Stats graduate student Camila P. Estevam de Souza is helping Vancouver-based Small Energy improve its building energy management software—in use at UBC's Koerner Library.
It's a number that shocks many people: the buildings we live, work and play in produce one-third of the world's greenhouse gases. But that number is also a big part of the reason Camila P. Estevam de Souza, a PhD student with the Department of Statistics, was interested in an internship with Small Energy Group.
Small Energy's online software charts a building's energy consumption in real time, and allows building managers to compare consumption patterns to historical trends. "So the manager can tell if the building is performing well—or under the typical curve—and look for ways to improve energy use," says de Souza.
The software takes weather, time of day and other factors into account when charting historical comparisons, and de Souza and supervisor Nancy Heckman are working to make those comparisons even smarter.
"There are a lot of factors to include in the comparisons, and advanced statistical methodology makes good use of all of the information," notes de Souza. "For example, our analysis can help us determine what conditions cause an extra building cooler to switch on, sharply increasing energy use."
De Souza will be with the Vancouver-based company through the spring and summer as part of the MITACs/Accelerate program. The successful federally funded program, which originally helped industry hire students and researchers to solve tricky computational problems, has evolved to encompass placements in engineering, geology, business and other disciplines.
"The potential of focusing bright young minds on real world problems and solutions is huge," notes Small Energy President David Helliwell, who studied geophysics at UBC and earned an MBA at the Ecole Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées, Paris. "We're certainly looking to hire more software developers and system engineers."
In the meantime, de Souza is enjoying applying her skills to a project that can help cut energy use, and enjoying being part of a team. "Academics can be solitary. Working with the software development team is great. It's nice to be part of a team, to see people working together toward a common goal."
Researchers at UBC and Stanford have discovered a chemical vital to the self-supporting nature of land plants—and thought unique to them—in marine algae. Lignin, a substance that strengthens cell walls and enables land plants to sprout upward through the air, has long been considered one of the characteristics separating land-based plants from aquatic plants.
Botany's Patrick Martone and colleagues used powerful chemical and microscopic anatomy techniques to identify and localize lignin within cell walls of a red alga. "All land plants evolved from aquatic green algae and scientists have long believed that lignin evolved after plants took to land as a mechanical adaptation for stabilizing upright growth and transporting water from the root," says Martone. The finding is a bit of an evolutionary curveball, and may affect how land plants are distinguished from aquatic algae in textbooks.
An inventive update to an astronomy course at UBC is giving students a hands-on feel for the scale, structure and motion of the Solar System. The Human Orrey Project—supported by UBC's Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative—involves 40 students sticking post-it notes on the floor of the Irving K Barber Learning Centre to trace the orbits of Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.
Students then take turns acting as the planets in orbit, while another team maps out other planets along with the Voyager spacecraft, the most distant man-made object. The third-year course is designed for non-science students at the university. "We want our students to personally experience the scale and structure of the Solar System," says Peter Newbury, a Science Teaching and Learning Fellow working with the course's instructor and the CWSEI to incorporate new and proven learning methods into astronomy courses.
Applying techniques used to manufacture integrated electronic circuits, UBC researchers have developed a microfluidic platform able to monitor individual cell response to varying chemical environments on an unprecedented scale. The programmable micro-scale cell trap and imaging platform built by Carl Hansen and colleagues is capable of analyzing over 256 simultaneous time-lapsed living cell experiments.
"The combination of throughput—the number of individual cells we can isolate—and programmable, precision control over the environment around the cell, allows for unique studies of how cells process changing stimuli to make decisions," says Hansen, with Physics and Astronomy and the UBC Centre for High-Throughput Biology. "The ability to generate large-scale data sets on single cells will allow us to develop and test quantitative models of cellular decision making, with implications to understanding basic biology and ultimately disease."
UBC Sci T-Shirts Up for Grabs
We want your feedback on Science Connect, and have the swag to prove it: t-shirts (designed by the Science Undergraduate Society), water bottles and business card holders. And congratulations to last issue's prize winners: Guy Wooliams (BSc'00), Kristin Mellish (MSc'97) and Harold Etter (PhD'66).
UBC Master's of Science students Ayesha Ahmed and Shawn Hood took home the top two spots at this January's Mineral Exploration Roundup poster competition. Ahmed won for her work entitled Extending the Hydrothermal Footprint of Carlin Gold Systems: A Look Into Clay Alteration Using Infrared Spectroscopy. Hood was awarded second place for his work looking into high-grade hydrothermal copper foliated granites, a poster which also took home top honours at the Western Inter-University Geoscience Conference earlier this year. Both students study under EOS assistant professor Ken Hickey, also with UBC's Mineral Deposit Research Unit.
The Shadow—the smoke and ash monster featured in the finale of the new adventure film Inkheart—has Robert Bridson to thank for its frighteningly realistic 'good' looks. Algorithms created by the assistant professor with Computer Science's Imager and Scientific Computing labs played a key part in bringing the monster to life, and Bridson served as a simulation consultant for the film's visual effects team.
"One of the biggest challenges in creating realistic visual effects and animation is that people have an inherent sense of what looks right and what doesn't," says Bridson. "We're so used to seeing the 'correct version' that reality provides every day." By incorporating the laws of physics into computer models, Bridson's research has helped everything from the mundane (Harry Potter's cape flowing in the wind) to the fantastic (explosions and smoke in Quantum of Solace) look absolutely true to life.
Thank You From Beyond the BSc!
Many thanks to all our alumni who shared their real-world tales of science at Beyond the BSc 2009 this February:
Sask Dspotovski, Trina Isakson, Michelle Lazar, Hiron Poon, Ryan Morasiewcz, Kelly Samuels, Devon Ross, Heather Heine and David Yang.
UBC researchers have unearthed new insights into the role that trapped liquids play along a portion of a major fault line off BC's coast, including the possibility that water escaping from pores in the ocean crust deep beneath Vancouver Island might be the cause of regular tremors. The Cascadia megathrust fault runs along the length of North America's western coast from northern Vancouver Island to northern California. "The findings suggest that there's a deeper portion of the fault area that is more permeable—pressure builds and water escapes periodically, causing fractures along the plate interface, which may explain the characteristic regular slippage and tremors," says lead author Pascal Audet with UBC's Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences.
"Deploying offshore seismometers would give us a more complete picture," adds study coauthor Simon Peacock. "It would be particularly valuable to determine whether the fault properties change over time as we progress through the earthquake cycle, and where the changes are most significant along the fault."
Jennifer Gardy (2000, Cell Biology, Genetics)
Current employers: UBC (Microbiology and Immunology), The Globe and Mail, CBC, Discovery Channel, and self-employed.
Current position: I'm a post doctoral fellow at UBC, a science journalist, and a communicator. I blog as Nerd Girl for the Globe and Mail, co-host the CBC science series Project X, and will be shooting some segments for Discovery Channel's Daily Planet this year. I'm also starting my first popular science book, and run a side business developing and leading workshops on everything from science presentation skills to networking.
Best UBC memory: My time with the Science Undergrad Society and The 432 (the Society's bi-weekly), although most of those memories are a little foggy. In the 90s, SUS was less an organized academic society and more a frat. It's also where I met my best friends—people I'm still most close to today. We got into all sorts of adventures, most of which should probably not be revealed. Perhaps the most fun was the Radical Beer Faction, the political party we ran in the Alma Mater Society elections each year and the impetus behind many draft rules regarding campaigning (including one that prohibits listing beer as a campaign expense). I ran for vice-president external with a dictatorial sock puppet as my running mate, and a platform advocating UBC's secession from Vancouver and the installation of a miniature railroad circling the campus. That same year we ran a traffic cone for director of finance. It came in third.
Favourite professor or course: No question, MICB 403: Molecular bacterial pathogenesis, taught by Dr Rachel Fernandez. The course was notable for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that it was the only A+ I ever got in an undergraduate science course. MICB 403, along with a bioinformatics course I took later at McGill, was one of the main reasons I chose to go into microbial-immunological bioinformatics at the graduate and post doc levels. Rachel has a great way of teaching, introducing one mechanism of pathogenesis at a time and illustrating it with really interesting real-world examples. Her exams were well-designed and among the few that I encountered as an undergrad that really evaluated a student's ability to think, as opposed to their ability to memorize. Rachel is also just a cool and fun person (who I get to hang out with at department socials), which comes across in her teaching.
How has science advanced your career?: I wouldn't be where I am today if I hadn't followed a science route through my post-secondary education. Science training develops fundamental skills—how to logically think through a problem, how to research something, how to write concisely, how to evaluate information critically—that are useful no matter what field you end up in. Also, the odd science facts you pick up in the course of your studies make great cocktail party story fodder!
Most memorable experience after graduating: Some of the stuff I did for Project X was pretty crazy. In one episode I was put in a human centrifuge used to train fighter pilots to withstand the effects of high G-forces. I was spun around at 5 G a few times and gained a real appreciation for all the test tubes I've centrifuged. A week later I was put on a 0 G flight and was able to experience total weightlessness! Working on that show really let me see the world. I went free-running on the banks of the Thames, butchered a pig in a rural Mexican village, and rode on an ice-breaking mussel boat in a frozen PEI harbour, all in the name of science!
Overall UBC Science experience: Four of the most enjoyable years of my life! Going into university, I assumed the point of doing a degree was to learn a bunch of facts. When I left, I realized that university is meant to help you develop into a person who has the knowledge and skills to follow whatever path suits you. Make time for everything university offers beyond coursework—the clubs, the sports, the activities, the friendships. When you look back, you realize that it's these things that teach you the most. UBC was a perfect environment for growing as a person—there's such a rich culture here that goes beyond academics, from the Ubyssey to events like Storm the Wall that bring people together year after year. UBC really develops its students into not just scholars, but also citizens.
Jon Pearkins (BA'48 Chemistry) is enjoying retirement after a 40-year career developing resins for the forest products and foundry industries. His multidisciplinary approach to resin design combined research from chemistry with ideas from other fields to create custom formulations.
Building on his studies in soil science, plant physiology and biochemistry, Harold Etter (BSc'61 and PhD'66 Botany) expanded his expertise in environmental science, socioeconomics and business over the course of his career. After several years as a research scientist and ecological protection biologist with the federal government, he spent 13 years as an environmental consultant and a manager of multidisciplinary assessment studies throughout Western Canada. Etter went on to a second career as a chartered financial planner. Now retired in Summerland, British Columbia, he is an active member of the Okanagan UBC Alumni Association and helped establish the UBCO Alumni Endowment Fund to provide bursaries to senior students.
Jon Pearkins (BSc'74 Computer Science) retired in 2007 from Alberta's Workers' Compensation Board after a 33-year career in IT. Despite the fast rate of change in IT, his two stints with the WCB—separated by a quarter century—both involved working on venerable IBM mainframe computers as a systems programmer. Pearkins's made his way through UBC as a radio announcer, and has returned to the air waves 'on his own terms' during retirement. His father, also named Jon, is enjoying retirement and graduated from UBC in 1948 with a degree in chemistry.
David Greer (BSc'80 Computer Science) is transitioning out of his role as vice-president of sales and marketing for eOptimize Enterprise Scheduling, where he worked through thousands of lines of source code to install complicated scheduling software for Fortune 500 customers. Greer loves to help entrepreneurs succeed, and extends an offer to mentor UBC Science graduates who have entrepreneurial aspirations. As a seasoned entrepreneur, Greer enjoys helping business-minded young scientists discuss, clarify and tackle tough challenges.
After graduation, Raheem Savja (BSc'94 Biology) went on to pursue a Master's in cancer cell research and a career as an optician. In 1996, she became a licensed optician and contact lens fitter and advanced to become a manager at Pearle Vision. Recently elected to the College of Opticians board, her professional service has included being an examiner for the College, vice chair of the College's inquiry committee, and treasurer of the Opticians of British Columbia. Savja also finds time to volunteer as part of eye clinic missions to Haiti, India and more recently, Mexico.
Following studies at UBC, Kendra Kaake (BSc'99 Statistics) began working for Watson Wyatt, a global HR consulting firm. Although based at the company's Vancouver office, she has worked in several of Watson Wyatt's US offices, and completed a 14-month sabbatical in Melbourne, Australia in 2004. Kaake is an associate of both the Society of Actuaries and the Canadian Institute of Actuaries. In addition to working and studying, Kaake has completed several marathons (most notably the Boston in 2006) and has had the good fortune to not only enjoy British Columbia's outdoors as a runner, but to also travel abroad for personal and business purposes. "My time at UBC was a tremendous growing experience on personal, social and career levels," notes Kaake. "UBC faculty members (especially Nancy Heckman: a friend, mentor and inspiration to all women in science) provided me with the academic tools and the intellectual confidence to succeed. I can't thank them enough for providing the foundation necessary for my continued development, growth and personal success. My career has afforded me a wonderful and fulfilling lifestyle."
Clara Westwell-Roper (BSc'08 Honours Microbiology and Immunology) is building on research she began as an undergraduate to pursue a combination of clinical and research training in UBC's MD-PhD program. After finishing first year medicine, she'll begin graduate work with Dr Bruce Verchere studying the role of the innate immune system in diabetes development. Westwell-Roper also has a passion for teaching and science outreach—she worked with the Science Fair Foundation of British Columbia to create a mentorship program which connects high school students and teachers with researchers in academia and industry.
Recent travels? A new family addition? A promotion or career transition? Whatever it is, we'd love to hear from you. Connect by sending a brief note to: firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll make every effort to include it in our next issue.
Official UBC Science Guide to Celebrate Research
2009 Greater Vancouver Regional Science Fair
The Importance of Questioning Scientific Assumptions
Plant Cell Walls as a Resource for Biofuels
Three Course Connection (3CC) Dinner
Health Research Funding Targets E Coli, AIDS Related Infection, Cell Signalling
New Chair in Chemical Biology Highlights CRCs
Physics, Computer Science Stand Out in Killams
Science Alumni Elected New Mayor of Vancouver
AGU Recognizes EOS Researchers
Environmental, Computing Research Highlight CFI Funding
Bonn Named Head of Physics and Astronomy
Young Scientist Nabs $10,000 Carl Westcott Fellowship
UBC SCIENCE ON YOUTUBE
Building the Beaty
PHYSICS AT UBC, THEN AND NOW
Call for Volunteers: Aboriginal Youth Summer Science Camp
Deadline for application submission for UBC's CEDAR Summer Camp is May 31, 2009. CEDAR Explorers' Club Volunteer Applications are taken on a continuous basis throughout the year.
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