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Thursday, June 19, 2014



  • Space is the talk about life on Earth
  • Researcher wins women's health award
  • Reading the tea leaves after the election
  • Building better brains at neuroscience event



Space is the talk about life on Earth

Dr. George Heckman, the Schlegel Research Chair in Geriatric Medicine at the University of Waterloo, discusses intersections in aging and space research with retired Japanese astronaut Chiaki Mukai and Life in Space for Life on Earth conference organizer Richard Hughson, a professor in Waterloo's Department of Kinesiology.

Heckman, Mukai and Hughson were speakers at the first Aging in Space symposium held on Tuesday, June 17 at the University of Waterloo. Supported by the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences and the Schlegel-UW Research Institute for Aging, the symposium featured more than a dozen experts who discussed how astronauts age in space, and what that can tell us about aging on Earth. It was part of the larger Life in Space for Life on Earth conference continuing at the University until Thursday.

Other presentations this week focused on how to prepare for long space flights, how plants grow in zero gravity and balance control in lunar gravity.

Photograph by Light Imaging.


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Researcher wins women’s health award

A doctoral candidate in the University of Waterloo’s Department of Kinesiology has been awarded a 2014 Women’s Health Scholars Award from the Council of Ontario Universities. The $20,000 award, which is funded by the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, recognizes outstanding research in women’s health issues.

Kristin Marks researches the ways estrogen affects the synthesis of different fats, and the results of her study will have wide-ranging implications for women’s health. 

In cells, estrogen binds to a receptor that then binds directly to DNA and affects gene expression, including the way a cell produces the enzymes that make fatty acids. Marks has discovered that estrogen influences enzymes that increase the length of and the amount of unsaturation in saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acid in the body.

Marks is the first person to identify a clear link between estrogen and an enzyme called elongase 6.  In the body, elongase 6 converts a fatty acid linked to cardiovascular disease and obesity (palmitic acid, 16:0) to a healthier saturated fatty acid (stearic acid, 18:0).  These elongation reactions also affect other fatty acids, including omega-3 fatty acids such as DHA. DHA affects everything from reproductive health and fetal development to disease resistance.

The results of her work will help improve the design of clinical trials, and will also provide a foundation for dietary guidelines that account for women’s different needs during the premenopausal, pregnant, and postmenopausal phases of their lives. 

The 24-year-old Marks grew up in Brampton and earned her BSc and MSc from the University of Waterloo. Now she works with associate professor Ken Stark, the Canada Research Chair in Nutritional Lipidomics, and assistant professor Robin Duncan, both in the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Waterloo. An avid runner, she says a long-standing interest in health and wellbeing led her to study fats as a graduate student. Now she’s something of an advocate for the oft-misunderstood molecules, which have been vilified for North America’s growing obesity crisis.

“I’ve always been interested in eating well and living a healthy lifestyle, and the more I learned about what fat does, the more interested I became,” says Marks. “So many people think fat is bad in general, and when I tell them what I do they say ‘Oh, so you’re going to tell me how to lose weight!’ But fat is so important to so many different functions in our bodies.”

Marks is one of six recipients of the Women’s Health Scholars Award across the province, and one of three PhD candidates to receive the prize this year. 

The prize is part of a decades-long push from the health research and medical communities to include women’s health issues in scientific studies. Marks’s work will be relevant to both reproductive issues and sex differences in the treatment of disease, areas that have historically been neglected, as this recent editorial in Nature describes

“I'm excited to see where all this work goes,” says Marks. “Hopefully it will be relevant to women of all ages. That’s why I’m especially thankful to have received this award.” 

Photograph by Light Imaging.


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Reading the tea leaves after the election

Another Ontario election has come and gone. Locally, NDP MPP Catherine Fife retained her seat in Kitchener-Waterloo, with Liberal Daiene Vernile winning in Kitchener Centre, the seat formerly held by John Milloy. Liberals also won big in the Cambridge district, with Kathryn McGarry unseating Conservative Rob Leone. This is the first time a Liberal has been elected in Cambridge since the riding was created in 1975. Progressive Conservative incumbent Michael Harris won the day in Kitchener-Conestoga, and in Perth-Wellington, Ontario PC Party incumbent MPP Randy Pettapiece was re-elected.

The overall result of the provincial election—the re-election of the Kathleen Wynne Liberals, this time to a majority government—has been viewed by many with surprise, and so a moment's reflection on what this result could mean to the University of Waterloo in particular and the post-secondary education sector in general is probably in order.

The Premier has confirmed that she will bring back the Ontario legislature in July and plans to reintroduce the budget which was originally tabled in early May. That budget re-announced a number of investments for postsecondary education including the commitment to a Deferred Maintenance Capital fund of $500 million over ten years, the continuation of the Ontario Tuition Grant subsidy, and the implementation of the new Strategic Mandate Agreements. In addition, there was the announcement of $25 million in support of Waterloo's Institute for Quantum Computing.

For Waterloo Region, the government has made significant capital commitments around transit, including two-way all-day GO trains from Kitchener to Union Station, and industry-specific investments such as the one announced in April with OpenText.

The budget also suggested some of the measures the government believes are necessary in order for them to deal with the province's fiscal challenges. These include income tax increases for the top 2 per cent of earners, no additional grants for negotiated compensation increases, and the creation of a new Ontario Retirement Pension Plan.

With their new majority status, it is anticipated that the Liberals will likely pass the budget with fewer amendments than recent Ontario budgets, and the province is not likely to see another election until 2018. Due to the retirement or defeat of a number of cabinet ministers, it is expected that a significant cabinet shuffle will occur, which could affect both the ministries of Training, Colleges and Universities and the Ministry of Research and Innovation.

"Now that the Ontario election is over, we look forward to working with both our returning and newly-elected MPPs to renew our  provincial advocacy efforts for the important role the University of Waterloo plays in this province," says Rob Esselment, senior director of government relations for the University.


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Building better brains at neuroscience event

Tomorrow, participants in a University of Waterloo-hosted workshop will be demonstrating large-scale brain models they have built over the last two weeks, running on laptops, robots, and specialized brain-like computers as they simulate neural functions.

The two-week workshop has taught researchers how to build sophisticated brain models that reproduce behaviours such as hearing, seeing, learning, spatial navigation, and analogical reasoning, using new kinds of biologically-inspired sensors that include an artificial retina and artificial touch-sensitive skin, and brain-like computer processors.

The workshop is focussed on using the Nengo brain simulator to build state-of-the-art cognitive and neural models. Nengo was developed by Chris Eliasmith's lab at the Waterloo Centre for Theoretical Neuroscience, and the software program was recently used to build the world's largest functional brain model - Spaun. Nengo provides its users with a versatile and powerful environment for simulating cognitive and neural systems.

The open house-style event takes place Friday, June 20 from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. in HH 373.


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This Week in Caffeine: Starbucks Coming to Campus

Food Services has announced that they will be opening a Starbucks franchise in the new Science Teaching Complex, which is currently under construction next to the Biology building.

“Starbucks has been very popular in many other Canadian Universities and it was certainly a franchise the campus community has wanted for a long time, we just had to find the right location,” said Lee Elkas, director of UW Food Services. "The space at the new Science Teaching Complex allows us to customize it to suit Starbucks requirements.”

Food Services is promising a "full-service location" that will be "offering all food and beverage menu items" that one would find at a regular street store.

Link of the day

World Sauntering Day

When and where

IC3 Workshop, “How (well) are we adapting to the water-related impacts of climate change?”, Thursday, June 19 and Friday, June 20, Balsillie School of International Affairs. Details. Email Carrie Mitchell for more information.

uWaterloo and Waterloo Fire Rescue joint training exercise, Thursday, June 19, 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m., in the area between ESC and C2 and inside the ESC building.

UW Farm Market, Thursday, June 19, 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., Student Life Centre Lower Atrium. Details.

Successfully Negotiating Job Offers Workshop, Thursday, June 19, 10:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., Tatham Centre room 1208. Details.

Pivotal Labs Employer Information Session, Thursday, June 19, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Tatham Centre room 2218. Details.

UWRC presents Container Gardening, Thursday, June 19, 12:00 p.m., DC 1302. Details.

So You Want to be an Academic? Graduate Workshop, Thursday, June 19, 2:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., Tatham Centre room 1208. Details.

Deadline for 50 per cent tuition refund, Friday, June 20.

Interview Skills: Preparing for Questions Workshop, Friday, June 20, 10:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., Tatham Centre room 1208. Details.

Retirement celebration for Mark Zanna, Friday, June 20, 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., University Club.

Skills of Communication (Graduate students and post-docs only), Monday, June 23, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Tatham Centre room 2218. Details.

Retirement celebration for Maryann Gavin, Monday, June 23, 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., Room 3004, RAC 1, David Johnston Research + Technology Park.

Exploring Your Personality Type (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) Part II, Monday, June 23, 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., Tatham Centre room 1214. Details.

Cheriton School of Computer Science Distinguished Lecture Series presents Deborah Estrin, Cornell NYC Tech, "Small, n=me, data," Monday, June 23, 3:00 p.m., Humanities Theatre.

Pluralism in the Quran: Possibilities, Monday, June 23, 6:30 p.m., Renison University College. Details.

Weight Watchers At Work registration session, Tuesday, June 24, 12:00 p.m., PAS 2438, info ext. 32218.

Management Consulting as a Career Option, Tuesday, June 24, 1:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m., Tatham Centre room 2218. Details.

Velocity Science: Science Talk featuring Jessie McAlpine, Teacher Outreach Director of Science Expo. Tuesday, June 24, 7:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., EV3 4412. Register here for free Smoke's Poutine.

Human Resources Pension Lunch and Learn session, “Retirement Planning Tools – Annual Pension Statement and myPENSIONinfo,” Wednesday, June 25, 12:00 p.m. to 1:00 p.m., AL 113.

Non-academic Work Search and Networking (Graduate students and post-docs only), Wednesday, June 25, 1:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m., Tatham Centre room 1208. Details.

Work Search Strategies, Wednesday, June 25, 10:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., Tatham Centre room 1208. Details.

Velocity Alpha: Finding Your Customers Online featuring Henry Shi, Co-Founder and CTO of uMentioned. Wednesday, June 25, 7:30 p.m. to  9:00 p.m., EV3 4412. Register here for free pizza. 

UW Farm Market, Thursday, June 26, 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., Student Life Centre Lower Atrium. Details.

Teaching Philosophy Statement (Graduate students and post-docs only), Thursday, June 26, 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Tatham Centre room 1208. Details.                

UWRC presents Re-Using Wooden Pallets, Thursday, June 26, 12:00 p.m. to 1:00 p.m., SLC Multipurpose Room. Details.

Interview Skills: Proving Your Skills, Friday, June 27, 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Tatham Centre room 1208. Details.                 

Canada Day Long Weekend, Monday, June 30 and Tuesday, July 1, university closed.

CrySP Speaker Series on Privacy featuring Christopher Parsons, Citizen Lab, University of Toronto, "Stuck on the Agenda—Lesson drawing from 'lawful access' issues in Canada," Friday, July 4, 2:00 p.m., DC 1304. Details.

Canadian Red Cross Blood Donor Drive, Tuesday, July 8 to Thursday, July 10, 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., Student Life Centre Multipurpose Room.

UW Farm Market, Thursday, July 10, 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., Student Life Centre Lower Atrium. Details.

IDEAS Summer Experience, Sunday, July 13 to Sunday, July 27. Details.

UW Farm Market, Thursday, July 17, 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., Student Life Centre Lower Atrium. Details.


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