Showcasing student talent

Asking students to explore their ideas on what will change the future

Six Concordia students presented unexpected solutions to everyday problems just before Reading Week at the Garnet Key Society’s Forces of Change event, with the winning student going home with $1,000 to help make his vision of a smartwatch app for people with dementia and their caretakers a reality.

The Garnet Key Society bills itself as a voluntary association promoting a positive image of the university. Henry F. Hall, the principal of Sir George Williams College before it merged with Loyola to form Concordia, considered membership as “the highest honour which may be bestowed upon an undergraduate.”

This year’s winner was software engineering student El-Mehdi Beghdadi who presented his winning idea hoping to provide relief from the daily stresses experienced by dementia patients and their caretakers. “The reason that [caregivers] live with a high level of stress is because they are always in a state of uncertainty,” Beghdadi said.

By integrating GPS tracking with reminders, caregivers would receive a notification should their charges wander outside of a pre-set safe zone radius.

Six per cent of all caregivers are caring for someone suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia, according to a 2012 Statistics Canada report. Almost half of all Canadians over the age of 15 have been caregivers at some point in their lives.

Beghdadi underscored the importance of one feature—automatic call answering—with a story he heard from a woman last September at the Toronto/London Dementia Hack.

“[A woman] told me that her father has early-stage dementia and that she had to go on a business trip, and she’s the only one in her family who lives in the same city as her father. … When she arrived at her destination, she called him. He would not answer. She tried again, she called on his cell phone. So she did that for many hours, and because her father smokes, she thought maybe he burnt down the house. So she called the police and he was okay, he was just watching T.V.” he said.

Beghdadi’s application would give caregivers some peace of mind, but it requires the patient keep the watch on. The application uses heart rate sensors that are standard in many smartwatches.

A smartwatch’s price tag might intimidate some caregivers—a Samsung smartwatch can cost over $200. But Beghdadi believes it can be a cost-effective option for caregivers, especially compared to the cost of residential care facilities. “People are taking loans just to be able to put their loved ones in those places,” he said.

While Beghdadi sees many potential applications, he said his first focus is getting the application in app stores and receiving feedback from users.

Other students also presented their innovative solutions to a variety of problems, sometimes using business theory and quantum mechanics to tackle problems often taken for granted. One team proposed introducing large-scale insect farming in Africa to alleviate protein-related malnutrition. Other presentations focused on teleportation and synthetic biology. One presenter introduced a new business model to help companies consider social responsibility and sustainability as well as profitability.

A panel of judges evaluated all the presentations on the idea’s originality and importance, and the students’ ability to inspire the judges and field questions.

While the students were the focus of the night, the event was also an important part of the Garnet Key Society’s mandate. Members of the society serve as student ambassadors for the university, and they must organize a community project every year. Previous projects include speaker series, fundraisers for scholarships and tutoring. This year, Forces of Change served as a fundraiser for the society’s endowment fund and brought alumni, faculty and staff together as judges.

District 3, Concordia’s centre for start-ups, gave pitch training sessions to help students perfect and polish their eight-minute presentations.

“We tried to get everybody from different backgrounds at the university together,” said Dave Oram, current president of the society. “We really wanted to engage as many people at Concordia as possible, and get these students’ ideas known by people who can help them make a difference.”


Health Services face uncertain times

Doctors could take 30 per cent pay cut if Bill 20 stipulations remain unmet

The doctors at Concordia’s Health Services clinics may be affected by provisions in the provincial government’s new health care legislation, Bill 20, that could see their income cut by as much as 30 per cent.

The figures, quoted by both The Gazette and CTV, relate to the consequences of not meeting the bill’s provisions stipulating the number of patients doctors see regularly and the number of hours they spend working in a hospital.

To avoid any reduction of their income, doctors would have to balance the number of patients in their practice with the number of hours they work in a hospital or other public health establishment—like Concordia’s clinic.

It’s unclear if hours spent in Concordia’s clinic would count towards the requirements set in Bill 20.

“I don’t know how the bill works, I don’t think anybody is clear on how that is going to be implemented,” said Concordia’s director of media relations Chris Mota. “Do we fall into any of those categories? I don’t know.”

The role of students as patients is slightly more clear. “As for students, we believe yes, it would count for their target,” said Joanne Beauvais, the Minister of Health’s press attaché.

Bill 20 establishes a target number of patients for each doctor based on how long they have been practicing and how many hours they work in a hospital or clinic. The targets are as low as zero—for doctors in the very beginning and very end of their careers—and as high as 1500 patients, for doctors who have been practicing for 25 to 34 years. However, the targets are flexible. The letter noted that, for example, a doctor with 10 years of experience who worked more than the required number of hours in a hospital would have a lower target number of patients—750 patients rather than 1000 patients.

Unlike the nurses and health promotions specialists at the clinics, doctors are not Concordia employees. “They are here because they choose to come here,” Mota said. “They are independent of the university.”

Instead of being hired, Mota explained, doctors who want to work at the clinic sign a one-year contract with the university that can be indefinitely extended, circumstances permitting. Some doctors have their contract renewed many times—one has been working in the clinic for 10 years. Others just work at the clinic for a year before moving on.

Most Concordia students may not immediately notice any direct effects of Bill 20. “We will wait and see how this plays out and if there is any kind of an impact,” Mota said.

She went on to say that the provincially-mandated funding cuts to university budgets have not affected Health Services any more than other parts of the university.

“Are they affected? Probably, the same way that everybody else is. Certainly, they are not singled out in any way.”

No Health Services personnel chose to leave during the recent Voluntary Departure Program which ended in November.

Even if students don’t notice a change in on-campus health services, both supporters and detractors of the bill believe that effects will be felt widely across the province.

Some doctors’ groups believe Bill 20 will lower the quality of medical care.

The Quebec Federation of General Practitioners has an ongoing petition that calls for the bill to be scrapped. “Bill 20 would put an unheard of concentration of power in the hands of the health minister, and bring punitive consequences that go against Quebec values,” the petition states.

The provincial government believes Bill 20 will increase the number of people with a family physician as they are forced to work hours outside hospital settings and also decrease the number of people making unnecessary trips to the emergency room.

“Bill 20 sends a clear signal,” wrote Health Minister Gaétan Barrette in a letter sent out to doctors in the province. “This is not to abandon hospital practice, but to restore the balance between it and the work in the office. … Put simply, we do not ask doctors to change their daily rhythm of work, we simply ask them to maintain this pace five days a week.”

Bill 20 would also restrict the use of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) to women under the age of 42 who have undergone psychological testing. In 2010, Quebec became the first province to cover IVF as part of provincial health insurance.

Consultations are expected to continue concerning Bill 20 before a final vote is taken in the National Assembly.



Concordia students head to the polls

CSU byelections to take place from Nov. 25-27 on both campuses

Concordia students can shape the way their student union acts as voting in the Concordia Student Union (CSU) byelections opens today, Nov. 25. Voting will continue until Thursday, Nov. 27.

Several referendum questions are on the ballot this semester, including a fee levy to support the Model UN program, student housing, and the CSU’s endorsement of the boycott, divest and sanction (BDS) movement against Israel and in support of Palestine.


The question about the BDS movement is one of the more contentious referendum issues in this election and calls on people to boycott and divest from Israeli companies, as well as companies that support Israel, and also calls on governments to levy sanctions against Israel.

Supporters of the BDS movement say that Israel is illegally occupying Palestinian territory and violating human rights. If the question passes, the CSU will endorse the movement and they could apply pressure on the university to do the same.

Those who oppose the CSU’s endorsement of the BDS movement are worried it will polarize and divide the campus.

Tangible results of the question would be felt only within the CSU. This position would make it difficult for CSU clubs and groups to purchase any products that come from Israel or bring in speakers, though it would not have any direct impact on the business of the university itself, such as the availability of exchange programs with Israeli institutions.

The precise wording of the question has also been a source of controversy.

On November 16, the CSU’s chief electoral officer (CEO), Andre-Marcel Baril, changed the wording of the question to read that the CSU would endorse the BDS movement “until Israel complies with International Law and Universal Principles of Human Rights.” The question previously asked if the CSU would call for a “boycott of all academic and consumer ties with any institution or company that aids in Israel’s occupation of Palestine.”

Baril as CEO has the power to change the wording of a referendum question up to seven days before the voting period if the question might be prejudicial to one side or affect the outcome of the election.

A Judicial Board complaint was filed on Monday, alleging that Baril’s edits were manifestly unreasonable because they made the question prejudicial and because the No campaign was not notified of the edits.

The Judicial Board ruled Monday, Nov. 24, that Baril had made the new version of the question publicly available by posting it online but the wording of the question should be amended again.

“We did not feel that he had been manifestly unreasonable, but we felt the question could be more clear than the one that was going to appear on the ballot,” said Judicial Board chairperson Zach Braman.

The final wording of the question as it is to be seen my students will be, “Do you approve of the CSU endorsing the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel?”

“Our goal was to allow students to have a voice and make the question simple and not ambiguous,” Braman said.“Our job is just to make sure that the students say what they really want to say.”

Baril could not be reached for comment.



Concordia’s Model UN referendum question is looking to have the right to collect seven cents per credit from every student. The fee levy would give the Model UN far more money—and more financial independence—than the $7,500 per year it currently gets from the CSU.

The fee levy would bring in around $49,000 for the group each year, which would go towards expanding the organization’s leadership training program and speaker series.

Between 100 to 200 people currently attend the group’s leadership training sessions.

Ten per cent of the new fee levy would also fund financial transparency initiatives like hiring an external auditor, according to Nathanaël Dagane, the president of the group. He says none of the funds would offset travel expenses, although some may be applied to conference and delegate fees the club incurs.


If approved, the question about student housing would allow the CSU to support student co-op housing projects. Recently, the CSU Council heard a presentation about one ongoing project spearheaded by the Unité de travail pour l’implantation de logement étudiant (UTILE).

Several student co-op housing units already exist in Canadian cities, including Toronto, Kingston, and Guelph.

“Honestly, I’m surprised this has yet to occur in Montreal, a student city, given its innovative social economy sector,” said Terry Wilkings, CSU’s VP Academic and Advocacy.

Student co-op housing could remove students from the greater Montreal rental market, which Wilkings said might allow families to re-occupy units now used by students.

The explanation from the Yes committee said that student co-op housing would also help prevent students from being affected by predatory rental practices, especially students from other provinces and countries.

The question could allow the CSU to allocate money from the Student Space, Accessible Education and Legal Contingency Fund (SSAELC).

“However, before any big projects are started it’s nearly inevitable that students will be consulted again through a democratic process,” Wilkings said.

Other referendum questions could ratify the CSU executives’ decision to use money from the SSAELC fund to create and launch the new Hive Café and not use its operating budget to repay the loan. (The cost would represent 1 per cent of the SSAELC funds.) Another question would increase the fee levy for the International and Ethnic Associations Council, which is hoping to separate from the CSU.

Other potential CSU stances include opposing austerity measures and budget cuts, and supporting a campus daycare.

Six new CSU Councillors will also be elected. One councillor will be elected for the faculty of Arts and Science, one for Engineering and Computer Science and three for JMSB. A candidate for the independent councillor position is running unopposed.

All undergraduate Concordia students who are registered for at least one class in the winter semester are eligible to vote. Several voting booths are available downtown in the Hall Building lobby, the MB lobby, the Visual Arts Building Lobby, and the Webster Library Atrium. At Loyola, polling stations will be set up in the SP Building lobby, in the Vanier Library, and on the main floor of the AD Building.

For more information, visit


This synthetic bio conference is all natural

Concordia continues focus on discipline by hosting workshop

An upcoming workshop at the Loyola campus will bring together scientists, policy makers, and industry leaders later this month to discuss synthetic biology.

The UK-Canada Synthetic Biology Workshop will be taking place on Oct. 27 and 28, with the first day comparing the synthetic biology landscapes in the United Kingdom, Quebec, and Canada. The second day will discuss why industry and public institutions should invest in synthetic biology.

Speakers will include executives from Genome Quebec and Genome Canada as well as professors from the Université de Montréal, Concordia, McGill, and the University of Toronto.

The workshop’s goals are to inform people—especially policy makers—about how synthetic biology can change our world and foster international partnerships, according to the workshop’s website.

Canadian biologists should find plenty of opportunities for transatlantic collaborations with their British counterparts.

“The UK has a huge, multi-million dollar program to fund synthetic biology,” said Dr. Vincent Martin, the co-director of Concordia’s Centre for Applied Synthetic Biology.

Concordia has also been investing in synthetic biology. The centre was Canada’s first dedicated synthetic biology research site.

“The university itself, all the way up to the president’s office, has made it a priority,” Martin said. “They’ve realized that this is a place where Concordia can make an impact and are dedicating resources to it.”

Synthetic biology makes biology work for us by altering an organism’s genetic code—Martin likes to use the term “industrializing biology.”

“If you look at what synthetic biology is about, it’s the next logical step in the research and development of biology,” Martin said.

One group of Concordia students wants to use algae to make protein shakes and fuels. Other groups are working to synthetically produce an anti-Malaria drug. Another group from Taipei has made an E. coli bacteria to prevent colony collapse disorder, an issue that has decimated bee colonies around the world.

In each case, an organism is being changed at a genetic level to turn it into an extraordinary natural factory, something that scientists couldn’t do without the cheap and easy genome sequencing techniques developed in the last few decades.

“We’re sequencing genomes like we’re making toast now,” Martin said.

Bringing these innovations to the public will require cooperation between academia and industry. Biotech companies don’t have the resources to tinker with dozens of potential projects that may fail, and academics cannot bring their projects to a large scale.

“There’s always going to be tinkering,” Martin said, “but especially in an industrial process, it doesn’t need to be your focus.”

In addition to international and industrial collaborations, the ethical and legal aspects surrounding synthetic biology will also be discussed at the workshop.

Unintentional exposure to synthetic bacteria or toxins could pose new dangers to scientists, according to a 2009 review paper published in the Journal of Systems and Synthetic Biology. People could use synthetic biology to create new bioweapons. As in any scientific field, amateur scientists could hurt themselves or others if they are not taught proper safety protocols.

Some groups are also concerned about ethical and moral issues as scientists create new forms of life.

“There has to be a dialogue between academics, industry, and users,” Martin said. “You can develop the best technology on this planet, but if you end up creating something that nobody wants or everybody is afraid of, you haven’t gained anything.”

The workshop is not geared for the general public, but the discussions are important and could affect everyone. Martin thinks synthetic biology discoveries could be felt throughout society, particularly in health care fields and the pharmaceutical industry. “It’s a bit of a lens into the future,” Martin said. “Years from now, lives are going to change because of this.”

In 2010, Concordia held a workshop to help people understand synthetic biology research. “It was mostly meant to be an educational process,” Martin said. Representatives from universities and Canada’s funding agencies were invited. According to Martin, few attended.

This time is different. Representatives from universities, companies, and funding agencies have agreed to participate and moderate several panels.

“I think that’s a sign that our hard work for getting this thing recognized is slowly paying off,” Martin said.

The stakeholders should “drive the process,” Martin said, due to their active involvement in the planning and execution of the workshop.

More information about the workshop is available online


Small, six-legged, and fierce – and entirely enchanting

Talk on ants shows they have much to teach us

Ants could change the way we think about cancer and genetic engineering. Dr. Ehab Abouheif, a professor at McGill, discussed his research on the evolution of ants during a special lecture at Concordia on Friday.

Ants provide a rare opportunity to understand how group dynamics can influence genetics. “We can learn a lot, if you want to understand how social environments and interactions affect the way genes work,” Abouheif said. “After humans, ants are technically the most socially complex animals out there.” They organize themselves into social classes of queens, soldiers, and workers determined by environmental cues and not genetics. As larvae, all ants start with the same genetic information. Environmental cues will determine whether they come out as the sole queen, warrior soldier ants with large heads and mandibles for colony defense.

Image from Flickr, by Geoff Gallice

All of these characteristics are controlled by one area of the larvae that will eventually become the base of the wings. If there are too many soldier ants in a colony, ants will lick larvae and coat them with a pheromone that prevents that area from signalling other cells and starting the cascade ending with a soldier physiology.

Understanding how this pheromone interrupts signals to other cells could provide insights about how cancer develops, as tumours use the same signalling cellular methods to spread.

This research is still strictly theoretical, but it underscores the potential of Abouheif’s work. “Most of our medical research is concentrated on four species,” he said. “How much nature are we missing?”

We could be missing a lot — not just because we aren’t looking in the right places, but because we aren’t looking at the right times.

All animals go through ancestral stages as they develop, and Abouheif has already forced ants to travel back in evolutionary time. He’s created ants known as supersoldiers — ants with unusually large heads — by exposing the ants to high amounts of a hormone during development. “These supersoldiers are actually very ancient,” Abouheif said, “and if we tinker with these things, we can get them to come back.”

Humans have their own buried evolutionary quirks. “We have appendices, vestiges of a tail, we have gills that come up in development, we have all kinds of ancestral features about us,” Abouheif said. Theoretically, these could come back if something catastrophic happens in our environment.

Ants may also help us understand the ways our environment is changing.

Ray Sanwald has worked with Abouheif for years. ”He has taught me everything I know about collecting ants,” Abouheif said.

For 60 years, Sanwald has studied the ant colonies near his home and collected detailed environmental data. The data provides a clear and complete picture of how climate change has affected ant behaviours. Abouheif is currently preparing a paper on the subject. “That should be a big, flying paper,” he said. “I just have to write it.”uch to teach us


Playing with the Legos of life

Concordia team turning microscopic biology into machinery.

A group of Concordia students and professors would love to use algae to fuel your car, fill your belly, and improve your life. The team, composed of 23 members, will showcase their research at a synthetic biology jamboree next month in Boston, Mass.

The iGEM (which stands for International Genetically Engineered Machine) competition is in its 12th year and brings together dozens of synthetic biology teams – and their work – from across the world to showcase their talents, scoop the competition, and pick one another’s brains. This will be Concordia’s second time attending.

David Oram and Dilan Jaunky have been working together with their teammates since February on Concordia’s iGEM project, which seeks to develop a toolkit for artificially manufacturing algae by providing the basic building blocks needed to genetically engineer them.

Their toolkit will include many small and useful parts of an algae’s genetic code. Once finished, scientists will be able to put parts as needed to make what they want.

“We’re looking at ways to increase production so you get more bang for your buck,” Oram said.

That isn’t all the team is up to, though. “70 per cent of our project is the toolkit, and 30 per cent is our wild, wild ideas,” Jaunky said.

One of these wild ideas could change the way we fuel our cars by exploiting the fact that microalgae naturally produce hydrocarbons, the broad array of chemical substances which form the foundations of modern civilization. The gas in our cars, the wax on our skis, and the plastic bottles that hold our detergent and soft drinks are all thanks to hydrocarbons. For the less developed world, coal is the hydrocarbon sustaining their economies. Most of the hydrocarbons we use today come from fossil fuels. There may not be a lot of fossil fuels left, but microalgae which could produce them on a large scale would be very useful.

The team used a gene for a thioesterase – this is an enzyme that can break a bond formed by sulfur atoms. Some of the hydrocarbons produced naturally by algae have these kinds of bonds.

The resulting molecules are slightly different and far more useful. “Not necessarily for the cell, but more usable for us,” Oram said. The hydrocarbons are shorter, which decreases the amount of processing that needs to be done after the chemicals are produced.

Not only can algae be engineered to produce hydrocarbons, but they could also become a super-food.

“They’ve been used as a food source for hundreds of years,” Oram said. Some people put Chlorella powder in their water to make an energy drink. “There’s already protein shakes made out of it,” Jaunky added.

All that remains is to supercharge nutritional value of algae, and the Concordia team has been working with one gene that codes for an enzyme which, in turn, creates omega-3 fatty acids. The algae could then be added whole to any meal. “You could put it on your salads,” Jaunky said.

The Concordia team makes all this happen with promoter genes that code for proteins and allow the scientists to force the cell to produce new things.

The genes have to come from somewhere. Often, genes can be found in an animal or plant on campus. If not, they can be purchased from elsewhere. “We can order DNA,” Oram said.

One copy of a gene isn’t particularly helpful, though. You need to copy the gene dozens of times, wrap it in a circle known as a plasmid, and put inside a bacterium like E. coli.

In addition to the gene you want, the plasmid also has genes for antibiotic resistance. The team uses antibiotics to check and make sure their genes are working properly. If they aren’t, the bacteria won’t be able to survive.

Next, plasmids are removed from the surviving E. coli. The circle is broken before it is stuck into an algae cell. The team uses heat to put the plasmids in the E. coli, but they need something a little stronger to get the genes into the algae.

“We electrocute the algae,” Oram said on their refined methods of geting the DNA into the cell.  “It’s called electroporation.”

Theoretically they – or anyone – could make the algae do a number of other things. “We’re playing with the Legos of life,” Oram said.

The flexibility in the field of synthetic biology means the Concordia team’s project will be one of many extremely different projects at the iGEM competition. While 245 teams from Asia, Europe, South America, and North America will be at the competition, Concordia’s team will be competing primarily against themselves.

Projects at iGEM are judged on several criteria, including their outreach efforts. For this the team has made a video explaining the science behind their work as well as an upcoming game.

There is also a policy and practice portion of the competition which encourages teams to consider the way their innovation could affect their world. “We’ve decided to focus on the sustainability side,” Oram said.

Every team is eligible for medals, based on how their project fulfills certain standards. There is also a grand prize alongside divisional awards. While there are no cash prizes at iGEM, there are plenty of bragging rights.

Oram and Jaunky are confident that their project will do well. “We are well-versed in each of them and have a very well-rounded project,” Oram said. “We’re definitely going to go with our heads held up high,” Jaunky said.

They’ve already had a chance to practice their presentation at a similar competition this year in Calgary. This September the team showed their research at the Alberta Genetically Engineered Machine competition. “It was a great opportunity to show what you’re doing, instead of just talking about it in a lab meeting,” Oram said.

People from all disciplines are welcome on iGEM teams. “A lot of our team come from diverse backgrounds, even before coming to Concordia,” said Oram, who in addition to biology has a degree in international business from Memorial University and worked in investment banking before coming to Concordia. Finances are also diverse. The team was initially funded by Concordia’s biology and computer science and engineering faculties. As the project got underway, external companies contributed software and materials.

After the competition the team’s efforts will be available to the world, and even if Concordia’s iGEM team doesn’t continue with the project their achievements will be open source through iGEM’s BioBricks database registry.

Recruitment for next year’s iGEM team will start in November.


Outside the box research on display

A varied mix of student biologists, designers, artists and the occasional performative gastronomists showcased unique research last Wednesday at the first-ever Individualized Program research exposition (INDI).

Six master’s students and 11 PhD students were selected to present their work to the Concordia community, with such titles as “The Performative Cocktail: Food Making as Representation Methodology.”

“I couldn’t be more thrilled with how it turned out,” Dr. Ketra Schmitt, director of the INDI program, said. “We were able to get support from all over the university.”

The program, which has existed for over 20 years, supports graduate students working towards earning a master’s or PhD via unusual interdisciplinary research.

“The majority of students who come to us have an idea that is just so weird that it won’t fit anywhere else,” Schmitt said.

Take Adam van Sertima’s PhD work, which uses the Microsoft Kinect technology of motion-sensors on determining whether there is an actual person on the other side of a contest of tug-of-war.

“I spent a lot of my life pulling stumps out of the ground,” van Sertima said. “You try pulling a stump out and you say, ‘Oh, I got it,’ and then the stump pulls back! We anthropomorphize everything.”

Van Sertima hopes to develop a toolkit for game developers to use to address these kinds of problems, but that they aren’t necessarily the point behind the project. “The interesting stuff that I’m doing is not just the end product, but the methodology, because nobody is doing this,” he said.

The ability to work outside of disciplinary borders is exactly why Shea Wood applied to the program. Wood, a drama therapist and PhD student, is researching how performance art married with focus groups can help viewers understand different family life experiences.

Her performances are based on real experiences, which she believes may influence how viewers perceive performances.

“When I applied, I was having a hard time finding a place where my research fit because it’s not in a box,” she said. “I needed somewhere to go that I actually would feel like I actually fit in, and INDI is that place.”

It is also a place for students who want to do research in an area that Concordia does not yet offer, and may just lead to a new branch of inquiry. Concordia’s PhD programs in biology and math are the results of the INDI program, according to INDI program coordinator Darlene Dubiel.

There’s even a home for linguistics here. Ivanna Richardson is currently doing her master’s degree in the INDI program with a Farsi linguistics project when it came to certain grammatical constructs.

Richardson hopes her work will show that existing parameters in syntactic theory are not specific enough to account for Farsi’s flexibility.

“INDI can only exist with incredible institutional support,” Schmitt said of the challenges behind the triumphs. The Faculties of Engineering and Computer Science, Arts and Science, and Fine Arts all contributed to the research exposition, as well as the Office of the Vice President, Research and Graduate Studies and several research centres. Schmitt also underscored the ‘incredible’ staff support needed to make things happen.

Students in the INDI program have also received support and grants from external organizations such as the Canada Council for the Arts.

Five prizes were awarded during the exposition – two each for the master’s and PhD students and one for the People’s Choice.

Qian Qian Zhou won first place for the master’s students for a presentation focusing on how a difficult childhood can modify oxytocin receptor genes, while Nikolaos Chandolias was the master’s runner-up for his project on orbital resonance.

The first place prize for PhD students was given to Morgan Raucher, who researches how machines influence the way we work with and interact with materials while creating sculptures. The runner-up prize was awarded to Erin O’Loughlin who studied how young adults use exercise-oriented video games.

For more information on INDI, visit


New research partnership gives students unique field site

A few graduate students at Concordia may soon be able to watch monkeys and pandas all day –and get paid for it –thanks to a new five-year partnership between ecologist and assistant biology professor Dr. Robert Weladji, and Zoo de Granby.

Specifically, the zoo will be funding some salaries for the graduate students who will work on projects at the zoo.

“We’ve received $10,000 already,” said Weladji, and he anticipates that a similar amount will be provided every year for the next four years of the partnership.

Weladji particularly appreciates the hands-on experience the zoo can provide, he said.

“As a researcher, you have to go out there and look for research opportunities, field sites, to have your students get the best out of their training at Concordia,” he said.

For students interested in exotic animals like red pandas and African mammals, the Granby Zoo’s proximity — just an hour away from the city — provides a unique opportunity.

Undergraduate students have spent time at the zoo before, collecting behavioural data for honours projects, but now master’s students will be doing the bulk of the research. This will mean more data collected as master’s students spend commensurately more observational data for their projects, according to Patrick Paré, director of research and conservation at the Granby Zoo.

The hands-on research experience at the zoo, however, will not involve actually touching of the animals. “We do more observational work,” clarified Weladji. “There is no direct contact.”

Photo courtesy of Stig Nygaard on Flickr

Even without touching the animals, researchers will construct an activity budget for their animals by recording how long each animal spends on certain behaviours like eating or grooming, and researchers like Weladji will also record how animals interact with new objects by describing, “how often they approach it, do they touch it, are they just looking at it, and so on.”

Zoos have an important role to play in conservation efforts, according to Weladji. An example is Concordia master’s student Emily Anderson’s research, which is already benefiting from the partnership, and her work with the endangered Japanese macaques at the zoo.

“We can use that species of primate as a model to save or to help other, more endangered species,” said Paré.

There are many other ways Concordia researchers can help the zoo’s efforts, according to Paré.

Researchers can measure the animals’ behaviours in their habitats to determine what the zoo might need to add, subtract, or change in those habitats, and they can help zookeepers understand more about the behaviour of zoo animals, such as how the animals organize themselves into groups and move around an exhibit. Weladji’s own work, with his colleagues in 2011, indicated animals in one exhibit could be fed in a different way to ensure all the animals received enough food.

Some changes have already been made based on reports from researchers. The marabou storks at the zoo had been having some trouble reproducing, but one researcher provided several tips to help the birds reproduce. “For the first time, we got some eggs from these birds,” Paré said, though he added that sadly, the eggs were not fertile.

While Weladji has already been working with the zoo for five years, this was an ideal time to expand the existing research collaboration; Paré said zoo has been working over the last ten years to update and modernize the animal habitats.

“It’s pretty rare for a zoo to have the chance to study the same group of animals in two different exhibits,” said Paré.

The results of the partnership between Concordia and the Granby Zoo could affect animals far beyond Quebec’s borders.

“The most important thing for us is to improve the welfare of animals in captivity and to share our data with our colleagues all around the world,” said Paré.


Concordia graduate launches dedicated textbook marketplace already has nearly 2,000 listings

Students looking online for affordable course material this semester now have a new, dedicated option alongside Facebook groups and craigslist boards to help them find the textbooks they need at low prices.

SwapMyBooks is a new website focused on connecting students who want to buy and sell specific school books. Creator Gabrielle Jacques said she worked together with website designer, Rob Lebrocq, to make it more user-friendly after she heard that students use several platforms to sell their books. She even heard of students posting on four different Facebook pages to find a buyer for a single item. With this, she told herself: “If everyone would use one website, everyone would find each other.”

Students can also find books more easily on SwapMyBooks than on other websites. “If you want to find a book [on other websites], you have to type it exactly as the person who posted it did,” said Jacques. To avoid this problem, her website consults a database. Users can search by author, title, and ISBN to arrive at the same page where all the listings for the same book are grouped together.

If someone searches for a book that hasn’t been posted yet, the book’s Amazon listing is offered instead, though absent from the site are listings for brick-and-mortar bookstores, such as the Concordia Bookstore.

Jacques came up with the idea during her time at the John Molson School of Business, while Lebrocq contributed the tech know-how. Jacques created the site after she became frustrated with the book buyback program offered through the Concordia Bookstore. “My problem was the fact that not only do they buy [a book] back for a super-low price, but they also make a profit after,” Jacques said. “To me, it doesn’t sound fair at all.”

According to Concordia’s director of media relations, Chris Mota, the university’s bookstore (as a member of a campus retailer’s association) uses a standard buyback pricing scheme where a student could receive up to 50 per cent of the original price of a textbook or as little as five per cent, depending on what books are needed and where they’d go after the bookstore buys them.

“Students have a lot of options as to where they can buy their books,” Mota said. Whether students purchase books online or at a bookstore, she said, “they just have to realize that they should purchase the book that is the appropriate one for that particular course.”

Specifically, Mota advised students to use caution when purchasing previous editions of textbooks, as she said she believes older editions won’t meet the needs of a course.

“Even though a student may believe there is not much of a difference from edition to edition, if a professor thinks there is, they need to keep that in mind,” Mota said.

That may not stop students from trying to buy and sell current and older editions of textbooks on SwapMyBooks; about 1,800 books have been posted so far by some 1,300 users since the beta version of the website launched in August.

It certainly won’t discourage Jacques from continuing to work on the website. Her future plans include creating a barcode scanning function and a complementary app feature, for which she’s currently searching for outside investment, though she hopes to launch it within the next year. She is also considering adding relevant local advertisements to the website; the site’s current revenue comes from the Amazon affiliates program. Jacques, though, sees the website as a service for students. “I’m really not doing this for profits,” she said. For now, she’d be happy if traffic paid for the site’s hosting costs.

She hopes that students will use the feedback form on the website to help her streamline the website and make it more functional and easier to use. “It’s to help students,” she said, “so I don’t see why students wouldn’t want to help me make it a better platform for them.”

To check out the site, visit

Exit mobile version