Patty Wellborn



UBCO experts suggest wrapping gifts in reusable bags or boxes as one of several ways to keep the holiday season sustainable.

Regardless of what, or if, you decide to celebrate at this time of year, it’s hard to stay in budget and keep the holiday season sustainable.

A group of UBC Okanagan experts has some tips on how to keep the green in your pocket while ensuring it’s a green holiday for the planet.

Bryn Crawford, Research Engineer, Program Manager, PacifiCan-MMRI Accelerating Circular Economy

It’s all about the packaging. Think about how something is packaged before you buy it. Is the packaging recyclable or reusable? Also, when it comes to wrapping, keeping and re-using gift-wrapping paper is a great way to reduce waste. Look for gifts that don’t use materials that would persist in landfill or would divert waste from landfill.

“I suggest people look for gifts that are composed of natural, untreated materials such as wood, paper, cotton, or highly recyclable materials such as aluminum or steel. Also look for items made from upcycled waste, try to shop at stores that allow you to bring in a bottle or container to refill, or look for merchants that sell items in bottles or packages that are made from 100 per cent recycled plastics.”

Nathan Pelletier, Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science/Faculty of Management

Every Christmas there is inevitably a debate regarding the sustainability of real versus artificial trees.

So, which is better? Unfortunately, Dr. Pelletier says there is no simple answer.

Relative impacts and benefits will be influenced by production practices and location, transportation distances—including your own. Spending half a day searching for a tree in a pickup truck will definitely weight the outcome. And use behaviours should also be considered. An artificial tree used for 15 years will have a fraction of the impact of one that is only used for five years.

Also important to keep in mind are the specific aspects of sustainability that we consider, and how we prioritize among them. For example, carbon footprints versus biodiversity impacts, or jobs versus landscape aesthetic value.

“Comparisons are always complicated and perhaps distract from simple, powerful strategies like giving the gift of time to those we love and focusing on quality over quantity.”

Eric Li, Faculty of Management

Be present and give fewer presents. Use your time generously and think about volunteering at a local organization or providing your time to do something with someone, even if it’s a neighbour or acquaintance.

“We all live in a busy world, so perhaps the gift of your time is something another person might really appreciate. A key component of the season is about being with family and friends, so make a point of doing that.”

By all means, give gifts, but think about the material products. What’s really necessary. Maybe buy less this year. And try to buy local. Also think of where the packaging this gift is coming from and where it might end up.

Ross Hickey, Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Donations to registered Canadian charities are on sale this year, as always. Giving to charities on behalf of others can help people give a gift that lets the recipient know how much the giver truly knows the recipient. Also, giving to registered religious organizations and advocacy groups can help others in a variety of ways. You’re giving a gift twice, to the charity and also to the recipient.

A fan of the 1905 classic tale the Gift of Magi, Dr. Hickey says shoppers should keep that story in mind while shopping.

“The story is about a young couple who each sell their most prized possessions to buy a gift for each other,” explains Dr. Hickey. “While they both ended up with gifts they couldn’t use, the theory is a gift that comes from self-sacrifice and love is what really matters. When it comes to overspending, I think that story says it all.”

The post Have a merry and sustainable festive season appeared first on UBC Okanagan News.

Star-shaped astrocytes, shown red in this image, extend cellular projections like tentacles to communicate with neighbouring brain cells. Once astrocytes become cancerous, the projections become longer, and their networks become more complex, invading different areas of the brain.

Brain cancer. It’s the diagnosis no one wants to hear.

Patients with high-grade gliomas, or tumours in the brain and spinal cord, have an average life expectancy of a mere 12 to 16 months. Not only do tumours in the brain spread more aggressively than in other tissues, but these tumours are also resistant to chemotherapy and have a high probability to recur after surgical removal.

Now UBC Okanagan researchers are working to better understand the development and rapid growth of cancerous cells in the brain.

Sessional Lecturer Dr. Mitra Tabatabaee and Dr. Fred Menard, Associate Professor in Chemistry, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at UBCO, examined astrocytoma, a cancer that begins in astrocytes—cells that support nerve cells.

Currently, astrocytoma is highly fatal with no effective treatment.

Their research, recently published in Cells, reviews the potential role of an imbalance of glutamate—a neurotransmitter that stimulates nerve cells—in astrocytoma progression. It suggests that several receptors not previously considered in brain cancer research might be crucial to the cancerous growth of astrocytoma.

“Astrocytoma spreads throughout the brain quickly, and there is no treatment,” says Dr. Tabatabaee. “There’s not enough information about the development of astrocytoma, which is one of the main reasons for the lack of effective treatment. We need to know first the molecular mechanism of what’s happening.”

Star-shaped astrocytes extend cellular projections like tentacles that stretch to communicate with their neighbouring cells. Once these astrocytes become cancerous, the projections become longer, and their networks become more complex, invading different areas of the brain. How far they extend in the brain is strongly correlated with the cancer’s aggressivity and its resistance to treatment.

“If some extra-long cell projections are left behind during surgery, the tumour can grow back,” says Dr. Tabatabaee.

A suspected cause of this uncontrolled growth of cellular processes is elevated levels of glutamate. When astrocytes sense glutamate, the concentration of calcium rises inside the cell. Since calcium is also necessary for growing cellular projections, the glutamate receptors that affect the calcium inside astrocytes are prime suspects for the abnormal growth of astrocytoma cells.

By studying astrocytoma cells, Dr. Tabatabaee and Dr. Menard identified a glutamate receptor and two other molecular contributors crucial in extending the projections of these cancerous cells.

With further study, researchers believe that these overlooked receptors can serve as targets for designing more effective chemotherapies and open up new avenues to halt the progression of this aggressive and often fatal cancer.

“Studying and targeting these specific receptors, may pave the way to understand how we can stop infiltration of the disease throughout the brain and prevent the tumour growth,” says Dr. Tabatabaee.

The post Tiny receptors might be key to preventing progression of brain cancer appeared first on UBC Okanagan News.

UBCO students have created living life bulb that generates light from organic material.

A group of UBC Okanagan students lit up the competition and won gold with their creation of a living light bulb.

The team’s living light bulb aims to generate light from organic material. Their creation, called Life Bulb, is not reliant on electricity and can convert greenhouse gases into oxygen.

The students competed in the 2022 International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Competition, a synthetic biology competition in Paris involving more than 350 teams from more than 40 countries.

Despite this being UBCO’s first showing in the competition and despite the associated struggles with starting a team from the ground up, the UBCO students won a gold medal for their project, says Dr. Mitra Tabatabaee, the Principal Investigator for Life Bulb.

With Life Bulb, the students are creating a sustainable alternative to LEDs using a fungal bioluminescent pathway with photosynthetic bacteria as their chassis. The project is still in testing, but the intention is to create a green, glowing light source that is easily scalable and can be powered through the sun thanks to photosynthesis.

“We wanted to provide this alternative sustainable source that can be potentially carbon-negative by absorbing greenhouse gases to reduce the impact that lighting has on our climate,” says Alyssa Kong, co-team lead and third-year Bachelor of Science student majoring in microbiology.

Life Bulb is an entirely student-led initiative, started in early 2022. It was the first project from the UBCO iGEM club, which was founded by Gustavo Muro Marchani, a third-year Bachelor of Science student majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology.

The team is interdisciplinary, with 16 students from backgrounds in biology, chemistry, engineering, computer science and management. In addition to faculty advisors from the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science and the School of Engineering, the team consulted with various stakeholders and industry professionals including lighting experts to get feedback. Syilx artist Les Louis also contributed by creating a blueprint for a wood carving that incorporates Life Bulb as an art medium.

The gold medal demonstrates that the judges found their work worthy of the highest level of achievement, says Dr. Tabatabaee.

“These brilliant undergraduate students proved that when there is potential, passion, perseverance and teamwork, no goal is unachievable,” she adds. “Our iGEM team raised its own funds, shaped its own international community and negotiated for lab space throughout the competition season. It was a great honour and joy for me to work with this thriving team.”

The team, which was also nominated for Best Wiki, is still considering the next steps for Life Bulb and for next year’s iGEM competition. But they are passionate about the possibilities, says Muro Marchani, team co-lead.

“Everything can be grown,” he adds. “That’s the new mindset with the wonder of synthetic biology. Instead of mining or getting it from different places that might harm the environment, you can grow it anywhere.”

Student Robin Blott in a lab

Bachelor of Science student Robin Blott inspects a sample of Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803, the photosynthetic chassis for the Life Bulb has been molecularly engineered to create bioluminescence.

The post UBCO team shines at international event with a living light bulb appeared first on UBC Okanagan News.

UBCO is hosting a unique fall graduation ceremony Thursday. Students who graduated in 2020 and 2021 will now have the opportunity to toss their caps in celebration like these students did in 2018.

They’re baaack!

This week UBC Okanagan’s campus will be filled with students, now alumni, who graduated and were celebrated with a virtual ceremony during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than 600 are returning to campus to take part in a special ceremony on November 10. The event will recognize the accomplishments of those who didn’t have the chance to experience that iconic opportunity of crossing the stage to receive their degree at a live graduation.

This will be the first time UBC Okanagan has hosted a fall graduation ceremony and it’s a special event for those who graduated in 2020 and 2021, says UBCO Principal and Deputy Vice-Chancellor Dr. Lesley Cormack. Those graduates were surveyed and many indicated they were interested in coming back to campus for a make-up graduation ceremony.

“These are students who completed their studies during a particularly difficult and disconnected time,” Dr. Cormack says. “While UBC honoured our graduates during the height of the pandemic with virtual ceremonies, nothing can compare to the distinction of an in-person event, complete with student speakers and a gym full of proud family members.”

Each ceremony will be complete with speeches from students and special moments to recognize people who received honorary degrees during the pandemic.

Evangeline Saclamacis, who graduated with an applied sciences degree in 2021, is currently working with an international renewable power generation business in Vancouver. She says there are a lot of emotions flowing as she looks forward to returning to UBCO for the ceremony and connecting with former classmates.

“I’m excited to see how the campus has changed since I was last there, and also inspired to see how much I have changed since I first started as a student in 2016,” she says. “UBCO was a place that not only allowed me to grow as an individual, but also allowed me to connect with people with similar aspirations and goals. I’m really excited to return and walk the stage, closing the chapter on my bachelor’s degree.”

Aneesha Thouli, who graduated from UBC Okanagan’s Health and Exercise Sciences program in 2020, is now back at school and is currently a third-year medical student in the Southern Medical Program based at UBCO.

“While this ceremony will look different than any of us expected, I’m grateful we have the chance finally to celebrate,” she says. “I think having been alumni for a few years gives us a unique perspective on the ceremony overall and gives us an opportunity to celebrate our successes in a totally different way than previous classes.”

Three ceremonies will take place on November 10, the first starting at 8:30 am with School of Engineering graduates. Following that, graduates in the School of Education, Faculty of Management and Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science will cross the stage. The final ceremony takes place at 1:30 pm where graduates in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Faculty of Health and Social Development and the Faculty of Creative and Critical studies will be celebrated.

Rain Inaba graduated with an undergraduate degree in microbiology and remained at UBCO to begin his master’s in biochemistry and molecular biology. Inaba is excited to reconnect with the many friends he made while living in residences and says Thursday’s ceremony will allow his fellow graduates to relive past moments and finally celebrate with their families, friends and faculty members.

“With these ceremonies, alumni from all faculties are welcomed back to the campus we all called home for many years,” he says. “This is a day of deserved festivities and a moment of recognition for our graduates. Let us make the ceremonies loud and memorable for each of our classmates as they cross the stage.”

As they have already technically been conferred as UBCO graduates and are officially UBC alumni, these ceremonies will be slightly different from spring convocation. However, Dr. Cormack says every student, especially those who persevered with their studies online, should enjoy the moments of being celebrated at their own graduation ceremony.

“While different, these ceremonies will include many of the traditions of graduation to honour the profound achievements and celebrate the resiliency of these students,” Dr. Cormack says. “We’re proud to have these incredibly engaged alumni who are going out of their way to come back for their graduation. I’m looking forward to congratulating each and every one of them in person.”

The post UBCO hosts three graduation ceremonies for pandemic graduates appeared first on UBC Okanagan News.

A UBCO researcher suspects misadventures with traps set to catch small furbearing animals are causing grizzly bears to damage and lose their front toes.

A UBC Okanagan researcher is suggesting changes to fur trapping practices to help prevent the accidental amputation of grizzly bear toes.

Dr. Clayton Lamb’s latest research, published recently in Wildlife Society, is calling attention to a small number of grizzly bears in the southeast corner of British Columbia missing toes on their front paws. While it’s not a large number of bears, Dr. Lamb says there is enough data to confirm that the accidental amputations, likely due to fur trapping bycatch, are frequent enough to raise concern.

Now a postdoctoral researcher with UBCO’s Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science, and an experienced trapper himself, Dr. Lamb conducted a live-capture research project to better understand grizzly bear mortality as part of his PhD work at the University of Alberta. Lamb captured and collared almost 60 grizzlies. He noticed several of the bears were missing some of their front toes.

“These were not birth defects,” says Lamb. “Identifying how those toes were amputated and mitigating the source of amputation became one of the objectives of this study.”

Of the 57 bears captured, four were missing toes on one of their front feet, which could make it hard for the bears to dig for food or defend themselves. While the injuries had healed, they were all similar and Lamb suggests the wounds were from a misadventure with a trap designed to catch furbearers.

Small body‐gripping traps are used to capture martens or weasels and are typically set with a baited box attached to a tree, he explains. They can be set in early November and remain in place until late winter.

The researchers discussed the issue with trappers, Indigenous communities, scientists, conservation officers, wildlife managers and guide outfitters. Comparing data from other collaring projects in adjacent areas of BC, they found a pattern to the toe loss and even confirmed reports of grizzly bears killed with small mammal body-gripping traps still on their feet.

To test their theory, they set up four small mammal body-gripping traps—rigged so the traps could trigger but not fully close—and monitored them with remote cameras for two weeks. Grizzly bears visited all four traps and sprung two of them.

“Even with the small sample, it was clear that baited traps attracted bears and that bears set off the traps to get the food. We have pictures and videos showing the bears investigating the traps and manipulating the boxes with their paws.”

The researchers also determined it wasn’t the initial snap of the trap that caused the bears to lose their toes, but the prolonged duration of the trap stuck on their foot.

“The bone loss observed in the bears either happened from a weakening of the bone during necrosis and infection, or from force applied to the bone from the trap while the bear walked or ran with the trap still on its foot.”

Small mammal trapping is generally done in the early winter when fur is prime and most valuable. While some trappers voluntarily delay the start of their marten and weasel trapping season, Dr. Lamb is suggesting an official delay from November 1 to early December to buy the bears time to fully hibernate.

“Shifting the start of most trapping that coincides with the active bear season would eliminate the overlap, and trappers should generally be able to avoid accidentally catching bears,” he says. “This not only reduces the risk to the bears, but also prevents the traps from being destroyed by the bears.”

Another suggestion involved a different trap with a smaller, constricted entrance so most bear paws could not fit inside to grab the bait.

Neither suggestion is perfect. Dr. Lamb recognizes both will impact the trappers’ livelihood and require compliance monitoring, adding additional responsibilities to conservation officers.

“The most viable solution to the amputated toe issue requires that bears’ feet do not enter these traps at all,” he says. “The solutions we present have various pros and cons, and we hope this work can help policy-makers choose a solution that will resolve the amputated toe issue while ensuring trappers continue to have the important opportunity to trap furbearers.”

The post Missing grizzly bear toes result in call to change practices appeared first on UBC Okanagan News.

A UBCO researcher has created a modelling program that can help scientists plan for the restoration and conservation of coral reefs impacted by climate change. Photo credit: Jean-Philippe Maréchal.

A UBC Okanagan research team has created a computer modelling program to help scientists predict the effect of climate damage and eventual restoration plans on coral reefs around the globe.

This is a critical objective, says Dr. Bruno Carturan, because climate change is killing many coral species and can lead to the collapse of entire coral reef ecosystems. But, because they are so complex, it’s logistically challenging to study the impact of devastation and regeneration of coral reefs.

Real-world experiments are impractical, as researchers would need to manipulate and disrupt large areas of reefs, along with coral colonies and herbivore populations, and then monitor the changes in structure and diversity over many years.

“Needless to say, conducting experiments that will disturb natural coral reefs is unethical and should be avoided, while using big aquariums is simply unfeasible,” says Dr. Carturan, who recently completed his doctoral studies with the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science. “For these reasons, no such experiments have ever been conducted, which has hindered our capacity to predict coral diversity and the associated resilience of the reefs.”

For his latest research, published recently in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, Dr. Carturan used models to create 245 coral communities, each with a unique set of nine species and each occupying a surface of 25 square metres. The model represents coral colonies and different species of algae that grow, compete and reproduce together while also being impacted by climate.

Crucially, he notes, all the key components of the model, including species’ traits such as competitive abilities and growth rates, are informed by pre-existing, real-world data from 800 species.

The research team simulated various scenarios—including strong waves, a cyclone or intense heat—and then measured each model reef’s resilience taking note of damage, recovery time and the quality of the habitat 10 years after the disturbance.

By running so many scenarios with computer modelling, the team found that more diverse communities—those with species having highly dissimilar traits—were most resilient. They were better at recovering from damage and had greater habitat quality 10 years after the disturbances.

“More diverse communities are more likely to have certain species that are very important for resilience,” Dr. Carturan explains. “These species have particular traits—they are morphologically complex, competitive and with a good capacity to recover. When present in a community, these species maintained or even increased the quality of the habitat after the disturbance. Contrastingly, communities without these species were often dominated by harmful algae at the end.”

Coral diversity determines the strength and future health of coral reefs, he adds. Coral species are the foundation of coral reef ecosystems because their colonies form the physical habitat where thousands of fish and crustaceans live. Among those are herbivores, such as parrotfish and surgeonfish, which maintain the coral habitat by eating the algae. Without herbivores, the algae would kill many coral colonies, causing the coral habitat to collapse, destroying its many populations.

“What is unique with our study is that our results apply to most coral communities in the world. By measuring the effect of diversity on resilience in more than 245 different coral communities, the span of diversity likely overlaps the actual coral diversity found in most reefs.”

At the same time, the study provides a framework to successfully manage these ecosystems and help with coral reef restoration by revealing how the resilience of coral communities can be managed by establishing colonies of species with complementary traits.

Looking forward, there are other questions the model can help answer. For instance, the coral species vital for resilience are also the most affected by climate change and might not be able to recover if strong climatic heatwaves become too frequent.

“It is a very real, and sad conclusion that we might one day lose these important species,” Dr. Carturan says. “Our model could be used to experiment and perhaps determine if losing these species can be compensated by some other, more resistant ones, that would prevent the eventual collapse of the reefs.”

The post Computer modelling aims to inform restoration, conservation of coral reefs appeared first on UBC Okanagan News.

New research from Dr. Kyle Larson’s lab has been able to pinpoint a timeline of when the rocks atop the summit pyramid of Mount Everest were deformed as part of the growth of the Himalaya. Photo credit: Kyle Larson.

It’s been a topic of debate among geologists for years—when did the deformation of rocks at the top of Mount Everest take place?

Over the years, several theories have been proposed—but none have stuck—until now.

In a recent study led by UBC Okanagan researcher Dr. Kyle Larson, the team found evidence that shows, for the first time, that the rocks atop Everest were deformed as part of the Himalaya’s development. Dr. Larson explains the rocks were sheared in response to the collision more than 45 million years ago between India and the Eurasian landmass. This collision is responsible for the development of the 3,000-kilometre-long Himalaya range between India, Nepal and Tibet.

Dr. Larson is a professor in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science and Director of the Fipke Laboratory for Trace Element Research. His latest study, published in Terra Nova discusses what this means for the future of geological research. Dr. Larson is also UBCO’s Natural Sciences and Engineering Researcher of the Year.

Can you share some insight as to why determining when these rocks were deformed has been historically difficult?

Given the difficulties in just reaching the summit, including weather issues, the expense of an expedition—and the high altitude that affects physical performance and cognition—collecting samples from the top of Everest is not simple. And it can be potentially deadly.

Without the appropriate samples and the analytical techniques that can date the types of minerals in the summer rocks, as geologists, we’ve been scratching our heads for quite some time trying to figure out which of our theories made the most sense.

Some studies propose the summit rocks were deformed as part of the Himalayan collision, while others suggest it likely happened 500 million years earlier during the formation of the supercontinent, Gondwana. The bottom line is there was never a definitive answer.

What did your results reveal?

Our study shows these rocks were deformed as part of the development of the Himalaya range, specifically about 45 million years ago.

Interestingly, the rocks at the top of Everest were deformed at the same time as the rocks at the base of the Himalaya, more than 50 kilometres below Earth’s surface. This is very rare because typically deformation happens in discrete zones—it takes a lot of energy to deform rocks and it usually follows specific horizons of weakness in Earth’s crust.

Deformation of the entire crust at once indicates a large-scale change—or event. And if you look at what was happening regionally at this time, there was a plate tectonic reorganization in the South Pacific including a significant bend in the Emperor/Hawaiian seamount chain. This can be easily seen on Google Earth. This is why we argue that the top of Everest provides a “plate tectonic view” as it seems to record the time at which all this regional plate tectonic shift was happening.

How were you able to come to this conclusion?

We applied a relatively new method for dating rocks that was not previously possible. It looks at the amount of uranium and lead in the mineral calcite. Uranium is unstable and radiogenically decays to lead. Because we know how fast this happens, we can measure how much uranium versus how much lead was in the rocks to calculate its age exactly.

How will your results affect future research in this area?

Getting access to rocks from the summit of Mount Everest is rare, so this research is an excellent example of how we can take a small bit of rock and use the information we obtain through dating techniques to tell a massive plate tectonic story—it’s a pretty extraordinary process.

A photo of Mount Everest

Researchers have determined the rocks at the top of Everest were deformed at the same time as the rocks at the base of the Himalaya, more than 50 kilometres below Earth’s surface. This is a very rare occurrence and indicates a large-scale geographic change took place. Photo credit: Kyle Larson.

The post UBCO prof digs into geological history of rocks atop Everest appeared first on UBC Okanagan News.

Dr. Rob Shaw, one of Canada’s top wheelchair tennis players, is UBC Okanagan’s 2022 recipient of the Governor General Gold Medal.

Some might think it’s a bit ironic that the winner of UBC Okanagan’s Governor General Gold Medal is already a gold-medal-winning athlete.

But Dr. Rob Shaw, who graduates this week with his Doctor of Philosophy in Interdisciplinary Studies, can quickly explain how much hard work goes into earning an honour of this calibre. Dr. Shaw is a wheelchair tennis player who won a gold medal at the 2019 Parapan American Games in Peru. He is the highest-ranked member of the Canadian wheelchair tennis team and last summer he competed in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.

He didn’t get there without a lot of hard work. The same could be said of his accomplishment at UBCO.

Dr. Shaw is the highest-ranked graduate student at UBCO, an honour that has earned him the Governor General’s gold medal.

“Looking at past winners I can’t help but feel humbled by this award,” he says. “Five years ago, my supervisor and I committed to completing a PhD that would make an impact beyond the silos of academia and extend into the community to benefit people living with spinal cord injuries. I’d like to think that this award reflects that we achieved that goal.”

While earning his doctoral degree, his research focused on how peer mentorship can improve the health and wellbeing of people who have incurred a spinal cord injury. While his supervising professor Dr. Kathleen Martin Ginis describes his research as exemplary, she notes he has also become an internationally respected scientist and a community leader.

Throughout his degree, Dr. Martin Ginis says he has embraced an interdisciplinary spirit, but his impact extends beyond the traditional walls of academia and into the community. His leadership and expertise are frequently sought out by local, national and international organizations, and he has an unwavering commitment to examining and resolving pressing societal issues.

“An excellent scientist can produce a lot of great research. But an excellent scientific leader finds the potential in people and has the courage to inspire and support them. Rob has achieved excellence and acclaim as both a scientist and scientific leader,” she adds. “Through his research and leadership, and his outstanding global citizenship, Rob is making the world a better place.”

Dr. Shaw, however, says this award is only possible thanks to the support from Dr. Martin Ginis and others he has worked with along his doctoral journey.

“I am extremely proud of the work we have been able to accomplish, and I owe this award to her, my lab mates, my community partners, and most importantly to my participants who allowed me into their world so that I could try to make a real difference in their lives.”

Dr. Shaw has been described by Dr. Martin Ginis as an outspoken champion of equity, diversity and inclusion.

“He consistently reminds and challenges all of us to think about inclusion and accessibility in how we conduct and share our research with others.”

The importance of inclusion is also reflected in both the name and the criteria of the Lieutenant Governor’s Medal for Inclusion, Democracy and Reconciliation. This week it will be presented to UBC Okanagan student Azzah Al Zahra Farras, who just completed her Bachelor of Arts with a joint major in philosophy, political science and economics.

Shortly after arriving at UBCO in 2018, Farras established a campus-wide chapter of Amnesty International and began hosting conferences and events to examine local and international issues. She coordinated weekly sessions where students could discuss international injustices, while creating a safe space for marginalized students to share their stories and discuss opportunities for students to engage in change.

“Through the Amnesty International chapter, we created opportunities for students on campus to share issues about human rights, protection, justice and conflicts that they care about from their own country,” says Farras, explaining the students had engaging conversations about many issues including the farmer’s protest in India, Tibetan rights to self-determination, the Palestinian rights, and democratic rights for people living in Thailand.

“I am surrounded by a very international community at UBCO and it’s something we should all look forward to in universities,” she adds. “I have a lot of friends from different countries that support me and also celebrate my culture and my beliefs and values as I celebrate theirs. That’s what I’m really happy about.”

In September 2021, she joined the UBC Okanagan Library team as a student representative of the UBC’s Inclusion Action Plan and Indigenous Strategic Plan, where she independently developed projects to highlight Arab, Muslim, Asian, Indigenous and Black voices in literature and academia. Farras built multiple book displays at the library and designed digital LibGuide sites that list resources based on each theme, granting students information and access regardless of their location during COVID-19.

Farras recalls the day when a student approached the service desk and tearfully thanked the library staff saying how encouraging it was to see students with hijabs represented at the library and it helped make her feel included.

“For me, this was a full-circle moment,” says Farras. “Although I did feel isolated in my first year, I was able to change that situation for younger hijab-wearing students. I believe these efforts transpired important representation at UBCO. It raises important conversations on institutionalized racism and discrimination against marginalized groups. I am honoured to be a part of that shift.”

UBCO Librarian Christian Isbister says Farras worked tirelessly to engage the campus community and bring awareness to diverse voices in the library collection. Her book displays were always popular and well-received, and her work on the Book Fairies project helped encourage reading of more diverse authors, including Indigenous, Black, Asian and Arab writers.

“Azzah has dedicated herself to the promotion of inclusion on our campus,” says Isbister. “At the library, she demonstrated great leadership in developing initiatives to highlight diverse voices in our collection, and foster a sense of welcome and belonging for students belonging to marginalized communities. It was a pleasure to get to work with Azzah, and her presence in the library will be greatly missed.”

Also, this week, Anna Bernath, who just completed her Bachelor of Science degree with concentrations in biochemistry and molecular biology, was awarded the Pushor Mitchell Gold Medal Leadership Prize.

The $10,000 prize is the largest donor-funded award available to graduating Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science students. The award recognizes a student who has excelled academically and demonstrated leadership while earning their degree.

Bernath joined Dr. Andis Klegeris’ Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology Lab as a volunteer research assistant, and contributed upwards of 250 hours in the facility. She also conducted research studying the role of microglia—immune cells of the brain—in Alzheimer’s disease. When not in the lab or studying, she worked as a teaching assistant, acting as a liaison between faculty and students.

“I have immense gratitude for the faculty, staff and UBCO colleagues who created invaluable opportunities for growth and leadership, and I hope I made a lasting impact on junior students and excited them about research endeavours,” says Bernath.

The Pushor Mitchell LLP Gold Medal Leadership Award has been presented to a student at UBCO since 2009, explains Andrew Brunton, Managing Partner at Pushor Mitchell.

“Pushor Mitchell is very pleased to see another deserving student receive this award,” says Brunton.  “Our firm has been supporting this prestigious award at UBC Okanagan for 13 years now, presented to students based on both academic excellence and community leadership. We applaud this year’s recipient Anna Bernath and wish her luck with her career in neuroscience research.”

Farras and Bernath will be recognized as they cross the stage at Thursday’s convocation while Dr. Shaw will receive his medal Friday morning.

Other University of British Columbia medal (top of class) winners are:

  • UBC Medal in Arts: Abhineeth Adiraju
  • UBC Medal in Education: Anica McIntosh
  • UBC Medal in Engineering: Rachel May
  • UBC Medal in Fine Arts: Amelia Ford
  • UBC Medal in Human Kinetics: Kenedy Olsen
  • UBC Medal in Management: Jo-Elle Craig
  • UBC Medal in Media Studies: Jordan Pike
  • UBC Medal in Nursing: Camryn McCrystal
  • UBC Medal in Science: Megan Greenwood

The post Gold-medal tennis player, human rights activist win UBCO honours appeared first on UBC Okanagan News.

UBC Okanagan’s courtyard will be filled with graduates and their families as convocation ceremonies return to campus this week.

UBC Okanagan’s graduating Class of 2022 will be remembered for two things: its size, the largest group of graduates in the campus’s history, and the fact it will be the first in-person convocation ceremony in more than two years.

On June 9 and 10, UBCO will confer more than 2,400 degrees in six different graduating ceremonies. The last time graduating students crossed the stage in person was in 2019, with both the 2020 and 2021 ceremonies held virtually.

“We are always proud of our students,” says UBCO Principal and Deputy Vice-Chancellor Dr. Lesley Cormack. “But the students graduating this year have completed their studies under circumstances they couldn’t have imagined when they embarked on this journey. Their success during these unusual times proves how hard they have worked and how determined they are.”

Indeed, many of the students receiving their undergraduate degrees this year have spent more than two years learning online and through remote lectures, labs and exams. And it hasn’t been easy.

Ozren Petkovic started his studies in 2018, to work towards his Bachelor of Science in Microbiology. When the pandemic was declared in 2020, Petkovic hunkered down at home, determined to complete his degree. But he made a point of keeping in touch with his friends, organizing virtual chats and regular game nights.

Despite doing much of his education remotely, Petkovic remained involved in campus life and is the recipient of UBCO’s Golden Apple Teaching Award for supporting learning outside the classroom. He has also been a member of the orientation team for the past few years, and has worked with several different departments supporting student learning and engagement on the UBCO campus—including being a supplemental learning leader, peer mentor, chemistry course union tutor and president of the pre-med club.

If he was to advise a new student, Petkovic would tell them to take their education one step at a time—don’t rush through these years—and do some learning away from the classroom.

“Finishing university is a marathon rather than a sprint. There is no need to overexert yourself in your first few years when you have more to go,” he says. “And yes, university is about going to class but it is also what you do outside of class. If you are new at university, find something you are passionate about, join that club and get involved.”

As Petkovic, along with 2,400 fellow students cross the stage—UBCO’s largest graduating class ever—Dr. Cormack notes the next few days will be filled with special moments for this year’s graduates and their families. Convocation ceremonies take place Thursday, June 9 and Friday, June 10, with three ceremonies each day.

“It’s wonderful to be able to gather in person again to celebrate the success of our students,” adds Dr. Cormack. “Once again, our students have shown their resilience and ability to cope and thrive in the face of change. With everything they have accomplished over the course of their studies, I’m incredibly proud of the extraordinary UBC Okanagan Class of 2022. Congratulations to you all.”

The post UBCO celebrates the graduates of 2022 appeared first on UBC Okanagan News.

Wine grapes are particularly sensitive to drastic changes in temperatures. Even minor weather variations can jeopardize flavour and aroma development, making wine production vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Elizabeth Wolkowich photo.

In all wine-producing regions of the world, climate change is disrupting the traditional science of winemaking.

Devastating frosts and periods of intense drought and heat, combined with the danger of wild fires and smoke, have forced wine-producing regions from Bordeaux to Napa Valley to British Columbia to constantly adapt to changing and volatile conditions.

The sensitivity of wine grapes is what makes wine production so vulnerable to the effects of climatic shifts. Even minor variations in temperature can jeopardize certain flavour and aroma development, explains Dr. Jacques-Olivier Pesme—Director of UBC’s Wine Research Centre (WRC).

Dr. Pesme is moderating the Canadian portion of this week’s French Ameri-Can Climate Talks (FACT-B). Established in 2015 by the French Embassies in the United States and Canada, FACT-B is a series of high-level conferences that bring scientists, wine growers, consumers, associations and public authorities together to proactively discuss climate change and how it is affecting the wine industry.

This week, Fact B will welcome both French and local leaders to Kelowna, Vancouver and San Francisco. Dr. Pesme discusses sustainability and how wine producers may consider new practices to adapt to the forecasted climactic shifts to wine production.

How do changes in environmental conditions affect winemaking from grape to glass?

Climate change affects all aspects of our day-to-day life.

Naturally, wine does not escape the rule. The changing environmental conditions can provoke an earlier phenology/flowering which can be good in certain regions.

But not always, and this can have an impact for all aspects of wine production and in particular the harvest period. For instance, in many wine regions climate change will have an impact on higher levels of sugar and alcohol as well as lower levels of acidity in the grapes. This combination is undesirable because it will favor the production of wines that are less sharp, less bright, heavier and highly concentrated—which isn’t what consumers are looking for.

Are specific grape varieties, or wine regions, in danger?

Some wine regions may actually benefit from the forecasted shifts of climate. Typically, northern regions didn’t have the right conditions to growing grapes. For instance, the United Kingdom is interesting in that respect as we have seen the development of a new sparkling wine industry, inspired by Champagne.

However, in some parts of South Australia, around Riverland—the largest Australian winery region—it is the opposite. Heat and droughts are now so intense it raises the question of the sustainability of maintaining the production of wine grapes in some wine regions across the world.

These types of changes present significant challenges to growing grape varieties in many regions around the world. They’re not in danger per se, but as a wine region’s environmental conditions change, formerly successful varietals will no longer thrive. Take for instance, Merlot, which is the main varietal grown in Bordeaux. With climate warming, the Bordeaux region is becoming less suitable for the Merlot grape.

However, these changes could be seen to present opportunities to innovate and has led to the rediscovery and testing of long-forgotten and discarded native grape varieties—a kind of viticultural archaeology. The late ripening, acidity and resilience to climate stress of several of these ancestral varieties could withstand potentially extreme environmental conditions.

How is UBC’s Wine Research Centre (WRC) working with Canadian wine producers to help adapt to climate change?

The WRC’s mission is to support the development of a competitive and sustainable BC wine industry. We see our role is to co-create knowledge with the wine producers—knowledge produced by the B.C. region but also through collaboration with leading institutions around the world such as the Universitie de Bordeaux.

Working together with industry and researchers the work of the WRC is wide-ranging. Our group of researchers assess the effect of climate and specific environmental factors on grape ripening and composition, investigate smoke odour compounds in grapes and wines caused by wildfires, and also explore the impacts of climate change on phenolic compounds.

What could global consumers expect to see as a result—will there be higher prices or a lower quality of wine in response to environmental changes?

If we take the right measures, in a place like BC, climate change could be seen as both a challenge and an opportunity. With great conditions for producing premium wines, BC has an opportunity to invest in the wine industry in ways which are better for both for the environment and for the consumer.

One thing is for sure, climate change in BC is a game-changer, and our Centre is hoping to work alongside industry to be best prepare to adapt to those changes.

The post UBC hosts international event to discuss climate change and the wine industry appeared first on UBC Okanagan News.