(Photography credits: Carter van Eitreim)
On March 31, students, authors and guest presenters gathered in the Bellini atrium for the launch of MSURJ Volume 11. Armed with champagne, cheese and freshly printed copies of the journal, guests mingled, discussing the featured research (and drinks). Presentations by four guest speakers followed, covering topics from industrial success in the scientific field to advice for future researchers. With no pedestals or microphones, the presentations had an air of genial informality, as if the speakers were having an intimate conversation with all attending guests.
“One of the main things in my mind when I started my undergrad was that I really wanted to do research,” Kevin Chen, the CEO and co-founder of Hyasynth Bio, conveyed to the guests. With an audience composed mostly of undergraduate science students, he was speaking to people who could likely relate to this aspiration. However, after this, Kevin’s pre
sentation took a twist as he narrated his departure from the typical path of academia. Running with a chance, he opted to try research in a different form, and now, at 24 years old, he is the co-founder of Hyasynth Bio, a biotechnology company that engineers microbes to make natural molecules. Specifically, medical cannabis— in an attempt to replace the acres usually required to produce the plant with tanks of yeast. In closing, he reiterated to the students, “Ignore the idea of academia versus industry and science versus applied science. Science is science.”
The next speaker, Dr. Shireen Hossein, related the story of her career in academia, from her PhD that focused on the cell biology of myelination and nerve development to her position with Dr. Gerhard Multhaup here at McGill. With Dr. Multhaup, she has been provided with many diverse opportunities, from learning new techniques like protein mass spectrometry, to supervising students, to designing projects for herself. These experiences have allowed her to grow not only as a scientist, but also as a person. To close, she reiterated the importance of “finding an area of research that fuels your passion.” She also highlighted that research areas can be changed throughout a scientific career, and that a chosen research line now will not necessarily be a lifetime contract.
Our third speaker was Dr. Jesper Sjӧstrӧm, a neuroscientist researching the mysteries of synaptic plasticity and the organization of neuronal connections. However, rather than speaking about his research, he instead provided the audience with a failsafe, three-step “recipe for success”:
- Work hard.
- Have the flexibility to say “yes”.
- Learn one new thing at each stage of your education.
Through stories of his past experiences, he related to the audience the importance of these steps. He spoke of the times he would stay up until 2 or even 3 in the morning working on his projects, stating that these wee hours are the times “you bump into new discoveries”. He advised the audience to always say “yes” to new and cool experiments, not new and cool cities. Lastly, he highlighted the importance of learning one new technique, and learning it to perfection, at each stage in education. With this simple recipe, Dr. Sjӧstrӧm shared some valuable life lessons and honed in on what it takes to become a successful researcher.
The evening’s final speaker was Dr. David Harpp, an incredible scientist, professor, and mentor to all those interested in research. Much like the previous speaker, Dr. Harpp recounted his personal experiences with research and academia, all the while emphasizing several important lessons. Ranging from his post-doctorate days to his experiences as a professor at McGill University, Dr. Harpp was able to inspire the entire audience with his stories. One memorable moment was when he narrated how one of his potential graduate students saved Matt Damon’s father (Matt Damon’s!) through the inception of Velcade, a drug for bone marrow cancer. Quirky, inspiring, thoughtful, and anecdotal, Dr. Harpp’s words gave the audience a look into the exciting and serendipitous aspects of scientific research.
Finally, here are a few brief descriptions of the papers included in this year’s MSURJ—Find Vol. 11 on stands, or click the cover (designed by Samer Richani) below to read the full articles!
(Page 11) Vanessa Caron et. al.
Coral reefs in the Caribbean Sea have been degrading at an alarming rate since the 1970s. In an effort to gain insight into coral reef protection, this research team investigated how algal cover on coral reefs is affected by the herbivore abundance. With research conducted in Western Barbados, the research team deduced a number of contributing factors, such as groundwater input levels.
(Page 16) Zhubo Zhang et al.
This research team investigated the ambiguity inherent to sensory adaptation—the phenomenon where a neuron’s “coding rule” changes in response to a stimulus. However, ambiguity arises from the fact that different stimuli are able to produce the same neural response. Working with in vivo extracellular recordings, the team was able to conclude that less sensory adaptation leads to a stronger ability to disambiguate different stimuli.
(Page 22) Jesse Mendoza et al.
This research project was focused on determining if the knockout of a nicotinic cholinergic receptor would have similar effects on vestibular and auditory systems. The receptor, 𝛂-9, is important in the regulation of auditory and vestibular peripheral hair cells, and deficits also leads to abnormalities in cochlear hair cell development. Through a knockout study on mice, the team reported that the absence of the 𝛂-9 receptor does not lead to vestibular function deficits.
(Page 28) Moushumi Nath et al.
Noise correlation is defined as the correlation in non-stimulus evoked activity between neurons. This research team focused on investigating visual perception and whether changes in noise correlation could predict behavioural performance in a motion detection task. Their findings support this notion, and suggest that noise correlation may be an important parameter in understanding the mysteries of visual perception.
(Page 32) Mariya Stavnichuk et al.
Osteoclasts are cells responsible for bone degradation, and their malfunction is at the root of many bone-related diseases. This study investigated changes in Ca2+ concentration in osteoclast precursors upon application of RANKL, a key osteoclastogenic cytokine. The findings indicated that RANKL induces oscillations in Ca2+ concentration as well as modulations in cellular responses to ATP.
(Page 36) Liang Chen et al.
Gene expression can be controlled on multiple levels, and one of the key proteins involved in translational control is eIF4E. The researchers investigated the role of several testis-specific isoforms in Drosophila spermatogenesis, and found that the loss of function of individual proteins had no significant effects, but defects in spermatogenesis were observed when paired knockdowns were conducted. This indicates overlapping functions that can compensate for one another. From the results, the team were also able to conclude specific functions of each isoform.
(Page 40) Ling Lin et al.
Investigating cosmic strings, the research featured on the cover of the journal focused on globular clusters and their origins. Globular clusters are galactic structures that are poorly understood. The authors proposed that cosmic strings are at the root of globular cluster formation, and their results largely agree with this hypothesis. Their evidence suggests that globular clusters form around slowly moving cosmic string loops with a speed of less than 3% the speed of light.