Tag Archives: Simon Fraser University

Simon Fraser University’s (Vancouver region, Canada) Cafe Scientifique

I am adding a new Café Scientifique series to my roster of occasional announcements. This one is sponsored by Simon Fraser University (SFU) and regularly held at a Boston Pizza restaurant in New Westminster (located in metro Vancouver Canada). The next session will take place Friday, Jan. 23, 2015.

From SFU’s Café Scientifique webpage,

In our series, speakers will discuss their health or popular-science related topic, without the use of audio visual materials or handouts, for approximately 30 minutes.  A discussion with the audience will ensue for about 45 minutes while participants enjoy appetizers and beverages.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Speaker: Dr. Tim Swartz, Professor, Dept of Statistics & Actuarial Science, SFU

Research interest: My general interest is statistical computing. Most of my work attempts to take advantage of the power of modern computing machinery to solve real statistical problems. The area where I have devoted a lot of attention is the integration problem arising in Bayesian applications. Lately, my interest in statistics in sport has grown to consume a fair bit of my time, perhaps too much of my time.

Topic: Sports Analytics

Sports analytics has become an important area of emphasis for professional sports teams in their attempt to obtain a competitive edge. The discussion will revolve around recent work that Dr. Swartz has conducted in sports analytics such as the optimal time to pull a goalie in hockey, insights into home team advantage and the value of draft positions in major league soccer.

Location: Boston Pizza (private room) 1045 Columbia St., New Westminster
(2 blks from the New West Skytrain station).

Refreshments are available for purchase. Everyone is welcome to attend.

Reserve your free seat by emailing: [email protected]
**Note that there is no accent above the “e” in this address.

Enjoy!

FrogHeart and 2014: acknowledging active colleagues and saying good-bye to defunct blogs and hello to the new

It’s been quite the year. In Feb. 2014, TED offered me free livestreaming of the event in Vancouver. In March/April 2014, Google tweaked its search function and sometime in September 2014 I decided to publish two pieces per day rather than three with the consequence that the visit numbers for this blog are lower than they might otherwise have been. More about statistics and traffic to this blog will be in the post I usually publish just the new year has started.

On other fronts, I taught two courses (Bioelectronics and Nanotechnology, the next big idea) this year for Simon Fraser University (Vancouver, Canada) in its Continuing Studies (aka Lifelong Learning) programmes. I also attended a World Congress on Alternatives to Animal Testing in the Life Sciences in Prague. The trip, sponsored by SEURAT-1 (Safety Evaluation Ultimately Replacing Animal Testing), will result in a total of five stories, the first having been recently (Dec. 26, 2014) published. I’m currently preparing a submission for the International Symposium on Electronic Arts being held in Vancouver in August 2015 based on a project I have embarked upon, ‘Steep’. Focused on gold nanoparticles, the project is Raewyn Turner‘s (an artist from New Zealand) brainchild. She has kindly opened up the project in such a way that I too can contribute. There are two other members of the Steep project, Brian Harris, an electrical designer, who works closely with Raewyn on a number of arts projects and there’s Mark Wiesner as our science consultant. Wiesner is a professor of civil and environmental engineering,at Duke University in North Carolina.

There is one other thing which you may have noticed, I placed a ‘Donate’ button on the blog early in 2014.

Acknowledgements, good-byes, and hellos

Dexter Johnson on his Nanoclast blog (on the IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers] website) remains a constant in the nano sector of the blogosphere where he provides his incisive opinions and context for the nano scene.

David Bruggeman on his Pasco Phronesis blog offers valuable insight into the US science policy scene along with a lively calendar of art/science events and an accounting of the science and technology guests on late night US television.

Andrew Maynard archived his 2020 Science blog in July 2014 but he does continue writing and communication science as director of the University of Michigan Risk Science Center. Notably, Andrew continues to write, along with other contributors, on the Risk Without Borders blog at the University of Michigan.

Sadly, Cientifica, a emerging technologies business consultancy, where Tim Harper published a number of valuable white papers, reports, and blog postings is no longer with us. Happily, Tim continues with an eponymous website where he blogs and communicates about various business interests, “I’m currently involved in graphene, nanotechnology, construction, heating, and biosensing, working for a UK public company, as well as organisations ranging from MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] to the World Economic Forum.” Glad to you’re back to blogging Tim. I missed your business savvy approach and occasional cheekiness!

I was delighted to learn of a new nano blog, NanoScéal, this year and relieved to see they’re hanging in. Their approach is curatorial where they present a week of selected nano stories. I don’t think a lot of people realize how much work a curatorial approach requires. Bravo!

Sir Martyn Poliakoff and the Periodic Table of Videos

Just as I was wondering what happened to the Periodic Table of Videos (my April 25, 2011 post offers a description of the project) Grrl Scientist on the Guardian science blog network offers information about one of the moving forces behind the project, Martyn Poliakoff in a Dec. 31, 2014 post,

This morning [Dec. 31, 2014], I was most pleased to learn that Martyn Poliakoff, professor of chemistry at the University of Nottingham, was awarded a bachelor knighthood by the Queen. So pleased was I that I struggled out of bed (badly wrecked back), my teeth gritted, so I could share this news with you.

Now Professor Poliakoff — who now is more properly known as Professor SIR Martyn Poliakoff — was awarded one of the highest civilian honours in the land, and his continued online presence has played a significant role in this.

“I think it may be the first time that YouTube has been mentioned when somebody has got a knighthood, and so I feel really quite proud about that. And I also really want to thank you YouTube viewers who have made this possible through your enthusiasm for chemistry.”

As for the Periodic Table of Videos, the series continues past the 118 elements currently identified to a include discussions on molecules.

Science Borealis, the Canadian science blog aggregator, which I helped to organize (albeit desultorily), celebrated its first full year of operation. Congratulations to all those who worked to make this project such a success that it welcomed its 100th blog earlier this year. From a Sept. 24, 2014 news item on Yahoo (Note: Links have been removed),

This week the Science Borealis team celebrated the addition of the 100th blog to its roster of Canadian science blog sites! As was recently noted in the Council of Canadian Academies report on Science Culture, science blogging in Canada is a rapidly growing means of science communication. Our digital milestone is one of many initiatives that are bringing to fruition the vision of a rich Canadian online science communication community.

The honour of being syndicated as the 100th blog goes to Spider Bytes, by Catherine Scott, an MSc [Master of Science] student at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia. …

As always, it’s been a pleasure and privilege writing and publishing this blog. Thank you all for your support whether it comes in the form of reading it, commenting, tweeting,  subscribing, and/or deciding to publish your own blog. May you have a wonderful and rewarding 2015!

An effective, affordable bedbug (detection and monitoring) solution from Simon Fraser University (Vancouver, Canada)

According to the Simon Fraser University (SFU) Dec. 22, 2014 news release (on EurekAlert but dated as Dec. 23, 2014 and on ScienceDaily as a Dec. 24, 2014 news item) a new solution for detecting and monitoring bedbugs will be on the market next year (2015) and I imagine that if it’s as effective and affordable as they claim huge sighs of relief and much shouting of joy will accompany the product launch (Note: Links have been removed),

The world owes a debt of gratitude to Simon Fraser University biologist Regine Gries. Her arms have provided a blood meal for more than a thousand bedbugs each week for five years while she and her husband, biology professor Gerhard Gries, searched for a way to conquer the global bedbug epidemic.

Working with SFU chemist Robert Britton and a team of students, they have finally found the solution—a set of chemical attractants, or pheromones, that lure the bedbugs into traps, and keep them there.

This month, after a series of successful trials in bedbug-infested apartments in Metro Vancouver, they have published their research, Bedbug aggregation pheromone finally identified, in Angewandte Chemie, a leading general chemistry journal.

They’re working with Victoria-based Contech Enterprises Inc. to develop the first effective and affordable bait and trap for detecting and monitoring bedbug infestations. They expect it to be commercially available next year.

The news release describes the research issues in more detail,

“The biggest challenge in dealing with bedbugs is to detect the infestation at an early stage,” says Gerhard, who holds an NSERC-Industrial Research Chair in Multimodal Animal Communication Ecology.

“This trap will help landlords, tenants, and pest-control professionals determine whether premises have a bedbug problem, so that they can treat it quickly. It will also be useful for monitoring the treatment’s effectiveness.”

It’s a solution the world has been waiting for.

Over the last two decades the common bedbug (Cimex lectularius), once thought eradicated in industrialized countries, has reappeared as a global scourge. These nasty insects are infesting not just low-income housing but also expensive hotels and apartments, and public venues such as stores, movie theatres, libraries and even public transit.

And while these blood-sucking pests were previously not considered a carrier of disease, scientists have recently discovered they can transmit the pathogen that causes Chagas disease, which is prevalent in Central and South America. Yet until now, tools for detecting and monitoring these pests have been expensive and technically challenging to use.

The news release also provides a backgrounder describing the research process,

The Gries’ began their research eight years ago when Gerhard, who is internationally renowned for his pioneering work in chemical and bioacoustic communication between insects, began searching for pheromones that could lure and trap bedbugs.

Regine worked with him, running all of the lab and field experiments and, just as importantly, enduring 180,000 bedbug bites in order to feed the large bedbug colony required for their research. She became the unintentional “host” because, unlike Gerhard, she is immune to the bites, suffering only a slight rash instead of the ferocious itching and swelling most people suffer.

The Gries’ and their students initially found a pheromone blend that attracted bedbugs in lab experiments, but not in bedbug-infested apartments. “We realized that a highly unusual component must be missing—one that we couldn’t find using our regular gas chromatographic and mass spectrometric tools,” says Gerhard.

That’s when they teamed up with Britton, an expert in isolating and solving the structure of natural products, and then synthesizing them in the lab. He used SFU’s state-of-the-art NMR [nuclear magnetic resonance] spectrometers to study the infinitesimal amounts of chemicals Regine had isolated from shed bedbug skin, looking for the chemical clues as to why the bedbugs find the presence of skin so appealing in a shelter.

It was like looking for a needle in a haystack.

After two years of frustrating false leads, Britton, his students and the Gries duo finally discovered that histamine, a molecule with unusual properties that eluded identification through traditional methods, signals “safe shelter” to bedbugs. Importantly, once in contact with the histamine, the bedbugs staid put whether or not they have recently fed on a human host.

Yet, to everyone’s disbelief, neither histamine alone nor in combination with the previously identified pheromone components effectively attracted and trapped bedbugs in infested apartments. So Regine began analyzing airborne volatile compounds from bedbug faeces as an alternate source of the missing components.

Five months and 35 experiments later, she had found three new volatiles that had never before been reported for bedbugs. These three components, together with two components from their earlier research and, of course, histamine, became the highly effective lure they were seeking.

Their research isn’t over yet, however. They continue to work with Contech Enterprises to finalize development of the commercial lure—which means Regine is still feeding the bedbugs every week. “I’m not too thrilled about this,” admits Regine, “but knowing how much this technology will benefit so many people, it’s all worth it.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the research paper,

Bed Bug Aggregation Pheromone Finally Identified by Regine Gries, Prof. Robert Britton, Michael Holmes, Huimin Zhai, Jason Draper, and Prof. Gerhard Gries. Angewandte Chemie International Edition DOI: 10.1002/anie.201409890 Article first published online: 21 DEC 2014

© 2014 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim

This article is behind a paywall.

For anyone curious about Contech (this project’s industry partner), here’s more from the company’s About Contech page,

Contech was founded in 1987 as a small, Canadian company dedicated to designing, manufacturing, and marketing innovative and environmentally-friendly products for the pet and garden industries. Over the years, we have grown our selection – through acquisitions and mergers with like-minded organizations – to add a range of products for Christmas, forestry, agriculture and pest management markets.

The acquisitions of Pherotech International in 2008 and green pest management pioneer, Tanglefoot in 2009, helped to solidify our commitment to providing unique and convenient products to the growing non-toxic pest management market.  In 2011, we purchased three additional companies:  G&B Pet Products, Christmas Mountain Manufacturing and Rainforest Sprinklers, adding additional pet products, Christmas tree stands and accessories, and a water-saving line of sprinklers to the mix.

While still headquartered in Victoria, British Columbia (BC), our growing company oversees an amazing science and innovation team at its Vancouver, BC location, a world-class operations and production group at the original Tanglefoot building in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a Christmas products production facility in Perth Andover, New Brunswick and a pet sales office in Vista, California.

Through our growth, Contech has maintained a dedication to serving the needs of our customers at all levels of our organization. Our customer service team (made up of real people) responds to phone and online enquiries in real time, our in-house marketing professionals are committed to helping grow the businesses of our retail partners, and our sales representative are the direct link to retailers and distributors.

Canadian company, Nanotech Security Corp. hopes to purchase Fortress Optical Features

Nanotech Security Corp. started life as a spin-off company from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada. A  Jan. 17, 2011 posting and a followup Sept. 29, 2011 posting will probably give you more information about the technology and the company’s beginnings than you every thought you’d want.

For those interested in the company’s current expectations, an Aug. 27, 2014 news item on Nanotechnology Now describes Nanotech Security Corp.’s plan to purchase another business (also Canadian with the parent company [which is not being purchased] headquartered in North Vancouver},

Nanotech Security Corp. (TSXV:NTS) (OTCQX:NTSFF) (“Nanotech” or “the Company”) today announces an agreement with Fortress Global Securities Sarl, a subsidiary of TSX listed Fortress Paper Ltd. (“Fortress Paper”), to purchase 100% of Fortress Optical Features Ltd. (“Fortress Optical Features”), a producer of optical thin film (“OTF”) used as security threads in banknotes in several countries. The definitive share and loan purchase agreement (the “Purchase Agreement”) provides for Nanotech to acquire 100% of the issued and outstanding securities of Fortress Optical Features for consideration of up to $17.5 million, of which 3 million Nanotech shares (up to $4.5 million) is contingent on the future operating performance of Fortress Optical Features. Nanotech has also entered into an agreement with Canaccord Genuity Corp. (“Canaccord Genuity”) to act as sole lead manager and book-runner, and including Craig-Hallum Capital Group, in respect of a private placement of subscription receipts of the Company convertible into Nanotech common shares (“Shares”) and Share purchase warrants (“Warrants”) in a targeted range of $9.0 million to $16.0 million as more fully described below. To date, subscription agreements in excess of $8.0 million have been received which is an amount sufficient to pay the cash portion of the acquisition under the Purchase Agreement. All monetary amounts are in Canadian dollars.

An Aug. 26, 2014 Nanotech Security Corp. news release, which originated the news item, provides additional details,

The acquisition of Fortress Optical Features will serve as a platform to accelerate commercialization of Nanotech’s KolourOptik technology by integrating it into Fortress Optical Features’ product line as an addition of KolourOptik images to the OTF threads.

Nanotech will acquire Fortress Optical Features’ state-of-the-art building and vacuum metal deposition equipment, located near Ottawa.

The transaction combines complementary businesses that can leverage established banknote customer relationships to accelerate market entry and leapfrog competitive technologies. To date, Fortress Optical Features’ technology has been utilized by 11 international currencies.

Fortress Optical Features’ CEO Igi LeRoux, and COO, Ron Ridley, will be integrated into the Company’s senior management.

Fortress has the right to appoint one director to the Nanotech board and Nanotech will appoint a director to a Fortress affiliate concerned with security paper production.
Cash portion of the purchase price to be funded by a subscription receipts offering at $1.50, each convertible into a Share and one-half Warrant as fully described below.
Concurrent financing and acquisition closings are scheduled for September 10, 2014.

“We believe this will be a transformational transaction for Nanotech”, stated Doug Blakeway, President and CEO of Nanotech. “By layering our KolourOptik nanotechnology onto Fortress Optical Features’ security threads which are currently used in numerous currencies, we will create a next-generation product for the banknote industry”.

Mr. Blakeway added, “Additionally, the transaction will expand Nanotech’s current IP portfolio for optical security features to include Fortress Optical Features’ 14 current patent applications which should enhance our ability to compete in other commercial spaces such as passports as well as product branding and authentication”.

Fortress Optical Features’ core business is optical thin film material used in security threads incorporated in banknotes in several countries. Originally developed by the Bank of Canada, and subsequently sold to Fortress Optical Features in 2011, this technology was deployed on Canadian banknotes from 1989 until 2011 as well as ten other international currencies. In the twelve month period ending December 31, 2013 Fortress Optical Features generated approximately $2.3 million in revenue and its existing plant could service production of about eight times the level of production which generated this revenue.

Fortress Optical Features recently invested $4.2 million to renovate its existing production facility and added $1.0 million in new equipment over the past few years. As part of the transaction, Nanotech will acquire Fortress Optical Features’ state-of-the-art production facility and high technology OTF production equipment. Fortress Optical Features is currently pursuing business in some of the world’s largest countries and sees potential new opportunities internationally. According to Secura Monde International, the top five banknote producing economies include China, India, the European Union, the United States and Indonesia.

TRANSACTION DETAILS AND CLOSING CONDITIONS

Under the terms of the Purchase Agreement, Nanotech will pay up to $17.5 million to be satisfied by a combination of $7 million cash, 5 million common shares of Nanotech and a secured vendor take-back note of $3 million with an interest rate of 4% per annum. Of this consideration 2 million shares will have a four month hold period from closing and 3 million shares will be escrowed and shall be released based on certain specific performance milestones based on sales of product to new customers over up to 5 years. Shares may be released early in the event of a sale of the business or change of control of Nanotech. Contingent shares not released after 5 years will be cancelled. Details of the share release formula will be found in the Purchase Agreement to be filed at www.sedar.com.

All Shares have a deemed value of $1.50 and the acquisition and financing transactions do not constitute a change of business nor a change of control for Nanotech but will be treated under TSX Venture Exchange policies as a fundamental acquisition.

Completion of the transaction will be subject to customary closing conditions, including receipt of all regulatory approvals of the TSXV as well as the listing of the common shares issuable in connection with the transaction, including those underlying the subscription receipts. If Nanotech elects to terminate the acquisition in reliance on an allowable condition, a $600,000 break fee payable in Shares is due to Fortress Paper. Nanotech and Fortress Optical Features anticipate the transaction and financing will close on or about September 10, 2014.

RELATED AGREEMENT DETAILS

As part of Nanotech’s acquisition of Fortress Optical Features, the parties and/or their affiliates have entered into certain ancillary agreements. These include a supply agreement under which Fortress Optical Features will continue to supply OTF security threads to Fortress Paper’s Swiss-based Landqart specialty paper division. Landqart will enjoy favoured customer status subject to certain minimum purchase obligations. Under a lease and related shared services agreement, a Fortress Paper affiliate will lease approximately 2/3 of the 100,000 sq ft building being acquired as part of Fortress Optical Features assets and the parties will share the costs of steam production, electrical power, security, and administration services. The $3 million note is fully secured against Fortress Optical Features shares and assets.

SUBSCRIPTION RECEIPT OFFERING

Nanotech has entered into an agreement with Canaccord Genuity, acting as sole lead manager and sole bookrunner, and including Craig-Hallum Capital Group, to sell on a best-efforts marketed private placement basis, up to approximately 10,667,000 subscription receipts of the Company (the “Subscription Receipts”) at a price of $1.50 per Subscription Receipt (the “Subscription Price”), for gross proceeds to Nanotech of up to $16.0 million.

The Subscription Receipts will automatically convert, without additional payment, into one common share and one-half of a common share purchase warrant of the Company for each Subscription Receipt upon completion of the transaction. Subject to certain conditions, each whole purchase warrant will entitle the holder to purchase one common share of Nanotech at a price of $1.90 for a period of one year from issuance. The warrants are subject to accelerated expiry in the event that the common shares of Nanotech trade on the TSX Venture Exchange at $2.25 or more for a ten consecutive day period after the four month resale restricted period applicable to the Shares in Canada expires. Completion of the Subscription Receipt offering is subject to certain conditions, including receipt of the approval of the TSXV and all other necessary regulatory approvals.

Net proceeds from the Subscription Receipt offering will be used by the Company to partially fund the purchase price payable for Fortress Optical Features and for general corporate purposes.

The Subscription Price represents a discount of approximately 6% to the closing price of $1.60 per common share of Nanotech on the TSXV on August 25, 2014 and a discount of approximately 7% over the 30-trading day volume-weighted average price of $ 1.61 per common share of Nanotech on the TSXV, up to and including August 25, 2014.

Neither TSX Venture Exchange nor its Regulation Services Provider (as that term is defined in policies of the TSX Venture Exchange) accepts responsibility for the adequacy or accuracy of this release.

####

About Nanotech Security Corp.

Nanotech has been a leading innovator in the design and commercialization of advanced security products using nano-optical devices. Nanotech’s KolourOptik™ and Plasmogram™ optically variable devices (“OVD”s) are nanotechnology based product platforms originally inspired by the unique optical properties of the iridescent wings of the Blue Morpho butterfly. Nanotech OVD images produce intense, high definition images that are ideal for brand authentication and for distinguishing currency, documents, personal identification, consumer electronics, etc. from fakes. Nanotech’s KolourOptik OVD platform creates unique, easy to authenticate images through interaction of light with nano-sized (billionth of a meter) arrays of surface indentation structures imbedded through algorithms and electron beams into various substrates. These nanostructures create vivid colour images, activated by a simple tilt or rotation, and achieve higher resolutions than the best LED-displays currently available, as well as having optical properties not achievable with holograms.

Additional information about Nanotech and its technologies can be found on its website www.nanosecurity.ca or the Canadian disclosure filings website www.sedar.com or the OTCMarkets disclosure filings website www.otcmarkets.com

ABOUT FORTRESS OPTICAL FEATURES

Fortress Optical Features produces optically variable thin film security material for the security threads contained in certain previous Canadian banknotes and various other international currency denominations. The film is a unique combination of layered or ‘stacked’ thin film materials to produce a predictable colour replay. Additional features of the film include differing optical features or colors which appear when the banknote is tilted. The material was developed by the Bank of Canada in coordination with the National Research Council of Canada in the early 1980s and was first used as a patch on Bank of Canada $20, $50, $100 and $1,000 denominations of Birds of Canada series issued from 1988-1993 and also used on all Canadian Journey denominations issued from 2004 –2011. Fortress Optical Features’ high security products are marketed to security paper manufacturers throughout the world.

Additional information about Fortress Optical Features and its technologies can be found on its website www.fortresspaper.com/company/optical-security-features

This News Release contains forward-looking statements about the proposed acquisition by Nanotech of all of the issued and outstanding securities of Fortress Optical Features and the related offering of Subscription Receipts. Forward-looking statements are frequently, but not always, identified by words such as “expects”, “anticipates”, “believes”, “intends”, “estimates”, “predicts”, “potential”, “targeted” “plans”, “possible” and similar expressions, or statements that events, conditions or results “will”, “may”, “could” or “should” occur or be achieved.

These forward-looking statements include, without limitation, statements about our market opportunities, strategies, competition, and the Company’s views that its nano-optical technology will continue to show promise for mass production and commercial application. The principal risks related to these forward-looking statements are that the Company’s intellectual property claims will not prove sufficiently broad or enforceable to provide the necessary commercial protection and to attract the necessary capital and/or that the Company’s products will not be able to displace entrenched hologram, metalized strip tagging, and other conventional anti-counterfeiting technologies sufficiently to allow for profitability.

There can be no assurance that the transaction will occur or that the anticipated strategic benefits and operational synergies will be realized. The transaction is subject to the successful closing of the Subscription Receipt offering and to various regulatory approvals, including approvals by the TSXV, and the fulfilment of certain conditions, and there can be no assurance that any such approvals will be obtained and/or any such conditions will be met. The transaction and the Subscription Receipt offering could be modified, restructured or terminated.

Readers are cautioned not to place undue reliance on these forward-looking statements, which reflect Nanotech’s expectations only as of the date of this News Release. Nanotech disclaims any obligation to update or revise any forward-looking statements, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise, except as required by law.

This News Release is not an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to buy any securities in the United States or in any jurisdiction in which such offer, solicitation or sale would be unlawful. The securities described in this News Release have not been and will not be registered under the United States Securities Act of 1933, as amended, or any state securities laws and may not be offered or sold within the United States absent registration or an applicable exemption from the registration requirements of such laws.

This News Release is not an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to buy any securities in the United States or in any jurisdiction in which such offer, solicitation or sale would be unlawful. The securities described in this News Release have not been and will not be registered under the United States Securities Act of 1933, as amended, or any state securities laws and may not be offered or sold within the United States absent registration or an applicable exemption from the registration requirements of such laws.

So there you have it. No one is responsible for anything but they hope for the best.

2014 Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada (SBCC) national winners announced

Last week on May 23, 2014, the Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada (SBCC) National winners were announced in Ottawa. (A Feb. 20, 2013 posting recounts the organization’s history and accomplishments on its 20th anniversary). Here’s more about the 2014 national winners from a May 23, 2014 Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada news release,

A novel method of HIV detection for newborns under the age of 18 months and for adults before three months post-transmission earned a grade 10, British Columbia student top national honours today [May 23, 2014] in the 2014 “Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada” (SBCC).

Nicole Ticea, 15, from York House School in Burnaby, BC was awarded the top prize of $5,000 by a panel of eminent Canadian scientists assembled at the Ottawa headquarters of the National Research Council of Canada (NRC).

Her impressive research project, mentored at Simon Fraser University by associate professor, Dr. Mark Brockman, is the first test capable of analyzing HIV viral nucleic acids in a point-of-care, low-resource setting.Nicole’s research, was deemed an incredibly innovative solution to a global challenge according to the judges led by Dr. Julie Ducharme, General Manager, Human Health Therapeutics, NRC.

See a full project description below and online here: http://sanofibiogeneiuschallenge.ca/2014/05/23/

Ten brilliant young scientists from nine Canadian regions, all just 15 to 18 years old, took part in the national finals. They had placed first at earlier regional SBCC competitions, conducted between March 27 and May 22, 2014.

High school and CEGEP students from Victoria to Saskatoon to St. John’s, focused on biotechnology fields of discovery and study, submitted more than 200 proposals. Working closely with mentors, these students conducted research in diverse areas such as telomeres, diabetes, stress management, Alzheimer’s, autism and pulp production. Since its inauguration in 1994, more than 4,700 young Canadians have competed in SBCC, with the majority of competitors going on to pursue careers in science and biotechnology.

1st place winner, Nicole Ticea will compete for Canada on June 22-25 at the International BioGENEius Challenge, conducted at the annual BIO conference in San Diego, CA.

2nd place, $4,000 – Ontario: Varsha Jayasankar, 17, grade 12, Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School, St. Catherines won with research into how an extract created from mango ginger can be used to inhibit the growth of multiple antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Project description: http://sanofibiogeneiuschallenge.ca/2014/05/23/

3rd place, $3,000 – Ontario: Anoop Manjunath, 17, grade 11, University of Toronto Schools, Toronto investigated image processing techniques for the analysis of ultrasound stimulated bubble interactions with fibrin clots.Project description: http://sanofibiogeneiuschallenge.ca/2014/05/23/

There were a couple of other projects (one for its ‘nano’ focus and the other for its ‘wheat’ focus), which caught my attention, from the SBCC 2014 National Competitor Project Descriptions page by Anne Ramsay,

Amit Scheer, Grade 10

Colonel By Secondary School, Ottawa, ON

“Development of a Novel Quantum Dot-Aptamer Bioconjugate Targeted Cancer Therapy for Precision Nanomedicine Applications”

A novel nanoparticle for targeted cancer therapeutics is described. This research was effectuated to create a theranostic bioconjugate with an optimal effective therapeutic index, achieved by biomarker-specific targeting. Estimates show that over 14 million new cases of cancer are diagnosed annually worldwide. Aptamer-quantum dot (APT-QD) bioconjugates were synthesized by conjugating cadmium-telluride quantum dots (QDs, semiconductor nanoparticles) to aptamers (nucleic-acid based ligands), by amide crosslinking. Aptamers targeted mucin-1 (MUC1), a glycosylated surface protein overexpressed on many cancers, including MCF7 breast cancer cells, and only minimally expressed in MCF-10A non-cancerous cells. The bioconjugate and unmodified QD treatments (the control) were tested for cellular uptake and cytotoxicity in MCF7 (cancerous) and MCF-10A (comparison) cell cultures. MTT assays, which quantify cellular viability by assessing mitochondrial activity, were used for dose-response analysis at several treatment concentrations. APT-QDs caused a statistically significant decrease in viability specifically in MUC1-overexpressing cultures, suggesting cell-specific internalization by receptor-mediated endocytosis. Apoptosis and necrosis were quantified using immunofluorescence assays; bioconjugate-treated cells were early apoptotic after 4 hours, proving effective initiation of programmed cell death. Finally, confocal microscopy was used for aptamer-dependent nanoparticle internalization analysis, demonstrating that APT-QDs accumulate outside of nuclei. A fluorochrome-modified DNA complement to the aptamer was synthesized for co-localization of aptamers and QDs, proving effective endosomal escape for both components. The bioconjugate has applications in combination and theranostic treatments for cancer, and in precision medicine to diversify targeting based on patient-specific panomics analyses. The researcher created a novel bioconjugate nanoparticle and has proven numerous viable applications in cancer therapeutics.

Wenyu Ruan, Grade 9, & Amy Yu Ruiyun Wang, Grade 10

Walter Murray Collegiate Institute, Saskatoon, SK

“Identification of Leaf Rust Resistance in Wheat”

Leaf rust is the most common disease in wheat, a crop which contributes $11B annually to Canada’s economy. The most effective strategy to control leaf rust has been to grow resistant varieties. There are two general types of resistance genes found in wheat: Race-specific genes confer a high-level of resistance to specific strains of leaf rust but can be easily overcome by genetic mutation in pathogen populations, while slow rusting (APR) resistance provides partial resistance to a broad spectrum of races, but is typically effective only at the adult stage of plant growth. A three-phase experiment was conducted on a doubled-haploid population derived from the cross RL4452/AC Domain to determine if the resistance of a recently discovered gene (Lr2BS) worked with other resistance genes to synergistically enhance resistance to leaf rust. Linkage and quantitative trait loci (QTL) mapping were performed by combining our new genotypic data with a previously generated genetic map for this population, then adding rust disease data from our experiment to identify genomic regions associated with leaf rust resistance. In addition, a fluorescent microscope was used to examine host-pathogen interaction on a cellular level. These experiments showed that lines carrying Lr2BS alone, and in combination with other APR genes were susceptible at the seedling stage, which suggests that Lr2BS is an adult plant gene. It appears that the synergistic effect of some multiple gene combinations, including Lr2BS, enhances leaf rust resistance. Furthermore, QTL mapping identified an uncharacterized resistance gene (LrUsw4B) that conferred resistance at the seedling stage.

I am sorry to see they are not sending all three national finalists to the international competition as they did in 2012. As I noted in my July 16, 2012 posting the international standings did not reflect the national standings,

As the 2012 winner of the Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada competition, Tam was invited to compete in this year’s international Sanofi BioGENEisu Challenge held in Boston, Massachusetts on June 19, 2012. [Janelle] Tam received an honourable mention for her work while Rui Song of Saskatoon placed third internationally.

Presumably the costs are too high to continue the practice.

Getting back to 2014, congratulations to all the competitors and the winners! And, good luck to Nicole Ticea at the International BioGENEius Challenge which will be conducted at the annual BIO conference, June 22-25  2014, in San Diego, CA!

Saving the frogs (and other amphibians)

Given this blog’s name, I couldn’t pass up this May 1, 2014 news release from Simon Fraser University (located in Vancouver, Canada),

An ecological strategy developed by four researchers, including two from Simon Fraser University, aims to abate the grim future that the combination of two factors could inflict on many amphibians, including frogs and salamanders.

A warming climate and the introduction of non-native fish in the American West’s mountainous areas are combining to threaten the habitat that this ecologically critical group of species needs to thrive.

Previous studies predict the combined effect of climate change and non-native fish could cause amphibian populations to decline and even become locally extinct.

In their newly published study in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, researchers examine this challenge and propose several new climate adaptation tools to reduce threats to amphibians.

The researchers say the novel suite of tools could help prioritize the restoration of amphibian habitats in Western North America’s mountainous regions.

Wendy Palen, an SFU ecologist, Maureen Ryan, a postdoctoral fellow at SFU and the University of Washington (UW), Michael Adams, a research ecologist at the U.S. Geological Survey and Regina Rochefort, a science advisor at Washington State’s North Cascades National Park, co-authored the paper.

Many amphibians in the American West’s mountainous areas need predator-free wetlands and lakes during their aquatic life stages. “Amphibians predominantly use mountainous areas’ small, shallow ponds to breed and feed,” explains Ryan, the study’s lead author.

“These kinds of wetlands are at the highest risk of drying up under climate change due to reduced snowpack and longer summer droughts. Non-native fish, such as brook and rainbow trout, were introduced for recreational fishing almost a century ago. They remove amphibians from the biggest and most stable lakes in the environment. Fish eat most amphibians and even at low densities can devour a lake’s whole amphibian population.”

Mindful of an opportunity to help amphibians, the researchers collaborated with UW colleagues to develop new maps and hydrological models of climate impacts specific to mountainous regions.

They are using these tools along with biological survey data to identify regions where native species are most threatened by the combined effects of climate change and fish. They then hope to work with area managers who would implement fish removals.

“Our work suggests that removing fish from strategic sites may restore resilience to landscapes where inaction might lead to tipping points of species loss,” says Palen.

The SFU Earth to Ocean Research Group member has been collaborating with Adams since 1999 to evaluate threats to amphibians in mountainous regions.

“We hope newly developed wetland modeling tools can improve climate adaptation action plans so that intact ecosystems persist in the face of a changing climate,” says Palen.

Hydrologists and remote sensors helped the researchers develop models that project a substantial loss of wetlands in America’s western mountains over the next 40 to 80 years.

They note the combined threat of climate change and fish to amphibian survival also exists in B.C. but records of where fish have been introduced are scarce.

The researchers remind us that 95 per cent of the American West’s lakes are currently stocked with non-native fish, so removing them from a few sites doesn’t threaten recreational fishing opportunities.

Let’s save some frogs

Vancouver (Canada) and a city conversation about science that could have been better

Institutional insularity is a problem one finds everywhere. Interestingly, very few people see it that way due in large part to self-reinforcing loopbacks. Take universities for example and more specifically, Simon Fraser University’s April 17, 2014 City Conversation (in Vancouver, Canada) featuring Dr. Arvind Gupta (as of July 2014, president of the University of British Columbia) in a presentation titled: Creativity! Connection! Innovation!

Contrary to the hope I expressed in my April 14, 2014 post about the then upcoming event, this was largely an exercise in self-reference. Predictably with the flyer they used to advertise the event (the text was reproduced in its entirety in my April 14, 2014 posting), over 90% in the audiences (Vancouver, Burnaby, and Surrey campuses) were associated with one university or another.  Adding to the overwhelmingly ‘insider’ feel of this event, the speaker brought with him two students who had benefited from the organization he currently leads, Mitacs (a Canadian not-for-profit organization that offers funding for internships and fellowships at Canadian universities and formerly a mathematics NCE (Networks of Centres of Excellence of Canada program; a Canadian federal government program).

Despite the fact that this was billed as a ‘city conversation’ the talk focused largely on universities and their role in efforts to make Canada more productive and the wonderfulness of Mitacs. Unfortunately, what I wanted to hear and talk about was how Gupta, the students, and audience members saw the role of universities in cities, with a special reference to science.

It was less ‘city’ conversation and more ‘let’s focus on ourselves and our issues’ conversation. Mitacs, Canada’s productivity, and discussion about universities and innovation is of little inherent interest to anyone outside a select group of policy wonks (i.e., government and academe).

The conversation was self-referential until the very end. In the last minutes Gupta mentioned cities and science in the context of how cities in other parts of the world are actively supporting science. (For more about this interest elsewhere, you might find this Oct. 21, 2010 posting which features an article by Richard Van Noorden titled, Cities: Building the best cities for science; Which urban regions produce the best research — and can their success be replicated? as illuminating as I did.)

i wish Gupta had started with the last topic he introduced because Vancouverites have a lot of interest in science. In the last two years, TRIUMF, Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics, has held a number of events at Science World and elsewhere which have been fully booked with waiting lists. The Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies has also held numerous science-themed events which routinely have waiting lists despite being held in one of Vancouver’s largest theatre venues.

If universities really want to invite outsiders into their environs and have city conversations, they need to follow through on the promise (e.g. talking about cities and science in a series titled “City Conversations”), as well as, do a better job of publicizing their events, encouraging people to enter their sacred portals, and addressing their ‘outsider’ audiences.

By the way, I have a few hints for the student speakers,

  • don’t scold your audience (you may find Canadians’ use of space shocking but please keep your indignation and sense of superiority to yourself)
  • before you start lecturing (at length) about the importance of interdisciplinary work, you might want to assess your audience’s understanding, otherwise you may find yourself preaching to the choir and/or losing your audience’s attention
  • before you start complaining that there’s no longer a mandatory retirement age and suggesting that this is the reason you can’t get a university job you may want to consider a few things: (1) your audience’s average age, in this case, I’d estimate that it was at least 50 and consequently not likely to be as sympathetic as you might like (2) the people who work past mandatory retirement may need the money or are you suggesting your needs are inherently more important? (3) whether or not a few people stay on past their ‘retirement’ age has less to do with your university job prospects than demographics and that’s a numbers game (not sure why I’d have to point that out to someone who’s associated with a mathematics organization such as Mitacs)

I expect no one has spoken or will speak to the organizers, Gupta, or the students other than to give them compliments. In fact, it’s unlikely there will be any real critique of having this presentation as part of a series titled “City Conversations” and that brings this posting back to institutional insularity. This problem is everywhere not just in universities and I’m increasingly interested in approaches to mitigating the tendency. If there’s anyone out there who knows of any examples where insularity has been tackled, please do leave a comment and, if possible, links.

Creativity—Connection—Innovation—Dr. Arvind Gupta leads a City (Vancouver, Canada) Conversation this Thursday, April 17, 2014

There’s a lot of excitement about Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) upcoming City Conversation’s April 17, 2014 session featuring Dr. Arvind Gupta, computer scientist and newly appointed president of the University of British Columbia (UBC). Being held at 12:30 pm at SFU’s Harbour Centre campus, the event will be broadcast (this is a first for the City Conversations program) to both the Burnaby and Surrey campuses as well.  Here’s a description of the event and of the speaker, along with more details about the locations (from the April 13, 2014 announcement; Note: Links have been removed),,

This week’s City Conversation [titled: Creativity! Connection! Innovation!] will feature Dr. Arvind Gupta, who will discuss the world of research collaborations and innovation, and the role universities and student entrepreneurs play while bringing their ideas to market.

The event will take place at SFU’s Vancouver campus (Harbour Centre, 515 West Hastings St., Room 7000), from 12:30-1:30pm on April 17, and for the first time City Conversations will be simulcast and open to audiences at SFU’s Burnaby (IRMACS Theatre, ASB 10900) and Surrey (Room 5380) campuses.

Participants at SFU’s satellite locations will be able to comment and ask questions of the presenters through video conferencing, with SFU associate vice president, External Relations Joanne Curry (Burnaby) and SFU Surrey executive director Steve Dooley (Surrey) serving as moderators.

Dr. Gupta, former SFU professor and current CEO and scientific director of Mitacs [Canadian not-for-profit organization that offers funding for internships and fellowships at Canadian universities and formerly a mathematics NCE (Networks of Centres of Excellence of Canada) program {a Canadian federal government program}]. Launched at SFU in 1999, Mitacs supports national innovation by coordinating collaborative industry-university research projects with human capital development at its core.

I understand from City Conversations organizer, Michael Alexander, audio will be recorded and a file will be available. I’m not sure what the timing is but the City Conversations Past Event and Recordings webpage is where you can check for the audio file.

I noticed the talk seems to be oriented to the interests of students and staff but am hopeful that some reference will be made to the impact that creativity, connection, and innovation have on a city and how we in Vancouver could participate.

One biographical note of my own here, for two years I tried to contact Michael Alexander with an idea of a City Conversation. We had that conversation March 31, 2014. It was largely focused on my desire to have some science-oriented City Conversations and this is the outcome (and fingers crossed not the last one). I am thrilled to bits.  For anyone wondering what Gupta’s talk has to do with science, innovation is, usually and internationally, code for applied science and technology.

Douglas College (Vancouver, Canada) hosts April 2, 2014 talk “How Do We Know? Scientific information and public policy: GMOs, pesticides and the demise of bees?”

I gather the audience for this event is the Douglas College staff, students, and faculty since it’s being held from 1 – 2:30 pm. There’s more from the March 21, 2014 announcement on the Douglas College website (Note: A link has been removed),

A public talk at Douglas College will seek to unravel the complex and contentious debates surrounding genetically modified crops, pesticide use and declining bee populations. Mark Winston, a Simon Fraser University insect [bees] expert and public commentator, will focus on these issues as he examines how to improve the way science is communicated to the public.

“We are pleased to welcome Dr. Winston to share his insights on the important issue of making scientific communication more effective. He is a great communicator, an expert in his field and an innovator around issues in dialogue,” says Rob McGregor, Executive Director of the Institute of Urban Ecology at Douglas College.

The upcoming talk is titled “How Do We Know? Scientific information and public policy: GMOs, pesticides and the demise of bees.” [emphasis mine] The free, public event takes place on Wednesday, April 2 from 1-2:30pm in the Laura C. Muir Performing Arts Theatre on the Douglas College New Westminster campus (700 Royal Ave., New Westminster).

For those who are not familiar with local geography, the word Vancouver can refer to the city or to the metro area, which includes the municipality of New Westminster where this particular Douglas College campus is located.

One final note, according to the Simon Fraser University (SFU) Centre for Dialogue (where Winston works) notice, a reception will follow.