This blog is a collaborative effort between the Foundation for Student Science and Technology (formerly the Canadian Young Scientist Journal) and Science.gc.ca. Our aim is to offer an interactive platform where Canadian students can talk about their passions, challenges and ideas on how to further pursue scientific interests and education. We welcome new contributors -- if you are interested please contact us at information@science.gc.ca.

Monday, February 18, 2013


Originally Published: February 18, 2013
By: Ankita Saxena
What does it mean to be innovative? Who best exemplifies an innovative person?
If you are like many people in the world, the term might make you think of large tech companies- Apple, Facebook, Google and consequently, their famous founders- Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. It’s not hard to see why- we all probably use their products at minimum, once a day.
However, while we focus on these (undoubtedly) incredible men, we forget some of the biggest innovators and thinkers of all human history- the scientists. For some reason or the other, scientists tend to get lumped into two general categories: the Frankenstein mad-scientist who is planning on unleashing insane robots on humanity or the stuffy academic archetype. Having worked with some of these incredible people and closely reviewing others’ work, I can safely say that nothing could be further from the truth.
The past greats: Marie Skłodowska-Curie, Albert Einstein, Watson and Crick, Frederick Griffith, Hershey and Chase made incredible strides for science and humanity at large by using relatively crude tools to design elegant experiments that proved critical concepts. Transformation- the genetic uptake of exogenous DNA, which is used by millions of people yearly was discovered when Griffith heat killed a dangerous strain of pneumococcal bacteria (Pneumonia III-S) and administered the compound with II-R strain to mice that later passed away. Now, normally, II-R was inert as it lacked a polysaccharide coating that inhibited it’s discovery from the immune system; however, in these conditions, it took up the DNA of III-S which happened to code for the protective coating that allowed it to survive and kill the mouse. Later, Griffith could isolate both strains of live bacteria from the dead mice.
Obviously, not every scientist can become a Griffith or Einstein. At the same time, it’s exactly this type of innovative thinking which continues to drive all fields of science forward. In 1994, Dr. Polly Matzinger published a paper that proposed a brand new model for the immune system. This new model, dubbed the “Danger hypothesis” proposes that antigen presenting cells respond to danger signals from cells undergoing injury, stress or a difficult cell death. While her theory is not completely accepted, many parts of it have become key to modern immunological theory. Interestingly, Matzinger gestated these ideas not from doing lab work, but by studying various topics, including chaos theory that she thought might be relevant.
More recently, and especially at my home institution (the University of Calgary), a few scientists have been making use of improved microscopic tools to live image physiological functions such as the innate immune response, which is responsible for various disorders including sepsis. Others have decided to go beyond the image itself and instead, closely examine the components of the image itself and its relationship with the specimen in question. For instance, could a change in the emission spectra of an object reflect increased presence of other compounds that are linked to disease progression?
Ultimately, innovation itself can be quite easily defined; by Webster’s definition it simply means “a new idea, method or product”. However, it is important for us not to restrict or too closely associate the word with a specific sector or field and ignore its role in academic research and other areas. While a white-coated scientist in a lab may not appeal to the heart as much as images of starving artists collaborating in a rundown garage, creativity and flexibility of thought are instrumental to success anywhere and indeed, exist everywhere. Just imagine trying to live life without the almighty GPS, X-Rays and even antibiotics- I doubt you will get very far!

Skin Stem Cells

Originally Published: February 18, 2013
Defining Relationships Between Skin Stem Cells: An Unresolved Question in Skin Regeneration.
By: Sarthak Sinha
Skin is the largest organ in the human body serving as a first line of defense from external pathogens. Hair follicles and the distinct compartments within the skin are continually being repopulated and this regenerative capacity is now believed to be a result of two prominent stem cell populations residing along the hair shaft. Recent work from Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto discovered a novel population of dermal precursors (commonly abbreviated as SKPs) residing at the base of hair follicles in two distinct compartments, dermal sheath and papilla. These surprising discoveries have raised many questions in the rapidly evolving field of stem cells as we get closer in our chase to uncovering the mechanisms allowing hair and skin to exhibit such robust regenerative capacity.
In ninth grade, I remember reading a review article which highlighted one of the fundamental questions yet to be answered in this field was ʻRelationship between SKPs and other skin stem cellsʼ. It was the same year I joined Dr. Biernaskieʼs laboratory at the University of Calgary to be part of a team of researchers at the forefront of skin regeneration. I’m now attempting to answer this very same and promising question of regenerative medicine where my project is focused on uncovering the mechanisms that allow these two populations of skin stem cells to be able to communicate with one another. Uncovering the mechanisms and organelles responsible for this communication, we are now translating the findings into designing drug targets with sound rationale to make the clinical translation of cell replacement therapies a viable option following chronic and severe skin trauma.
Injuries to the skin in the forms of skin burn or chronic wounding rob an individual’s ability to sense touch, sweat and often results in poor recovery following skin grafting. The new hope of being able to use these dermal precursors as a source of autologous stem cells for transplantations following such injury offers new promise towards a superior attempt at reconstructing the first layer of defense in the operation theaters worldwide. Additionally, the commercial benefits of my research include fast and efficient hair regeneration to be used in conjugation with chemotherapy or for cosmetics industry.

2012 Best Young Scientist Paper Awards

Originally Published: February 18, 2013
Here are the 2012 Best Young Scientist Paper Awards in partnership with the NRC Research Press:
In Neuroscience and Psychology: Adelina Cozma, Bayview Secondary School, Richmond Hill, Ontario for “Novel learning in the brain”.
In this research, Adelina Cozma aims to examine how the brain acquires, learns, and overtly expresses new words in a foreign language relative to familiar, native-language words, and how new words are neurophysiologically absorbed after a short period of augmentative software training Adelina aimed to determine the spatio-temporal dynamics of the cognitive mechanisms involved in language acquisition using MEG and MRI techniques, and used three pieces of software to correlate her findings with the results of augmentative training.  This research reveals important new insights into the nature of foreign language processing; further work could prove instrumental to unraveling the mysteries associated with foreign language acquisition
In Mathematics: Anunay Kulshrestha, Delhi Public School, Dwarka New Delhi, India for “On the Hamming Distance between base-n representations of whole numbers”.
The Hamming distance is an expression of the difference between the original version of a message and the received message. It can be used either to correct an error found within a message, or to determine if a given piece of information has too many errors to be useful. In this paper, Kulshrestha derives a novel approach for calculating the Hamming distance between two consecutive whole numbers in any base. He proves that the Hamming distance between a number m and m-1 in base n is P + 1, where P is the exponent of the highest power of n contained m. From this formula, Kulshrestha also develops a method for calculating the sum of all such Hamming distances up to any given number in base n.
In Information Technologies: Nick Johnston, Semiahmoo Secondary School, Surrey, British Columbia for “Computer-aided telepathic communications”,
A fascinating, totally novel idea that creates a concept of non-Voice over IP communication. Nichlas Johnston’s experiment focused on EEG as a means of detecting brain patterns related to speech.  He was able to identify EEG patens of phonemes (and, by extension, words) as they are thought of by an individual.  These strings of phonemes could then be either transmitted to some future receiver or interpreted via a speech-to-text server and text-messaged via the Internet. This would enable those who cannot speak to successfully utilize the Internet as well as possibly change the speed of end user to end user communication.
In Environmental Science:  Adam Kaplon, Morristown High School, NJ, USA for “Transformation of Pseudomonas putida plasmids to transfer hydrocarbon degrading properties”
P. putida bacterium can degrade all hydrocarbons and, by extension, be a solution for oil spills.  However, this bacterium doesn’t occur naturally everywhere; often times, introducing a new organism into an ecosystem can generate further problems.  For this reason, it would be very useful to transfer the oil-cleaning properties of P. putida into other bacteria.  This is precisely what Adam Kaplon examines in his research.  After isolating the plasmid DNA (which is responsible for these properties) of P. putida Adam inserted into host strains through bacterial transformation in the hopes that these strains would assume biodegrading properties, thereby allowing a local bacterium to restore an ecosystem instead of a foreign species. The results indicate that further studies might prove highly useful to the scientific world.
In Physics: Sarah Battat, The Study School, Westmount, Quebec for “Polarization: Ray Ray Go Away”
The material that polarize a light beam are called a polarizers. Sarah Battat has carried out high level experiments with ferrofluid and an MRF as polarizers. Through the use of a magnet, their suspended iron particles were manipulated to lie in direction that was filtering orientation of light that the experimenter has chosen. In her experiments, Sarah tested the effectiveness of ferrofluids and MRFs when used as polarizers by varying the strength of the magnetic field and varying the orientation of the laser light. The outcome of this research by Sarah Battat was an evaluation of the ability of certain types of ferromagnetic substances to polarize light.
In Life Sciences: Jenny Xue, Moira Secondary School, Belleville, ON for “Does Light at Night Boost Appetite? A Study on Mice”
Obesity has become one of our society’s main burdens. Activity levels are just one class of factors that play a great part in one’s appetite, which directly correlates with one’s weight. Jenny Xue’s study reveals that, in mice, light at night (LAN) increases appetite by disturbing sleep and increasing overall activity level.  This research could prove useful to future studies concerning humans and, by extension, to eliminating the prevalence of obesity in our society.
In Biology:  Howard Feng, Ryan Murchie, and Aleixo Muise, Bayview Secondary School, Richmond Hill, Ontario, for “Identification of ezrin as a colonic substrate for protein tyrosine phosphatase sigma”,
Inflammatory bowel diseases are conditions that plague many people. Protein tyrosine phosphatase sigma (PTPσ) is one of many receptor-type proteins responsible for the varied functions of the cell.  It was inverstigated by Howard Feng, Ryan Murchie, and Aleixo Muise. Firstly, they carried out a thorough analysis of a variety of assays, seeing if ezrin may bind to the domains of PTP-sigma in vitro.  That done, they confirmed that the domain may directly dephosphorylate ezrin, thus providing strong evidence for ezrin’s role as a colonic substrate of PTP-sigma.

Future Neurosurgeon Extols the Virtues of Scientific Research and the CYSJ (JSST)

Originally Published: February 18, 2013

By: Adelina Cozma

For the past five years I volunteered as a teacher assistant in special education classrooms. My experiences built on my kindness, compassion and sensitivity to autistic children’s feelings, and led to an increased sense of social responsibility. Noticing the students’ difficulties interacting with their environment served as inspiration for my journey into scientific research.

Each year since seventh grade I initiated and conducted neuroscience research studies at the Hospital for Sick Children, the University of Toronto and York University, published the findings in journals and presented the projects as a Team Canada or Ontario member at international and national competitions and conferences. I designed and carried out innovative experimental paradigms using the latest developments in neuroimaging and augmentative communication technology to address language acquisition and representation in the brain and to develop and implement software programs that currently serve as teaching strategies for educators and learning tools for students with autism. These activities enriched me with valuable leadership, problem-solving, time management, flexibility, teamwork, communication and technological skills.

Participating in science fairs has been both challenging and rewarding. Working on a science fair project calls for commitment: there are several steps involved which require a significant amount of time, effort and support from the home, school and community environments. Nevertheless, the hard work is definitely worthwhile. In my opinion, the benefits go way beyond the scientific concepts learned through the research. I not only gained top international awards and recognitions but more meaningfully had opportunities for personal growth and fulfillment. Research taught me that things in life do not always happen as planned, and moreover, I learned to be open to change, to persevere, to seek the best in everything, and to help others along the way.

My desire to raise awareness about science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) opportunities to students got me involved with the Canadian Young Scientist Journal. As Editor and Ambassador Program Manager, I enhanced literacy and public speaking skills to promote the journal at high school events and to review and select international research manuscripts for publication. These experiences challenged me to familiarize myself with current research in various domains, and to improve my critical analysis and proofreading skills to make meaningful edits.

Throughout my life, I desire to be a visionary leader whose personality, interests, life experiences and motivation to make positive contributions through helping others, will serve as foundational aspects for continued scientific research and volunteering initiatives.