Patty Wellborn



A photo of this year's UBCO researchers of the year

From left: Dr. Margaret Macintyre Latta, Dr. Jennifer Davis Dr. Kyle Larson and Rhyann McKay.

Four UBC Okanagan researchers—whose work is making a difference locally and globally—were recognized at a special event last week when the campus celebrated the Researchers of the Year.

In a university dominated by timely and meaningful research, it’s hard to stand out in the crowd. But Phil Barker, UBCO’s Vice-Principal and Associate Vice-President of Research and Innovation, says the unique and outstanding contributions from this year’s winners allows UBCO to shine the light on their accomplishments.

“The Researcher of the Year ceremony is one of my favourite events of the year. It is a distinct pleasure to acknowledge some of our star researchers and highlight their contributions,” he says. “UBC Okanagan is one of the most rapidly expanding campuses in Canada and we are attracting top-notch scholars and researchers who are leaders in their fields.”

The winners of the prestigious awards are Dr. Jennifer Davis for health research, Dr. Kyle Larson in natural sciences and engineering and Dr. Margaret Macintyre Latta, the winner of the social sciences and humanities award. Rhyann McKay was recognized as the Student Researcher of the Year.

Teaching in the Faculty of Management, Dr. Jennifer Davis is a Canada Research Chair in Applied Health Economics. Her research focuses on improving the health of older Canadians who are at risk for falls or cognitive decline. Much of her work assesses the economic value of dementia and mobility intervention and prevention efforts through partnerships with clinicians. Dr. Davis’s international collaborations have resulted in policy change and significant advancements in applying health economic evidence to lifestyle interventions.

A professor in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science, Dr. Kyle Larson is an innovator of analytical techniques for tectonics research. His novel methods have led to fundamental discoveries about how major mountain belts form, including a solution to a decades-old geological controversy surrounding the origin of the Himalayas. As Director of the Fipke Laboratory for Trace Element Research, Dr. Larson’s work has helped develop paradigm-shifting methods for the rapid dating of geological material.

Teaching in the Okanagan School of Education, Dr. Margaret Macintyre Latta is a prominent researcher who transforms traditional approaches to education. A champion of interdisciplinary and community-based research, her focus is to advance curriculum as a shared learning experience that inspires reconciliation. Her research with Indigenous, school district and community partners helps educators to decolonize curriculum and teaching practices.

As a doctoral student in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences, Rhyann McKay conducted research in partnership with provincial spinal cord injury organizations across Canada to co-develop behaviour change interventions for support providers to enhance wellbeing and self-care. McKay is currently a health system impact fellow at the University of Alberta, evaluating the implementation of acute care intervention.

“The purpose of these awards is to highlight and honour the research excellence that makes UBC a top-40 global university,” adds Dr. Barker. “I am impressed with the calibre of all our researchers, grateful for their efforts, and am very proud of this year’s recipients. I look forward to tracking their careers and celebrating their future successes.”

The post UBCO celebrates the researchers of the year appeared first on UBC Okanagan News.

Isolation Quarantine Covid-19 stock photo

UBCO experts discuss how society has coped during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was March 17, 2020, just on the heels of the World Health Organization declaring the as-yet-un-named virus a pandemic, that BC declared a state of emergency.

Schools were closed, offices shuttered, stores locked and people were sent home to face isolation, uncertainty and a looming sense of fear and bewilderment. And now Zoom calls, masks, vaccines and mandates have become part of everyday life across the country.

How has society coped? What has been learned? Has anything changed?

Long before Dr. Bonnie Henry suggested people be kind to each other, Dr. John-Tyler Binfet, an Associate Professor with the Okanagan School of Education, was making the study of kindness part of his daily routine. Dr. Binfet is joined by six other UBC Okanagan experts, who can field questions ranging from vaccine equity, online shopping trends, the importance of exercise and the impact of so much screen time on children.

Dr. Binfet, Director of the Centre For Mindful Engagement and Director of Building Academic Retention Through K-9s

Availability: Noon, Wednesday and all of Thursday, PST

Dr. Binfet’s areas of research include the conceptualizations of kindness in children and adolescents, measuring kindness in schools, canine-assisted interventions and assessment of therapy dogs. His new book written during the pandemic, Cultivating Kindness, will be available this summer.

Related to the pandemic, Dr. Binfet can discuss:

  • University student wellbeing
  • Being kind
  • Why kindness matters

Kevin Chong, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies

Availability: Wednesday and Thursday, 9 to 11 am PST

Chong teaches creative writing, fiction, creative nonfiction, literary journalism, dramatic writing and different writing styles including short story, memoir, personal essay, and lyric essay. He is the author of six books, including The Plague, and wrote a book during the pandemic when the public reading of his play was cancelled due to COVID-19. Dr. Chong also established an online antiracist book club during the pandemic.

Related to the pandemic, Chong can discuss:

  • Writer’s block
  • Online book clubs
  • Antiracist associations

Mahmudur Fatmi, Assistant Professor, School of Engineering

Availability: Wednesday, most hours and Thursday, 8:30 am to noon PST

Dr. Fatmi is a transportation modelling expert. He can talk about how people’s travel and online activities such as work-from-home and online shopping activities have changed during the pandemic, and the implications of these changes.

Related to the pandemic, Dr. Fatmi can discuss:

  • Working from home
  • Changes to transit during the pandemic
  • Online shopping trends

Ross Hickey, Associate Professor, Faculty of Management and Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Availability: Wednesday, 2 to 2:30 pm PST and Thursday, 2:30to 3:30 pm PST

Dr. Hickey is an economist who specializes in public finance, fiscal policy, government expenditure and taxation. Related to the pandemic, Dr. Hickey can speak about:

  • Inflation

Susan Holtzman, Associate Professor, Psychology, Irving K Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Availability: Thursday, 9 am to noon PST

Dr. Holtzman conducts research in health psychology with a special interest in stress and coping, close relationships, depression and social relationships in the digital age. Related to the pandemic, Holtzman can discuss:

  • perceived increase in screen time for young children
  • digital relationships
  • breaking or keeping digital habits after two years of screen time

Jonathan Little, Associate Professor, School of Health and Exercise Sciences

Availability: Wednesday and Thursday, 9 to 11 am PST

Dr. Little’s main research interest is on how to optimize exercise and nutritional strategies to prevent and treat health issues including Type 2 diabetes, obesity, and chronic inflammatory conditions. He is also involved in interdisciplinary research within the Airborne Disease Transmission Research Cluster around mitigating risk of aerosol transmission in health-care settings.

Related to the pandemic, Dr. Little can discuss:

  • Physical activity/exercise during COVID-19
  • Impact of exercise and lifestyle on immune function
  • Aerosols and COVID-19 transmission

Katrina Plamondon, Assistant Professor School of Nursing

Availability: Wednesday, various times in the afternoon PST, Thursday, 7 to 8 am, 11:30 am to noon, 2 to 3 pm PST

Dr. Plamondon’s research focuses on questions of how to advance equity action and vaccine equity. Related to the pandemic, Dr. Plamondon can discuss:

  • Populism and social movements (e.g., convoy) and what this has to do with equity and rights
  • Vaccine equity, particularly the relationship between global vaccine equity and how we can navigate the pandemic
  • Equity considerations as we transition out of pandemic restrictions (e.g., lifting mask restrictions)
  • Equity impacts and health systems considerations

The post UBCO experts discuss what’s changed after two years of COVID-19 appeared first on UBC Okanagan News.

A young woman checks insulin pump and blood sugar monitor while hiking outdoors.

UBCO researchers suggest something as simple as regular walks can help people living with Type 2 diabetes control inflammation.

Researchers from UBC Okanagan are looking at how exercise can help balance the immune system and reduce chronic inflammation—a known contributor to the development and progression of various chronic diseases.

Associate Professor Dr. Jonathan Little, and postdoctoral researcher Dr. Hashim Islam, both with UBC Okanagan’s School of Health and Exercise Sciences, are studying how chronic inflammation can create an imbalance that prevents a person’s immune system from protecting them. And how exercise might be the answer.

The immune system, explains Dr. Islam, is critical for preventing infections, removing pathogens and repairing damaged tissues during recovery from an illness or injury. But when immune cells become overactivated, they can overproduce and release small hormone-like molecules called pro-inflammatory cytokines.

An over-abundance of those cytokines can impair the normal function of vital tissues and organs in the body, Dr. Islam explains. This means a person might be susceptible to a number of diseases including Type 2 diabetes.

“This persistent state of immune cell overactivation is known as chronic inflammation and is linked to the development and progression of various long-lasting illnesses that are commonly found in modern society. These include cardiovascular diseases such as hypertension or stroke and Type 2 diabetes—and we’re particularly interested in studying the Type 2 diabetes aspect,” says Dr. Islam.

Lifestyle factors such as imbalanced nutrition, weight gain, obesity and physical inactivity can aggravate chronic inflammation, adds Dr. Little. These conditions increase a person’s chance of getting various cardiometabolic diseases. On the other hand, exercise and diet-induced weight loss are effective for reducing chronic inflammation in the body and lowering the risk of developing cardiometabolic disease.

The researchers are specifically looking at interleukin 10, a molecule that normally acts to inhibit inflammation. Earlier research, in collaboration with colleagues at UBC’s Vancouver campus, demonstrated that immune cells isolated from people with Type 2 diabetes were less responsive to the anti-inflammatory actions of interleukin 10—something that typically acts as a brake or fire extinguisher to prevent immune cell overaction.

The inability of interleukin-10 to inhibit inflammation was linked to elevated blood sugar levels, suggesting that interventions that normalize blood glucose levels may be effective for restoring anti-inflammatory cytokine action in people with Type 2 diabetes.

“Chronic inflammation is when there is an imbalance of pro- and anti-inflammatory molecules in your body. We use the example of a slow-burning flame, or a brake, in the context of chronic disease,” explains Dr. Little. “Most people study the pro-inflammatory molecules and how to reduce them—which is similar to taking the fuel off the fire. Our work, which is quite novel, is looking at how to make anti-inflammatory molecules like interleukin-10—similar to a fire extinguisher—work better and stop the inflammation.”

Dr. Islam is further exploring the mechanisms that may explain why and when interleukin-10 is not working well to inhibit inflammation for people with Type 2 diabetes. His goal is to implement a practical lifestyle intervention that will involve short, frequent bouts of activity—post-meal walking or exercise snacking—throughout the day to improve blood glucose and restore the anti-inflammatory actions of interleukin-10.

“This approach has demonstrated glucose-lowering benefits in people with Type 2 diabetes,” says Dr. Islam. “Given the earlier-identified link between hyperglycemia and impaired interleukin-10 action, this may be a viable non-pharmacological strategy to restore anti-inflammatory cytokine action in people with Type 2 diabetes.”

The research was covered in a recent review article published in the Journal of Physiology and is funded by a Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research Trainee Award and a Killam Accelerator Research Fellowship.

A female researcher discussing anatomy with a full classroom

New UBCO research asserts that more neuroscience literacy in the general population will result in health fads that are debunked before people invest their money and time.

With the holiday season fast approaching, many people may already be thinking of new resolutions to live a healthier lifestyle come 2022.

Elijah Haynes is a research assistant at UBC Okanagan’s School of Health and Exercise Sciences. He cautions jumping on the bandwagon of any new health trend or fad diet. Haynes, who researches neuroscience literacy, believes that if more people had access to scientific knowledge, new fads would be debunked before people invest their money and time.

Haynes talks about his recently published article in Advances in Physiology Education that discusses the need to improve neuroscience literacy, and how doing so might save lives.

What led to this particular research subject?

Working as an outreach educator for UBC Okanagan’s iSTAND program, I had many opportunities to teach a range of learners—preschoolers, retirees and everyone in between. While we provided activities for a number of different sciences, the neuroscience activities tended to be the most popular across all age groups. The neuroscience events also produced the most interesting discussions about the potential applications of science. I wrote the article hoping to make other physiologists and neuroscientists aware that there is a demand for neuroscience knowledge, and also highlight ways they can provide it.

How did you become interested in neuroscience, and concerned for neuroscience literacy?

I was training as a high school football player and I noticed how different strength coaches would talk about the neuroscience of getting stronger. I watched YouTube videos to learn more about how the nervous system controls movement and was so fascinated that I opted to pursue undergrad and graduate studies in kinesiology.

My experience as an outreach educator made it apparent that a lot of neuroscience research is misunderstood. Given the implications of neuroscience research, I became concerned that public misunderstanding of neuroscience might lead to its misapplication. Without sufficient public understanding, society won’t be able to effectively use the knowledge gained from neuroscience research.

What needs to be done to improve science literacy in our community?

Canadians are lucky in that we have a vast supply of highly educated people living here—everyone knows something about something. At the same time, people are hungry for knowledge about how the world works. Not only does scientific knowledge need to be accessible, but science-literate people should also be available to ensure that knowledge is appropriately understood.

People should also have opportunities to see science “behind the scenes.” It would be phenomenal if universities and colleges designated spaces on campus for regular community engagement events and exhibits. One of the contributors to misinformation spread is distrust. There is a perception that scientists are simply elites protected from public scrutiny by institutions and government. If citizens felt that research was something they could see for themselves, they might be more receptive to knowledge gained by science.

What role does enhanced science literacy play in contemporary health issues?

Many health disorders in Canada are related to modern lifestyles. People are living longer, residing in increasingly denser communities, have access to more food and fewer physical activity requirements than ever before. While culture and societal norms play a big role in determining how we behave in our current environment, empirical knowledge about the way our bodies, especially our nervous systems, will help people make decisions on how to live healthier lives.

I think most people are aware that health trends and diet fads exist, yet every year new ones rise as soon as the last ones are debunked. Quite frankly, it’s sad seeing people spend hard-earned money on these products and services. It’s my hope that greater science literacy will prevent these fads and trends from gaining popularity.

How can people use science to avoid falling for health fads?

People should know that science is more than just memorized facts and showy demonstrations. Science is a process that generates knowledge. We can apply that process to anything we want to know more about. It starts by asking a question, and proceeds by determining the best way to find an answer. In science, how a question is answered is often more important than the answer itself.

When it comes to health fads, people should consider multiple sources of evidence. Instead of just seeking information that promotes a new lifestyle routine, try looking for information to debunk that lifestyle routine.

So, improving science literacy can lead to healthier lifestyles?

Whether we’re talking about health or any other science-related topic, engaging with others is the best way to broaden our understanding. We’ve seen many examples of science driving people apart over the last few years. By acknowledging that people approach, learning from a diverse array of backgrounds and then working together to improve our collective understanding, science can actually be a means of bringing people closer together. When this happens, science does more than just teach us about the world. Science creates connections between people. And those connections can create a healthy, thriving community.

A photo of a person on a treadmill and a student helper

UBC Okanagan’s Small Steps for Big Changes diabetes prevention program helps people at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes learn how to make healthy diet and exercise changes.

What: A week of activities and lessons to mark World Diabetes Day
Who: Community partners including the YMCA, Okanagan College and the Okanagan Regional Library
When: November 8 to 14
Where: Various virtual and in-person events throughout the week

As Word Diabetes Day approaches, a group of students and faculty in UBC Okanagan’s Diabetes Prevention Research Group are making plans for a week of healthy and fun-filled activities.

Dr. Mary Jung, an associate professor in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences, is principal researcher of the lab, which strives to help people lower their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by empowering them to make diet and exercise changes.

World Diabetes Day takes place on November 14 and Dr. Jung says the goal of the day is to increase the community’s awareness about diabetes.

“There are many people who may be at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and don’t know it,” says Dr. Jung. “We have a week full of scheduled events where people can learn more about their likelihood of developing diabetes, and discover what resources are available to the community while they enjoy fun activities.”

Dr. Jung leads the Small Steps for Big Changes diabetes prevention program. Her team has organized a number of virtual and in-person events during the week of November 8 to 14. People can try pickleball, listen to expert speakers, try a virtual Zumba lesson or head to a local YMCA for an exercise class. All events are free and open to everyone.

The featured event is a cooking class with Okanagan College’s Kelsey Oudendag, a red seal chef and culinary arts instructor. Participants will learn, in person or virtually, how to make delicious and healthy meals on a budget. Free registration for this class has been made possible by generous partnerships with the Central Okanagan Food Bank, Okanagan College (OC) and Dr. Jung’s lab.

“I am so excited to welcome people into the kitchens at OC to learn how to cook delicious and healthy meals on a budget,” says Oudendag. “I hope people come away inspired and empowered with some new culinary skills and knowledge they can apply at home in their daily lives.”

The week culminates with an outdoor drop-in day of play and activities on Sunday, November 14. People are encouraged to visit Jung’s Small Steps team at Rowcliffe Park in downtown Kelowna, between 11 am and 3 pm to join in free beginner exercise classes and earn prizes.

For more information about the week and to register for activities, visit:

A photo of Dr. Jenn Jakobi

UBCO’s Dr. Jenn Jakobi new role as the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Chair for Women in Science and Engineering for the BC/Yukon region will help her provide leadership and empower change for underrepresented people in science, technology, engineering and math.

Dr. Jenn Jakobi is a scientist, a teacher and a mentor. Her work focuses on neuromuscular and exercise physiology with the long-term objective of keeping our aging population healthy and independent.

Part of her passion and commitment to research is sharing knowledge and creating opportunities for everyone to learn. She and her team of students and staff produce written articles and guides, as well as videos and podcasts, making sure the science conducted in university labs gets into the living rooms of everyday Canadians.

Beyond science translation, Dr. Jakobi has another passion. She is committed to increasing diversity across science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs. She coordinates and hosts youth outreach camps and activities, and conducts professional development workshops to enable organizational change that will build equity, diversity and inclusion changes in STEM enterprises.

This month, Dr. Jakobi takes on a new role as the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Chair for Women in Science and Engineering for the British Columbia/Yukon region. This Westcoast Women in Engineering Science and Technology (WWEST) program mobilizes her leadership to roles that encourage, explore, understand and empower change for underrepresented people in STEM.

Your initiative, the integrative STEM Team Advancing Networks of Diversity (iSTAND) Program, continues to grow at UBCO. Can you tell us about this program and how it relates to your new role?

iSTAND developed as a project I started in 2014. I saw a need to engage youth in hands-on science activities and I saw resources here at UBCO that would allow for this to happen, particularly for girls. The goal was to ensure they understand how science is a part of bettering our world.

Research shows that young girls are interested in science. We just need to make a connection with them as early as possible.

I started small, by visiting classrooms and explaining how science can create a meaningful and positive difference in all our lives. This initiative grew to busloads of kids visiting campus to actively engage with classmates in neuroscience experiments. We made it relevant to real-life. The next step was summer camps and after-school programs.

These extracurricular iSTAND programs will continue. The WWEST program will use our multitude of kid-friendly experiments to produce learning modules that align with the BC curriculum to assist teachers in bringing hands-on science activities into the classroom. We are also partnering with UBCO’s Indigenous Program Services and First Nation Bands across BC to assist university students to bring activities into their home communities. We will work with elders and cultural stewards to incorporate Indigenous ways of knowing and learning into the activities.

Are the programs focused only on youth?

Not at all. As a female scientist, I have always been a minority and this has led to some less than great experiences in my career. In part, the youth programs were not just about sharing the beauty and joy in science, it was about engaging more girls in science so future female scientists are not alone.

Being alone is not easy. So you build a protective shell, and loneliness hardens your shell. That is what the WWEST program works to change. Through actively partnering with like-minded organizations, we will expand our workshops and activities to build a network, so even when someone feels alone in an organization there is no loneliness. The aim is not to just increase the number of women and under-represented persons, it is to create positive cultures where participation is not an act of bravery. Rather, we aim to create a culture of inclusion for all people and perspectives.

How will you do this?

Using my training and experiences as a scientist, I will conduct research, share it and also apply it to WWEST programs. The focus of research and activities will be the positive elements that engage and keep women and under-represented persons in STEM. For example, we know family is important in encouraging and supporting career development so we developed intergenerational GRAND-STEM programs. Here we encourage parents and notably grandparents to participate with kids in STEM activities. This initiative is especially dear to me, as it aligns with my research passion and collaborative drive.

My research aims to support functional independence with increased age, and social engagement and learning for older adults are equally important for them. This initiative is also an example of the collaboration taking place on our campus. In 2019 the various groups at UBCO that engage in STEM outreach activities began working to develop a cohesive and comprehensive framework to engage with our community.

Overall WWEST will generate research and use this knowledge to create innovative programs to grow diverse and inclusive academic, industry and corporate environments.

The objective of increasing women in STEM careers is not new. How is your program different?

For decades the conversation has centred around removing barriers and obstacles, as well as developing policies and processes to support women in STEM. These were necessary and have evolved. For example, maternity leave and now parental leave have supported females in their career pursuits. This has assisted in retaining women in STEM but it hasn’t been enough.

We need to change the culture. I hope to go beyond the barriers and understand what are the good things that keep under-represented persons in STEM. Then apply these positive factors to build a rich and diverse landscape, and this positive culture includes men. We need to engage the majority to move the minority dial. There are many people who want to see more women and under-represented persons in STEM. This program will promote and celebrate the women, as well as the men who are contributing to positive change. WWEST is a comprehensive program to build a diverse and inclusive STEM landscape.

A pharmacist giving advice to a patient

New UBC research shows that Type 2 diabetes can be treated, and sometimes reversed, with a specialized diet managed by local pharmacists.

A change in diet is proving to be a key tool in the reversal of Type 2 diabetes.

A team of researchers from the University of British Columbia and England’s Teesside University have published a study showing that people can effectively control their Type 2 diabetes through diet and pharmacists are well-positioned to supervise the transition.

The research, published this week in Nature Communications, was part of a 12-week study involving a specialized diet that was managed by local pharmacists. Study participants, all living with Type 2 diabetes, were given a meal plan of low calorie, low carbohydrate, higher protein foods and they checked in regularly with their pharmacist who could monitor their medications.

“Type 2 diabetes can be treated, and sometimes reversed, with dietary interventions,” says study co-author Dr. Jonathan Little. “However, we needed a strategy to help people implement these interventions while keeping an eye on their medication changes.”

Pharmacists are generally more accessible than a family doctor, says Little, noting that people with Type 2 diabetes often make more visits a year to their pharmacist than their doctor. This is especially true in rural areas.

“Community pharmacists have expertise in medication management and can serve an important role in overall diabetes care,” says Dr. Little, an associate professor in UBC Okanagan’s School of Health and Exercise Sciences. “When Type 2 diabetes patients follow a very low-carbohydrate or low-calorie diet, there is a need to reduce or eliminate glucose-lowering medications. Community pharmacists are ideally positioned to safely and effectively deliver interventions targeted at reducing diabetes medications while promoting Type 2 diabetes remission.”

Half of the participants in the study followed the low-calorie, low-carbohydrate, higher-protein diet, checking regularly with their pharmacist. After 12 weeks, more than one-third of participants with Type 2 diabetes were off all diabetes medications, versus none in the control group. Dr. Little also says the first group also noted substantial improvements to their glucose control, average body weight, systolic blood pressure and overall health.

Co-investigator Dr. Alan Batterham, professor in the School of Health and Life Sciences at Teesside University, says the key was a targeted nutritional approach, supervised by a community pharmacist who can monitor prescribed medications.

“The intervention was effective in reducing the need for glucose-lowering medications for many in our study,” says Dr. Batterham. “This indicates that community pharmacists are a viable and innovative option for implementing short-term nutritional interventions for people with Type 2 diabetes, particularly when medication management is a safety concern.”

The research was a collaboration with Pharmasave, the not-for-profit Institute for Personalized Therapeutic Nutrition, Teesside University, along with UBC’s School of Health and Exercise Sciences, Life Sciences Institute and Centre for Health Evaluation and Outcome Sciences. Food products were provided in-kind to pharmacies by Ideal Protein. The study was partially funded by Mitacs with salary support provided to Dr. Little from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research and the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research.

Virtual ceremony celebrates social and technological innovation

It is award season, and not just in the entertainment industry.

Last Thursday at a special virtual ceremony, UBC Okanagan researchers were honoured for their innovative and groundbreaking work.

At the ceremony, Dr. Phil Barker, UBCO’s vice-principal and associate vice-president of research and innovation, announced the campus’s four researchers of the year. The awards recognize those who have made a significant contribution to research in the areas of natural sciences and engineering, social sciences and humanities, and health. A graduate student is also honoured annually at this event.

The research highlighted — from wireless technology to psychedelic-drug assisted therapy to diabetes research and tackling social inequalities — demonstrates the breadth of impact UBCO researchers are having locally, nationally and internationally, says Dr. Barker.

“This is one of my favourite times of the year, when I have the pleasure of acknowledging some of our star researchers and highlighting their contributions,” he says. “UBC’s Okanagan campus is one of the most rapidly expanding campuses in Canada and we continue to attract top-notch scholars and researchers.”

Natural Sciences and Engineering Researcher of the year: Dr. Julian Cheng

This year, Dr. Julian Cheng was named the natural sciences and engineering researcher of the year. Dr. Cheng is an expert in digital communications and signal processing.

He has many patents and has recently invented an indoor optical wireless location technique that improves receiver accuracy and will allow precise control of robot movement. His research also includes an intra-body communication device using wireless technology that will benefit health-care systems.

Health Research of the Year: Dr. Jonathan Little

When it comes to health research, Dr. Jonathan Little has been investigating improved treatments and possible prevention of Type 2 diabetes.

Much of his work revolves around the impact of healthy eating and exercise to stave off metabolic disease. He works with several partner organizations to improve the lives of people living with chronic illness and disease. Dr. Little also leads the Airborne Disease Transmission Research Cluster, a cross-campus research team that aims to lessen the airborne transmission of COVID-19 and other airborne illnesses.

Social Sciences and Humanities Research of the Year: Dr. Eric Li

Dr. Eric Li, the winner of the social sciences and humanities award, is an expert on social trends and a champion for the underdog.

His research focuses on interdisciplinary collaborations with non-profit organizations and local government to improve social inequities. His overreaching goal is to improve the lives of everyday people around the world. Through his community-based research, he has made an impact on food insecurity, poverty, urban densification and rural community building in our region.

Graduate Student Research of the Year: Michelle St. Pierre

Doctoral student Michelle St. Pierre has been honoured for her work in substance use and mental health, with a focus on cannabis and psychedelic use and harm reduction.

She has made significant research breakthroughs in how people cope with pain and pain sensitivity. As a founder of the UBC Okanagan chapter of Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy, St. Pierre has received international media attention for her research on cannabinoid-based analgesics and is a national expert on cannabis policy.

“The purpose of these awards is to highlight and honour the research excellence that makes UBC a top 40 global university,” adds Dr. Barker. “I am impressed with the calibre of all our researchers and am very proud of this year’s recipients. I look forward to their future successes.”

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit:

New research has determined the global population for people living in high-altitude, like this village in Namche Bazaar, Nepal is more than 500 million. (photo courtesy of Alex Hansen)

New research has determined the global population for people living in high-altitude, like this village in Namche Bazaar, Nepal is more than 500 million. (photo courtesy of Alex Hansen)

Knowing how many people live and thrive at high altitude key for researchers

New findings detailing the world’s first-of-its-kind estimate of how many people live in high-altitude regions, will provide insight into future research of human physiology.

Dr. Joshua Tremblay, a postdoctoral fellow in UBC Okanagan's School of Health and Exercise Sciences, has released updated population estimates of how many people in the world live at a high altitude.

Historically the estimated number of people living at these elevations has varied widely. That’s partially, he explains, because the definition of “high altitude” does not have a fixed cut-off.

Using novel techniques, Dr. Tremblay’s publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences confirms there are about 81.6 million people who live 2,500 metres above sea level. From a physiological perspective, researchers typically use 2,500 metres as an altitude benchmark for their work.

Dr. Trembly says an important part of his study was presenting population data at 500-metre intervals. And while he says the 81 million is a staggering number, it is also important to note that by going to 1,500 metres that number jumps to more than 500 million.

“To understand the impact of life at high altitude on human physiology, adaption, health and disease, it is imperative to know how many people live at high altitude and where they live,” says Dr. Tremblay.

Dr. Joshua Tremblay conducts research at the Everest Pyramid Laboratory which is at an altitude of about 5,050 metres.

Dr. Joshua Tremblay conducts research at the Everest Pyramid Laboratory which is at an altitude of about 5,050 metres.

Earlier research relied on calculating percentages of inconsistent population data and specific country-level data that has been unavailable. To address this, Dr. Tremblay combined geo-referenced population and elevation data to create global and country-level estimates of humans living at high altitude.

"The majority of high-altitude research is based upon lowlanders from western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic countries who ascend to high altitude to conduct their research,” says Dr. Tremblay. “Yet, there are populations who have successfully lived at high altitudes for thousands of years and who are facing increasing pressures.”

Living at high altitude presents major stressors to human physiology, he explains. For example, low air pressure at high altitude makes it more difficult for oxygen to enter a person’s vascular systems.

“When low-landers travel to high altitudes our bodies develop inefficient physiological responses, which we know as altitude sickness,” he says. “However, the people we studied have acquired the ability to thrive at extremely high altitudes. Their experiences can inform the diagnosis and treatment of disease for all humans, while also helping us understand how to enhance the health and well-being of high-altitude populations.”

With only a fraction of the world’s high-altitude residents being studied, the understanding of the location and size of populations is a critical step towards understanding the differences arising from life at high altitude.

Dr. Tremblay notes it’s not just a case of understanding how these populations have survived for generations, but also how they thrive living in such extreme conditions. Especially as climate change continues to impact, not only the air they breathe, but every aspect of their daily lives.

“We tend to think of climate change as a problem for low-altitude, coastal populations, but melting snow, glaciers and extreme weather events limit water and agriculture resources,” he explains. “High-altitude residents are on the frontlines of climate change. We need to expand this vital research so we can understand the effects of climate change and unavoidable low levels of oxygen on high-altitude populations.”

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit:

Virtual event brings the world of research to everyone’s living room

UBC Okanagan’s School of Nursing, in partnership with the University of Alberta and the International Institute for Qualitative Methodology (IIQM) will host the international Thinking Qualitatively Virtual Conference this summer.

The worldwide virtual summit will bring together some of the world’s brightest thinkers and prolific researchers. The conference will be entirely virtual for 2021 and will be organized around seven regions based on time zones, with world leaders in qualitative research leading each regional program. Established 20 years ago by the International Institute of Qualitative Methodology, the annual conference provides opportunities for researchers to present oral papers, share their knowledge and connect with others in similar fields.

But conference chair Karin Olson, who teaches in the UBCO’s Faculty of Health and Social Sciences, says the event is not just for scientists. In fact, she encourages the general public to tune in and be amazed by the wonders of thinking qualitatively.

Can you explain the term “thinking qualitatively?”

Thinking Qualitatively is the name of the summer school run for the past 20 years by IIQM at the University of Alberta. It has historically been a series of workshops intended to build capacity in qualitative research methods. This year, it is combined with the Qualitative Methods conference normally offered annually by IIQM. As a result, both oral presentations and poster presentations are welcome this year.

What is qualitative research?

Qualitative research typically uses data from sources such as interviews, observations, reports, organization charts, minutes of meetings, video, photographs, audio and social media rather than numerical data. It addresses questions about how, why, when and to whom things happen. Often qualitative research is conducted when there is limited information about a phenomenon.

Why would members of the public tune in?

Thinking Qualitatively provides an opportunity for people who have not formally studied qualitative research during their university years to build up the skills needed to do quantitative studies. Much like a TedEX event, it also provides opportunities for registrants to hear directly from world leaders in the field through keynotes and workshops.

How has going virtual benefited this year’s Thinking Qualitatively Conference?

One of the major barriers for many of our interested scholars in the past was travel costs and getting visas. It’s been particularly heartbreaking because people have worked for years to try to come to one of these and not been able to get a visa on time. Now, finally, we can have people participate from around the world in a much more affordable and accessible way.

Organizers have also managed to put an unprecedented slate of software training opportunities together on July 9, with four different qualitative software companies instructing on their platforms.

Is there a particular highlight at this year’s conference?

The international committees did an exceptional job lining up some of the biggest names in qualitative research methods, including:

July 5: David Morgan in the morning, Luca Berardi in the afternoon in North America, Maria Cecília Minayo in Latin America

July 6: Marit Kirkevold in Scandinavia and Cecilia Vindrola-Padros in UK and Ireland

July 7: Hadass Goldblatt in Africa and the Middle East, Giampietro Gobo in Continental Europe

July 8: Victoria Palmer, in the morning and Anna Cohen Miller in Australia, New Zealand and Asia that afternoon.

In addition, workshop instructors include a slate of training opportunities. There are workshops daily during the conference and on July 9 there is a showcase of different qualitative research software training opportunities, including ATLAS.ti, Quirkos, DeDoose and NVivo, with others queuing up to take part.

How do people register? And is there a cost?

In keeping with the aim of making TQ2021 more accessible and affordable, prices are based on the World Bank country classifications by income level: Fees will be based on a participant’s primary passport country. All prices are in Canadian dollars.

For more information, to register and to submit an abstract visit:

About UBC’s Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: