Patty Wellborn



UBCO researchers have determined that flower gardens intentionally planted beside fruit crops can double crop yield if the timing and blossoms appeal to the targeted bumble bees.

The term “if you build it, they will come” has taken on a whole new meaning when it comes to creating flower gardens to attract specific pollinators like wild bumble bees.

UBC Okanagan researchers Drs. Rebecca Tyson and Bruno Carturan, both with the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science, wanted to investigate whether flower gardens—specifically placed beside a crop to attract and support insect pollinators—actually benefit both the bees and crop production.

“Planting wildflower patches near crop fields is considered a potentially effective strategy to support both the abundance and diversity of pollinators and the services they provide,” says Dr. Carturan. “But these management strategies can be costly and not always effective in enhancing crop yield.”

Planting supplemental gardens can lead to larger and healthier wild bee populations, which should be good for crop pollination. However, field studies show contradictory results—while some indicate an increase in crop yield directly related to pollination services, others show no discernible effect.

“While the plan makes sense on paper, it can create a conundrum,” he says. “With more bees in the landscape, there is the potential for greater pollination of crop flowers. But bees can prefer different flowers, guided by nectar sugar content, flower shape and pollen nutrient composition. Consequently, the presence of wildflower patches beside a berry crop could divert bees from pollinating the crop.”

Curious about this distraction phenomenon, Dr. Carturan set out to understand the interplay between the relative timing of crop and wildflower bloom, as well as the quantity, quality and relative attractiveness of the flowers.

For this study, he focused specifically on blueberry crops, an emblematic agricultural product in BC, and bumble bees, which are known for their superior efficiency in pollinating blueberry flowers compared to honey bees. He wanted to vary the size of the crop area, the size of the planned garden relative to the crop and the relative nutritional quality and bloom time of both the crop and additional flowers.

“Creating a field study large enough to properly test how bumble bee pollination services respond to changes in all of these different parameters would be quite a challenge,” he explains. “So, we chose a mathematical modelling approach which required two steps that involved a lot of reading and thinking.”

The first is to design a model that aligns with the goals of the project and realistically captures the key ecological processes at play in the ecosystem. The second is to find proper values for the model parameters.

Dr. Tyson explains the model is fairly complex and they ran thousands of simulations—each characterized by a unique combination of wildflower patch size, nutritional quality of the blossoms and blooming period—before they were able to predict blueberry crop yield.

“Such an extensive sampling design, attainable only through simulation, offers a comprehensive picture of the interacting processes and trade-offs within the system,” she says.

The net result of those simulations determined that providing highly nutritious wildflower resources before the crop blooms can more than double the crop yield. Conversely, providing wildflower resources at the same time as crop bloom can reduce the yield by up to 50 per cent.

“The main result of our virtual experiment clearly shows that the most beneficial strategy is to generate a temporal spillover effect by providing a continuous supply of resources to the bees and avoiding too much competition between the wildflowers and the crop flowers,” she explains. “This keeps the bees well fed during the early foraging season when the colonies are growing, and it prevents a potential distraction effect during crop bloom.”

The researchers hope to refine the model to implement additional aspects of the ecosystem by, for instance, modelling several different bumble bee species rather than just one “average” species. The ultimate goal is to calibrate the model with locally relevant empirical data to help inform planting strategies on a real farm.

However, they advise caution while interpreting these results as they pertain to a virtual system, not actual bees and blueberry crops.

The research appears in Ecological Modelling.

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UBCO’s Dr. Adam Ford was part of a research team investigating how a tiny invasive ant is changing the eating habits of Kenya’s lions and improving the sustainability of zebras.

A newly published research paper demonstrates how a tiny, invasive insect has helped make savanna landscapes safer for zebras.

A joint project, including researchers from the University of Wyoming and UBC Okanagan, shows how invasive big-headed ants in a Kenyan savanna have caused lions to change their predatory habits— shifting their preferred prey from the iconic zebra to buffalo.

The paper, published today in the journal Science, determined the big-headed ants at Kenya’s Ol Pejeta Conservancy have made lions less effective when it comes to stalking and killing zebras, their primary prey.

It’s a clear example of how important interdependent relationships can be, says UBCO’s Dr. Adam Ford, a researcher with the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science and Principal Investigator of UBC’s Wildlife Restoration Ecology lab.

Whistling thorn trees, the dominant tree species in much of East Africa, provide nectar and shelter for native ants. In exchange, the ants defend the trees against grazers by biting them and emitting formic acid.

“The native ants defend these trees against elephants and other herbivores,” Dr. Ford says. “But the invasive ants kill these tiny defenders and eventually those invaded trees are killed by elephants. With fewer trees, lions aren’t able to stalk and ambush zebras.”

Along with Dr. Ford and UBCO’s Dr. Clayton Lamb, the research team included Wyoming doctoral student Douglas Kamaru along with researchers from the Nature Conservancy, the University of Florida, the University of Nairobi, Duke University, the University of Glasgow, Karatina University, the University of Nevada-Reno and the US Geological Survey.

“The good news is that the lion population hasn’t declined since the insect invasion,” says Kamaru, who’s part of Professor Jacob Goheen’s research group at the University of Wyoming’s Department of Zoology and Physiology. “This is likely because lions have switched their diets from zebras to African buffalo, which are equally at risk of lion predation in invaded areas.”

The researchers hypothesized that the loss of tree cover would affect the interactions of lions and their primary prey species, zebras. Using a number of study plots—some invaded by big-headed ants, some not—and studying zebra and lion activity, the scientists found that the big-headed ant invasion reduced the occurrence of zebra kills by lions by increasing openness across the landscape.

“We show that the spread of the big-headed ant, one of the globe’s most widespread and ecologically impactful invaders, has sparked an ecological chain reaction that reduces the success by which lions can hunt their primary prey,” the researchers wrote.

The study took place at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, a working ranch in the Laikipia region of central Kenya. The researchers say such properties are invaluable for understanding savanna ecology.

“The coexistence of lions, large wild herbivores and ranching in Kenya helped make this study possible. Such landscapes are under ever-increasing pressure to develop agriculture and housing, yet this property persists through sustainable land use management,” says Dr. Ford. “We were very fortunate to work with Kenyan students, researchers and government to study some of the most iconic species in the world today.”

A photo of a whistling thorn tree.

Whistling thorn trees provide nectar and shelter for native ants. Invasive ants kill the native ants and eventually those invaded trees are killed by elephants.

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Researchers have created a physical theory encompassing both quantum mechanics and general relativity which can help scientists construct a complete theory of how the universe works. Photo credit: Bryan Goff on Unsplash

In a new study published in Nature Reviews Physics, an international research team, including UBC Okanagan’s Dr. Mir Faizal, has ventured into uncharted territories for physics by trying to blend Einstein’s theory of general relativity with quantum mechanics. This innovative approach paves the way for new insights into the nature of space and time.

General relativity explains the structure of the universe at a very large scale—the scale of galaxies. However, the universe at a small scale, such as atomic physics is described by quantum mechanics.

It has not been possible to construct a complete theory of the universe, encompassing both quantum mechanics and general relativity, explains Dr. Faizal. Physicists have long argued that any such theory cannot emerge from space and time.

This mind-bending observation of space and time emerging from something that is neither space nor time challenges our conventional understanding of the universe, he explains. This is the reason why blending general relativity with quantum mechanics is so difficult Dr. Faizal adds.

However, these researchers point out that this emergence can be understood using water as an analogy.

“Water is made up of individual molecules,” explains Dr. Faizal, an Adjunct Professor of Mathematics and Physics with UBCO’s Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science. “Water also forms shapes like a whirlpool, when it is drained. However, at the scale of individual molecules no such shape exists, and this geometric shape is an emergent structure. Similarly, the geometrical shape of space and time is emergent.”

This analogy helps to explain how space and time can emerge from a theory which does not exist within the confines of either.

“Any attempt to construct quantum gravity seems to indicate that spacetime would emerge from something that exists neither in space nor in time. So, we are now looking at a physical theory which is beyond space and time,” adds Dr. Faizal, who is also the Scientific Director of the Canadian Quantum Research Center.

Researchers now have used moving fluids to understand the emergence of space and time. This allows them to further investigate some deep questions related to the quantum physics of black holes. They hope this will foster collaboration between researchers from different disciplines to further the understanding of these complex phenomena.

The global research team includes Dr. Samuel Braunstein from the University of York in the UK, Dr. Lawrence Krauss, Dr. Francesco Marino from the National Institute of Optics in Italy and Dr. Naveed Shah from the Jamia Millia Islamia University in India.

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UBC Okanagan researchers Dr. John Braun and Dr. Kevin Hanna are among the first to join the newly created US-Canada Centre on Climate-Resilient Western Interconnected Grid. Their research is designed to protect infrastructure vital to 14 western states, BC and Alberta.

Wildfire modelling has advanced enough in the past 10 years that UBC Okanagan researchers say devastating losses like those witnessed in Fort McMurray, Alta., could become easier to prevent.

Dr. John Braun and Dr. Kevin Hanna are among the first to join the newly created US-Canada Centre on Climate-Resilient Western Interconnected Grid. Their work is helping highlight the need for improved wildfire prediction models and eventually establish better data access to mitigate or prevent damage to vital North American infrastructure.

“Today’s technology allows us to gather much more high-quality data than even a decade ago,” says Dr. Braun, a Professor of Mathematics and Statistics in UBC Okanagan’s Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science.

Heightened consideration of topography and advanced data collection tools such as satellites and drones can significantly enhance fire models and help determine fire spread rates, especially in alpine areas, he says. Correctly accounting for this can substantially augment fire models’ accuracy, allowing for more effective and timely firefighting strategies and infrastructural safety assessments.

Dr. Braun’s research, focusing on fire spread models, explores stochastic models that consider uncertainty. These can offer a more reliable range of predictions than deterministic models, which offer one likely conclusion. He cites the 2016 Fort McMurray fire, where advanced stochastic models could have significantly improved decision-making and resource allocation, potentially averting extensive damage and loss.

The Fort McMurray fire is still Canada’s most costly disaster and left behind $9.9 billion worth of damage. It destroyed 2,400 homes and forced 88,000 people to evacuate. During the emergency, a turning point for firefighters came as the blaze jumped a river and looked like it could pose an immediate threat to the city itself.

Officials used a deterministic model and estimated flames could reach city limits by 11 pm. That led them to divert resources to where they were needed most at the time. Dr. Braun says they may have reconsidered this decision if they’d had access to today’s tools.

“Initial calculations showed a five per cent probability that the fire could reach the city limits by 6 or 7 pm—which is actually about when it did,” Dr. Braun says. “If they had known this, they might have made a different decision. These models serve as essential decision support tools, improving both infrastructure safety and firefighting efforts.”

The researchers are also aiming to further risk and vulnerability assessments used in planning projects. Dr. Hanna is examining the specific information that regulators need for approving power projects in Canada. Their research seeks to establish robust processes for assessing risk and safety points along electric transmission routes, ensuring they withstand the impact of sudden events like wildfires.

“This project provides a unique platform to unify various research disciplines for addressing energy resiliency and security in the face of evolving climate challenges,” says Dr. Hanna, an Associate Professor in Earth Sciences and Director of UBC’s Centre for Environmental Assessment Research.

The centre has received US$5 million from the US National Science Foundation and C$3.75 million from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. It involves 11 North American universities and institutes that aim to address the growing challenges of wildfires, heatwaves, drought and flooding.

Such extreme weather events not only endanger lives and the environment but also threaten the grid providing power to millions of people across two Canadian provinces and 14 western states. The western interconnected grid stretches from the northern edge of British Columbia to the Mexico border, and from the California coast to the Rockies. It serves roughly 80 million people over 4.66 million square kilometres.

“This will help safeguard infrastructure, particularly power lines and natural gas systems, and potentially save billions in damage and replacement costs,” Dr. Hanna says.

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Earlier this summer a giant panda named Ai Bao delivered twin cubs in a South Korean zoo. Although pandas often give birth to twins, typically only one cub survives, especially in the wild.

And to survive, this tiny helpless cub needs to communicate with its mother—better and more urgently than the twin.

Dr. Christina Buesching, an Adjunct Professor with UBC Okanagan’s Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science, is a researcher who studies how animals communicate with each other. In collaboration with a group of Chinese co-authors, she recently published a study examining the way newborn panda cubs acoustically connect with their mother.

Blind at birth and just one-900th of the size of their mother, the two babies compete for nourishment and care by making sounds. Those squawks, squalls and croaks likely determine whether they’ll survive or not.

What is the survival rate for pandas born in the wild? And in captivity?

Approximately 56 per cent of giant panda births are twins. However, even though the new mother will spend two weeks fasting and doing nothing but caring for the babies, if raised in the wild, typically one of those cubs will die shortly after birth.

And in captivity, the mortality of pandas younger than one month—especially during their first 15 days—is 22 per cent higher than in any other age class.

To avoid this high neonatal mortality and ensure the continued survival of this charismatic species, twins born in captivity are switched regularly every 24 hours, so the mother only ever has to care for one baby while its twin is being nurtured by the zoo keepers.

Interestingly, we currently don’t really understand how the mother decides which cub she will favour. Because the cubs are so tiny and helpless, the only way they can elicit maternal attention is by making sounds—and it’s those sounds that likely determine which twin survives.

In essence, they need to communicate to their mother “Feed me, not the other one.” Therefore, we propose in a recent publication in Integrative Zoology, that poor understanding of early-age vocal mother–infant communication may be a reason for the high mortality rate of newborn pandas.

So what kind of vocalizations do newborn panda cubs make?

Panda cubs use three distinct calls: harsh-sounding squawks, high-pitched squalls and throaty croaks. These are so-called broadband calls and comprise a very wide frequency range, as well as contain both audible and ultrasound components higher than 20 kilohertz.

Of course, these sounds should have evolved to elicit maximum maternal care and attention, but in the wild the cubs are potential prey to other animals including golden cats, yellow-throated martens and even the Asian black bear. Ideally, their calls should therefore be something just the mother can hear.

Can you explain why baby pandas use both ultrasound and lower frequencies?

Our analyses show that the calls get deeper the older and bigger the cubs get.

This is quite interesting in the context of “survival of the fittest” because the lower call frequencies require longer vocal cords. Therefore, deeper calls could be an unmistakable way for a baby panda to signal to its mother that it is big and strong and growing rapidly—in fact much bigger and growing faster than its twin—and therefore worthier of the mother’s attention and care.

Ultrasound, however, is much harder to pinpoint and therefore cubs vocalizing in higher frequencies may be harder to detect by predators. So, cubs may be safer when calling in ultrasound, but they may get more attention from their mother than their sibling when calling with a deeper voice.

This truly is a biological example of being stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Broadband calls have been reported in several other species, which would typically use ultrasound calls when babies are distressed or desperate to get their mother’s attention. But before our study, they had not been reported in mother–infant communication of any large solitary terrestrial carnivore.

How did you conduct this research?

We analyzed 5,300 calls including 3,475 squawks, 1,300 squalls and 490 croaks of 11 panda cubs under 15 days old—seven males and four females.

When a cub was removed from its mother for scheduled health checks, we played back a recording to gauge her interest in the sounds. But to investigate the biological significance of the different frequency ranges, we modified these recordings using computer software so we could delete either all ultrasound components and playback only the deeper frequencies, or do the opposite and remove all deeper frequencies playing back only the ultrasound components. We also played the natural broadband calls, which included the complete frequency range.

Our observations showed clearly that females could hear frequencies of up to 65kHz, and eight of the nine mothers reacted strongly to ultrasound playback by searching for the source of the calls—in this case the speakers. But all nine females responded much stronger to broadband calls and calls comprising only the deeper frequencies by being alert and investigating the speakers.

This leads us to conclude that cubs uttering deeper calls do have an advantage in competing for maternal care and attention.

Why is it important that we know how pandas communicate?

The giant panda is a true flagship species for conservation and often serves as China’s national symbol. It was endangered for many years, but due to considerable and far-reaching conservation measures in the wild, and a stringently regulated captive breeding program coordinated between zoos worldwide, panda numbers are recovering.

In 2016, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List downgraded their conservation from endangered to vulnerable and in July 2021, China followed suit. However, the mortality rate of panda cubs is still high.

This research suggests that better understanding of early-age vocal mother–infant communication may help increase cub survival.

Understanding the detailed ins-and-outs of a species’ behavioural and physiological needs, however, is crucial in designing effective habitat conservation and management strategies. In a paper, published in The Innovation, we examined the pros and cons of creating single large protected areas as national parks or conservation areas to investigate the benefits of protecting several smaller areas to encompass a higher number of panda subpopulations.

A mother panda holds on to her newborn cub. Photo courtesy of Guiquan Zhang.

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Wildfire suppression planes work on a fire in the Okanagan earlier this spring.

This week, the Central Okanagan Emergency Operations downgraded many evacuation orders to alerts—but every resident in the region knows the wildfire situation continues to evolve and will leave a lasting impression both on the landscape and in the Okanagan’s collective psyche.

While fire crews continue to work the frontlines, a team of UBC Okanagan experts can provide information on fire growth, habitat loss, post-fire spreading and even the emotional turmoil of being evacuated due to wildfire.

Mathieu Bourbonnais, Assistant Professor, Earth, Environmental and Geographic Sciences, Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science

Areas of expertise:

  • Wildfire risk,
  • Wildfire suppression and mitigation
  • Firefighting and use of satellites for wildfire detection and monitoring

Tel: 778 583 0272

Greg Garrard, Professor of Environmental Humanities, Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies

Areas of expertise:

  • Environmental literature
  • Culture and climate change (including skepticism)
  • The cultural ecology of wildfire
  • Political polarization 

Tel: 250 863 2822

Karen Hodges, Professor of Conservation Biology, Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science

Areas of expertise:

  • Conservation biology
  • Habitat loss
  • Extinction risks
  • Wildfires and wildlife
  • Climate change and wildfire
  • Endangered species
  • Boreal forests
  • Mammals
  • Birds

Tel: 250 807 8763

Alessandro Ielpi, Assistant Professor, Earth, Environmental and Geographic Sciences, Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science

Areas of expertise:

  • Watershed processes
  • Rivers and floodplains
  • Post-fire flooding
  • Stream widening and bank erosion

Tel: 250 807 8364

Mary-Ann Murphy, Associate Professor, School of Social Work and Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Areas of expertise:

  • Dealing with the emotional trauma of wildfires
  • Lessons from evacuees
  • What to pack when evacuating
  • Caring for seniors in extreme heat
  • Aging and demographics

Tel: 250 807 8705

David Scott, Associate Professor, Earth, Environmental and Geographic Sciences, Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science

Areas of expertise:

  • Effects of wildfire on hydrology and erosion
  • Evaluation of fire site rehabilitation methods in terms of controlling erosion and sedimentation


John R.J. Thompson, Assistant Professor, Data Science, Mathematics, Statistics, Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science

Areas of expertise:

  • Statistical fire growth modelling and simulation
  • Fire image analysis

Tel: 289 776 9678

Babak Tosarkani, Assistant Professor, School of Engineering

Areas of expertise:

  • Supply Chain Management
  • Operations Management
  • Sustainability and Circular Economy
  • Risk Management
  • Strategic Sustainable Development

Tel: 647 551 7732

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A photo of an oil refinery.

A UBCO researcher is investigating clean and efficient energy technologies as part of the movement to reduce the use of carbon-intensive fossil fuels.

As many nations work to go green, a significant question remains unanswered: how can the world decarbonize energy supplies in a sustainable, efficient and economically viable manner?

Dr. Robert Godin, an Assistant Professor of Green Chemistry in UBC Okanagan’s Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science, is working to find the answer.

In a recent study co-authored by Dr. Godin and published in the Royal Society of Chemistry, he explains the urgent need to decarbonize energy supplies, and how precise processing of a material called carbon nitride may be the key.

Fossil fuels like oil, coal and natural gas have energized economies for more than 150 years—can you explain the urgency in moving away from these types of energy? Why the rush?

There are a number of reasons why we need to shift to sustainable sources of power—one being to slow down the progression of climate change. It’s abundantly clear that we need to decarbonize our energy supplies to reach our net zero emission targets. One powerful analysis is the Net Zero by 2050 report from the International Energy Agency. It states that massive deployment of all available clean and efficient energy technologies is required to meet these goals.

What other types of fuel can supply this energy?

The generation of synthetic fuels is gaining traction as an alternative to carbon-intensive fossil fuels. When synthetic fuels are generated by sunlight, we refer to them as solar fuels, which have the potential to be sustainable.

What are some challenges associated with these other types of fuel?

One of the biggest issues in trying to identify alternatives is their cost. If we can’t find a way to bring the cost down to the same as fossil fuels or lower, there will unfortunately be barriers for many to adopt them. 

Can you explain the research presented in this paper?

We were looking at a new way to control the shape of inexpensive photocatalysts that can generate solar fuels, with the aim of improving their efficiency and cost-competitiveness when compared to fossil fuels.

To do this, we worked with a material called carbon nitride—it is an organic semiconductor made from inexpensive and abundant commodity materials that shows promising photocatalytic activity. However, there are open questions as to what is the best way to prepare carbon nitride when considering complexity, cost and efficiency. To tackle this, we need better information on how modifications made to carbon nitride can impact efficiency.

Ultimately, we were able to devise a new way to control the shape of carbon nitride particles. While we didn’t yet obtain better performance with our method, we did see a completely new shape, like fibrous webs, that wasn’t obtainable with the traditional method.

We’re confident that by refining our method, we can produce more solar fuels than with typical carbon nitride.

Could the results of this research have other applications? And where do you go from here?

Beyond decarbonizing energy, our results are significant to the overall field of photocatalysis, which is becoming increasingly popular as a synthetic method in industrial processes that make drugs, cosmetics, polymers and more.

For next steps, now that we have a general method established we can look at refinements to ensure our starting material gets converted to a type of carbon nitride that is a good photocatalyst.

If we can solve that problem, then we can expand the types of shapes we make to be able to find which ones perform best, and why.

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Should people with inflammatory bowel disease re-introduce fibre into their diets? A UBCO researcher suggests maybe it’s time they do.

A UBC Okanagan researcher wants to turn the tables on the long-held practice of restricting fibre completely for people living with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Dr. Natasha Haskey, a registered dietitian who works with UBC Okanagan’s Centre for Microbiome and Inflammation Research, focuses her research on nutrition for people with digestive diseases. Her most recent paper examines whether it’s time to re-think what people living with certain conditions—including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis—should eat

Both Crohn’s and colitis cause inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. Still, Dr. Haskey says, while millions of North Americans live with the symptoms of the disease and daily discomfort, scientists don’t know the exact cause of IBD.

“I wanted to work with the Centre for Microbiome and Inflammation Research to look a bit deeper into how we can help people manage their disease using diet therapy because we don’t have all the answers,” she says. “We believe it’s due to a combination of factors which could be genetic, changes in the function of the immune system or changes in a person’s microbiome, along with their diet.”

Adopting westernized eating habits—consuming more highly processed, high sodium and sugary foods—has led to a significant reduction in fibre consumption and is linked to an increased prevalence of digestive diseases such as IBD, partially through alterations in microbial composition, she explains.

In the past, when a patient was diagnosed with IBD, doctors would recommend a low-fibre diet to help with their symptoms and manage their condition. But as more research has emerged around the importance of fibre to a healthy microbiome, Dr. Haskey says the issue of whether to consume fibre or not has swung the other way.

“We know that in healthy individuals, when we increase fibre it benefits the digestive tract,” she says. “Here we’ve been telling these patients for the longest time to avoid fibre. Maybe that’s not the right answer.”

There is limited knowledge about what fibre is optimal and in what form and quantity it should be consumed to benefit patients with IBD. Part of the answer, she suggests, is learning about the various fibre sources, and also slowly introducing fibre into the diet.

“It’s a real shift in the mindset,” she adds. “If you lived with a disease for a long time, you’ve figured out what works. And in all likelihood, you’re scared to introduce these foods because you don’t want to end up back where you used to be.”

For example, if a person has been told to avoid leafy greens, she suggests some could be blended into a smoothie or another example might be to remove the peel from an apple. These foods can then be added to the diet if there is no increase in symptoms.

As more research about the gut microbiome takes place, more detail about how the gut bacteria digests and breaks down foods is coming to light.

And it’s as individual as a fingerprint, Dr. Haskey adds.

Individual microbiomes, she says in her paper published recently in Nutrients, play a strong role in determining how we respond to diet treatments and require a more personalized nutritional approach to implementing dietary changes.

“The pendulum has swung because of our increased understanding of the importance of fibres in maintaining a health-associated microbiome. Preliminary evidence suggests that dietary fibre can alter the gut microbiome, improve IBD symptoms, balance inflammation and enhance health-related quality of life,” she adds. “Therefore, it is now more vital than ever to examine how fibre could be used as a therapeutic strategy to manage and prevent disease relapse.”

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Dr. Kristine Spekkens will discuss how galaxies evolve and form and the connection between galaxies, dark matter and cosmology.

What: Helen Sawyer Hogg Prize Lecture: Galaxies, Cosmology and the Radio Telescope Revolution
Who: Astrophysicist Dr. Kristine Spekkens
When: Tuesday, June 13 at 7 pm, doors open at 6 pm
Venue: Ballroom at Penticton Lakeside Resort and Conference Centre, 21 Lakeshore Dr.

It’s a thought that crosses many of our minds as we look up to the sky on a starry night: where do we fit in the universe?

The community is invited to Galaxies, Cosmology, and the Radio Telescope Revolution, a public talk from Dr. Kristine Spekkens, a Professor in the Department of Physics and Space Science at Royal Military College and Queen’s University, and Canadian Science Director for the Square Kilometre Array.

In her talk, Dr. Spekkens will discuss how galaxies form and evolve within a standard cosmological framework that describes the universe and why gas-rich, star-forming nearby galaxies are key to this picture—both because they resemble the Milky Way and because they make up the bulk of galaxy population in most cosmic environments.

Dr. Spekkens will also explain the connection between galaxies, dark matter and cosmology by discussing in what ways atomic gases in galaxies are powerful cosmological probes.

Finally, she’ll discuss how a revolution in our view of these objects and others in the night sky is underway with a new generation of telescopes, and how these facilities are paving the way for groundbreaking discoveries with the Square Kilometre Array telescope—an international mega-science project in which Canada will soon be a full member.

This is a free event, open to all community members. No registration is required to attend in person. However, pre-registration is required for people interested in attending via Zoom. To find out more, visit:

This talk is presented by the Canadian Astronomical Society with partial funding from the University of British Columbia and other sponsors.

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UBCO celebrated the class of 2023 this week including the top academic students and medal winners.


This week UBC Okanagan celebrated the graduating students of 2023. As part of graduation, the top academic students are recognized for their accomplishments which often include high academic grades and community service.

Governor General’s Gold Medal

A passion for research, a personal connection and the desire to help a population often overlooked by researchers took Sarah Lawrason down a path that eventually led to one of UBC Okanagan’s top accomplishments.

Dr. Lawrason has been named UBCO’s 2023 winner of the Governor General’s Gold Medal. She completed her PhD in Kinesiology, spending several years researching people who live with incomplete spinal cord injuries (SCI). Her research led to the design, implementation and evaluation of a mobile-based physical activity program for people with an SCI who walk. The goal was to support this particular population to become more physically active.

“Physical activity is so beneficial for health and wellbeing, but there is little research and resources to support people with SCI and even less for those with an SCI who can walk,” she says.

Dr. Lawrason admits there is a personal side to her drive. Her brother sustained an SCI in 2016—helping him live the best life he can became part of her mandate.

The Governor General’s Gold Medal is awarded to the student who has achieved the most outstanding academic record as a doctoral or master’s student completing a dissertation or thesis.

While working on her PhD, Dr. Lawrason conducted five studies with the ambulatory SCI population—a growing segment often referred to as the “forgotten ones” because they have been completely overlooked in health research and promotion, she says. Her research engaged with the SCI community and tech-industry partners to achieve significant breakthroughs and help pave the way for further scientific and clinical applications.

She conducted her research under the supervision of Dr. Kathleen Martin Ginis, who describes Dr. Lawrason as someone with an exemplary record of high-impact, novel, interdisciplinary, community-engaged research who has made diverse and considerable contributions to society.

“Sarah has established an outstanding reputation for research leadership and conducted her PhD research with unwavering commitment to using community-engaged methods and improving the health of people with disabilities,” says Dr. Martin Ginis. “Of the 13 PhD students I’ve supervised, she ranks among the top in terms of breadth and depth of skill and is more than deserving of this recognition.”

Governor General’s Silver Medal winner

Solomon Thiessen, described as an “exceptionally gifted” School of Engineering student, has been named the winner of UBC’s Governor General’s Silver Medal. It is awarded annually to the student who has achieved the highest academic standing of all students in their graduating year. UBC awards three silver medals each year: one in arts, one in science and one for all other faculties including those at UBC Okanagan.

Thiessen recently completed his Bachelor of Applied Science with UBCO’s School of Engineering, impressing his professors by earning a final mark of 100 per cent on 12 of his engineering courses.

He has a keen interest in computer engineering and he minored in computer science. During his studies, he worked on a variety of projects including a portable MRI device with Drs. Rebecca Feldman and Sabine Weyand as well as a wireless sensor node network with Dr. Dean Richert. Despite his heavy course load, he also volunteered as a tutor in math, physics, applied science and computer science through the student learning hub and worked as a teaching assistant in the automation lab.

Within the School of Engineering, he was held in high esteem among the teaching staff, says Dr. Dean Richert, an Assistant Professor of Teaching in Manufacturing and Mechanical Engineering

“It has been an absolute pleasure to witness Sol’s progression throughout his degree and I am delighted to see him being acknowledged as a recipient of this award,” says Dr. Richert. “Sol not only possesses exceptional academic prowess but also demonstrates an outstanding work ethic and professionalism, distinguishing himself as one of the most exceptional students I have had the privilege of working with.”

Thiessen has been accepted to the computer science master’s program at ETH Zurich in Switzerland. Following his studies at ETH Zurich, he plans to pursue a PhD in artificial intelligence. In the meantime, he is “tinkering” on a few software projects while working as a contractor for the Western Canadian Learning Network.

Lieutenant Governor Medal Program for Inclusion, Democracy and Reconciliation

A well-travelled and active member of the UBCO campus community, Haja Mabinty (Binta) Sesay has been named the winner of the Lieutenant Governor Medal Program for Inclusion, Democracy and Reconciliation.

Sesay has just completed her degree in International Relations and has been recognized for her leadership and dedication to helping make UBCO a more inclusive campus community. During her four years of study, she volunteered with the Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Office during back-to-school celebrations and spent two years volunteering with African Caribbean Student Club. She also held an executive role with the UBC Black caucus team and UBC’s Anti-Racism and Inclusive Excellence Task Force.

Sesay started her schooling in The Gambia and moved to the United Kingdom for part of her high school education, completing her last year in Jerusalem. She came to UBCO in 2018, having been attracted to the close-knit campus and knowing the programs were academically strong.

Although she applied for the Lieutenant Governor’s Medal, she had no expectations of winning the recognition and was surprised when notified she was the winner.

“Just getting the email to apply for the award made me feel accomplished,” she says. “I was super shocked when I got the email saying I was selected. I am so passionate about all the work I have done and never expect anything back, but it also feels nice to be recognized. I feel very honoured.”

The Lieutenant Governor Medal Program for Inclusion, Democracy and Reconciliation recognizes students who have distinguished themselves through their post-secondary education with outstanding contributions to the promotion of inclusion, democracy or reconciliation.

Madison Tardif, who worked with Sesay at the UBC Equity and Inclusion Office, says she has played a key role in leading and working within various groups and committees to advocate for a more anti-racist and inclusive institution, with a particular focus on supporting the Black community.

“Binta has dedicated herself to the promotion of anti-racism across the university and in the broader community, advocating for changes that will continue to shape and improve the experiences of Black students, faculty and staff at UBC,” says Tardif. “Binta’s commitment to addressing structural inequities and advocating for a more inclusive campus shines in her leadership roles and her consistent desire to show up for and in solidarity with diverse communities.”

Pushor Mitchell LLP Gold Medal Leadership Prize

Madyson Campbell, who received her Bachelor of Science in Psychology degree Thursday, is the winner of the Pushor Mitchell Gold Medal Leadership Prize. Knowing she eventually planned to go to medical school, Campbell came to UBCO from Thunder Bay wanting to experience a few years living in a different province and knew the Okanagan would suit her lifestyle.

While working on her degree she participated in several multidisciplinary undergraduate research projects in health and worked on a student-led project to develop a pilot curriculum on a restorative approach to improve the experiences of patients who have been harmed within the health care system.

Campbell is a proud citizen of the Métis Nation of Ontario and works to advocate for and ensure the voices of Métis youth are heard at the provincial and national levels.

“The support provided by this award is immeasurable, as it allows students like myself to continue our academic and leadership goals after graduating from UBC. This award has allowed me to pursue a research opportunity this summer at the University of Toronto. I cannot understate how deeply honoured I am to have been chosen by this committee. I will carry this recognition with me as I move forward in my academic and career pursuits.”

As a winner of the Pushor Mitchell award, she receives a $10,000 scholarship which she says will support her journey as she enters the Northern Ontario School of Medicine in Thunder Bay this fall.

The Pushor Mitchell LLP Gold Medal Leadership Prize recognizes a top graduating student who has excelled academically and has shown leadership while earning their degree.

“Pushor Mitchell LLP is thrilled to support another exceptional graduate at UBC Okanagan with our Gold Medal Leadership Award, as they make their way to become the next generation of great leaders in our community, both in the Okanagan and beyond”, says Joni Metherell, Managing Partner for Pushor Mitchell. “We congratulate Madyson and all of UBCO’s 2023 graduates on their success.”

Heads of Graduating Class

University of BC Medal in Arts
Samantha Barg

University of BC Medal in Education
Isabela Richard

University of BC Medal in Engineering
Solomon Thiessen

University of BC Medal in Fine Arts
Josie Hillman

University of BC Medal in Human Kinetics
Melina Marini

University of BC Medal in Management
Aurora Gardiner

University of BC Medal in Media Studies
Amanda McIvor

University of BC Medal in Nsyilxcn Language Fluency
Sheri Stelkia

University of BC Medal in Nursing
Kayla Petersen

University of BC Medal in Science
Harman Sohal

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