Category Archives: Science Communication

Untapped Area of Research in Stress Hormones

       Everyone has experienced stress before, but where is it all coming from and how can our body deal with it? According to the American Psychological Association, the average stress levels rose from  4.9 to 5.1 out of 10 in 2015. It seems that stress is everywhere, but this can be both good and bad. Stress is a natural response that occurs when we experience a demand that seems threatening. It is a result of brain chemicals called hormones being released in our body in response to the demand. Low levels are healthy as they help us accomplish daily activities, but too much stress can have very negative effects on our physical and mental health. Therefore, managing stress and the hormones related to it can be very important for our overall health. However, research shows that we are missing important facts on how stress hormones are made.

       Jordan Hamden and a team of researchers from the University of British Columbia (UBC) are investigating how stress hormones are created in the body. Specifically, he looks at the regeneration of a stress hormone called corticosterone in tissues of rats, mice, and songbirds. The creation of corticosterone in these tissues is due to an inactive molecule called 11-dehydrocorticosterone (DHC). DHC regenerates corticosterone and thus, is another source of hormone production (hormones regenerate).

        Jordan’s research team found a way to measure DHC, something that has not been done before. This was accomplished by creating an immunoassay. This test uses other molecules that can tag DHC in the tissue and then make it visible to researchers. Jordan then measured how DHC levels change as mice develop. Results showed that the presence of DHC was most notable during a period of development called the Stress Hyporesponsive period (SHRP). SHRP occurs in both rodents and other species, such as humans, and is unique because it is when normal stress responses are not observed, including the release of stress hormones from the brain. It allows researchers to look at other important, but less obvious processes happening in the body such as hormone regeneration within tissues. As a result, Jordan found that this was when the conversion from DHC to corticosterone was most prominent.


Immunoassays show how some tests are colored differently to tell researchers that the protein in question is present. (Source: Flikr Commons)


Podcast about how this period is gaining fame in research, including Jordan’s.


         Jordan also looked at the stress response of songbirds and rodents, and if DHC levels were affected. He found that DHC increased when the animals were stressed. There are a few theories as to why this occurs but more research is needed before a conclusion can be made.

         Research shows that we do not see the entire picture when considering how the body creates hormones. This can greatly affect treatment plans for hormone-related problems. Additionally, it may allow us to target specific tissues for hormone regulation. Either way, more research is being done so that we can continue our current understanding of how hormones in the body are created.

Short video of how Jordan’s results can have future implications in medicine.


By: Katie Donohoe, Hani Ghaffari, Malavan Subramaniam, Qiuning Lyu

Hyperspectral Cell Imaging: A New Possible Gadget to Combat Cancer

As medical technology make advances and quality of life improves, it has become increasingly common for us to know of someone who has experienced cancer. But if our way of life today is better than it was fifty years ago, why do we hear more about cancer now than before?

To understand why, we should first understand what cancer is and a bit about our bodies. Inside our bodies we have trillions of cells, and every day billions of them die and get replaced through mitosis (a process that splits one cell into two identical cells). Due to the number of times that cells go through mitosis, it’s almost impossible to avoid making a mutation – a mistake in copying (think about your own repetitive experiences). Of course, the body has mechanisms to fix the mutations, and most mutations are harmless anyway, but sometimes the mechanism will miss one. Eventually, over a long enough period of time, the body will miss a mutation that is capable of causing a lethal form of cancer.

So, we learned that if we live long enough, we can’t escape cancer but what is it? Cancer is a general term for more specific diseases, but we just call them cancer because they share a common similarity. Normal cells will go through a death-rebirth cycle, but cancer cells are dysfunctional cells that don’t have the death signal. Instead, the cancer cells just keep dividing, taking away nutrients from the surrounding functioning cells. When a tumour (large lump of cancer cells) form, cancer can also metastasize. This is when part of the tumour breaks off and travels to another part of the body, forming a new cancer site. Cancer is dangerous because if there are not enough functioning cells, the result can be fatal.

Why has cancer become so prominent? We mentioned earlier that we increase our chance of developing cancer over time; cancer is a function of age. Well, fifty years ago, people were more likely to die at younger ages due to injury or other diseases. With new medical advances we have increased our average life span, and have thus increased our chance of developing cancer.

Although researchers have been working towards a cure for cancer, there has been no definitive success yet. However, Dr. Martial Guillaud, a senior cancer researcher at the BC Cancer Research Centre, and his team have just made a strong contribution to cancer research. They have developed a new imaging technique called Hyperspectral Imaging technique that will give medical practitioners accurate information in a short time frame. One benefit to the new imaging technique is that it can predict whether or not a patient will respond to immunotherapy – a treatment that uses your own body to fight against cancer. To gain a better understanding of the research take a look at our video describing the technology and demonstrating the imaging analysis, as well as a listen to our podcast highlighting how the imaging system is supposed to help doctors.


Podcast sound track from CCCM Labs.

Group 3: Simrat Chahal, Cindy San, Eurwin Szeto, Justin Wong


Colorful Droplets

Water droplets of varying sizes reflect different colours Credit: Zarzar Laboratory, Penn State Source:

Pigments, dyes, and the rainbow are one of the many examples of the physical phenomena that create colour. A purple coloured t-shirt appears purple due to scattering and absorption of a certain wavelength of light more than others. The scattering and diffraction of light in a circular droplet forms a spectrum of colours in the atmosphere, which is known as a rainbow. However, an unrecognized mechanism of changing the structural shape of a droplet can also generate hues of colour.

In most cases, oil and water do not go so well together. However, transparent oil droplets have shown that a change in the structural shape of these concave droplets can appear as different colours depending on the viewer’s perspective. Below is a video demonstrating the many hues of colour that appear at different viewing directions.

A group of researchers at Penn State published a paper which explored the origin of these colours by projecting white light into a biphasic (have two phases, water and oil) concave droplet in a petri dish. The light enters the droplet which bounces on the oil-oil interface, and the reflected colours are projected in the shape of a translucent dome, which are the colours you see. They discovered that the curvature of the oil-oil interface in the droplet corresponds to the change in the iridescence. With correct techniques, they were able to manipulate the droplet shape, size, and curvature to produce an image of a blue and green penguin. This research can be of use to a variety of fields from sensors, displays, cosmetics and any colour-changing materials.

A penguin image produced by the reflection of oil in water droplets Credit: Zarzar laboratory, Penn State Source:

Observation of this phenomenon applies to droplets on transparent surfaces, and you can easily replicate this at home. A container with hot food and a sealed transparent lid will lock the steam forming droplets which will produce hues of colour.


Stacy Wu

What Makes Food Appealing?

What’s an unappealing colour that you can think of? The first colour that I thought of was brown. To me, it looks like combination of unwanted colours and reminds me of dirt. However, this colour is highly associated with what makes our food look delicious.

Now, which of the two would look more appetizing: a pale piece of chicken (cooked by boiling in water) or chicken that has been grilled until it is golden brown in colour? I think we would agree the second one is a better choice. So what is the cause of this difference in appearance?

Boiled Chicken and Grilled Chicken

A contrast between boiled chicken and grilled chicken
(Source: Myself)

The Maillard reaction

The Maillard reaction is a chemical reaction responsible for releasing flavours and aromas of food, while also browning them. Since most people only notice the colour change, it is also commonly known as the browning reaction! The process works by rearranging amino acids (the building blocks of protein) with sugars, and only occurs in temperatures of 140°C or higher. Usually proteins are coiled-up structures but when there is enough heat, denaturation (the unfolding of amino acids) happens, which is how the sugars are able to combine with them.

The Maillard reaction occurs in many foods, but have you noticed that they don’t all have the same flavour? Coffee and popcorn both experience the same reaction, but coffee has a nutty flavour while popcorn has a biscuit flavour. This is because of the different kinds of amino acids, as each kind of amino acid releases a different scent and flavour.


Why don’t we just cook on high heat all the time?

Although the Maillard reaction is highly desired, we can’t just cook on high heat all the time. This is because another reaction takes place when the temperature is too high: burning. This reaction gives an unwanted bitter flavour.

However, there is a way to increase the rate of the Maillard reaction. Because water boils at 100°C, lowering the moisture content on the surface of your food will promote the Maillard reaction. This helps keep the meat at a higher temperature since it no longer limited by the temperature’s boiling point.


Didn’t you just describe caramelization?

Many people confuse the Maillard reaction with caramelization. Although they are both browning reactions, they are different reactions. Caramelization is the burning of sugar, and as a result, it occurs in temperatures above the Maillard reaction. The results of the two reactions look similar but the key difference is that caramelization breaks down the sugar, rather than recombine them, and does not require amino acids.


Caramelized sugar on ice cream
(Source: Myself)


The Maillard reaction is the reason why our food is so appetizing, but is under-appreciated. Many people who cook know through experience that higher heats will give a nice colour to the food, but do not know that it is actually adding flavour too.

To learn more about how the Maillard reaction works, watch this video.

Polar what is….. Vortex?

What is a Polar Vortex?

The first thing that strikes to my mind when I say “Polar vortex” is some phenomenon related to earth’s poles. We are hearing a lot about the polar vortex lately, but it has been around a few decades. These are strong and cold winds originating around the Arctic region. These winds originate specially around the North Pole which which are capable to enter parts of United States and Canada. These winds can be strong enough to create very low temperatures around these areas.

An image depicting the region of flow of the winds.


Image showing the flow of the polar vortex winds. Source:


The following video is posted by USA Today and talks about the Polar vortex and its effects.

(Credit: USA Today


Recent Effects of the Polar Vortex:

United States: The devastating weather conditions brought by the Polar Vortex around January 31st killed at least 8 people in several places around the US.

Following video shows a river turning into snow in Chicago

Credit: Guardian News


The following image shows all the regions that faced the consequences of the Polar Vortex:

Areas affected in the USA by the polar vortex,

Canada: Canada has been affected in regions of Ontario and Quebec. The temperature fell to -30 degree Celsius in these areas. Canada has witnessed polar vortex earlier in 2015 as well. But this year, it had much worse effects.

The following video demonstrates the areas affected in Canada.

(Credit: CTV News, Source:

These changes have also been observed in Vancouver, with extreme cold snow days even in the month of February. We observed entire days of shutdown due to this extreme weather.

The heat wave at Australia when North America faced harsh cold winters due to polar vortex:

As shocking at may seem, when North America was facing polar vortex, Australia was suffering from extreme heat waves. How can this happen? It was the hottest in 80 years! This climate change is not what anyone expected and has been a major concern for environmentalists.

Below is an image showing a picture depicting the shocking heat wave

Heat Wave in Australia,

The reason behind these extreme climatic variations: 

This is caused by global warming, which can be said as a man-made climatic change. This caused by the burning of various fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal which release CO2 to the atmosphere. This extra release of CO2 in the atmosphere leads to an increase in the temperature of oceans as well as lands. Also, there is a strong link between the extremities of the weather condition and global warming.

By: Simrat Chahal


Can You Live Without Headphones?

When you are studying in the library or walking around the street, you would probably see so many people with headphones. Yes, that is true that Airpods or other types of headphones are getting popular and furthermore becoming one of “the-most-important-belongings” to us. However, did you notice that constant use of headphones can put your ears in danger and might lead to hearing loss? The damage to hair cells in the ears can last temporarily or permanently.


How Headphones Damage Our Ears?

First of all, sound waves need to travel from the outer ear to the inner ear and to be converted into nerve impulses in the inner ear, the cochlea, in order for us to be able to sense hearing. The cochlea is composed of a number of hair cells where sound waves are actually transformed into electrical signals for the brain. Hair cells would be completely bent or broken because of exposure to excessive volume. If the hair cells would not have enough time to recover back, then the damage can be permanent. Therefore, hair cells would not be able to grow back or to send signals to the brain.

Hearing mechanics Credit:

What Leads to Hearing Loss?

Volume and the length of usage likely contribute to hearing loss. Many people might misunderstand that only high volume would damage our ears, however, it just leads to faster damage. Low volume still affects our ears. Furthermore, the impacts of volume and the length of usage on our ears can be equivalent to other noises that audiologists called “noise-induced hearing loss“, a hearing impairment from overexposure to loud music. According to a research conducted by Josef Shargorodsky, the number of adolescents with hearing loss even in mild level had been increasing over time in the United States from 14.9% in 1988-1994 to 19,5% in 2005-2006.

How Should We Protect Our Ears?

In this video, Greta Stamper, an audiologist at Mayo Clinic, suggested some tips to prevent our ears from hearing loss or ear damages.

It is hard to stop using headphones, however, it is possible to protect our ears by having enough recovery time, setting up the volume low or etc.


Ellen Lee

Blog post #2

Still worry about being infected by a zombie deer? It’s HARMLESS to human!

Recently, a weird “zombie deer disease” spread really fast in North America. Deers from the wild are acting like zombies, walking slowly and unbalanced, hanging around with dead eyes and drooling. Canada wild dears also suffer from this “zombie deer disease”. Based on the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), the disease was detected in six deer  — four cases in Saskatchewan and one each in Quebec and Alberta.  People are frightened and start saying this is the end of the world,  we will all be infected and become a zombie.

The following photo shows a dear suffers from “zombie deer disease”.

Image result for zombie deer


But wait for a second, don’t be panic yet! A study shows that the “zombie deer disease”, which scientifically called Chronic wasting disease (CWD), it’s harmless to human.  CWD is a  transmittable disease commonly for mule deer,  elk, and mouse. The possible route of transmission of CWD is by excrement, blood, or saliva. Once introduced into an area or farm, the CWD protein is contagious within deer and elk populations and then spread quickly. The CWD prions can remain in the environment for a long time so other animals can contract CWD from the environment even after an infected deer or elk has died. Once infected by CWD, the CWD prions will induce normal brain proteins to change abnormally. After enough brain proteins were infected, the brain will become “empty”, and can’t work as usual. Finally, the brain which is already out of order will give wrong and disordered instruct to its body. In that case, the infected CWD patient will have abnormal behavior, just like a zombie.

Don’t believe the terrifying news and videos online, check out the following video to gain a better understanding of what is a Chronic wasting disease.


In the video, Dr. Andy Schwartz talked about the general condition of CWD, a study which is done in 2004 indicates that the transmission of CWD to humans is low. Although the in vitro studies indicating inefficient conversion of human prion protein by CWD-associated prions raise the possibility of low-level transmission of CWD to humans, no human cases of prion disease with strong evidence shows that CWD can actually infect human.

Even though CWD is harmless to humans, The World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control have already sent out a precaution, which advice no people eat or consume a CWD infected animal.  Scientific study proves CWD it’s harmless just for now and it’s known that prions virus has the ability to mutation. Maybe someday in the future, the CWD will infect people, but not for now! We are not turning to zombies. Just come back to work and have a good life would be good for you!


We won’t be infected to a zombie!

Image result for no zombie sign