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.

CONTEST (EXTENSION): Design the Cover for SFU SURJ’S Second Issue!


Cover Contest Extension

It is an exciting time of year, as the publication of our second issue is appearing on the horizon! All of us at SFU SURJ are currently working with all the wonderful manuscripts we received this year as they go through peer review.

As we begin to assemble our SECOND issue, we are (once again) giving the community a chance to design our cover! We know there are many talented people out there, so please submit your designs to us! (Note: you do not need to be in the Faculty of Science to submit a design). Check out our Facebook Event page here !

Check out Last year’s submissions here !

There is a $50 prize for the winner!


  • Submissions should be science-related photography, art, or design.
  • 8.5″ by 11″ design (PDF)
  • Submissions should be sent to sfusurj@sfu.ca 
  • Don’t worry about formatting text onto your design, we will overlay the text afterwards
  • Deadline for submissions is SUNDAY MAY 14 2017 before 11:59PM

All submissions will be featured on our blog, following selection of the winning design.

The winning design will become the cover of our second issue, appearing in both the online publication and in all of the printed publications.


Send us an email: sfusurj@sfu.ca

Connect with us on Facebook @Simon Fraser University Science Undergraduate Research Journal


SFU Undergrad Researcher: Sandali Chandrarathna

Next up in our SFU undergrad researcher series, we have Sandali Chandrarathna!

Name: Sandali Chandrarathna
Faculty: Health Sciences
Year of Study: 5th
Supervisor: Dr. Zabrina BrummeSANDALI CHANDRARATHNA


Q: What is your research about?
A: Our lab researches the genetics and evolution of HIV-1 virus. I was lucky enough to get my own project, which is a cross sectional study of a cohort of early-infected patients from Toronto. I’m characterizing genetic and functional diversity as well as immune-driven evolution within individual infections and within the cohort as a whole. Specifically, I’m looking at an HIV-1 accessory gene called Nef which is known to play an important role in viral pathogenesis and infectivity in vivo.


Q: How did you get involved in research?
A: Funny enough, up until the fourth year of my Life Science degree in FHS, I never felt compelled to get involved in any lab research but, at the end of what I though to be my penultimate semester of undergrad, once the course started focusing more on primary literature, I started craving some practical experience. So I e-mailed a couple researchers at SFU whose research was in line with my interests and ended up applying for a USRA with Dr. Brumme. That was last summer. After that, I stayed on with the lab group as an Honours student, and will be defending my Thesis next month!


Q: What do you want to be when you grow up?
A: *incoming cliché* I’ve always wanted to keep people from getting sick, and that hasn’t changed! The goal is to get an MD and practice in a community clinic. A lot of my experience outside of lab research is in health promotion and out in the community, so I see tremendous value in community-level interventions in improving health and well-being. I’d also really like to be involved at the policy level in some capacity…we’ll see what happens I guess!


Q: Favorite Course?
A: Hmm, I’d say it’s a toss up between Dr. Van Houten’s Seminar in Infectious Disease and the late Dr. Goldner’s course on Mental Illness in Canada. Both of those courses really resonated with and influenced me.


Q: What scares you the most in the lab?
I guess I should be expected to say HIV is the scariest thing in the lab but, because we take the necessary precautions with handling and storing infectious material, that’s not so much of a concern (although I was definitely wary when I started in the lab!). I think what scares me the most is the possibility of contamination. Contaminating your samples with other samples, with bacteria, contaminating your cell lines, your PCR reactions… no fun.

SFU Undergrad Researcher: Nathan Batke

For our next SFU undergraduate researcher profile, we have Nathan Batke who is performing research in the School of Engineering Science!

Name: Nathan Batke
Faculty: Applied Sciences
Year of Study: 2ndNATHAN BATKE
Supervisor: Andrea Ferrone


Q: How did you get involved in research?
A: I’m currently in the Engineering program, and last semester I was seeking my first Co-op job. Long story short, I applied to many positions and accepted this Research Co-op job that I am currently doing for SFU at Menrva Lab.
Q: What have you been working on in your research so far?
My position involves the Testing and Characterization of Smart Sensors. Basically, I am testing and documenting the various properties of these specific Smart Sensors. Also, I have been working on the lab’s “Linear Stage” system. This system can be seen in the picture, and is used for testing the Smart Sensors.
Q: What’s your favourite course that you have taken so far in your degree?
I would have to say Engineering Science 120 (Introduction to Laboratory Instruments) because it was one of the easiest courses that I have taken in the Engineering program so far – which meant I was able to get a really good mark. But also because the work was almost all hands-on circuitry. The focus was not really on learning theories, equations, and formulas – which was awesome. Also, regarding a different course, I thoroughly enjoyed the ENSC 252 Lab part of the class, even though it was quite frustrating at times.
Q: What is a typical “day in the life” in the lab for you?
For a typical day in the lab, I will mostly be working on the computer. I will do a good amount of programming in Arduino IDE, and also modifying our LabVIEW program so that the system we use is improved. Also, if requested by my supervisor, I would perform the required tests on a specific amount of Smart Sensors, and then document my work. And of course, I would be collaborating with my fellow co-workers and asking them for help if needed.
Q: What scares you the most in the lab or the field?
What scares me the most is the possibility of making a mistake when using circuitry or some type of electrical system. For example, the moment when you connect a power source to your circuit or system, and you get a spark or smoke… that’s no fun. Especially when something burns out and stops working.

SFU Undergrad Researcher: Vanessa Fussell

We at SFU SURJ are all about promoting undergraduate scientific research – that’s why we’re here! As this Spring semester ends and the start of USRA (Undergraduate Student Research Award) projects begin, we thought of no better way to appreciate the SFU undergrad scientific community than by featuring the brilliant ladies and gents doing research here at SFU this summer. For those of you hoping to do research yourselves one day, we especially hope these profiles inspire you to stake your own claim in the world of science!

For our first profile, we present:

Name: Vanessa Fussell
Faculty: Biology – Cells, Molecules, and Physiology Stream
Year of study: Third
Supervisor (PI): Harald Hutter
Q: What do you want to be when you grow up?
Q: How did you get involved in research?
A: I was interested in both genetics and the nervous system. I approached my TA in my Developmental Biology Class who is a masters student in Harald Hutters Neural Development Genetics Lab.
Q: What have you been working on in your research so far?
A: Studying Axon Guidance Defects in nervous system developement seen in a strain of C.elegans with a mutation in the cadherin-4 gene and gene mapping fluorescent markers.
Q: What’s your favourite course that you have taken so far in your degree?
A: BISC405, Neurobiology with Gordon Rintoul
Q: What is a typical “day in the life” in the lab for you?
A: Analyzing samples under the fluorescent microscope (as seen in this picture), PCR, and running gels