SFU Undergrad Researcher: Yasmin Khalili

Introducing Yasmin Khalili of the Department of Biology!


Name: Yasmin Khalili
Faculty: Health Sciences major, Biological Sciences minor
Year of Study: 3rd
Supervisor: Dr. Allison Cornell and Dr. Tony Williams from the Department of Biology at SFU (former), Dr. Lindsay Rite and Dr. Brenda Lau at CHANGEpain Clinic (current)

Q: What do you want to be when you grow up?
A: I have always been fascinated by the health care field, the more I learn the more questions I have and the more I want to know! I hope to be in a profession where I can combine my passion for health care, academia, and helping others. I enjoy working with patients, doing hands on work, and teaching so hopefully I will be in a position that combines all those things!

Q: How did you get involved in research?
A: I first got involved in research when I was taking BISC 102 through my amazing TA for the course, the then-PhD-candidate-now-professor Dr. Allison Cornell! We documented avian song, nest building, and pre-copulatory behaviours through binoculars to assess how breeding times were affected by weather changes. In other words, we would head to our research site in Langley at 6am to spy and take data on birds to see if we could cause fluctuations in the pre-copulatory behaviours (sex) that the birds were having. Super cool!
I am now working as a Research Assistant at CHANGEpain Clinic. Our team consists of anesthesiologists, a doctor of chiropractic, UBC medical school students, and other staff members at the clinic like myself who are passionate about chronic pain and hope to improve care for patients.

Q: What have you been working on this summer?
A: This summer our primary focus for the research team has been working on several case study papers that we have submitted for publication to the CME Journal. The most recent one focused on different modulators for chronic pain was just recently submitted for publication. Through it we hope to educate family physicians on how they can best help their patients who present with complex chronic pain cases. The authors included the witty UBC medical student Curtis May, our incredible Chiropractor and Research Team Lead Dr. Lindsay Rite, the absolute genius and UBC Medical School Pain Medicine Residency program Medical Director Dr. Branda Lau, and… me! . We will be working on another paper to be sent for publication later in the year soon, as well as starting several QI projects at the clinic.

Q: What have you been working on in your research so far?
A: At CHANGEpain Clinic we have two main focuses with our research: 1. to provide family physicians with information and the most up to date knowledge when dealing with patients who present with chronic pain as their first line investigators. Chronic pain can be very complex and unfortunately it is not a topic that all GP’s have a great understanding of how to deal with. And 2. to teach other health care providers about the multidisciplinary approach we have at our clinic, with an emphasis on patient empowerment and not just treatment. Soon we will be implementing QI research as well.

Q: What’s your favourite course that you have taken so far in your degree?
A: I have had many courses that I have loved during my time at SFU (BISC 102 with Dr. Isabelle Cote, HSCI 130 with Dr. Rochelle Tucker, BISC 202 with Dr. Mike Hart, just to name a few!) but one that stood out to me more than any other was HSCI 214 with the late Dr. Elliot Goldner. With a focus on mental health and illnesses HSCI 214 taught students the other side of mental illnesses, and how to empathize with and help those in need. To really have an impact on the students Dr. Goldner arranged for guest speakers who were dealing with mental illnesses themselves, such as Schizophrenia, to come to the lecture and talk about their experiences. This method of teaching was not only incredibly eye opening, but also a learning experience that I will never forget.

Q: If you were a scientific lab instrument, which one would you be?
A: A curvilinear probe on an ultrasound machine!

SFU Undergrad Researcher: Donyanaz Divsalar

Introducing Donya Naz Divsalar of the Faculty of Health Sciences!

Name: Donya Naz Divsalar
Major: Health Sciences
Year of Study: Third
Supervisor: Dr. Chris Kennedy of the Department of Biology

Q: What have you been working on in your research so far?
A: We are currently studying the biological effects of an anti-sea lice pesticide, Salmosan, on the
Pacific spot prawn.
What is a typical “day in the life” in the lab for you?
There are different sets of procedures done in the lab daily. For me, it usually includes recording
the changes in the organisms, preparing solutions, measuring different qualities of water, such as
PH, temperature, salinity and dissolved oxygen, and changing water if need be.

Q: What do you wanna be when you grow up?
A: Growing up, I have definitely always been fascinated by various branches of sciences. I was
extremely fortunate to be given an opportunity to attend Medical school in Europe, and that
made me realize my passion for helping others, through clinical Medicine. I hope to pursue a
career in healthcare, with a focus on mental health.

Q: How did you get involved in research?
A: I have always been seeking diversity in my area of knowledge. I got involved with
Environmental Toxicology lab in spring, and even though it seemed to be very different from my
major of choice, I was totally mesmerized by the research focus and the different procedures that
were done in the lab. For me, research is a way to expand my knowledge of different areas of
science, get to have a hands-on experience in a dynamic environment, and being a part of an
awesome team with passionate individuals who share similar interests and goals.

Q: Whats your favourite course that you have taken so far in your degree?
A: HSCI 130, Foundations of Health Sciences. An absolutely fascinating course that challenged my
critical thinking about epidemiology and population health, and made me realize my passion for
global health and disease prevention.

SFU Undergrad Researcher: Leea Stotty

Introducing Leea Stotty of the Departments of Physics and Chemistry!


Name: Leea Stotty
Major: Chemical Physics
Year: Third
Supervisor: Dr. Jeffrey Warren of the Department of Chemistry

Q: What do you want to be when you grow up?
A: I do know that I want to do something that combines technical skill with creative thinking, however at this point I don’t think that I am fully aware of the extent of the opportunities that will be available to me as a Chemistry/Physics undergraduate. It’s my goal to really focus on figuring that out over the next few years remaining in my degree.

Q: How did you get involved in research?
A: I have always enjoyed lab work and was eager to get a job in a lab.  After taking a class with Jeff Warren; I approached him about a volunteer position and he got me started on a project right away; I volunteered over the spring semester and he gave me a summer research job.

Q: What are your research interests?
A: As I am at the beginning of my research career, my interests are still fairly general. I really enjoyed the focus on alternative energy and electrochemistry in Jeff Warren’s lab, and would love to do research in fuel cells ─ on top of that, I am also very interested in both electromagnetism and nuclear chemistry. I’m in the process of developing my programming skills and will be seeking an opportunity to exercise them in a lab setting; all in all I am very open minded to any interesting projects that come my way.

Q: What is your research about?
A: The research I did with Jeff Warrens group was testing a copper based water oxidation catalyst; we found that, in basic solutions, this catalyst reduced the overpotential of the oxidation of water; this reaction is important in fuel cells and the storage of solar energy.

Q: What is a typical “day in the life” in the lab for you?
A: I was performing electrochemical experiments, trying to pin point the best conditions (pH and concentration) for the formation of our copper based catalyst. Once these conditions were found we wanted to know how much oxygen was produced via electrolysis as a metric for the efficiency of this catalyst. Typically, my day would start with the preparation of various solutions and set-up of whatever electrochemical experiment I was to carry out. I would prepare electrodes and glassware and ensure my reaction cell was set up optimally. Once my solutions and equipment were ready to go, the cell would be assembled and I would carry any final experiment prep. As I ran my experiment I would usually perform some data analysis on matLAB or study similar projects to ours. The last 15 minutes of my day was usually spent cleaning up or organizing things for the next day. That was probably my average day, although other days were spent doing focusing on UV/VIS spectroscopy, NMR, or EPR experiments, preparing figures or writing sections of our paper and organizing the lab.

Q: What’s your favourite course that you have taken so far in your degree?
A: My favourite course so far has also been the most difficult; Introduction to Electrodynamics (PHYS 321) starts at the building blocks of electro and magneto statics and ends off with Maxwell’s Equations of Electrodynamics; I’ve always found this subject infatuating and I love the math-heavy description of it. It was definitely the most challenging class I have ever taken, although it turned out to be equally as satisfying in the end.

Q: Favourite science joke or meme from your field?
A: One of the chemistry based facebook groups I follow posted a picture of a formadahyde molecule and then beside it the same molecule in shorts and a t-shirt with “casual-dehyde” written above it. It’s so ridiculous and gets me every time.


Q: If you were a scientific lab instrument, which one would you be?
A: If I had to choose the instrument I am most alike to I would say the centrifuge because I am usually rushing around from place to place in the lab, and at some point in the day my head will be spinning!

Q: Who is your biggest science crush?
A: Does Matthew Mcconaughey playing the role of a scientist count? No, I’m kidding. I would have to say Marie Curie is my biggest science crush. Even without regard to the obstacles and restraints she had to overcome her achievements are extremely impressive. She discovered two new elements and developed radioactive theory, the ultimate bad-ass!

Q: What’s the funniest thing in the lab that’s happened to you?
A: Obviously, we aren’t supposed to bring food or drinks into the lab, but I used to always hide my coffee behind the computer I was working on so I could keep myself caffeinated as I carried out experiments. One morning I left my fresh coffee in the lab while I went to run a quick errand. When I returned, my coffee was gone and in my tired state I couldn’t recall what I had done with it. I spent a good amount of time looking all over the lab, disgruntled and un-caffinated, all the while trying to hide the fact that I was looking for my coffee. I finally gave up and went to get a new one, when I returned to the lab I spotted my original coffee high on top of one of the cabinets.  Turns out Jeff hid my coffee from me all along. Lesson learned!

Q: What scares you the most in the lab or the field?
A: My biggest fear is investing a lot of time into a project only to discover that I was wrong all along. I’ve heard that this does happen to many researchers, sometimes after several months of experiments. I had my own scare when my oxygen monitoring experiments were proving very difficult, I was terrified that maybe our catalyst wasn’t actually doing much catalysis. I guess investing in any research is always a gamble and that is something that I will have to grow to accept.

SFU Undergrad Researcher: Aaron Lyons

Introducing Aaron Lyons of the Department of Physics!

2017-05-08 13.31.46

Name: Aaron Lyons
Major: Biological Physics
Year: Fourth
Supervisor: Dr. Nancy Forde of the Department of Physics

Q: What do you want to be when you grow up?
A: I’d like to continue doing research after I’m done school, but I’m as uncertain as anyone about where that might be. There are lots of biotech companies in Vancouver, but in my experience industry research can be a lot less rewarding than what I’m doing now.

Q: How did you get involved in research?
A: One of the previous PhD students in the lab that I’m working for had to leave Vancouver on fairly short notice, so her supervisor was shopping around for a student to take on some of the experiments that still needed to be done. It just so happened that I was taking a lab course with that supervisor at the time, and since she was happy with my work she offered me a position in the lab.

Q: What is your research about?
A: I study the mechanical properties of collagen using atomic force microscopy, or AFM. Collagens are long, thin proteins, so we can learn a lot about how flexible they are by just looking at the conformations the molecules adopt in the AFM images. It’s kind of like putting a few pieces of string in a box and shaking them, except the strings are 300 nm long proteins and the shaking is thermal fluctuation.

Q: What is a typical “day in the life” in the lab for you?
A: AFM can be incredibly sensitive to noise, so my typical days are actually nights. Unless I have a meeting or class to go to, I’ll get to the lab at 4 or 5 pm and do any sample preparation and instrument setup that needs to be done. I usually start AFM imaging around 6 pm, because that’s generally when
people stop slamming their doors and clambering down the hallways like elephants.

Q: What’s your favourite course that you have taken so far in your degree?
A: It would have to be Protein Structure and Function (MBB 423). The class is an odd mix of biology, chemistry and physics, but each field lends itself to a different aspect of the course in a really cool way.

Q: Favourite science joke or meme from your field?
A friend who’s in liquor production
Has a still of astounding construction.
The alcohol boils,
Through an old magnet coil.
He says that it’s proof by induction.

Q: If you were a scientific lab instrument, which one would you be?
A: I guess I’d be a micropipette: versatile but in frequent need of calibration. I pride myself on being multidisciplinary, but it can take a lot of discipline on my part to pursue one project for an extended period of time.

Q: Who is your biggest science crush?
A: Maud Menten. Almost everyone that’s taken a biology course has heard about the Michaelis-Menten equation, but I don’t know how many people realize that Menten was Canadian. With 114 years of seperation, admiration is probably a better word, but she’s definitely someone who I would have liked to meet once.

Q: What’s the funniest thing in the lab that’s happened to you?
A: We had a shipment sent to us from Australia by some collaborators, and since the materials were heat sensitive they sent it to us in this futuristic-looking capsule filled with liquid nitrogen-soaked insulation. Since neither my supervisor nor I had ever seen anything like it, we started reading the instructions on how to open the capsule. It seemed simple: twist the cap off and pull on the handles to lift the container out. So we opened it up (at which point the liquid nitrogen started evaporating like crazy) and yanked on the handles – which proceeded to snap. At this point, the metal container had frozen to the sides of the capsule wall, and the heat-sensitive contents inside the container were rapidly approaching room temperature. Being pressed for time, we ended up chipping away at the ice and prying the container out with a set of barbeque tools from the physics kitchen, much to the amusement of the people watching our panicked frenzy. It was stressful at the time, but I look back on it and laugh now.

Q: What scares you the most in the lab or the field?
A: I know it’s silly, but I have an irrational fear of freak centrifuge accidents. I’ve probably centrifuged things thousands of times, but I always have this nagging feeling that the centrifuge will somehow launch itself across the room. Those things are scary.

SFU Undergrad Researcher: Tracy Huynh

Introducing Tracy Huynh of the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry!

Name: Tracy Huynh
Major: Molecular Biology and Biochemistry
Year: Fourth
Supervisors: Dr. Andrew Weng, Terry Fox Laboratory, BC Cancer Research Centre (current) and Dr. Michael Silverman, Department of Biological Sciences (former)


Q: How did you get involved in research?
A: It’s kind of a funny story. In November 2015, I was in the midst of doing my second co-op term at Pacific Environmental Science Centre as an Analytical Chemist. I realized that I was going back to school soon and then I began to absolutely regret waking up every morning because I knew I was getting that much closer to 10-hour study days again. Do you know how amazing it is to be able to fall asleep without having to worry about how a single mark on a single midterm from a single class could destroy your hopes and dreams and haunt you for the rest of your life? You’re so at peace when you’re not in school!
I browsed through some professor’s profiles in the Department of Biology one day out of curiosity and came across Dr. Silverman’s page. He had a picture of a fluorescent neuron on his website. It was cool. So I read through his research and sent him an e-mail to see if he was interested in taking on a volunteer for the Spring 2016 semester, since I would no longer be in co-op.
We met several times one-on-one throughout November-December. Eventually, somehow, we both agreed on me taking on an Honours Thesis/NSERC project with him for a year. I was only in my third year and had completed a total of ZERO 3rd year MBB courses. I was completely underqualified for the job and I told him that and I’m sure he knew that too. But, hey, I have to give a huge shoutout to Dr. S for taking a chance on me. Sometimes, it’s okay to put yourself out there with a bit of humility. From January 2016-December 2016, I worked on my project and finally got to present NEGATIVE results in December. Great times, man.

Q: What is your research about?
A: My research involved studying the impairment of autophagy and its effects on Alzheimer’s disease in neurons. Autophagy is an important cellular function for the degradation of damaged or malfunctioning proteins and organelles in a cell. It is particularly crucial in the post-mitotic neurons in our brain, which cannot simply dilute the toxic burden of damaged proteins by normal cell division. A disruption to the autophagic process can be particularly detrimental to neuronal survival. In my research, I treated cultured neurons with amyloid beta oligomers (AβOs), which are toxic and insoluble proteins that need to be degraded. Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by the presence of these AβO-containing plaques and a buildup of immature autophagic vesicles, suggesting some impairment of the autophagy pathway. My goal was to see whether there was a relationship between AβOs and the normal autophagic process.

Q: What’s your favourite course that you have taken so far in your degree?
A: I would have to say MBB 321: Intermediary Metabolism. It was so interesting to see how all of the ongoing metabolic pathways co-exist and interconnect in this amazing map of the cell. So many molecules are being made and degraded at the same time in each of the trillion cells inside our bodies. I also really enjoyed MBB 308 labs. Dr. Honda is such a boss.

Q: What will you be working on this summer?
A: I am actually going to be on co-op once again! I will be working under a few graduate students in Dr. Andrew Weng’s lab, who is an MD PhD, Senior Scientist in the Terry Fox Laboratory at BC Cancer Research Centre. I am so excited to be able to participate in a new project in the field of T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia and I am certain I would not have even received an interview offer if it weren’t for my time researching in Dr. S’s lab. I still have a lot to learn and am looking forward to see where this co-op job might take me next.
I’m also going to be hiking a lot this summer because I’m a huge hiking enthusiast. Hence why I chose the hiking photo instead of a picture of me in the lab. Why look at pipette tips and computers when you can look at a beautiful BC backdrop? Am I right? #beautifulbc #explorebc… By the way, I’m trying to get Instafamous so #followme #f4f #l4l lmao, I’m hilarious.

Q: What scares you the most in the lab or the field?
A: Failure. I am used to projects failing and receiving negative results (I presented an entire thesis on why my project did not work). I have learned all of this the hard way and with a lot of support from my mentors and peers. But, I am no longer afraid of getting negative results. I am more scared of failing my supervisor. They took a chance on me and that’s what scares me the most, is letting them down. I know they have gone through their fair shares of trials and upsets. It just scares me to think I might be disappointing anyone if I don’t work hard enough. Luckily, every single supervisor I have worked with has been empathetic and so supportive.

SFU Undergrad Researcher: Sarah Savić Kallesøe

Introducing Sarah Savić Kallesøe of the Faculty of Health Sciences!

Name: Sarah Savić Kallesøe
Major: Health Sciences (B.Sc.)
Year: Fourth
Supervisor: Dr. Howard Trottier of the Department of Physics, SFU


Q: What is your research about?
A: Besides public outreach, I also help with the data collection for the research projects led by Dr Howard Trottier. We are currently measuring the distance to Andromeda Galaxy, our nearest spiral galaxy neighbour. The purpose of this project isn’t so much to produce new findings, as the distance to Andromeda has been established (about 2.5 million light years away, if you were wondering). Rather, we are exploring the limits of our equipment. The observatory was opened only two years ago and a lot of our equipment is younger than that. We have two auxiliary spectroscopy units, a planetary imaging camera, a deep sky imaging camera, a handful of narrow band filters, a lunar filter on the way, and a solar telescope on the way as well. With each new project, we discover that we can measure something we initially thought we were unable to detect. We are in the process of planning a research project to produce new data after the Andromeda project. More exciting news to come! In the meantime, make sure you drop by the observatory during our open house hours and ask your questions about space! Follow us on Twitter at @sfutrottobs and visit our Facebook page to keep up to date about our bi-weekly Friday night events.

Q: What are your plans for the summer?
A: This summer, I will be studying observational astrophysics at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark! This is a really exciting opportunity because only 10 students in the world every year are admitted into this course. For the practical portion of the course, we will be collecting data at the internationally renown Nordic Telescope in La Palma, Spain. During my three months in Denmark, I will also be helping with the construction of the new spectrograph for the Nordic Telescope.

Q: What is a typical “day in the life” in the lab for you?
A: Since the observatory is meant for public outreach and research, most of my time at the observatory is dedicated to holding free public events. When the skies are clear, our Friday night events can attract over 300 people! The observatory is open 2 to 3 times a week and during that time I am giving tours, showing the public the space photographs taken at the observatory, and answering questions about our universe.
When the skies are clear and there isn’t a public event planned, we will conduct data collection for our research projects. Usually we start data collection at 11pm and finish at 5am in the summer (or 8pm to 6am in the winter), depending on how long the skies stay clear. There have been a few cases when I have done a full day of classes, stayed on campus until it got dark, and then stayed up all night doing data collection at the observatory, and then gone back to classes! While the collection process may be long and tiresome, you can’t help but feel excited when you see the first image of a galaxy in deep space on your computer screen.

Q: What scares you the most in the lab?
A: When I was a kid, I was afraid of the dark, and I’m willing to admit that I still am a little bit afraid of the dark. Of course, that fear makes it pretty inconvenient to be an astronomer who happens to do most of their data collection at night. The sound of the dome rotating can startle you if you don’t expect it. But now that I’ve spent so many nights at the observatory, I’m accustomed to it.

Q: What’s the funniest thing in the lab that’s happened to you?
A: We have a panic button in the Control Room of the observatory, which is where we spend most of the time monitoring the data as we collect it. For the longest time, the panic button didn’t have a cover and if you leaned on it, the alarm would sound. I have accidentally leaned on the panic button twice, and each time I was surprised and the other staff members got a good laugh out of it. After the second incident, we finally got a cover for the panic button.

SFU Undergrad Researcher: Nikola Surjanovic

Introducing Nikola Surjanovic of the Department of Statistics!

Name: Nikola Surjanovic
Major: Statistics
Year: Second
Supervisor: Dr. Thomas Loughin

Nikola Photo Professional.jpg

Q: What do you want to be when you grow up?
A: I hope to become a professor in the future. I am enthusiastic about teaching others, and I also feel that I will enjoy research.

Q: What will you be working on this summer?
A: In order to detect if a model is a poor fit for given data, there are various “Goodness-of-fit” tests, which help in this process. The Hosmer-Lemeshow test is often used for logistic regression models, and it is desirable to know whether a similar test would work for Poisson regression models. To analyze this, a simulation study will be conducted.
Essentially, for people not taking statistics courses, I will be trying to find out whether one test can work in another scenario. If so, some questions that should be answered are: under what conditions will the test work, and how well does it perform?

Q: What’s your favorite course that you have taken so far?
A: One of my favourite courses, which I took in this spring semester, is STAT 240 – Introduction to Data Science. It’s a new course and exposes students to modern tools for data acquisition. I would highly recommend it to anyone who will ever be dealing with data on a regular basis (who won’t?). There are some very basic prerequisites.
More info here.

Q: What’s a science joke or meme from your field?