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


Submitted by: Kirk Kristofferson & Katherine White

Charities often encourage “token support” towards their causes (e.g., wearing a pin or “liking” on Facebook). We think our research is cool because we are the first to examine whether such token gestures subsequently lead to more meaningful support. We find evidence of slacktivism or the willingness to perform a costless, token display of support for a cause, with an accompanying unwillingness to devote significant effort to enact meaningful change. Importantly, we also highlight elements of the context, the message, and the individual that charities can use to leverage token support in ways that increase meaningful contributions (e.g., donating time/money).

The African Storybook Project

Submitted by : Bonny Norton

The African Storybook Project is an idea whose time has come. Digital technology can now scale up the availability of reading materials for African children, in their mother tongue and official language (English/French). This has huge implications for literacy development in Africa, educational progress, and enhanced socioeconomic development. Bonny Norton, Distinguished Scholar in Residence at the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies, is the Research Advisor on the project, working with leading scholars from African universities and Oxford University.  Graduate students trained at UBC are leaders in this groundbreaking initiative. Check out the review video.

How genomics can enhance the breeding cycle

Submitted by: Yousry A. El-Kassaby

Breeding long-lived organisms such as trees can be cumbersome, costly and time consuming. As with a dog breeding program, genetics and selected crosses between prized individuals ensure offspring superiority. A partnership between man and nature has duplicated this process whereby nature does the breeding and pedigree is resolved by DNA fingerprinting and paternity assignment. The result is a faster improvement with minimal cost. Imagine a 20-year breeding cycle that can be reduced to five. Enormous benefits can be realized for developed and developing countries as increasing fibre demands requires improved forest productivity, resilience and adaptation to a changing environment. Genomics is changing medicine and forestry!

The impact of culture on human learning and development

Submitted by: Jennifer A. Vadeboncoeur

In the field of human learning and development, researchers have begun to attend to culture as more than just a variable in a complicated human equation and really started digging into how culture works, how it is mediated by practices, relationships, language, and meaning, and how it constitutes different lived experiences. Recognizing the central role of culture in human experience has implications for how we teach and learn, our understanding of and expectations for development from infancy through adulthood given different cultural contexts, as well as understanding cultural similarities and differences more generally. Attending to culture is needed now more than ever given rapid globalization and the historical tendency in the field to assume hyper-individualist perspectives on human learning and development.

Integrating wineries and lodging

Submitted by: Dr. Ian Stuart

The results are in!  An empirical research project recently conducted by Dr. Ian Stuart examined wineries in BC, Ontario, Washington, Oregon and California that had combined lodging facilities with their winery operations.  The results indicate that such a combination is highly successful (despite theoretical predictions to the contrary) and rapidly growing in popularity.  The field studies exposed several success factors which can be easily and inexpensively reproduced but also highlighted ones, such as government regulations, that impede firms from achieving this success.  When full integration between the winery and the lodging is achieved, the benefits to small and medium sized firms is enormous with implications for wine tourism here and abroad.


Ensuring the long-term survival of invertebrates

Submitted by: Kyle Gillespie

The ocean is jammed with fascinating creatures – giant squid, colourful crabs and exotic snails. We call them invertebrates – animals without backbones. They are 95% of life in the ocean and, like fish, are essential to humans for food and proper functioning of marine ecosystems. With my research I explore the most beautiful and threatened coral reefs in the world, working with communities who depend on invertebrates for food to determine how best to use marine reserves to ensure long-term survival of these creatures. My work challenges us to rethink ocean conservation to include this oft-overlooked yet critical 95%.

Scheduling methodologies for booking patient appointments with oncologists

Submitted by: Martin Puterman

Professor Puterman and his team are currently focused on creating scheduling methodologies for booking patient appointments with oncologists. For example, they may break down the schedule of radiation treatment appointments into individual components so as to better understand the process. They then analyze the results to determine what series of events or order of activities leads to the best outcome.  Sometimes Dr. Puterman will build a computer simulation of a system currently in place and run potential scenarios that could occur at any given time in order to ascertain the impact of each one. Once he is certain that his research has yielded optimal routines, he works with clinicians to apply his findings in their practice.  He has received many awards for his work and cut down wait times substantially.

Tree rings

Submitted by: Estelle Arbellay

Tree rings are like pages of a book, they tell a story. Like sentences are made of words that shape the story, tree rings are built of wood cells that contain ecological information on how trees react to their ever-changing environment. Broad-scale natural disturbances such as wildfires and insect outbreaks leave permanent fine-scale imprints in wood that can be studied retrospectively to determine the frequency and spatial extent of events. Another challenge is to study wood cells to differentiate between disturbance agents that affect the same trees. In a nutshell, wood is also good for ecosystem-based forest management.


Harnessing the power of data to treat kidney disease

Submitted by: Steven Shechter

Dr. Steven Shechter harnesses the power of advanced statistical and mathematical models, driven by health care data, to improve clinical decisions made by patients and physicians. He is specifically interested in kidney disease and studies the steps that are involved in deciding when a patient needs dialysis, when treatment is obtained, and when a decision is made for a kidney transplant. Dr. Shechter’s exhaustive review of the history of 1000 patients has provided him with data that he and his team are using to build simulation models to assess the optimum time to start pre-dialysis activities. His work impacts patient care and recovery and health care costs.

Water footprint

Submitted by: Michael Lathuilliere

What is the volume of water hidden behind our day-to-day activities? The water footprint is now 12 years old and maturing into a key indicator to assess human appropriation of water. With current water resources already under stress, water footprint assessments can guide decisions by identifying key actions for sustainable water resource management. Population and consumption growth cloud the future state of global water resources. Using the water footprint, we now need to understand how our hidden water consumption impacts environmental quality and human health to reduce risk of future production and improve consumer choices.

Prostate cancer

Submitted by: Matthew S. MacLennan

In conjunction with the Vancouver Prostate Centre, I analyze metabolite molecules in urine taken from patients who suffer from genitourinary cancers. Using extremely high voltages and low pressures with specialized equipment developed in our lab, I generate millions of high-dimensional molecular data points every second, which produces a unique “metabolite fingerprint” of the patient’s genitourinary health. It is awesome to work together with urologists, pathologists, and other researchers orchestrating translational research “from bench to bedside”. If specific molecular metabolic fingerprints can be adequately correlated to stage/grade of cancer, we will achieve earlier accurate diagnosis, saving and prolonging people’s lives.

Sustainable air transport

Submitted by: Yaron Cohen

I’m a RMES student, researching reasons and causes that foster innovation in the field of sustainable air transport, such as biofuels, and operational changes in airlines, airports, and the manufacturers of air-vehicles. It’s cool because there are plenty of technologies to tackle GHG emissions out there, but most of them aren’t implemented anywhere and I try to examine why. It’s important because we, sustainability people, would like to make a change, and therefore, it’s important to understand drivers for change that already work.

Once we understand what were the main causes for the air-transport industry (public opinion, trends in corporate responsibility, the industry’s structure, regulation, etc.) we’ll hopefully be able to foster the implementation of innovation to tackle environmental problems in other industries.

The harms of being excluded

Submitted by: Sandra Robinson

Our studies show that most believe that avoiding, ignoring or excluding others is a relatively socially acceptable and harmless way to deal with “difficult” others, yet we also find that being avoided, ignored, or treated as invisible is more psychologically harmful than being the target of harassment or aggression.

Our findings suggest that anti-bullying and harassment training and policies need to include ostracizing and excluding behaviours. They also suggest a re-examination of practices such as “time outs” for children and “solitary confinement” for prisoners.


How intestinal microbes impact malnutrition

Submitted by Eric Brown

Malnutrition is a significant worldwide issue, and is attributed to one-fifth of all deaths in children under 5 years old. What’s interesting is that nutritional interventions fail to restore health in two-thirds of malnutrition patients. This indicates the importance of understanding the underlying defects in intestinal function contributing to malnourishment. Detrimental shifts in our intestinal microbes could exacerbate malnutrition. Thus, we are developing a novel model to study how intestinal microbes impact malnutrition and using it to screen for novel therapeutic interventions. This could lead to a future where we fight malnutrition with not only diet, but microbes as well.