Patty Wellborn



A photo of this year's UBCO researchers of the year

From left: Dr. Margaret Macintyre Latta, Dr. Jennifer Davis Dr. Kyle Larson and Rhyann McKay.

Four UBC Okanagan researchers—whose work is making a difference locally and globally—were recognized at a special event last week when the campus celebrated the Researchers of the Year.

In a university dominated by timely and meaningful research, it’s hard to stand out in the crowd. But Phil Barker, UBCO’s Vice-Principal and Associate Vice-President of Research and Innovation, says the unique and outstanding contributions from this year’s winners allows UBCO to shine the light on their accomplishments.

“The Researcher of the Year ceremony is one of my favourite events of the year. It is a distinct pleasure to acknowledge some of our star researchers and highlight their contributions,” he says. “UBC Okanagan is one of the most rapidly expanding campuses in Canada and we are attracting top-notch scholars and researchers who are leaders in their fields.”

The winners of the prestigious awards are Dr. Jennifer Davis for health research, Dr. Kyle Larson in natural sciences and engineering and Dr. Margaret Macintyre Latta, the winner of the social sciences and humanities award. Rhyann McKay was recognized as the Student Researcher of the Year.

Teaching in the Faculty of Management, Dr. Jennifer Davis is a Canada Research Chair in Applied Health Economics. Her research focuses on improving the health of older Canadians who are at risk for falls or cognitive decline. Much of her work assesses the economic value of dementia and mobility intervention and prevention efforts through partnerships with clinicians. Dr. Davis’s international collaborations have resulted in policy change and significant advancements in applying health economic evidence to lifestyle interventions.

A professor in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science, Dr. Kyle Larson is an innovator of analytical techniques for tectonics research. His novel methods have led to fundamental discoveries about how major mountain belts form, including a solution to a decades-old geological controversy surrounding the origin of the Himalayas. As Director of the Fipke Laboratory for Trace Element Research, Dr. Larson’s work has helped develop paradigm-shifting methods for the rapid dating of geological material.

Teaching in the Okanagan School of Education, Dr. Margaret Macintyre Latta is a prominent researcher who transforms traditional approaches to education. A champion of interdisciplinary and community-based research, her focus is to advance curriculum as a shared learning experience that inspires reconciliation. Her research with Indigenous, school district and community partners helps educators to decolonize curriculum and teaching practices.

As a doctoral student in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences, Rhyann McKay conducted research in partnership with provincial spinal cord injury organizations across Canada to co-develop behaviour change interventions for support providers to enhance wellbeing and self-care. McKay is currently a health system impact fellow at the University of Alberta, evaluating the implementation of acute care intervention.

“The purpose of these awards is to highlight and honour the research excellence that makes UBC a top-40 global university,” adds Dr. Barker. “I am impressed with the calibre of all our researchers, grateful for their efforts, and am very proud of this year’s recipients. I look forward to tracking their careers and celebrating their future successes.”

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A photo of Sharron Simpson and librarian Page Hohman.

UBC Okanagan’s Archivist and Special Collections Librarian Paige Hohmann works with Sharron Simpson to sort through, identify and digitalize hundreds of historical photos of the Simpson mill property.

The log boom, tugboat and sawmill on Manhattan Drive had, until recently, been familiar landmarks in the north end of Kelowna.

Now, thanks to a collaboration between the Simpson family and UBC Okanagan, those landmarks can come to life in any room, at any time, around the globe.

Timber from BC’s interior forests has been logged since the late 1800s and in 1930, Stanley M. Simpson built a sawmill on Kelowna’s Manhattan Drive to process the logs. In the two years following, he added a veneer plant, a box factory and a log-booming ground on the adjacent shore of Okanagan Lake. In 1956 a plywood plant was added and shortly later a chipping facility.

The mill was operational until January 2020, when Tolko Industries Ltd., the current owners of the historic industrial site, announced the permanent closure of the once-thriving sawmill.

Sensing history might get lost, local author Sharron Simpson, Stanley Simpson’s granddaughter, began working closely with Paige Hohmann, UBC Okanagan’s Archivist and Special Collections Librarian, to review hundreds of digitized items in the Simpson Family collection. As the photos were digitized and added to the collection, Sharron added dates, along with personal and historic insights.

“We honour those who previously lived and worked in this area by ensuring their stories are preserved and made accessible to others,” Sharron adds. “It’s been my privilege to participate in the university’s initiative to preserve our valley’s heritage.”

Thanks to this collaboration, Hohmann says UBCO students and faculty, along with community members, can now explore this unique collection from their own homes through the British Columbia Regional Digitized History (BCRDH) portal. Sharron is excited these images and the stories that accompany them will continue to live on—and most importantly, be protected from eventual loss.

Hohmann describes the archives as a generous gift of time and knowledge from the Simpson family.

“Sharron has given us all a gift, not just of her time, which has been tremendous, but of our history,” she says. “She’s taken the time to make sure we have an accurate portrayal of an important part of our community’s history, including the stories of those who lived and worked here.”

The pair have met regularly to review each image, and with more than 800 photos in the collection, Hohmann agrees this is an incredible undertaking.

“The Simpson Family archives are the cornerstone of the Okanagan Special Collections and the first archival collection acquired by UBC Okanagan Library,” Hohmann adds. “The richness of the photography placed in context with documents, ledgers, business records and memorabilia provide a valuable window into an important era of Okanagan history.”

This digitization project is just one of the several community collaborations spearheaded by the Special Collections team at the UBC Okanagan Library.

This portal has expanded beyond its initial Okanagan-related materials, says Hohmann, to include BC’s Columbia and Kootenay regions.

“The UBC Okanagan Library works closely with donors and potential donors, as well as community partners, to ensure that the Okanagan’s history is preserved and available locally, both in the Okanagan Special Collections Reading Room and through digitization in the online portal.”

The images can be viewed at:

Two women operating a box factory machine.

The Blythen Unitizer was used to assemble apple box tops and bottoms at the S.M. Simpson Ltd. box factory. This 1948 photo shows two women operating the machine as wire from the four spools on top was fed through the Blythen Unitizer to connect the wooden shook pieces.

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A photo of a bear in a river hunting salmon

Work done by UBCO researchers determined that the hatchery population at the Whitehorse Rapids Fish Hatchery is no longer genetically similar to the wild population and helps inform further conservation efforts.

A chance discovery of salmon DNA samples, taken in the 1970s and stored in a drawer for decades, has given new insight into managing present-day kokanee populations in Kluane National Park and Reserve (KNPR).

The fin and scale samples were from fish in the Kathleen Lake System in KNPR, where Canada’s northernmost wild kokanee salmon population lives. The park is cooperatively managed by Parks Canada, Kluane First Nation and Champagne and Aishihik First Nations through the Kluane National Park Management Board, explains Parks Canada Site Manager and Champagne and Aishihik First Nations citizen, Linaya Workman.

“These archival samples had been carefully stored but were largely forgotten until unearthed during an office move in 2013,” says Workman. “The genetic health of the park’s kokanee salmon became a concern after we started seeing really low numbers of returning spawners.”

Historically, the average number of spawning kokanee in a year was 3,660. But by the early 2000s, the numbers dropped dramatically—and in 2009 there was an all-time low of 20.

“While the population has somewhat rebounded since, park managers were concerned that this long decline had impacted the genetic health of the population, leaving it less able to adapt to future changes or stressors in the environment,” says Workman.

The archival DNA samples were sent to UBC Okanagan researcher Dr. Michael Russello to investigate the history of the population by examining genetic variation between fin and scale samples taken pre- and post-crash. Dr. Russello worked with master’s student Chris Setzke to compare the old and new DNA specimens.

DNA sequencing techniques have rapidly advanced and UBC researchers used a novel approach to analyze DNA from these 40- and 50-year-old samples, says Dr. Russello, a Professor in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science. He says the long-forgotten DNA proved a valuable resource, especially when compared with samples from today’s population.

“If we had not had access to these archival samples, inappropriate conservation initiatives may have been enacted, misdirecting resources or even potentially leading to adverse outcomes for the kokanee population in KNPR,” he adds.

For example, an analysis using only current DNA suggested that, based on certain genetic signatures, diversity in the system may have been lost due to the severe period of decline. However, by including the historical DNA samples, they found these genetic features were present even before the kokanee population crashed.

Essentially, the researchers determined no significant diversity was lost as a result of the decades-long population decline in KNPR.

The work done by the researchers further determined that the hatchery population at the Whitehorse Rapids Fish Hatchery—which was established using kokanee from KNPR throughout the 1990s—is no longer genetically similar to the wild population. This means hatchery kokanee should not be used to restore the KNPR population.

“Without these studies, it is possible that KNPR would have been stocked unnecessarily with hatchery kokanee,” Dr. Russello adds. “This could have ultimately reduced the fitness of the wild salmon populations in that system, which is the opposite of the intended conservation goals.”

It wouldn’t have been the first time ill-informed, but well-intentioned stocking practices led to a decline and loss of diversity in wild populations elsewhere, he explains.

“This work really shows the importance of gathering the best available scientific information before making decisions that could negatively impact the populations targeted for protection,” he adds.

This particular research tested the efficacy of a technique called Genotyping-in-Thousands by sequencing (GT-seq) to analyze these largely forgotten historical samples, Setzke says. GT-seq can target and sequence hundreds of predetermined areas across the genome and can be used for thousands of individuals at the same time. GT-seq only needs short fragments of DNA to obtain genetic information, which led the investigators to suspect that it could be an effective method to sequence older, more damaged DNA.

“As archival DNA tends to be damaged, it is difficult to sequence using methods that need long, intact fragments,” explains Setzke. “While GT-seq has been in use for a few years now, ours is the first study to show that it can be employed to effectively sequence archival DNA.”

The most significant finding, says Workman, is the discovery that the fish hatchery population is not genetically similar enough to the historical or current wild population to be used to restock the Kathleen Lake System.

“Protecting the park’s kokanee is important for maintaining ecological integrity,” says Workman. “And using hatchery fish to supplement wild populations is a tool used by fisheries managers elsewhere. But thanks to the UBCO researchers, we now know that this currently is not an option for Kluane’s kokanee.”

The findings of the two studies have been recently published in Conservation Genetics and Scientific Reports.

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A grip and grin photo of UBC and government officials

UBC Faculty of Medicine and partners celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Southern Medical Program at UBC Okanagan together with Anne Kang, Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Training, Harwinder Sandhu, MLA for Vernon-Monashee, and Susan Brown, President and CEO of Interior Health.

Today, the Faculty of Medicine celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Southern Medical Program (SMP) at the University of British Columbia Okanagan (UBCO) campus in Kelowna. 

Opened in 2011, the SMP has graduated more than 215 doctors, helping to improve health care for patients and families in B.C.

It’s also one of four sites within UBC’s broader distributed medical education program, which is training the next generation of medical students and resident doctors around the province including in Victoria, Prince George and Vancouver-Fraser.

Every year, the SMP welcomes 32 new medical students, of which up to 10 seats are designated for applicants with rural and remote backgrounds. At any given time, approximately 130 medical students and more than 90 resident doctors are training at hospitals, primary care and health care clinical settings across the Interior Health region.

“UBC’s Southern Medical Program in Kelowna is one of four places around the province where UBC is training our province’s future doctors,” said Anne Kang, Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Training. “Regional education opportunities are important because we know students are more likely to stay and practice in the communities they study in. This is a remarkable outcome.”

Since its inception in 2004, the province-wide distributed medical education program has remained a strategic partnership between UBC, the Government of BC, the health authorities, the local communities, the University of Northern British Columbia and the University of Victoria. Since then, medical school enrolment in B.C. has more than doubled with a growing number of graduates choosing to stay on and practice in B.C. where their education and training took place.

Overall, more than 90 per cent of students who complete their undergraduate and postgraduate medical education training at UBC stay in B.C. to practice.

“Eighteen years ago, UBC embarked on an ambitious plan to remap medical education to better serve the province,” said Dermot Kelleher, dean, faculty of medicine and vice-president of health, UBC. “Today, the university is a global leader in distributed medical education and together with our partners in the SMP, we’re training world-class doctors that are passionate about building a health-care system that is more equitable, diverse and inclusive for patients and communities.”

In collaboration with Interior Health, close to 2,000 medical student and resident doctor rotations take place every year in hospitals, primary care settings and clinics helping to extend the delivery of health care.

“Interior Health is proud to celebrate ten years of partnership and collaboration with UBC’s Southern Medical Program,” said Susan Brown, president and CEO, Interior Health. “It’s been a privilege to support medical students embarking on their health care careers, and we look forward to continuing to strengthen the medical community throughout the Interior, together.”

The program also provides students from all four sites with community-based learning opportunities that prepares future health care professionals to provide high-quality, culturally-safe care, ultimately leading to improved health outcomes for the patients and communities they will serve.

In addition to training future doctors, the SMP is a hub for world-leading medical research with a particular focus on the health needs of people living in the Interior. The program is home to the new Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Management, which is accelerating new treatments and preventions for chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and neurologic conditions.

“UBC Okanagan has firmly established itself as a leading medical education and research-focused university serving the needs of the Interior,” said Dr. Lesley Cormack, deputy vice-chancellor and principal, UBC Okanagan. “We’re proud to be home to the SMP and delivering world-class medical education and research that is improving the lives of British Columbians.”

UBC’s distributed medical program was one of the first of its kind in the world and is now one of the largest medical programs in North America. Each year, UBC accepts 288 first-year medical students and 362 first-year resident doctors, helping to grow B.C.’s health workforce and enhance quality of care for British Columbians.

Learn more about how SMP students and alumni are weaving healthcare into the fabric of B.C. communities here.

A photo of Dr. Roger Wong talking with students

Dr. Roger Wong, Vice Dean of Education in UBC’s Faculty of Medicine, chats with current SMP students, with Minister Kang and MLA Sandhu.

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A photo of Associate Professor Christine Schreyer and fourth-year anthropology student Kayla Jakuboski.

UBCO’s Christine Schreyer works with fourth-year anthropology student Kayla Jakuboski on the Wikipedia page dedicated to Slavey Jargon.

For the past 20 years, people have turned to the online resource Wikipedia for the answer to almost anything. However, because Wikipedia is a site that can be modified by anybody, it has earned a bad reputation for being the wrong place to get the right information.

Dr. Christine Schreyer is an Associate Professor and linguistic anthropologist in UBC Okanagan’s Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. In her fourth-year course on language emergence, she teaches her students how Wikipedia works, why people think it’s an unreliable source and how to improve and edit Wikipedia articles.

Since 2017, her students have added 772 references to the 108 Wikipedia articles they have edited and also created nine new Wikipedia articles about minoritized—endangered and contact—languages. As an instructor, Dr. Schreyer discusses why Wikipedia deserves a second look, and why people should be comfortable adding and editing content.

Can you explain why many schools and universities tell students to stay away from Wikipedia?

Wikipedia articles are often not considered a reliable source since they can be edited by anyone and, at times, information is presented without citations. This lack of citation makes it hard for students to determine where the information comes from, if there are any biases and how to cite it in their academic papers. However, if students learn what makes a good Wikipedia article, they can use it as a starting point for further academic research.

Why do you teach people to use and edit Wikipedia? How does it help your students?

Many people use Wikipedia every day as their go-to source for quick information, but very few actually know how to read Wikipedia’s editing history or the conversations about the edits on the article on the “talk” page. By following Wiki Education tutorials and editing their articles themselves, students develop these skills along with critical thinking skills so they can judge if an article is a quality one or not. 

You’ve said your students have made impressive improvements to Wikipedia. How so?

In my courses, students write papers about minoritized languages, also known as pidgins and creoles. In many cases, very little academic research is available to the public about these languages. However, as the students have access to this information through UBC’s library, they can add these references to the Wikipedia articles, improving them immensely so that they become more reliable sources for other users.

Can you provide an example?

The article my students and I collaboratively worked on while learning the process of editing was the article formerly known as “Broken Slavey”—featuring a language spoken mainly by Indigenous Peoples in the 19th century. In class, we learned that descriptors such as “broken” are inappropriate and often come from colonial ideologies about language. We updated the article’s title to “Slavey Jargon,” which is what it is known as in the most recent academic literature. The article had a warning template on it before we began, which said, “This article includes a list of general references, but it remains largely unverified because it lacks sufficient corresponding inline citations. Please help to improve this article by introducing more precise citations.”

This is exactly what we did. We removed plagiarism that had come from one of our own class readings, and we updated the article with more information and citations. Our work can be viewed at:

How would you recommend other instructors include Wikipedia in their courses?

I would absolutely suggest that instructors use the resources and expertise from Wiki Education. The tutorials provide instructors, as well as students, the resources they need to learn about editing Wikipedia. It is immensely satisfying for students to see how they are helping improve Wikipedia together through the stats that are tracked on the class dashboard. Students can see the impact they are having in real time, in the real world.

I encourage people to take a look at the work we edited on this Wikipedia page.

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A photo of solar panels

UBCO researcher Dr. Robert Godin took on the challenging task of comparing how different solar energy conversion technologies work to determine which is most efficient.

Located only about 150 million kilometres away, the sun is Earth’s closest star.

Its close proximity and immense strength create enough power to provide the planet with more energy than is needed. The quantity of sunlight that strikes the earth’s surface in just 90 minutes is enough to power the world’s energy consumption for a full year.

To capitalize on this natural resource, solar technologies convert sunlight into usable energy through various processes, one of which is photovoltaic panels. UBC Okanagan’s Dr. Robert Godin conducts research examining the effectiveness of different green energy-producing technologies, like solar panels and photosynthesis.

In a new study led by Dr. Godin, an Assistant Professor of Chemistry based in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science, researchers took a closer look at existing solar energy conversion technologies to determine which types of characteristics and properties are useful indicators when considering how well devices made from various materials might perform.

“Part of the challenge with this type of research is the way different solar energy conversion technologies work—each is completely distinct,” explains Dr. Godin. “It’s not obvious how, or even if, you can compare photovoltaics—which generate electricity—to photocatalysts, which generate high energy chemical fuels such as hydrogen,” he explains.

While examining a range of conversion devices, the team determined how long in a device’s lifetime the excited state generated by light irradiation stuck around, and how long it took to complete the energy conversion process. Then, the team compared that ratio to the energy lost to make it happen.

“We were able to establish a clear link between these values—and that wasn’t something we were expecting going into the study,” says Dr. Godin. “This link between the ratio of lifetimes and energetic losses was found across all the different types of solar energy conversion devices we looked at—even machinery in natural photosynthesis systems.”

“We also predicted a similar trend when we greatly simplify the mechanistic model of solar energy conversion devices, which suggests that we found a useful way to condense many different and complex physics into a few critical factors,” he adds.

These findings may speed up the development of better solar energy conversion technologies, he says as this research identifies clear links between characteristics that are fairly easy to measure in isolated materials, and device efficiency that requires more complex fabrication.

“Being able to tell early on whether a new material has the potential to surpass current technology will greatly speed up the ability to move the best technologies into the marketplace—and as conversion technologies like solar panels become more mainstream, the less society will need to rely on the production of environmentally devastating fossil fuels.”

This study was recently published in the Chemistry Society Reviews.

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A photo of an oilsands tailings pond

UBCO researchers are using fluorescence spectroscopy to quickly detect key toxins in tailing ponds water.

Waste materials from oil sands extraction, stored in tailings ponds, can pose a risk to the natural habitat and neighbouring communities when they leach into groundwater and surface ecosystems.

Until now, the challenge for the oil sands industry is that the proper analysis of toxic waste materials has been difficult to achieve without complex and lengthy testing. And there’s a backlog. For example, in Alberta alone, there are an estimated 1.4 billion cubic metres of fluid tailings, explains Nicolás Peleato, an Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering at UBC Okanagan

His team of researchers at UBCO’s School of Engineering has uncovered a new, faster and more reliable, method of analyzing these samples. It’s the first step, says Dr. Peleato, but the results look promising.

“Current methods require the use of expensive equipment and it can take days or weeks to get results,” he adds. “There is a need for a low-cost method to monitor these waters more frequently as a way to protect public and aquatic ecosystems.”

Along with master’s student María Claudia Rincón Remolina, the researchers used fluorescence spectroscopy to quickly detect key toxins in the water. They also ran the results through a modelling program that accurately predicts the composition of the water.

The composition can be used as a benchmark for further testing of other samples, Rincón explains. The researchers are using a convolutional neural network that processes data in a grid-like topology, such as an image. It’s similar, she says, to the type of modelling used for classifying hard to identify fingerprints, facial recognition and even self-driving cars.

“The modelling takes into account variability in the background of the water quality and can separate hard to detect signals, and as a result it can achieve highly accurate results,” says Rincón.

The research looked at a mixture of organic compounds that are toxic, including naphthenic acids—which can be found in many petroleum sources. By using high-dimensional fluorescence, the researchers can identify most types of organic matter.

“The modelling method searches for key materials, and maps out the sample’s composition,” explains Peleato. “The results of the initial sample analysis are then processed through powerful image processing models to accurately determine comprehensive results.”

While results to date are encouraging, both Rincón and Dr. Peleato caution the technique needs to be further evaluated at a larger scale—at which point there may be potential to incorporate screening of additional toxins.

Peleato explains this potential screening tool is the first step, but it does have some limitations since not all toxins or naphthenic acids can be detected—only those that are fluorescent. And the technology will have to be scaled up for future, more in-depth testing.

While it will not replace current analytical methods that are more accurate, Dr. Peleato says this approach will allow the oil sands industry to accurately screen and treat its waste materials. This is a necessary step to continue to meet the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment standards and guidelines.

The research appears in the Journal of Hazardous Materials, and is funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Discovery Grant program.

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Isolation Quarantine Covid-19 stock photo

UBCO experts discuss how society has coped during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was March 17, 2020, just on the heels of the World Health Organization declaring the as-yet-un-named virus a pandemic, that BC declared a state of emergency.

Schools were closed, offices shuttered, stores locked and people were sent home to face isolation, uncertainty and a looming sense of fear and bewilderment. And now Zoom calls, masks, vaccines and mandates have become part of everyday life across the country.

How has society coped? What has been learned? Has anything changed?

Long before Dr. Bonnie Henry suggested people be kind to each other, Dr. John-Tyler Binfet, an Associate Professor with the Okanagan School of Education, was making the study of kindness part of his daily routine. Dr. Binfet is joined by six other UBC Okanagan experts, who can field questions ranging from vaccine equity, online shopping trends, the importance of exercise and the impact of so much screen time on children.

Dr. Binfet, Director of the Centre For Mindful Engagement and Director of Building Academic Retention Through K-9s

Availability: Noon, Wednesday and all of Thursday, PST

Dr. Binfet’s areas of research include the conceptualizations of kindness in children and adolescents, measuring kindness in schools, canine-assisted interventions and assessment of therapy dogs. His new book written during the pandemic, Cultivating Kindness, will be available this summer.

Related to the pandemic, Dr. Binfet can discuss:

  • University student wellbeing
  • Being kind
  • Why kindness matters

Kevin Chong, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies

Availability: Wednesday and Thursday, 9 to 11 am PST

Chong teaches creative writing, fiction, creative nonfiction, literary journalism, dramatic writing and different writing styles including short story, memoir, personal essay, and lyric essay. He is the author of six books, including The Plague, and wrote a book during the pandemic when the public reading of his play was cancelled due to COVID-19. Dr. Chong also established an online antiracist book club during the pandemic.

Related to the pandemic, Chong can discuss:

  • Writer’s block
  • Online book clubs
  • Antiracist associations

Mahmudur Fatmi, Assistant Professor, School of Engineering

Availability: Wednesday, most hours and Thursday, 8:30 am to noon PST

Dr. Fatmi is a transportation modelling expert. He can talk about how people’s travel and online activities such as work-from-home and online shopping activities have changed during the pandemic, and the implications of these changes.

Related to the pandemic, Dr. Fatmi can discuss:

  • Working from home
  • Changes to transit during the pandemic
  • Online shopping trends

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

Availability: Wednesday, 2 to 2:30 pm PST and Thursday, 2:30to 3:30 pm PST

Dr. Hickey is an economist who specializes in public finance, fiscal policy, government expenditure and taxation. Related to the pandemic, Dr. Hickey can speak about:

  • Inflation

Susan Holtzman, Associate Professor, Psychology, Irving K Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Availability: Thursday, 9 am to noon PST

Dr. Holtzman conducts research in health psychology with a special interest in stress and coping, close relationships, depression and social relationships in the digital age. Related to the pandemic, Holtzman can discuss:

  • perceived increase in screen time for young children
  • digital relationships
  • breaking or keeping digital habits after two years of screen time

Jonathan Little, Associate Professor, School of Health and Exercise Sciences

Availability: Wednesday and Thursday, 9 to 11 am PST

Dr. Little’s main research interest is on how to optimize exercise and nutritional strategies to prevent and treat health issues including Type 2 diabetes, obesity, and chronic inflammatory conditions. He is also involved in interdisciplinary research within the Airborne Disease Transmission Research Cluster around mitigating risk of aerosol transmission in health-care settings.

Related to the pandemic, Dr. Little can discuss:

  • Physical activity/exercise during COVID-19
  • Impact of exercise and lifestyle on immune function
  • Aerosols and COVID-19 transmission

Katrina Plamondon, Assistant Professor School of Nursing

Availability: Wednesday, various times in the afternoon PST, Thursday, 7 to 8 am, 11:30 am to noon, 2 to 3 pm PST

Dr. Plamondon’s research focuses on questions of how to advance equity action and vaccine equity. Related to the pandemic, Dr. Plamondon can discuss:

  • Populism and social movements (e.g., convoy) and what this has to do with equity and rights
  • Vaccine equity, particularly the relationship between global vaccine equity and how we can navigate the pandemic
  • Equity considerations as we transition out of pandemic restrictions (e.g., lifting mask restrictions)
  • Equity impacts and health systems considerations

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Ketamine in a syringe

Researchers from UBC Okanagan and the University of Exeter have identified ketamine as a potentially powerful tool in the fight against mental illness.

First manufactured more than 50 years ago, ketamine is a fast-acting dissociative anesthetic often used in veterinary and emergency medicine. Ketamine also has a history of being an illicit party drug.

Now, ketamine is getting a closer look.

Researchers from UBC Okanagan and the University of Exeter have identified ketamine as a potentially powerful tool in the fight against mental illness.

In a recent study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, the research team found ketamine to have significant anti-depressant and anti-suicidal effects. They also found evidence that suggests its benefits don’t stop there.

Led by Psychology Professor Dr. Zach Walsh and doctoral student Joey Rootman—both based in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences—the research team arrived at this conclusion after analyzing more than 150 worldwide studies on the effects of sub-anesthetic ketamine doses for the treatment of mental illness. The study was co-led by Professor Celia Morgan and doctoral student Merve Mollaahmetoglu from the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom.

“We found strong evidence that indicates ketamine provides rapid and robust anti-depressant and anti-suicidal effects, but the effects were relatively short-lived,” explains Rootman. “However, repeated dosing appeared to have the potential to increase the duration of positive effects.”

Beyond these results, the study provides evidence that suggests ketamine may be helpful in the treatment of other disorders, including eating disorders, problematic substance use, post-traumatic stress and anxiety—though the evidence in these areas is scarce.

“What our research provides is an up-to-date overview and synthesis of where the knowledge on ketamine is at right now,” explains Rootman. “Our results signal that ketamine may indeed have a broader spectrum of potential applications in psychiatric treatment—and that tells us that more investigation is needed.”

This study serves as a foundation for fellow researchers looking to design ketamine-related projects and offers valuable data for clinicians considering using ketamine with their patients.

The results also help to satisfy the public’s appetite for information on innovative and emerging psychiatric treatments, says Dr. Walsh, explaining the review provides a relatively compact document with evidence regarding which ketamine treatments may be helpful for diverse diagnoses.

“As many as one in five Canadians will experience a mental illness this year, and the reality is that existing treatments don’t work for everyone,” he says. “As a result, many Canadians are curious about new approaches to help with these serious conditions.”

Overall, while Dr. Walsh acknowledges research into other treatment areas is just beginning, he finds the preliminary evidence encouraging.

“We need a lot more information on how these interventions could work—for example, administering the drug is only a part of treatment. We need to figure out what amount and type of psychotherapy would best compliment the drug intervention to really maximize potential benefits,” he explains. “With that being said, it is a truly exciting time for ketamine research. If it can deliver the relief that early evidence suggests it can, this could be among the most significant developments in mental health treatment in decades.”

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Green bamboo shoots

A prolific plant, bamboo has long been considered a good building material in many countries. Now, UBC Okanagan researchers have created a way to make it even stronger. Photo by kazuend on Unsplash

UBC Okanagan researchers have adapted a technique—originally designed to embalm human remains—to strengthen the properties of biocomposites and make them stronger.

With the innovation of new materials and green composites, it is easy to overlook materials like bamboo and other natural fibres, explains UBCO Professor of Mechanical Engineering Dr. Abbas Milani. These fibres are now used in many applications such as clothing, the automotive industry, packaging and construction.

His research team has now found a way not only to strengthen these fibres, but reduce their tendency to degrade over time, making them even more environmentally friendly.

“Bamboo has nearly the same strength as a mild steel while exhibiting more flexibility,” says Dr. Milani, the founding director of the Materials and Manufacturing Research Institute. “With its low weight, cost and abundant availability, bamboo is a material that has great promise but until now had one big drawback.”

Bamboo is one of the world’s most harvested and used natural fibres with more than 30-million tonnes produced annually. However, its natural fibres can absorb water and degrade and weaken over time due to moisture uptake and weathering.

Using a process called plastination to dehydrate the bamboo, the research team then use it as a reinforcement with other fibres and materials. Then they cure it into a new high-performance hybrid biocomposite.

First developed by Gunther von Hagens in 1977, plastination has been extensively used for the long-term preservation of animal, human and fungal remains, and now has found its way to advanced materials applications. Plastination ensures durability of the composite material for both short- and long-term use, says Daanvir Dhir, the report’s co-author and recent UBC Okanagan graduate.

“The plastinated-bamboo composite was mixed with glass and polymer fibres to create a material that is lighter and yet more durable than comparable composites,” says Dhir. “This work is unique as there are no earlier studies investigating the use of such plastinated natural fibres in synthetic fibre reinforced polymer composites.”

Dhir says this new durable hybrid bamboo/woven glass fibre/polypropylene composite, treated with the plastination technique has a promising future.

Supported by industrial partner NetZero Enterprises Inc., the research shows that adding only a small amount of plastinated materials to the bamboo can increase the impact absorption capacity of the composite—without losing its elastic properties. This also lowers the material’s degradation rate.

More work needs to be done on the optimization of this process as Dhir says plastination is currently time-consuming. But he notes the benefit of discovering the right composition of plastinated natural fibres will result in a sizable reduction of non-degradable waste in many industries, with a lower environmental footprint.

Future studies are underway to optimize and investigate the effect of plastinating other natural fibres, such as flax and hemp. The researchers also suggest a life cycle analysis of the materials should be conducted under different applications and compared to non-plastinated samples. This will provide a better picture of the corresponding trade-off between the environmental footprint and mechanical durability effects.

“Biocomposites continue to find new applications under the circular economy paradigm,” adds Dr. Milani. “The innovations in the methods used to develop these composites will ensure benefits well into the future.”

The research appears in the Journal Composite Structures.

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