Breakthrough research offers solution for environmental dilemma

As part of her award-winning research, Dr. Soodeh Abedini designed a system she believes holds the key to solving two big environmental challenges.

Concordia University PhD researcher Soodeh Abedini’s system not only reduces the amount of greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere, but it also converts them into a usable source of methanol. Abedini was able to test this conversion in a lab using greenhouse gas collected from a Quebec wastewater treatment plant.

In 2016, research by Zulfirdaus Zakaria and Siti Kartom Kamarudin highlighted that “methanol is a clean and renewable fuel source that contains a large amount of useful energy and is in great demand as an intermediate source of green energy.”  

Zakaria and Kamrudins research describes a device known as a Direct Methanol Fuel Cell which theoretically “directly converts fuels such as methanol into electrical energy via zero-emission fuel combustion.” Abedini hopes to include a similar fuel cell that has comparably low emissions as an addition to her system.

As part of her PhD research, Abedini began engineering the system which, according to her, could be integrated in a variety of industries.

“We don’t need to change any operation system, there is no difference between a system that’s adjusted in the wastewater treatment or the cattle farms,” she explained.

While the collection method of the greenhouse gases may vary from industry to industry, the operating system remains consistent, Abedini says. For instance, farms would need a ventilation system to collect the biogases released by the livestock.

Greenhouse gases are one of the primary concerns in dealing with climate change. The presence of these gases traps heat from the sun in the earth’s atmosphere, leading to increasing global warming.

According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) the amount of “carbon dioxide [is] now more than 50 per cent higher than pre-industrial levels.” Carbon dioxide is the most common greenhouse gas, as it is released as a byproduct in many different industries. According to the NOAA however, it’s most commonly released with the burning of fossil fuels such as oil or coal as a source of energy. 

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), more greenhouse gases can lead to “more severe heat waves, floods, and droughts,” as well as rising sea levels. Carbon dioxide and methane are the most common and therefore most damaging greenhouse gases followed by nitrous oxide.

Abedini’s research focuses on converting both carbon dioxide and methane into usable methanol. This not only targets and captures emissions, but also decreases the reliance on burning fossil fuels as methanol can be used as a greener energy source. She even believes that methanol can be used to prevent certain bacteria in water treatment plants from releasing nitrous oxide. 

Now, she is working on bringing her design to the market and has signed up for the Quebec Climate Solutions Festival for the second time. She hopes to win again this year by submitting her pilot. While confident in her design, she acknowledges the problems ahead.

“A lot of industries hide their production of the greenhouse gas because if they report the real production, they have to pay more money for carbon credits,” Abedini said. 

Once her system hits the market, Abedini hopes to expand her product into other industries such as refineries, landfills, and the cement industry. 

“Another thing that I hope will be possible in the next year is, proposing this system to another province of Canada, for example, Calgary, because in that province, we have a lot of petroleum industry and refineries,” she said.

If systems such as Abedini’s become mainstream, she hopes they could play a significant role in reducing Canadian emissions and global warming.


Ethical dilemmas of “both sides” journalism

Should journalists always strive for neutrality?

The Society of Professional Journalists states in its Code of Ethics that journalists should make sure to report information that is accurate, fair, and ethical. To do so, one of the traditional methods can be to seek both sides of a story to cover each point of view equally. However, despite being efficient in certain cases, 55 per cent of American journalists believe that this method has limitations that may not always make it the best approach to follow, according to recent Pew Research Center data.

This reflection started to make full sense to me after I encountered my first ethical challenge as a newcomer in journalism. As part of two distinct photojournalism projects, I coincidentally ended up photographing two individuals involved in a juridical conflict. The way I learned about this situation was when the first person I worked with attempted to influence me to support their side after I posted the photos I took of the second person. 

I learned that the first person who was trying to involve me in this situation was being accused by the other party of infractions that were at the opposite of my values, such as harassment. Consequently, I started to feel torn up by the following dilemma: Should I publish both projects, potentially giving equal weight to conflicting perspectives, or should I cease collaboration with the individual whose values diverge from mine? This dilemma led me to confront the tension between maintaining journalistic objectivity, and whether or not it should be a prerequisite for truth-seeking and upholding personal values.

According to a PBS Standards article, one issue with reporting both sides is that it can lead to the creation of false equivalences. This term refers to when a person portrays two sides of an argument as equivalent even when one relies on factual evidence and the other does not. For instance, despite the consensus among a majority of scientists that human activity impacts climate change, some individuals still attempt to balance this research with arguments from climate change skeptics.

Ironically, doing “both-sided” journalism can also lead to the creation of biases in the newsrooms, by questioning the ability of some journalists to cover topics about their own communities. Journalists from marginalized communities are often not considered able to share opinions about a controversial topic they might have an intimate knowledge of. 

In an interview, Dr. Crittenden gave the example of a Black journalist who hadn’t been allowed to cover an issue related to racism, because of a tweet she had posted about the topic—something that her editor perceived as a bias.

In other cases, newsrooms can view journalists from underrepresented groups as token “resource persons” who should exclusively cover topics about their communities, which sometimes pushes reporters into sensitive situations when it comes to covering “both sides.”

In an article, journalist and president of the board of directors for NLGJA: The Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists Ken Miguel qualified an interview he had to conduct with a lawmaker opposed to same-sex marriage. This experience, apart from affecting his mental health, pushed Miguel to question the fairness of reporting the arguments of this lawmaker, which sometimes contradicted statements made by the medical community in debates such as gender-affirming care for trans youth. Instead, Ken Miguel suggests focusing on the importance of grounding reports in facts, rather than automatically giving too much credit to the opposing point of view.

These ethical questions led me to think of a more nuanced approach that prioritizes accuracy while reporting the news, with emphasis on contextualizing each piece of information and being transparent. It also encourages a diversity of storytelling by including more underrepresented groups in the newsrooms. There isn’t a universal solution to make journalism more ethical, but the work methods and conditions of the people making the news is a good place to start. People shouldn’t be forced to cover what they don’t feel comfortable reporting about. 

Coming back to my initial photojournalistic ethical dilemma, I decided to stop working on the project that included that first person who was pushing me to take their side while they were being accused of harassment by the other person I had published the photos of. After torturing myself for days with the dilemma, I concluded that it was the best option.

 I realized that it wouldn’t have felt right to keep working on these two projects and remain neutral and objective when it was challenging my ethics so much. I believe that it would’ve not only negatively impacted my work, but also my mental health, which probably wouldn’t have led to the newsworthy project of the year. This is why: I don’t want to do “both-sides” journalism (at least, not always).

Arts and Culture Culture Student Life

Engaging Religion at 4th Space

Scholars and faculty of Concordia’s department of Religions and Cultures discuss the discipline.

Concordia University’s 4th Space hosted a panel discussion with participating graduate students and faculty from the department of Religions and Cultures to address what it means to choose religion as a field of study. The panellists included PhD Candidate Ellen Dobrowolski, Dr. Sowparnika Balaswaminathan, Dr. Naftali Cohn, PhD student Jordan Molot, and MA graduate Katrina Kardash, and was moderated by PhD Candidate Arwa Hussain. While each participant brought a unique background and perspective to the table, they were united in their passion for a department that holds space for interdisciplinary research interests and methods. Each panellist maintained that their curiosity gradually pulled them through twists and turns toward religious studies.

The study of religion can open up opportunities to engage with difficult cross-disciplinary questions. For example, Dobrowolski’s PhD research discusses how a person’s religious identity might reinforce or undermine their ethnic identity. As a scholar with both Métis and Brazilian heritage, Dobrowolski observed that their Catholic upbringing tended to complicate the acceptance of their indigeneity, while simultaneously strengthening that of their Latin background. This experience informs their research onthe life and work of Sara Riel, the first Métis Grey Nun missionary. 

As seen through Dobrowolski’s research, the department of Religions and Cultures fosters a breadth of study that is at once deeply personal and widely relevant within secular academia.  Each project is unique. Dr. Balaswaminathan’s work investigates how a community of artisans in her home country of India struggle to honour the integrity of their traditional crafts in a world that increasingly commodifies the artistic production of the Global South. Meanwhile, Dr. Cohn examines the representation of diverse cultures and the performance of religious rituals in the media. Second year PhD student Jordan Molot, on the other hand, studies the history of Jewish settlers in Canada and their entanglements with the transatlantic slave trade. Recent MA graduate Katrina Kardash unearths the intimate lives of evangelical Christian communities in order to understand the dynamics of gender within their domestic spaces. All of these projects draw from personal experience and demonstrate how our personal trajectories can deeply inform our academic endeavours. 

After sharing their own research and experience within the department, the panellists wrapped up with some advice to prospective graduate students who may be seeking to join the program. The group was unanimous on how the study of religion opens the doors to diverse experiences with people and places you may never have otherwise encountered, and anyone who is fueled by the desire to learn new languages, travel, and discover new perspectives ought to consider religious studies. In a more practical sense, prospective students should begin to flesh out exactly what questions they would like to investigate and reach out to professors to build connections, setting them on a path toward success. 


Créatique: Connecting Creative Practices and Research

On Feb. 16, the English Department of Concordia University launched Créatique, an event featuring a discussion with PhD students about their creative writing and research practices

I attended this gathering held inside the Richler Library seminar room, located in the LB Building of Concordia University. The evening’s host, professor Jason Camlot, gave me more insight into the origins and the objectives of Créatique

Initially, he noticed that there were a high number of talented poets who were pursuing PhDs in the English and Humanities departments. In the Creative Writing program, students study literature, so they have to explore the connection between literary creation, literary criticism and reflection.

“We thought it could be useful and interesting to have a forum where they could talk about the relationship between their creative practice and their research practice,” said Camlot.

This is an opportunity for people who are not familiar with poetry to learn more about creative processes. At each event, two research artists are invited to read from their work, reflect on it critically and explain their process of incorporating themes and concepts into their writing.

Charlotte Wetton, an AHRC-funded (Arts in Health Research Collective) PhD candidate from the University of Manchester, and Professor Alexei Perry Cox of Concordia’s English Department were the two speakers last week.

Wetton’s poetry focuses on labour, more specifically the impact of gender roles and social class in society. Her creative work addresses concepts from eighteenth-century literature. Wetton’s passion for poetry began when she read novels as a child. The pleasure of reading sparked a curiosity about finding the proper words to express herself.

“When I started writing, it was just so satisfying to find the right words to express something, capture moments and experiences,” revealed Wetton in an interview after the event.

When she began her career, Wetton was unable to find many poems about labour. She decided to spark meaningful conversations about work that were lacking in literature in her opinion.

“Actually, I always feel very nervous before readings. Reading any kind of creative work puts you in a vulnerable place. But when I start, I feel very confident because these are the words that I’ve committed to paper and I enjoy sharing them,” she added.

Professor Cox’s creative work focuses on nationalism, immigration, liberation, and the search for identity, among other subjects. Cox’s curiosity about life and finding ways to escape reality with art fuels her passion. We spoke about her experience that evening and ambitions about poetry.

“I love being in the thrill of it and feeling that exchange of energy with the folks who are present,” said Cox.

“As an academic and creative writer, you’re able to gather and bring ideas together. Those ideas can then become more expansive through activism and have impact daily on larger conversations, especially in terms of policy-making,” she said.


Endometriosis, a gut-wrenching disease that continues getting ignored

Endometriosis is a disease so debilitating it can wreak havoc on the physical and mental well-being of women all over the world

A pain so searing the simple task of getting out of bed becomes a chore. Unable to move, you lay there, immobile, never knowing if the pain will lessen or ramp up. Hoping that if you position yourself a certain way the crushing pain will dwindle to something bearable. Alone you cry, trying to remedy the situation via a concoction of self-administered methods and prescribed medications — all to no avail. As the suffering progresses you begin to lose hope, asking yourself why doctors continue to doubt your symptoms, assuring this as normal and turning you away.

Endometriosis is a disease that affects one in 10 women and can present itself in four levels of severity. It occurs when the lining tissue of the uterus, similar to the endometrium, grows outside of the organ. The exposed tissue thickens, breaks down, and bleeds inside the body with no way of escaping, causing inflammation resulting in bouts of extreme pain and in many cases possible infertility.

Maria-José Arauz is one of the many people who deal with the disease. Before her diagnosis, Arauz dealt with symptoms related to endometriosis for five years. After visiting multiple specialists, she continued receiving the same conclusion: that her pains were related to menstruation and there was nothing that could be done. “They were good doctors, I mean they weren’t bad doctors with bad reviews, […] they’re just not prepared to treat people with endometriosis so most of them told me to take Advil.” Though she waited for nearly half a decade before getting diagnosed, Arauz says it usually takes some women even longer to receive a definitive diagnosis.

Dr. Sarah Maheux-Lacroix is a gynecologist who specializes in research and clinical care for endometriosis at the CHU de Québec Laval University research centre. Maheux-Lacroix believes that medical negligence that women like Arauz face  derives from the complexity in identifying endometriosis in the body to provide a proper diagnosis. “The gold standard to diagnose endometriosis is surgery. The fact that it requires surgery is one of the factors that can contribute to a delay in diagnosis.” Maheux-Lacroix says the only way to avoid misdiagnosis is to spread awareness on both a medical and societal level. “There are some doctors that are good in women’s health and others that are not, so I think we need to talk about it more.”

“For me to get all of that was a really hard process because I had to fight and advocate for myself, I had to show that my life wasn’t normal and that all the pain I was having and the anxiety I was living due to this wasn’t normal,” Arauz said.

“I wasn’t functioning like a normal person.”

Endometriosis affects women living with the disease at different levels. It can vary in four stages of severity that define the extensions of lesions in the pelvis. Some may be at a stage four and asymptomatic, while others can be at stage one and experience high sieges of pain imminently impacting their quality of life.

Women experience pain caused by endometriosis usually when they’re about to begin their menstrual cycle. The pain forced Arauz to plan around her disease instead of freely living her life. “There are days I can’t cook or can’t eat. I cannot work, I have to cancel all my plans. It’s like I have to plan everything according to the day I have my period,” Arauz said.

“I’m on the floor crying in pain and at the same time I’m vomiting from the pain as well.”

The disease can be very extensive in the abdomen and pelvic regions creating a slew of many other complications. “It can affect fertility, it can also lead to chronic pelvic pain, and can create cyst ruptures that can cause acute pain that would require emergency surgery,” Maheux-Lacroix said.

Other complications that Maheux-Lacroix noted include torsion of an ovarian cyst, and possible infections that can lead to detrimental health problems. “Endo can invade some structures such as the rectum and urinary tract system and could affect the function of the kidneys and bowels.” According to her research, there are likely different types of endometrioses that affect women differently.

Being diagnosed with breast cancer a few months after her endometriosis diagnosis in 2019, Arauz noticed a difference in care when comparing her cancer treatment to her experiences with endometriosis. “I got my treatments on time, I had a really good follow up, but I can’t say the same thing for endometriosis. Endo doesn’t kill you like cancer does, but it can kill your quality of life,” Arauz said.

“I actually find that the pain that I went through with endometriosis was worse for me than breast cancer treatment.”

More Funding for Research Is Needed

According to EndoAct Canada, the disease costs the country $1.8 billion per year. Though much more research is needed, Maheux-Lacroix believes that funding only happens when diseases are a societal concern. “As a society we decide that we want to focus on cancer or we want to fund diabetes so it’s the lack of discussion and because it’s taboo there’s that lack of discussion.” However, she’s hopeful that desensitizing the disease will eventually further funding and development for proper solutions. “It’s political and there are plenty of priorities and unfortunately endo is definitely not one but I think people are ready to hear about the disease and put more money to properly study it. It deserves to be studied a lot more.”

On Jan. 28, EndoAct Canada started the #ActOnEndo campaign to raise awareness for endometriosis. Their goal is to contact all MPs in the house of commons to advocate for the federal government to develop an action plan for people living with the disease. Since the campaign started, executive director of EndoAct Canada Kate Wahl says that the campaign is off to a strong start and they would love to contact all 338 MPs to spread the message. “We have a tracking sheet of MPs that have been contacted by advocates in the community. The last time I looked at it we’re sitting around 70 MPs in the first week,” Wahl said. “It really just speaks to the importance of this to people living with endo to see action and leadership from our elected officials on the issue.”

More research and awareness is needed to spread the message so that more women can be efficiently and effectively treated, to avoid years of suffering and receive the proper treatment they so desperately need.

Visuals by Miao De Kat @miao_dekat


Concordia PhD candidate reaches new heights in bioprinting development

After years of research and development, Hamid Ebrahimi Orimi and his team have made great strides in researching and developing new bioprinting technologies

How has illness impacted you and your loved ones? Every year, millions of people are affected by health issues relating to their organs. While the industry surrounding organ donation saves thousands of lives, it simply isn’t enough. Although the field of bioprinting is nowhere near the stage of the reprinting and transplantation of organs, progress is being made incrementally in the eventual recreation of human tissue here at Concordia by PhD candidate Hamid Ebrahimi Orimi and his team.

Among those in the field of bioprinting, Orimi stands out. As he earns his PhD in mechanical engineering at Concordia, he is also part of a team of bioprinting experts in Montreal. The team is composed of researchers and supervisors from Concordia’s Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science, as well as from the Université de Montréal. The team has been working on a new and innovative approach that could have massive impacts in the field.

So what is bioprinting? Bioprinting technology utilizes biomaterials to replicate natural tissues, like those found in human organs. The process involves a special method of layering to simulate biological tissues. These materials are referred to as bio-inks. Based on Orimi and his team’s technological advances, their newly developed equipment can synthesize droplets of these bio-inks at much quicker rate than other kinds of bioprinters. 

What makes the developments of this team so unique is that they have been able to “validate the feasibility of bioprinting primary adult sensory neurons using a newly developed laser-assisted cell bioprinting technology, known as Laser-Induced Side Transfer (LIST).” Through the team’s research, a type of bioprinting technology has been created through the use of lasers. Their paper on the subject was published in the scientific journal Micromachines. The development of this laser has been a game-changer.

As Orimi himself put it, “I’ve been working on this for the past five years — my PhD work has led me to all these discoveries. I’ve spent years on the development of this auto-mechanical device, which will be able to develop cells needed for bioprinting.”

Since the start of this project, the team has come a long way. “One of our main challenges was about developing the capillary cells properly through the LIST. However, we’ve seen progress in other areas. My colleague, for example, has used the laser technology to work on the cells of the cornea, where there are no blood vessels”, said Orimi.

Because capillaries are the smallest of blood vessels, recreating their cells through the LIST is quite challenging at the moment. The development of tissues that don’t contain capillaries has been sped up because of this.

Since the publication of their paper in Micromachines earlier this summer, further developments have been made. While the paper from July mentioned that the viability of the neuron cells was around 87 per cent on average, “we are now looking at a viability rate of around 93 to 95 per cent,” Orini stated.

For those less familiar with the terminology, there is a distinction to be made between the viability of cells and their functionality. As Orimi put it, “the viability refers to whether or not the cells can survive in the proper substrate (proper substrate: a surface where an organism grows). Functionality is about if they communicate with other cells and mimic behaviours found in human tissue.” While functionality seems to be the bigger concern at the moment, the viability of the bioprinted cells is only improving as research continues.

According to Orimi, the development of their LIST will only accelerate bioprinting technology. What the team hopes to do is to use their laser to assist in the manufacturing of medication. 

“Currently, labs primarily use mice and other animals when doing their research. By the advancements of bioprinting, they would be able to test on manufactured human tissue, which would be better for the accuracy of the drugs.”

The prospects of bioprinting, thanks to the work of dedicated researchers across the world, are looking bright. While there is still a long way to go, Orimi and his team are positive that their laser technology will be of great use as they continue their research.


Photograph by Oona Barrett


Montreal’s first clinic for post-COVID complications opens to the public

Patients still experiencing symptoms after COVID-19 recovery will be thoroughly examined at the new facility

The city’s first post-COVID-19 clinic welcomed Montrealers with debilitating symptoms following their COVID-19 recovery, opening on Feb. 12. Located at the Montreal Clinical Research Institute (IRCM) in Plateau-Mont-Royal, the clinic primarily focuses on studying COVID-related complications, which often last several months.

Dr. Emilia Liana Falcone is the clinic’s director, having specialized in inflammatory complications even before the COVID-19 outbreak. She leads a multidisciplinary team of nurses, dieticians, cardiologists, neuropsychologists, and other consultants for post-COVID symptoms.

The IRCM researcher started to develop the clinic in April 2020, when Canada was experiencing the first wave of the pandemic.

“When I saw that there’s such an exuberant inflammatory response to COVID-19 — and that there will likely be long-term consequences of that — the idea of founding such a clinic came up, so we began the process,” said Dr. Falcone.

The facility is currently designed to accommodate up to 570 patients. Every person goes through an evaluation procedure that involves blood and saliva tests, liver and kidney checks, as well as pulmonary and cardiac function tests.

The COVID-19 evaluation clinic.

The clinic functions as a research and diagnostics facility rather than a hospital where all patients are treated on the premises. By collecting samples from patients, the clinic builds a biobank that fosters downstream research, which allows for more targeted treatments of each post-COVID complication.

“If there needs to be a quick intervention or if the situation is urgent, then we will treat the patient with the resources we have. However, our main goal is to complete a thorough assessment and then refer the patient to a proper specialist for further medical treatment,” Dr. Falcone explained.

Intense fatigue, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and insomnia are some of the common post-COVID symptoms the clinic has witnessed. Some patients also suffer from brain fog — they are unable to concentrate for months and even experience a certain degree of memory loss.

Other Montrealers have reported increased levels of anxiety after contracting COVID-19, as well as losing interest in hobbies and activities they used to really enjoy before the pandemic.

Dr. Falcone told The Concordian that “There’s also a possibility that our evaluation will uncover complications that don’t translate into symptoms right away, such as kidney failure or liver dysfunction. The patient might not feel the symptoms, but that’s something we could detect in the blood test.”

Those who contracted the coronavirus in recent months are more likely to feel these symptoms. However, according to Dr. Falcone, some patients still suffer from side effects almost a year after getting the virus.

The research institute aims to increase its capacity once more resources become available, since restructuring the IRCM’s entrance for the clinic already required significant financial commitment.

On Feb. 18, Quebec’s Health Minister Christian Dubé announced that the IRCM will receive a grant of $1.1 million for the clinic’s further development. The funding will be provided by Quebec’s Ministries of Health and Economics, as well as the Fonds de la recherche en santé du Québec.

“Fundamental health research is essential to meet the challenges we’re currently facing. Thanks to the projects such as that of the IRCM, we’re preparing Quebec’s response for the months and years to come,” stated the Minister of Economy and Innovation, Pierre Fitzgibbon, on Thursday.

Even with the current capacity, the clinic’s operations are a major step forward for Montreal’s fight against the pandemic. Post-COVID clinics are quite rare in the country, with only a handful located in Toronto, Vancouver, and Sherbrooke.

As for the future, Dr. Falcone expects fewer COVID-related complications once the vaccine becomes available for the general public. She added, “The approved vaccines already seem to be effective, so now the question is how well they will protect us from the recent variants of COVID-19.”

While vaccine developers are working on preventing the spread of COVID-19, the clinic has already begun researching the virus’ side effects to ensure a smoother recovery for the coronavirus’ survivors.


Photograph by Kit Mergaert


Concordia researchers explore how Montreal Casino’s “Vegas Nights” target our senses

Researchers describe the impact of experiential design by experiencing it themselves

Concordia researchers delved into the Montreal Casino’s Vegas Nights to study how the casino experience affects and caters to our senses.

From the neon glow, to the aroma of perfume at the slot machines and the collective experience of playing at a blackjack table, the researchers describe and examine how these different elements played with their senses.

Interdisciplinary scholar and lead author of the study Erin Lynch told The Concordian the study was about “how a sensory ethnographic approach could shed some light on that kind of experiential marketing within the casino space.”

Different from a traditional observatory study, a “sensory ethnography” approach involves researchers putting themselves in the space to better understand the environment.

“Instead of just observing, we want to experience the site along with other people to sort of really attune our senses and help us understand the way various sensory elements within the casino space are interacting, how they’re kind of mixing and mingling, and how that impacts the general experience at the casino,” said Lynch.

Experiential design isn’t new; it can dictate decisions such as how much resistance to put on a video game controller button, or how soft, plush, or smooth a fabric should be for use on chairs at a restaurant.

In a casino environment, almost every element involves experiential design. Lynch said, “That’s been a real push on the design side of it and we noticed that there hadn’t been that much research delved into the experiential part of it.”

Lynch describes the casino experience as an “emergence into another world.”

“We found that there’s a lot of this overwhelming quality, particularly if you look at sights and sounds in the casino, but we also wanted to pay attention to some sort of under-observed, or …  overlooked aspects of the sensory qualities of the casino,” said Lynch.

One example of this was a gaming machine that vibrates when a person wins.

“The casino touches back, which is a really interesting aspect that we were looking at.”

For taste, Lynch tried a signature cotton candy cocktail.

“I knew I was in trouble when they slid a couple of wet wipes over to me as they were handing me the drink,” said Lynch, who described the drink as stinky, overly sweet, and “pink” tasting.

The question begs: is it work when you’re having this much fun?

Lynch said they wanted to embrace the experience, not only talk about the risks and problems associated with gambling, but to really understand how the different aspects of a casino work to intrigue clients by going to the source themselves.

Going forward, the researchers will look at applying this methodology to other spaces, and see how the pandemic has changed the sensory experience in the casino space as well.

Concordia professors David Howes, a professor of Anthropology, and Martin French, an associate professor of Sociology, co-authored the study along with Lynch.

Howes will explore sensory design in places like hospitals, parks, and spas, “to examine the way sensory design is marketing to all the senses.”

For many, a hospital environment isn’t exactly a calming place.

“Think about fluorescent lighting, and smells, and the extent to which that could be stress-inducing. So [it’s] thinking about the way our environments and the design of our environments impacts us, in an embodied sort of sensory fashion,” said Lynch.

Ultimately, looking at these spaces through a sensory approach will help better understand how they impact us.

“The casino was a really fun area to explore that in, but I think what we’re hoping it has demonstrated is the value of that sensory ethnographic approach, and looking at these spaces more broadly,” said Lynch.


Graphic courtesy of @the.beta.lab


Concordia students reflect on the impact of concussions

The most dangerous part of having a concussion is going back to the game when the brain hasn’t fully healed.

Dr. Simon Tinawi, a physiatrist at the Montreal General Hospital, said concussions in contact sports are extremely common.

“Connections in the brain’s white matter, not necessarily in neurons, but in axons, which are the connections between one neuron and another, are disturbed,” said Tinawi, explaining what happens inside the brain during a concussion. “So nerve conduction velocity slows down, which is why people feel they’re not performing well.”

Tinawi added that if a connection must go from a neuron A to a neuron B, but is disturbed, it could go from A to C, and then from C to B, making a detour to finally connect with the right neuron. This means it’s a slower process and it’s the reason why, in general, people feel different after a concussion. They might be less focused, have headaches, and feel nauseous.

According to Mayo Clinic, other symptoms of a concussion could include ringing in the ears, vomiting, blurry vision, fatigue, dizziness, amnesia, and confusion or “feeling as if in a fog.”

Tinawi said that there is a lot of confusion between a concussion and a traumatic brain injury (TBI). TBIs are ranked as mild, moderate and severe, but concussions don’t use the same ranking system. A concussion is defined as a mild TBI.

According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a concussion is caused “by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or by a hit to the body that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth.”

Yet, a severe TBI can be caused by a fractured or crushed skull and can cause hematomas, or internal bleeding, which might require surgery in significant cases. In general, a concussion requires some rest and heals on its own.

Shanellie Marie Desparois, a student at Concordia University, said she got a concussion while doing Kyokushin Karate when she was younger.

“It was a mawashi kick, which kind of hooks your head with the foot. It was actually my favourite kick later on,” she joked. “You have headgear but it doesn’t really protect you from impact. I remember getting kicked in the head really hard […] and my brain kind of shook extensively. I could see little dots and I felt like I was going to pass out. Then 10 minutes after, I started throwing up.”

After the doctor told Desparois she had a concussion, he told her to rest and not to sleep for a few hours. She said she remembers her mother keeping her up for the rest of the night.

“After a concussion, the brain remains sensitive,” said Tinawi. “So returning to sports early while the brain hasn’t healed properly can be dangerous. We can see that, for example, if an athlete has a concussion playing a contact sport and gets back to the game too early, getting another hit on the head can be extremely dangerous. It can cause swelling and other serious complications. We call that second-impact syndrome (SIS).”

For these reasons, Desparois waited two months before fighting again or doing anything that could impact her head. She was only attending classes and doing warm-ups.

Concussions occur in all sports, especially contact sports such as football, hockey, and rugby, according to Brainline. Tinawi said that concussions are also common in boxing, soccer and martial arts.

Yet, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center shows that 50 per cent of concussions go unreported or undetected.

Alexi Dubois, another Concordia University student and centre for the NDG Cougars, said he might have gotten a concussion playing hockey last year.

“I was in the corner and got hit from behind so I went head first into the boards,” said Dubois. “I did not go see a doctor because I wasn’t sure if I had a concussion and I didn’t think it was worth waiting in the emergency room for six hours to be told to lay in bed for a few days.”

Dubois added that he had no major symptoms of a concussion, such as nausea, or dizziness. He said he had headaches for a week, but didn’t stop playing other than missing one practice.

Gabriel Guindi, a Concordia University student, said he might have gotten a concussion while playing hockey.

“I’ve received pretty bad hits on the head so maybe I had one but I was never diagnosed,” he said.

Dubois and Guindi both didn’t see a doctor after a possible concussion because they believed it wasn’t too serious.

To assess if an athlete has a concussion, doctors use the SCAT 5, which is a test that helps asses if a person has a concussion during a sport. Tinawi explained that it helps determine if a person is confused or not and if they can tell what happened. Physical examinations are also required.

The CRT 5 is also available for non-professionals to recognize if someone just got a concussion. As well, according to Tinawi, if an athlete shows any symptoms of a concussion, it is important they rest and go to the doctor as soon as possible.


Science can help reduce stress following traumatic events, breakups

Montreal-based clinical psychologist reprograms memories

A Montreal-based clinical psychologist expanded his treatment from PTSD patients to those who have experienced terrible betrayals in romantic relationships. The innovative treatment can reprogram traumatic memories with the help of a beta blocker drug and therapy.

In 2008, Dr. Alain Brunet created a treatment called the “reconsolidation therapy,” or the “Brunet Method,” which treats patients with PTSD or victims of crime or terror attacks, such as the one in Paris in 2016.

In short, reconsolidation therapy involves therapy sessions in conjunction with a blood pressure drug that alleviates the negative surge of emotions when remembering a traumatic memory.

Brunet was a student at the University of Montreal in 1989, when the Polytechnique shooting occurred. What he interpreted as a lack of care for those affected with psychotraumatic disorders after the attack inspired him to find a cure for people suffering from PTSD.

In 2015, Brunet turned to treating romantic heartbreaks and betrayals, with one of his former graduate students, Michelle Lonergan. Lonergan worked on the project as her PhD at McGill University. She said this method is “based on this idea that the trauma memory was really at the root of the disorder.”

For six weeks, participants in the study took propranolol––a drug normally used for treating high blood pressure––one hour before a weekly therapy session, where they read their personal handwritten account of the traumatic event. They would re-read the account every session and speak about the event itself with Brunet. Lonergan said at the end of the study, two-thirds of the participants experienced an overall reduction “in the severity of people’s symptoms and reactions.”

While the method may be reminiscent of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind for some––a movie where a couple erases the memory of their terrible relationship together. Lonergan said no memory is lost, only updated––comparing the process to editing an essay.“Let’s say we have an essay on a computer and the essay is written, it’s saved to our hard drive, well when we open the essay and make changes to it and re-save it, then it’s updated with that new information,” Lonergan said.

The memory we store is saved in two different parts of the brain: the dry element––the factual, visual occurrence––in the hippocampus, and the emotional portion of the experience in the amygdala. When a traumatic event occurs, it activates the adrenergic system––our stress system––pumping adrenaline into our brain, and the memory registers with a stressful, heightened emotional response.

When an affected individual recollects the event, or experiences a trigger, such as what they ate, saw, were wearing, or even smelled in those moments, it activates their adrenaline to the amygdala and the memory re-creates a surge of uncontrollable negative emotions. This tolls the person’s mental health and wellbeing.

“For some people, that system can become overactivated, and that would result in putting an emotional stance on the

memory that is just extremely powerful,” Lonergan said.

The drug for the treatment isn’t new. Propranolol is popularly used to reduce high blood pressure and heart rhythm disorders, but it has another quality that makes the treatment possible. It’s an adrenergic beta-blocker, meaning that it works by blocking the surge of adrenaline to the amygdala when re

membering the traumatic memory.

According to testimonials on Brunet’s website, patients described the initial version of their traumatic memory as so emotionally discharged, it feels like someone else wrote it.

Kanica Saphan, a sexologist counsellor who works with individuals and couples in Montreal, said that a lot of the baggage people carry from bad breakups is from negative stories they create from their experience. “It will become like a story of how we were either ugly, unworthy or valuable, that we had something to do with it,” she said, adding that such stories are created for many reasons, including misunderstanding the causes of a breakup.

For her counselling, Saphan works by developing a therapeutic relationship with her clients. She

uses “talk therapy,” meaning she develops a human connection with clients to work through issues and heal over time. She said she does not prescribe medication, and that while reconsolidation therapy can work for traumatic experiences, she suggested that using propranolol pills could restrain people from learning to use their own internal coping tools.

While Saphan hopes the treatment will not add to “pill culture,” where medication is used to treat an excessive range of emotional afflictions, Lonergan said the pill does not mask symp

toms. It can provide a significant change, and the treatment is short––roughly four to six weeks. Patients are not medicated long term, Lonergan said.

Lonergan suggested that the treatment could be expanded in the future, to other areas where people suffer psychological strain from emotionally-charged events.

Graphic by Jad Abukasm


Humans, sex and robots: integrating technology into our sexuality

Concordia research aims at understanding individual attitudes and perceptions towards artificial erotic agents.

In the past weeks, Concordia students might have stumbled upon an unusual request glued to various bathroom stalls; research on sex robots looking for participants.

As with any subject confronting our sexuality, mixed with the feared and misunderstood rise of technology, the expected reactions are strong, ranging from laughter to repulsion.

“I think it is eerie because it is kind of disrupting the process of individuals getting to know their bodies at an intimate level whether it is with a partner or by themselves,” said Georgette Ayoub, Concordia Political Science student.

Yet, Simon Dubé, the man behind the research and Ph.D. student in Psychology, Neuroscience and Cognition of human sexuality at Concordia, says these reactions are quite natural.

“These are first impulse reactions,” said Dubé. “It’s not unique reactions with sex robots. We had the same with video games, with pornography. It used to be the same thing even with radio, people used to think it would lead to the destruction of society. It’s always blurred out of proportion.”

Indeed, there is a climate of moral panic when it comes to technology. Are robots going to replace affection, or even love? Such reasoning can be explained by the fact that only a few studies have been done so far, and most of them are done on human interaction with computers; none have dug into erotic interaction.

Therefore, the research is interested in people’s reception towards emerging artificial agents, such as virtual erotic partners, virtual chatbots and of course, the infamous sex robots. Dubé hopes to further the understanding of their impact on our society and the relationship humans can develop with E-robots.

And for everyone wondering, no, the research doesn’t actually include having sex with robots. When students register to participate in his study, Dubé, who works with the Concordia Vision Lab, uses a number of different techniques, such as questionnaires, to track people’s responses to images, videos and audio related to erotic machines.

While technology has taken over a huge part of our lives, it only makes sense that it now arises in our sexuality. Dubé argues that his research only comes at a time where there is a cluster of all technology coming together to enable these erotic machine interactions.

“The idea of having sex or an intimate relationship with non-living objects has been here for thousands of years,” said Dubé. “I think at this point, it’s a matter of the technology emerging right now related to artificial intelligence, such as sex robots, computing or augmented virtual reality. These are all achieving a level of interactivity and immersivity that is starting to become interesting for people, to use them in their relationship or intimacy.”

Arguably, the fear of including robots in our intimacy or sexuality derives from pop culture-producing fiction. Just think of the utopic, robotic cold-hearted world created in almost every episode of Black Mirror. The picture is always a classical one, where an apocalyptic world is shown as a result of what could happen if we start including these technologies in our day to day lives.

Dubé warns us of the danger of such misconceptions, arguing that this discourse is at the very root of why they have such trouble doing research on something that could be beneficial for a lot of individuals.

“People have really polarized ideas on what these technologies can do, but for some people, it can be super helpful,” said Dubé. “It can be part of their sexuality with their spouses, their partners or alone. Yes, humans develop problems with all kinds of technology, people get addicted to video games per example, but artificial erotic agents could help people with trauma, or anxiety related to sexuality or intimacy. It’s always the same music that plays over and over again, but here we just need to do the right kind of research.”

What Dubé means by the right kind of research could result in positive applications of these erotic technologies in health and medical research, and even Sex Ed. It could be used by people who’ve experienced sexual trauma to help them reintegrate sexuality into their lives, or by people having a hard time finding partners, dealing with their own orientation or simply out of curiosity.

“The key message I want to get across, is that it’s simply not gonna be an apocalypse or a robot utopia or virtual reality utopia where everything is going to be beautiful or dark,” said Dubé. “It’s going to be somewhere in the middle, for some people, it’s an amazing experience and it’s an integrated part of their sexuality and for others, they might have a problematic dynamic with these technologies. But we need to overcome this idea it will be all black or all white.”

Either way, with erotic technologies, we are now standing at the beginning of a new sexual revolution.


Graphic by @joeybruceart


Concordia master’s student studies the effects of cannabinoids on the immune system

It’s been a year since cannabis has been legalized in Canada, and the drug is being widely used across the country.

In the second quarter of 2019 alone, Statistics Canada reported that almost 5 million Canadians have reported using cannabis. Since it was only recently legalized, there hasn’t been much research on it or the effects it has on users.

“So many people are using it, so how do we not know exactly what it’s doing to our bodies?” Concordia Psychology MA student, Norhan Mehrez asked. She said it was shocking to her that we still don’t fully understand the mechanism behind some of its effects.

Due to this lag in research, Mehrez said she took it upon herself to study the effects of cannabinoids on people, with a focus on the immune system.

Mehrez’s research is an intersection of three fields: the immune system, circadian rhythms and cannabinoids (THC, CDB and synthetic cannabinoids).

With the help of co-supervisors Shimon Amir, from the department of psychology, and Peter Darlington, an associate professor in the Department of Health, Kinesiology and Applied Physiology, Mehrez aims to understand how cannabinoids affect timekeeping in the immune system.

“We know it affects the immune system in several ways, we know that it may affect timekeeping in different tissues in the body,” said Mehrez. “I’m expecting that [cannabinoids] play some sort of role in maintaining an optimal balance in immune function. We know that cannabinoids affect the immune system, but the actual mechanisms of how it’s having those effects isn’t fully understood.”

The link between circadian rhythms and immune system

Circadian rhythms are the 24-hour cycles in the body that regulate different organs and functions. An example of this is the sleep-wake cycle, which repeats every 24 hours. Mehrez explained we have circadian rhythms in a lot of functions of the body, including the immune system. We also have genes, called clock genes, that ensure the regulation of the circadian rhythm of certain functions, depending on the body’s perceived time of day. The clock genes “keep time” by rhythmically activating along a 24-hour cycle, which in turn leads to rhythms in many bodily processes.

Mehrez explained your immune system seems to function optimally at certain times of the day, where your immune response to fight a pathogen is the strongest, and where you may be more likely to heal from a wound. This is where the immune system and circadian rhythms are tightly linked.

Mehrez said when a person’s sleep-wake cycle is disrupted by working the night shift for example, this also affects other circadian rhythms in the body. Those workers are more likely to develop disorders of the immune system because their time keeping is thrown off.

“On the other hand, if you compromise the immune system in animals or in people, we see that some of their circadian rhythms get disrupted as well,” Mehrez continued.

The link between circadian rhythms and the immune system has been recently investigated, though research is still being done. Mehrez said she wants to learn how cannabinoids affect the immune system as it keeps time.


Mehrez got funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada for her research. She said they recruit healthy participants and screen them to have normal sleep cycles by using different questionnaires. They also have questionnaires to understand their drug habits. The participants’ blood is taken from them once screened and Mehrez then isolates the T cells, a subtype of white blood cells that detects the presence of a foreign invader in the body and creates an immune response to attack it.

Mehrez adds different cannabinoids to the isolated T cells, such as THC, CBD and synthetic cannabinoids, activates the T cells to stimulate an immune response and measures the reaction of the cells every four hours, for 36 hours.

They also look at the expression of the clock genes, which continue to show rhythms for some time even after being removed from the body. Once the researchers activate the T cells and add cannabinoids, they will see whether the cannabinoids affect clock genes and rhythmicity in the T cells.

“Are the cannabinoids going to help cells go back to normal time keeping or are they going to make time keeping worse? We don’t know,” said Mehrez.

Mehrez said, through her research, her team is hoping to uncover whether cannabinoids will help maintain normal time keeping under conditions known to disrupt it or if it will they cause further disruption.

There is a system in the body that has receptors for cannabinoids, generally involved in maintaining balance. For example, maintaining a body temperature of 37º C.

Mehrez said that from past research her team knows that cannabinoids also lowers immune system activity, which could be bad for someone who’s trying to fight off an infection or a cold, because we become more prone to viruses when our immune system is lowered or suppressed. “But it can be a good thing for people who have autoimmune illnesses, because their problem is that their immune system is attacking their own body. Cannabinoids are being shown to be useful in autoimmune illnesses because they are immunosuppressants and because they don’t have many known negative side effects. So, it seems to be very promising as a potential treatment so far.”

“I’m hoping that understanding how [cannabinoids] affects timekeeping [could] give us insight on how it affects the immune system,” said Mehrez.

Mehrez said that understanding how cannabinoids affect T cells will bring her closer to understanding how they affect overall immune function in healthy people. She added she hopes this research can be followed up to understand how cannabinoids might play a role in autoimmune illnesses.


Photo by Mackenzie Lad

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