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The needle-in-the-haystack problem is really a data science problem. Photo: iStock.

By Dr. Raymond Ng, Director UBC Data Science Institute

If I told you to find a needle in a haystack, how would you do it? You might start by diving in and throwing hay around the room in hopes of getting lucky and finding the needle quickly. But you’d probably realize this approach was messy and start neatly sorting one piece of hay at a time. You’d develop some sort of system and, eventually, find the needle.

My job is to find needles in haystacks. Actually, looking for a needle in a haystack is a piece of cake compared to what I’m trying to find. Your average bale of hay may have a few thousand pieces of hay in it, but the datasets I work with can contain millions of records with tens of thousands of attributes. …


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UBC Science wishes you and yours a healthy and peaceful holiday season. We’ve put together a Do a Science a Day 2020 Holiday Calendar, proven to keep you and yours busy discovering, creating and baking into the New Year.

All times are PST ⏰

16 December: 1 PM

Join Beaty Biodiversity Museum interpreters for a virtual tour (RSVP required).

17 December: 4 PM

How do reindeer fly? UBC researchers on the physics of Santa, live. 🎁

18 December: Breakfast

Bake cinnamonnites — inspired by UBC’s famous cinnamon bun recipe!

19 December: Anytime

Build a Rube Goldberg machine that serves cake in an extraordinarily way.

20 December…


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The upside of certain worm infections is that they might limit the development of some chronic inflammatory conditions. Image: istock.

By Lisa Osborne, Assistant Professor, UBC Department of Microbiology and Immunology

Tell us what you think! We are running a reader survey.

2020 is the year of a global pandemic and we’re all hyper-focused on hand-washing, mask-wearing, and social distancing. Creepy crawly critters may be the last things we want to think about. But when the critters in question can impact how your immune system responds to viruses and bacteria, it’s worth a look.


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We want to know what you think of our online magazine, Focus. Answer a few questions and be entered to win a $100 gift card. Survey closes November 30.


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Mosquito in lab resting on mesh. Photo: Paul Joseph/UBC.

By Silvia Moreno-Garcia, UBC Science

Tell us what you think! We are running a reader survey.

The way Ben Matthews talks about mosquitoes, you’d think he’s describing a creature out of Alien or Predator. But he’s right to point out the health hazards they pose — mosquitoes are the deadliest animals on Earth. Aedes aegypti mosquitoes infect more than 400 million people each year with dangerous pathogens, transmitting diseases such as malaria, Zika, dengue and yellow fever.

Matthews’ lab at UBC — including a mosquito nursery — studies how the genome of mosquitoes control their ability to perform adaptive behaviors, including blood-feeding. …


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Recreating lab experiences online can be a challenge, but UBC professors are finding ways to shift student learning. Photo: istock.

Sara Harris, Professor of Teaching and Associate Dean Academic, Faculty of Science

Faculty, staff and students have all been working hard over the summer to prepare for fall courses online. All teaching across UBC Science that can be conducted remotely is being done remotely. Mostly, this means teaching online, but in a few cases, it means students will work with physical objects — like Arduino for physics work — in their homes.


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Pulling nets. When catching seals we employ different methods to outfit them with telemetry tags and track them. Photo: R. Gryba.

By Rowenna Gryba, UBC Statistics and Geography

In Bayesian statistics, there’s a term called a prior. The prior can be “something known before” called prior knowledge. But it can also be an uninformed prior, vague knowledge without any details. Prior knowledge, when combined with data, can give us a better understanding of what our data is trying to tell us. As a statistical ecologist whose work is based solidly in the Bayesian camp of statistics, a prior can provide some really interesting opportunities for exploration.


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Science outreach experts are trying to keep kids learning and interested in science and engineering activities and topics. Photo: UBC Geering Up.

By Theresa Liao (Communications Coordinator, UBC Physics and Astronomy), Alex May, (Graduate Student, UBC Physics and Astronomy), and Stephen Ji (Indigenous Outreach Curriculum Coordinator, UBC Geering Up Engineering Outreach)

Physics and Astronomy Outreach

Connection between facilitators and participants is central to meaningful experiences, so we focus on activities where participants interact with physicists and astronomers online.

It’s two o’clock on a sunny summer afternoon. Groups of children are sprinkled across the grassy lawn, listening to a countdown so they can launch their bottle rockets. Nearby, a small crowd forms a line behind a solar telescope, listening attentively as an astronomer shares facts about the Sun. Back in the outreach lab, high school volunteers are busy preparing for tomorrow’s camp activities, soldering the last few battery clips and small motors. …


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Bumble bee on chives, which is a food and a flower, in my garden. Photo: Jennifer Lipka.

By Jennifer Lipka, UBC BeeHIVE Research Cluster

My bee search started last summer. With bug net in hand, I ran around the University of British Columbia’s Point Grey campus chasing bumble bees. As you can imagine, bumble bees are fast. We used nets and vials to catch bumble bees and chill them with ice to slow down their metabolism to photograph them — otherwise, the bees move too quickly to take a snapshot. I also pushed a portable weather station from site to site in a baby stroller. More on that later.

I became interested in bumble bees from years of observing them in my vegetable garden.


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Cannabis flowers. Canada’s cannabis industry is worth five billion dollars a year. Photo: istock.

By Silvia Moreno-Garcia, UBC Science

In 2017, University of British Columbia botanist Lacey Samuels applied for her first permit from Health Canada to study cannabis. It was a complex process–even the smallest detail, like the size of frames and type of lock used on her lab doors had to be verified for security.

After legalization of cannabis in Canada in 2018, scientists like Samuels expected it would become much easier to study the valuable and complex plant. The process is now much more stream-lined, but the reporting and physical security issues are still stringent.

“It’s still easier to grow four plants at home for personal use than to grow four plants in the lab for research use,” says Sam Livingston, a Botany department PhD candidate who is part of the Samuels lab. …

About

UBC Science

Stories from the Faculty of Science at the University of British Columbia | Edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, assistant editor Koby Michaels | science.ubc.ca

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