In the news

Highlights of UBC media coverage in February 2012

News from the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)

Marine mammal research

The BBC reported on UBC professor Andrew Trites and his colleagues who are using trained sea lions for research on eating habits. The researchers strap cameras and tracking equipment on to the sea lions as they dive for food.

“We’re simulating depths the animals encounter in Alaska. Our ultimate goal is to figure out whether the sea lions in Alaska are getting enough to eat,” said Trites.

Agence France Presse and the Vancouver Sun wrote about the work of marine mammal experts including UBC’s Trites and Stephen Raverty who told the annual meeting of the AAAS that around the world seals, otters, and other species are increasingly infected by parasites and other diseases from the land.

Device turns gestures into song

Researchers have created a system that converts hand gestures into speech, and into song as well. Its name is Digital Ventriloquized Actor, or DiVA, reported MSNBC, the New Scientist, Discovery News, CTV, CBC and many others.

With the gestures of the right hand, DiVA’s operator controls the pitch and the character of the sounds. Closed-hand
gestures produce consonants. Open-hand gestures produce vowels.

“We designed a gestural space that mimics the vocal tract,” said Sidney Fels, director of UBC’s Media and Graphics Interdisciplinary Center, or MAGIC, who presented at the annual meeting of the AAAS.

Window into world’s future oceans

Professor Villy Christensen and other UBC fisheries experts are coordinating an international group of researchers
who are using a sophisticated oceanic simulator to predict future ocean conditions. The work, which was presented at the annual meeting of the AAAS, incorporates existing climate change models and then accounts for fishing pressure, ocean acidification and decreasing dissolved oxygen, reported National Public Radio and the Vancouver Sun.

The initial simulations show that globally we are seeing a decline in big fish species, and an increase in smaller fish, which are of no commercial interest.

In an article highlighting the contributions Canadian researchers made to the 2012 AAAS conference, the Globe and Mail listed UBC’s Christensen and Julio Montaner, the director of the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and the Head of Division of AIDS in the Faculty of Medicine, among the bright stars of Canadian research.

Norovirus vaccine showing promise

USA Today, MSNBC, Fox News and the Vancouver Sun reported that scientists are getting closer to producing a vaccine against norovirus. There are about 5.5 million cases of norovirus in the United States each year, making it the number one cause of foodborne illness.

Currently, the best way to prevent norovirus infection is to wash your hands with soap and water before eating or preparing food. Hand sanitizers can also be used if soap and water are not available, but these may not be as affective, said UBC’s Natalie Prystajecky, one of four experts presenting at the AAAS symposium ‘Norovirus: The Modern Scourge of Food and Family.

Rising sea levels pose flood risk

Hundreds of millions of people who are living in low-lying coastal areas around the globe will have to protect themselves
from rising sea levels.

David Flanders, a research scientist at UBC, presented his work with the Metro Vancouver community of Delta, B.C., at
the annual meeting of the AAAS.

Flanders, professor Stephen Sheppard, and their colleagues at UBC’s Collaborative for Advanced Landscape Planning have developed visualization of several strategies Delta residents can implement to protect against rising sea levels, reported Canadian Press, CTVCBC, the Vancouver Sun and others.