The 12th annual launch of the McGill Science Undergraduate Research Journal took place in the Bellini Atrium, where students from science, engineering, and other faculties joined to celebrate the achievements of undergraduate researchers at McGill. The authors, editors, and peer reviewers were also in attendance. Attendees grabbed some food and drinks, and then gathered to listen to the guest speakers. Three McGill leaders in scientific research generously shared their experiences in research and academia with the next generation of scientists.
First to speak was Dr. Tomoko Ohyama, the newest faculty member in the Biology Department. She talked about her research experiences in Japan, the United States, and Canada. Her research focuses on studying Drosophila larvae and their nervous system. She specifically studies the process of decision making in these larvae. When faced with a decision to make, “you think you are deciding, but I don’t think you are,” she hypothesizes. She hopes to be able to further elucidate the decision making process in humans by studying this process in Drosophila larvae.
Dr. Durcan, an assistant professor researching at the Montreal Neurological Institute, gave a short presentation on his experience in research over his lifetime. Currently, Dr. Durcan uses mouse models and stem cells to study the molecular basis behind neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s Disease. He obtains stem cells from blood, which can become pluripotent, or stem cell like. He can then develop the cells into dopaminergic neurons. Before this technique was developed, it was exceedingly difficult for researchers to study neurons. In Dr. Durcan’s lab, he hopes to understand the cellular biology causes behind Alzheimer’s. Since the population of Canada is aging, he described neurodegenerative disorders as epidemics that are sweeping the nation. These disorders have become one of the leading causes of death, particularly for the older generation. Dr. Durcan said that without further research, these diseases will begin to overwhelm the healthcare system. His lab hopes to develop therapies for Alzheimer’s that will repudiate this dire future.
The final professor to speak was Dr. Kenneth Ragan. He is one of the faces that most new science and engineering students at McGill will become well acquainted with. He has been teaching first year physics classes for over 10 years and runs an astrophysics lab that specializes in studying the wave behaviour of particles at very high energies. After the casual mingling, he gave an equally casual speech on more than just what he researched, but rather on how he got to where he was. He talked about the fun and the spontaneity of life. He talked about how a scientist’s dream is to have their research appear on the Big Bang Theory. He talked about how it is okay not to know what one wants to do immediately, because in the end, everything will turn out fine. For a man of few words, he is one of many memorable speeches.
After the professors spoke, the author of the paper featured on the cover of this year’s edition of MSURJ gave a brief talk. She highlighted the importance of interdisciplinary research, as well as creating interdisciplinary teams for policy making. She emphasized that problems can be tackled from many different angles, and that we are more likely to create better solutions by combining the varied skills of different professionals.
This year’s event highlighted some of the exceptional research being done at McGill University by students and professors alike.