Soup and Science: Bringing students close to the research

Feature Photo: From McGill University’s Facebook Page

In the beginning of each semester, the Faculty of Science organizes Soup and Science, a week where professors in different departments discuss their current research. Each day features four or five professors, in fields such as (but definitely not limited to) biochemistry, mathematics, management, psychology, and geography. Each professor is given the opportunity to summarize their research in three minutes.

This is an opportunity for undergraduate students, specifically those in U0 and U1, to understand what “research in a research-intensive university is all about”. Listening to talks on the cutting-edge research conducted at McGill allows students to bridge the link between the foundational information they learn in classes with research and the future of their respective fields.

This semester, Soup and Science is running from January 15 – 19 at 11:30-12:30 every day at the Redpath museum. Students should come early, since spaces fill up quickly.

On Wednesday, January 17th, Suzanne Fortier, the President of McGill University, was a special guest to this series of mini-talks. The talks opened up with the perspective of a student, followed by five McGill professors, and concluded with a series of questions about the talks. After the presentations, students are offered free soup and sandwiches.

Sasha McDowell (Final year Honours Biology student)

Sasha McDowell is an international student who is strongly interested in understanding more about her field. In her second year at McGill, she began working in a molecular biology laboratory during the school year. After taking BIOL 306, Neural Basis of Behaviour, she found herself so interested in the course topic that she began working in the Watt Lab on a SURE scholarship over the summer. In these sixteen weeks of work, she worked with mice and tested potential therapies of human ataxia diseases. Wanting to gain insight into all the aspects of research, she took a field course where work was conducted Mont. Saint-Hilaire. McDowell described the value she found in discovering all the avenues that research consists of.

Professor Nii Addy (Desautels Faculty of Management)

Professor Nii Addy completed an undergraduate degree in Engineering before beginning his work in Management. His work focuses in the cross-sector partnership between different organizations to solve complex societal problems. He showed the group an example of a complex problem; the increase of obesity rates among US adults from 1990 to 2006. In order to solve this systemic problem, it is important to consider a “multiplicity of perspectives”. He described the impact of minor changes, such as proximity, on major changes, the commonplace of obesity in North America. Professor Addy currently works with a “multidimensional proximity framework” to help solve complex societal issues.

Professor Kevin Manaugh (Dept. of Geography, McGill School of Environment, Associate of the School of Urban Planning)

Professor Manaugh’s work primarily deals with the design of sustainable cities. He showed the group images of cities before city-planning became a profession, in which industry were situated next to homes, child labour was prevalent, and cities were commonly plagued with societal, economic, and environmental problems. Ebenezer Howard blazed the trail for urban planning when wrote a book on the idea of a garden city, where cities were designed with the concept of “separation of uses”. In fact, most of North America has developed around this idea of a garden city. Dr. Manaugh’s work deals with how to best design the urban environment in a way that reduces the environmental impact, increases biodiversity, and includes the voices of marginalized people. In his own words, the vision of his research is to improve human well-being while making cities more resilient, socially inclusive, and having less environmental impact.

Professor Eric McCalla (Dept. of Chemistry)

Dr. McCalla is a new professor at McGill who researches in advanced batteries. He described the usefulness of lithium-ion batteries in our mobile devices and electric vehicles. However, the current state of research has not yet allowed these batteries to be utilized in renewable energy. For this to be done, the lifetime of the batteries need to be increased five fold, and the batteries need a higher energy density. In his lab, Professor McCalla studies the effects of different compositions for the positive electrode, and is hoping to study the possibility of replacing the current, liquid electrolyte, with a more stable solid electrolyte.

Professor Thibault Mesplède (Dept. of Microbiology and Immunology)

Dr. Mesplède’s lab currently study HIV, a virus that is not cured by antiretroviral therapy. He hopes to discover whether viral reservoirs are latent, or persistently replicating in hidden spaces or anatomical sites, much in the way that microbial organisms can be found within the extreme conditions of hot springs or freezing tundra. His lab uses deep sequencing to reconstruct viral evolution and the phylogeny of HIV.

Professor Jackie Vogel (Dept. of Biology, Associate professor in Computer Science)

By training, Dr. Vogel is a chemist and a biologist. However, her lab is truly interdisciplinary, using techniques from mathematics and computer science to mine data from biological systems. She currently focuses on the “gaps of knowledge that are particularly interesting”. More specifically, she wishes to find the mechanism that occurs from prophase to prometaphase in mitosis. Spindle pole bodies need to be perfectly aligned along a certain axis in order to replicate properly. She uses a basic projection from linear algebra to determine whether or not the cells have aligned their spindles. By studying a mutant that fails to do so, she is currently working on quantitatively analyzing and visualizing this step in mitosis.

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