Category Archives: Featured Postdocs

Featured Postdoc: Dr. Britt Drögemöller

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Postdoc Talk Event:
16 February 2016 (7 PM)
The Railway Club
All welcome
More details
Postdoc Talk Title:
“A genetic prescription – using genomics to personalize medicine”

Summary
What causes some people to experience severe side effects from therapeutic drug treatments? The answers may lie hidden in their genetic code. Join the discussion on how we can move genomics research from the bench to the bedside to develop safer and more effective treatments.

Biography
Britt Drögemöller received a PhD from Stellenbosch University in South Africa, where she was a L’Oreal-UNESCO for Women in Science Fellow. In 2014, Britt moved to UBC to start a postdoc at the Canadian Pharmacogenomics Network of Drug Safety and is currently funded by the Child and Family Research Institute.

Featured Postdoc: Dr. Timo Schaefer

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Postdoc Talk Event:
16 February 2016 (7 PM)
The Railway Club
All welcome
More details

Postdoc Talk Title:
“Liberalism as Utopia: Mexico in the Age of Revolution, 1820-1846”

Summary
Legal equality is a principle that Canadians – and citizens of many other constitutional democracies – tend to take for granted. But what does it take to create a legal system that treats people as equals? This talk will describe efforts to introduce egalitarian legal institutions in Mexico after its independence from Spain and the strategies of opposition adopted by adherents of the hierarchical social relations of the old regime.

Biography
Timo Schaefer received his Ph.D. from Indiana University at Bloomington and is now a SSHRC-funded postdoctoral fellow in the UBC Department of History. His dissertation, “The Social Origins of Justice: Mexico in the Age of Utopian Failure, 1821-1870,” won the 2015 Council of Graduate Schools/ProQuest Distinguished Dissertation Award in the Category Humanities and Fine Arts.

Featured Postdoc: Dr. Brianne Kent

Postdoc Talk Event:
17 November 2015 (7 PM), The Railway Club
(all welcome, more details)

Postdoc Talk Title:
Why we haven’t cured Alzheimer’s disease


Summary:

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of severe memory loss in the elderly. As people are living longer and the median age of the global population is increasing, Alzheimer’s disease is becoming one of the greatest public health challenges facing societies around the world. Although Alzheimer’s disease has been studied for over 100 years, we are still without effective treatments for this devastating and costly disease. This talk will briefly describe what we know about Alzheimer’s disease and why it is such a difficult disease to effectively treat.

Biography:
Brianne Kent is a Killam Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health. She completed her PhD as a Gates Scholar at the University of Cambridge, after completing her Masters research at Yale University. Her research takes a translational approach to studying Alzheimer’s disease, bridging pre-clinical research to human patient clinical studies.

Featured Postdoc: Dr. Lars Kotthoff

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Postdoc Talk Event:
17 November 2015 (7 PM)
The Railway Club
(all welcome, more details)

Postdoc Talk Title:
Engineering the Rise of the Machines

 

 

 

Summary:
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has received a lot of attention in the popular press recently, with concerns raised about super-intelligent self-aware AI taking over the planet and spelling the end of the human race. In this talk, I will explain some of the concepts underlying AI in general and machine learning in particular, a set of techniques that allows computers to learn new concepts on their own. I will de-mystify what AI researchers do and to what extent this is actually a threat to humanity at the moment. Finally, I will give my personal views on why reports on the demise of the human race have been exaggerated.

Biography:
Lars Kotthoff received a PhD from the University of St Andrews, Scotland, and moved to UBC after a stint as a postdoc at UCC, Cork, Ireland. He works at the intersection of two subfields of AI and believes that eventually, computers will cause the end of the human race by frustrating them to death. He’s also been known to excavate Maya sites in Central America, looking for ancient computers.

Featured Postdoc: Dr. Jesse Tanguay

Postdoc Talk Event: 6 October 2015 (7 PM), at the Railway Club
(all welcome, more details)

Postdoc Talk Title:
Avoiding the medical isotope crisis: Canada’s alternative production strategy

Summary:
Coronary artery disease remains a leading cause of morbidity and mortality in Canada. Critical to the diagnosis of coronary artery disease is a medical-imaging technique called single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT), which is used to visualize regions of the heart muscle with reduced blood flow. SPECT procedures require injection of a radioactive isotope. After injection, the radio-isotope travels to the heart muscle where it emits photons that can be detected using radiation detectors that are located outside of the body. Technetium-99m (99mTc) is the most commonly used radio-isotope for SPECT procedures.

99mTc is currently obtained from five nuclear reactors spread across the globe. In 2009-2010, reactors in Canada and the Netherlands, which together supply approximately 70% of the global 99mTc demand, underwent temporary maintenance shut-downs which resulted in a worldwide 99mTc shortage. Discontinuation of the reactor in Canada in 2018 is expected to result in another 99mTc supply crisis. If this crisis is not averted, the resulting shortages of 99mTc will result in delays or cancellations of cardiac SPECT procedures throughout all of Canada, and potentially worldwide.

Dr. Tanguay is working with a British-Columbia-led team of Canadian researchers to develop and implement an alternative production strategy that has the potential to reduce dependence on such a centralized and increasingly unstable 99mTc supply chain. The proposed solution would use commercially available medical cyclotrons to produce 99mTc for regional distribution. This approach would eliminate the need for nuclear reactors for production of 99mTc. In this Postdoc Talks, Dr. Tanguay will discuss the current status of cyclotron production of 99mTc, and his role in developing alternative strategies for diagnosing coronary artery disease.

Biography:
Dr. Tanguay received is PhD from Western University in 2013. For his dissertation, Dr. Tanguay investigated the potential for new medical x-ray imaging technologies to improve the diagnosis of coronary artery disease. Dr. Tanguay is currently a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Radiology at the University of British Columbia where he is working with a team of Canadian scientists to develop and implement an alternative method to produce technetium-99m, which is the most commonly used medical radioisotope.

Featured Postdoc: Dr. Thomas Procter

Postdoc Talk Event: 6 October 2015 (7 PM), at the Railway Club
(all welcome, more details)

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Postdoc Talk Title:
Lost in the woods: Discovering TRIUMF

Summary:
Nestled in the forest, swaddled by a blanket of Pacific Northwest woodland, just south of the UBC campus, may not be where you would expect to find particles being accelerated up to 75% the speed of light! This forested area is home to TRIUMF, Canada’s national centre for particle and nuclear physics and accelerator-based science.

An international hub for scientific exploration and discovery, at the heart of TRIUMF is its cyclotron accelerator, a machine that propels protons up to incredible speeds. Not just a few protons either – TRIUMF accelerates trillions of these particles per second. And the laboratory has been doing this for nearly 50 years!

But why? Accelerating protons is one thing, but by providing a facility to use high energy protons to investigate and benefit the world around us is where TRIUMF comes into its own. In his talk Dr. Thomas Procter, a postdoctoral researcher in TRIUMF’s Laser Spectroscopy Group, will share how TRIUMF, with the help of electricity and giant magnets, accelerates protons and what it uses these speedy particles for: like exploring the reactions that power the stars, testing electronics, treating cancer, and developing tracers for medical scans. And, if he remembers, he’ll talk about how he uses lasers to measure properties of rare elements that can only be produced with accelerators like the ones at TRIUMF…

Biography:
Dr. Thomas Procter received his PhD from the University of Manchester in 2013, working on experiments performed at the ISOLDE facility at CERN, Switzerland.  At CERN, he worked on developing a new experimental setup for extending the sensitivity of nuclear physics experiments whilst also looking into how nuclei (the tiny things inside atoms) change size and shape when neutrons are added or taken away. Thomas continues this type of research at TRIUMF, where he is a nuclear physics postdoctoral fellow in the Laser Spectroscopy Group, working on new techniques for improving sensitivity and looking at different elements to see how protons and neutrons can affect how a nucleus behaves.

Featured Postdoc: Dr. Justin Hart

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Postdoc Talk Event: 8 July (7.30 PM), at the Railway Club
(all welcome, more details)
Postdoc Talk Title:
Robot Self-Modeling and Self-Other Reasoning
Abstract:

Dr. Justin Hart’s research encompasses areas of artificial intelligence, computer vision, and human-robot interaction in which reasoning about the robot’s “self” plays an important role. Traditionally, robots do not learn about their selves. Knowledge of the robot’s body and senses typically comes from engineering drawings or external calibrations; a process that can cause problems that designers must work around. These robots learn and reason about the tasks that they perform, but the robot itself is often absent form this learning process.

This talk will discuss material from Justin Hart’s doctoral work, in which he designed a system that enables a robot to learn about its body and senses by using them in conjunction with each other. The robot constructs a unified “self-model,” which is inspired by the earliest forms of self-awareness learned in infancy.The robot is able to use its self-model to perform novel tasks such as inferring the visual perspective of a mirror.

The talk will also discuss Justin’s current postdoctoral research at the University of British Columbia, in which he is developing techniques to enable robots to perform self-other social reasoning. Such reasoning comes easily to humans (“He is looking at that.” “She intends to hand me the object.”), but is still remarkably difficult for robots to perform. Advances in self-other social reasoning will help to enable robots to work in roles where they must act as collaborators to human operators.

Biography:
Justin Hart is a postdoctoral fellow in the Collaborative Advanced Robotics and Intelligent Systems (CARIS) Laboratory in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at The University of British Columbia, where he is supervised by Professor Elizabeth Croft. At UBC, his research focuses on enabling humans and robots to effectively communicate and collaborate with each other. As part of this he is working on enabling machines to make inferences and predictions about human behavior, and to perform self-reflective reasoning processes in order to effectively collaborate on human-robot collaborative assembly tasks.

Dr. Hart received his Ph.D. in Computer Science from Yale University in November, 2014, where he was advised by Professor Brian Scassellati. For his dissertation, “Robot Self-Modeling,” he developed a system that enabled a robot to make inferences about its body and senses through data sampled during operation. This process is inspired by the process by which children learn about their sensory and physical capabilities and how they are able to interact with the environment; which represents one of the earliest forms of self-awareness to develop during infancy.

Dr. Hart’s work has appeared in New ScientistBBC NewsNBC NewsBusiness StandardCBS SmartPlanetEl Mundothe Yale Graduate School NewsletterGE’s Focus Forward Films, the Ideacity Conference, abd Creative Mornings: Vancouver, and received an award from the SME. More on information can be found at http://justinhart.net.

 

Featured Postdoc: Dr. Masahiro Minami

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Postdoc Talk Event: 8 July (7.30 PM), at the Railway Club
(all welcome, more details)

Postdoc Talk Title: 
Giving peace a chance…
Abstract:
In 1994, the Genocide against Tutsis occurred in Rwanda. An estimated 800,000 to a million people were murdered. Subsequently, Rwandan government made a difficult decision to release perpetrators of the Genocide back to communities. This event led to a circumstance in which the returning murderers must now live side-by-side with survivors in same rural villages. To support community reintegration and reconciliation process, a forgiveness-based reconciliation approach was initially introduced, where perpetrators confessed and apologized for their crimes committed and begged for survivors’ forgiveness. However in many instances, survivors could not forgive, perhaps understandably. Furthermore, survivors suffered from enormous pressure to forgive and moral dilemma of not being able to forgive. Dr. Minami’s research team developed an alternative approach to nurture reconciliation through action, called the action-based psychosocial reconciliation approach (ABPRA). Former perpetrators who participate in his program do NOT ask for forgiveness. Rather, they offer their labour to survivors as a concrete act of apology. Miracle of humanity and human relationships emerges when survivors decide to receive. In this talk, Dr. Minami will be speaking about experience of survivors and perpetrators who decided to participate in his approach. Dr. Minami will report with video-clips and photos capturing the moments of change. This research also holds a promise to develop into the world’s first scientifically proven method to prevent war and build peace.

Biography:
Dr. Minami received his Ph.D. in Counselling Psychology from the University of British Columbia. He is the current holder of the UBC’s premier Morita Post-doctoral Fellowship for Peace Action Research and is the founder and co-director of the Globe in Peace Project at UBC (www.globeinpeace.org). Dr. Minami is a certified Morita therapist registered with the Japanese Society for Morita Therapy (JSMT) in Japan and also serves as the Assistant Secretary General for the International Committee for Morita Therapy. His research interests include application and evaluation of group dynamics theories to effective mediation, inter-group conflict resolution, and community psychosocial reconciliation in post-war contexts. Dr. Minami is the co-founder and a current director of the Prison Fellowship Rwanda-Morita Centre for Peace and Reconciliation Research.