SFU Undergraduate Researcher: Naomi Giesbrecht

Introducing Naomi Giesbrecht from the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry!


Name: Naomi Giesbrecht
Year: 3rd year
Major: Molecular Biology and Biochemistry
Supervisor: Dr. Jonathan Choy

Q: What do you want to be when you grow up/ finish undergrad?
A: When I was a kid, I thought being “grown up” was the age I am now (I’m older than you might guess); I’m still waiting to grow up. When I’m finished school though, I hope to be a clinical pharmacist. I’ve chosen pharmacy because it pairs what I already enjoy studying (science and chemistry) with working alongside patients and medical professionals.

Q: How did you get involved in research?
In my first year I wanted to get involved at school and gain some volunteer experience. I didn’t have much background knowledge in the MBB field yet, so I found a psychology research lab who was willing to take me on as extra help (thank you Dr. Mistlberger and all the wonderful researchers in his lab!). Initially I helped with general tasks of cleaning, taking care of animals used in their studies, and data formatting. Since the research involved animal models, the opportunity to learn genotyping techniques such as PCR and gel electrophoresis became available. As I was just learning about these procedures in class, I was ecstatic to get to a chance to try them out for real! Although my background knowledge wasn’t particularly strong, the experience I gained allowed me to be more useful in a MBB lab setting. By second year I found myself volunteering my time in the same way in Dr. Choy’s lab. This summer, I am very grateful to Dr. Choy and Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada for the opportunity to work as an undergraduate researcher.

Q: What are you researching?
Dr. Choy’s lab studies heart transplant rejection. One of the leading causes of transplant rejection is due to transplant arteriosclerosis, a disease inducing thickening in the donor arteries due to the immune responses of the recipient. My project includes a lot of immunohistochemistry (IHC), to analyze the role of different T-cells and their cytokines in the immune mechanisms that transplant arteriosclerosis appropriates.

Q: What is a typical “day in the life” in the lab for you?
A: When I enter the lab in the morning, I immediately start the kettle boiling for my first (of many) cups of coffee in the day. Next I usually get settled in at my desk, and plan which artery stains I’ll do in the day. Then, I’ll get started. While learning the IHC protocol, I found two things particularly surprising: the first, how small everything you work with actually is (a single mouse artery is only the size of a pin’s head); the second, how many timers I have beep at me during a day. I literally set 30 alarms for one protocol. At some point in the day I’ll grab some lunch, and when things start slowing down in the afternoon I will do background readings to improve my knowledge of our research.

Q: Favourite science joke or meme from your field?
A: Anti-vaccers.

Q: If you were a scientific lab instrument, which one would you be?
A: I’d be one of those benchtop rotators that keep your samples moving around. Even when you think I’m just sitting there, I’m probably shaking, twitching, or jiggling my legs (I apologize to everyone I sit with in lectures for shaking your seats)

Q: Who is your biggest science crush?
A: Bill Nye! Off the top of my head I can’t think of anything he’s contributed to science, but I really love how accessible and understandable he makes science for everyone.


SFU Undergrad Researcher: Iqra Yaseen

Introducing Iqra Yaseen from the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry!


Name: Iqra Yaseen
Year: 3rd year
Major: Molecular Biology and Biochemistry
Supervisor: Dr. Peter Unrau

Q: What do you want to be when you grow up?
A: Hopefully something related to the medical field, as a surgeon, pharmacist or even just research. I’m very interested in how drugs and treatments work in the body.

Q: How did you get involved in research?
A: I was able to do a laboratory internship at an industrial facility in my hometown, there I learnt a lot about lab work and research. Therefore coming back in the fall for my 2nd year, I looked up some research labs at SFU that interested me. With a lot of new work in RNA, I decided to contact Dr. Unrau and he accepted me. 

Q: What have you been working on in your research so far?
A: I have been working with a PhD candidate to select for an Ribozyme that acts as a polymerase, except it has a clamping mechanism. This way if the clamp works then it doesn’t let go of the template. 

Q: What is a typical “day in the life” in the lab for you?
A: Our lab is a wet lab, so most of our reactions are run through gels. Since we work with RNA we usually run acrylamide and agarose gels to obtain results.

Q: What if your favorite course that you have taken so far in your degree?
A: It was the Chem 286 lab, as I found it pretty easy and quite interesting.

SFU Undergrad Researcher: William Shen

Introducing William Shen of the Departments of Chemistry and Molecular Biology and Biochemistry!


Name: William Shen
Faculty: Chemistry and Molecular Biology and Biochemistry
Year: Fourth
Supervisor: Dr. Hogan Yu

Q: What have you been working on in your research so far?
A: My research is focused on modifying surfaces to create superhydrophobic and cytotoxic materials with silanes and nanoparticles. My original project was meant to impart hydrophobic properties onto materials but I wanted to direct the applications towards the biology side of things so I implemented antimicrobial properties in addition. Having volunteered in health care for a few years, one of the main things that I noticed is that outbreaks are pretty common and when they do happen, quality of life takes a major nosedive. If I can develop a simple flexible process to modify materials that can limit bacteria derived nosocomial infections through contact transfers, then it would be beneficial to everyone. Another application that I have also spent a lot of time developing are durable superhydrophobic and antimicrobial textiles.

Q: What is a typical “day in the life” in the lab for you?
A: I could potentially be doing anything from creating thin films of polymers on surfaces, synthesizing nanoparticles, performing Kirby-Bauer and other susceptibility tests, or characterizing and interpreting data from instruments like contact angle goniometers and scanning electron microscopy. I don’t have much of a normal everyday routine in the lab in terms of the experiments I plan.

Q: What’s your favourite course that you have taken so far in your degree?
A: I have quite a few favourite courses but I would say CHEM 459 – Special Topics in Organic Chemistry is my favourite. The course was taught by David Vocadlo and the topic that he chose was chemical biology. When I started university, I chose MBB as my major because I loved biology and chemistry. I was disappointed that MBB never quite went into the chemistry of anything in any sort of detail…it was sort of just glossed over for the most part. Fast forward to the end of second year and I found out about the Chemistry and MBB joint program and decided to switch into it. It wasn’t until I took chemical biology that I felt like there was a course that satisfied what I wanted originally. It took everything great about chemistry, everything great about molecular biology and biochemistry, and blended it into a different field that I loved. I would definitely recommend the course with Dr. Vocadlo to anyone if you get the chance.

Q: If you were a scientific lab instrument, which one would you be?
A: A scanning electron microscope because it’s my favourite characterization technique by far for materials and who wouldn’t want to be part electron gun???

Q: Who is your biggest science crush?
A: Elon Musk because I always admire someone who has the guts to take on high-risk high reward scenarios where you could potentially lose everything. Plus, he called his tunnel boring company “The Boring Company.” A+

Q: What scares you the most in the lab or the field?
A: Breaking very expensive equipment.