Researchers close knowledge gap on the ‘plasticity’ of brain cell connections

Above: From left, the research team members, Ekaterina Smirnova, Georg Zoidl, Christiane Zoidl, Logan Donaldson, Ryan Siu, and Cherie Brown
Above: From left, the research team members, Ekaterina Smirnova, Georg Zoidl, Christiane Zoidl, Logan Donaldson, Ryan Siu, and Cherie Brown

Graduate students from the labs of Professors Georg Zoidl, Canada Research Chair Tier I in Biology & Psychology, and Logan Donaldson in the Faculty of Science have made important new gains in understanding how brain cells communicate with each other through specialized contact sites called electrical synapses.

At an electrical synapse, two brain cells are linked together by a “gap junction”, which contains channels that conduct nerve impulses. Researchers already know that synapses can adapt to become stronger or weaker – called “plasticity”, which is important for memory and learning – and that there are certain proteins that help with this. For instance, previous research has already shown that a protein called connexin36 (Cx36) interacts with an enzyme called calcium/calmodulin-dependent kinase II (CaMKII) to initiate plasticity. Until now, however, the details of this interaction have remained unclear.

Above: From left, the research team members, Ekaterina Smirnova, Georg Zoidl, Christiane Zoidl, Logan Donaldson, Ryan Siu, and Cherie Brown
Above: From left, the research team members, Ekaterina Smirnova, Georg Zoidl, Christiane Zoidl, Logan Donaldson, Ryan Siu and Cherie Brown

“Connexin proteins are the conduit in which electrical signals are passed between neurons and then multiplied vastly by the number of connections between the cells,” says PhD student Ryan Siu, who led the research. “Using sophisticated imaging techniques, I was able to spy on this process in living cells at a distance of less than 10 nanometres, which is comparable to the distance of only 100 atoms laid end-to-end.”

In their study, Siu and his team combined a number of high-resolution imaging techniques available at the Life Sciences Building at York University to determine that Cx36 first binds to another protein called calmodulin (CaM). They identified how the two proteins bind at the atomic level and found that this interaction is a critical step before Cx36 interacts with CaMKII. Their findings were published in the journal Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience.

Calmodulin interaction complex with Connexin36
Calmodulin interaction complex with Connexin36

“This interdisciplinary study exposed me to a combination of advanced microscopy techniques used at the forefront of molecular and cellular neuroscience, as well as biophysical techniques that provided me a way to determine how calmodulin interacts with connexin at an atomic level of detail,” says PhD student Ekaterina Smirnova. “This experience in the York University graduate program demonstrates the power of approaching scientific questions from many different perspectives.”

The research findings will help scientists understand how brain cells adapt to different kinds and levels of signals. Zoidl notes that “by studying the proteins that play a role in communication processes, we will better learn about the molecular and cellular basis of cognitive processes and how brain disorders might arise when they are compromised.”

This research builds upon an initial discovery by his group published in the prestigious journal PNAS (DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0805408105), and it is the second cell signaling paper published in 2016 in collaboration with Donaldson’s lab.

AGYU Director Philip Monk named Governor General’s Award Laureate

Philip Monk, head shot
Philip Monk
Philip Monk, head shot, courtesy Art Gallery of York University

Philip Monk, director of the Art Gallery of York University (AGYU) since 2003, is among the eight winners of 2017 Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts, announced by the Canada Council for the Arts, Feb. 15.

The award recognizes outstanding career achievement in the visual arts and Monk is the recipient of the Outstanding Contribution Award for his 40 years as a writer, curator, and director. Monk was nominated by Toronto artist Greg Staats and AGYU Assistant Director/Curator Emelie Chhangur.

“Philip Monk is one of this country’s most rigorous, challenging, and accomplished writers and curators,” said Chhangur. “His critical voice and consistently exceptional curatorial work have made an inestimable impact on the history of art in Canada.”

Cover: Philip Monk, Stan Douglas, DuMont, 2006

He is the author (so far) of 12 books, 35 catalogues, 75 essays and articles, and more than 60 reviews, which makes Monk one of the most prolific art writers in Canada. Dedicated to setting in place the theoretical conditions for writing the history of contemporary Canadian Art, and Toronto in particular, Monk’s writing set the terms of debate on art in Canada for decades. He wrote the first books on international art stars Douglas Gordon and Fiona Tan and a landmark book on international Canadian art star Stan Douglas, that was published simultaneously in English and German editions. Recent books include  Glamour is Theft: A User’s Guide to General Idea (2012) and Is Toronto Burning? (2016), a history of the conflicted creation of Toronto’s downtown art scene in the late 1970s.

Among his achievements at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), where he worked as a curator in 1985, were the first exhibitions ever at that institution of women artists, such as Liz Magor, Shirley Wiitasalo, and Joyce Wieland.

“Wherever he [Monk] worked he nurtured and empowered the careers of women curators, many of whom are now directors of national and international institutions,” said Chhangur.

Cover: Philip Monk, Is Toronto Burning?, Black Dog Publishing and AGYU, 2016

Monk took his role at the AGO to be the documentarian through exhibitions, publications and purchase of what was then excluded at the gallery – the history of contemporary art in Toronto. The AGO’s collection of the 1970s and 1980s is the result of this focus, including its large repository of General Idea’s work. While at the AGO he was also the commissioner of the Canadian Pavillion at the Venice Biennial in 1993, and he curated several exhibitions in Europe promoting Toronto art.

Transposing his experimentation in writing to curatorial innovation, Monk was a pioneer in a trend that is now an established methodology in the field – the restaging of important historical exhibitions precisely as they originally appeared, a practice he called in the 1980s “presenting events in retrospect.”

From 1994 to 2003, Monk focused his efforts on raising the international profile of The Power Plant in Toronto, which he did so with a stellar curatorial program committed to fostering a Canadian point of view. He established himself as an early expert in the new art of video projection. He began his innovative series of oblique views on the history of Toronto art, such as the prescient 1988 Picturing the Toronto Art Community: The Queen Street Years, while at The Power Plant.

As a director who values the perspectives of his entire team at AGYU, Monk created at York University an award-winning contemporary art gallery that is collaboratively focused and socially engaged. During his directorship, the AGYU began working in the Jane-Finch neighbourhood and then extended the gallery’s efforts to communities across Toronto and First Nations in southern Ontario. Today, the AGYU is now nationally recognized as the Canadian model for a socially engaged art institution.

General Idea installation Going Thru the Notions at Carmen Lamanna Gallery, 1975; courtesy Estate of Carmen Lamanna
General Idea installation Going Thru the Notions at Carmen Lamanna Gallery, 1975; courtesy Estate of Carmen Lamanna

“Philip is known for being open to new generations of practitioners, always enthusiastically fostering diverse forms of curatorial experimentation and generously welcoming new generations into the field,” said AGYU Assistant Curator Suzanne Carte. She noted that this is evident in his mentorship of young student curators and writers through programs such as the joint AGYU/Department of Visual Art and Art History’s “curatorial intensive” and at Y+ Contemporary, an artist-run space in Scarborough, where he acts as mentor-in-residence for emerging art writers.

Monk was the inaugural winner of Ontario Association of Art Galleries Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009 and won the Hnatyshyn Foundation Visual Arts Award for Curatorial Excellence in Contemporary Art in 2010.

General Idea installation The 1984 Miss General Idea Pavillion at AGYU 2009, photo: Cheryl O’Brien

“I’m gratified to receive the award for my career as a writer, curator, and director, but, to tell the truth, I’ve always wanted to be recognized for my contributions as a writer and curating or directing were only other ways, by any means necessary, to continue being one,” said Monk.

Forty years of Monk’s writing can be found at

Pixie Cram’s short film on Monk, commissioned for the awards, can be viewed online as well as on Air Canada’s in-flight entertainment system.

The awards ceremony and a presentation of medallions by the Governor General David Johnston will take place at Rideau Hall on March 1 at 6pm. Award recipients also receive a $25,000 cash prize. Together with the other winners, he will be included in an exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, opening April 8.

Michael Baptista lecture examines humanitarian crisis in Mexico

Michael Baptista lecture
Email fetured image for the Michael Baptista lecture

An insightful examination of the deepening humanitarian crisis in Mexico will be the focus of the Winter 2017 Michael Baptista Lecture, which is presented on March 8 by York’s Centre for Research on Latin America and the Caribbean (CERLAC).

Sergio Aguayo

The lecture, titled “Violence in Mexico and Canadian Refugee Policy”, will run from 5 to 8pm at the Sandra Faire and Ivan Fecan Theater, Accolade East at York University and features host Centro de Estudios Internacionales in El Colegio de Mexico Professor Sergio Aguayo, along with a panel of Canadian immigration experts.

Renowned scholar and human rights activist, Aguayo will speak on the humanitarian crisis in Mexico, which has been marked by the targeted assassination of journalists, the mass disappearance of 43 students from a rural teachers college, and the deaths of hundreds of thousands in a war between the state and powerful drug cartels.

To escape criminal violence as well as poverty, millions of Mexicans and Central Americans have fled north to the United States and Canada in recent years. A panel of immigration experts will examine the implications for Canadian immigration policy, at a time when U.S. President Donald Trump enacts the immigration measures he has long promised, while the Trudeau government lifts the visa requirement for Mexican citizens introduced by its predecessor.

Born in Jalisco, Mexico, Aguayo is a professor and researcher at the Centro de Estudios Internacionales in El Colegio de Mexico, where he currently coordinates the Seminar on Violence and Peace. He has taught at universities in Mexico, the U.S. and Europe, and holds a doctorate from Johns Hopkins University. A leading academic and journalist, Aguayo has published widely on human rights and violence in Mexico.

The lecture will be chaired by Alan Simmons and Luin Goldring of York University; the panel includes Judy Hellman, York University; Kathy Price, Amnesty International; and Loly Rico, Canadian Council for Refugees.

Co-sponsors of this event include Common Frontiers, Casa Maiz, Amnesty International, and York’s Centre for Refugee Studies.

There will be a reception following the event.

Glendon endorses historic Truth & Reconciliation Declaration on Indigenous Language Policy

Glendon Manor FEATURED image
Glendon Manor

Glendon’s Faculty Council has voted unanimously to “endorse and adopt the principles” of the Glendon Truth & Reconciliation Declaration on Indigenous Language Policy document.

The vote took place on Jan. 27 in front of a capacity audience in the Glendon Council Chamber.

Glendon Truth & Reconciliation Declaration on Indigenous Language Policy document is the product of a national Colloquium on Indigenous Language Policy that took place at the Glendon campus on Feb. 9, 2015. The colloquium was opened by Phil Fontaine, the former Assembly of First Nations Chief, and brought together 82 Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars and language activists from across Canada. They gathered to answer three calls to action made by the Truth & Reconciliation Commission of Canada. The three calls ask the federal government to grant Indigenous Language rights as part of the Canadian Constitution, to bring in an Indigenous Languages Act, and to create an Office of Indigenous Languages Commissioner. A fourth call, urging Canadian postsecondary institutions to create programs and diplomas in Indigenous Languages, was folded into the second part of the document titled, “Related Responsibilities of Postsecondary Educational Institutions”.

Glendon’s declaration, which is written in English, French, Anishinaabemowin, Kanienkéha, Inuinnaqtun and Inuktitut, received 100 individual and institutional endorsers from across Canada. With the vote, Glendon formally endorses the declaration and commits to adopting its principles, of which there are seven. The principles are:

  • developing collaborative funding models;
  • developing a committee to respond to TRC Calls to Action;
  • community-building between the university and Indigenous communities and community-based Indigenous organizations;
  • developing cross-training across university administrators,
  • developing cross-training across university administrators, programs and faculty;
  • recognizing and honouring the varying qualifications and credentials of Indigenous people;
  • creating the certification of postsecondary programs that include Indigenous languages, and
  • providing Indigenous cultural competency training for all postsecondary governors/regents, administrators, faculty and staff.

The declaration was formally launched at Glendon on Nov. 18, 2016, as a featured event of the International Conference on Language and Culture Contact. Within the month, the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau announced that his government was committed to bringing in an Indigenous Languages Act during 2017.

Above: The principal authors of the declaration hold a replica of a 1617 peace wampum that symbolizes intercultural rapproachment and mutual respect. Pictured from the left are: Jean Michel Montsion, Ian Martin, Maya Chacaby and Amos Key Jr.

The principal authors of the Glendon declaration and its follow-up strategy are: Maya Chacaby (sessional lecturer, Glendon Linguistics and Sociology); Amos Key Jr. (Woodland Cultural Centre and lecturer, Indigenous Studies, University of Toronto and former sessional lecturer, Glendon Linguistics); Glendon political science Professor Jean Michel Montsion and Glendon English Professor Ian Martin (both of the Glendon School of Public & International Affairs). The group is currently involved in ongoing collaboration with the federal ministries in an effort to contribute to the successful creation of the Indigenous Languages Act, which will be the first piece of legislation in Canadian history to recognize the need to promote and protect the flourishing of the languages of the First Nations, Métis and the Inuit.

To learn more, visit

These two undergrads need your vote in the NSERC Science, Action! contest

Helping Kids with Numbers
(Image: YouTube video)

Two undergraduate students in the Faculty of Health have been shortlisted for NSERC’s Science, Action! video contest, and are looking for support from the York community to win one of 15 cash prizes.

(Image: YouTube video)

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) has selected the top 40 entries of short, creative videos designed to “get Canadians excited about science and engineering research”, which are open to public voting for the month of February.

Among the finalists are two York U psychology undergrads, Jongjin Kim and Sara Golbidy, who created a video to share their inquiry on developing a computerized game to help students with a math learning disability.

“The focus of our video was to tell the viewers a story about NSERC and Neuropsylab working together to develop a computerized cognitive game that may aid in helping students with Dyscalculia, a type of learning disability that is not very well known,” said Kim.

(Image: YouTube video)

The students, who work with Adjunct Professor Marie Arsalidou (adjunct) and Professor Emeritus Juan Pascual-Leone, both agreed on using a “draw my life” format for the video, which consists of drawings on a black/white board to depict the narration.

“The whole process was quite simple,” said Kim. “We prepared the script and then we started making drawings. We decided to figure out what to draw ahead of time so it would be easier drawing while filming. However, neither of us felt like were are very strong at drawing, so we changed our minds and decided to make a notebook with all the drawings pre-drawn. In the end, the video came out to be like telling a story to the viewers with a story book. We are very happy with how it turned out.”

(Image: YouTube video)

Their goal is to raise more awareness of Dyscalculia, and to inspire researchers and educators to look into developing and implementing interventions.

The title of the video – Helping Kids with Numbers – has dual meaning, said Kim.

“It can mean that we want to help kids with learning numbers, but it can also means that we want to help kids using numbers. We hope that the number game will ultimately help in better diagnoses of Dyscalculia, allowing the schools to provide proper aids to the kids having problem learning numbers.”

Voting is open for the month of February, and more about the contest is available here. When voting closes, the 25 videos with the most views will proceed to a judges panel and will compete for one of 15 cash prizes.

“We would like to thank Dr. Arsalidou for her guidance letting us know about this great opportunity,” said Kim, “and we would also like to thank all the team members for their great work with this project.”

Arsalidou said she’s impressed with her students’ work on the video.

“I am happy that my students entered and impressed by how they summarized a five-year multi-study project in a one-minute video,” she said. “Professor Pascual-Leone, who is a collaborator on our grant, and myself are fortunate to be working with such talented students.”

York prof awarded NSERC’s E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship

NSERC's EWR Steacie Memorial Award
NSERC’s EWR Steacie Memorial Award
Thilo Womelsdorf. Photo Credit: Martin Lipman / NSERC

York University Biology Professor Thilo Womelsdorf has been awarded an E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). Up to six of these two-year, $250,000 fellowships are awarded annually by NSERC to enhance the career development of promising early-career scientists and engineers.

“York is delighted to see Biologist Thilo Womelsdorf be awarded the E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship from NSERC, recognizing him as an outstanding researcher,” said Robert Haché, York’s vice-president research & innovation.

“Womelsdorf’s research on the brain helps medical professionals learn more about neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease, and in doing so, Womelsdorf is pointing the way to new technologies and strategies for combatting these disorders,” he added.

Often, we think of focusing our attention as a personal decision, a small act of willpower that trains our thoughts and actions on a specific task. In reality, our brains are feeding us little bits of stored information—past experiences, logical deductions, desires—to help us focus on what is important and ignore the rest. But how does our brain know what is useful, and how does it turn that information into directed attention?

Womelsdorf is tracing the roots of attention all the way down to the individual brain cells that store the insights and memories that guide our thoughts. The York University professor and his team work at the intersection of neuroscience, psychology, biology and computer engineering to understand this complex process. Womelsdorf’s research integrates next-generation neuro-technologies, including micro-sensors that record the activity of hundreds of brain cells and map how these cells form circuits and then larger neural networks, to transmit relevant information throughout the mind. These signals tell us, for example, that we need to be careful about the red-hot stove element but can tune out the buzzing of the refrigerator when we’re preparing a cup of tea.

“It’s a terrific recognition of Thilo’s leading-edge neuroscience research into how our brains focus attention and filter out distractions. Congratulations!” said Ray Jayawardhana, dean of the Faculty of Science (and a past Steacie Fellow himself).

More about the E.W.R Steacie Memorial Fellowships

The fellowships honour the memory of Edgar William Richard Steacie, an outstanding chemist and research leader who made major contributions to the development of science in Canada during, and immediately following, World War II.

Steacie believed that young researchers are a great national asset and should be given every opportunity to develop their own ideas. He nurtured Canadian talent and drew many promising scientists to our country.  The fellowships are awarded to enhance the career development of outstanding and highly promising university faculty who are earning a strong international reputation for original research.

Successful fellows are relieved of teaching and administrative duties, so that they can devote all their time and energy to research. The fellowships are held at a Canadian university or affiliated research institution.

Matters of the heart: York U researchers create 3D beating heart

Heart tissue
Heart tissue
Dmitry Rogozhnikov, a chemistry PhD student at York, in the lab creating a 3D heart
Dmitry Rogozhnikov, a chemistry PhD student at York, in the lab creating a 3D heart

Matters of the heart can be complicated, but York University scientists have found a way to create 3D heart tissue that beats in synchronized harmony, like a heart in love, that will lead to better understanding of cardiac health, and improved treatments.

York University Chemistry Professor Muhammad Yousaf and his team of grad students have devised a way to stick three different types of cardiac cells together, like Velcro, to make heart tissue that beats as one.

Until now, most 2D and 3D in vitro tissue did not beat in harmony and required scaffolding for the cells to hold onto and grow, causing limitations. In this research, Yousaf and his team made a scaffold-free beating tissue out of three cell types found in the heart – contractile cardiac muscle cells, connective tissue cells and vascular cells.

The researchers believe this is the first 3D in vitro cardiac tissue with three cell types that can beat together as one entity rather than at different intervals.

York U chemistry Professor Muhammad Yousaf looks at the 3D heart tissue cells beating together as one
York U chemistry Professor Muhammad Yousaf looks at the 3D heart tissue cells beating together as one

“This breakthrough will allow better and earlier drug testing, and potentially eliminate harmful or toxic medications sooner,” said Yousaf of York University’s Faculty of Science.

In addition, the substance used to stick cells together (ViaGlue), will provide researchers with tools to create and test 3D in vitro cardiac tissue in their own labs to study heart disease and issues with transplantation. Cardiovascular associated diseases are the leading cause of death globally and are responsible for 40 per cent of deaths in North America.

“Making in vitro 3D cardiac tissue has long presented a challenge to scientists because of the high density of cells and muscularity of the heart,” said Dmitry Rogozhnikov, a chemistry PhD student at York. “For 2D or 3D cardiac tissue to be functional it needs the same high cellular density and the cells must be in contact to facilitate synchronized beating.”

Although the 3D cardiac tissue was created at a millimeter scale, larger versions could be made, said Yousaf, who has created a start-up company OrganoLinX to commercialize the ViaGlue reagent and to provide custom 3D tissues on demand.

The study, “Scaffold Free Bio-orthogonal Assembly of 3-Dimensional Cardiac Tissue via Cell Surface Engineering,” was published in Nature Scientific Reports.

Update from York University’s Provost on the U.S. travel ban

York University Provost and Vice-President Academic Rhonda Lenton issues the following message to the University community:

Further to the President’s message of January 31, regarding the recent United States’ travel ban, I am pleased to share an update regarding how the York University community is standing in solidarity with academics who have been, or could be, impacted.

The recent U.S. federal appeals court’s unanimous ruling clearly states the position that such a travel ban cannot be upheld, and as such, the travel ban is currently not being enforced. While the White House has signaled its intent to pursue an appeal, there is some uncertainty and confusion.

Members of the York University community have been offering a temporary academic home to scholars and students affected by the travel ban.  The University fully supports our faculty members’ efforts and encourages them to continue to do so.

Indeed, I wish to take this opportunity to encourage you to welcome those visitors who will join us because they have been banned from travelling to the U.S. Sustaining international scholarly collaboration and learning, and ensuring it is equally accessible to all, is critical to higher education and to the global community.

As one of the most diverse universities in the world, York is, in every way, a global university. The strengths we enjoy today were built on our founding principles of openness and inclusion. We must continue to defend these values which have shaped us and which allow us to foster and sustain human connection and understanding while at the same time enabling us to address the most challenging issues of our time.

For members of our community seeking advice and/or support, please find below the key contact areas within the University:

York International
Immigration specialists Carol Tang and Diana Ning are available to answer questions Monday to Friday 8:30am to 4:30pm
(416) 736-5177

For International Faculty and Staff Queries
Affirmative Action, Immigration & Relocation Officer, Faculty Relations
Claudia McPherson
(416) 736-2100l, ext. 33434

Community Safety
Urgent matters: (416) 736-5333 or ext. 33333
Non-urgent matters: (416) 650-8000 or ext. 58000

The Centre for Human Rights, Equity, and Inclusion
(416) 736-5682

Personal Counselling Services

Lassonde partners in research that could revolutionize new drug discoveries

word collage for connection grant story
word collage for connection grant story

Researchers from York University’s Lassonde School of Engineering have developed a new set of algorithms that rapidly generate 3D structures of proteins, and could revolutionize the development of new drug therapies.

One of the lead researchers on the project, Lassonde Professor Marcus Brubaker, says the current cryo-EM (electron cryomicroscopy) technology for developing 3D protein structures is a lengthy, computationally demanding task requiring specific expertise. Currently, it can take days to weeks for certain results.

Researchers from York University’s Lassonde School of Engineering have found a new set of algorithms that can help determine the 3D structure of proteins, which could one day lead to new treatments for diseases including Alzheimer’s, HIV and cancer

The algorithms researchers developed are combined in a software program called cryoSPARC (cryo-EM single-particle ab initio reconstruction and classification), which enables non-specialized cryo-EM users to process data in a matter of hours.

“Collecting data on an electron microscope might take a few hours or maybe a day or two,” said Brubaker. “However, processing that data to determine the 3D structure would require weeks or even months of computation time on large, expensive computer clusters. Our work now makes this possible in a few hours on a relatively inexpensive desktop computer.”

The research is published in the current edition of the journal Nature Methods.

The dramatic change in processing times not only speeds up the existing process, but also enables experts to dig deeper into their data to discover new biology that, before, would not have been practical. It also has potential for enhanced research into drug treatments for a range of diseases, including Alzheimer’s, HIV and cancer.

“Our developments have also enabled us to determine structures without any prior knowledge, opening up an entire new class of molecules that were unable to be studied otherwise,” said Brubaker.

Drugs work by changing properties of specific proteins in the body. For a drug to be successful, it must be designed with a specific shape so it binds only to the desired protein, as binding with other proteins could can cause side effects.

The algorithms, co-developed by U of T PhD student Ali Punjani, could significantly aid in the development of new drugs because they provide a faster, more efficient means of arriving at the correct structure.

“Any symptom or disease in our body has some protein interaction component to it,” said Brubaker. “So, whether it’s Alzheimer’s or cancer, our ability to understand what’s happening at the cellular level and then target those behaviours is really the basis of treatment and diagnosis of disease. To the extent that we’re able to develop tools to allow researchers to study these structures in ways they’ve never been able to before, the impact is boundless in terms of what it could mean for disease research.”

Together, Punjani and Brubaker founded the Toronto-based startup Structura Biotechnology Inc., which is developing the software package cryoSPARC for use in academic and industrial labs. Structura has received funding and support from U of T’s Innovations & Partnership’s Office (IPO) through the Connaught Innovation Award, U of T’s Early Stage Technologies (UTEST) program, the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) and FedDev Ontario’s Investing in Commercialization Partnerships program at York University.

The research was done in collaboration with U of T Professors David Fleet and John Rubinstein, with funding from the Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

Artist and cyclist Evalyn Parry puts ‘SPIN’ on Kitty Lundy Memorial Lecture

Evalyn Parry's Spin
Evalyn Parry’s Spin

Award-winning theatre artist and songwriter Evalyn Parry presents her theatrical, spoken-word musical performance SPIN: A Theatrical Song Cycle starring the Bicycle as Muse, Musical Instrument, and Instrument of Social Change at the 2017 Kitty Lundy Memorial Lecture.

The performance takes place Feb. 28 at 12:30pm. All are welcome to this Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS) signature event; however, registration online is required.

“I saw her performance of SPIN several years ago, and was captivated by the combination of such important political questions explored through a really entertaining musical and spoken word performance, said Sandra Whitworth, associate dean Graduate Studies and Research, LA&PS. “It’s such a compelling presentation, bridging disparate disciplines and idioms, that I knew the mandate of Kitty Lundy’s memorial lecture would be a perfect fit.”

Parry’s interest in the history of the bicycle was piqued after she came across a 1896 quote from Susan B. Anthony who said, “The bicycle has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.”

In SPIN, Parry, who has been a lifelong cyclist, explores what Anthony meant, asking if the bicycle really is an instrument and agent of social change. The performance examines and compares 19th Century women’s emancipation to 21st Century consumer culture, and unpacks some of the complexities of what liberation has meant and what might one day mean.

Evalyn Parry

Parry is a multi-award-winning Canadian artist whose genre-blurring work is inspired by the intersections of history, autobiography and contemporary social activism. Her unique combination of spoken word poetry and music has been performed internationally, including as an educational tool where performance, creative writing, music and theatre are used to empower students of all ages. She is the artistic director of Toronto’s Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.

The Kitty Lundy Memorial Lecture honours the late sociology Professor Kitty Lundy, who worked with York’s former Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies from 1986 to 1989. Committed to engaged learning, equity and social justice, and interdisciplinary exchange, Lundy also felt particular concern for the fields of education, occupations and women’s studies.

For more information and to register, visit