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.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

My Love Letter to Science: Confessions of a Compulsive Adulteress

Originally Published: October 30, 2014
By Alicia Lang

I have a confession to make.

First, I am not the devoted science junkie you think I am. I hate to admit it. I would pass over a glowing-blue, banana-scented test tube for a bag of warm, fudge-filled, melt-on-your tongue brownies any day. I love art, history, music and literature. I love what you would condemn as the vanities of life - you shouldn’t. Indeed, my love for you, too, stemmed from those legends of great kings and emperors seeking the fabled Fountain of Youth.

At age 12, you proposed to me, proposed that aging was the macroscopic product of error accumulation on the various biological levels. I was ecstatic, initially from utter relief that the Fountain of Youth would remain mere legend, but later, too, because I liked that idea of inevitable downfall, to keep the ever-present human ego in check; Alexander the Great could conquer as many kingdoms as he liked, but would never be able to conquer the ageing man he saw in the mirror.

Second, I am violent. I enjoy smashing your atoms apart, and uncovering, in the process, the beginnings of the universe. I enjoy putting them back together again, in symmetry, because in the eyes of a scientist, symmetry is beauty. Symmetry, in this case, is also the Standard Model. Part of what can perhaps be called the most successful theory of all time - quantum theory - it is hinged, nonetheless, upon a philosophical foundation of sand.

And lastly, I am not a genius. My eyes often ache from your dense texts riddled with jargon and equations. I conceive of Newtonian dynamics in terms of spheres and cannonballs. I make sense of relativity through cartoon clocks and spaceships. At the most abstract level, I actually do think of string theory in terms of the interactions between strings.

But at the end of the day, when I look at my laptop only to see minuscule electrons defying the laws of common sense, I cannot help but chuckle at your romantic jests.

With due love,
Schrodinger’s Cat

P.S. In all seriousness, many people in developed nations today undervalue science as the engine of their prosperity, and largely identify with my sentiments as the compulsive adulteress. It is instead those in emerging nations who truly embrace science for what it is: the LOVE of their lives.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Pathology : The Answer To Life And Death

Originally Published: August 21, 2014
By: Sarina Lalla

Pathology. While many of us may have heard such a term on shows such as CSI, for when a body at a crime scene needs to be examined through autopsy, how many of us really know what exactly it means?

Pathology is the study of any manifestations of illness or foul play that can touch an organ or any anatomical element. Simply put, let’s just say that there is a patient that either 1) has an illness or 2) is dead and we would like to know why. Pathology is a science that has the answers. How, you may ask? There are many steps that must be followed before the mysteries can be solved.

First of all, anything that passes through a pathology lab is referred to as a specimen. Specimens vary in size, as they can come from any part of the body. Heck, they can even be the whole body. These specimens come from clinics and hospitals, usually the ones closest to the pathology lab itself. Pathology labs are even usually part of some hospitals, which is more efficient : any specimen, which is unique and irreplaceable (ex. if the specimen’s a gallbladder, we only have one), can be analyzed without leaving the hospital.

So, the specimens are brought to the autopsy/biopsy room, where they are soaked in formalin. This disinfects them all while helping them maintain their form. Depending on the size of the specimen, it will soak in formalin from a couple of hours to a few days.
After that process, the specimens are examined by technicians and pathologists. The latter must make a gross description of the specimen (shape, consistency, presence of anomalys, cysts, tumors, etc) by making specific cuts through them and extracting pieces of tissue.
After the description is made, the pieces of tissue (which very much look like meat) are placed in small cassettes. Once all of the cassettes have been numbered, registered, and closed, they are placed in a machine that coats them in paraffin, or wax. Once they have become blocks of wax, they go through a histology lab, where a knife slices the blocks in strips of a micrometric thickness. These strips are then placed on microscope slides and, with the help of many chemicals, are colored and stuck to the slides.

Once these slides are finished, they are sent back to the pathologists, who must look at them through a microscope to see any microscopic abnormalities or pathogens. They then write anything that they notice and these notes, along with the gross desciption made initially, are sent to the doctors for a final diagnosis and to deliver the information to the patients.
In the case of an autopsy, a full body investigation, this series of steps is done on each organ that is deemed important to examine, like the heart, the brain, the kidneys, and the lungs. The patient is cut open very carefully so not to be too damaged (as many families like to have an open casket).

As an administrative agent working in a pathology lab this summer, I have seen some pretty amazing cases. Every day, there is something different to see : from ovarian cysts the size of beach balls with hair and teeth on them (!) to horseshoe kidneys (kidneys fused together) there is never a dull moment. And I have learned so much along the way, anatomically and in terms of diseases as well. So next time you get your tonsils removed, your wisdom teeth, that suspicious mole, at least you know where it goes now and why the results take some time before coming back!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

STEM Journey

Originally Published: August 19, 2014
By: Osman Sharif

“Do you want to change the world...?”

I was taken aback, bewildered, spaced out... being asked if I wanted to change the world, if I wanted to be that very person that sparked a light of innovation in life. I was at a loss of words. As my life was always restricted to school and friends, things like making change and a difference was never part of my vocabulary. I was always preoccupied at my own life; I never gave a moment’s glance at others... until I reached high school.

Karate lessons, swimming, leisurely biking, playing basketball or reading classic books, nothing compared to the love I shared for science. Grade Nine is where I formed a passion for the workings of the world-- a world where a heartbeat is more complex than words alone to describe, a world where millions of organisms smaller than the naked eye can detect living in unison for the benefit of mankind and a world where one must die in order to understand the true nature of death. Science is itself unexplainable. With so many discoveries yet to be found, I was overwhelmed with the endless possibilities yet to be unraveled.

The words were echoed through my mind louder and louder. I understand what it meant to change. Changing the world is not a superhuman task only targeted for the ones endowed with prophet hood or intelligence. Any man has the ability to make a difference, not only because of his brilliant plans and strategic executions; however, it is the motive, a calling from within. I wanted to be that difference.

As I advanced throughout the years, I learned more and more about the recent advances about cancer. I attended stem cells lectures and researched on my own about the very nature of cancer. I became more and more interested to find a solution not only for cancer, but for AIDS, Schizophrenia, and Congophilic Angiopathy-- any disease yet to cured.
I fully grasped the meaning of the word “change” and realized that I wanted to be that difference in humanity--a change of innovation, a benefit for humanity, a legacy that will be remembered throughout the ages. Science is a continuous process, not a body of knowledge. It is continuously striving through thought and reason which is in short supply nowadays. By continually learning the subject I hold dear, I want to show the world and the people within the greatest innovator that ever walked this earth where the past, the present and the future gasp at my very name: Osman Sharif.

“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but building the new” –Socrates

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Diversification in STEM

Originally Published: July 23, 2014
By: Munaza Saleem

Within the Canadian education system, students as young as the age of fifteen are enquired as to what career path they may take and even their future field of specialization. Our education begins to take us on a series of concentrated interests throughout high school and eventually university, where we begin to focus on an even more miniscule field of research. Perhaps this research involves obtaining knowledge from related subjects, but this study whether it be STEM related or not is albeit directed towards a highly centred discipline. The question arises as to whether we as a society are losing sight of our need of diversification in order to advance our development in science, technology, engineering, and math.

A similar issue that surfaces is whether students should enter micro specializations at earlier ages to see if they become more experienced in their field of choice. Ultimately, a more focussed research from an individual in STEM related subjects at these early ages can lead to more experience in the field as they began at a younger age, and arguably supply a greater contribution in the area of interest. However, scientists and engineers alike may agree that having a background in other subjects can also be an active factor in advancing your own methods and techniques within your line of work.

Various backgrounds of knowledge may contribute to a certain focus on research or discovery. This is exemplified among many notable polymaths such as the philosopher Avicenna, who was titled the Father of Modern Medicine but was also a poet, astronomer, mathematician, and geologist. Similarly, Isaac Newton was not only a physicist but a mathematician, astronomer, chemist, and theologist. These polymaths used their knowledge in multiple fields of study to eventually achieve their most remarkable contributions in society.

In due course, not only does a wider background in various subjects increase your knowledge, but educational institutions and employers are seeking students and employees that have skills and attributes that go beyond the breadth of the classroom, lab, or research facility. The competitive advantage that adds to your ability to be informed of information within other fields exemplifies your personal diversification of interests.

As a student who has obtained experience in fields ranging from science to visual arts to business, my experience in each of these fields commonly intertwine as a daily occurrence. Each supplies to the knowledge of the other and the breadth of information and amount of people in backgrounds that you meet would not have occurred had I not found an interest in a wide range of subjects. While micro specializing in a certain field may have allowed me to focus on one particular subject, the amount of background understanding would not have been possible without being involved with various other pursuits.

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Central Science

Originally Published: June 30, 2014
By: Fangwei Chang

What were the first sciences which we could really consider as being true “sciences” in a modern sense? And importantly, how might one even go about defining a “science”? Wikipedia has something of its own to say: “Science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe.” And while Wikipedia may be generally taken as a disreputable source, here it seems to have more than a little bit of validity. After all, how else might we have said it? Science is characterized not by its massive wealth of information, but by its ability to systematically test ideas and draw new conclusions. Good science is not afraid to admit its own faults, not afraid to admit that it was incorrect.

A curious thing that happens if you get all the sciences, lay them out, and connect each other, is that some seem to be “more connected” than others. Some subjects are perceived as being pre-requisites to others, or at least more fundamental than others. For instance, one might say that you can’t have physics without math, no math without logic, no law without sociology and no sociology without biology. Some sciences “lead” to more disciplines than others. Some are more “central” than others. And no matter how it is wrong, chemistry always seems to come out on top. The “central science”, as it is sometimes called.

That’s kind of interesting! Math is the most fundamental of them all, but seems to “lead” only to physics. Physics “leads” to chemistry, and then there is a sudden explosion of many more subjects that chemistry “leads” to.
Why is it that chemistry occupies such a crucial role in all of science as we presently understand it? It seems to be that it is the fulcrum of all that we know. Of course, it deals with the natural world on a material level, and that’s very practical for industry and commerce and sanitation and civilization in general … but still, why chemistry? Physics and biology can never get along, so goes the common joke among students, but when chemistry is introduced the entire situation is suddenly workable. It is the floodgate that unlocks an overwhelming variety of other disciplines while still maintaining firm roots in the physics and mathematics that came before it.

Of course, could things have occurred any differently given our technological and societal progress? One might say that the realization of chemistry is completely inevitable. It was not made into a systematic, rigorous discipline until relatively recently, but the idea of it has been around for quite literally forever. It is impossible to look up towards celestial bodies for generations upon generations and not be curious about their behaviour, hence the development of physics and astronomy. It is impossible to observe the natural world which covers every aspect of our existence, and not question how living things function. Hence, biology. Likewise, it is not possible to make any inquiry into the material world without invoking the basic chemical principles which we know today.

And what about the other subjects? Physics, biology, and all the rest? Concepts, explanations resembling evolution and Newton’s laws of motion have appeared on many occasions throughout history. Similar to how Darwin was not the first to suggest that inherited change could account for all the biodiversity of earth, Newton was not the first to propose a relationship between an object’s mass, force, and acceleration. But unlike many of his predecessors, Newton had a tremendous gift for mathematics and was able to express his thoughts and conclusions more precisely using said math. Darwin’s ideas, meanwhile, had difficulties of its own due to circumstance and sometimes incomplete evidence. Yet nevertheless, he was and still is highly regarded for having put together his theory while consulting the numerous works of others who came before him (that in addition to an overwhelming quantity of his own observations). Buffon, Cuvier, Malthus, Lamarck, Lyell … each contributed a fragment of the whole. But they couldn’t have possibly put their ideas together; it would have been chronologically impossible. It took Darwin, plus Darwin’s insight and boldness, to do what they couldn’t.

Doesn’t it seem to be the case that this is how science moves ahead? Even as we move forward and more time is spent studying a narrower and narrower subject area, it always relates back to the other fields in a manner stronger than before. As disjointed information is moulded together into coherent hypotheses and theories, we find increasingly creative ways to connect the dots and form relationships where none were thought to exist before. Referring back: Newton’s laws “unified” the terrestrial and the celestial worlds, by demonstrating that they operated using the same laws of physics. Darwin “unified” man with the remainder of the natural world in sense, by arguing that all living entities were related and none completely separate from the rest. Likewise, we have since then also succeeded in doing the same with electricity and magnetism, and space and time.

In high school, I don’t think we see this quite as often. The three sciences are sufficiently compartmentalized to be regarded as distinct and almost unrelated (if you really wanted to).

Apparently, it seems to be the case that chemistry is considered among the “easier” science courses offered in the high school curriculum, on account of the fact that the mathematics involved seldom extends beyond the multiplication of fractions (particularly in grade eleven chemistry). But it is evident that like any subject, chemistry has the potential to become amazingly intricate and complex. Biology, meanwhile, is denounced as a convoluted memory game. Physics therefore receives the least criticism of all. At the very least, it certainly seems to be the most “counter-intuitive” and conceptually difficult subject to grasp.

But of course, it has to be the case that everything is indeed deeply connected. Yet what is it about these “central sciences” that make them so pivotal? Why are they more “connected” in this web/hierarchy of disciplines? Is it merely because of the way these fields have been developed historically? Or is there something fundamentally different about them, and what they study? Why can’t math or physics make the direct jump to biology? Why do we need chemistry in the middle? Hypothetically, could we have made a direct jump from physics to ethics instead, and then worked backwards from ethics to sociology, from sociology to psychology … etc. … until chemistry was finally reached? Or was that something never possible?

I wonder.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


Originally Published: June 10, 2014
By: Sarah Arab

When you look at the grand scheme of things, we are no more significant than a speck of dust. If you take into consideration the vastness and the continuous expansion of the universe, you come to realize that maybe that math quiz you just flunked isn’t worth stressing over. The stars, planets and multiple galaxies couldn’t care less. Hey, maybe in an alternate universe, you may have completely aced it. Science is a great self-esteem booster. Trust me on this one.

However, what makes us different than mere stardust is the gift of conscience thought which leads us to believe we are much more important. I think that’s what makes life so interesting to ponder over; it is definitely more than just its physical embodiment in an organism. No matter where you start to unravel life as we know it, whether it is at the genetic level or the species level, everything is related in the most complex manner and this also means that every single thing is important. Nothing is irrelevant. I am aware that this contradicts what I said earlier, and this is exactly why this concept fascinates me to no end.

We can pinpoint the complexity of life down to the simple will to survive. Everything that has a shot at life will do anything in its power to keep itself and its kind going. DNA, for example, can be described simply as genetic material that codes for life’s basic processes. Kind of like a blueprint. Although it is nothing more than a bunch of molecules strung together in a particular pattern, it still is able to give rise to an entire organism. If that doesn’t fascinate you, I don’t know what will. In addition to that, it insists on mutating itself with one goal in mind, to make you a better organism biologically, so that you may prosper, for many generations to come.

Every single cell in your being cries out for life.

So basically, your entire body is rooting for you.

Every single process in your body is for you. Your immune system works to keep you healthy, so that you may live. Your heart beats to keep the blood circulation flowing, so that your cells receive the oxygen they need to keep going. If you ever get a cut or a scrape, millions of tiny platelets rush to the scene immediately to clog up the wound. There are thousands of hairs in your nostrils, just so that harmful bacteria will stay out. Literally any and every component of your body, even down to the finest strands of DNA, is working hard to keep you healthy, alive and going strong. So don’t you ever think, even for a moment, that “nobody cares”, because your body undoubtedly does.

So, next time when you’re down, feeling broken, confused or lost, take a deep breath and remember that for a star to be born, a gaseous nebula must collapse. So hey, this isn’t the end, it is the start of something new. You are the result of a highly complex mathematical equation. You are stardust. You are a living and breathing fragment of the universe itself.
So live it up.

[A special thanks to my 11th grade biology and chemistry teacher, Ms. Parrington, for helping me reignite my interest in the sciences. I appreciate and reflect on what you teach in class every day, it really has helped to make me a better person and more appreciative of the world around me.]

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

My Experience at Science Expo 2014 - Blueprint

Originally Published: May 21, 2014
By: Manasa Kaniselvan

As a delegate of Science Expo’s 2013 conference and one of their ambassadors since then, I had high hopes for this year’s conference, and they exceeded my expectations. Science Expo’s fifth annual conference was definitely something to not be missed. It was one of my best experiences of the year.

If there’s one thing Science Expo does right, it’s taking a bunch of STEM nerds and making us like talking to each other. Their icebreaker was a design challenge in itself, which woke our brains up on a Saturday morning and made us come up with creative things to do with clips and toothpaste. Frankly, the best part was listening to the presenters present their models, all of which were expertly marketed. My favorite line would have to be the ‘Colgate Mobile’, a mobile toothpaste transporter created by group-two.

Another notable part of the conference was the workshops. This year’s conference showcased a variety of brief, thirty-minute workshops where we delegates could learn new things, fiddle with software, or network with each other. As an attendee of the Maplesoft and DNA-Extraction workshops, I approve of this new system over last year’s, and I think it’s an interesting improvement. My only regret is that I didn’t get to attend them all!

We were then invited to eat lunch, and you can always expect Science Expo to provide great conference food. Among a selection of sandwiches, fries, cake, and a second course of pizza, there’s more than enough to praise. I was at the CYSJ table handing out journal copies, and it was refreshing to see how many delegates took an interest in the journal. Of course, the other opportunity tables were just as crowded, and most were the programs I remember from last year. I had attended a few of them, so that was definitely nostalgic.
A second design challenge followed lunchtime, and this one was a creative challenge where we had to design animal-observation devices to watch them in their natural habitats. This one was a little strange but we grew to like it and it was pretty fun to hastily wrap together a cage to shield a camera from a skunk. Once again, the highlight was watching people present their devices (including live-action simulation with one disguised as an animal!).

We had our second keynote speaker at this point, who inspired us with his STEM involvement story. Then it was time to snack once again, which also provided a lot of valuable networking time. And I think the networking is a valuable part of the conference, because the people I met from last years were some of the coolest students ever, and a few of them even went on to participate in competitions with me. Science Expo 2014 was just as amazing as I’d expected; I got to the centre tired and half-asleep and left feeling refreshed and inspired, so it was definitely a conference experience to be remembered.

(And can I say ‘Timbit Tower’?  That thing was majestic!)

My STEM Journey

Originally Published: May 21, 2014
By: Fayza Sharif

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

I was quite young at the time, and all I ever thought about was going to school and playing with friends. Things like the future and having a career were not really part of my vocabulary, and I focused more on finding things that I actually liked. From swimming lessons to leisurely biking, from learning sign language to reading library books, I delved into a range of fields in the hopes of forming a genuine interest in one of these hobbies. My love for math, though, seemed to be my most distinguishing highlight from my childhood. I would spend many weekend evenings with my parents and siblings doing multiplication drills and practicing long division. It sort of became our family bonding time, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

These arithmetic skills became handy when I was able to act as a tutor for other classmates. As I learned more about different topics in mathematics, I became more interested in it and wished to further explore its many branches.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

By this time, I had moved on to middle school. It was a new environment with new people and new classes. Everything around me was different, but one thing hadn’t changed--my attachment to math. With more concepts being learnt, I also looked forward to science classes. My previous courses never really focused on anything besides math and English, resulting in other subjects becoming secondary. I felt wonder when I first learned about the makings of the cell--the ribosomes, the nucleus, the mitochondrion--never before had I thought of something so small as being so complex. It was here that science became another one of my interests, and it here that I realized the number of perplexing questions that still eluded the greatest of minds.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

At this point, I entered high school. I was getting older and that meant I needed to seriously think about what I wanted to do with my life. As much as academics meant to me in terms of math and science, it wasn’t enough to grow as a person. I looked to volunteer activities instead. Working at my local hospital, promoting volunteer opportunities around my region, reading to children with special needs, I realized that I enjoyed giving back to the community and making a difference in someone’s life. I eventually looked to medicine since it was a perfect way to blend humanitarian causes with science. I joined extracurricular activities that pertained to medicine such as participating in mini-medical school and going to medical summer camps. As my high school journey comes to an end, I still wonder about what I want to actually do in the future, but the experiences that came along these four years made me look to medicine as a possible career path.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

My summer in Medical Sciences- YSP

Originally Published: April 17, 2014
By: Sarina Lalla

Another incredible program I had a chance to experience this summer that might speak more to young Canadians is the University of Toronto's Youth Summer Program. This camp offers 4 weeklong sessions to students in grade 10 or 11 during the summertime with subjects revolving around the medical field. Every week, the program changes subject in order to represent this vast field of study as well as it can.

I experienced YSP during the week when the Human Physiology conference was being offered, and that being one of my favourite subjects, I had a blast.

I stayed with other students in the New College residents at the university, right in downtown Toronto. During the day, we would listen to fascinating lectures presented by nationally recognized physicians and professionals on every aspect of human physiology, each day covering one system of the body. These hosts were quite patient, explaining intricate concepts in a very basic manner.

After a morning of lectures, we would go to Medical Sciences building where we would test what we learned through incredibly interactive workshops. Here, we were put in groups of roughly 20 students from all around the world that we would do the experiments with. Some neat things I got to do was determine my blood type, do blood smears, study optics by testing lenses that simulated how the human eye worked, studying sound with tuning forks, test our cardiovascular systems with elliptical machines.. I could go on and on! One experiment that blew my mind was something we did when we studied the nervous system. The head of YSP, Dr. Perumalla, came in with an electrical current and excited a subcutaneous nerve under the skin of his elbow. It turned into a nervous signal that made his finger twitch, and depending on the frequency of the voltage, it would twitch faster or slower.
After an afternoon of hands-on learning, we would usually go back to the New College where an exciting social event or a trip to somewhere around Toronto awaited us. The counsellors that would host these activities were always there to chat with you, get to know you, and I shared a lot of great moments with them.

The students at YSP themselves were exceptional!! Lots of them are overachievers: for example, some have written papers in scientific journals like CYSJ. Most of them were from the Greater Toronto Area and a couple were from other parts of Canada, but another impressive amount of students were from faraway countries. It was incredible getting to learn about their cultures and lives. Also, being from Montreal, I learned a lot about the city of Toronto.

There are a few differences in the YSP and the NSLC, but both experiences are equally worth it, in my opinion. As a Canadian, I could definitely relate more to the dorm and college experience I got at the University of Toronto. However, I appreciated the leadership aspect of the NSLC that YSP didn't have. In terms of learning, both camps offered a very thorough curriculum that I enjoyed very much. The touring experiences were roughly the same as well. If you are a student that is interested in studying science in Canada, and you just want to learn more about medical sciences, the Youth Summer Program is a great opportunity for you.

My Summer in Medical Sciences- NSLC

Originally Published: April 17, 2014
By: Sarina Lalla

In December 2012, I decided to take my PSATs “just for fun” to get an idea of the type of admission exams that are required by American universities. Little did I know that the exam I took out of curiosity would lead me to one of the best experiences of my life.

A couple a months after taking the preparatory test, I received a letter in the mail from an organization called the National Student Leadership Conference, congratulating me for my nomination to attend one of their many conferences in health care available at 6 top-notch universities across America that I earned through my PSAT examination. I decided to go to UC Berkeley for a 10-day conference last June, and it was unforgettable.

First of all, the event was jam-packed with presentations by professionals in various health care domains. Most of these presentations were as interactive as possible with workshops offering lots of hands-on experience. I learned how to suture, drill into (wooden and foetal pig) skulls, dissect organs such as a cow’s eye and a pig’s heart as well as a chicken foetus, and gained experience with clinical rotation simulations where I learned how to analyze vital signs and how to react in a crisis. I even had to make a public service announcement that I had to present at the end of the conference.

[Me drilling into a foetal pig’s skull with San Francisco surgeon Dr. Parsioon]

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. What’s great about the NSLC is that there’s that leadership aspect, as indicated in the title, that really teaches you how to find yourself and be a better leader in whatever you will accomplish as a career. An incredible man named Mike Walsh hosted workshops every day that helped us develop our team-building skills and discover who we are. In those moments, I felt at peace with myself and I know I am a better leader today due to the sessions I spent with this man. When we weren’t in the workshops, we learned to apply what we learned in our small groups of 10-15 students that we spent the whole conference with through all of the workshops, as we worked together a lot when we discussed bioethics, how to talk to patients, worked on our PSA, and just bonded together. Some of the best moments of the trip for me were spent in our small “TA groups”, under the mentorship of a loyal counsellor.

 The other students that participate in this conference come from all around the globe, some of them having lived in multiple countries in their life, and their experiences are so interesting to learn about. This being a leadership conference where kids are nominated, a lot of them have incredibly dynamic personalities and they’re really fun to be around. We get to meet a lot of them through all the workshops and even social events that are organized. The friends I made at the NSLC are friends I know I will keep in touch with for my entire life, as we bonded on so many levels and share so many similar interests.

Finally, it’s important to mention the tourism you’ll get to experience. I had never been to San Francisco before and got a chance to explore Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39, the Oakland zoo, a ropes course overlooking the city, and many scientific hotspots such as the Berkeley School of Optometry, the Exploratorium and the David J. Gladstone Research Institute, one of my favourite places from the trip. Also, you get to know Berkeley, a cute little college town with color that you can’t see anywhere else. We got to tour the university as well and use its state-of-the-art conference rooms and facilities. That, and the fact that we stayed in the UCB dorms, definitely gave us the full college experience.

[Fisherman’s Wharf]

One thing that I learned with the NSLC is that your experience is what you make of it. You have some incredible opportunities at your fingertips and it’s really important to be as enthusiastic, participating, open, and dynamic as possible to take advantage of it to the fullest. If you are looking for an enriching summer experience that is a lot of fun, the National Student Leadership Conference is definitely something to look into.

If you are interested in this summer program, please check out www.nslcleaders.org for more information!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014


Originally Published: April 2, 2014
By: William Nguyen

Perhaps it is time for a profound change in neurological assessment and neurorehabilitation, particularly related to stroke and traumatic brain injury. Robotic technologies can provide a radically new and effective approach to clinical assessment of brain function and rehabilitation. This approach also takes advantage of the developments in our understanding of brain function to develop a range of behavioral tasks to assess the various brain circuits that support sensory, motor, and cognitive function. As well, it highlights how these same technologies can be used for rehabilitation in subjects following a stroke.

Our improved understanding of how the brain supports sensory, motor, and cognitive functions is directly linked to the use of advanced technologies that quantify brain signals, control sensory input to the brain, and monitor and modify body movement. Brain activity such as electroencephalography or functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can be used to quantify brain processing. As well, computer monitors and virtual or augmented reality systems are commonly used to control visual stimuli for perceptual or motor tasks. Computer vision allows quantification of bodily movements using robots, motion-tracking systems, and eye-tracking technologies. Although we are far from a final description on the complexities of brain processing. Basic research provides a wealth of concepts and technologies that can be used to interpret brain dysfunction, but, as described in the following, have yet to adequately affect clinical assessment and rehabilitation related to the brain.

This highlights the present challenges facing clinical assessment of upper-limb impairments, and neurological abnormalities related to stroke and associated therapeutic interventions. Robots could create a new approach to clinical assessment and rehabilitation building from present knowledge on how neural circuits in the brain generate the various sensory, motor, and cognitive function. True, the capital costs of these technologies are much more than existing approaches, but these new tools potentially provide a much more cost-effective approach to patient diagnostics, offering a broader, more complete assessment of neurological impairments and the capability to support treatment that may be better suited for the specific needs of each patient.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

STEM: It May Be Hard, But It’s Worth It

Originally Published: March 5, 2014
By: Ayni Sharif

STEM: It May Be Hard, But It’s Worth It

  • Always been my life
  • Fear
  • Possibilities
  • Shy
  • Trust
  • Successes
  • Journal
  • Passion
  • Difficult
  • Time
  • Happiness
  • Thoughts
  • Stepping Stones
  • Big Dreams
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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Bridging the Gap

Originally Published: February 27, 2014
By: Alicia Liang

Two years ago, our neighbor was diagnosed with stage IV prostate cancer. Within a year, he had exhausted all known treatment options, none of which provided even minor relief. Last January, he was told that he had less than three months to live.

After consulting with numerous physicians, one specialist finally informed him of a new drug for prostate cancer that was in the clinical trial stage. Since his quality of life was already extremely low, he eagerly volunteered as a trial test subject.

Soon after being put on the treatment, his symptoms lessened dramatically. He was no longer bedridden, and as the months passed, he regained enough strength to go on short walks around our cul-de-sac with his walker!

Today, all 8 of the original volunteer test subjects are still alive, despite doctors’ predictions that they would die within a few months. Meanwhile, clinical trials struggle to find enough participants.

“About 85 percent of people with cancer were either unaware or unsure that participation in clinical trials was an option, though about 75 percent of these people said they would have been willing to enroll had they known it was possible.” – Frank, Genevieve. "Current Challenges in Clinical Trial Patient Recruitment and Enrollment." SoCRA Source (2004): 36.
Clinical trials are vital to us all. Failed recruitment efforts are costly and delay invaluable medications and therapies from reaching the market. Studies based on too small of a sample size fail to expose benefits and side-effects for certain patient groups. Moreover, there are areas that could use more clinical research, but are systematically ignored because recruitment of enough test subjects is nearly impossible using current methods, something that I personally experienced in my independent research at UBC.
Thus, in order to create a fundamentally more innovative and effective model of health care for the benefit of all, the following questions are a good place to start:
How do most people find out about clinical trials?

Are patients aware of major clinical trial websites? Are they centralized and user-friendly?
What is the most effective means for clinical trials to reach out to different demographic groups?

How often do physicians refer their patients for a clinical trial? What are their reasons for not doing so (e.g. lack of easy, up-to-date and comprehensive information, legal implications)? Would a system of incentivized referrals help?

Which clinical trial recruiting websites are the most successful, and what can be learned from them?

How can competition between different trials in a region for a specific patient group be minimized?

Should a patient recruitment plan be a mandatory part of clinical trial proposals?
Ultimately, the difficulties associated with recruiting patients for clinical trials highlight a broader problem in our healthcare system: a lack of collaboration between patients, governments, organizations, physicians, and researchers. From health policy and health literacy to urban planning, my passion lies in bridging this gap between the laboratory and our contemporary society’s most pressing health and healthcare challenges.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

How to Survive in the Competitive World of Science ?

Originally Published February 18, 2014
By: Sarah Lum

Success in the scientific world is based on so much more than intelligence. To achieve success, you need discipline, determination, and drive, but I believe that above all else you need to be realistic. The reality is that science is a cutthroat business where everyone strives to rise above their competition. I know that only the best can get published, but I am disappointed at how we are constantly forced to go up against each other, and how we approach research with the competition at the forefront.

When I first entered research, I was surprised at how hush-hush I had to be about my work. I was disappointed at how I wasn’t allowed to collaborate or share with other groups working on the same project. I was also afraid that they would use my information to their advantage to get ahead. I am personally used to talking to a variety of peers, advisors, or workmates about my work, but in research I knew that my liking for sharing ideas could be my downfall, so I kept to myself.

I think that the key to success in such a competitive environment is to do work with as much passion and determination as possible, but to approach it with an attitude of integrity and openness. I think that we should be more open to making allies, even if they are considered our competition, than keeping our work completely closed off from theirs. There is always an underlying uneasiness, but I think that the benefits outweigh the cost and it takes away the individualistic nature of the system.

I realize that it would be impractical to change the way that research is published, but I do believe that we can all adopt new attitudes when considering how to achieve publication.


Sarah is a second year Biomedical Science student at the University of Ottawa. Science, particularly organic chemistry, and math have always been the backbone of her interests, driven by curiosity and love for numbers. Sarah's current research is on organic semiconductors, and she is also working on bioengineering projects for city-wide environmental sustainability. Community involvement is very important to Sarah; she serves on the Biology executive, coordinates activities at a retirement residence, and teaches Sunday School at her church. Sarah enjoys long-distance running, competitive dancing, playing rugby, and solving riddles. She eagerly faces challenges, and constantly strives to widen her breadth of knowledge.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

How a Few Emails Changed my Life

Originally Published: January 2, 2014
By Jeremy Ho

“So, Jeremy, what I’m getting from your emails is that you want to shadow me for a week. Is that correct?”

I nodded my head in agreement. After sending nearly 200 emails to physicians all over the city of Toronto, Dr. Subodh Verma, a cardiac surgeon at St. Michael’s Hospital in Downtown Toronto was one of three doctors who agreed to take me on for a week as a shadowing student this past summer.

Little did I know that these emails would change my life forever.
And for three weeks, I learned to scrub into over ten surgeries in orthopaedics and cardiology, participated in rounds with residents and fellows, observed clinical visits with patients, and attended group research meetings with PhDs. All this, even before entering University.

The experiences were life-altering.

As my understanding of medicine gradually deviated from the stereotypes of doctors from House and Grey’s Anatomy, these three weeks have reaffirmed my love for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) ever since I chose it over a future in business in Grade 12.

With biotechnology, biomedical engineering, and biostatistics overshadowed by our views of medicine as primarily surgery and patient care, the physicians I shadowed pressed the significance of the three aforementioned aspects in our many heart-to-hearts.
Medicine’s expansions in the future in STEM have sucked me in. This is not what I would like to do – this is all that I want to do for the rest of my life. There is so much in medicine beyond surgery and I dream of exploring all aspects of STEM in medicine.

Who would have thought these eye opening revelations sprouted from a few emails?
Later that summer, I sent hundreds of emails inquiring about research positions at the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry and The Hospital for Sick Children (for a summer studentship), and once again, to my luck, I have found principal investigators willing to take on a young, ambitious, STEM-loving student. I am looking forward to research in epigenetics, a STEM-related part of medicine.

My STEM story is filled with many rejections and ignored emails as well. Many doctors questioned my ambitions at such a young age and many did not even consider taking me on. And so, I thank Dr. Ferguson, Dr. Cameron, and Dr. Verma for changing my life forever – because they were willing to say yes.

Without a doubt, all those late nights of sending emails have paid off. In less than two years, I’ll be applying to medical schools and whether I get in or not, I know that STEM has changed my life forever.