Undergraduate Research Projects

Learn more about participating in Research. Find Research Projects emphasizing: Developmental & Cellular Biology Evolution & Ecology
Organismal Biology & Physiology Environmental & Applied Biology Gamification / Pedagogical

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Fish Life-History and Migration - NSERC Undergraduate Student Research Awards (USRA)
Application deadline: January 17th. Please send CV, cover letter and 2 references to adminjwm@sfu.ca Outline of proposed research project: The goal of this project is to advance our understanding of the environmental factors which influence survival across the life cycles of sockeye and coho salmon, steelhead and broad whitefish. Climate change is altering the length of seasons resulting in earlier springs and later falls, but it is unclear if the life histories of animals can keep pace with this change. This life-history project focuses on the ecology of multiple fishes and provides detailed information on movement ecology, migration timing, habitat use and population structure. It also investigates the impacts of environmental and anthropogenic change on these populations. This research consists of several elements that add towards a larger understanding of fish life histories. First, we hope to understand how climate variability and change influence growth and survival of juvenile salmon from freshwater to the high seas. Further, we are examining how habitat diversity supports juvenile coho rearing. We aim to examine the role of the estuarine environment for juvenile coho both in their first summer and during their critical transition into salt water. Second, we are analyzing and organizing data on steelhead age and migration patterns through scale analysis which includes aging and archiving scales samples collected since 1976. The project is ongoing, and we will return to the Keogh River again this summer to process and sample migrating fish. Lastly, we aim to advance our understanding of the biology of broad whitefish. Whitefish is a highly important food fish to the Gwich'in peoples of the Northwest Territories, making up a substantial portion of the fish harvested within the Gwich'in Settlement Area along the Peel and Mackenzie rivers. Inhabiting these Arctic rivers means these fish will be subject to many environmental changes due to both human driven climate change and upstream watershed development. In order to understand how this species might respond to these ongoing changes, we must learn more about the biology of this fish, including its biological characteristics (such as age, growth rate, weight and length), movement, and distribution. Outline of the student's role: The principle duties of the position are laboratory analyses with a focus on analysis of aging structures. This will include using scales and/or otolith samples to determine fish age and growth. The student will also perform fish scale photography (using microscopes to photograph and archive salmonid scales), and measurements to determine size at age and reconstruct life histories. They will also perform dissections to extract tissues for isotopic analysis, and otoliths for otolith microchemistry which will be analyzed using laser ablation. There will also be an opportunity to work in the field on the Keogh River, in British Columbia, processing and tagging steelhead with a team of researchers. This information will contribute to our understanding of fish age, growth patterns and life history.
Luke Andersson
Laskeek Bay
If you’re a third or fourth year biology undergraduate at Simon Fraser University and want some hands-on conservation experience, think about applying to the internship program on Haida Gwaii. You could obtain the opportunity for a field studies internship with the Laskeek Bay Conservancy Society on Haida Gwaii. After a week with their office in Queen Charlotte, you’ll live for a month on East Limestone Island in Laskeek Bay and help with field work, such as avian and marine mammal surveys, and maintenance work such as pulling invasive species and doing beach cleanups. You’ll be a member of an enthusiastic team, gain new skills, and spend time in a beautiful environment with seabirds and other local creatures. You may also be able gain some academic credit by using some of your field time to complete an undergraduate research course, working with Prof. Ron Ydenberg. If this experience sounds good to you, visit the Laskeek Bay Conservancy Society website for details http://www.laskeekbay.org. At SFU you can contact the Biology undergrad advisor Emelia Kirkwood (Emelia_kirkwood@sfu.ca), or Ron Ydenberg (ydenberg@sfu.ca).
Ron Ydenberg
Plant Sugar Feeding by Mosquitoes
Looking for volunteers, ISS students, or 497/498/499 students who are interested in working with one of the world's most medically important organisms! Female mosquitoes require a blood-meal to develop their eggs, but plant sugars are essential food as well! Several projects are available that investigate how mosquitoes locate sources of plant sugar (flowers, fruits, etc.) and identifying the specific resource cues they use, with the goal of not only better understanding these organisms but developing new methods of mosquito monitoring and control. Duties may include sorting mosquito larvae and pupae, performing behavioural experiments, performing dynamic headspace aerations, making blends of mosquito-attracting chemicals, and performing statistical analysis. We would be happy to teach these skills to interested students, and no mosquito feeding is necessary!
Dan Peach
Spider rearing   Need Volunteer
I would need help in rearing spiderlings (Steatoda grossa) to adulthood. Workload would be ~1-4h/week (you can choose). Spiders are fed with Drosophila, Mealworms and Blowflies. If you feel confident in working with these organisms please feel free to meet up with me, and after an intro session you can decide if you want to commit.
Andreas Fischer

Seeking Volunteer
Antigenic and Immunic Responses to HIV and Influenza Viruses   Need Volunteer
The Pantophlet lab in Health Sciences is seeking enthusiastic, detail-oriented and highly self-motivated undergraduate research interns for Fall 2017 (and beyond) to participate in and contribute to CIHR-funded research focused on understanding antigenic and immunogenic presentations impacting the ontogeny of anti-carbohydrate and CD4-binding site-specific neutralizing antibodies to HIV-1 and broadly neutralizing antibodies to influenza. Interested students should send an email directly to Dr. Ralph Pantophlet (rpantophlet@sfu.ca). The email must include an unofficial transcript of academic record and a CV detailing lab skills plus any notable academic and non-academic achievements. Students should be in very good academic standing (cGPA>3.5) and be able to commit at least 2 days per week (5-7 hrs/day) to the lab.
Ralph Pantophlet

Seeking Volunteer
How do organisms obtain information about foraging payoffs in their environment?
Foraging animals constantly make decisions about whether to stay where they are or move to a new foraging patch. Animals should forage in patches where they can get the highest payoff, but how do they gain information about the payoffs available in their environment? To explore this question, we are seeking a 298/498 student to undertake experiments on the foraging decisions of wild Steller’s jays feeding on peanuts in trays.
Ron Ydenberg, Tom Flower
 ydenberg@sfu.ca, tflower@sfu.ca
Competition between ravens and crows in Metro Vancouver
Ravens have become a common site in Metro Vancouver, but little is known about how they affect the urban environment. Observations suggest that ravens compete with crows for resources and ravens have even been observed predating crow eggs and chicks. The presence of ravens may therefore have important consequences for crow distribution and behaviour, with further consequences for crow prey species. We are looking for a student or students to undertake a BISC498 project investigating the distribution of breeding raven pairs within Metro Vancouver and the consequences for crow distribution and nesting success in proximity to raven breeding territories. Additionally, we would seek to obtain some simple information on crow foraging behaviour within the city, specifically what proportion of their diet they gain from eating European chafer beetles. Together this work explores intraguild competition between predatory species and the potential consequences for interactions across trophic levels.
Ron Ydenberg, Tom Flower
 ydenberg@sfu.ca, tflower@sfu.ca
Biological Control Project
The Cory Lab is looking for both volunteers and 497W, 498, 499 students interested in studying predator-prey interactions of insects in the context of agricultural systems. The focus of the project involves investigating the efficacy of a generalist predator, the European Earwig as a natural enemy of apple orchard pests, such as the Oblique-Banded Leaf roller. If you are interesting in learning about predator-prey interactions, biocontrol, or the biology of insects, we encourage you to contact us!
Dennis Quach
Insect pathogen ecology and evolution
Insect pathogens are used to control insect pests but they are also excellent models for studying host-pathogen interactions. We are interested in various topics including how different pathogens interact, whether they cause sublethal effects and understanding how nutrition influences the susceptibility of insects. In particular, I am interested in an ISS student to study how the gut or leaf microbiota might influence disease susceptibility. If you are interested in learning about disease, or insect natural enemies, we have places for 49X or ISS students and also welcome volunteers to help with insect rearing, bioassays and sometimes field experiments.
Jenny Cory
Interspecies Pheromone Communication   Need Volunteer
Looking for someone who is interested in pheromone communication across species. Opportunity for independent research experience with as much guidance as you like. Field research will be underway this winter testing small mammal response to our candidate pheromones. Current sites are in Langley with more in the works. There is a laboratory bioassay component as well if a student is interested and driven! Both field and laboratory research make for a well-rounded experience.
Elana Varner

Seeking Volunteer
Evolutionary conservation of amphibians   Need Volunteer
I am searching for volunteers to collate datasets to ask various questions regarding amphibian conservation, evolution, and ecology at a global-scale. Tentative projects could include: 1) patterns of rediscovery of 'Lazarus' amphibians, 2) age and range size relationships in amphibians, and 3) intrinsic and extrinsic correlates of diversification in anurans. Projects will largely involve collecting and curating data from large public datasets, the primary and secondary literature, and remote sensing/GIS data. In the spring, opportunities will arise for field and laboratory work. Students that are looking to develop fundamental research skills, as well as technical skills in statistics or GIS are encouraged to contact me.
Dan Greenberg

Seeking Volunteer
Evolutionary biology and genetics of human cognition and psychology
We determine the roles of trade-offs, genomic conflicts, and Darwinian selection in the evolution of human psychological adaptation and cognitive-psychological architecture. To do so, we analyze human cognition using empirical tests, in healthy individuals, that connect genetic, epigenetic and endocrine variation with psychological phenotypes. The research involves a combination of DNA, endocrine, and psychological data collection. We also supervise other research projects that involve evolutionary-medical questions.
Bernard Crespi
Gamifying Biology
This project is available for students who are interested in taking on an undergraduate research project (BISC 498 or BISC 499) under the pedagogical research category. Project Description: I am looking for 4-6 students to work collaboratively on a project aimed at the gamification of a BISC course. The project will be divided into several sections that will somewhat vary depending on the skills and interests students bring to the project. We will begin with a literature search on the topic of the use of games in education, followed by a rationale (benefits/drawbacks) for using a game platform in a course. We will then select Bisc 202 or Bisc 333 and determine what format the game should take, which learning outcomes are best suited for this purpose, how mastery of the outcomes can be rewarded in the game, and how achievement in the game can be connected to course credit. There is a variety of models or forms this can take - we will examine several and collaboratively select one. We will work on outlining the steps needed to develop the game and will finish up with a proposal and/or storyboards, again depending on the skills and interests of project participants, and the direction the group wants to take. Skills you will develop or improve: Reading the pedagogical literature Teamwork skills Personal management, organization, meeting deadlines etc. Collaborative writing of rational, report, and/or proposal Not a straight A student? Who cares? I am looking for a variety of students, who are looking to develop skills and use some creativity. If you are enthusiastic, hardworking, reliable and willing to explore some unknown territory, that is good enough for me.
Kathleen Fitzpatrick
Trade-offs between growth and survival in sockeye salmon spawning migrations   Need Volunteer
The Moore lab is looking for undergraduate volunteers interested in helping photograph sockeye salmon scales collected in a long-term population monitoring program. Volunteers will be asked to organize and photograph an extensive scale collection, and make measurements of scale annuli for growth analysis. Data from scale collections will be used to examine how salmon balance trade offs between growth and survival when initiating spawning migrations, and will explore the evidence for size dependent survival of smolts. Depending on the success of the volunteer, the project may include opportunities for ongoing participation in research. If interested please contact me at watlas@sfu.ca with the words "salmon volunteer" in the subject line.
Will Atlas

Seeking Volunteer
Birds, bats and beetles: investigating the role of habitat, prey availability and competition on the bat community in Ontario
Are you interested in animal ecology and conservation? We are looking for an undergraduate student interested in pursuing an ISS (Honours) project investigating interactions between bats and a bird, the whip-poor-will, within a nocturnal aerial insectivore community facing a variety of conservation threats. Project requires analysis of ultrasonic and acoustic recordings, basic statistics and good writing skills.
Philina English & David Green
Investigation of a gene contributing to natural variation in growth
In my previous work, I identified pregnancy-associated plasma protein A2 (PAPP-A2) as a gene that contributes to natural variation in growth in mice. Subsequently, numerous studies have found PAPP-A2 to be associated with pregnancy disorders in humans. My current work focuses on the roles of PAPP-A2 and related proteins in skeletal and placental development. Projects are available to study the expression and function of this gene using a variety of molecular techniques.
Julian Christians
Macroevolution and Conservation
Our lab is busy applying phylogenetics to conservation, particularly in the context of the EDGE program administered out of the London Zoo. So, we are building phylogenetic trees, looking for data on conservation status, and also looking at how ecologically-interesting traits evolve on those trees. If you are interested and know lots about a taxonomic group, or want to learn, let us know.
Arne Mooers
Pollination ecology
The pollination environment is expected to affect the evolution of floral traits. Lack of pollinators can lead to pollen limitation (reduced seed production) or may select for the ability to self-pollinate, via changes in floral morphology. Pollinators may be uncommon (or pollinator diversity may be lower) in fragmented or disturbed habitats, so we expect selection for selfing ability in the most disturbed areas. Research in the lab includes field work on pollinator diversity and plant mating systems in the Garry Oak Ecosystem on Vancouver Island and in the shrub-steppe of the South Okanagan (in spring and summer) and lab work on selection on the timing of selfing in plants (anytime), and there are frequently positions for ISS, 498, and NSERC USRA students in the lab.
Elizabeth Elle
Virulence factors of a pathogenic fungus
The mould pathogen, Aspergillus fumigatus, causes serious disease in immunocompromised patients. We study the virulence factors of this fungus. We have several projects available to interested students: one project is to perform a knock-out of a gene in A. fumigatus that is related to the fungal response to low-iron stress. The successful candidate would become proficient in culturing the fungus, as well as learn basic molecular methods for gene knockout in fungi. A second project involves developing a method to target the fungi to kill them; and a third involves identifying fungi in patient samples using PCR. Students who have successfully completed BISC 303 and have a GPA >3.00 are invited to apply.
Margo Moore
Vision in aquatic animals
Vision is of fundamental importance in the lives of many animals. We are interested in cellular specializations and physiological mechanisms that determine the ability of animals to detect and process the colour and polarization of light, as well as the ecological functions of such visual capabilities in nature. Our research ranges from identifying cellular mechanisms that control visual pigment protein (opsin) expression in photoreceptors of the vertebrate retina to ecological investigations of ultraviolet and polarization sensitivity in aquatic animals. A variety of research projects are available for Bisc 498 or ISS projects, or for graduate studies (specially if you can obtain a major graduate fellowship, e.g., from NSERC or CIHR).
Inigo Novales Flamarique
MSc position in propagation and characterization of maples with valuable figured wood
Project background: Maples are prone to develop defects during wood formation that result in attractive patterns or figure in the wood. Derived fine lumber and veneer fetch a high price and are used to increase the aesthetic value of music instruments and wood-based decorative items. While the underlying cause of these defects are unknown, the extent to which it occurs in some individuals of bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum) identified in the pacific north-west of USA suggest an underlying genetic basis with strong penetrance. Radial sections of the wood of these individual trees show undulations with short wavelength and high amplitude and the defects occur throughout the stem and into branches. These trees provide an opportunity to characterize the defects and to test if they are genetically stable in the sense that clones also develop the same defects as well as prospects for the development of value-added forest products. Project description: A two-year Master of Science stipend is available for a project on characterizing wood defects known as curly or fiddleback, primarily in bigleaf maples identified in the pacific north-west of the USA. The project involves three main aspects. The first aspect is to optimize micropropagation of bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum). The second aspect is to assess if clones from individuals with wood defects harbor early defects in xylem and fiber organization indicating that the trait has a genetic basis. The third aspect is to establish and apply scientific criteria for the characterization of these defects in parental individuals and other samples. The project will be carried out in close cooperation with an industrial partner. Qualifications: Highly motivated students with a BSc degree in biology, agriculture or forestry and honours research experience (or equivalent) will be considered. A minimum GPA of 3.0 is required for admission to the department graduate program. Applicants from countries where English is not the primary language need a TOEFL score of 100 or IELTS score of 7. Interest in tree biology and microscopy are added pluses, as is a driver’s license, facilitating field work. This is a two-year position with possible extension depending on available funding. The anticipated starting date is June1st 2014 or soon thereafter.
Jim Mattsson
Insects in Open Habitat
Are the insects in parks different from those on farmland? How are insect communities affected by the presence of livestock, such as horses and cows? What about the birds that eat these insects, what are they eating? We have insect samples from wind nets at different agricultural and non-agricultural sites in Metro Vancouver, and will be doing more field work this summer. A suitable candidate could answer an interesting ecological research question using existing data. Looking for a student to do a 3 credit BISC 498/499 Directed Studies project (Spring 2014) or a volunteer. This project will likely involve a lot of insect identification and sorting, so is especially suitable for someone who has taken BISC 317 Insect Biology. Also potential for a student with an NSERC USRA (Summer 2014) to help with field work as well as data analysis. You will gain experience with analyzing data, keeping detailed records of your work, and writing results in a publishable format. If you are interested contact Olga Lansdorp (graduate student) at olga_lansdorp@sfu.ca.
Tony Williams
Photo taxis/tropism in plants and slime molds.
Both plant and slime molds (Dictyostelium discoideum) exhibit positive phototropism or phototaxis. In plants it’s the tip that grows by elongation and cell division and in the slime molds it is the multicellular slug that towards the light source. Individual cells in these species do not orient and move (elongate) towards the light, rather it is the combined interaction of many semi-attached cells that leads to this bending towards the light. The mechanism responsible is that cells that are further away from the light source move/elongate faster than the cells that are closer. Since the cells are attached to each other the result is a bending of the tip or the front of the slug. When the tip points towards the light, both sides sense the same light intensity, the differential movement halts, and the tip/slug moves straight forward. In our lab we want to explore the similarities between Dictyostelium phototaxis and Arabidopsis phototropism. Are there common genes involved. The project will involve, growing Dictyostelium cells and Arabidopsis plants and then taking time laps movies of slug movements and tip bending under directional light. We then will compare the results with results for mutants in phototaxis or phototrophism. This project is in collaboration with Sherryl Bisgrove email: sbisgrov@sfu.ca http://www.sfu.ca/biology/faculty/bisgrove
Eirikur Palsson
Immune responses in vectors
Insects transmit parasites to humans that cause significant diseases. Some diseases cause significant mortality (malaria kills 2-3 million people/year). Our research addresses how these vectors recognize and kill these parasites, or allow them to develop and get transmitted. This included recognizing the parasite as non-self and then turning on aspects if its immune responses. Projects are available to identify immune genes, express proteins, kill parasites or pathogens, all while working with a great fun loving bunch of researchers!
Carl Lowenberger
Examining mitochondrial dynamics in healthy cells and in human disease processes.
Mitochondria are usually described as the "powerhouses" of cells, however they also play other pivotal roles in the life and death processes of eukaryotic cells. They display great variation in number, shape and location inside different cell types, appearing as large reticular networks in some cells and as small, punctate, autonomous organelles in others. Mitochondria are also highly dynamic organelles, they can undergo fission, fusion and can be rapidly transported around cells. In my lab we study the mechanisms of these processes in living cells. In addition we study the role of "mitochondrial dynamics" in disease processes, particularly in neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson's Disease and Stroke. Student projects are available in my lab to study the basic mechanisms of regulating mitochondria dynamics, and to examine how changes in mitochondrial dynamics are involved in neurodegenerative diseases. Students in my lab will employ techniques including molecular biology (amplification and purification of DNA vectors, construction of mammalian expression vectors), cell culture (tissue culture techniques for various cell types, aseptic technique, transfection of astrocytes/neurons with expression vectors) and fluorescence microscopy (live-cell image acquisition, real-time perfusion experiments, image analysis).
Gordon Rintoul
Axon guidance in C. elegans
Neuronal circuits are the fundamental functional units in the brain. They are established during embryonic development. One central aspect of neuronal circuit formation is the directed outgrowth of neuronal processes (axons and dendrites). They have to navigate precisely towards their target areas where they establish synaptic connections with target cells to eventually form neuronal circuits. Our lab studies the genetic and molecular basis of this navigation process using C. elegans as a model organism. Projects for undergraduate students in my lab revolve around this topic as well. You will get a chance to learn to work with C. elegans, one of the major genetic model organisms. You will learn genetic, molecular biology and microscopic techniques. Current projects include: - Generation of mutants in selected genes with a suspected role in axon guidance - RNAi screens to identify novel genes with a potential role in axon guidance - Characterization of existing mutants for potential axon guidance phenotypes - Mapping of mutations isolated in genetic screens
Harald Hutter

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