ISSUE 05/2010 01 Events + Featured 02 Blood Cells Get Detailed Family Tree 03 Genomic 'Haircut' 04 Carl Weiman Takes Up White House Post 05 Class Connections + Kudos
UBC Science Connect

Always Room for Jello in Science Education

Tony Yang has always had a passion for science education. But even he couldn't have guessed that his love of teaching would one day involve jello.

After graduating from UBC with a General Science degree in 2008, Yang is now pursuing his PhD. His UBC experience has enabled him to couple his interest in science education with his thesis, which explores chemical and biological engineering and microfluidics.

Microfluidics is about controlling the flow and reaction of a small amount of fluids within a tiny area. This inter-disciplinary field has spurred advances in physics, engineering, microtechnology and biotechnology with innovations such as lab-on-a-chip and DNA chips.

So where does the jello come in?

Yang explains that the process of pouring jello into a mold was often used as an analogy to soft-lithography, which is the process typically used to make microfluidic chips out of elastomeric materials.

Professor Eric Lagally, Yang's supervisor, Yang and fellow PhD student Eric Ouellet worked to create a simple, fun and inexpensive method for teaching microfluidics, and began using jello in their demonstrations during community outreach activities at UBC's Michael Smith Laboratories (MSL).

Beaty Biodiversity Museum Opens October 16

Come celebrate BC's biodiversity! Interact with the collections, view the blue whale, watch videos, and explore hands on. We look forward to welcoming you!
» October 16, 2010

UBC Apple Festival
Located on the grounds of the UBC Botanical Garden, the Apple Festival celebrates one of BC's favourite fruits. Entertainment and activities for the whole family.
» October 16-17, 2010

The War Against Chemical Weapons
Stan Brown (Queen's) discusses his work on the destruction of nerve gas agents composed of organophosphorus compounds using metal ion-catalyzed alcoholysis.
» October 19, 2010

Watcher of the Sky
Harvey B. Richer shares the highs and lows of being an observational astronomer as technology, telescopes and access to space change.
» October 20, 2010

UBC, Max Planck Formalize Partnership

UBC has forged a formal partnership with the Max Planck Society, Germany's foremost basic research institution and home to 32 Nobel prizes.

The agreement commits both institutions to conducting joint research projects in Canada and Germany, and to increasing scholarly exchanges.

"Today's agreement represents a joining of great strengths within both the Max Plank Society and UBC and will provide the underpinning for future research in advanced materials science," said Prof. Toope. "The knowledge and discoveries generated from these collaborations will profoundly change the lives of present and future generations."

Microbial Mystery in Cave of Crystals

UBC biologists Curtis Suttle and Danielle Winget are part of a team of scientists investigating the microbial life living in tiny air pockets in the crystals of Mexico's Cave of Crystals. See photos of the expedition and find out more about the cave's microbial mysteries in National Geographic's new documentary Into the Lost Crystal Caves.

Charting a More Detailed Family Tree for Blood Cells

UBC researchers have mapped what is likely the most comprehensive profile of microRNA expression across the hematopoietic hierarchy--the collection of primitive and differentiated cell types that develop from a common blood-forming stem cell.

Hematopoietic stem cells--found in bone marrow--are self renewing and have the ability to differentiate into all of the different mature blood cell types through a series of intermediate progenitor cell types.

MicroRNAs are short RNA molecules that play a critical role in orchestrating this 'family tree' of cellular development. MicroRNAs usually silence, or turn off, genes at various stages of differentiation.

"How miRNA expression is controlled at each stage of the hierarchy is an important biological question for understanding this element of control," says Carl Hansen, Assistant Professor with Physics and Astronomy, UBC's Centre for High Throughput Biology (CHiBi) and Michael Smith Laboratories.

"Although there have been numerous studies of specific microRNA types in a few cell types, this study provides the first unified and comprehensive data set. We really wanted to see the big picture of how the microRNA expression is changing at each stage of differentiation."

Celebrate Learning at UBC

Celebrate Learning is a week-long initiative October 23 to 31, 2010. The event seeks to honour and celebrate teaching and learning experiences across UBC Vancouver, and to highlight and promote student learning and development opportunities. Join us for open lectures, information sessions, poster sessions, workshops and more.

Genomic 'Haircut' Makes World's Tiniest Genome Even Smaller

The world's tiniest nuclear genome appears to have "snipped off the ends" of its chromosomes and evolved into a lean, mean, genome machine that infects human cells, according to research published by University of British Columbia scientists.

Until recently, E. cuniculi, a parasitic fungus commonly found in rabbits that can also be fatal to immunocompromised humans, has been widely regarded as having the smallest known nuclear genome. At 2.9 million base pairs (Mbp) and approximately 2,000 genes, the genome of E. cuniculi is less than one-two thousandth the size of the human genome.

But now, a team of researchers led by UBC Botany Professor Patrick Keeling sequenced the genome of a closely related parasite that makes the E. cuniculi genome seem positively king-sized. The genome of E. intestinalis, a sister species of E. cuniculi that infects human intestines, is 20 per cent smaller, at only 2.3Mbp.

"On one end of the spectrum, genomes can get larger almost without limit, but there is a limit to how small they can get – they can't be less than zero," says Keeling, whose work is published in Nature Communications. "And the question that fascinated us was in an already tiny genome, what else can be lost?"

"The chromosomes are long threads of DNA, and in E. intestinalis its almost as though it got a haircut, removing hundreds of genes, but all from the ends of the threads."

The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Data: How Billions of Trivial Data Points Can Lead to Understanding

Peter Norvig's (Director of Research, Google) talk, part of the UBC Department of Computer Science's Distinguished Lecture Series, is now on YouTube.

Somewhere in the range of millions or billions of examples, we pass a threshold where hopeless data suddenly becomes effective.

UBC Science Professor Carl Wieman to Take Up White House Post

The United States Senate has confirmed University of British Columbia professor and Nobel Laureate Carl Wieman for the position of Associate Director for Science in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Photo credit: Martin Dee

Wieman joined UBC's Faculty of Science in 2007 as Professor of Physics and Director of the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative (CWSEI) to transform science teaching and learning at UBC and beyond.

"The CWSEI has made an indelible impact on thousands of UBC students and we have no doubt Carl will affect wider change in science education in American schools through his new role," said UBC President Prof. Stephen Toope. "We wish him the best in Washington and look forward to him rejoining us."

Field School Reunion

This September, EOS graduates from 1960 to 1989, along with family and friends, gathered to celebrate and to revisit a piece of their UBC history. Over sixty UBC alumni and friends attended the reunion. Guests were welcomed with a barbecue at the Field School and had the opportunity to tour the Field School facilities. Alumni swapped stories, visited local wineries, reminisced and made new memories. See the photos from the weekend on Flickr.

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Connect with classmates, share stories and updates and discover what's new by checking out the UBC Science page on Facebook. We'll be posting news from the Faculty, as well as volunteer opportunities and event updates--and we promise never to tag you in any unflattering photos.

Chris Wagner,
BSc '91, Chemistry

Current employer and position: President and CEO, Sirius Genomics Inc.

Favourite UBC memory? I remember working with Dr. Ben Clifford to extract acetyl eugenol from cloves. We extracted over a litre of the stuff! My lab coat, clothing, and backpack all smelled like cloves for months. Twenty years later, I still can't stand the smell or eat anything that has cloves in it.

What were you involved in as a student? I spent time working in the chemistry lab preparing experiments for students. I was also a member of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity.

How has your education at UBC helped you get to where you are today? An education in science was a building block for my career. It taught me how to think critically and methodically. It also taught me what working hard was all about. And while my job doesn't require the kind of hands-on, practical use of chemistry that it used to, I do read scientific and medical literature on a daily basis. I believe my time studying chemistry made me comfortable with the process of learning new and complex disciplines.

What has been your most meaningful involvement with UBC after graduation and why? I spend a significant amount of time lecturing at UBC's Sauder School of Business, sharing my experiences as a CEO in the life sciences industry. I get to choose topics based on what I think students would find useful. Corporate strategy always seems to attract the most interest. Everybody wants to do strategy; however, I think most people fail to realize that in order to create strategy you need to be an expert on tactics. I spend a lot of time coaching students on the importance of learning the basics before trying to create the masterpiece.

Vanessa Auld Joins Dean's Office

UBC Science has appointed Zoology Professor Vanessa Auld to a five-year term as Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs and Strategic Initiatives.

Auld is internationally recognized for her research into the role glia (non-neuronal cells) play in the development and function of the nervous system. Her research has been published in leading science journals including Cell, Science and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, and is supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

UBC Plant Evolutionary Biologist, Inorganic Chemist Elected to Canada's Royal Society
UBC Science's Loren Rieseberg and Chris Orvig are among six UBC researchers elected to the Royal Society of Canada this year. Rieseberg, Canada Research Chair in Plant Evolutionary Genomics, has made fundamental advances to our understanding of how species arise. Orvig, appointed jointly with Chemistry and Pharmaceutical Sciences, is among the world's foremost medicinal inorganic chemists.

Craig Hart Named Society of Economic Geology (SEG) Distinguished Lecturer
Craig Hart, director of the Mineral Deposit Research Unit at UBC, is interested in gold deposits, intrusion-related metallogeny, porphyry deposit genesis, and new exploration techniques. As a regional geologist with the Yukon Geological Survey, he was exposed to tectonics, mineral deposits, granites, and geochronology. The SEG Distinguished Lecturer is elected on the basis of preeminence in economic geology.

Bryman to be Awarded 2011 Panofsky Prize UBC physicist Doug Bryman will receive the 2011 W. K. H. Panofsky Prize in Experimental Particle Physics. He will share the prestigious award from the American Physical Society with Laurence Littenberg, Brookhaven National Laboratory and A.J. Stewart Smith, Princeton University.

» 2008

George Albert Sawatzky, professor in the departments of Physics and Astronomy, and Chemistry, becomes the latest UBC Science fellow elected to the UK's Royal Society. He joins eight other fellows from UBC Science departments.

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