ISSUE 04/2010 01 Events + Featured 02 New 'Fix' for Cosmic Clocks 03 UBC Botanists Tie Malaria, Algae to Common Ancestor 04 UBC Receives $1.2M to Develop Microbial Indicators of Forest Health 05 Decoding Rembrandt's Magic 06 Class Connections + Kudos
UBC Science Connect

A 'Big Chill' in Tiny Fish

UBC zoologists have observed one of the fastest evolutionary responses ever recorded in wild populations. In as little as three years, stickleback fish developed tolerance for water temperature 2.5 degrees Celsius lower than their ancestors.

“By testing the temperature tolerance of wild and lab-raised sticklebacks, we were able to determine that freshwater sticklebacks can tolerate lower temperatures than their marine counterparts,” says lead author Rowan Barrett from the UBC Department of Zoology. “This made sense from an evolutionary perspective because their ancestors were able to adapt to freshwater lakes, which typically reach colder temperatures than the ocean.”

Measuring three to 10 centimetres, stickleback fish originated in the ocean but began populating freshwater lakes and streams following the last ice age. Over the past 10,000 years, marine and freshwater sticklebacks have evolved different physical and behavioural traits, making them ideal models for Darwin’s natural selection theory.

Free Blue Whale Summer Preview

Beaty Biodiversity Museum invites you to see the blue whale, with programs and activities themed around "Watery Worlds: Aquatic Biodiversity." Don't miss your last opportunity to visit the blue whale before the Beaty Biodiversity Museum opens to the public this fall.
» August 21, 2010

Defenses Against Plant Viruses
Peter Moffett (University of Sherbrooke) on on constitutive and induced defenses against plant viruses. MSL Auditorium.
» September 14, 2010

Vascular Pattern Formation
Enrico Scarpella (University of Alberta) on the vascular patterns of the Arabidopsis leaf. MSL Auditorium.
» September 21, 2010

The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Data
Peter Norvig (Google) shares how billions of trivial data points can lead to understanding. Part of the CS Distinguished Lecture Series.
» September 23, 2010

Anne Condon to Head Computer Science at UBC

Professor Anne Condon--internationally recognized for her research in complexity theory and bioinformatics, and a leading Canadian proponent for women in science and technology--has been appointed Head of UBC's Department of Computer Science.

"Anne has made many outstanding contributions to the Department, the Faculty and the University since joining UBC in 1999," says Simon Peacock, dean of science. "These include serving as our associate dean for Faculty Affairs and Strategic Initiatives for the past three years, and also her leadership at the UBC level to advance issues related to diversity and equity in academia."

"UBC Computer Science is a wonderfully vibrant and collegial community," says Condon. "It will be a privilege to lead our department at a time when computing education and research are broadly relevant to so many disciplines and areas of human endeavour."

Pay it Forward: Become a Science Mentor this Fall

Are you a UBC Science Alumni with experience to share with current students? UBC Science Mentoring Programs offer an opportunity to make a difference in the career and personal development of a senior student in Science.

New 'Fix' for Cosmic Clocks Could Help Uncover Ripples in Space-Time

An international team of scientists including UBC astronomer Ingrid Stairs has discovered a promising way to fine-tune pulsars into the best precision time-pieces in the Universe.

The discovery could give astronomers a new tool to study the powerful gravitational forces that shaped the universe.

Pulsars--incredibly fast spinning collapsed stars--have been studied in great detail since their discovery in 1967.

The extremely stable rotation of these 'cosmic clocks' has enabled astronomers to discover the first planets orbiting other stars and provided stringent tests for theories of the Universe.

However, until now, slight irregularities in their spin have puzzled scientists and significantly reduced their usefulness as precision tools.

"Many observatories around the world are attempting to use pulsars in order to detect the gravitational waves that are expected to be created by super-massive binary black holes in the Universe,” says Stairs. “With our new technique we may be able to reveal the gravitational wave signals that are currently hidden because of the irregularities in the pulsar rotation."

Get British Columbia's Best Young Scientific Minds Working for You!

Is your company looking for the best and brightest? Do you need an infusion of new ideas, fresh energy and the latest knowledge in the field? Consider a UBC Science co-op student. UBC Science co-op students are professional, come from a wide talent pool and are ready to join your company. Visit the Science Coop website for more information.

'Little Brown Balls' Help UBC Botanists Tie Malaria and Algae to Common Ancestor

Inconspicuous 'little brown balls' in the ocean have helped settle a long-standing debate about the origin of malaria and the algae responsible for toxic red tides, according to a new study by UBC researchers.

In an article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition, UBC Botany Professor Patrick Keeling describes the genome of Chromera and its role in definitively linking the evolutionary histories of malaria and dinoflalgellate algae.

"Under the microscope, Chromera looks like boring little brown balls," says Keeling. "In fact, the ocean is full of little brown and green balls and they’re often overlooked in favour of more glamorous organisms, but this one has proved to be more interesting than its flashier cousins."

First described in the journal Nature in 2008, Chromera is found as a symbiont inside corals. Although it has a compartment--called a plastid--that carries out photosynthesis like other algae and plants, Chromera is closely related to apicomplexan parasites – including malaria. This discovery raised the possibility that Chromera may be a 'missing link' between the two.

"These tiny organisms have a huge impact on humanity in very different ways," says Keeling.

EOS Students Fired Up About Waste Management

Jessica MacDonald, one of seven UBC students who studied Metro Vancouver's new waste management plan, discusses alternatives to incineration. The Georgia Straight interviewed Jessica to find out more about her alternative vision for waste management in Metro Vancouver.

UBC Receives $1.2 Million to Develop Microbial Indicators of Forest Health

A first-of-its-kind research project being led by UBC microbiologist Bill Mohn is investigating the potential of using the forest floor's microbial ecosystem as a bellwether forest management tool.

"Climate change is bringing big new challenges for managing our forests so that future generations can enjoy them," says Mohn, professor with the Department of Microbiology and Immunology and UBC's Life Sciences Institute, who leads the $1.2 million dollar project.

"To optimally harvest forests for biofuels, you need to remove more parts of the trees than was previously done. We want to be sure that we understand the impact that intensive harvesting might have on the long-term health and sustainability of the forest."

The answer to this question might lie in the forest floor, which harbors an incredibly diverse community of invisibly small organisms. If BC is celebrated for its forests, it's the microbial ecosystems that are its unsung champions.

"It's quite mind-blowing to know that in one handful of soil you hold a billion micro organisms and a million microbial species," says Mohn.

"This extraordinarily complex microbial community is responsible for the chemical processes that make soil fertile and is the key to re-growth of our harvested forests."

Killam Teaching Awards

Did you have a prof whose analysis of programming algorithms or explanation of neutrino oscillation has stuck with you even after graduation? Are you a recent grad missing your favourite instructor's 8:30am lectures? Here's your chance to say thank you.

UBC Science is seeking nominations for 2010 Killam Teaching Awards, and all it takes is a letter! Deadline is October 15.

Decoding Rembrandt’s Magic

A University of British Columbia researcher has uncovered what makes Rembrandt’s masterful portraits so appealing.

In the study, published in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s arts and sciences journal Leonardo, UBC cognitive scientist and computer graphics and visualization expert Steve DiPaola argues that Rembrandt may have pioneered a technique that guides the viewer's gaze around a portrait, creating a special narrative and "calmer" viewing experience.

Renaissance artists used various techniques to engage viewers, many incorporating new scientific knowledge on lighting, spatial layout and perspectives.

A doctoral student with the Department of Computer Science, DiPaola used computer-rendering programs to recreate four of the artist’s most famous portraits from photographs of himself and other models.

Replicating Rembrandt’s techniques, he placed a sharper focus on specific areas of the model’s face, such as the eyes. The technique helped isolate and pinpoint factors that contribute to the ‘magic’ of Rembrandt’s portraits.

"When viewing the Rembrandt-like portraits, viewers fixated on the detailed eye faster and stayed there for longer periods of time, resulting in calmer eye movements," says DiPaola.

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Hyman Mitchner,
BA '51, MSc '53 Chemistry

Current Employer and position: Vice President, Corporate Assurance, Syntex Corp. (Retired)

What were you involved in as a student? My work as a master's student kept me very busy, but I have to admit, I loved to go over to the Student Union Building to play bridge. I was also very involved with my fraternity, so many social activities I participated in were part of Greek life. That's how I met my wife!

Favourite UBC memory? Spring and summer were my favourite times on campus. I have fond memories of working as a chemistry lab assistant, although I did spend one summer working on the university's gardening crew. It was wonderful to be able to enjoy the campus out-of-doors for a change.

How has your education at UBC helped you get to where you are today? Over the course of earning my BA and MSc in chemistry, I had the opportunity to explore organic, inorganic and physical chemistry. I also discovered how much I loved teaching and interacting with students. Personalizing my science involvement and identifying with people with the same interests was key.

The chemistry building was across the street from the School of Pharmacy, and I would often make my way back and forth between the two. The dean of pharmacy directed me to the University of Wisconsin--there was a prominent position there in pharmaceutical chemistry. I obtained my PhD at the University of Wisconsin, and got to stay on as an assistant professor, where I was able to teach and do research.

When I took a position in industry, my background in chemistry at UBC came into play. It gave me the ability to solve problems in a scientific way. This allowed me to work my way up in the company. I eventually became the vice president of international corporate assurance.

Any recent celebrations or accomplishments you wish to share? I was recently awarded an honourary doctorate from Technion, a top scientific institution in Israel. It was a very meaningful occasion, as many of my family members were present for the ceremony. We were able to spend two weeks together touring Israel as a family.

2010 has been an exciting year. My wife and I are celebrating 57 years of marriage!

Atmospheric Aerosol Research Awarded $1.6M in Funding

UBC Science researchers have been awarded $1.6 million from the Collaborative Research and Training Experience program. The interdisciplinary graduate training program, led by Associate Professor Allan Bertram and colleagues, will focus on mixtures of very fine solid and liquid particles suspended in the air which have important impacts on human health, weather and climate change processes.

UBC Physics Department Tackles Teaching Physics in the 21st Century
A team of UBC Physics instructors has developed a online database of materials to help support high school teachers who want to incorporate real-world physics examples into their courses.

UBC Science and Engineering Students Win Grand Prize in Robotics
UBC Thunderbird Robotics Team Snowbots won the grand prize at the International Autonomous Robot Racing Challenge 2010 held in Windsor, Ontario. The team’s Blizzard won several individual awards and Oscar Junior took second place in the Design Competition.

UBC Physicist, Evolutionary Biologist Honoured by UK's Royal Society
UBC theoretical physicist Ian Affleck and evolutionary biologist Loren Rieseberg have been elected to the United Kingdom's Royal Society. The UBC researchers are among 44 new fellows joining the ranks of the Society's elite membership this year.

UBC Science Researchers Awarded Top Science and Engineering Prizes
Three UBC Science researchers have been awarded some of the most prestigious science and engineering prizes in Canada. Chemistry and Biochemistry Professor Stephen Withers was one of two finalists of the Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering, Zoology Professor Diane Srivastava was one of six recipients of the E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship, and Zoology post-doctoral fellow Graham Scott is the sole recipient of the NSERC Howard Alper Postdoctoral Prize.

Experience Science Day
On June 8th, 164 students from schools in Vancouver's inner-city and downtown east side participated in Experience Science Day. Students took part in hands-on activities with science themes, giving them a rare opportunity to develop an interest in science. Experience Science is organized by UBC Physics and Astronomy Outreach, with support from UBC Mathematics, UBC Computer Science, Let's Talk Science, UBC Learning Exchange Trek Program, and the Science One Program.

» 1965 -- Hitting the books

Six Botany faculty members--Robert Scagel, Robert Bandoni, Glenn Rouse, WB Schofield, Janet Stein, and TM Taylor--publish An Evolutionary Survey of the Plant Kingdom, a volume that puts the department onto the textbook best seller list for almost a decade.

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