Meet the inaugural recipients of the Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellowships for Black and Indigenous Scholars

ork University has announced the four inaugural recipients of its new Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellowships for Black and Indigenous Scholars: Godwin Dzah, Don Davies, De-Lawrence Lamptey and Ruth Murambadoro

York University has announced the four inaugural recipients of its new Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellowships for Black and Indigenous Scholars: Godwin Dzah, Don Davies, De-Lawrence Lamptey and Ruth Murambadoro. 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 time to pursuing new research, while accessing the collegial resources, faculty supervision and mentorship for which York University is well known.

York has a strong commitment to the pursuit of justice. Integral to this pursuit is an understanding of knowledge as multifaceted and plurally constituted. For the sake of knowledge, diversity is fundamental. While the Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellowship Program provides new opportunities for Black and Indigenous scholars, most importantly it seeks to attract superb scholars who will help to push the boundaries of knowledge in necessary ways.

Professor Lisa Philipps, York’s provost and vice-president academic, believes that “building new paths and welcoming spaces for diverse voices to thrive in the academy and beyond is vitally important.” She continues by saying that the Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellowships for Black and Indigenous Scholars are “a reflection of the inclusive higher education environment that we are committed to creating at York.”

Professor Thomas Loebel, associate vice-president graduate and dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies, adds: “As a program, these fellowships manifest a challenge that York has put to itself, which is to work with emerging scholars in individualized ways and to understand their needs as these emerge through the research process. Our goal is to help connect postdoctoral scholars to the incredible community that is York University, so that with this program we can create something truly career developmental.”

Godwin Dzah (Osgoode Hall Law School)

Godwin Dzah

Dzah comes to York having recently completed a doctorate in law at the University of British Columbia. His research proposes a fundamental re-evaluation of how international environmental law deploys concepts of crisis in ways that limit the potential for more sustained and complete forms of transformation. “The historical significance of this award is an ever-present reminder of the unfinished task of addressing systemic challenges,” says Dzah. “I am looking forward to advancing this cause by expanding my teaching and research interests, which sit at the intersection of international law and the environment, by demonstrating the common interests and connections between the peoples of the Global South and their counterparts – the Indigenous Peoples in the Global North – in the context of the law and politics of international environmental law. I am grateful to the leadership at Osgoode Hall Law School; my supervisor, Professor Obiora Okafor; and especially to York University for this exciting opportunity.”

Don Davies (Faculty of Science)

Don Davies
Don Davies

Davies is currently a postdoctoral researcher at St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg. His research investigates a novel approach to the causes of Alzheimer’s disease, arguing that processes of forgetting are naturally amplified in major neurodegenerative diseases. “The Canadian Indigenous population has an increased prevalence and earlier onset of Alzheimer’s disease than the Canadian non-Indigenous population,” he says. “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 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.”

De-Lawrence Lamptey (Faculty of Health)

DeLawrence Lamptey
DeLawrence Lamptey

Lamptey is currently a postdoctoral Fellow at Mount Saint Vincent University in Nova Scotia. His research introduces an intersectional approach to the study of the material, social, and financial barriers Black children and their families are faced with in Canada. “York’s commitment to support Black and Indigenous scholars is very remarkable,” says Lamptey,” and I am proud to be an inaugural recipient. This fellowship is a recognition of the unique and complex challenges that Black and Indigenous scholars often confront as we pursue our career ambitions. My research will be exploring the intersectionality of race/ethnicity and disability among children and youth in Canada. I look forward to making a positive difference in society through this fellowship.”

Ruth Murambadoro (Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies)

Ruth Murambadoro
Ruth Murambadoro

Murambadoro is currently a lecturer at the Wits Schools of Governance at the University of Witswatersrand in South Africa. Her research explores how women who have experienced state-sanctioned violence in Zimbabwe deploy narratives to advance the goal of gender justice. “My project, ‘Gender justice and narratives of violence by women in post-colonial Zimbabwe,’ involves working with women’s social movements and the diaspora to produce new insights on how networks of women provide avenues for healing, justice and peace, outside the auspices of the state,” she says. “This work focuses on women’s encounters of state-sanctioned violence and living under dictatorial rule for the past 40-plus years. I am delighted to join the Centre for Feminist Research at York University to work closely with Dr. Alison Crosby as a Fellow under the Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellowships for Black and Indigenous Scholars.”

How artificial intelligence and big data are fighting COVID-19 in Africa

Featured illustration of the novel coronavirus

A collaboration led by York University researchers in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS), the Faculty of Science and the Faculty of Health is using artificial intelligence (AI) to define public health policies and interventions to contain and manage the spread of COVID-19 in Africa.

With a scarcity of COVID-19 vaccines in many African countries and the rise of new variants of concern, the Africa-Canada Artificial Intelligence and Data Innovation Consortium (ACADIC) is playing a pivotal role in providing locally nuanced analysis of data to inform public health decision making, as well as vaccination rollout strategies.

A photo with a black backgroud that features two vials of COVID-19 vaccine and a syringe
The Africa-Canada Artificial Intelligence and Data Innovation Consortium is playing a pivotal role in providing locally nuanced analysis of data to inform public health decision making, as well as vaccination rollout strategies

The interdisciplinary consortium is directed by York University Professor Jude Kong from the Faculty of Science. Also serving on the executive committee from York University are: Distinguished Research Professor Jianhong Wu, director of the Laboratory for Industrial and Applied Mathematics in the Faculty of Science and ACADIC co-president; Professor James Orbinski, director of the Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research and ACADIC executive committee member; and LA&PS Associate Professor Ali Asgary, associate director of the Advanced Disaster, Emergency and Rapid Response Simulation and ACADIC executive committee member. ACADIC brings together an interdisciplinary team of data scientists, epidemiologists, physicists, mathematicians and software engineers, as well as AI, disaster and emergency management, clinical public health, citizen science and community engagement experts. It is leveraging big data and AI-based techniques in nine African countries, with experts from 11 different countries – Botswana, Cameroon, Canada, Eswatini, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

These techniques help identify and analyze emergent COVID-19 hotspots and outbreaks, and develop strategic, highly targeted and staged delivery plans for vaccines to priority areas. The team is also using ongoing monitoring to enhance COVID-19 testing to ensure public health interventions are equitable and effective.

Half of the world’s doses of vaccines have been secured by a handful of economically developed countries, but most African nations have received very few and continue to prepare and test their vaccination campaigns for when sufficient vaccine doses are made available.

A defining challenge is to develop local strategies that will reduce the number of COVID-19 cases, even as variants of concern circulate amidst a dearth of vaccines.

Some areas of focus for York researchers involved in ACADIC include:

  • making big data and AI actionable for real-time delivery of reliable and comprehensive information to predict the spread and impact of an epidermic, and to guide governmental policies and best practice in an epidemic;
  • the role of big data and AI in understanding and intervening in pandemics;
  • big data, AI and COVID-19 in Africa;
  • the determinants of the low COVID-19 transmission and mortality rates in Africa;
  • vaccine acceptance/hesitancy across Africa;
  • incorporating AI and mathematical modelling for smart vaccination rollout in vaccine-limited regions;
  • clinical public health practices in epidemics and pandemics;
  • intervention systems in disasters and health emergencies;
  • disease dynamics and modelling;
  • transferring lessons learned from mass vaccination simulation to Africa;
  • disease modelling and simulation in refugee camps in Africa; and
  • use of AI to model economic impacts of COVID-19 in Africa.

York University hosts 2021 virtual STEM Entrepreneurship Experience

Twenty high-school students from across Canada gathered virtually last week for the 2021 Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Entrepreneurship Experience hosted by York University’s Lassonde School of Engineering. Delivered by the Bergeron Entrepreneurs in Science and Technology (BEST) program, the four-day intensive experience was designed to help engineering and science students develop business skills and entrepreneurial mindsets to help them understand what it takes to launch a startup enterprise.

STEM Entrepreneurial Experience
Twenty high-school students from across Canada participated in the 2021 virtual STEM Entrepreneurship Experience hosted by the Lassonde School of Engineering

Held via web conference from Aug. 17 to 20, the experience allowed participating students to meet online with fellow entrepreneurs, network with former BEST graduates and experience the process of transforming their science projects into viable businesses, supported by BEST faculty and resources at York and the Lassonde.

“It has been so rewarding to see our innovators ramp up their aspirations to use their innovations to address important issues,” says Associate Professor Andrew Maxwell, director of the BEST program and Bergeron Chair in Technology Entrepreneurship at Lassonde. “The experience helps young innovators gain new skills as they develop their ideas through a structured learning journey, benefiting from experienced mentors and access to entrepreneurial tools that help them grow as entrepreneurs while increasing the likelihood of establishing a successful venture.”

Fifteen of the 20 participants were awarded a scholarship to the program through the first virtual Canada-Wide Science Fair (CWSF) held May 17 to 21. Winners were selected based on the their entrepreneurial spirit and their CWSF project’s potential for commercial viability. The remaining five participants were incoming and current York students who were selected by the University.

“The BEST program at Lassonde School of Engineering is one of the most innovative and practical STEM initiatives in the country,” says Reni Barlow, executive director at Youth Science Canada, which puts on the annual CWSF. “Exploring STEM through projects is one thing – bringing them to market is quite another. Our country desperately needs this type of program to help youth develop the competencies and confidence they need to determine the commercial viability of their projects and bring them to market effectively and efficiently. STEM exploration and innovation is at its best when it leads to a tangible impact on the lives of people.”

About the STEM Entrepreneurship Experience

Youth Science Canada and Bergeron Entrepreneurs in Science and Technology in conjunction with Lassonde’s K2I Academy, offer Canada’s top young innovators an opportunity to develop their science projects into a viable business. The experiential learning approach helps participants learn both the creative problem-solving skills they will need for future career success and how they might personally contribute to generating Canada’s next high-growth technology ventures. For more information, visit bestlassonde.ca.

About Youth Science Canada

Youth Science Canada (YSC) fuels the curiosity of Canadian youth through STEM projects. A registered charity incorporated in 1962, YSC delivers on its mission through national programs such as mySTEMspace, the National STEM Fair Network, Canada-Wide Science Fair, STEM Expo, Team Canada representation at international youth STEM competitions and events, and Smarter Science professional development for teachers. Through these programs, YSC provides direct support to the more than 500,000 students who do STEM projects in any given year. For more information, visit youthscience.ca.

New course offers interactive introduction to risk management and insurance

laptop students work lounge

A new course beginning this fall at York University will help prepare the next generation of risk management and insurance (RMI) professionals.

Two students working on a laptop in Kaneff Lounge
The course is designed to engage, inspire and spark interest in RMI for those enrolled in economics and math, as well as students studying law, health, business and humanities

The Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS) and the Faculty of Science – brought together by the Risk and Insurance Studies Centre (RISC) and supported by funding from the Spencer Educational Foundation and the Academic Innovation Fund – will offer ECON/MATH 1280 Principles of Risk Management and Insurance, a 1000-level, cross-listed course.

The new joint offering, led by RISC with the support of the Department of Economics and the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, addresses widespread advancements in the field that have changed the ways companies assess potential risks and respond to customer needs. The course is designed to engage, inspire and spark interest in RMI for those enrolled in economics and math, as well as students studying law, health, business and humanities.

Students will benefit from a comprehensive, interactive introduction to RMI through its curriculum, networking opportunities, professional development workshops and hands-on components using virtual reality technology.

“This course is an excellent way for students to assess their interests in the financial and insurance sectors,” said Bakeeshan Kathirchelvan, teaching assistant and manager at Aviva Canada. “Many aspiring insurance professionals tend to move into the workforce without having a view of the bigger picture. For some, this comes naturally. For others, it needs to be fostered over a period of time. The course helps to build that understanding at an early stage in one’s education.”

Undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in the course can expect traditional lectures from experienced instructors and biweekly presentations from industry leaders. Each week, critical thinking and problem-solving capacities will be developed in relation to relevant topics – from financial, operational and environmental risks to insurance mechanisms, corporate infrastructures and a wide range of emerging industry trends.

“As an experienced insurance and financial services executive, I am excited to be part of this program,” said Barbara Bellissimo, course director and immediate past senior vice-president of Desjardins. “My personal goal is to inspire and energize the future leaders of this industry by demonstrating the incredible opportunities available to them. I can’t wait to begin.”

For more information on this course, contact Gina Pagiamtzis, consultant of academic programs, at gpagiamt@yorku.ca.

CFI awards more than $1.5M in research infrastructure funding to York University

research graphic

Researchers at York University will receive more than $1.5 million in funding from the Government of Canada as part of a $77-million investment to support 332 research infrastructure projects at 50 universities across the country.

Announced on Aug. 11 by Innovation, Science and Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne, the contribution comes from the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s (CFI) John R. Evans Leaders Fund (JELF) program, a tool designed to invest in state-of-the-art labs and equipment researchers need to turn their visions into reality.

At York, Professors Ali Asgary, Marcus Brubaker, Solomon Boakye-Yiadom, Liam Butler, Taylor Cleworth, Claire David, Shital Desai, Matthew Keough, Christine Le, Ozzy Mermut, Arturo Orellana, Enamul Prince, Jennifer Pybus and Emilie Roudier will receive funding totalling more than $1.5 million for their infrastructure projects.

“York is delighted to have 14 academics receive the John R. Evans Leaders Fund,” said Vice-President Research and Innovation Amir Asif. “This vital funding helps ensure we attract and retain the very best researchers who are undertaking truly innovative work. From addiction vulnerability to critical data-literacy research, from age-related impairments to advancements in particle physics – these projects will make positive change for our students, our campuses and our local and global communities.”

The funded projects at York are:

Ali Asgary, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies
DEXR LAB
CFI JELF award: $100,000

Ali Asgary
Ali Asgary

Asgary and DEXR Lab will conduct research and develop extended reality (XR) applications for public safety, public health and disaster-and-emergency management training, education and operations. DEXR Lab will be equipped with the latest XR hardware and software for developing XR applications for areas including structural firefighting, wildfire management, hospital-emergency-and-intensive-care units, first-responders’ collision simulation, virus transmission and spread, train derailment and volcano eruption, among others. DEXR Lab will be supported by York’s Advanced Disaster, Emergency and Rapid Response Simulation (ADERSIM) and will enhance Canada’s share in the XR research and market – putting the country at the forefront of XR applications in the aforementioned areas.

Marcus Brubaker, Lassonde School of Engineering
Generative Modeling for CryoEM, Hyperspectral Imagery and Video
CFI JELF award: $140,000

Marcus Brubaker
Marcus Brubaker

Brubaker will develop novel artificial intelligence (AI) methods focused on applications where labelled-training data is limited or unavailable. The goal of this research is to enable learning from minimal amounts of data – dramatically reducing the amount of labelled data required and democratizing access to the technology. The methods developed could allow small companies, not-for-profit organizations or even individuals to effectively apply state-of-the-art AI methods, rather than only being available to large companies (which have either vast amounts of data already available or the resources to collect it). To reach this goal, Brubaker’s research will explore probabilistic-generative methods with specific applications in hyperspectral image analysis, video analysis and the processing of electron cryomicroscopy data.

Solomon Boakye-Yiadom, Lassonde School of Engineering
Machine Learning and Additive Manufacturing for the Development of Next Generation Materials
CFI JELF award: $140,000

Solomon Boakye-Yiadom
Solomon Boakye-Yiadom

For thousands of years since the advent of bronze, alloy development has involved diluting a single base element with small amounts of other elements. This approach is slow, expensive and requires a lot of effort with minimal increments in required material properties. A new idea where alloys have no single dominant element is gaining traction. These multi-principal element alloys, specifically, High Entropy Alloys (HEA), possess superior properties. Research lead by Boakye-Yiadom, along with Professors Marina Freire-Gormaly and Ruth Urner, will guide in the accelerated discovery and development of advanced HEAs and enhance our ability to detect and minimize defects during metal additive manufacturing. This includes innovative discoveries for advanced materials and process monitoring during manufacturing.

Liam Butler, Lassonde School of Engineering
The Climate-Data-Driven Design (CD3) Facility for Built Infrastructure
CFI JELF award: $140,000

Liam Butler
Liam Butler

The influence of climatic variations on Canada’s vast infrastructure stock, valued at more than $850 billion, is largely ignored in infrastructure design. Variations in temperature, humidity and precipitation, along with increased frequency of extreme events will lead to cyclic factors that influence the behaviour of infrastructure materials. Mitigating these adverse effects starts with being able to reliably measure and to better understand the impact that climate variability has on infrastructure. Butler, along with Professors Usman Khan and Matthew Perras, will establish a unique field laboratory, where robust sensing, advanced AI-based data analytics and innovative infrastructure materials will be developed and validated. The vision is for the CD3 Facility to become Canada’s leading research laboratory in climate-data-driven infrastructure design – providing immediate impact to regulators, asset managers and suppliers, and long-term benefits for all Canadians.

Taylor Cleworth, Faculty of Health
Neuro-mechanics of Balance Deficits During Dynamic Stance
CFI JELF award: $125,000

Taylor Cleworth
Taylor Cleworth

Falls and resulting injuries are a major health and economic concern for older adults, care providers and Canadians at large. Reducing fall rates can be challenging due to the multi-faceted nature of controlling upright stance. Cleworth will study the sensorimotor mechanisms underlying balance control and investigate possible avenues of treatment for balance deficits. The new infrastructure will provide the foundation for an innovative research program aimed at understanding the complex interaction of biomechanical and cortical mechanisms that contribute to human balance and mobility deficits, and to assess and improve the efficacy of balance-related interventions and fall prevention programs.

Claire David, Faculty of Science
Next generation of neutrino detectors for the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE)
CFI JELF award: $125,000

Claire David
Claire David

David, along with Professor Deborah Harris, will build a versatile cryogenic test bench to develop a prototype for the next generation of neutrino detectors. This modular system will have the ability to test two modules of the current state-of-the-art technology in the same cryostat – allowing direct comparison of different alternative readout systems. The modules will be paired with revolutionary electronics for light detection that other Canadian universities are developing. Ultimately, the optimized prototype will serve DUNE, the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment, an international effort hosted by Fermilab in the United States. This will enable David and Harris, also research scientists at Fermilab and part of the DUNE collaboration, to be at the forefront of detector development in experimental particle physics.

Shital Desai, School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design
Social and Technological Systems lab
CFI JELF award: $50,000

Shital Desai

Efforts to develop technologies for older adults is challenged by changing physical and cognitive abilities of older adults. Assistive technologies should adapt to the needs of older adults without them having to adjust settings, change versions or use hacks. Desai’s research will investigate a generation of prompts in emerging technologies for people with dementia. Machine-learning techniques will be employed to learn about the user and make inferences regarding their state while using the technology. The research outcomes will be used to develop adaptive-assistive technology and drive pivotal advancements in the area of interactive design and adaptive technology for older adults. It will lead to development of deployable technologies in non-clinical settings, driving independence and social inclusion in older adults – advancing Canada’s position as a leader in interactive-adaptive technology.

Matthew Keough, Faculty of Health
Center for Research on Addiction Vulnerability in Early Life
CFI JELF award: $50,000

Matthew Keough
Matthew Keough

Millions of Canadians struggle with co-occurring alcohol use and emotional disorders (e.g. anxiety) but very little is known about why alcohol use and emotional disorders co-occur so frequently, resulting in a lack of understanding of how to treat them effectively. Keough’s innovative experimental research aims to uncover the biopsychosocial risk factors for alcohol use-emotional disorder comorbidity in emerging adulthood (ages 18 to 25). Keough will acquire state-of-the-art equipment for his Center for Research on Addiction Vulnerability in Early Life (CRAVE Lab). Using a simulated-bar-lab environment and innovative technology, his research will have the potential to improve treatments for alcohol use-emotional disorder comorbidity and improve the lives of many Canadians and their families.

Christine Le, Faculty of Science
Infrastructure for the Catalytic Synthesis of Medicinally Relevant Organofluorine Compounds
CFI JELF award: $160,000

Christine Le
Christine Le

Le’s research seeks to develop more efficient, cost-effective and greener methods for the synthesis of medicinally relevant fluorine-containing compounds. On average it takes 10 years for a newly discovered drug to reach the market due to the complexity of clinical trials, production and approval by government agencies. The synthetic methods targeted in this research will improve the efficiency of drug discovery and synthesis, allowing critical medicines to reach the market sooner. The research objectives and methodologies align with Canada’s commitment to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, which include the efficient use of natural resources, the reduction of chemical waste and the development of essential medicines.

Ozzy Mermut, Faculty of Science
Biophotonics Diagnosis, Treatment and Dosimetry in Age-related Disorders and Human Diseases
CFI JELF award: $160,000

Ozzy Mermut
Ozzy Mermut

Personalized medicine will improve patient outcomes and limit health-care costs facing aging populations and consequent diseases. Globally, one billion people face vision impairment, with age-related macular degeneration affecting 245 million. Mermut’s research aims to identify tissue-specific biomarkers for early-stage diagnosis of vision disorders and other diseases, advancing the understanding of molecular pathogenesis. Photonic techniques will then be developed for targeted, minimally invasive phototherapy. A tissue model will be engineered, recapitulating natural, diseased tissues to study laser treatments and develop dosimetry that provides molecular information on initiated-cell responses. The ultimate goal is complete eradication of pathogenic cells that lead to debilitating diseases through absolute, precise laser therapy.

Arturo Orellana, Faculty of Science
Organic Synthesis for Development of Therapeutics
CFI JELF award: $107,000

Arturo Orellana

Orellana’s research program will focus on developing enabling technologies for new therapeutics to address the healthcare needs of a large portion of the Canadian population. This program brings together multidisciplinary teams of experts from industry and academia to target difficult challenges in health care including diseases such as Alzheimer’s, ovarian cancer and diabetes. The fundamental-science focus on design, synthesis and characterization of drug-like organic molecules will provide critical know-how to deliver cures for diseases affecting large patient populations, while establishing Canada as a leader in health and science research.

Enamul Prince, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies
Establishment of the Intelligent Visualization Laboratory
CFI JELF award: $114,726

Enamul Prince
Enamul Prince

Prince will establish the Intelligent Visualization Lab with an aim to make analytics more accessible by changing the way we interact with data. A diverse range of people with different levels of skills and backgrounds will perform analysis on large data-sets faster and more effectively through natural and fluid interactions. The lab will significantly improve the ability of professionals – ranging from data scientists to business analysts, to health-care analysts – to analyze data and make complex decisions, with the potential to unlock new markets and direct financial benefits for Canadian industry. The lab will also allow students to train for the high-demand fields of AI, data science and analytics.

Jennifer Pybus, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies
The Centre for Public AI (CPAI)
CFI JELF award: $69,385

Jennifer Pybus
Jennifer Pybus

Pybus will establish the Centre for Public AI (CPAI) – Canada’s preeminent centre for the interdisciplinary application of a more grounded, civically driven explainable approach to AI. It aims to foster an understanding of the diverse infrastructures that gather personal data on applications and platforms through the development of tools and participatory workshops. The research conducted will fill an important gap by contributing to a growing field of critical data-literacy studies to examine algorithmic practices impacting the lives of Canadians. New tools will facilitate academic and policy interventions related to algorithmic accountability from the perspective of non-expert users who experience the outcomes of machine-learning technologies.

Emilie Roudier, Faculty of Health
Microvascular Epigenetics of Physical Activity
CFI JELF award: $80,000 

Emilie Roudier
Emilie Roudier

Roudier’s research aims to address how physical activity induces beneficial changes in the vascular epigenome. She will establish a specialized lab to study the interaction between physical activity and the vascular epigenome. Canadians are at high risk of vascular diseases due to unhealthy behaviours. Most researchers focus on finding and averting adverse epigenetic marks correlated with vascular diseases. This lab will take a counterpoint approach – aiming to define what a healthy vascular epigenome is. The discovery of beneficial epigenetic marks generated by this research will support the discovery of new biomarkers to assess environmental risk to vascular health and test the efficiency of lifestyle or preventive interventions aiming to boost vascular health.

About the Canada Foundation for Innovation

For more than 20 years, the CFI has been giving researchers the tools they need to think big and innovate. Fostering a robust innovation system in Canada translates into jobs and new enterprises, better health, cleaner environments and, ultimately, vibrant communities. By investing in state-of-the-art facilities and equipment in Canada’s universities, colleges, research hospitals and non-profit research institutions, the CFI also helps to attract and retain the world’s top talent, to train the next generation of researchers and to support world-class research that strengthens the economy and improves the quality of life for all Canadians.

Next Scholars’ Hub @ Home event looks at immunity and COVID-19

Visualization of the COVID-19 virus. Photo by Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash

Those who enjoy hearing about the latest thought-provoking research will not want to miss the next Scholars’ Hub @ Home speaker series event that will look at COVID-19 immunity generation in infected and vaccinated hosts.

Brought to you by York University’s Office of Alumni Engagement, the Scholars’ Hub @ Home speaker series features discussions on a broad range of topics, with engaging lectures from some of York’s best minds. Events are held in partnership with Vaughan Public Libraries, Markham Public Library and Aurora Public Library.

Jane Heffernan
Jane Heffernan

Students, alumni and all members of the community are invited to attend. All sessions take place at noon via Zoom.

For the Aug. 18 edition of Scholars’ Hub @ Home, Professor Jane Heffernan from York’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics, Faculty of Science, will host a discussion titled “Immunity and COVID-19.”

Attendees will learn how immunity against SARS-CoV-2, the pathogen causing COVID-19, can be gained from infection and vaccination. When a sufficient level of immunity is gained in a population, the population can obtain herd immunity and can be protected from disease spread. This talk will provide an overview of some modelling studies that quantify the outcomes of immunity generation in infected and vaccinated hosts, and asks whether the threshold of herd immunity can actually be achieved.

To register for the event, visit bit.ly/3xpKEsj.

Conference explores how Hakka perspectives contribute to global change

Photo by Porapak Apichodilok from Pexels
Featured image for York International posts

A conference exploring the ways in which Hakka perspectives and experiences can contribute to addressing world challenges was the topic of the sixth Toronto Hakka Conference, hosted virtually by York University from July 10 and 11.

Co-organized by the Hakka community in Toronto and the York Centre for Asian Research (YCAR), the “One Heart, One World: Healing the Planet Earth” conference brought together a variety of speakers committed to global learning. The conference explored how Hakka perspectives and experiences can contribute to addressing challenges the world is facing today: environmental degradation, racism, social inequality and uneven development.

Students gather online through Zoom
The “One Heart, One World: Healing the Planet Earth” conference brought together a variety of speakers committed to global learning

Driving the conference presentations and panels was the shared understanding that both universities and communities have a collective responsibility to train students, and the young generation more generally, on what it means to live in the challenging world today.

“We were very pleased to get involved and support this community initiative where education is valued and prioritized,” said Abidin Kusno, YCAR director and professor in York’s Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change (EUC). “We have also learned from Toronto Hakka Community how a conference can be a venue for knowledge mobilization as well as keeping a community together.”

Opened by York University President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda L. Lenton, Vivienne Poy, Joe Li (regional councillor, City of Markham) and Keith Lowe (co-founder of the Toronto Hakka Conference), the conference received congratulatory remarks from York University EUC Dean Alice Hovorka, Associate Dean Lily Cho from York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS) and York Faculty of Science Dean Rui Wang. Three York faculty members – Kusno, Professor Janet Landa (LA&PS), and Professor Cary Wu (LA&PS) – were also involved in the conference as presenters or responders.

Sponsored by LA&PS, the Office of the Vice-President Research & Innovation (VPRI) and YCAR, as well as Hakka institutions and community organizations in Toronto, New York and other cities in the U.S. and the world, the conference lineup included community leaders, educators, entrepreneurs, inventors, professors, scientists, scholars and a high-school student.

The well-attended two-day conference was organized around Hakka approaches to five major topics: the future of science; eco-forms, settlement and sustainable development; technology, business network and social media; genealogy and the future of family; and global education.

Proceedings included three keynote speakers: Joseph Tsang Mang Kin, author, poet and former minister of the Republic of Mauritius, who offered a perspective of why Hakka folk worldwide should take the lead in dealing with the challenging time; Herbert Ho Ping Kong (professor emeritus, University of Toronto), the G. Raymond Chang Distinguished Speaker, discussed the role of medicine healing in the time of change; and Siu Leung Lee, president of the Zheng He society of the Americas, revealed the significant contribution of Chinese circumnavigation in the 15th century for the modern mapping of the world, and what this means to our perspective of the world.

The conference organizers also paid tribute to Young Kwok “Corky” Lee, an activist, community organizer, photographer and journalist; and Teng Teng Chin Kleiner, a broadcaster and advocate of sustainable housing, both who passed way recently.

It concluded with a discussion on how the Hakka (being the most diasporic of Chinese communities) and their cross-cultural experiences can serve educators as a framework for thinking about global education, and how this might in turn contribute to the reorganization of knowledge at the level of the university.

For information about York University’s support for Hakka research initiatives, visit ycar.apps01.yorku.ca/hakka-scholars-network.

York scholars receive Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships

Life Sciences Building FEATURED

York University Postdoctoral Fellows Mohammad Naderi and Vasily Panferov have been named among this year’s recipients of the prestigious Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship.

Awarded by the Government of Canada, the Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship is valued at $70,000 per year for two years, supporting postdoctoral researchers who will positively contribute to Canada’s social, economic and research-based growth. Following a highly competitive selection process, this esteemed award allows researchers the privilege of conducting ambitious work, while focusing entirely on advancing their respective fields.

Mohammad Naderi
Mohammad Naderi

Mohammad Naderi, biology

Naderi’s project investigates the impact of early-life exposure to environmental chemicals in the development of autism spectrum disorders. Identifying a dramatic increase in incidents of autism in Canada (from one in 94 children in 2008-10 to one in 66 children in 2018), Naderi’s research focuses on one of its possible causes, the chemical compound bisphenol, widely used in the production of plastic and packaging materials.

Titled “Understanding the role of environmental contaminants in the development of autism using the zebrafish model,” Naderi’s study focuses on uncovering the mechanisms through which bisphenol may contribute to the pathogenesis of autism. Recognizing the high level of genetic and physiologic similarities between humans and zebrafish, Naderi’s work uses zebrafish as a means of modelling relevant autistic behavioural characteristics.

“This project can be a crucial step towards identifying the role of environmental contaminants in the etiology of this brain disorder,” says Naderi, thus offering both governments and private institutions a means of redefining regulations while searching for safer alternatives.

Vasily Panferov, chemistry

Vasily Panferov
Vasily Panferov

Panferov’s study proposes an innovative technology for the diagnosis of sepsis, one of the major causes of death in hospitals worldwide. Combining a test strip (similar to those used in home pregnancy tests) with a smartphone, Panferov’s research focuses on developing an inexpensive diagnostic tool that can be widely accessed, thus expanding the opportunities for prevention of this life-threatening condition across the globe.

Titled “Technology for Rapidly Diagnosing Sepsis at the Bedside,” Panferov’s device monitors the blood levels of several inflammatory biomarkers capable of confirming a diagnosis of sepsis even before the onset of symptoms. In the form of a 10-minute test to be performed by nurses at the bedside, this technology would eliminate the current need for expensive laboratory equipment and time-consuming practices.

Privileging “early-stage diagnosis and long-term prognosis,” says Panferov, this reliable yet cost-effective tool will inevitably “benefit patients’ health worldwide.”

Next-generation sequencing uncovers what’s stressing bumblebees

Yellow-banded bumblebee (image: Victoria MacPhail, FES, York University)
Yellow-banded bumblebee (image: Victoria MacPhail, FES, York University)

What’s stressing out bumblebees? To find out, York University scientists used next-generation sequencing to look deep inside bumblebees for evidence of pesticide exposure, including neonicotinoids, as well as pathogens, and found both.

Using a conservation genomic approach – an emerging field of study that could radically change the way bee health is assessed – the researchers studied Bombus terricola or the yellow-banded bumblebee, a native to North America, in agricultural and non-agricultural areas. This new technique allows scientists to probe for invisible stressors affecting bees.

Like many pollinators, the yellow-banded bumblebee has experienced major declines in the last couple decades, which threatens food security and the stability of natural ecosystems.

“Next-generation sequencing is a totally new way to think about why bees are declining, which could revolutionize conservation biology. We’re looking directly at bee tissues to try and get clues to the stressors that are affecting this bee. I think this is a gamechanger for sure. With a single study, we are able to implicate a couple of really obvious things we’ve talked about for years – pathogens and pesticides – in the case of Bombus terricola,” says Faculty of Science Professor Amro Zayed, director of the Centre for Bee Ecology Evolution and Conservation (BEEc) at York and corresponding author of the study.

In addition to sequencing the RNA of 30 yellow-banded worker bees, the researchers also used the sequence data to directly search for pathogens infecting the bumblebees. The team found five pathogens in the abdomens of worker bees, three of which are common in managed honey bee and bumblebee colonies. This supports the theory that spill over of pathogens from commercial operations can affect the health of wild bees.

What surprised the researchers, including former York biology grad student Nadia Tsvetkov and Associate Professor Sheila Colla of the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change, is how well the technology worked.

“Bumblebee diseases are a key threat and this technology can help us detect new diseases and stressors quickly so we don’t lose species the way we did the rusty-patched bumblebee, where the problem was only detected when it was too late to do anything about it in Canada,” says Colla. “The rusty-patched bumblebee hasn’t been spotted in Canada since 2009.”

Bumblebees are particularly important pollinators, even better than honey bees for some plants, because their ability to “buzz” pollinate (vibrate the plants to release pollen) and tolerate cooler temperatures, which makes them critical pollinators for certain plants and regions.

Expanding the scope of conservation genomic studies will help to better understand how multiple stressors influence the health of other bumblebee populations.

“We think this is the way forward in terms of managing and conserving bumblebees,” says Zayed.

The paper, Conservation genomics reveals pesticide and pathogen exposure in the declining bumble bee Bombus terricola, was published recently in the journal Molecular Ecology.

Will the Earth be swallowed by a black hole? Prof. Paul Delaney answers some of the public’s most interesting astronomical questions

Paul Delaney

Paul Delaney
Paul Delaney

As York University physics and astronomy Professor Paul Delaney gets ready to board his spaceship and fly off (retire), he is leaving behind a few answers to some of the public’s most common astronomical questions over the years.

Delaney is the inaugural Allan I. Carswell Chair for the Public Understanding of Astronomy in the Faculty of Science and has been at York since September 1986. He has been the public face of astronomy for York for many years teaching undergraduate and graduate students, but also thousands of elementary students and the community through science outreach events and in the observatory.

In addition to answers to popular questions, the public will have the opportunity to ask the venerable astronomer their questions during his YouTube retirement party (details below).

Q. Will Earth be swallowed by a black hole?

Absolutely not.  While a black hole does have an immense gravitational field, they are only “dangerous” if you get very close to them.  For example, if our own sun was to (miraculously) transform into a black hole of the same mass, our planet would not discern any change in the gravitational force acting on it and continue in the same orbit. It would get very dark of course and very cold, but the black hole’s gravity at our distance from it would not be a concern.

Q. Is there life on other planets?

We really do not know the answer to this question.  Astronomers are searching for this answer in a number of ways, but at present, we can only say that life exists on Earth. My opinion is that life is common, and that we will find evidence of life on other planets in the relatively near future. There is an enormous amount of “real estate” (exoplanets) in our own Milky Way galaxy and based on our understanding of the way life developed in our solar system, I would expect similar conditions to have existed on other planets too.

Q. Will the sun become a supernova? 

No, our sun will end up as a red giant followed by a white dwarf. The death of our sun, about five to six-billion years from now, will be a relatively calm affair compared to the destructive demise of star that goes supernova. It is a question of mass that determines the way a star completes its life cycle. Our sun is too low in mass to allow the supernova process to occur.

Q. Do you want to go into space?

Absolutely but unfortunately, I am now too old to do so. I have always wanted the opportunity to see Earth from space, to experience weightlessness and to observe the stars from a vantage point other than the ground. With humanity on the cusp of space tourism, I expect my grandchildren will have the opportunity to “weekend” or “camp” in Earth orbit or even go to the Moon for a holiday. Sadly, I was born too early in the Space Age.

Q. Why does the moon look bigger when it’s close to the horizon?

The moon fascinates people. The moon illusion, the idea that the moon is actually bigger when viewed near the horizon is a common misconception. The apparent angular size of the moon does not change during the night. It appears larger at moonrise or moonset simply because the observer sees the moon proximate to familiar objects like trees, houses, etc., and your mind interprets the moon to be “bigger.” When the moon is higher in the sky, there are no familiar reference points, just the open, vastness of space and again, your mind interprets the moon to be “smaller.”

Q. When is it a good time to observe?

Anytime! The stars are there waiting for anyone to enjoy, with or without a telescope.

YouTube retirement party

Join the Allan I. Carswell Observatory’s online YouTube retirement party, An Astronomy 4D Event: The Director Delaney Disengagement Derby, on Wednesday, June 30 at 7:30 p.m. where observatory staff and faculty will answer questions, discuss astronomy, have observations and tell stories. Comments, stories and questions are welcome in advance at eahyde@yorku.ca.

Navigate your way there by going to: https://www.youtube.com/user/YorkUObservatory/live.

Poster advertising the Director Delaney Disengagement Derby