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2021 Annual Review

Transforming for the Future

"This Annual Review demonstrates our commitment to our students, and our vision to foster discovery, engage community and inspire a better future for us all. I hope you enjoy reading it. On behalf of the Faculty of Science at York University, thank you for your friendship and support as we push the boundaries of discovery, innovation, learning, engagement, and impact."

Rui Wang, Dean, Faculty of Science

Read a message from the Dean


A MESSAGE FROM DEAN RUI WANG


In 2021, with the pandemic continuing into its second year — creating challenges for our work and personal lives — the Faculty of Science rose above these challenges and excelled. This Annual Review is all about celebrating that.

Our researchers opened up their labs and welcomed back their teams for the first time since the pandemic began. They forged ahead with their ongoing contributions to Canada’s fight against COVID, publishing many papers to further our understanding of the virus, vaccines, and immunity. Our faculty members continued their work on COVID task forces, held seminars, and undertook important media commentary helping to educate the public.

Our staff, departments, and units made a partial transition back to on-campus and in-person services in the fall, while our instructors pivoted to teach some of their courses and labs in person.

We launched our new Strategic Plan, Science for the Future, after extensive consultation with our community. We also established our inaugural Dean’s Special Advisory Board – comprised of industry leaders in science and innovation – to provide advice and feedback to our Faculty, and help drive its success. And, we established our Faculty’s first Pedagogical Innovation Chair in Science Education to promote pedagogical excellence and innovation and improve the effectiveness of teaching for our students.

The Faculty made crucial strides in enhancing Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) in our Faculty with diversity-focussed hires and a new EDI Committee. We created a Dean’s Scholarship for Women in Science. And we forged new international partnerships that will create exchange and study abroad opportunities, among many other benefits, for our students, and enhance our global engagement.

You can read all about these initiatives, and much more, in this report.

Last but not least, I applaud every member of our Faculty of Science community – faculty, researchers, staff, students, and our supporters – for their efforts over this past year and for remaining flexible and resilient. I am so proud of what we have achieved, together.

This Annual Review demonstrates our commitment to our students, and our vision to foster discovery, engage community and inspire a better future for us all. I hope you enjoy reading it. On behalf of the Faculty of Science at York University, thank you for your friendship and support as we push the boundaries of discovery, innovation, learning, engagement, and impact.

Rui Wang
Dean, Faculty of Science


BY THE NUMBERS

169

Faculty members (Full-time)

100

Staff members

20

Undergraduate programs

9

Graduate programs

82

Postdoctoral Fellows & Visitors

4,296

Undergraduate students
64% Canadian
36% International students
(Includes full-time and part-time students)

472

Graduate students
65% Canadian
35% International
(Includes full-time and part-time students)

5

Departments:
Biology, Chemistry, Physics & Astronomy, Mathematics & Statistics, Science & Technology Studies

1

Division:
Natural Science

25

Bethune-Affiliated Student Clubs

$72.3 million

Total annual budget

$14.7 million

Total research funding revenue

$1.3 million

Total fundraising amount
Annualized results since the time of the 2021 Annual Review report (as of April 8, 2022)

15

Fellows and College members of Royal Society of Canada, current and emeriti

24

Canada Research Chairs, York Research Chairs, and Endowed Chairs

3

Organized Research Units

4

Faculty-based research facilities and equipment centres:
1 Core Analytical Facility (NMR Spectroscopy, Microscopy, and Mass Spectrometry), 2 Technical Shops, 1 Science Store


YORK SCIENCE HIGHLIGHTS

Our Experts in the News

Dasantila Golemi-Kotra
Dasantila Golemi-Kotra

Dasantila Golemi-Kotra (Biology) is a microbiologist who has been sharing her knowledge and expertise across Canada with journalists and media covering COVID-19. On dozens of occasions in 2021, she spoke about COVID-19 transmission and infection, variants, immunity, vaccines and other public health measures with media, including CBC Radio, CTV News, Global News, Toronto Star and more. Additionally, she published pieces in The Conversation about herd immunity and the need for non-pharmaceutical interventions following the deployment of COVID-19 vaccines (co-authored with Professor Jianhong Wu, Mathematics & Statistics), as well as new COVID variants and whether vaccines will be effective against them.

Jesse Rogerson
Jesse Rogerson

Jesse Rogerson (Science & Technology Studies) is a passionate scientist, educator, and communicator in the fields of astronomy and astrophysics. In 2021, he regularly participated in media interviews spanning a wide range of popular space topics like Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space flight, Inspiration 4 and its all-civilian crew, William Shatner travelling to space, the Perseid meteor shower, the Einstein Ring, the Hubble Space Telescope and more. He appeared on CP24, CTV News, CBC Radio and other radio programs. He also wrote a piece for The Conversation about the NASA Mars Ingenuity helicopter flight – a first for space exploration.

Math Modelling

Some of our researchers in the Department of Mathematics & Statistics have been actively focused on the mathematical modelling of COVID-19 transmission, infection, immunity, vaccination and more to inform policy-makers and public health strategies (see more details). They have also been sharing their expertise with Canadian and international media since the start of the pandemic. In 2021, COVID-19 projections by the Centre for Disease Modelling were referenced in a Toronto Public Health media briefing and featured in a Toronto Star story about why Toronto needs to remain in lockdown. Professor Jane Heffernan participated in many interviews on topics such as immunity, vaccination, public health measures like masking, outbreaks and waves, and more with The Globe and Mail, CBC Radio, Global News, and CTV News, among others. Professor Jianhong Wu also spoke to media about masks, new variants, vaccine supply and contact tracing, and Professors Iain Moyles and Jude Kong were interviewed by CTV News and other media outlets about their research on lockdowns and the effect of social media on transmission, respectively.

Elizabeth Clare
Elizabeth Clare

Elizabeth Clare (Biology), who joined the Faculty in summer 2021, develops and applies novel technological approaches to monitor biodiversity, identify species interactions, and assess ecosystem level responses to changes. Most recently she invented a way to extract DNA from air to detect nearby animals – an exciting new opportunity to monitor terrestrial life, particularly elusive animals underground or deep in caves. In 2021, her groundbreaking work was covered by Science, Smithsonian Magazine, New Scientist, The Guardian and more.


Department Chair Highlights

Robert Tsushima
Robert Tsushima

“The students, staff, and faculty had marvelous achievements and received tremendous recognition in face of the challenges in 2021. Over 300 Biology undergraduate and graduate students convocated, including 24 MSc and 12 PhD students. Nadia Tsvetkov was the recipient of a York PhD Dissertation Prize. Mohammad Naderi was awarded a prestigious Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship to conduct research with Professor Raymond Kwong.

The department welcomed four new faculty: Ryan Schott, Jade Atallah, Tanya Da Sylva, and Lisa Robertson. Biology faculty were recognized for their research and teaching excellence: Professor Sandra Rehan was awarded an E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship for her outstanding research accomplishments, and Professor Tamara Kelly was the recipient of the inaugural Pedagogical Innovation Chair in Science Education to foster and enhance the teaching and learning in the Faculty of Science.

To support the program requirements and sudden cancellation of all summer field courses, Professor Dawn Bazely developed the first virtual field course in Canada in 2020. The tremendous support from the teaching lab technicians, Michael Belanger and Krystina Strickler, allowed 25 York students to complete a summer field course from home. In 2021, the department partnered with the University of Guelph to offer a successful virtual field course to York and Guelph students.”

- Robert Tsushima, Chair of the Department of Biology

Patrick Hall
Patrick Hall

“Numerous professors received accolades this year: Saeed Rastgoo received an NSERC Discovery Grant; Sean Tulin was reappointed as a Canada Research Chair, and together with Nassim Bozorgnia launched the EXPLORE program for undergraduate experiential learning through astrophysical research projects; Ozzy Mermut was appointed as York Research Chair in Vision Biophotonics; both Ozzy and Adam Muzzin received tenure and promotion to Associate Professor; both Ozzy and Claire David received grants from the CFI John Evans Leadership Fund; Scott Menary was part of a collaboration whose achievement of the world's first laser-based manipulation of antimatter made the cover of Nature; Distinguished Research Professor Eric Hessels was awarded $3.36M from the CFI Innovation Fund; and Professor Emeritus Allan Carswell was appointed to the Order of Ontario.

Our students also received recognition: Olga Andriyevska won the Richard Jarrell Excellence in Teaching at the Graduate Level Award; Gehrig Carlse was one of three York recipients of a Governor General’s Gold Medal; and Tarnem Afify won the Faculty of Science Silver Medal.

The Allan I. Carswell Observatory hosted a Mars Perseverance Landing Party, a celebration of Professor Paul Delaney's retirement, and weekly TeleTube live sky viewing and science talks on YouTube.”

- Patrick Hall, Chair of the Department of Physics & Astronomy

Vera Pavri
Vera Pavri

“We are happy to report that great progress has been made in reforming the STS minor and major programs in the Faculty of Science. This year, we successfully completed a major modification proposal that was recently passed by the FSc Faculty Council. Along with its major program, STS will soon be offering three new minor options in exciting fields: Life Sciences and Society; Technology, Innovation and Society; and Earth, Sustainability and Society. In addition, two new STS courses were recently approved: Introduction to Science, Technology and Society (STS 1411); and Science, Technology and Racial Social Justice (STS 2333). Our department also voted in favour of our first-ever NATS field-course, Plants in the City, which will start in 2023 and allow students to explore the urban eco-system on York’s campus.

Julie Clark
Julie Clark

We were also able to have a successful year teaching both in-person and online NATS and STS courses to York students across campus. We appreciate the hard work and dedication of all our instructors and staff members who have helped these York students successfully complete their degree requirements during these challenging times.”

- Vera Pavri, Chair of the Department of Science & Technology Studies

- Julie Clark, Director of the Division of Natural Science

Stephen Watson
Stephen Watson

“Our Department welcomed four new faculty members: Jairo Diaz-Rodriguez, Jingyi Cao, Jihyeon (Jessie) Yang, and Assefa Woldegebriel Woldegerima. The Department now has 50 full-time professors, 36 part-time faculty, 28 post-doctoral fellows, four adjunct professors, and many visiting graduate students and professors. Last year, our faculty members contributed to internationally recognized and NSERC-funded research in industrial mathematics, mathematical finance, scientific computing, mathematical biology, disease modeling, vaccine mathematics, actuarial science, data science, biostatistics, statistical machine learning, statistical methodology and theory, algebraic combinatorics, analysis, number theory, probability theory, set theory, and the scholarship of teaching and learning. Many faculty members collaborated with industry and government.

In 2021, the department taught 179 undergraduate courses to 9,000 undergraduate students from across the University (up 20% from the previous year). Some new undergraduate courses were launched, including Introduction to Risk Management and Insurance. 800 undergraduate students majored in our programs (about 40% were international students). The department taught 32 graduate courses to 156 graduate students working towards their MA, MSc, or PhD degree in Mathematics, Statistics, or Industrial and Applied Mathematics.

In 2021, we welcomed two new staff members: Darcelle Taylor and Kari-Ann Noble. The department now has six full-time staff members and one contract staff member.”

- Stephen Watson, Chair of the Department of Mathematics & Statistics

Muhammad Yousaf
Muhammad N. Yousaf

“It was another great year for the Chemistry Department. Numerous faculty and students received NSERC funding, scholarships, and international awards. Over 10 new faculty have joined the department in the last five years and that has led to a tremendous increase in research activity, student growth and scope of research projects. Professor Derek Wilson and colleagues received a transformative $5M research grant. Professor Cora Young received an Early Career Research Award from the Chemical Institute of Canada and appeared along with students in the CBC’s Nature of Things to discuss her group’s expertise in air quality during to the pandemic. Professor Chris Caputo was selected as a special delegate for the Science Meets Parliament Program. Professor Arturo Orellana continues to generate breakthroughs via an academic-industrial collaboration with Hoffman-LaRoche to generate small molecule drugs. Professor Gino Lavoie’s student Victor Flores received a prestigious CONACYT scholarship from the Mexican Government to fund his doctoral studies.

Colleagues also are innovating teaching. Professor Kyle Belozerov received a grant to pioneer the introduction of Virtual Reality (VR) technology into a biochemistry classroom. In collaboration with Professors Derek Jackson and Philip Johnson, Belozerov designed and delivered a series of VR-based lab exercises in a third-year biochemistry course that helped the students achieve a deeper understanding of biological macromolecules through visualization, measurement, and manipulation of these structures.”

- Muhammad N. Yousaf, Interim Chair of the Department of Chemistry

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HONOURS & AWARDS

External Highlights

Internal Highlights

Ashley Nahornick
Ashley Nahornick

Ashley Nahornick, Educational Development Specialist in the Dean’s Office, was recognized for her outstanding support of teaching and curricular excellence across the Faculty. Nahornick’s efforts have furthered the culture of pedagogical innovation in the Faculty of Science and the development of leading edge, in-demand curriculum that will help us to attract and retain students.


Established Researcher
Sapna Sharma
Sapna Sharma

Professor Sapna Sharma (Biology) received the Established Researcher Award. Sharma’s research program is focused on predicting the effects of environmental stressors, such as climate change, invasive species, and habitat alteration, on lakes. She is leading four global synthesis projects with multidisciplinary and diverse research groups involving more than 130 international researchers. At the time of this report’s publication, she has published more than 80 scientific articles.


Early Career Researcher
Raymond Kwong
Raymond Kwong

Professor Raymond Kwong (Biology) received the Early Career Researcher Award. Kwong’s research seeks to understand the molecular mechanisms that regulate homeostatic function in aquatic animals, and the impacts of environmental stressors on these processes. He holds a Canada Research Chair Tier 2 in Ecotoxicology, and since joining York University in 2016, he has published nearly 20 articles.


Graduate Mentorship
Conor Douglas
Conor Douglas

Professor Conor Douglas (Science & Technology Studies) received the Excellence in Graduate Mentorship Award. In his nomination package, Douglas was commended for taking on an active role in the STS Graduate Program and demonstrating excellence in graduate mentorship in the classroom, in supervision, and through his training of Highly Qualified Personnel through his research.


Senior Tenure-Stream Faculty
Dawn Bazely
Dawn Bazely

Professor Dawn Bazely (Biology) received the Excellence in Teaching Award in the Senior Tenure-Stream Faculty category.

“Throughout all the years I have known her, Dawn has never ceased to consistently amaze me with her tremendous passion for science, students, and their education … In her research practicum course, she would always ask how I thought about a certain topic and encouraged me to think for myself.”
– Student nominator


Junior Tenure-Stream Faculty
Andrew Skelton
Andrew Skelton

Professor Andrew Skelton (Mathematics & Statistics) received the Excellence in Teaching Award in the Junior Tenure-Stream Faculty category.

“His understanding of the latest pedagogical methods is remarkable. He not only expresses the wish to help students understand the subject matter more thoroughly, but actively searches and builds on interactive tools and methods for his teaching.”
– Student nominator


Non-Tenure Faculty
Tanya Da Sylva
Tanya Da Sylva

Professor Tanya Da Sylva (Biology) received the Excellence in Teaching Award in the Non-Tenure Faculty category.

“Professor Da Sylva's class was one of the most inclusive classes I have been at in York. She always encouraged students to put their best foot forward, provided multiple opportunities to engage in discussions with our classmates and fostered student success.”
– Student nominator


Teaching Assistants
Jenna LeBlanc
Jenna LeBlanc
Laura Keane
Laura Keane

PhD students Jenna LeBlanc (Biology) and Laura Keane (Mathematics & Statistics) received the Richard Jarrell Excellence in Teaching at the Graduate Level Award.

"[Laura] built great rapport with her students, creating a comfortable learning environment. It was easy to ask questions, and clarifications were always provided in a respectful and friendly manner.” – Student nominator

Jenna was a great sounding board for ideas about projects and gave good, succinct information in her feedback on assignments. Jenna exhibited her true passion for the classes and care for her students every day that I was in her labs and tutorials.” – Student nominator


RESEARCH FUNDING

$14.7 million

Total funding awarded in 2021

$6.6 million

Canada Foundation for Innovation

$4.8 million

Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada

$938 thousand

Canadian Institutes of Health Research

$664 thousand

Government agencies

$537 thousand

Other

$338 thousand

National Research Council

$301 thousand

Industry partners

$250 thousand

Fields Institute

$170 thousand

Mitacs

$25 thousand

Ontario Genomics Institute / Genome Canada

Eric Hessels
Eric Hessels

Professor Eric Hessels (Physics & Astronomy) was awarded more than $3.3 million from the Ontario Research Fund, matching an equivalent amount from Canada Foundation for Innovation in 2020, for the project “Tabletop Probe of PeV-scale new physics.” The grant will allow for ultra-precise measurements that will test the fundamental laws of physics at energies that are much higher than the 14-TeV Large Hadron Collider at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). The infrastructure will be used to test whether the electron is spherical, or whether it has an electric dipole moment – a small distortion in its charge distribution. Such a distortion would be evidence that a fundamental symmetry of physics is violated at high energies, making matter act differently than antimatter.


Professors Derek Wilson and Sergey Krylov (Chemistry) were awarded nearly $2.1 million from the Ontario Research Fund, matching an equivalent amount from the Canada Foundation for Innovation in 2020, for the project “Technology-Enhanced Drug Development and Manufacturing (TEnDev): MirrorLab.” TEnDev will enable Canadian international leadership in pre-clinical drug development and manufacturing through the creation of a globally competitive hub for technological innovation in biopharmaceuticals research. The result will be a greatly expanded capacity for biopharmaceuticals research at York University.

Derek Wilson
Derek Wilson
Sergey Krylov
Sergey Krylov

Researchers in the Department of Mathematics & Statistics received significant government funding for mathematical modelling projects related to infectious diseases and public health, including COVID-19 (see more details).


Sandra Rehan
Sandra Rehan

Professor Sandra Rehan (Biology) received the E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship in recognition of her trailblazing research into the genetics and ecology of wild bees, all to understand how to protect them. The fellowships are awarded to early-stage academic researchers through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and come with $250,000 for research support. The Fellowship will help Rehan expand her research on novel genomic methods to help identify challenges and opportunities to conserve and increase diverse bee populations in cities.


Professor Jianhong Wu (Mathematics & Statistics) received a grant from York University’s new Catalyzing Interdisciplinary Research Clusters initiative for the project “Disaster and Health Emergency Urban Systemic Risk Transformation Cluster.” The funding is valued at $150,000 per year over three years. The goal of the project is to transform existing thinking, modelling, policy, and practice in urban risk, disaster, and health emergency to create more resilient and healthy cities in Canada and globally.


Professor Emanuel Rosonina (Biology) received more than $800,000 from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) for the project “Regulation of transcription by SUMO.” SUMO, short for “small ubiquitin-like modifier,” is a protein that modifies many other proteins that have various functions in the cell. Rosonina’s work strives to better understand the role of SUMO in controlling gene expression (see more details).


Ten professors received a total of $1.38 million in Discovery Grants from NSERC. The recipients included Hongmei Zhu (Mathematics & Statistics), Carol Bucking (Biology), Ada Chan (Mathematics & Statistics), Steven Connor (Biology), Hanna Jankowski (Mathematics & Statistics), Christine Le (Chemistry), Kevin McGregor (Mathematics & Statistics), Pavlos Motakis (Mathematics & Statistics), Saeed Rastgoo (Physics & Astronomy), and Ryan K Schott (Biology).

RESEARCH SPOTLIGHTS

Huaiping Zhu

Using Mathematics to Tackle the Pandemic

Read More

Wendy Taylor

Hunting for Mysterious Magnetic Monopoles

Read More

Christine Le

Expanding the Toolbox for Organic Chemists

Read More

Joel Zylberberg

Automating
Intuition

Read More

Ozzy Mermut

Celebrating New and Renewed Research Chairs

Read More

Emanuel Rosonina

Wrestling to Understand
SUMO

Read More

Andrew Donini

Exposing the ‘Environmentally Friendly’

Read More

Amy Wu

Detecting Abrupt Changes in
Data

Read More

TEACHING & LEARNING

Reimagining Online Course Delivery

Mary Helen Armour
Mary Helen Armour

Professor Mary Helen Armour (Division of Natural Science) has always had an interest in trying new things, which led her to explore online teaching long before remote course delivery became a pandemic necessity. Her dissatisfaction with the way it was being done led her to Will Gage, York University’s associate vice-president of teaching and learning, and the opportunity to test an innovative online course model.

“Regular classes have benefits, but online teaching always interested me because of accessibility issues,” Armour said. “As technology gets better, you can create online courses that offer an equally effective learning experience, but delivered differently, as compared to in-person classes.”

Armour, Gage and other educational experts are part of a team that for several years has been developing, testing and refining the “perpetual course model.” The model aims to provide students with skills in knowledge acquisition, knowledge agility, autonomy and professionalism, and interaction and collaboration, while inspiring creativity. Each course’s curriculum determines the knowledge they’ll need to acquire, but the model offers alternatives in how that information is delivered and assessed to promote the student’s mastery of both the subject matter and the aforementioned skills.

Armour was the first faculty member to test this model and it required her to rethink the full-year course “Earth and Its Atmosphere,” changing the structure and order of the content. She made it modular and incorporated videos, breaking the four course themes into subtopics. 2021 was her fourth year participating in the perpetual co-model experiment and she has refined her approach and content each year, learning from her experience and student feedback.

“The first year, I made everything due at the end of the course, which was open to students from all years, and the procrastination was horrible,” she said. “I realized that they aren’t that disciplined, so I reinstated due dates within the themes, but the material was open to students to work on weeks before it was due to allow them scheduling flexibility.”

The team now has five courses being taught using the perpetual course model and they meet monthly to discuss and troubleshoot. They are also considering how technology and artificial intelligence can assist the instructors, such as in making the course model responsive to students' learning styles.

The perpetual course model is working towards making high-quality learning opportunities available online in a way that is most beneficial to everyone involved, pandemic or not.

Adapted from story written by Elaine Smith for York U Innovatus.

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Teaching the Skills to Succeed at University

Andrew Skelton
Andrew Skelton

Having taught high school earlier in his career, Professor Andrew Skelton (Mathematics & Statistics) saw firsthand the gaps between a graduating student’s experience and the demands of a university education and set out to bridge them.

“There are big changes in study skills, life skills and learning skills and students need to acquire the ability to reflect and adjust,” said Skelton.

In the United States, it is quite common to find First-Year Seminar courses, taken for credit by first-semester undergraduates. These courses have a small faculty-student ratio and focus on assisting students to develop practical and intellectual skills that will enhance their university experience. Such courses aren’t prevalent in Canada, so Skelton began pondering how a Canadian model might look.

His solution was to develop standalone modules that could easily fit into a first-year course. The models address three types of student needs: mathematical skills (e.g., learning from homework problems), study skills (e.g., avoiding procrastination), and life skills (e.g., managing academic stress).

The project has been three years in the making. The first year was funded by the Junior Faculty Fund in the Faculty of Science. Skelton had three summer students work with him to develop proof of concept. Feedback from the first group of students led Skelton to modify the offerings. The second year was funded by an Academic Innovation Fund grant and was focused on balancing the cost and benefit to the students to create a product they would find valuable.

“I wanted them to be of benefit to students in terms of time and emotional energy and wanted to determine how to advertise them to students and how they would figure into a student’s grade,” Skelton said. “In doing so, I realized they were built for me and my teaching style and weren’t transferable to other professors.”

Therefore, the third year of his project (2021), funded by a grant from eCampus Ontario (and the York Science Scholars Award program), Skelton focused on making the modules suitable for use by any faculty member.

“If you, as a faculty member, have an interest in helping the students in your course with these learning skills, I have a product that you can adapt to your teaching style,” Skelton said.

Skelton used the modules with 1,200 first-year students in the fall 2021 semester and is currently evaluating the impact they had in the classroom. In early 2022, the modules will be posted online to the eCampus Ontario website, so that they are available to faculty anywhere.

Adapted from story written by Elaine Smith for York U Innovatus.

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STUDENTS & TRAINEES

Launched on the 2021 UN International Day of Women and Girls in Science, the Dean’s Scholarship for Women in Science supports domestic female students entering a graduate program in the Faculty of Science who demonstrate leadership skills, academic excellence, and research potential in the field of science. Four students each received awards of $10,000.

Emily Anacleto
Emily Anacleto
Tibisay Diaz
Tibisay Diaz
Kyra Dougherty
Kyra Dougherty
Sunna Withers
Sunna Withers

Emily Anacleto is an MSc student working on applications of messenger RNA (mRNA) display for drug discovery. mRNA display is a method of drug discovery where a collection of random DNA sequences is transcribed into mRNA and then translated into a random string of amino acids (or peptide). The peptide remains attached to the mRNA from which it was translated. Thus, when scientists investigate if the peptide binds to a drug target, the attached mRNA can be sequenced as well to learn the identity of peptide. Anacleto’s research is focused on developing a novel method of mRNA display to evolve a known weak drug binder into a tighter binder.

Tibisay Diaz is a Master's student in the coursework option of the Applied Statistics program. Her primary research interest is in the application of statistical methods to analyze biological data, particularly in the fields of genetics and epidemiology. Previous research experience sparked her interest in disease analysis and modelling, and she expects the skills that she is developing in her program will allow her to further contribute to the better understanding of human diseases by means of mathematical modelling.

Kyra Dougherty is an MSc student studying pokeweed antiviral protein (PAP). PAP damages the genetic code of several different plant and animal viruses and reduces viral levels in cells. The goal of her research is to determine if and where PAP damages the messenger RNA (mRNA) in cells. She will perform computational analyses to identify points of damage, predict common features, and identify if particular patterns or structures of mRNA are preferentially targeted. Achieving viral resistance in crop plants is a potential application of PAP, so understanding the effect of PAP expression in these plants is important.

Sunna Withers is an MSc student using simulated observations from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) to predict ways to detect early galaxies in the data that will be collected. JWST is the largest and most complex space telescope ever created and is expected to revolutionize our view of the early Universe. One of the many things the JWST will do is observe the most distant galaxies ever detected, which will shed light on the formation and evolution of the first galaxies. Withers’ predictions will be applied to the JWST observations to find early galaxies.

Don Davies
Don Davies

Postdoctoral fellow Don Davies was among four inaugural recipients of York’s new Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellowships for Black and Indigenous Scholars. This two-year award, valued at $70,000 per year, seeks to address underrepresentation in many disciplines and fields by providing Black and Indigenous scholars with the ability to dedicate their tme to pursuing new research, while accessing the collegial resources, faculty supervision and mentorship for which York University is well known.

Davies is working in Professor Steven Connor’s (Biology) lab to investigate a novel approach to the causes of Alzheimer’s disease (AD), arguing that processes of forgetting are naturally amplified in major neurodegenerative diseases.

“Despite the passing of more than 20 years since the development of the first transgenic mouse model of AD, our understanding of the underlying mechanisms is surprisingly limited, contributing to a major knowledge gap that has limited development of new therapeutics,” said Davies.

One of the strongest genetic predictors for AD outcomes is variation in a gene that encodes apolipoprotein E (APOE), a cholesterol carrier involved with lipid transport and injury repair in the brain. Humans have three different APOE gene polymorphic alleles (E2, E3 and E4); those with one E4 allele are three to four times more likely to develop AD, while those with the E2 allele seem to show resistance to developing AD. Additionally, asymptomatic E4 carriers are at a higher risk of accelerated long-term forgetting (a rapid loss of memory over days or weeks); why this happens is largely unexplored and something Davies wants to better understand. Using mouse models, he will look at how synapses (the connections between brain cells) are modified in E4 and E2 carriers.

Furthermore, he plans to involve the Canadian Indigenous population, which is at a higher risk of developing AD than the general population and yet chronically understudied when it comes to this disease.

“This opportunity will allow me to establish a research program to study Alzheimer’s disease within the Indigenous community and accelerate growth in scholarly diversity through the development of an academic pipeline for Indigenous scientists. I am very grateful for the advice from Dr. Steven Connor, who will be mentoring me during my postdoctoral fellowship.”

Supported by a York Science Scholars Award (YSSA), 19 top first-year students participated in their first summer research experience as a university student. The YSSA program provides awards of $10,000 to high-achieving, passionate science students entering the Faculty of Science. Half of the award is an entrance scholarship and the other half pays for a summer research position following the first year of study. The research opportunity has proven to be a positive experience for everyone involved, supervisors and students alike.

“I consider training them an investment for the future,” said Professor Sergey Krylov (Chemistry), who accepted three YSSA students into his lab. “Not only did these students learn a lot, but they also contributed significantly to the research projects. I’d be happy to take new students through this program next summer. I’d be even more happy to have the same students return to the lab and apply their knowledge from their first summer.”

One of the YYSA students in Krylov’s lab was Ailiya Rizwan, who went on to receive second prize for her oral presentation at the Faculty’s Summer Research Conference. YSSA recipients Ethan Sooklal, Claire Del Zotto, and Elizaveta Yakubovskaya also swept up half of the awards for poster presentations at the conference.

Ethan Sooklal
Ethan Sooklal

Sooklal’s summer research focused on using fungus to investigate three major proteins involved in driving the circadian rhythm in eukaryotes.

“I really enjoyed the process of working on a research project, seeing its progression, gathering the results, and sharing them with my peers at the end of the summer,” said Sooklal. “This experience, above all, strengthened my laboratory techniques and skills.”

His supervisors, Professor Patricia Lakin-Thomas (Biology) and PhD student Rosa Eskandari also touted the program as an opportunity for the lab to recruit an enthusiastic and highly competent student assistant. In fact, Sooklal was offered the opportunity to continue working with them as a RAY (Research at York) student.

Elizaveta Yakubovskaya
Elizaveta Yakubovskaya

Yakubovskaya was among three YSSA students working with Professor Andrew Skelton (Mathematics & Statistics) in summer 2021. Her research project involved creating evidence-based modules to help first-year students build their study skills, specifically time-management.

“I really enjoyed how this research project broadened my understanding of education as a field and as a science,” she said. “Specifically, this project helped me improve my research and science communication skills.”

“I was continually floored by the high calibre of these students and the substantial impact they had on our project,” Skelton said.

The Faculty of Science hosted its annual Summer Undergraduate Research Conference in August 2021, via Zoom, with students from the Faculties of Science, Health, and Environmental and Urban Change participating. The conference was the culmination of participants’ summer work terms, where they conducted research in labs across York University.

Most of the participants received an Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Undergraduate Student Research Award (URSA), a Dean’s Undergraduate Research Award (DURA) or a York Science Scholar Award. The DURAs are funded through Bernadene Magnuson and Earle Nestmann, the Gérard Herbert Award and the Luise Herzberg Award for Women in Science.

“We would like to thank NSERC and all our generous donors who make this event possible,” said Michael Scheid, associate dean of students at the Faculty of Science. “These summer placements give our talented undergraduate students an invaluable opportunity to conduct research they’re passionate about in a real-world setting and hone their future career trajectories.”

Coral Hillel
Coral Hillel

At the conference, 43 students showcased their research through oral and poster presentations, spanning topics such as proving dark matter with gravitational waves, cognitive and visuomotor performance in COVID-19 patients, and tracking changes in permafrost thaw on northern lakes. Judges evaluated oral and poster presentations and selected winners for each category.

The success of the program and virtual conference was also enabled by the generous contributions of time and talent by faculty members, researchers and staff.

“We are grateful to the supervisors, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and technicians, as well as our event judges and organizers, who helped make this year’s program a success,” Scheid said.

Oral presentation winners

  • Coral Hillel
  • Ailiya Rizwan
  • Tamara Kostyuk

Poster presentation winners

  • Claire Del Zotto
  • Elizaveta Yakubovskaya
  • Alex Akhundov
  • Kristina Issa
  • Edman Abukar
  • Ethan Sooklal

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OUTREACH & ENGAGEMENT

Our Science Engagement Programs (SEP) offer innovative and enriching programming designed to inspire youth to explore science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Programs take place on Keele Campus, as well as within schools, community centres, and other educational institutions.

The Past Year: 2021

SEP celebrated its 15th anniversary. Acknowledging the challenges of the COVID pandemic, we offered both online and in-person programs, when possible, under pandemic restrictions. This past year, more than 3,000 youths in grades three to 12 participated in our programs, including Online Summer Explorations, Spark Lab courses, in-person Science Exploration Camps, STEM Clubs, Science Rendezvous, and York Science’s CanCode Workshops. Based on surveys, 94 percent of students would recommend our programs.

The SEP team mailed out more than 3,700 activity bags to online participants across Canada and internationally, including as far away as Egypt, India, Peru, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey.

Not letting challenges of the pandemic dampen the enthusiasm for our offerings, we saw some of our most popular camps and courses subscribed fully online. For those in grades three to six, that included Space Science, Neuroscience: Meet the Mind, Marvelous Mechanics, and Mini-Robotics. For those in grades nine to 12, Neurobiology and Immunology were most popular.

"It was an amazing journey and I loved every minute of it. It didn't even feel like a classroom, more like a friendly discussion with my friends. I learned so much and I'm never [going to] forget this."

— Student from Neurobiology

"Exactly what my child needed after a long year of distance learning from the pandemic … He's re-inspired and excited [about] learning. Thanks!"

— Parent from Space Science

Science Rendezvous

Science’s virtual site was the second most attended event in Canada. Participants raced (virtually) between event sites across the country, answered challenges, and learned about Canadian research and innovations. Our “Science Chase” event site featured escape-themed challenges, including saving the world with YU Starchaser 1000, diagnosing pet patients at the YU Veterinary Hospital, and using knowledge from the YU Forensics Academy to solve a mystery.

Screen capture of Online CSI: Camp Scene Investigation student learning about forensic fingerprinting while analyzing their own
Screen capture of Online CSI: Camp Scene Investigation student learning about forensic fingerprinting while analyzing their own

Since 2006...

In 2006, SEP started with one elementary camp and 55 students. Since then, we have grown to offer enrichment programs running throughout the year for students in grades three to 12, in-person and online, in multiple locations and reaching more than 37,000 students over the past 15 years.

Since 2015, SEP has expanded with additional programs, including Mississauga Library Workshops and Camps in partnership with Amgen Canada, Spark Lab Program, PA Day Program, and a fully-subsidized York CanCode Workshops/Camps program. The Spark Lab Program was developed to give high school students easier access to science by using experiment-based hands-on learning. Over this period, we also welcomed back past campers in new roles in the Volunteer Program and some even became instructors.

In 2020, we launched our first virtual Science Explorations Summer Camps and Spark Lab Courses. Through partnerships, and recognizing the economic challenges posed by the pandemic, SEP was able to offer programs at a drastically reduced cost, allowing all members of the community to attend. Within a couple of days of launch, SEP reached maximum capacity with a waitlist of more than 400. Since our programs were online, we continued to be able to reach students across Canada and the world.

World Map
Students participating in programs

Partnerships

Over the years, SEP has partnered with many schools, community groups, and organizations to offer programs to a wide variety of youth groups including:

  • Actua;
  • Science Rendezvous and the City of Markham;
  • Amgen Canada;
  • Public libraries across the GTA;
  • Science Literacy Week;
  • York Region Science and Technology Fair;
  • STEM Parent Conference; and
  • The Toronto District School Board, and private schools.

ALUMNI SPOTLIGHTS

Earle Nestmann and Pamela Ohashi Receive York U Alumni Awards

For 21 years, the York U Alumni Awards have celebrated alumni who exemplify the values of York University, have made remarkable contributions to their fields, and have changed the world for the better.  Two Science alumni were among the 2021 winners.

Earle Nestmann (MSc ’71, PhD ’74)

Earle Nestman
Earle Nestmann

Outstanding Contribution – An alumnus/a who has made a significant contribution to the advancement of York and its students through exceptional service, commitment and/or philanthropic contributions.

Nestmann, president at Health Science Consultants Inc., served in the Biology department as assistant professor from 1974 to 1977, and later as a member of the Board of Directors of the Alumni Association from 2006 to 2014 and the 
Board of Governors from 2013 to 2020.   

Nestmann has published more than 100 scientific articles and was co-editor of the proceedings of an international conference on chemical mutagenesis and of a laboratory manual on recombinant DNA technology. He has served on several editorial boards for scientific journals and was president of the Genetics Society of Canada. He was a research scientist at Health Canada and pesticide regulatory manager for a multi-national company before becoming a principal of an international consulting firm. Nestmann continues to consult part-time as president of Health Science Consultants Inc. Together with his wife Berna, Nestmann has provided exemplary philanthropic support for York science students and faculty for over 15 years.  

Pamela Ohashi (BSc Hons ’82)

Pamela Ohashi
Pamela Ohashi

Tentanda Via – An alumna/us who has demonstrated innovative, unconventional, and daring leadership and success, reflecting the university’s motto, “The way must be tried.”

Ohashi is the director of the Tumor Immunotherapy Program at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. Her research interests involve understanding T-cell tolerance as well as strategies to promote tissue-specific immune responses and translating these findings into clinical trials.

Her research has proven many basic principles in T-cell tolerance and identified novel concepts in immune regulation. One of her greatest achievements in the field of immunological science is her contribution to the establishment of an immunotherapy program at Princess Margaret. This involved leading clinical, academic, and industrial players in the field, linking research in genomics and bioinformatics with basic and translational science and clinical trials of novel anti-cancer immunotherapeutics.

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Naz Chaudary: Putting Her Heart into Cancer Research

Naz Chaudary
Naz Chaudary

Driven by a fascination with biology, Naz Chaudary (Hon BSc ‘98, PhD ‘04) began her undergraduate studies in biotechnology and cell biology – and her 10-year journey – at York University in 1994. Now a researcher at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, she looks back fondly at her time at York as being the backbone for her career in academic science.

Chaudary was an ambitious undergraduate student who used all of the opportunities at her disposal to learn, grow, and interact with professors and researchers at York. This was how she found herself in a fourth-year Honours Thesis course, an eight-month-long laboratory research project experience, learning from former Biology Professor Imogen Coe (now at Ryerson University), who would inspire her to apply to graduate school and eventually become her PhD supervisor.

“That research course was a turning point for me,” said Chaudary. “I learned how to appreciate the complexities of basic science as an undergraduate student and how scientific experiments were designed. I realized I enjoyed exploring the unknown in science and redeveloping experiments. Dr. Coe taught me from the ground up and was a great mentor.”

With Coe’s guidance, Chaudary received an Honours Thesis Research Award, applied to graduate school, and continued her research in Coe’s lab until she completed her PhD in 2004; she was also a recipient of the Haynes York Graduate Scholarship. Her research was in cardiovascular biology, particularly investigating how heart cells thrive in low oxygen conditions (hypoxia) via nucleoside transporters. She then ventured into cancer research, moving onto a postdoctoral fellowship in radiation biology at the University of Toronto under the mentorship of Richard Hill before landing a position at Princess Margaret as cancer research scientist.

“Four fulfilling graduate years, at York, as a PhD student taught me how to critically interpret data, think creatively outside the expected results and most importantly never undermine the importance of controls. I believe there is great value in basic science; that foundational experience and knowledge follows you wherever you go.”

As a cancer researcher in the Department of Radiation Oncology at Princess Margaret, Chaudary along with a team of radiation oncologists and biologists, studies how tumour cells thrive in a radiation resistant environment, why some cancer cells respond well to treatment while others do not, and the role of the immune cells in the tumor microenvironment. In the lab, her team micro-surgically develops and uses mouse models that mimic the spread of cancer cells in humans and their response to treatment, with the aim that their findings can help develop better cancer treatments that are not just effective to treat the disease but also less toxic to surrounding healthy cells in the body.

Chaudary received the Exceptional Research Support Award in 2019/2020 in Radiation Medicine Program at Princess Margaret and has authored several scientific research papers throughout her career.

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