Science Research Day Reveals Undergraduate Projects That Take on Tough Topics

The Faculty of Science held its 17th annual Science Research Day on Friday, April 8, where 164 undergraduate students presented posters of their final projects from the departments and institutes of Biochemistry, Biology, Chemistry, Food Science and Nutrition, Earth Sciences, Environmental Science, Integrated Science and Neuroscience.

Jared Browning, a fourth-year Biology: Health Science major, spent the last year researching cardiac damage that occurs as a side-effect of anti-cancer therapies. He was co-supervised by Bruce McKay in the Biology Department and Pasan Fernando, who works at Health Canada.

Jared, who was able to get hands-on experience doing research that could potentially impact the lives of cancer patients, said he was really excited to have the opportunity to do actual lab work because it was completely different than learning in a classroom.

He admitted that doing research was very challenging and required up to 30 hours a week of his time, which was sometimes difficult to balance with school work, part-time jobs and volunteering. But Jared said the hands-on lab work was pivotal.

“I was planning on going to medical school, but I will be doing a master’s degree now, which I had never considered before,’’ he said. “It has given me another path to open up doors.” Jared has already been accepted to the master’s program in Biology next fall where he will continue to expand upon his current research in the McKay lab.

Sierra Norville’s fourth-year research project considers how a person’s personality and social groups impact their decisions about getting a flu vaccination. She worked alongside Kim Matheson, professor in the Department of Neuroscience and director of Canadian Health Adaptations, Innovations, & Mobilization (CHAIM), to solicit participants in the study, administer tests and analyze results.

The research shows that participants in the study who were more socially connected were more likely to get vaccinated. For Sierra, who is planning to go into health care after graduation, being a part of undergraduate research opened her eyes to social and media impacts on lifestyle choices in individuals.

She also said that being a part of this study gave her analytical skills she can use in occupations outside of research.

“You can only learn so much from a textbook. Doing research gives you the opportunity to learn from your mistakes. It gave me such a sense of accomplishment.”

Sumiya Sheikh Abdirashid, a fourth-year Neuroscience major, was a part of a large research project under the supervision of Natalina Salmaso in the Department of Neuroscience.

There is increasing evidence that depression is linked to astrocytes, glial cells in the spinal cord and brain. Sumiya’s project explores how chronic unpredictable stress and antidepressant treatments impact astrocytes. In order to analyze the astrocytes, the team had to break up cells from the brain and then extract RNA. Sumiya said that she did not know that she was interested in genetics when she entered Carleton.

“I took molecular genetics my third year and my mind was kind of blown.” She continued to take genetics courses and got involved in Salmaso’s research out of interest in the subject and a passion for helping those struggling with depression.

Sumiya learned that she does not want to continue lab work in the future.

“I’m glad I did it (though). It will help me in the other things that I do. There’s so much research going on behind the scenes. By working in a lab you see the time and effort that goes into it. Things do not work the first time or the second time. Now I have an appreciation for the work being done.”

After graduation, Sumiya has been accepted into Venture for Canada, a fellowship that places high-achieving recent graduates at startup companies to help develop entrepreneurial skills. She was one of only about 20 students chosen for the fellowship from nearly 1,700 applicants. Sumiya hopes to someday own a company specializing in brain-computer interfaces.