Wednesday, December 1, 2010

  • 'Breakthrough' on seeing how tissues grow
  • Notes at the start of a whole new month
  • Editor:
  • Chris Redmond
  • Communications and Public Affairs

[Brodland observing fetus]

Says Wayne Brodland's web site: "The objective of our research program is to understand the causes of malformation-type birth defects so that effective prevention strategies can be devised."

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'Breakthrough' on seeing how tissues grow

a news release from the media relations office

A Waterloo-led engineering research team has discovered a breakthrough technique that allows experts to see how humans cells and tissues evolve and grow in the embryo.

Video force microscopy, as the technique is known, will allow medical researchers to visualize and quantify the forces that are at work in cells and tissues, including those that ultimately form eyes, ears, nose, limbs and other features crucial to embryos and newborns. These forces are produced by the movements of microscopic-sized tissues early in development. 

"These movements involve what can be thought of as a tug-of-war between various cells and tissues," said Wayne Brodland, a professor of civil and environmental engineering who led the international research team. "In a tug-of-war analogy, VFM technique allows us to 'see' how hard each member of each team is pulling at any given moment."

The new method is described in a research paper, entitled "Mapping the Dynamic Forces Driving Ventral Furrow Formation in Drosophila Using a Novel Technique: Video Force Microscopy (VFM)", published yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Brodland said that during early embryo development, sheets of tissue move in precise ways in order to form organs and other critical structures. "Although much is known about the genes expressed in many of these tissues, the mechanical forces that drive motions has remained largely a mystery."

The new VFM technique is key to medical research because it is widely held that aberrations in these driving forces are the reason that tissues sometimes do not move in a normal way and a malformation — in short, a birth defect — arises. Common examples of such irregularities in humans include spina bifida, cleft lip and palate and cardiac septum defects.

VFM makes it possible to determine these forces from time-lapse movies. When applied to multi-photon images of Drosophila embryos, obtained in the lab of Nobel laureate Eric Wiechaus, VFM reveals exactly how, when and where the mechanical forces at work in normal and defective embryos differ. Drosophila is a favoured model system for geneticists and developmental biologists studying embryogenesis.

As a result, VFM provides an important new tool for investigating the causes of birth defects. "VFM allows us to learn the degree to which the driving forces are in error in cases where defects arise," Brodland said. "Our studies have shown that certain defects can be produced by irregularities in which the magnitudes of the driving forces are changed by as little as 20 per cent and for periods of time as short as a few hours. This knowledge is important for designing clinical strategies to prevent these defects."

The work was funded by the Human Frontiers Research Program of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council Canada and by international agencies.

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[Small groups standing in the SLC]

Entrepreneur Bill Tatham — the major donor behind the Tatham Centre — was on campus yesterday touring the VeloCity residence-cum-incubator and chatting with students at VeloCity's end-of-term exposition in the Student Life Centre. He's third from left (coat over his arm) in this cellphone photo by Reemah Khalid.

Notes at the start of a whole new month

The latest issue of Phys 13 News, published for high school teachers by Waterloo’s department of physics and astronomy, offers something special. “Every article in this issue,” writes editor and physics professor Robert Mann, “was written by undergraduate students working under the supervision of a faculty member at Waterloo.” Those articles include “Quantum Money: Physics for a Free Market Economy”, by Thom Bohdanowicz, and “Formation of the Ozone Hole in Polar Stratosphere”, by Edwin Lee. The issue also announces the winners of this year’s Sir Isaac Newton physics competition for high school students; topping the list is Albert Hu of Northern Secondary  School in Toronto.

Engineering Science Quest, which runs children’s summer camps on the main Waterloo campus and at several satellite locations, as well as March break camps, has announced something new: three days of winter programming, December 20 through 22, when local public schools are closed but the Christmas break for many parents has not yet started. “Much like our March Break camp, this is designed to be flexible for parents,” says Martin Scherer, manager of outreach activities for the faculty of engineering, “as they can sign their children up for one day, two days or all three.  The hope (next to getting kids excited about engineering and science) is that parents may find this a good alternative to finding day care or babysitters for the start of the winter break.” Details are online.

[Pharmacy building]Waterloo’s Pharmacy building in downtown Kitchener (left) has received second-place “silver” honours in the 2010 Design Exchange Awards, announced last week and reflected in an exhibition that will continue through March at the Design Exchange in Toronto. “The awards,” organizers say, “celebrate the success stories achieved through close partnerships between clients and designers.” Credit for the Pharmacy building goes to Hariri Pontarini Architects and Young + Wright Architects/IBI Group. The judges call the result “a hybrid of school and clinic that sets an important precedent for future developments in this realm. The project incorporates a rich program, mixing faculty and student laboratories, lecture and seminar rooms, an auditorium, an herbarium, a family clinic, and a commercial pharmacy. Sited in the Warehouse District of Kitchener, the new building aided the rejuvenation of the downtown core with the inclusion of students, faculty and community. By the means of a poured-on-site concrete structure, illustrated glass skin, ground floor café and curved north façade, the design responds appropriately to the active urban surroundings, while sustainable features were implemented to solve urban construction issues that were imposed on the designated site.”

The Centre for Teaching Excellence and its spinoff, the Teaching-Based Research Group, is planning its big annual “Opportunities and New Directions” conference, to be held April 27-28, and has issued a call for proposals. The conference covers “the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning and its Implications for Practice”. Says a memo from CTE: “We welcome everyone interested in this scholarship to join us for an exciting opportunity to network with like-minded colleagues from multiple disciplines and institutions and to engage in conversations about new research, work in progress, and emerging ideas. This year's conference will include two keynotes, a plenary, and theme workshops that explore not only how we do research about teaching and learning, but also how we make the results public in a way that will inform not only our own students but also those of our colleagues. Submissions for workshops, concurrent sessions, and poster presentations are invited to address this or other themes. We invite four types of proposals: 50-minute interactive sessions, 25-minute presentations, and interactive poster presentations and 90 minute workshops.” The deadline is January 14; there’s more information online.

The student life office is taking applications for members of a "training team" that will train next September's hundreds of orientation leaders. • The Pragma Council, advisory to the school of planning, held its fall conference November 25-26 with the theme "Planning and Politics: Shifting Ground". • Here's a reminder that the grand opening of the Waterloo Summit Centre for the Environment in Huntsville, which was originally scheduled for today, has been postponed to January 21.


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[Red ribbon] Links of the day

World AIDS DayChanukah

When and where

Library exam time extended hours: Dana Porter open 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily, Davis Centre library open 24 hours (except Sunday 2-8 a.m.), November 28 through December 22. Details.

Christmas lunch buffet at University Club through December 22, 11:30 to 2:00, reservations ext. 33801.

Imaginus poster sale December 1-2, 10:00 to 8:00, Student Life Centre.

ChaRisMa: First Waterloo Conference on Characteristics, Risks and Management of Natural Hazards, Wednesday-Friday. Details.

Centre for Teaching Excellence and department of physics present Eric Mazur, Harvard University, “Memorization or Understanding: Are We Teaching the Right Thing?” 11:00, Arts Lecture Hall room 105.

Christmas lunch at Brubakers cafeteria, Student Life Centre, 11:00 to 2:00.

PDEng presentation: “Training with Purpose: Developing Our Human Resources  Toward Program Success” 12:30, Davis Centre room 1568.

Student recitals by Waterloo music students Monday-Thursday 12:30, Conrad Grebel UC chapel.

Biomedical discussion group: Joseph Tauskela, National Research Council, “A Framework for Pursuing Neuroprotection in Cerebral Ischemia” 2:30, CEIT room 3142.

International exchange programs (Ontario/Rhône-Alpes) information session 3:00, Needles Hall room 1116.

Christmas dinner at REVelation cafeteria, Ron Eydt Village, 4:30 to 8:00.

Perimeter Institute lecture: Eric Mazur, Harvard University, “Stopping Time” 7:00, Waterloo Collegiate Institute. Details.

Ideas Start workshop: Andy Houston, “Collaborating with Audiences” Thursday 9:00 to 12:00, Stratford campus, 6 Wellington Street.

Food Justice event scheduled for March 18-20, sponsored by Waterloo Public Interest Research Group, first volunteer meeting Thursday 12:00, Student Life Centre room 2139.

‘Quantitative Research Design’ workshop sponsored by Teaching Based Research Group, Thursday 12:30, Flex Lab, Dana Porter Library. Details.

Chemical engineering seminar: Alan Nelson, Dow Chemical, “Molecular Level Aspects of Hydrotreating Catalysts” Thursday 3:30,  Doug Wright Engineering room 2529.

Canada’s Technology Triangle international reception and dinner, speaker former ambassador Ken Taylor, Thursday 5:30, Waterloo Inn, tickets $125. Details.

Waterloo iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine) information session about this year’s competition, all students welcome, Thursday 5:30, Biology I room 271.

Smart Start Series: Kayleigh Platz, communications and public affairs, “Online Privacy”, Thursday 7 p.m., Stratford campus, 6 Wellington Street.

Orchestra @ UWaterloo end-of-term concert, “Three Edwards”, work by Grieg, Elgar, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Boyd McDonald, piano and cello soloist Edward Cho, Thursday 8 p.m., Humanities Theatre.

Matthews Hall (original building) ventilation shut down Friday 7 a.m. to noon.

Sustainable transportation “awareness event”, including talk by Jeff Casello, school of planning, about the proposed Waterloo Region LRT, Friday 3:00, Environment 2 room 1001.

Last day of lectures for fall term Monday, December 6. Exams run December 9-22 (online class exams, December 10-11).

WatITis conference for information technology staff, December 7, Rod Coutts Engineering Lecture Hall. Details.

Positions available

On this week's list from the human resources department:

• Conference services coordinator, food services, USG 5
• Master of Public Health coordinator, health studies and gerontology, USG 6
• Food services assistant, Tim Hortons, Student Life Centre, regular ongoing
• General cafeteria helper, food services, South Campus Hall, regular ongoing
• Computing consultant, information systems and technology, USG 9-10
• Systems integration specialist, information systems and technology, USG 9-12
• Network support specialist, information systems and technology, USG 10-12
• Undergraduate coordinator and advisor, sociology and legal studies, USG 5

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