Undergraduate Summer Research 2021

Our Biology Undergrads do research too!

Here are some of our fantastic undergraduate students and what they have been doing during the summer of 2021. These students are recipients of SURA, NSERC or Biology Research Awards.

Biology Summer Research Awards

Mina Araya-Yohannes
I am a second-year physiology major student originally from Ethiopia with a passion for health and research in the sciences. I have diverse research interests but this summer I will be working on behavioural biology in Dr. Simon Reader’s Lab. I will be assisting other researchers with their projects, but with the help of Dr. Reader, I will also be working on my own project: Individual consistency in social information use and social learning by guppies. I will have the opportunity to go through an entire experimental cycle and learn the different parts of research and the different techniques used in research In my spare time, I enjoy baking, reading, watching football (soccer) matches, volunteering and travelling. I also like to be involved in projects and extracellular activities that promote diversity and inclusion

Freeman Taylor
This summer as part of the Gonzalez Lab, Freeman, will be investigating the importance of environmental heterogeneity in the spread of populations as a response to biological invasions and climate-change. Freeman will be assisting post-doc Dr. Celina Baines in conducting a microcosm experiment in the lab that will serve to investigate the factors that influence the spread of populations in networks, the soil microorganism the springtail being the model organism. Freeman will assist with maintenance and data collection, further, he will be using the R-based program RangeShiftR to accompany the results produced in lab. If time permits, Freeman also plans to expand on the research done regarding the Equality-Biodiversity (primarily economic equality) relationship. Freeman sees an opportunity to revisit the work done by Dr. Gonzalez et al. in 2007 & 2009 with updated data and additional parameters such as environmental governance, racial inequality, institutional strength (Mirza et al. 2020) etc.

Joe Sanchez
I am an undergraduate studying environmental biology. I was born in Mexico City but my family immigrated to Montreal, Canada in 2002. At first, I had difficulty adjusting to the harsh winters and the two new languages I had to learn but, with time, I came to appreciate the myriad opportunities that this wonderful country offers. Starting in 2016, I studied natural sciences at John Abbott College, where I discovered my passion and aptitude for scientific studies. In 2018, I was admitted to the software engineering program at McGill University and undertook a year of study before transferring to environmental biology. This summer, I am combining my coding skills, my aptitude for communication and my passion for the environment in order to conduct academic research on water contaminants at Professor Gregory-Eaves’ lab.

Adenrele (Rele) Orimalade
I am honored to have the opportunity to be an ambassador for this program and highlight some of the research I am involved in this summer. This summer as part of the Hendricks Lab, I will be uncovering the mechanosensory function of TACAN in C. elegans. TACAN is identified as an ion channel that contributes to mechanosensitive currents in nociceptors and detecting mechanical pain stimuli. I will be researching this ion channel by using a variety of techniques including cell-attached recordings, calcium imaging, and behavioral assays to understand the function of the channel. When not in the lab I enjoy staying fit and competitive as a member of the McGill Varsity Basketball team, whilst also fighting systemic racism and advocating for equality as President of the McGill Black Students Network.

Soraya Ghassemlou
I’m a queer Iranian student just finishing up U0 and I’ve decided to major in honours Computer Science and Biology. I am very excited to take part in research for the first time as I was lucky enough to be selected for an EDI Biology Research Award which matched me with the Brouhard Lab. There I am coding in C to simulate microtubule dynamics using the Gillespie algorithm with the help of a grad student in the lab; however, this might change now that I am allowed to come into the lab as COVID restrictions lessened which could give me the chance to dabble in wet and dry lab practices and get diverse lab experience. People who know me know I love barbecues and parties with a theme so I can’t wait to get back into the swing of socializing when everything opens back up!

SURA Awards recipients

Julien Turk
I'm thrilled to be able to participate in this initiative and highlight some of the work I'm getting the opportunity to complete this summer. I’ll be completing a research project on the changes in circuit motif during the evolution of a species specific behaviour with Prof. Tomoko Ohyama. Using an online based large data viewer called CATMAID, I’m able to reconstruct the neurons and annotate synaptic partners of the Drosophila Santomea brain from electron microscopy images. I can then compare the connectome/circuit motifs with that of the Drosophila Melanogaster to try and uncover the species differences previously observed in their escape behaviours. Born and raised in Ottawa, I’m excited to be back home for the summer completing the project remotely for now and hope to develop ideas for possible experiments to be completed in wet lab in the fall. When I’m not tracing neurons, I enjoy being active and spending time in my garden.

Anya Mueller
Hi there, I study biology and will be entering my 4th year at McGill this fall. I am a fan of all biology but lean towards ecology and evolution; I love being out in nature, so I really enjoy learning about the plants and animals that I encounter out there. As a lover of wild spaces, I find the current destruction of them alarming. I am on a mission to discover ways in which I can reverse some of this destruction during my lifetime. This mission has led me to my summer research position in the Sunday Lab. This summer I am exploring the use of environmental DNA (eDNA) biodiversity monitoring in a kelp forest restoration site in Haida Gwaii, an island off the coast of British Columbia. I am super excited that I will get to spend this summer learning more about ecological restoration, eDNA monitoring, and the scientific method in ecology!

Emilia Sylvestre
This was my first year at McGill and I feel very grateful to have the opportunity to work on a research project this summer. I’m from the West Island of Montreal, so I’m hoping I’ll have the chance to get some hands-on experience in the lab in the next few months. I’m interested in all aspects of macroevolution and palaeontology, so I feel very fortunate to be able to work under the supervision of Dr. Larsson this summer. My project focuses on the development of the temporal region of the bird skull using bioimaging methods and comparative anatomy. I’m very excited to be working on this project and to see where this experience will take me as I continue my studies.

Nikki Moore
I am broadly interested in understanding the factors that shape the geographic ranges of species to improve predictions of range shifts under climate change. My current project investigates the role that temperature plays in shaping species’ ranges at the biogeographical scale and how this varies across species. I am taking a macroecological approach, combining global data on hundreds of species’ geographic ranges, their thermal niches, and other life-history traits.

Jaren Mari Abergas
Jaren is an incoming U2 student in B.Sc. Microbiology and Immunology. He’s originally from the Philippines but he grew up in Beijing and Singapore. During his free time, he enjoys playing sports such as Badminton and Soccer. He also enjoys singing with his Acapella group at McGill, Tonal Ecstasy. He is involved in McGill’s Filipino student association (MUFASA) where he served as a Co-President during the 2020/2021 school year. This summer, he will be conducting research with Ph.D. Candidate, Alan Garcia-Elfring, (Barrett Lab) in discovering the genetic basis of different colour morphs in ball pythons. This research will allow snake breeders to produce ball pythons of rare colour morphs in a lab and ultimately prevent the need to hunt ball pythons in the wild. Additionally, he is also assisting the research of Ph.D. Candidate, David Hunt, during the summer.

Madeline Willis
I am currently studying Quantitative Biology as a U3 student at McGill. I was drawn to Quantitative Biology due to its interdisciplinary approach and my additional interest in physics and mathematics. I have been an Undergraduate Researcher for the Vogel Lab since summer 2020. The Vogel Lab studies the machinery and control of cell division using biophysics and computational biology. This summer, thanks to the Science Undergraduate Research Award, I am studying a budding yeast phosphomimetic γ-tubulin mutant to investigate the relationship between microtubule number and cell size distribution. In doing so, I wish to reveal mechanisms that control MT number and that underlie cell size homeostasis and accurate cell division. When I’m not in the lab I will be enjoying rollerblading and biking as much as possible.

Natalie Swartz
I am a current McGill student in the Ba&Sc. Environment Interfaculty program with a minor in Urban Studies. I am researching nutrient acquisition strategies in tropical legumes this summer in the Soper Lab. I am excited to learn more about the natural environment and, in particular, how the different acquisition strategies shape the plants' appearances and functional traits in the wild. This is the first time I have ever done research, and I love seeing the scientific process in action! I enjoy being in nature and have worked at my local nature center in the past! Outside of doing research, I like to go hiking and spending time with my friends.

Libby Rothberg
Libby graduated this Spring from McGill with a Bachelor of Science in Honours Environment. A focus on Biodiversity and Conservation allowed her to be involved in many field research opportunities including Limnology and Tropical Ecology. This year she spent a lot of hours in the lab working on her Thesis project studying community dynamics of meta-ecosystems. This summer she is working in the Ricciardi lab, both assisting in the field to collect fish from Lac Hertel and Richelieu River for a feeding efficiency experiment and assisting remotely to find an appropriate biomonitor for microplastic content in aquatic environments. In her free time, she enjoys woodworking and sewing projects as well as outdoor activities like hiking, camping, and swimming.

Callum Stirton
I am going into my third year at McGill studying biology with a minor in economics. I am interested in cell and molecular biology, especially as it relates to human disease. I currently have a position in the Brouhard Lab, where I am characterizing how microtubules are affected by a protein called doublecortin (DCX). Microtubules are dynamic polymers that are important for: mitosis, cell structure, intracellular transport, and the movement of cells. Doublecortin is selectively expressed in the brain and when mutated it can cause a form of epilepsy called double cortex syndrome. By analyzing microscopy images, I will help characterize how microtubule dynamics are changed by doublecortin mutants. I have been part of the McGill debate club for three years and in my free time I enjoy: hiking, chess, practicing French and exploring new recipes.

Max Rice
I am currently entering my U3 year studying neuroscience here at McGill. I’m really interested in how cellular changes that arise in neurodegenerative disorders affect the brain and behavior. This summer, under Anna Cook in the Watt Lab, I am researching how specific organelles in Purkinje cells may be able to reflect an early pathophysiology of spinocerebellar ataxia type 6 (SCA6). SCA6 is a rare neurodegenerative motor movement disorder that affects the cerebellum, and I am hoping that my project will help contribute to our understanding of this disease. I am grateful to have the opportunity to perform research both in-person and remotely this summer, and when I am not in the lab, I enjoy cooking new recipes and biking around the city.

Jatin Agnani
Jatin is currently an undergraduate student at McGill University in the Honours Neuroscience program. He joined the Watt Lab in late 2020 with an interest in understanding the role of the cerebellum in the maintenance of circadian rhythms, and how irregularities can in turn affect the sleep-wake cycle and motor functions. Outside the lab, Jatin enjoys reading and exploring the myriad of running trails in Montreal.


NSERC Awards recipients

Ariane Monticone
I have just completed my third year at McGill University with a major in Anatomy and Cell Biology and a minor in Hispanic Studies. Thanks to the NSERC Undergraduate Student Research Award, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to work in the Reyes-Lamothe Lab, a lab that studies the function of molecular machines through single-molecule approaches in live cells. The project I am working on seeks to understand the contribution of bio-molecular condensates in the DNA replication of E. Coli. Through bacterial genetics and fluorescent microscopy, I wish to detect evidence for whether single-stranded DNA-binding protein (SSB) localizes in condensates formed by liquid-liquid phase separation. Aside from research, I will be swimming, hiking, and baking throughout the summer.

James Wall
I am a U3 science student. Although I am pursuing a major in physiology, I have developed a strong interest in cell biology over the past few years during my time in the Weber Lab, where the research focus is cellular spatial organization. My 2021 summer research project focuses on nucleolar assembly, via phase separation of the nucleoplasm, in early C. elegans embryos. Specifically, I will be analyzing time-lapse movies of developing C. elegans embryos, which were acquired after RNAi knockdown of various genes which may be involved in nucleolar assembly. Extracting quantitative data from these movies may shed light on potential molecular regulators of nucleolar assembly. Outside the lab, I am an avid runner and enjoy camping in provincial parks.

Benjamin Rudski
I have just completed my BSc in Honours Computer Science and Biology with a minor in Mathematics. My NSERC summer research project combines my expertise in computer science and biology to study how mating flights in ants respond to changes in the environment. Ants live in colonies consisting of a queen and her female workers. The queen spends most of her life laying eggs. During the spring, these eggs develop into winged males and queens who fly away from the colony to mate with winged males and queens from other colonies. There are still many outstanding questions about the timing of these nuptial flights and the environmental factors that drive them. Under the supervision of Professor Ehab Abouheif, I am developing a mobile app to allow citizen scientists and professional myrmecologists to collaboratively report ant nuptial flights from the field. Our goal is to collect large amounts of openly accessible data to facilitate the discovery of new insights about these mating flights and the factors that influence them.

Breanna Pevec
I am a third year environmental biology student specializing in wildlife biology. Since I was little, I have always loved spending time outdoors and learning about the environment, particularly wildlife and their interactions with their environment. I also love animals in general and work part time at a veterinary clinic throughout the school year. This summer, I am working in Dr. Mélanie Guigueno's lab alongside one of her Master's students, Sereena Moore, and we are studying European starlings. We are looking at how the migration distance of a mother affects neuron generation (neurogenesis) and cell proliferation in the brains of her nestlings. We are also looking at how a widely used pesticide, chlorpyrifos, affects nestling brains as well. I am very excited to see what we will discover this summer!

Fei Huang
Currently, I am a neuroscience student doing a summer research project in Dr. Ohyama's lab. I have been always interested in how the brain is able to receive and integrate all the information from the external world and how we can use these cues to guide our behaviour. This is quite important for our daily life. My research project in summer 2021 mainly focuses on the olfactory system. We use drosophila larvae because of their relatively simple nervous systems. We test how different odorants influence the behaviour of drosophila larvae and try to find the behavioural algorithm which can describe the olfactory navigation behaviour of drosophila larvae in response to both aversive and appetitive odorants.

Emily Brown
I am a recent McGill graduate with a BSc. in Biology and a Natural History minor. I have enjoyed being involved in research through much of my degree at McGill, and I have worked on a variety of subjects ranging from the impacts of fiddler crab burrowing on salt marsh vegetation, to variation in phosphorus content in forest plants, to the prevalence of microplastics in lake sediments. I am excited to be spending this Summer working in Fiona Soper's lab studying nutrient acquisition strategies of tropical legume trees. I am deeply interested in how nutrients connect everything in the natural world, and am excited to spend this Summer investigating this more deeply! Aside from research, I love hiking, skiing, gardening, and cooking!

Angela Zhao
 I will be a U3 Honours Computer Science and Biology major, Mathematics minor student in Fall 2021. Since last summer, I have had the pleasure of working in the Vogel Lab, which studies the mechanics controlling cell division. This summer, the NSERC USRA is providing me the opportunity to continue investigating the effects of phosphorylation of evolutionarily conserved γ-tubulin residues on the stability of the metaphase spindle. Spindle stability is a measure of the balance of forces that control chromosome segregation on the spindle. In studying this, I hope to further our understanding of the mechanisms that control spindle dynamics. I have also received training from Object Research Systems — a company that develops advanced 3D image analysis software — and I am currently working on a plugin for multi-particle tracking. Outside of research, I enjoy long walks, classical music, and the night view from my balcony with a cup (or three) of coffee.

Emily Burt
I’m entering my final year of undergrad in Environmental Biology with a specialization in Wildlife Biology. Since I was young I knew I always wanted to work with animals, but I never knew what that would entail. I first explored veterinary medicine by working part time at a vet clinic, and while I love my job, I know it isn’t the career for me. So I set myself on a different path, with a career in wildlife biology in mind instead. And I’ve never looked back! This summer I am working in Mélanie Guigueno’s lab studying the metabolism and foraging efficiency of female red-breasted mergansers who participate in conspecific brood parasitism (i.e. laying eggs in the nests of other mergansers). I am also assisting a PhD student, Anna Lippold, with her project on the neural correlates of spatial ability in conjunction with contaminant exposure in ring-billed gulls. In my spare time I enjoy birding, fishing, animal husbandry, and being in nature.



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