Using students to engage students, this initiative has grade 9 students exploring the benefits of inquiry based science and creating video public service announcements to encourage others to stay with science throughout high school.
Alysha Croker: Head Coordinator for Let's Talk Science London
In 2002, Alysha Croker started undergrad at the University of Western Ontario. She started studying biology, then tried out organic chemistry, physiology, but finally found her passion in cell biology. Currently, Alysha is finishing up her PhD in cell biology at Western University in the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology. Her lab is at the London Regional Cancer Program, where she studies breast cancer. Her research involves looking at special cancer cells, called “Cancer Stem Cells” and looking at whether these “Cancer Stem Cells” help breast cancers spread (metastasize), or become resistant to cancer therapy (chemotherapy or radiation therapy). Finally, she wants to figure out why these “Cancer Stem Cells” are so aggressive, and how we can make cancer therapies that can target “Cancer Stem Cells”.
In her spare time, Alysha sings, writes novels, and loves sailing in the summer. She knows that it might seem paradoxical that most of her hobbies are incredibly creative while her job is scientific, but she just shrugs and smiles. “It’s not weird at all,”
she says. “The most successful scientists are those who have a bit of creativity in their bones. We’re talking about finding answers to things that nobody knows about yet…you have to be able to think out of the box, see un-connecting connections, and occasionally take some risks. That’s what makes it all so interesting!”
What are her thoughts on science as a career? She once told me that her job was the best job in the world.
“I’m extremely curious by nature, and now I have a job where I ask questions all day, and then figure out ways to answer the questions…how cool is that!?”
Paul Armstrong: 'Grade 9 Project' Coordinator
“What do you want to do when you’re older?”
I felt like I was asked this question all the time in elementary school and high school. I didn’t know what I wanted to do then, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do up until about a year ago; however, staying in science enabled me to achieve my ambitions. So, how did science help me accomplish my goals? Let me begin with a synopsis of my education since grade 9.
In grade 9, I decided to take a lot of science courses. Why? Probably for the same reason many people I knew stayed in science. Because we were told that taking science was the best route to a good career. So, I continued taking science throughout high school. I didn’t particularly enjoy biology or chemistry; however, I had a great physics teacher and genuinely enjoyed learning and applying the rules of physics. By the end of high school, I decided that I wanted to be a dentist and started applying to several universities in Ontario. In order to get into dentistry school, you generally need an undergraduate science degree to be admitted. So, when The University of Western Ontario (UWO) accepted me into first year science, I was excited about beginning my path towards a career in dentistry.
During my first year at UWO, I took the standard first year courses for my program: chemistry, biology, physics, psychology, and calculus. The only course I truly enjoyed out of all those courses was psychology, and I quickly switched to the psychology program at UWO after first year. I truly enjoyed learning about how people think, and why people are the way they are, so much so that I no longer wanted to go into dentistry, and began seriously considering becoming a psychologist.
I graduated last year with an Honors Specialization in Psychology (B.A.) and began working for two neuroscientists at UWO: Dr. Jessica Grahn and Dr. Jody Culham. Their work is truly fascinating and I’m very grateful to be working for two brilliant minds. Dr. Grahn is a cognitive neuroscientist who explores why we move to rhythm in music, and how movement and rhythm may be connected in the brain. To learn more about her and her research, check out here website: www.jessicagrahn.com. Dr. Culham’s research is interested in how vision is used for perception and to guide actions in human observers. By using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI- see my brain above), she’s able to provide some very interesting insights into how we perceive things. To learn more about her and her research, check out her website here: http://culhamlab.ssc.uwo.ca/culhamlab/.
Although I have truly enjoyed working for Dr. Grahn and Dr. Culham, I have decided that research in psychology is not the career path that I want to follow, and am currently in the process of applying to law school for next year. As you can see from my educational background, you’re never stuck in one area. I changed my mind regarding what I wanted to pursue as a career several times; however, science truly enabled me to keep all my options open. A background in science is required for numerous careers: nursing, dentistry, physiotherapy, optometry, engineering, physician, surgeon, etc. Staying in science enabled me to keep my options open, and find the career path that best fit my goals and interests and THIS is why I believe staying in science is so important.
If you have any questions for me, please don’t hesitate to get in touch through the discussion board on this site or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d be more than happy to answer any questions you may have.
Dr. Jessica Grahn
is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at Western University. Dr. Grahn has established herself as an emerging leader in the field of the neuroscience of music which combines her unique background as a classically trained concert pianist and her training as a neuroscientist.
Dr. Grahn’s work is stems from her interest in why we move to rhythm, and how movement and rhythm may be connected in the brain. She conducts brain scanning studies examining how different motor areas in the brain respond to musical rhythm. Dr. Grahn is also interested in how rhythm and music may be processed in the brains of those who have dysfunction in the brain areas that control movement, as happens in Parkinson's disease. Finally, she is intrigued why individuals vary greatly in rhythmic ability, and she is conducting behavioural and brain scanning studies to examine why there is such a striking range in the healthy human population.
A recent study by Dr. Grahn
(Grahn & Brett, 2009)
found that Parkinson’s disease patients have subtle deficits in beat perception. That is, they have problems finding the regular, steady pulse that we tap our foot to when we hear a rhythm. The details of this investigation are below.
Rhythms from a previous study
(Grahn & Brett, 2007)
were used (see Figure 1). The metric simple rhythms are easier for most people to remember, because people feel a beat when they listen to them
(click here to listen to a metric simple rhythm)
. The metric complex rhythms are similar, but don’t give a strong feeling of a beat, so people tend to do worse in remembering these rhythms
(click here to listen to a metric complex rhythm)
Fig. 1- Schematic example of the two types of rhythmic sequence stimuli used. Numbers denote relative length of intervals in each sequence. 1 = 220-270 msec (value chosen at random on each trial), in steps of 10 msec.
During the investigation, Parkinson’s disease patients and healthy volunteers listened to 3 presentations of a rhythm. They indicated if the third presentation was the same as or different from the first two presentations.
Dr. Grahn found that, compared to healthy volunteers, Parkinson’s patients had problems with beat perception. They were worse than control volunteers in detecting changes in the rhythms with a regular beat: the metric simple condition. This is shown on the left hand side of Figure 2: the pink bar is much lower than the blue bar. However, for rhythms without a beat (the metric complex rhythms), Parkinson’s patients’ performance was similar to healthy volunteers. This is shown on the right side of Figure 2. The pink bar is a little bit lower than the blue bar, but this was not significant: overall, Parkinson’s patients performed similarly to volunteers. This means that the Parkinson’s patients’ worse performance with metric simple rhythms cannot be because of a general problem at doing the task--their problem is specific to rhythms that have a beat.
Fig. 2. Accuracy for patients and healthy volunteers on beat-based (metric simple) and non-beat-based (metric complex) rhythms. Patients are worse at detecting changes in beat-based rhythms, suggesting a problem in beat perception.
ns = not significantly different.
*** = significantly different.
Dr. Grahn and her lab are currently investigating the exciting prospect that music may have therapeutic benefits for patients with Parkinson’s disease. As the disease progresses in Parkinson’s patients, it becomes increasingly difficult for them to initiate movement. Music may stimulate the basal ganglia, making it easier for them to initiate movement
(click here to watch a cool video demonstrating this phenomenon)