department of Biomedical Physiology and Kinesiology!

Name: Ruvini Amarasekera
Year of Study: 2nd
Major: Biomedical Physiology
PI: Dr. Maureen Ashe, Center for Hip Health and Mobility
RUVINI AMARASEKERA

Q: How did you get involved in research?
A: I wanted to work in a lab that took a new perspective on healthcare; somewhere I could apply both my physiology and psychology background- and this is what I found! Many people have the misconception that research only entails sitting at a bench pipetting all day, but there is also a clinical side where there’s an opportunity to interact directly with subjects. Research is a very broad field of work and there is something for everyone!
Q: What is your research about?
A: Our research focuses on the psychosocial determinants of health; essentially we realize that healthcare goes far beyond hospitals and doctors’ offices, and we are looking into what those factors are. We want to shift healthcare and medicine to a preventative approach; we want to change the way people live so that they don’t get sick in the first place, instead of only treating people once they are already sick!
Q: What will you be working on this summer?
A: This summer I’m very excited to be taking on a project where I’ll be exploring the influence of built and social environments on community mobility, specifically for older adults living in rural communities.
Q: What is a typical “day in the life” in the lab for you?
A: Every day varies; there are some days where I am sitting at a computer doing preliminary data research on the communities we will be studying, there are days where I’m working very closely with my professor or grad students, and in the summer I’ll be going out to these rural communities to work directly with our subjects.
Q: Who is your biggest science crush?
A: Currently, Marc Lewis. I’m reading a book authored by him called “The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction is Not a Disease” where he presents quite a controversial model of addiction. Lewis is a neuroscientist but perhaps more interestingly, a former addict and he asks the tough questions about how we frame mental illnesses (specifically, addiction). He focuses on the intersections of neurophysiology and sociology and really is making me think about the overlap between the two.