SFU Undergrad Researcher: Henry Tran

Next up in our series of brilliant SFU researchers, we have Henry Tran!

Name: Kim Hoang (Henry) Tran
Majors: Behavioural Neuroscience and English
Year of Study: Third
Supervisor: Chris Kennedy


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


Q: How did you get involved in research?
A: Fabiola, my BISC 101 TA talked about the environmental toxicology research she was doing with Dr. Kennedy and I was really fascinated by it, so I asked Dr. Kennedy to volunteer in his lab.


Q: What will you be working on this summer?
A: This summer I will be studying the lethal and sublethal toxicity of four anti-parasitic chemotherapeutants: ivermectin, SLICE®, Salmosan® and Paramove 50® on marine benthic organisms (crustaceans, bivalves, annelids and echinoderms). In doing so, I hope to address the environmental risks and consequences affiliated with them and how to in turn, to properly manage them for the stewardship of Canada’s coastal areas.


Q: What have you been working in your research so far?
A: So far, I’ve been working with Msc. candidate, Kassondra Rhodenizer, on studying the effects of Corexit and bitumen on crustaceans off the coast of B.C. We’ve been analyzing how these shrimp’s feeding behaviour have altered after they have been exposed to these chemicals.


Q: What’s your favourite course that you have taken so far in your degree?
A: BPK 205, Human Physiology with Nadine Wicks!


Q: What is a typical “day in the life “ in the lab for you?
A: Preparing solutions and then exposing the shrimps in to these solutions.


Q: What scares you the most in the lab?
A: The shrimps are extremely jumpy so when you transfer them to different tanks, it’s quite nerve-racking because they can jump out of the net and they thrash a lot.

SFU Undergrad Researcher: Joseph Lucero

Next up in our series of brilliant SFU undergrad scientists, we have Joseph Lucero of the Department of Physics!

Name: Joseph Lucero
Major: Biophysics
Year: Fourth
Supervisors: David A. Sivak, Leonid Chindelevitch

2017-04-20 15.30.46

Q: What do you want to be when you grow up?
A: In an ideal world I would like to become a doctor of some sort! PhD or MD, whichever one comes first, I’m not really that picky haha.

Q: What have you been working on in your research so far? What is your research about?
A: The Physics Department here at SFU has a program called “Adopt-A-Physicist” that helps first-year students get exposed to research. I was paired with the Sivak Theoretical/computational biophysics group and began getting involved in research, albeit in a passive sort of way: in my first year I sat in on the group’s weekly meeting and learned how theory-based research was conducted, while simultaneously reading related scientific literature outside of these meetings. After a year, this passive role transitioned into a more active one where I began my own research project.

Q: What is a typical “day in the life” in the lab for you?
A: A day in the lab for me usually involves one of three things: debugging code and running numerical simulations, analyzing the outputs of these simulations, literature review, and speaking with other members of the group or my supervisor about things that I am stuck on.

Q: What will you be working on this summer?
A: This summer will be a sort of departure for me, as my summer research project will be in Computer Science with the Chindelevitch group as opposed to my usual home in Biological Physics with the Sivak group. My summer research project involves developing a novel method/algorithm that is able to construct tuberculosis (TB) phylogenies and be applied to a large collection of existing TB data.

Q: What’s your favorite course that you have taken so far in your degree?
A: I would say that my favourite course out of the ones that I have taken so far, would probably be Physics 384: Mathematical Methods of Theoretical Physics. It was a very interesting course that introduced me to the mathematical techniques used by physicists every day and it served to unlock the sections of the research literature which, before I took this course, were impenetrable simply because I lacked knowledge of what all the symbols meant and the methods that they used.

SFU Undergrad Researcher: Parmida Atashzay

Next up in our series of brilliant SFU scientists, we introduce Parmida Atashzay!

Name: Parmida Atashzay
Faculty: Molecular Biology and biochemistry
Year of Study: 4th
Supervisor: Dr. William Davidson


Q: What do you want to be when you grow up?
A: I have always wanted to be a doctor since I was 4 years old and I always worked hard to reach that goal.


Q: How did you get involved in research?
A: I knew research will be one big step for me to get close to my ultimate goal so I started going to different seminars when I was in high school and I kept asking around to see if any of the professors need a volunteer. Finally, the head of the microbiology department from Michael Smith Lab at UBC accepted me and asked me to volunteer at Michael Smith Labs. This is how I got into getting more experiences and getting the job I have right now.


Q: What is your research about?
A: I am currently working on interaction between two specific proteins at Dr. Davidson’s Genetic Lab and I will be continuing to work on this project until I find a answer. Also, I will be working in Dr. Audas lab as well this summer as a research student.


Q: What is a typical day in the life for you in the lab?
A: My typical day since I started working in the lab is that I usually wake up early and come to the lab and start working on different experiments, then i will go to my classes and I will come back in the Lab to finish my experiments. Basically, I am in the lab over 8 hours a day and have full time course load which makes it a bit difficult but still manageable.


Q: Favorite course?
A: One of my favourite course that I took at SFU is MBB 463 Forensic Genomics. If you haven’t taken this course I highly recommend it. This course is reason why I have my current research job.


Q: What scares you the most in the lab?
A:What scares me the most in the lab is to fail and not be able to continue with the project and also I keep asking myself am I working hard enough? Or is my supervisor happy with my work? However, there is one thing i have learnt from masters and PhD students in my lab, they said “every experiment fails 80% of the time and you are lucky if everything works out well the first time you try it”. So if your planning on working in the lab always keep that in mind and never give up

SFU Undergrad Researcher: Katrina Koehn

Next up in our series of erudite SFU experimenters, we have Katrina Koehn!

Basic info: Katrina Koehn
Year of Study: 2nd
Major: Health Sciences
Supervisor : Surita Parashar at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS


Q: How did you get involved in research?
A: I’m a very easily excited person. That said, in my first year I took HSCI 130 with Bob Hogg, and was absolutely enthralled with the examples he would give in class about his research.  I started reading papers from the Centre for Excellence and learned a few things about the topic and eventually worked up the courage to ask Dr. Hogg if he had any openings for undergrad students one day after class.

I want to talk briefly about my motivation in being persistent about being involved with a lab as well.  Going in to university, I had taken a year off and had just completed this exchange program that had taken me across Canada, to a rural town the Peruvian Andes, and finally to a coastal town in Ghana.  Needless to say, I was a big advocate for the benefits of experiential learning, and was disappointed to be back in the formal education system.  When I started talking to people about their university experiences, I realized a fairly common theme around people who seemed really passionate about their experience: their involvement in lab work.  Indeed, my involvement in lab work has made me so much more passionate about my studies.  I think of it as ‘retrospective learning’: first, you learn about a concept hands-on and apply it in a lab setting, and then you eventually get to learn about the theory behind that same concept in class.  Because you’ve had the hands-on experience, learning about the theory behind the concept makes it so much more exciting to learn about and easier to understand.

Q: What have you been working on in your research so far?
A: Most of the initiatives I’ve been involved in at the Centre have been centered on individuals who are living with HIV and use illicit drugs.  I assisted in synthesizing information for a review paper looking at mortality rates of people living with HIV and using injection drugs.  Currently, I’m working on a paper studying how experiencing food insecurity impacts HIV treatment outcomes among individuals who use drugs living right here in Vancouver.

Q: What’s your favorite course that you have taken so far in your degree?
A: English 105 with David Coley.  Bob Dylan, Kurt Vonnegut, and opportunities for introspection galore!

Q: What is a typical “day in the life” in the lab for you?
A: The office that I work in is downtown, so I make the trek there about once a week.  After grabbing some coffee, most of my day is a cycle between reading, writing, emailing, and more coffee.  There’s also pestering people with questions I have and the occasional meeting here and there. There are also interspersed fan-girl moments when researchers whose work I really admire drop into the office.

Q: What’s the funniest thing in the lab that’s happened to you?
A: I find it more embarrassing than anything, but other people seem to think its funny so here goes: on one of my first days working at the lab, I asked my supervisor what a p value meant.  That being said, if you ever feel like you’re under-qualified for a research position, you are.  But you can learn and ask many silly questions along the way!

SFU Undergrad Researcher: Nancy Lum

For our next entry in our series of intellectual undergrad investigators, we have Nancy Lum of the Department of Biomedical Physiology and Kinesiology!

Name: Nancy Lum
Department: Biomedical Physiology and Kinesiology
Year of Study: 3rd
Supervisor: Dr. Glen Tibbits

Photo (from left to right) : Marvin Gunawan, Sanam Shafaattalab, Nancy Lum, Frederico Lisboa, Sabi Sangha, Alison Li

Q: What do you want to be when you grow up?
A: One day I hope to be a pediatrician to support the physical and mental health of children and youth!
Q: What have you been working on in your research so far?
A: The Tibbits lab works with human induced pluripotent stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes. In other words, we can grab a patient’s blood sample, take the T cells, give them a bunch of molecules called the Yamanaka factors, and reprogram them into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). This means that they can differentiate into a number of other cells – kidney cells, neurons, and cardiomyocytes. Our lab is currently focusing on differentiating them into cardiomyocytes and using them as a disease model to study inherited arrhythmias. This has been fondly dubbed “disease in a dish.” It is pretty amazing to see the heart cells actually beating in a concerted way in a petri dish at 60-80 bpm, like a regular heart does!How do I fit into this? When we turn our iPSCs into cardiomyocytes, they can turn into ventricular, atrial, and nodal cells. I optimized an quantitative PCR assay that will help determine what the dominant type of cells are in our little petri dishes. After all, if we’re studying an arrhythmia like atrial fibrillation, we need to make sure that the cells are predominantly atrial. The hope is that we can use this technique to optimize our differentiation methods to yield mostly ventricular, mostly atrial, or mostly nodal cells.

Q: What’s your favourite course that you have taken so far in your degree?
A: My favourite so far has been BPK 412 – Molecular Cardiac Physiology with Dr. Glen Tibbits. Barring the fact that I’m probably biased because Dr. Tibbits is my PI and because he has a wicked sense of humour, BPK 412 gives you an awesome look into the world of cardiac research, giving a thorough discussion of the current knowledge of cardiac ion channels, which dictate how our hearts beat. Plus, Dr. Tibbits goes in depth about the research done to figure these things out, and it’s just fascinating.

Q: Favourite science joke or meme from your field?
Q: If you were a scientific lab instrument, which one would you be?
A: A multichannel pipette!

SFU Undergrad Researcher: Danielle Thompson

Next up in our series of scholarly SFU students, we have Danielle Thompson of the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry!

Name: Danielle Thompson
Major: Molecular Biology and Biochemistry
Year: Third
Supervisor: Dr. David Schaeffer, Vancouver General Hospital Pathology department

Q: What do you want to be when you grow up?
A: This is a question that has had many different answers over the years, but currently my goal is to become a genetic counselor.

Q: How did you get involved in research?
A: The first research experience I ever had was working in Dr. Barry Honda’s lab at SFU. I knew Dr. Honda from a group he put together in my first year so I emailed him one day asking if he knew of any professors in the MBB department looking for 2nd year volunteers. He ended up offering that I come work in his lab so I spent two semesters there before getting my co-op at VGH.

Q: What have you been working on in your research so far? (What is your research about?)
A: The project I’m currently working on is for a type of pancreatic cancer called pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, or PDAC for short. That’s all I’m allowed to disclose about the project…but if you do a little bit of research into this type of cancer, you will learn that it is pretty aggressive. Less than 10% of all patients diagnosed with PDAC are expected to be alive 5 years after their diagnosis.

Q: What is a typical “day in the life” in the lab for you?
A: It really depends on the day! Some days I am super busy and I feel like I barely have time to eat, and other days I have no lab work to do so I end up researching papers and other supplementary materials that I think would help my understanding of some of the projects going on around me. When I am in the lab, typical work that I do will include DNA/RNA extractions, real-time PCR, cutting pancreas FFPE blocks on the microtome, followed by prepping those sections on PEN slides for dissection by laser-capture microdissection (LCM). A majority of my time right now is spent on the LCM because it can take the entire day to go through 10 slides and dissect the parts that I am interested in.

Q: What’s your favourite course that you have taken so far in your degree?
A: That’s easy. MBB 321-Intermediary Metabolism with Dr, Northwood.

Q: Who is your biggest science crush?
A: Dr. Vlachos. Let’s be real- she’s great.

SFU Undergrad Researcher: Olivia Tsai

Introducing Olivia Tsai of the Faculty of Health Sciences!

Name: Olivia Tsai
Major: Health Sciences
Year of Study: 2nd
Supervisor: Jeff Yap, PhD Student, of the Williams Lab
Q: How did you get involved in research?
A: I worked at the Animal Care Facility last summer, taking care of the zebra finches. It got me interested in avian physiology, so I started volunteering with my current supervisor.


Q: What is your research about? What will you be working on this summer? 
A: I’m studying red blood cell production. I’ll be doing an experiment to validate the use of dietary nitrate to reduce hematocrit and hemoglobin concentration in zebra finches.


Q: What is a typical “day in the life” in the lab for you?
A: Asking my supervisor lots of questions. Sometimes blood sampling and running assays. Sometimes data collection and analyzing stats.


Q: What scares you most about science?
A: Figuring out the logistics of a new project. Getting past the stage of “Is it even possible to accomplish this?”


Q: If you could be any laboratory instrument, what would you be?
A: A petri dish because I’d be so cultured.

SFU Undergrad Researcher: Renato Molina

Next up, we have Renato Molina of the Departments of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry and Biomedical PhysiologyRENATO MOLINA-2.jpg

Name: Renato Molina
Faculty: Molecular Biology/Biochemistry and Biomedical Physiology
Year of study: 4th Year
Supervisor: Dr. Shenshen Lai


Q: What do you want to be when you grow up?
A: Honestly, I used to think people in their 20’s were “grown-up,” and now I can see how wrong I was. I am nowhere close to what I want to become, yet I continue to chip away at what I want the sculpture of my future to be. I think that as science students, we are genuinely curious about everything, and that is where I currently am. I have a hard time deciding whether to pursue a future in medicine, or continue advancing further along the research chain. Albeit, thinking about the future really excites me. Whether its research or medicine, curiosity and science will keep me captivated enough to always enjoy what I study.


Q: What will you be working on this summer?
A: The drug discovery section of the company I am currently at focuses on targeting signaling proteins involved in many kinds of cancers. Many of these signaling proteins are key regulators of important intracellular events that allow cell survival, programmed cell death, differentiation and proliferation. Most of the drugs being developed at the company are inhibitors of such pathways, and so the research I will be conducting in the summer will involve looking at inhibitors and there anti-oncogenic effects in particular cancer cell-lines.


Q: Favorite course you have taken in your degree so far?
A: I don’t like picking favorites, because I love all the courses I take. If I had to, BPK 305 (Human Physiology I) has been the best course I have taken to date. It is hard, challenging and intense. However, it is the most rewarding. You come out feeling saturated with relevant and useful information. I got to learn about cardiac physiology at the mechanical level and molecular level. I also got to learn about the vascular system and respiratory system in depth, and how it all helps keep you alive.


Q: Who is your science crush?
A: Dr. Amy Mainzer is among the top. She studies space in infrared! And she has had an asteroid named after her, how cool is that!?


Q: If you were a scientific lab instrument, what would you be?
A: Most definitely an autoclave. Always eating, and then moody because I didn’t have enough to eat.
***For those who don’t know what an autoclave is, please see wikipedia link here.

Optimization in the real world

By Cherlene Chang

     Cherlene_Pic1How does classroom learning translate to real-life applications? Well, the STEM Spotlight Awards offered my team (Cherlene Chang, BSc Kinesiology Major; Matthew Reyers, BSc Operations Research – Mathematics Major) the opportunity to pose a solution to a real-world question from Peace River Hydros Partners. Our challenge was to optimize the existing charter flight system in terms of minimizing cost and commute times of workers, which provides service to six flight hubs in Western Canada including Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Kelowna, Kamloops, and Prince George.

Fundamental to the formation of this team was the ideology of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and Simon Fraser University.Read More »