ISSUE 02/2010 01 Events + Featured 02 UBC Astronomer Helps Prove Einstein Right (Again) 03 UBC Zoologist Calls for Boost in Ivory Trade Monitoring 04 UBC Science Gains Research Muscle 05 Class Connections + Kudos
UBC Science Connect
Photo credit: Martin Dee

Arrival of the Titan

It took almost every imaginable form of land and sea transport-- trains, ferries, flat bed trucks and even cranes--but the 25-metre long skeleton of a blue whale has arrived at UBC, set to become the centrepiece exhibit at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum.

Crews spent a full afternoon unloading the titanic delivery, which will join a collection that features more than two million plant, insect, fish, vertebrate and fossil specimens showcasing BC's natural history. Originally beached on the coast of PEI, it will be the world's largest skeleton suspended without external support, and one of only six similar exhibits in North America.

"Visitors will be amazed by the blue whale’s size," says Wayne Maddison, museum director and a professor with the departments of Botany and Zoology. "More importantly, the whale will help us tell the story of biodiversity to the public--how the earth's species are interconnected ecologically and genetically."

Save the Date and
Come Party at the Point at Alumni Weekend 2010!

Bring your friends and family and join fellow alumni, donors and friends for a cultural, social and intellectual odyssey. Stimulate your intellect in one of the Classes Without Quizzes, bring back that sense of wonder by joining chemistry students and faculty as they put on a Chemistry Magic Show, or climb your way up into the treetops during a canopy tour at the Botanical Garden!
» May 28-30, 2010

Rocks, Fossils and the Science of Paleontology
Michael Caldwell, University of Alberta, offers some insights on the origins of marine lizards and snakes.
» April 12, 2010

Inside the Fight Against the Flu Pandemic
François Jean and Sandra Diederich on the 2009 H1N1 outbreak, the research into what makes this virus unique, and preparing for the next pandemic.
» April 13, 2010

Beaty and the Beast
The Beaty Biodiversity Museum is celebrating the arrival of the blue whale with biodiversity and Earth Day events. Celebrate our planet, find out more about the museum and learn about the blue whale that will soon make the Beaty its home.
» April 24 and May 1-2, 2010

UBC Science Education Transformer Tapped for White House Post

Professor Carl Wieman, 2001 Nobel Laureate and director of UBC's initiative to transform undergraduate science education, has been nominated for the position of Associate Director of Science in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Wieman joined UBC Science in 2007 as professor of Physics and Director of the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative, designed to help scientifically measure and systematically improve undergraduate education.

"In just three years, his teaching and research and methods have touched more than 18,000 UBC students. His work here has attracted attention from around the world, so we are not surprised that President Obama would seek him out for this position," said UBC President Professor Stephen Toope.

“This nomination is an exceptional validation of Carl’s ideas and of our collective efforts to transform undergraduate science education at UBC," said UBC Science Dean Simon Peacock.

Calling all Computational Sciences Alumni!

We're looking for alumni speakers who graduated between 2003 and 2008 from Computer Science, Math, Stats, and Physics to come back and share your job search stories. Talk to current undergrads about the path you took from graduation to getting your first job!

May 6, 2010

UBC Astronomer Helps Prove Einstein Right (Again)

University of British Columbia astronomer Ludovic Van Waerbeke with an international team has confirmed that the expansion of the universe is accelerating after looking at data from the largest-ever survey conducted by the Hubble Space Telescope.

The astronomers studied more than 446,000 galaxies to map the matter distribution and the expansion history of the universe. This study enabled them to observe precisely how dark matter evolved in the universe and to reconstruct a three-dimensional map of the dark matter and use this to test Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity.

"Our results confirmed that there is an unknown source of energy in the universe which is causing the cosmic expansion to speed up, stretching the dark matter further apart exactly as predicted by Einstein's theory," says Van Waerbeke, an associate professor in the Dept. of Physics and Astronomy.

Phenomenal Physics Summer Camps!

UBC Physics is offering Summer Outreach Camps designed to introduce elementary students to the physics of fun! Hands-on activities include building everything from planes and cardboard boats to martian habitats. Each camp offers something different, so check out the descriptions and choose which one is the perfect physics fit for your future UBC Science alumna or alumnus! Spots are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Boost Ivory Trade Monitoring and Enforcement Before Allowing One-off Sales, UBC Zoologist

Recent petitions from several African nations to 'downlist' the conservation status of elephants should be denied because no adequate monitoring of the impact of ivory sales or enforcement of the ivory trade exists, according to recommendations published today by an international group of researchers including UBC zoologist Rene Beyers.

In 2008, a one-off sale of stockpiled ivory from South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe was brokered by the European Union in exchange for a nine-year moratorium on future sales from those nations. Tanzania and Zambia are currently petitioning the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species to downlist the conservation status of their elephants, which would enable the two nations to sell existing stockpiles generated by the legal culling of herds.

"The immediate fear is that down-listing elephants or allowing one-off sales in any African nation will stimulate the market for illegal ivory everywhere, particularly in those countries where law enforcement is inadequate,” says Beyers, a post doctoral fellow with the Department of Zoology.

Wanted: Life Sciences Alumni!

We're looking for alumni speakers who graduated between 2003 and 2008 from Biology, Biochemistry, Biotechnology, Chemistry, Microbiology, Pharmacology, Physiology, or Psychology to come back and share your job search stories. Talk to current undergrads about the path you took from graduation to getting your first job!

May 12, 2010

UBC Science Gains Research Muscle in Evolutionary Theory, Math

Research into evolutionary theory, math and economics will get a boost at UBC Science with the appointment of two new and one renewed Canada Research Chairs (CRCs) within the Faculty.

The appointments are among 12 new or renewed chairs just announced at UBC, part of a fresh round of 187 federally-funded research positions representing a total investment of $165.5 million. Two of the University's three new CRCs are within UBC Science.

"The Canada Research Chairs program has helped to transform university research at UBC and across Canada," says John Hepburn, Vice President Research and International at UBC.

Quirky Questions Quelled

You asked, Quirks and Quarks answered--with some help from UBC Science, of course!

"We know dolphins and whales were once land mammals, but what about the hippopotamus? Is it an animal on its way back into the water, or on its way out?"

For the answer to this and other intriguing inquiries into the world we live in, listen to the CBC Quirks and Quarks podcast.

Tobin Tanaka,
BSc '90 Physics, Dip. Meteorology '92

What were you involved in as a student? In second year I got involved as a member with the UBC Physics Society (Physsoc), then in fourth year I became the Physsoc president.

Favourite UBC memory? I have lots of great memories from my time at UBC, and many of them were centred around the activities that we had at Physsoc. There were wine and cheese mixers with Physics faculty members, Noon Lecture Series, or just going for lunch and coffee with friends at the Bus Stop Café. The best part is, I'm still in regular contact with many of them today.

How has your learning at UBC helped you get to where you are today? UBC is where I was able to lay the groundwork for my career as a forensic document examiner (FDE). Today, when I'm faced with a difficult forensic problem, I rely on my ability to think critically and to problem solve, skills I developed at UBC.

The nature of my work is multi-disciplinary, but also very specialized. The comprehensive training required to become an FDE covers a variety of topics, and theoretical and practical training are done under the supervision of another trained examiner. In some ways, the training is similar to an apprenticeship. There's practical work, such as comparing handwriting on different documents to determine their origin. This hands-on training is coupled with theory that's similar to graduate school. No university in North America offers a program that allows you to step directly from university to a job as an FDE, so a solid grounding in science is a must.

My physics background came in handy when FDE exams rolled around. Having an understanding of optics, electrostatics, pattern recognition and the basic philosophy of science was essential. It also enables me to bring a layer of diversity that compliments my colleagues' educational backgrounds. This diversity is vital to our ability to function as a strong team.

What has been your most meaningful involvement with UBC after graduating? Supporting the Science 101 program, an initiative that provides access to science education to residents of Vancouver's inner city and downtown eastside. It's a great way to introduce science to people who would otherwise have little opportunity. I also recently participated as a mentor at Beyond the BSc, a great experience that I hope provided students with some insight into a career as an FDE.

UBC Science Alumni Give Back at Beyond the BSc

Photo credit: Jamil Rhajiak, Student Development Coordinator, UBC Science

On March 29, UBC Science and SCI Team hosted Beyond the BSc, an opportunity for students to interact with Science mentors and receive career guidance. Over 50 UBC Science alumni and friends mingled with more than 250 undergrads during the course of the evening. Students had the opportunity to network with mentors from an incredible variety of fields. The highlight of the event was watching students who were genuinely engaged with mentors, learning new things and having their assumptions about their BSc challenged. Thank you to all UBC Science alumni and friends who attended the event and made it such an incredible opportunity for our future Science alumni to learn more about what they can achieve with their degree.

UBC Mathematicians Adding Up National Honours
Professor Rachel Kuske, head of the Department of Mathematics, was awarded the 2011 Krieger-Nelson Prize for Research Excellence by the Canadian Mathematical Society (CMS). The citation notes Kuske's important contributions to the study of ordinary, stochastic and partial differential equations for a wide range of applications--neuroscience, mathematical biology, buckling under compression, mathematical finance, and hydraulic-fracture mechanics. Three other UBC mathematicians--Professor Kai Behrend, Associate Professor Daniel Coombs and Professor Nassif Ghoussoub--have also been recognized at the national level by the CMS, Canadian Applied and Industrial Mathematics Society and the Pacific Institute for the Mathematical Sciences.

UBC Rising Stars in Probability, Nano Structures Receive US Sloan Fellowships
Two UBC Science researchers have received 2010 Sloan Research Fellowships, a US-based award that recognizes North America’s outstanding early career scientists, mathematicians and economists. Joshua Folk, an expert in the physics of nano structures, and Omer Angel, an expert in probability, are among seven Canadians awarded the fellowship this year.

Newly Funded Health Research Targets Staph Bacteria, DNA Synthesis, Whooping Cough
UBC Science has been awarded $3.2 million in funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), including support that will enable researchers to investigate how Staphylococcus aureus--the bacteria underlying drug resistant staph infections--acquires a key nutrient. The projects--five in total in the Faculty of Science--were included in the most recent round of CIHR's Operating Grant funding.

Blue whales are the largest animals that have ever lived on Earth. Whaling records from the early 20th century document blue whales as long as 33 metres. Animals this size are difficult to imagine, but to put it in perspective, they are longer than two Vancouver trolley buses parked one behind the other (each is 13 metres long). Their hearts are the size of a Volskwagen Beetle and the arteries connected to their car-sized hearts are large enough that a human baby could crawl through them.

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