The Next Big Thing: Submissions

We are asking UBC researchers to let us know about the next big thing in their field: a game-changing innovation that could have a dramatic impact in their field and the world. The responses we’ve received cover a broad range of topics, highlighting the depth and breadth of research taking place on campus.

Here are the submissions we’ve received thus far. Check back for updates.

Have an idea you’d like to share? Submit it here

Anxiety in new moms

Submitted by: Nichole Fairbrother

We are researching new mothers’ thoughts of harm related to the newborn, and how they are related to the development of anxiety, and a mom’s risk of harming her infant. Almost all new moms experience unwanted thoughts of harm coming to their infant (e.g., baby choking), and close to one half of all new moms experience unwanted thoughts of actively harming their infant (e.g., stepping on the baby). These thoughts can be very worrying for new mothers. The information learned through this study will be used to develop educational materials for new mothers and maternity care providers.

LiGHT, a new weight management program for young people

Submitted by: Jean-Pierre Chanoine

LiGHT (Living Green, Healthy and Thrifty) is a novel, internet-based, weight management program for 10-17 year-olds.

Key aspects:

– To promote program retention, attract youth attention and generate interaction between participants, we developed two new concepts:

  •    Emphasis on the effect of the obesogenic environment on health, global environment/climate change (e.g., increased use of cars, food packaging) and  family finances (e.g., cost of car and take-out meals)
  •    Use of games (rewards, leaderboard)

– Personalized interactive web-based platform accessible from home/community.

– Sustainability. Staffing limited to a moderator (to monitor on-line discussion).

– Transferability to most settings worldwide.

Intelligent wheelchairs for cognitively-impaired older adults in long-term care

Submitted by: Cynthia Hsieh

Many older adults rely on a manual wheelchair for community mobility but are not provided with adequate skills. Poor training can increase the risk of injury, caregiver burden, social isolation and restrict participation. We developed and are now testing a new training program to meet users’ needs. EPIC WheelS is an innovative and efficient home training program using a computer tablet monitored by an expert trainer. The creation of an effective monitored home program will not only be beneficial to older adults but also has application to other groups, particularly those in remote locations with limited access to rehabilitation.

Cell division in the growth and health of children and young adults

Submitted by: Chris Maxwell

We all arose from one fertilized egg cell; ~50 trillion cells, in the precise and correct ratios, arose from the division of one primitive cell.  This requires incredible balance- too many divisions of the same clone equals cancer. The division of primitive cells resident in human tissues sets this balance. By studying how molecules work together during the division of these cells, my group hopes to better detect, monitor, and treat the childhood and hereditary cancers that arise as a result of too many cell divisions and inflict 1,400 kids and 2,200 young adults each year in Canada.

The graph theory of friendship, community, and leadership

Submitted by: James Nastos

Humans (and many types of animals) exist in social societies in which closely-knit communities form naturally. In today’s age of mapping out the data of social networks, researchers (and marketers) are interested in extracting any sort of information and implications from network structure.

Applying the mathematics of graph theory to sociological principles of friendship and social cohesion, we have developed, tested and published novel graph-theoretical models and computer algorithms that group individuals by social strength and predict a hierarchical organization of those individuals.

Possible applications include targeted advertising, identifying leaders in terrorist networks, central hubs in transportation networks, or dominant species in an ecosystem.


Using Ouija boards to explore the subconscious

Submitted by: Docky Duncan

The Visual Cognition Lab is bringing crowdfunded research to UBC. Our research uses Ouija boards to study the subconscious, and we have already published one paper in 2012 showing our method successfully reveals unconscious knowledge. While our research was extremely popular, continuing our research on Ouijas has proven difficult to find funding for. This made it a prime candidate for crowdfunding, which favours interesting and innovative research. We want to show that crowdfunding can give many projects that wouldn’t get funded normally a chance, while engaging and educating the public in a dialogue on current research. Find us at

Tracking seahorse exports

Submitted by: Lindsay Aylesworth

I work with Thailand’s Fisheries Department to determine how their seahorse exports – the biggest in the world – are affecting wild populations, as required under Thailand’s obligations to a UN agreement.  My research involves underwater fieldwork, fisher interviews, and modelling to develop an understanding of the species’ biology and ecology, fisheries, and trade.  My findings will help promote sustainable management for these fish. The more than 80 countries that trade seahorses will be able to draw inferences from my work in meeting their own obligations.  Moreover, my work sets precedent for other fishes that are coming under export controls.

Alaskan fish

Submitted by: Shannan May-McNally

I believe that the DNA of two closely related Alaskan fish (which once had bounties on their heads) can give us clues about our own origin as a species. I’m interested in how small differences between habitats can influence the early evolution of two species. Global warming is predicted to cause severe environmental change, especially in Arctic regions. Understanding how subtle differences between microhabitats impact speciation can help us  determine the kinds of environmental features which are important during evolution. My work may also help us predict how climate change will affect native fish.


Submitted by: Maja Krzic

Soil is an important and often an overlooked natural resource. One approach to increasing awareness about importance of soils is through innovations in postsecondary soil science curriculum. We have developed SOILx, an interactive platform that aggregates existing information about soil sites used in postsecondary education. SOILx can be used on desktop and mobile devices and it includes an augmented reality interface, allowing users to find and learn about sites through GPS-enabled smartphones/tablets. SOILx is built based on open source technologies – WordPress, Wikitude, and Google Fusion Tables. Its data are also open to the public.

Reefer madness? Why do some marijuana users develop psychosis?

Submitted by: Colleen Brenner

Cannabis is the most widely used illicit drug in Canada and 30 per cent of B.C. teenagers have tried it. One negative effect of marijuana use is the development of lasting psychosis including hallucinations and delusions. While the majority of cannabis users don’t develop psychosis, the impact is devastating for those who do. With politicians admitting to marijuana use and calling for its legalization, decriminalizing marijuana could happen in our near future. We’re examining the effects of cannabis use on the brain to identify who is most at risk. This research will be important public health information and available to those making policy decisions.

Population dynamics of seahorse species

Submitted by: Xiong Zhang

My research is detecting the roles of physical (habitat structure), chemical (water quality) and biological (prey and predators) drivers in the population dynamics of seahorse species. Significant seahorse population decline has been detected in research around the world, but there is little knowledge about the causes.  In protected areas, theoretically, seahorse population can be heavily impacted by physical and chemical environmental factors and death of juveniles from predation. Understanding how these drivers determine seahorse population dynamics is vital for the conservation and management of seahorse species in marine protected areas.

X-ray Computed Tomographic Microscopy

Submitted by: Andre Phillion

While most of us are familiar with CT scanning as a medical device, this tool is also being used to revolutionize the way that engineers characterize advanced materials. The technique, X-ray Computed Tomographic Microscopy or µ-CT, enables researchers to take high-resolution 3D pictures of the internal structure of materials for manufacturing, energy, and health applications. Most recently, µ-CT has been used to image the change in internal structure during experimentation such as the freezing of a metal or fracture of a composite. This so-called 4D-insitu tomography (3D+time) will profoundly affect the way that materials are developed and tested.

Personalized medicine

Submitted by: Pieter Cullis

Personalized medicine–medicine based on the molecular makeup of the individual–is gaining enormous popularity worldwide. Over 50 per cent of commonly prescribed drugs do not work on the people they are prescribed for, and can cause them harm due to genetic differences. Personalized medicine allows early detection of disease leading to more effective treatment. Personalized medicine empowers the individual by providing data they can use to prevent disease. Personalized medicine has the potential to revolutionize the practice of medicine worldwide.

Treating leishmaniasis

Submitted by: Kishor Wasan

The Wasan Lab, in conjunction with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, CIHR and iCo Therapeutics, have developed a novel tropically stable oral formulation of Amphotericin B to treat blood borne fungal infections and a devastating parasitic disease called leishmaniasis which afflicts over 350 million people worldwide. Currently this formulation has received orphan drug designation from the FDA and a US patent and is currently in clinical trials. The impact of this formulation on treating VL is significant and can help hundreds of millions of people worldwide who don’t have access to this drug or drug formulation.

Early identification and intervention prevents reading problems

Submitted by: Linda Siegel

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  This trite saying is true and gets a new meaning from some recent research at UBC.  Working with a team of teachers, psychologists, and administrators from the North Vancouver School District, UBC Professor of Education Linda Siegel and a team of students have found a way to identify children at risk for dyslexia. Using techniques to help young children understand the grammar and sounds of English, we discovered that we could prevent the development of serious reading difficulties.

Conservation physiology

Submitted by: Natalie Sopinka

Does knowing how fast an animal’s heart beats help save it from extinction? If a plant only grows in acidic soil is it likely to become endangered? These are questions being asked in the growing field of conservation physiology. Scientists are now developing novel conservation strategies that incorporate an animal or plant’s physiology. Linking how an animal or plant works with its abundance is key for identifying how and which species will cope with intensifying environmental stressors like climate change. Conservation physiology research will guide policymakers and the public as to how we can best protect wild populations.

Cross-species viruses

Submitted by: Dr. Melissa Autumn White

A source of fascination and fear, cross-species viruses challenge the very possibility of “sovereign subjects” and “sovereign nations” so central to Western epistemologies. Unsurprisingly, international scientific networks, pharmaceutical companies and supra/national regulatory bodies are invested in neutralizing the effects of such viruses on (some) human lives. But what if we turned our attention to the virus’s capacity to map cross-species interdependencies, mobilities, and environmental changes? What might we learn from the virus? From the critical edge of queer ecological thought, this research approaches the virus as indexing an “intimate transnationalism,” a powerful lens through which to reconsider our (un)common eco-futures.


Take a tablet and call me in the morning

Submitted by: Dr. John Falconer

Consumer grade tablet computers can be used to connect a patient and a health care provider together anywhere. Our eHealth laboratory is developing the processes and protocols to make this happen. This requires attention to privacy and security, and education of patients and health care providers. Whether you are having a stroke in a rural community, or require intensive therapy to recover from a serious medical condition, we use tablet computers to provide the right help “right here and right now.” This allows better care at greater convenience and lower cost.

A new approach to treatment of addiction

Submitted by: Evan Wood

Substance use disorder, better known as addiction, is one of society’s most common and costly diseases.  While moralistic views and stigma towards people with addiction have worsened the individual, family and public health consequences of addiction, research is unpacking the neurochemical processes that lead to alcohol and drug addiction, and new treatments set the stage for an entirely new approach to how society views and treats addictive disorders.  These findings have huge implications for public health and community safety given the close links between drug addiction, infectious disease (e.g. human immunodeficiency virus) transmission and drug market violence. Drugs aren’t cool, but addiction medicine is and UBC is leading to a healthcare revolution with respect to how addictions are diagnosed and treated.


Education policy analysis for a complex world

Submitted by: Amy Scott Metcalfe

Existing theories and methodologies for education policy analysis are being challenged to account for increasing global complexity. Post-structural policy analysis has particular salience in complex times as it “deconstructs” and “reframes” policy messages to question the “body-politic” involved in educational reforms, asking how policy affects individuals and society. A two-day SSHRC Connection workshop titled “Education Policy Analysis for a Complex World: The Possibilities of Post-Structural Policy Analysis” will be hosted at UBC in April, 2014. Thirteen invited scholars will present original papers for discussion and later publication. A public forum will foster engagement with the local policy community.