Lab trip to Canadian Centre for Inland Waters

Hats off to Environment Canada, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard for putting on a great open house today at the Canadian Centre for Inland Waters (CCIW)!  Most of my lab (see picture below) agreed to a “lab outing” to the CCIW.  I had always wanted to see what research occurs at CCIW, which is a building nestled directly under the Burlington Skyway in southern Ontario:

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With the yoke of information control (http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/when-science-goes-silent/) lifted following the election of a new government in 2015 (http://www.macleans.ca/society/unmuzzled-government-scientists-ready-to-discuss-a-decade-of-work/), it was amazing to see the enthusiasm in the faces of the scientists working hard to assess environmental impacts of human influences on wildlife, plants, and the ecosystems around us.  Why these scientists were ever bureaucratically muzzled is beyond me.

Here we are looking pleased with ourselves:

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Most of the lab in attendance.  From Left to Right: Justin Bridgeman, Nicholas Skakich, Glenn Tattersall, Curtis Abney, and Philip Bartel.  Susan Wang not in photo as she was still having conversations with researchers inside the building.

We even receive visitors badges that reminded me of a strange 1980s sci-fi show:

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On the trip home, we even were stopped by the lift bridge, something I usually avoid when driving the QEW:

 

All told, I was extremely impressed with the open house put on by CCIW and wish to thank them for opening their doors to the public.  Keep up the good work!

Chimney Swifts in Infrared

Last month, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories invited a number of researchers to witness the nightly roosting of chimney swifts in one of their ventilation stacks!  They were kind enough to allow me to film using my thermal camera the gathering of over 1000 birds at ~8:45pm one evening.  Now, if only I can find the time to help with writing code to help them count the birds entering the chimney!  Here is a brief video and a link to CNL’s facebook site:

A successful defence for Susan Wang!

Congratulations to Susan Wang, MSc student working in my lab and co-supervised with Dr. Janet Koprivnikar (Ryerson University) for successfully defending her thesis on:

“Behavioural Thermoregulation and Energetics in Two Intermediate Hosts of Trematode Parasites”

Thank you for all members of the examining committee for their hard work and interesting defence discussions:

External Examiner: Dr. Carl Lowenberger, Simon Fraser University

Committee Members: Dr. Gaynor Spencer, Dr. Robert Carlone, Dr. Dorina Szuroczki

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Two proud supervisors (Koprivnikar, middle, Tattersall, right) and a new MSc student (Susan Wang, left)

Her time in the lab was far too short, but we are proud of her accomplishments and for her hard work on an interesting project.  Because of Susan, I can safely say that we can readily do interdisciplinary research!  Ecological physiology of disease and host:parasite interactions is a fun topic and I’m glad to have had this project taking place in my lab and grateful for Janet Koprivnikar for funding, intellectual, and logistic support, collaboration, and supervision at every step.

Rattlesnake Hibernation Research

Brock University’s Brock News has written up a great piece on Anne Yagi’s (an MSc student in my lab) research.  Anne has worked for the Ministry of Natural Resources for a number of years and joined my lab to pursue questions into the overwintering physiology of snakes.  The article below covers the Conservation Physiological approach she has been taking to understand neonatal rattlesnakes in a sensitive population.  Hopefully we’ll be publishing on this soon.  Congratulations Anne!

https://brocku.ca/brock-news/2017/05/brock-research-helps-reverse-rattlesnakes-death-rate/

Slithering reproductive frenzy in Narcisse, Manitoba

Following the CSZ meeting, a very kind graduate student from University of Winnipeg, Ana Breit, agreed to drive Justin and myself up to Narcisse, Manitoba on the last afternoon of the meeting.  I brought the thermal camera with me, so I could document the spring emergence of garter snakes, and the writhing reproductive orgy that is customary at this field amazing site.

Here are some sample images in visual, thermal and thermal video:

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Many thanks to the people at Nature north for maintaining this site: http://www.naturenorth.com/spring/creature/garter/Narcisse_Snake_Dens.html

Canadian Society of Zoologists – Winnipeg

My student, Justin Bridgeman and myself were the representatives from my lab this year.  Unfortunately, I forgot to take photos of him speaking or of me defending my student, Katlyn Dundas’s poster.

For posterity, though, here are the clips from the CSZ program book:

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Winnipeg was a great host city and the meeting was excellent.  Always good to catch up with fellow Canadian scientists.

Sabbatical rewards

I just found out that the CNRS (Centre Nationnal de la Recherche Scientifique) did a write-up about work conducted during my 3 month sabbatical at the Université de Lyon with very hospitable colleagues, Dr. Löic Teulier, Dr. Damien Roussel, and Dr. Yann Voituron:

http://www.cnrs.fr/inee/communication/breves/b259.html

How I miss those guys.

They let me camp out in their lab for 3 months (Sept 2015-December 2015), helped me with renting a place in Lyon, and generally introduced me to the French attitude and ethic and their love of cheese and fine wine.

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Fly science

At long last, years of hard work in the field of Drosophila research has met with the fruition of this publication…maybe one day I will blog about the challenges of associated with this field of research.  Now is not the time, but suffice to say, I will say this….if a paper on fruit fly phenotype is published and nothing about the husbandry, nutrition, and rearing conditions are provided, the research should be taken with huge grain of salt.  Context is everything.

http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/aw3qyesUcwvAMzixIzbS/full

 

Effect sizes of the influence of diet on developmental, behavioural, and physiological parameters

Comparison Phenotype Hedge’s g (± 95% CI) r Significant
Larval wet mass Morphology 32.66 ± 10.16 0.99 Yes
Larval dry mass Morphology 10.60 ± 3.40 0.98 Yes
Larval width Morphology 3.53 ± 0.63 0.87 Yes
Adult wing length Morphology 1.30 ± 0.48 0.55 Yes
Larva Emergence Fecundity 0.80 ± 0.64 0.36 Yes
Pupa Emergence Development 2.09 ± 0.99 0.70 Yes
Adult survivorship Lifespan 0.70 ± 0.13 0.32 Yes
Larva Thermotaxis Sensory 0.80 ± 0.64 0.36 Yes
Adult Thermotaxis Sensory 0.38 ± 0.66 0.18 No
Larval Thermal Retreat Neuromuscular 0.73 ± 0.39 0.34 Yes
Adult Geotaxis Neuromuscular 2.49 ± 1.01 0.77 Yes
Muscle Basal Tonus Neuromuscular 2.51 ± 1.17 0.77 Yes
Muscle Maximum Neuromuscular 0.23 ± 0.88 0.11 No
Learning Index Neurological 0.34 ± 0.88 0.16 No

 

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Survivorship Curves depend on the type of diet

 

Thermimage update

At long last, I’ve spent time fixing some sloppiness in my R package, Thermimage, as well as added functions for importing and exporting thermal images and videos.  Partly still beta testing it on github for the time being but will eventually upload it CRAN once finalised.

Meanwhile for those using thermal imaging but frustrated at not being able to import or analyse images in an open source environment, consider trying this out:

https://github.com/gtatters/Thermimage

Here is the proof of the exported raw file imported into ImageJ:

FLIRjpg_W640_H480_F1_I.raw

 

Thoughts on Crowd-Sourcing of Basic Scientific Research?

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I meant to post this a month or two ago, but have been busy with teaching and grant reviews!

Recently, I participated in a crowd-sourcing initiative (Can thermal imaging detect torpor in Hummingbirds?) that many of my friends and colleagues no doubt saw me posting a lot about.  I cannot take credit for the efforts behind this; the initiative was started by an organised and enthusiastic group from Loyola Marymount University in California.  They were kind enough to invite/allow me to participate in the process, partly to lend expertise and support.  I also wanted to see how crowd-sourced research funding works from the inside, so participating allowed me to see.   Here are thoughts on the experience so far, Pro vs. Con (my comments below should not be construed to reflect those of the team, they are simply my reflections on seeking funding):

Pros

  • Access to a new funding source (ok, that’s a no-brainer).
  • Encourages scientists to take on riskier, but interesting research.  There could be a niche here for research that the public likes, but scientists might not actually initially consider to be novel or relevant.  I am accustomed to hearing the oft coined criticism of ivory-tower types pursuing esoteric research….at least the crowd-sourcing provides the public direct input via donations!
  • Students get to be involved in the research funding stages.  I think this is actually an excellent learning experience for graduate students, as they learn to write their proposal in language understandable by all and are allowed to be responsible for their research question.
  • You can engage the general public in science at the planning stages and throughout the research.  Experiment.com actually asks you to keep the public up to date on their website.  Ultimately, this enhances outreach and demonstrates our shared passion for science.

Cons

  • There is a general feeling that you are being overly sales pitchy about your science; I would think most scientists are comfortable with arguing from facts, rather than coercion or emotions.  Prepare to work outside your comfort zone.
  • Families and friends become rapidly tapped out so you might only get one shot at raising enough funds!  Thank your family and friends, since they will likely be the ones that support the research.
  • The crowd-source organisers do not appear to actively promote any particular campaign, other than hosting the project online.  This surprised me.  Maybe they were doing more behind the scenes we did not notice.
  • The levels of funds are usually only sufficient for small projects that likely do require some nominal attachment to already funded research, so the point above requires careful planning.
  • If asked to update the public website with research progress, there is chance of running into conflict when trying to publish the work at a later date.
  • Working with animals or doing field studies poses challenges from the perspective of ethical oversight.  Usually, in Canada, ethical approval for research comes after the funding, but crowd-source websites expect the research to be approval in principal before seeking funds.  This could effectively disqualify many from applying.

 

I know my Cons appear to outweigh the Pros….that should not dissuade people from looking into this, but I did not consider many of these aspects until we were well into the fund raising part of the project, and I think it would be helpful for others to know how to plan ahead if they speak to others who have used scientific crowd-funding websites.

 

Two final thoughts

Should research labs that are already funded really be asking for more money?  In our case, this was a novel project and association of new collaborators who would not be doing the research in the first place, wishing to pursue something new.  But what about researchers using crowd-sourcing to supplement their already funded research?

A final (but distant) concern I have is that this approach might be suggested as a free-market replacement for research council funding.  I hope this is never the case.  No scientists have the time to spend marketing their research, nor the resources to do it in a manner that would really raise enough money.  These are not money making ventures, they are knowledge generation for the most part.  A free-market approach would have the perverse effect of highlighting “popular” research, but not necessarily scientific research (think Reality TV).  My own experience suggests that the crowd-sourcing efforts was like an elaborate bake sale for raising money, where you convince your friends, family, and neighbours to fund your research!  Presumably after one round of this, chances of asking for future funding risks turning people off of science, and the sustainability in the long term would be limited.