Insects have a large impact on the economy, environment, and human health as pollinators, decomposers, and vectors of disease. In order to manage insect populations, it is essential to have a complete understanding of their physiology, particularly how they regulate their metabolic rate and respiration. Current methods for measuring changes in internal levels of oxygen are highly invasive and harmful to insects. This research project aims to develop micro-sized, implantable sensors that will provide a more accurate and less invasive method of monitoring respiration within insects. These micro-sized sensors will contain two fluorescent dyes: an indicator dye and a reference dye. Light transmitted into the insect’s body will stimulate these two dyes to fluoresce. The amount of fluorescent light emitted by the indicator dye will change as oxygen levels vary, while the reference dye’s fluorescence will not change. A microscope combined with a high-sensitivity imaging system will compare the level of fluorescence from the two dyes to produce a signal indicating internal oxygen. Development of these in-body sensors will allow for a more complete understanding of insect respiratory systems, thereby allowing researchers to better understand the sub-lethal physiological responses of different insects to environmental conditions, including changing climate, pollution, and pesticides.
What aspect of your graduate program do you enjoy the most or are looking forward to with the greatest curiosity?
I love my project! Some days are frustrating, but my thesis is developing a new method which keeps me excited. Before coming here I had never worked with insects or microfluidics, so I've had to learn a lot over the past year. Thankfully I have a very supportive supervisor who has balanced guiding and challenging me throughout my project. I also enjoy the seminar series run through the department, it's a great way to learn about different research projects at UBC and around the world. I'm looking forward to the day when I can implant my oxygen sensors into a model species, as seeing them operate in vivo will be amazing!
What was the best surprise about UBC or life in Vancouver?
I was surprised by the wonderful teaching culture here at UBC. There is a lot of interest from faculty members to constantly improve their teaching and to contribute to the scholarship of teaching and learning (SOTL). I recently took a graduate class focused on the pedagogy of teaching and learning; it really opened my eyes up to how much amazing research and professional development is happening on campus. If you're interested in being a Teaching Assistant or teaching in the future, then you have a lot of support from UBC faculty and administration to help develop your skills.
Why did you decide to study at UBC?
The zoology department at UBC was recommended by my honours supervisor; he said that there was fantastic research coming out of the department and that it was a friendly environment – turns out he was right! From a non-academic perspective, I knew that I would have to move to a big city for graduate school, but I wanted to live somewhere close to nature. Vancouver has so many parks to explore and some of the mountain trails are even accessible by public transit – it's great.
What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?
I like to exercise; it clears my mind and allows to focus when I'm in the lab. Specifically, I love hiking and running – I just completed my first half marathon, and I am looking forward doing some more while I'm here in Vancouver. I volunteer with Let's Talk Science; getting kids excited about science is always rewarding and a lot of fun. I also love to cook and eat, so Vancouver is a great place to be from that perspective!