ualberta.ca/science Vol. 36, No. 1, Spring/Summer 2019
The ripple effect of the actions and reactions of science
Vol. 36, No. 1, Spring/Summer 2019
The University of Alberta Faculty of Science is a research and teaching powerhouse dedicated to shaping the future by pushing the boundaries of knowledge in the classroom, laboratory, and field. Through exceptional teaching, learning, and research experiences, we competitively position our students, staff, and faculty for current and future success. Science Contours is a semi-annual publication dedicated to highlighting the collective achievements of the Faculty of Science community. It is distributed to alumni and friends of the faculty.
Interim Dean of Science Frank Marsiglio
Managing Editor Katie Willis
Contributing Writers Kristy Condon Matthew Kingston Andrew Lyle Sarah Nason Julie Naylor Jennifer Pascoe Katie Willis
Associate Editor Andrew Lyle
Photography John Ulan
Design Lime Design Inc.
Proofreader Philip Mail
Editor-in-Chief Jennifer Pascoe
Send your comments to: The Editor, Science Contours Faculty of Science 6-194 CCIS, University of Alberta Edmonton, AB, Canada T6G 2E1 firstname.lastname@example.org
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› A hard drive for light
› Proudly Canadian: the world’s biggest T. rex
› Keeping bee hives alive
› Taking a look inside your head
› Slowing the symptoms of ALS
› Diamonds are a high-schooler’s best friend
› Machine learning for mental health
› Rest easy—breathe easier
12 Faculty of Science Diversity Report 2.0 On the status of equity, diversity, and inclusion in science 16 Pi in the sky The art of teaching mathematics 19 Ducking the costs of migration
Minimum notes, maximum knowledge Little notes make a big difference for undergraduate students in Ratmir Derda’s chemistry classes. Students can bring in these Post-it-size sheets for their exams—which are then hung in an unofficial gallery outside of Derda’s office.
A monolithic factory churning through human waste might not seem like a paradise for wildlife, but every winter this is exactly where a motley crew of mallards make their home in Edmonton 21 Lights, quantum, (re)action Alumna’s explosive discovery has potential to revolutionize global security screening 24 Unearthing a geophysicist Empowering the next generation of geophysical experts to probe planet-size problems 28 Leaving a legacy of learning How the gift of inspiration transcends generations 31 Deep Blue C:\ Two decades after supercomputer Deep Blue achieved the first victory over a World Chess champion, alumnus and Deep Blue co-creator Murray Campbell reflects on how artificial intelligence has advanced—and where it’s going next 34 Science for sea change Stephanie Green is keeping our oceans—and our economy—alive and well 38 Alumni perspectives “I am a network of interactions between scientific disciplines.” —Megan Engel (’10 BSc, ’11 MSc)
In the field
IMAGE COURTESY SOUTHERN AFRICAN FIELD SCHOOL INSTRUCTOR CHRISTI BUBAC
On the lookout An impala, shrouded in the morning mist of Hlane Royal National Park in eSwatini (Swaziland), photographed by Christi Bubac (biological sciences). Bubac is an instructor with UAlbertaâ€™s Southern African Field School, a four-week program that mixes core biology courses with field work in southern Africa.
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Factoring in inspiration
As scientists, we often ask ourselves key questions like “What is my impact? How am I influencing the world?” Indeed, such questions are not just the domain of academics—this yearning to make a difference exists in all people. In this issue of Contours, we find many examples of people making a big difference in others’ lives, sometimes in unexpected and humble ways. It is our hope that these stories will inspire you and cause you to reflect on the meaningful ways that you make a difference for those around you. Most of us are familiar with the impact of the famous scientist Louis Pasteur or of Albert Einstein. Less noticed is the impact of “enablers,” and our current stories abound in them. For example, alumna Christina
Gonzalez, along with other graduates, is in the thick of a new startup company, developing innovative applications for detecting explosive materials—a project born of her time studying with Jon Veinot (chemistry). We learn that one of Deep Blue’s co-creators, Murray Campbell, started his career here in the Faculty of Science. His is a remarkable achievement, but no doubt there were instructors and mentors here at the University of Alberta who helped pave the way. In another field of study, we read about one such mentor, Charles Stelck, whose memory lives on through many of the young people who learned from him and those who learn from them. Similarly, another story highlights the impact of a current mathematics instructor, Dragos Hrimiuc, whose passion for teaching has touched the lives of countless students. We are a research-intensive university, but these are the stories that differentiate us from a mere research institution. Teaching, mentoring, and inspiring our students are often the most significant means of influencing the world around us, and they can be the most rewarding, too. Frank Marsiglio, Interim Dean and Professor of Physics
The Faculty of Science will welcome our new dean, Matina Kalcounis-Rueppell, this July. We look forward to introducing her in the Fall/Winter issue of Contours.
The leg of the world’s biggest T. rex suggests a living weight of more than 8,800 kilograms. Learn more on page 8.
87% A machine learning tool can diagnose schizophrenia with 87% accuracy.
Learn more on page 11.
peer-reviewed publications were published by our faculty members, students, and research staff in 2018.
7 books were written
and published by our faculty members in 2018.
5 patents were 6
awarded to our faculty members in 2018.
MOUNTAINS 101, one of our massive, open, online courses (MOOCs), is the third highest rated in the world, according to Class Central.
Macleanâ€™s has ranked our programs some of the best in Canada, including:
for computing science
30 workshops, events, and hackathons
9 project-based, student-led initiatives
6 student-led entrepreneur groups formed
In 2018, our media coverage was seen 5.8 billion times around the world, with more than 7,500 stories in outlets such as Time and the New York Times.
15,000 Approximately 15,000 community members participate in our public programming each year, including summer camps, school visits, museums and collections, events, and lectures.
Our newly opened Student Innovation Centre has had an impressive first year.
More than 300 employers recruit undergraduate students through the Science Internship Program each year.
The Faculty of Science is now home to 2 Networks of Centres of Excellence of Canada: GlycoNet and the Canadian Mountain Network.
Scientists are not bornâ€”they are trained. U A L B E R TA . C A / S C I E N C E
Science News Proudly Canadian: THE WORLD’S BIGGEST T. REX The skeleton of a 13-metre-long Tyrannosaurus rex from Saskatchewan is the largest dinosaur skeleton found in Canada and the largest T. rex skeleton found anywhere. The skeleton was discovered in 1991, when paleontologists including Philip Currie (biological sciences) were called in on the project.
Lindsay LeBlanc, Canada Research Chair in ultracold gases for quantum simulation.
“Scotty,” nicknamed after a celebratory bottle of scotch the night it was discovered, has leg bones suggesting a living weight of more than 8,800 kilograms, making it larger than all other carnivorous dinosaurs. The scientific work on Scotty has been a correspondingly massive project. And it’s not just Scotty’s size and weight that set it apart. The Canadian mega-rex also lays claim to seniority. It was 30 years old when it died. “Scotty is the longest-lived T. rex known,” explains Scott Persons (’11 MSc, ’16 PhD), postdoctoral fellow and lead author. “By tyrannosaurus standards, it had an unusually long life. And it was a violent one. Riddled across the skeleton are pathologies—spots where scarred bone records large injuries.” Among Scotty’s injuries are broken ribs, an infected jaw, and what may be a bite from another T. rex on its tail—battle scars from a long life. A new exhibit featuring the skeleton of Scotty opened at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in May 2019.
UAlberta physicists have developed a new way to build quantum memories, a method for storing delicate quantum information encoded into pulses of light. “We’ve developed a new way to store pulses of light—down to the single-photon level—in ultracold atoms, and to later retrieve them, on demand, by shining a ‘control’ pulse of light,” said Lindsay LeBlanc (physics), Canada Research Chair in ultracold gases for quantum simulation. Quantum memories are an important component of quantum
networks, serving much the same role as hard drives in computers. And the interest in storing quantum data efficiently and effectively is only growing, with practical applications including developing a quantum fibre-optic internet and other methods of secure communication. This new method is best suited for key applications requiring highspeed operation and also requires less power and fewer technique requirements. This discovery will allow for the crucial scaling up of quantum technologies, which has proven the biggest challenge to date in the emerging field.
A HARD DRIVE FOR LIGHT
GROUP IMAGE SUPPLIED / HONEYBEE: ISTOCK
A team of undergraduate students have created a probiotic for honeybees to protect them against a deadly fungus.
KEEPING BEE HIVES ALIVE Nosema is a parasitic fungus that infects the digestive systems of honeybees and can tear through bee populations, wiping out entire hives. Bees in cold climates, such as Alberta, are even more vulnerable. A team of undergraduate students from across campus developed a solution they call APIS, short for “antifungal porphyrin-based intervention system.” The result of their research is a honeybee probiotic, fed to hive populations by beekeepers to eliminate the fungus in bees’ digestive systems. The team took home a first-place prize in the
International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Competition health category, a competition featuring more than 300 university teams. “We wanted to help find a solution to a pathogen that is devastating to a creature integral to the Albertan economy,” said Anna Kim, a member of the iGEM team who studies both biology and psychology. “We also wanted to raise awareness of a problem that not many people know about but that deeply affects our province and our communities.”
Taking a look inside your head
“Scotty,” the Canadian mega-rex, is now on exhibition at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum.
A groundbreaking tool that lets researchers image neural activity using light has implications for understanding brain functions and disorders. The tool—named NIR-GECO1—identifies when an individual neuron is active by monitoring for the presence or absence of calcium ions. “Specifically, it emits near-infrared light in the absence of calcium ions. When the concentration of calcium ions increases, it turns dark,” explained lead author Robert Campbell (chemistry). “When a neuron ‘fires,’ the concentration of calcium ions temporarily increases inside of the cell. We see this as a dimming of the emitted near-infrared light.” The technology has the potential to allow scientists to determine the efficacy of therapeutic
drugs at the cellular level, with implications for building better, more effective treatments for a number of pressing health conditions, including neurodegenerative diseases. “Tissue is relatively transparent to near-infrared light, so this tool has the potential to enable researchers to visualize neuronal activity deeper within the brain than is currently possible,” said Campbell. “This could lead to important insights in the areas of learning and memory, stroke prevention and recovery, and neurodegenerative diseases.” U A L B E R TA . C A / S C I E N C E
Robert Campbell (L) looks to light to help build a greater understanding of pressing health conditions.
SLOWING THE SYMPTOMS OF ALS A new drug identified by UAlberta scientists could significantly slow the progression of ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The drug, called telbivudine, targets a protein that does not function correctly in patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). “SOD1 is a protein that is known to misfold and misbehave in most cases of patients with ALS,” explained Ted Allison (biological sciences), co-author of the study. “We showed that telbivudine can greatly reduce the toxic properties of SOD1, including improving the health and movement of the subject’s motor neurons.” Current treatments slow progression of ALS by only a few months, and these new findings could extend and improve quality of life for those living with the disease. Best of all? Telbivudine is already used to treat patients with hepatitis—meaning it is already proven safe and approved for use by humans. “ALS is not well-understood,” said lead author and alumna Michele DuVal (’10 BSc, ’18 PhD). “We don’t yet know exactly what goes wrong first in the motor neurons or how the misbehaving SOD1 causes toxicity. Because there is still much to learn about the disease, the ALS research community focuses on both understanding ALS and on developing promising therapies.” This research was made possible through the generous contributions of donors to the Faculty of Science. “Support for research allows the scientific community to continue to take risks and make breakthroughs like this one,” added DuVal.
Ted Allison (L) and Michele DuVal (R) are searching for treatments to slow the decline caused by ALS.
Diamonds are a high-schooler’s best friend A high school student recently discovered a new way to remove diamonds from kimberlite with less damage than ever before. Hamdi Ali had just finished Grade 11 when she came to campus as part of the Women in Scholarship, Engineering, Science, & Technology (WISEST) Summer Research Program in 2018. Ali spent her summer working with Graham Pearson (earth and atmospheric sciences) to determine how a new tool called a selective fragmentation (SELFRAG) machine could use electricity to separate diamonds from their host rock, kimberlite.
The SELFRAG machine, she discovered, allows for the recovery of diamonds with less damage than can occur in the traditional crushing method. “The first experiment that Hamdi made with the SELFRAG machine was astonishing,” said Pearson. Wowed by their success, Ali and the research team published a paper on the research, which Ali went on to present at the Yellowknife Geoscience Forum in the Northwest Territories, a three-day event focusing on the latest in geoscience in a territory with an active mining and diamond industry. Ali’s summer goes to show that everyone, no matter their level of experience, can get started in science—a lesson Pearson hopes students take to heart: “Science is about the joy of discovery. Doing something nobody has ever done before and finding things that nobody has ever seen before. I hope that the summer research program teaches students that, even in a short period, they can do research that is new, that makes a difference, that people are interested in—and that it opens students’ eyes to the diversity and gender equality that exists in modern large research groups.” RAW DIAMONDS: ISTOCK
Rest easy— breathe easier
Machine learning for mental health
Brandon Hauer (’15 BSc)
A new machine learning tool can diagnose schizophrenia from a brain scan with 87 per cent accuracy—helping to find objective evaluation for a diagnosis that has historically relied on subjective data of patient experiences rather than being read from scans.
Below: High school student Hamdi Ali stands beside the SELFRAG machine she used to make the diamond discovery.
Russ Greiner (L) and Sunil Kalmady (R)
“Schizophrenia is characterized by the constellation of symptoms,” said Sunil Kalmady, post-doctoral fellow working with Russ Greiner (computing science). “Two individuals with the same diagnosis might still present different symptoms. This often leads to misdiagnosis.” Instead, the new tool incorporates the artificial intelligence technique of machine learning, trained on thousands of brain scans to find the common features in scans of patients with the disease to provide evidence-based predictions about whether an individual patient may be suffering from schizophrenia. It has the potential to deliver faster, more accurate diagnoses that will allow patients to get answers and begin treatment. When put to the test, the tool was able to identify the disease in new scans with 87 per cent accuracy, outperforming existing AI models in identifying the disease. This work was done in conjunction with the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry.
High levels of oxygen encourage the brain to remain in deep, restorative sleep, according to a new study. Researchers administered high levels of oxygen to anesthetized and naturally sleeping animal models and examined the resulting activity in their brains. “We found that when we administer oxygen, our subjects’ brains switch out of active sleep and remain in a deactivated, slow-wave state the entire time,” explained PhD student Brandon Hauer (’15 BSc). “Interestingly, when we removed the oxygen, the brain started cycling back through active, or rapid-eye-movement, sleep again.” Deactivated or slow-wave sleep is the deepest stage of sleep, during which the brain oscillates at a very slow, once-per-second rhythm. “This seems to be the stage where metabolites are cleared from the brain, muscles grow, and proteins reform,” said Hauer, who conducted the research under the supervision of Clay Dickson (psychology). “Slow-wave sleep seems to be especially suited to recovery for both the brain and body.” Slow-wave sleep also plays a role in memory consolidation.
U A L B E R TA . C A / S C I E N C E
A representative sample:
FACULTY OF SCIENCE
DIVERSITY REPORT 2.0 BY J U LIE NAY LO R / PH OTOS J O H N U L AN
On the status of equity, diversity, and inclusion in science
FOR THE LAST DECADE, WOMEN HAVE MADE UP JUST OVER HALF OF THE UNDERGRADUATE STUDENT POPULATION IN THE FACULTY OF SCIENCEâ€”AN IMPRESSIVE AND INSPIRING STATISTIC. BUT WHILE UNDERGRADUATE STUDENTS BOAST GENDER PARITY, THE REPRESENTATION OF MALES AND FEMALES CHANGES SIGNIFICANTLY AMONG GRADUATE STUDENTS, AND EVEN MORE DRASTICALLY AMONG FACULTY MEMBERS.
IT’S A QUESTION OF ATTRITION, EXPLAINS
LISA WILLIS, NEW ASSISTANT PROFESSOR (BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES). AND AS A FEMALE WITH A DISABILITY, SHE SEES AND EXPERIENCES THINGS THAT SOME UNDERREPRESENTED GROUPS ENCOUNTER. “There is higher attrition for women than men at every single level in STEM post-secondary,” Willis explains. “I think part of it is when they realize they have a harder and longer race to run, and with more obstacles, they get discouraged and disheartened. I certainly know that happened to me, and I realized I needed to do something about it.” Willis started to explore whether there was a scientific basis for this discrimination. What does it look like, according to science? She attended any talks she could on equity, diversity, and inclusion—or EDI—many of which focused on anecdotal examples, and while she realized that may work for people experiencing discrimination or those who are already engaged, she noted anecdotes don’t always work well for scientists. “I did a full literature review and found that despite the perception that things are getting better, they aren’t for gender equity in STEM,” Willis explains. “It has plateaued.” As part of her action plan, Willis set forward to educate her colleagues on the topic, focusing on offering workshops that highlighted the science of EDI, using data and research to reinforce her message.
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EDI tips to get you started 1. Question yourself about your biases. Try the online Harvard Implicit Bias test to find out more about which biases you have. 2. Actively promote individuals from underrepresented groups. Inviting a speaker? Recommending people for a new job? Ensure your short list contains equal numbers of men and women as well as ethnic and cultural diversity.
3. Be inclusive! Planning an event or hosting a visitor? Ensure the location is accessible for people with physical disabilities. Working in a group? Seek input from all individuals and provide multiple ways for people to participate, from speaking up in a meeting to sending ideas through email to having short oneon-one conversations.
WILLIS NOTES THAT WHILE MANY OF US CAN BE ON BOARD WITH THE IDEA OF EDI AND WANT TO MAKE IMPROVEMENTS, UNLESS YOU KNOW WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE ON A DAILY BASIS, SPECIFIC ACTIONS YOU CAN TAKE ARE NOT ALWAYS CLEAR.
CATCHING THEM YOUNG
And the message seems to be getting through. “Everyone has an equal opportunity to learn what they are passionate about,” says Grade 6 participant Reese Kennedy. “The conference gives girls the opportunity to look at all the different options in science and shows that you don’t have to decide on one right away, and that there’s lots of time to think about it. You can go from one area to another, or you can do more than one. It’s all about learning, making mistakes, moving on, and getting better.”
THE YOUNGER GENERATION needs role models, she
notes. “We need to change the culture for these young women and to show what a path to success looks like in order to keep them in science” . Cue WISEST. For more than 35 years, WISEST (Women in Scholarship, Engineering, Science & Technology) has been working hard to empower women in the fields of science, engineering, and technology through hands-on experiences, mentorship, networking, outreach, and education. At the recent CHOICES conference in Edmonton, more than 600 Grade 6 girls were introduced to various STEM activities, with the overall theme that science is something they can excel at, challenging their ideas about scientists and engineers.
SOLUTION-BASED STRATEGIES EFFORTS TOWARD IMPROVING EDI are also making
Grade 6 student Reese Kennedy (L) and her classmates are encouraged by the choices in science, illustrated by their participation in WISEST’s CHOICES conference.
waves at the institutional level. In 2018, UAlberta became the first university in the world to make intersectional gender research and teaching a strategic priority. Less than a year later, UAlberta announced its first EDI strategic plan, which takes a comprehensive approach to understanding and addressing issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion on campus. Earlier this year, the federal government announced the creation of a fund to foster EDI in research, specifically in the scientific and engineering communities. In addition, $10 million in funding was directed to targeted EDI capacitybuilding grants to help post-secondary schools embrace and increase diversity. For Willis, this is one step in the right direction.
Diversity in research WILLIS IS PASSIONATE not only about building diversity awareness with her colleagues, but about applying the diversity lens to her research, noting that her experience has played a role in her glycoimmunology and microbial glycobiology research. “I am exploring the human immune system and working to understand the differences between men and women,” she says. “Specifically, I’m looking at autoimmune disease to better understand why 60 to 80 per cent of those affected are female. We know glycobiology plays an important role in the immune system, but we don’t know why exactly, and I think it may hold the key to some of the questions.” Willis also brings her expertise to GlycoNet, a panCanadian Network of Centres of Excellence of more than 140 researchers, centred at UAlberta.
By the numbers GENDER REPRESENTATION IN THE FACULTY OF SCIENCE THEN AND NOW. Female
Master’s “With the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) now requiring EDI statements in grants, more faculty are becoming aware of it,” comments Willis. “Requiring EDI statements brings awareness to the issue. I wish more people were offering information to scientists about diversity to get them engaged from the science aspect.” Willis notes that while many of us can be on board with the idea of EDI and want to make improvements, unless you know what it looks like on a daily basis, specific actions you can take are not always clear. While she notes much of the information and
UAlberta focus IN FEBRUARY 2019, the University of Alberta launched its first Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Strategic Plan. The plan sets out institutional priorities and goals over the next four years, with special emphasis in the first year on establishing improved systems for data collection (both quantitative and qualitative) to support target setting and identify specific barriers. It also emphasizes developing resources to integrate EDI considerations into research and teaching, and sustaining and enhancing training and development across the university.
presentations focus on being generally aware of our biases, they don’t go that critical step further to illustrate how to address—and change—those biases. Her workshops, therefore, focus on practical experience and suggestions to address bias on a daily basis. “Everyone is part of the problem,” she says. “We need everyone to participate to be part of the solution.”
To learn more about diversity in the Faculty of Science, visit ualberta.ca/science/diversity
It is with deep sadness that the Faculty of Science announces the recent passing of MargaretAnn Armour (’70 PhD, ’13 DSc). As associate dean (diversity), Armour focused unwaveringly on increasing the diversity in our faculty. Under her tenure and tireless efforts since 2005 until shortly before her passing in May 2019, the representation of women in our faculty ranks rose from 14 to 22 per cent. We will honour her legacy by continuing to champion the cause of diversity in STEM. Margaret-Ann, you are deeply missed.
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Mathematics Professor Dragos Hrimiuc on calculus, community, and creating connections
Today, you’ll get one dollar. Tomorrow, you’ll get 50 cents. The next day, a quarter of a dollar, then an eighth, a sixteenth, and so on. If this goes on forever, will you be rich, or will you be poor? “Well, you’ll only ever be two dollars richer than you are now, so the answer really depends on you,” said Dragos Hrimiuc (mathematical and statistical sciences). “This is the concept of series. When I teach about series, I start class with this example. That way, students have a concrete understanding from the outset.” Hrimiuc has been teaching concepts like these for more than 23 years. And over the last quarter century, he has been the recipient of numerous teaching and leadership awards, including the Rutherford Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, the Pacific Institute
for the Mathematical Sciences (PIMS) Education Prize, and various student-selected accolades. “It is these that mean the most to me—the ones that are selected by students,” Hrimiuc explained. “It is not set up or selected by faculty committees. Instead, it is selected by students. Each year, different students select the winner.” Hrimiuc has won an impressive six times. Hrimiuc, who teaches all levels of mathematics courses—from introductory undergraduate classes all the way to advanced graduate courses—is much beloved by his pupils. The secret to his success? Being passionate and knowledgeable.
the sky The art of teaching mathematics “I love my students. To be a teacher is one of the best jobs you could have. I’m surrounded by young people. They keep me feeling energetic and excited about learning.” —Dragos Hrimiuc, professor in the Department of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences.
By Katie Willis
Photos John Ulan U A L B E R TA . C A / S C I E N C E
Not just the numbers “What I’m doing, I’m doing with passion,” Hrimiuc explained. “This is easy because I like what I teach. I see teaching as the art of conveying hard scientific knowledge in the simplest way while connecting to our audience emotionally to drive more engagement.” As for the second element, being knowledgeable seems like a given for any teacher. But, Hrimiuc explains, teaching is much more than presenting knowledge. “It requires enthusiasm, dedication, enjoyment of the work, and a lot of creativity to stimulate learning,” he said. “Most of the time, my lectures between different sections are completely different because I am creating as I teach and try to transform a monotonous routine into an exciting challenge. Of course, you cannot be creative if you are not knowledgeable. It is very important to know a lot about the subject to keep the motion of presentation, the flow through the material. “You have to understand how the brain of the student works in order to transmit knowledge. When I look in the eyes of my students, I can see if I maintain their interest or if they understand
Amazing alumni IN HIS 23 YEARS at the University of Alberta, Dragos Hrimiuc has taught more than 9,000 students in 120 classes. He’s met many of his students after they’ve left the classroom— even once while on vacation in Paris. Many times, he says, former students will just stop by his office to talk. Have a favourite moment you'd like to share? Email us at science.contours@ ualberta.ca
Dragos Hrimiuc’s passion for teaching is palpable.
“When I look in the eyes of my students, I can see if I maintain their interest or if they understand my explanations. I catch the moment when the idea clicks.” my explanations. I catch the moment when the idea clicks. You have to look at your class and understand what that moment looks like to be a good teacher.”
Calculus and community But Hrimiuc’s passion for inspiring a love of mathematics in his students doesn’t stop there. He’s also committed to bringing this inspiration to a younger generation, namely Albertan high school students through the Alberta High School Mathematics Competition. The annual competition engages approximately 800 students from across the province, who compete for cash prizes in two competition phases. “We want to encourage high school students to work on challenging problems, which could inspire them to become good mathematicians,” explained Hrimiuc. “Solving complex math problems improves the ability to think clearly and creatively. We have to educate students to participate in math competitions, which can provide a challenging, engaging math experience. Competitions teach students that effective performance requires a lot of practice.” Back on the University of Alberta campus, Hrimiuc is also famous for his open review sessions, held twice each semester—once for the midterm and once for the final. The sessions, held in the 500-person lecture theatres in the Centennial Centre for Interdisciplinary Science, are standing room only for two hours. Attendees are invited to make an optional donation, about the value of a cup of coffee. “Maybe one dollar, maybe five dollars,” he said with a laugh. “After each session, I count up the change. It usually takes me a couple of hours.” The funds are then donated to a charity, usually the Stollery Children’s Hospital or the Alberta Cancer Foundation. Since 2006, Hrimiuc has raised more than $22,000. “I love my students. I want to see them succeed. To be a teacher is one of the best jobs you could have. I’m surrounded by young people. They keep me feeling energetic and excited about learning.”
By Sarah Nason (â€™15 BSc) / Photos supplied by Patrick Welsh
Ducking the costs of migration A monolithic factory churning through human waste might not seem like a paradise for wildlife, but every winter this is exactly where a motley crew of mallards make their home in Edmonton.
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SCHEWING the traditional migratory habits of their species, this renegade group elects instead to dwell in and around ponds of partially treated wastewater produced by the local wastewater treatment plant. Luckily for the ducks, the water here, called secondary clarified effluent water (SCEW), has already had certain undesirables filtered out. But what convinces a duck to overwinter here? “Ducks only go however far south, or east, or west, or wherever their normal overwintering grounds are to reach appropriate conditions for them to overwinter,” explains Cynthia Paszkowski, professor emeritus (biological sciences). “One thing that often creates an attractant, which was true at the water treatment plant, is open water. Not only do they feed or drink from the open water, but that’s also where they often like to sleep because they’re relatively safe from predators on the water.” Another factor for the birds is finding a warm spot to escape the winter cold. As a result of the treatment process, the pond water remains at a hospitable temperature (more than 10 C) all year round, even when the ambient temperature drops to a chilly -30 C during the infamous Alberta winter. The mallards seem happy to skip the cross-continental flight, but onlooking scientists are not so sure.
“THERE WAS an earlier study done in the ’90s where they looked at overwintering birds, and a lot of the birds were not in good condition. They were pretty skinny. It’s not the best place for them, clearly,” says Paszkowski. The truth is, wintering up north is probably not so much a cunning choice as a necessary evil for ducks that are unprepared to migrate. Most winter residents on the local North Saskatchewan River are juveniles, suggesting that they hatched too late in the season to build up the strength for migration. On top of that, the birds lose up to 30 per cent of their body weight over the winter. In effect, the birds find themselves in a vicious cycle: they need more food to build up the strength to make a migration, but the SCEW ponds don’t have enough food for them to make it over the hurdle.
“You’ve got all of our drugs—recreational or pharmaceutical—and you’ve got all of our personal care products.”
What’s in the water? WITH THE DUCKS likely to stay on these ponds long-term, there remains an elephant in the room: what’s in the water at the wastewater treatment plant? “Everything,” says Keith Tierney (biological sciences), an expert in toxicology and fish. “You’ve got all of our drugs—recreational or pharmaceutical—and you’ve got all of our personal care products.” Tierney and his team have also been investigating the potential toxic effects the mallards may suffer due to their prolonged exposure to the partially treated water. The researchers
were mainly concerned with the potential feminizing effects of synthetic compounds in the water, such as the active ingredient in birth control—ethinyl estradiol—which has been demonstrated to affect sexual development in fish. Luckily for the ducks, research by Tierney and his students showed that the SCEW appears to be safe. “It’s full of pollutants, but they’re at a very low concentration. We answered the question about toxicity, but the ecology of it, we don’t know. There’s going to be a relationship between mortality, starvation, and fitness benefit of overwintering, and we’d like to know what that is. But we haven’t figured it out; we’ve only said that it exists.” Overall, the mallards might sound like quite the success story: they have found a stable niche in the urban environment, which is not the case for a lot of wildlife out there. Humans often struggle to share space with animals, resulting in animal populations being displaced, reduced, or eliminated. But the question remains open of whether birds are truly better or worse off for wintering at the ponds, and with climate change likely to increase the number of ducks opting to stay put, this question may become more urgent in the future. The issue does not only affect Edmonton mallards: ducks and geese across the world are increasingly falling into what may be considered “ecological traps:” human-made micro-habitats that only work in the short term. If the SCEW ponds are indeed a trap, how do you stop a mallard from landing there in the first place? Paszkowski suggests solutions borrowed from the fishery industry, such as wiring or netting off the ponds. Such a system might be a way to stop the cycle. To be sure what steps need to be taken, more research will be needed on the costs and benefits of an earthbound lifestyle for these urban ducks. Sarah Nason graduated from the Faculty of Science in 2015 with a bachelor of science. Nason now works as a science communicator at Fuse Consulting Ltd.
Lights, quantum, BY JENNIFER PASCOE
PHOTOS JOHN ULAN
(re)action Explosive discovery has potential to revolutionize global security screening
Everything’s bigger in Texas, or so the saying goes. But for one Texan who now calls Edmonton home, it’s the little things that count. Really little. To the nanoscale, in fact. And her explosive discovery of something super small is adding up to really big possibilities that could soon revolutionize global security screening.
hristina Gonzalez (’17 PhD) followed a pretty typical
graduate student journey. Get curious. Ask questions. Explore all possible answers. Present a poster or two. Publish the results. Build citations and scientific impact. And pursue employment. But for Gonzalez, that last step was anything but typical. Around the time of her graduation, her former PhD supervisor, Jon Veinot (chemistry), happened to be starting a spinoff company, Applied Quantum Materials (AQM). AQM focused on heavymetal-free, biocompatible silicon quantum dots and semiconductor nanoparticles for a broad range of applications in sensing, energy, displays, security, and bio-imaging. And Veinot’s co-founder and AQM CEO, David Antoniuk (’83 PhD, Eng), was looking for innovative ideas to commercialize. A fortuitous wander down the hallway and a glance at one of those aforementioned research posters out of Veinot’s group piqued Antoniuk’s curiosity. So much so that he contacted Gonzalez to offer her employment with AQM to commercialize her findings. “During my PhD studies, we tested our silicon quantum dots for their response towards different explosive compounds, like RDX, PETN, and the more commonly known TNT,” Gonzalez says of her research. While their technology is still a few steps away from commercialization, the publicity generated earlier this year for her work stimulated interest from multiple partners across North America, which is allowing Gonzalez and AQM to optimize parameters to negate false positives caused by temperature and other environmental factors. While the science behind it is anything but, the application is simple, only requiring a handheld UV light held up to a strip of paper. If it glows, you’re good to go. If not, that simple chemical reaction indicates traces of an explosive material.
At the swipe of a hand, Gonzalez’s discovery demonstrates the presence— or absence—of explosive compounds.
“It was unexpected. I didn’t foresee myself in a spinoff. A lot of students don’t have the opportunity to commercialize their research.”
Christina Gonzalez (’17 PhD) in AQM laboratories
Glow and go “What we found is if we introduced one of those explosive compounds at the
start, we would see that the glowing luminescence characteristic of silicon nanocrystals would quench, or turn off, in the presence of the explosive substances. The silicon nanocrystals glow a red orange in UV light, but when you add the explosive, they don’t glow anymore. It causes them to dim or turn off.” While her undergraduate and master’s work focused on analytical chemistry and using nanoparticles for water remediation, Gonzalez said it was the nanoparticles themselves that sparked her interest in pursuing PhD studies. She was drawn from her home in El Paso, Texas, to the University of Alberta, known for its strong nanocharacterization facilities and multiple faculty members within the chemistry department renowned for their work in nanomaterials. While she had her sights set on becoming a research scientist after graduation, Gonzalez had no idea that she could continue pursuing her research passion while also working with a burgeoning startup, one so promising that it recently received a nearly half-million-dollar stamp of approval from Alberta Innovates. (That grant was for solar windows, demonstrative of the depths and breadth of potential application for AQM’s innovations.) With that announcement in February, followed by an explosion of mainstream media interest in Gonzalez’s project, the future is glowing for AQM. In addition to Veinot and Antoniuk, AQM employs four scientists, all former students of Veinot’s. “Commercialization ventures like AQM reach far beyond making money from innovation,” says Veinot. “They simultaneously increase the visibility and impact of U of A research while offering U of A graduates the invaluable opportunity to witness technologies they developed during their academic studies move from idea to reality. This experience puts everything into context and fosters an enthusiasm that cannot be realized through any other way.”
Inner workings “It’s exciting to know I’m the co-inventor of this technology that could be
If it glows, you’re good to go. The discovery could revolutionize global security.
implemented in so many different avenues,” says Gonzalez. “It was unexpected. I didn’t foresee myself in a spinoff. A lot of students don’t have the opportunity to commercialize their research.” Back in the lab, Gonzalez is using the opportunity to redefine detection of explosives. In addition to obvious applications for use in airport screening to replace the cumbersome and time-consuming technology currently in use, the AQM team have their eye on mobile applications including inspections of vehicles used to transport dignitaries or of podiums used by orators, scenarios that might benefit from a portable, more efficient technology. “We are taking advantage of the fact that silicon nanocrystals still glow, even if they’re on paper. If you look under UV light after swiping materials such as hands, backpacks, laptops, or other surfaces that may have come into contact with explosives, if there’s regions of the paper that aren’t glowing anymore, it indicates there is an explosive present. AQM’s quantum dot sensor can detect trace amounts of explosives in the nanogram range. To put that into perspective, a fingerprint can pick up 100 micrograms. So we are detecting explosive compounds more than 1,000 times less.”
U A L B E R TA . C A / S C I E N C E
By kristy condon Illustration Blair Kelly Photos John Ulan
Empowering the next generation of geophysical experts to probe planet-size problems
Geophysicist What can Earthâ€™s past tell us about our potential future? How do we safely and efficiently power a growing world? When natural disaster strikes, how can we ensure our environment and communities are protected?
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To tackle some of the world’s most pressing questions, it takes outstanding research, active collaboration, and exceptional graduates prepared to take up the gauntlet and advance confidently into the future of our planet—and beyond. Home to a robust and diverse research program as well as the nation’s pre-eminent geophysics program, the Faculty of Science is well positioned to answer the call.
highly interdisciplinary field at the intersection of physics and Earth and planetary sciences, geophysics research explores areas as broad and deep as Earth itself. Though associated most often with the oil and gas industry, geophysicists today work in myriad industries, from economic mineral exploration and geothermal energy assessment to groundwater and archeological studies and environmental contamination monitoring. “Our geophysics group has people working on both applied and global geophysics,” says Mauricio Sacchi, geophysicist and chair of the Department of Physics. The graduate program is diverse, with students investigating imaging methodologies for high-resolution prospecting of oil and gas, students investigating hydraulic fracturing, and students working on geodynamics of Earth’s lithosphere, mantle, and core. In the geodynamics group, students are also studying planetary dynamics and magnetic fields of Earth and planets such as Jupiter.
Not your parents’ geophysics
n Applications of geophysics also continue to grow
and diversify, as global attention turns to climate change and other emerging issues. Geophysical methods are now being used in a variety of novel applications. “Recently, geophysical methods have also been applied in other areas, such as checking the integrity of concrete buildings and bridges, and even in the medical industry where seismology techniques developed for oil exploration are now being used to image bone structure,” says Claire Currie (physics). “I know several geophysicists who have gone on to careers in the banking and
“Learning about a technique from lectures and demonstrations in class is very different from actually collecting data in the field.” —Claire Currie
insurance industries, where they are making use of their background in analyzing time-dependent data and understanding natural hazards.” An evolving field requires nimble graduates, equipped with the knowledge and skills to tackle big problems in innovative ways. Unlike most geophysics programs, which are typically based in Earth sciences departments, the University of Alberta’s program is positioned in the Department of Physics. This small but key distinction provides students an extra edge in quantitative areas—physics, math, and computer programming—in addition to their fundamental geophysics and geology courses. “Today, datasets are large,” says Sacchi. “Geophysicists also learn methods in numerical analysis and computational physics, making computer programming a significant part of the job.” Accordingly, students graduate with a highly versatile skill set, with benefits they can take to the field and far beyond.
Out to field
n At the heart of the program is GEOPH 436, the
geophysics field school. Available to both undergraduate and graduate students, the field school is typically taken at the start of the fourth year of the undergraduate program, when students take the techniques they’ve learned so far and apply them in the field. “At this point, students have learned the basics of the key geophysical techniques,” says Currie. “However, learning about a technique from lectures and demonstrations in class is very different from actually collecting data in the field. Each of these steps
requires careful planning, and I think that students then realize how much effort goes into getting a good data set.” In the field, students are responsible for designing geophysical surveys, setting up the instrumentation, collecting the data, and then processing the data to generate images of the subsurface structures. Teamwork is also a key part of the experience. Through a series of group projects, students learn to work collaboratively with classmates with all different types of personalities and academic and cultural backgrounds. For most students, it is their first time collecting data in a real outdoor setting. “The field school is a real field, so we have a lot of small challenges—they learn more than just geophysics,” explains Vadim Kravchinsky (physics), the primary instructor for the course.
An essential experience
n From the perspective of geophysics alumna
Cassandra Budd (’10 BSc, ’11 BSc), now a project geophysicist with an engineering consulting firm, the field school experience is indispensable to the program. “It’s a taste of how this is actually done. It’s a chance to apply all these theories that you’ve learned about in class and really begin to appreciate that what works out perfectly in a textbook doesn’t always work out perfectly in the field.”
“Without an understanding of the processes of data collection (fieldwork), students would miss a fundamental component in their education.” —Cassandra Budd (’10 BSc, ’11 BSc)
The term culminates with an oral presentation and poster session in which the students present and defend their results to a committee of faculty members and industry representatives. “In most courses, the students write midterms, they write final exams, but in this course, they have to be verbal,” says Kravchinsky. “They need to present their oral presentation well, and they need to answer questions from committee members. They learn a lot.” The one week spent in the field is just a small portion of the field school experience as a whole, which is woven deeply throughout the geophysics curriculum at all levels. “All geophysics-related courses—from the first year to the fourth year—are interconnected,” explains Kravchinsky. “In their first and second years, students learn the fundamental physics, math, and computational techniques used in geophysics. In the third year, these are applied to learn how to analyze and process geophysical data, and students work with geophysics data in the lab—writing codes and analyzing the data with computers. Then in their fourth year, students collect their own data for themselves and other students to study, and they complete a full analysis. “They’ve used some of this data before, so when they come to the field school, they already know what to expect.” Funded exclusively through philanthropic donations, the field school is exceptionally vulnerable to economic fluctuations. With lingering effects of the recent downturn still being felt heavily in the oil and gas industry—historically the program’s largest financial supporter—there is increasing uncertainty about the future of the field school program without sustainable funding. “Field school is so critical for a well-rounded education in geophysics,” says Budd. “This is where data comes from. This is how we get the information that we’re interpreting. Without an understanding of the processes of data collection (fieldwork), students would miss a fundamental component in their education.” For more information or to support the geophysics field school, visit uab.ca/gfs
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Leaving a legacy of learning How the gift
of inspiration transcends generations
By matthew Kingston with files from Katie Willis
Illustration Blair Kelly Photos John Ulan
“ Keep learning,
and share what you’ve discovered.”
“ Teach kids
how to ask hard questions.”
Dan Chow (’74 BSc) smiles as he recalls some of the more memorable bits of wisdom imparted to him by his mentor, the late Charles Stelck (’37 BSc, ’41 MSc, ’03 DSc).
Born in Edmonton in 1917, Charles (Charlie) Stelck is considered one of the founders of geology in Alberta. A professor of geology in the Faculty of Science for nearly 35 years, Stelck authored 111 peer-reviewed papers—the last at the age of 98, shortly before his death in 2016. Throughout his illustrious career, Stelck received countless awards, including accolades from the Canadian Petroleum Hall of Fame, the Association
“My interest in science was fortified by Charlie’s teaching methods and encouragement, and that interest provided me with an education that helped me give my family a life that I would never have imagined could be possible.” —Dan Chow (’74 BSc)
of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta (APEGA), the Royal Society of Canada, and the Order of Canada. Stelck is also the namesake for an ammonite fossil and Asteroid 187680-Stelck. His pioneering fossil research in Western Canada led to his students’ discovery of Alberta’s massive oil reserves, including Leduc No. 1 and the Pembina oilfield. But Stelck’s true legacy is those he taught and whose lives he touched. Those like Chow. A middle child born to immigrant parents, Chow developed a passion for science and education that was crystallized by Stelck during his undergraduate studies. “My interest in science was fortified by Charlie’s teaching methods and encouragement, and that interest provided me with an education that helped me give my family a life that I would never have imagined could be possible.” Chow, a geologist-turned-businessman, honours Stelck by paying it forward, inspiring curiosity in young students through volunteering with Edmonton’s youth, bolstering their interest in science, as well as bringing students to campus programs that feature UAlberta’s vast museums and collections.
Inspired people inspiring people
n For nearly 40 years, Chow has been volunteering
with Grade 3 students who are learning about rocks and minerals. It began when he became member of APEGA in 1982. Chow visited many Grade 3 classrooms with road-show kits donated by APEGA and filled with interesting specimens for the students to examine. “These kits allowed students to physically see and feel what they were working with and provided a link to their textbooks by having a hands-on experience,” Dan Chow, with Grade 3 students from Norwood School in Edmonton’s inner city.
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The lasting legacy of the late greats Dan Chow with nextgeneration geologists at Edmonton’s Norwood School
“ A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”
explains Chow. “I learned that kids are learning sponges, and they were much more engaged in the subject matter when offered something they could physically connect with.” For Chow, the road-show kits also underscored the importance of learning outside of the classroom. So he began to facilitate field trips to UAlberta’s campus, bringing these aspiring scientists straight to the source. “Over the years, I had the pleasure of leading several Grade 3 groups on field trips to see the collection of rocks and to take advantage of the collection on the lawns—our ‘outcrops’— along Saskatchewan Drive,” says Chow. “I informed the students that they were each geologists for a day and made sure each one of my field crew started out the day with pencils and notebooks in hand. I really encouraged them to really get down on all fours and explore.” The result? An entire classroom of kids thoughtfully examining the world around them, sharing their findings, and asking questions. “It’s too late for me to go back and thank Charlie,” Chow says of his late mentor. “I can’t say my thanks anymore—so what I’ll do is take what he taught me and pass it on.”
charlie Stelck and george Pemberton
THE CHARLES R. STELCK CHAIR in Petroleum Geology was established in 2003 to recognize the commitment and contributions of the University of Alberta towards the discovery and development of oil and gas reservoirs in Western Canada. The first Stelck Chair was Brian Jones, followed by S. George Pemberton, who took over from Jones in 2013. Pemberton’s research relating the integration of trace fossils George Pemberton and the sedimentological record led to a revolution in the oil and gas industry. Using Pemberton’s approach, petroleum producers could better understand and predict where to explore for oil and gas. Unfortunately, Pemberton passed away in 2018, while still actively teaching and researching at UAlberta. He is sorely missed. I am the present Stelck Chair, lifting the torch from George Pemberton. The honour is poignant and difficult to describe. I was mentored by Charlie and the first two Stelck chairs—Jones was my undergraduate teacher back in the early ’90s. I remember him as an energetic, demanding, accomplished, and excellent teacher. He challenged students to look critically at ideas and interpretations whilst carefully nurturing the students’ abilities to present and defend their own ideas. Professor Stelck was on my PhD supervisory committee. Working with Stelck was a blast. He was about 80 when he joined my committee, and he would create relevant metaphors for life and academia out of almost anything. Charlie was the most intellectual geologist I have ever met, and I suspect that will remain unchanged. Pemberton . . . well, George was my PhD supervisor. It is difficult for people who have not completed a graduate degree to understand what a profound statement that is. George inspired my career as a geologist in every way possible. He was a great teacher, mentor and scientist. We called him “the Jedi.” The tradition of research aimed at petroleum geology in Canada carries on through the legacy of these educators and researchers—and it is now, in part, my responsibility to carry on that legacy. They’re big shoes to fill, certainly— but having learned at the feet of Charlie Stelck and the first two Stelck Chairs seems like an ideal start. — Murray Gingras (’95 Bsc, ’99 PhD), Professor, Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences
The legacy of the late Charlie Stelck lives on. Visit uab.ca/stelck to learn more.
B Y A NDR E W LY L E P HO T OS JOHN UL A N
Two decades after supercomputer Deep Blue achieved the first victory over a World Chess champion under tournament time controls, alumnus and Deep Blue co-creator Murray Campbell reflects on how artificial intelligence has advanced—and where it’s going next.
he year is 1997. Chess pieces sit arrayed on a board, a chess clock quietly counting off tense seconds. It’s Game 6, final round of the match, and the score is a dead tie. On the table next to each player sits a small flag indicating their home
country: one Russian, one American. But this high-stakes matchup has little to do with East and West—instead, it’s a battle of human versus machine. On one side of the board plays reigning World Chess champion, Garry Kasparov. On the other, IBM supercomputer Deep Blue, with a human assistant moving the pieces across the
board. It’s Deep Blue’s second attempt to take on Kasparov, after winning only a single game against him in their first match in 1996. This rematch would be one for the history books: the first time a computer triumphed over a world champion as Deep Blue broke the tie to win the sixth and final game and take the match.
U A L B E R TA . C A / S C I E N C E
Murray Campbell (’79 BSc, ’81 MSc) reflects on the past and looks forward to the future.
The humans behind the machine But of course, calling the match one of “human versus machine” doesn’t tell the whole story. Watching the board just as intently as Kasparov was the team of scientists behind the computer, including Murray Campbell (’79 BSc, ’81 MSc), instrumental co-creator of Deep Blue. “There was a lot of intense work leading up to the 1997 match, including building a new revision of the specialized chess hardware and debugging the system with the help of some strong chess grandmasters,” says Campbell. “The 1997 match was very tense, but the victory in the final game of the match was a thrilling moment.” The story of Kasparov and Deep Blue is one of humans versus humans, chess masters against scientists pushing the boundaries of artificial intelligence and computer programming.
Harder problems, better AI, faster computers, stronger science The boundaries of computer science have been pushed a great deal in the more than two decades since Deep Blue’s historic match. New computer hardware and AI techniques have enabled the field to evolve substantially. “The big change from the 1990s is the incredible progress in machine learning,” says Campbell. “AI is now leading to tools that can improve our decision-making and productivity, including speech recognition, image classification, and language translation. “Progress in games has also accelerated, and recent results in chess, Go, and poker, including the poker-bot DeepStack from UAlberta, have been noteworthy.”
On our game at UAlberta Chess, Go, poker, checkers. What makes these games such a compelling subject of study for computing scientists? Jonathan Schaeffer (computing science), explains: “Early on in the history of AI, chess was called the ‘drosophila’ of AI— chess is to AI research as the fruit fly is to genetics research,” says Schaeffer. “Games are nice environments to experiment in. Chess in particular: the space is fixed, the rules don’t change, there is no random element, and everything is known about the state of the game—it’s ‘simple’ in comparison to the real world.” Those “simple” problems are anything but, it turns out. But despite those challenges, the University of Alberta has a rich history of tackling game after game using computing science.
“My feeling is that machine learning alone will not lead to the kind of broader AI that we need, and combining machine learning with other types of AI, such as machine reasoning, will be essential to get to the next level.” —MUR R AY C A MPBE L L
“First, checkers fell to computers at UAlberta in 1994, then chess to the Deep Blue team in 1997. More recently, scientists at UAlberta tackled poker and Go in 2015 and 2017,” says Schaeffer. “The games we work on get more complicated and challenging—and that means we learn new things about AI.”
The next move “In spite of the great progress in recent years, there are a number of challenges ahead of us,” explains Campbell. “Many of the AI systems available today are narrow.” Campbell explains that this means AI systems need to be constantly
retrained to handle new or changing tasks—a time-consuming and computationally expensive process. “My feeling is that machine learning alone will not lead to the kind of broader AI that we need, and combining machine learning with other types of AI, such as machine reasoning, will be essential to get to the next level.” Whatever comes next, however, one thing is certain: the expertise at UAlberta continues to advance the frontier of this exciting field, with our artificial intelligence and machine learning research ranked third in the world since 2000, according to the metrics-based Computer Science Rankings.
is one of the oldest board games still played today, enjoyed by millions of people worldwide—and at least one computer program: AlphaGo, developed at DeepMind and led by UAlberta alumnus David Silver (’09 PhD). AlphaGo has become the first computer program to defeat a professional human Go player and a Go world champion. In 2015, UAlberta’s Computer Poker Research Group trumped luck with Cepheus—the first computer program to play an essentially perfect game of heads-up limit Texas hold’em poker. Led by Michael Bowling (computing science), the team also developed DeepStack in 2017, the first program to outplay human professionals at no-limit heads-up poker.
U A L B E R TA . C A / S C I E N C E
It all started in the tenth grade. On a field trip to the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre, a teenage Stephanie Green fell in love—with marine ecosystems, of course. “It left such an impression on me,” explains Green. “Bamfield showed me that it is possible to formalize and pursue your curiosity about nature. It taught me how to ask questions about patterns I was already observing and to try to understand why things happen.”
Stephanie Green is keeping our oceans—and our economy Now, Green finds herself returning to Bamfield, B.C., each fall, teaching and conducting her own research as an assistant professor (biological sciences). Her work focuses on understanding the changing ecosystems of our oceans and creating a more sustainable future. This means finding methods to maintain and restore the integrity of marine environments as well as the industries that rely on them. “We look at fisheries, tourism, and other livelihoods that are based on the species and habitats in our coastal systems,” says Green, who joined the Faculty of Science in 2018. “Who is going to be affected? What does that mean for how they will make a living in the future and for their cultural identity? What can we do to conserve or restore the environments on which they depend?” The topic of sustainability in ocean environments poses many complex and far-reaching questions. In order to begin answering them, Green’s lab at the University of Alberta is focused on three major streams of research: biological invasion, climate change, and oceanic restoration.
Students at the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.
By KATIE WILLIS Photos BAMFIELD MARINE SCIENCES CENTRE, JOHN ULAN, AND STEPHANIE GREEN
—alive and well COMBATING ENVIRONMENTAL INVADERS
W hen it comes to managing invasive species, many hands (or in some cases, mouths), make light work. “Typically, we look at ways to harvest, suppress, and limit invasive species once they are established. Better yet, how can we use public engagement to address this problem?” asks Green.
The case of invasive lionfish in Florida is the perfect example. A beautiful, aquarium-trade species, lionfish have spread throughout the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, outcompeting other predators and consuming major food sources in their new environments. They also just so happen to taste delicious to humans. The obvious solution? Eat them.
U A L B E R TA . C A / S C I E N C E
An oceanographer in Alberta? W H EN AS K E D what she’s doing studying coastal ecosystems from
landlocked Alberta, Green laughs. “Well, for starters, the oceans have global importance. They’re over 70 per cent of our planet and produce more than half of the oxygen that we breathe. Billions of people get their proteins from them, and most of our goods are transported across them. It’s kind of a global issue. What we do here in Alberta certainly affects what happens out at the coast in terms of regulating climate.”
Partnering with social scientists as well as industry, Green led research on the effects of volunteer fishing derbies, which ended up being a powerful tool for managing lionfish and protecting native fish populations. “It’s like pulling weeds from your garden. You want to keep levels low, even though you know that you probably won’t completely eradicate them,” says Green. “Solutions need to be ecologically sustainable as well as socially sustainable in order to create a management system that will last.” Green’s experience conducting collaborative research with scientists and resource managers around the Caribbean Basin allows her to directly share the products from her research—such as predictive models that identify where native species are most vulnerable to invasions—in order to help governments effectively target interventions.
SHIFTING WATERS As clim ate ch ange continues to affect oceans, marine creatures are beginning to move northward in search of cooler waters, bringing with them a whole host of questions for fisheries and industry— as fish don’t tend to respect national and international borders. This reality led Green to develop a large, collaborative project that spans the west coast of North America, including partnerships with federal governments in both Canada and the United States as well as Stanford University. Green recently received a major grant from the Lenfest Ocean Program to support the research. “The thing we know for certain is that climate change is happening and will continue to make ocean conditions more extreme and variable in decades to come,” says Green. “Species are already shifting their ranges as a result, but the rate and extent of change differs between species. This means we’ll see new communities of species form as climatic conditions continue to shift. We want to model where species will move as ocean temperatures change.”
Beautiful Bamfield LO CATE D O N TH E WEST COAST of Vancouver Island
in the traditional territory of the Huu-ay-aht First Nations, the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre is a research and teaching facility shared between the universities of Alberta, British Columbia, Calgary and Victoria, and Simon Fraser University. “Bamfield provides the unique opportunity for students to be right there, where the research is happening, to see scientists working right before their eyes, whether it’s going out in boats or seeing an experiment running in the wet lab,” says Green. At the centre, students are immersed in life on the coast and in the lab, a once-in-a-lifetime experience that, for many like Green, is the beginning of a lifelong love of marine science.
Currently, the group is examining albacore tuna as a case study for building a model that will help to predict where, when, and how species will move using what we already know about their traits. Using huge data sets from federal and regional governments, Green and her research team are conducting intensive computer simulation modelling. “Linking these data sets and analyses together is both challenging and critically important,” explains Green. “The expertise in machine learning and highperformance computing on the University of Alberta campus is going to be a huge asset for us as we move through these massive data sets. I’m really excited about the opportunities.” The models will aim to predict not only where different species might move, but also what they’ll eat, or be eaten by, when they get to their new destination. The more the researchers can learn about the
create foundational habitat for other species, such as fish and algae. Graduate student Aneri Garg is developing a novel method for creating artificial corals that mimic the structure of live coral colonies, involving 3D scanning, printing, and moulding museum specimens, and then creating casts from a range of alternative Aneri Garg materials. The research will help scientists to understand how fishes perceive the chemical cues given off by live coral, compared with other types of surfaces, in choosing among habitats. Both projects will help to reveal how restoration can be designed to best support the replenishment of reef communities. “How important is the density of live coral tissue to fishes that colonize reef environments?” Green asks. “Once the models are created, we’ll distribute them in different densities of live and artificial coral and track differences in the fish communities that choose to live there to find out.”
UNDER THE SEA Study ing the ocean requires a dynamic, multi-tooled approach. Green’s robust research program, guided by its inquisitive and focused leader, aims to bridge the gap between climate change science and remediation efforts. An interdisciplinary approach to marine science makes Green’s lab both relevant and practical, guided by curiosity as much as it is by pragmatism. She and her fellow scientists are working to ensure there remains plenty of fish in the sea for future generations. traits of different species, such as tuna, the better they’ll be able to predict how their behaviour might shift as a result of a changing climate.
INFORMING INTELLIGENT DESIGN The third focus in Green’s lab is remediation— with a specific focus on coral reefs. “Replanting coral is something managers are thinking about to try to give coral populations a jump-start,” explains Green. “We’re working to figure out how best to design these efforts. In particular, where and when replanting is most helpful, and how best to design the placement of corals to boost population recovery while simultaneously providing the critical habitat many species that inhabit reefs depend on.” Noelle Helder, a graduate student in Green’s lab, is using a technique called structure from motion photogrammetry to stitch together 3D models of reefs for the purpose of understanding how corals Noelle Helder
Sloan, meet Stephanie IN FE BRUARY 20 19, Stephanie Green’s
passion for making things right in marine ecosystems caught the attention of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Nominated by her peers and chosen by a distinguished panel of scholars, Green is the University of Alberta’s newest Sloan Fellow. Since the first Sloan Research Fellowships were awarded in 1955, four faculty from University of Alberta, all in the Faculty of Science, have received Sloan Fellowships. The first was awarded in 1965 to William Ayer (chemistry). The second and third were awarded in 2013 to John Davis (physics) and Julianne Gibbs (chemistry).
U A L B E R TA . C A / S C I E N C E
B y M E G A N E N G E L ( ’ 1 0 B S c , ’ 1 1 M S c ) / P h o to s J O H N U L A N
Impact of interdisciplinary interactions Theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli said, “Quantum physics does not describe how things are, but how things interact with one another. Even we human beings [are] a net of interactions with the world.” I can think of no better way to describe who I am than with this concept. “I am a network of interactions that underlie all I do, just as microcosmically, synapse connections between neurons comprise the basis for all higher learning and creative advancement.” I A M A N E T WO R K of interactions
between scientific disciplines. My academic path might at first appear disconnected; I hopped from computational quantum mechanics to laser microscopy to observational astrophysics during the summers of my undergraduate studies. But my interest really lies in what links these disciplines together: the universality of fundamental physical and mathematical laws, which can be applied to yield insights in diverse contexts, from X-ray binaries to lasers. As my research career advances, I am particularly drawn to how biological systems have harnessed physics to remarkable ends. Human learning; the efficiency of photosynthesis; evolution; the miracle of the self-assembly of proteins and nucleic acids . . . like distinct concertos written for the same Megan Engel (’10 BSc, ’11 MSc) orchestra, each of these phenomena connects the same beautiful principles Kevin Beach, after class one day. And I would that make stars burn, and I want to find the not have applied for graduate school if my musical scores. final summer research supervisor, Professor My interdisciplinary curiosity was nurCraig Heinke (physics)—who went above tured by the deeply formative mentorship and beyond by coaching me to publish as of several professors. I would never have an undergraduate—hadn’t pointed me to a considered research if I hadn’t been encourmaster’s scholarship he thought I could get. aged by my first summer project supervisor,
I was shaped by the belief and support my cross-disciplinary mentors offered, and because of them, I went on to obtain a doctorate degree from Oxford and am now pursuing biophysical research as a Schmidt Science Fellow. I am also a network of interactions between sciences and humanities. The first scientists were also philosophers, and remaining philosophically and ethically literate is vital for scientists. Among UAlberta’s great strengths is its provision of freedom to have robust philosophical debates (particularly with those who disagree with you), and its requirement for scientists to engage with the arts. I vividly recall escaping to the Education building’s music practice rooms—which were once open to all—to play piano, sing, and write music between quantum mechanics and electrodynamics lectures. Maintaining my artistic pursuits during a highly technical degree was vital for spurring new ways of thinking and contextualizing my research. I will continue to strengthen and expand my network of interactions—scientific, artistic, personal, and spiritual—as my life continues, and will always reflect with gratitude on the latitude I was given to do so by the University of Alberta.
U A L B E R TA . C A / S C I E N C E
Faculty of Science 6-194 CCIS University of Alberta Edmonton, AB Canada T6G 2E1
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Science Contours is a semi-annual publication dedicated to highlighting the collective achievements of the Faculty of Science community. It...
Published on Jun 7, 2019
Science Contours is a semi-annual publication dedicated to highlighting the collective achievements of the Faculty of Science community. It...