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, 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.