Scientific minds meet at RDC

Curiousity may kill cats but it provided inspiration for Red Deer College students participating in the 7th Annual Student Science and Engineering Conference on the weekend.

Curiousity may kill cats but it provided inspiration for Red Deer College students participating in the 7th Annual Student Science and Engineering Conference on the weekend.

The students, mostly from the college’s science program, turned their inquisitiveness towards topics like the impact of sleep deprivation, the biofuel potential of grass and the latest attempts to unravel the mysteries of multiple sclerosis.

Warren Elgersma, chair of the college’s science department, said the conference gives students an opportunity to present some of the work they’ve done this year.

“For some students this is the first opportunity to do a presentation that’s a public presentation,” said Elgersma on Saturday during a break in the conference.

Elgersma said many of those participating had presented projects in class that instructors felt were of a calibre suitable for the conference. The top three presentations were chosen at the end of the day.

Some of the projects are updates of work that students are working on for a design competition that sees them turn out prototypes to demonstrate their scientific research that will be judged in a similar competition on April 26.

During Saturday’s presentations, Logan Lorenz presented a critical review of research into a topic most college students have plenty of firsthand knowledge — sleep deprivation.

The third-year psychology student from Innisfail said he’d tackled the topic in class and was intrigued by how much our abilities are affected by a lack of shut eye.

“I thought it would be a really interesting and informative topic to choose,” said Lorenz.

What he found, didn’t surprise him. Sleep is vital to improving performance. Just ask the rats, who in one study had microwave arrays implanted in their brains to measure how they reacted to sleep deprivation. Research reviewed by Lorenz showed that neurons in the brain go “off line” during periods of sleep deprivation, likely as some sort of protective measure.

His advice to his fellow students who are weighing whether to cram for an exam or get a good night’s sleep? Hit the pillows, not the books.

Lorenz believes that too little attention is paid to the cost of people not getting the sleep they need. Maybe it’s time for society to adjust its expectations on how much we should be expected to accomplish in a day.

“Once that paradigm shift occurs, then maybe we will be getting better amounts of sleep.”

Emily Campbell was joined by Julie Saby and Dillon Andrus in presenting a fascinating glimpse into the nature of multiple sclerosis and possible treatments.

The disease is caused by the body attacking its own neural pathways as the result of an immune system response to a bloodstream-borne antigen.

Campbell said the work they presented came out of an assignment from a zoology class.

She finds it fascinating that the body can perceive itself as an alien entity that must be dealt with. “That’s what really gets me. Why are we so defective as an organism?”

Also interesting is the wide divergence in information about the disease, which remains incurable. Much research is being done and the role of Vitamin D is among the links being tested as MS is more prevalent in parts of the world that get less sunshine.

Campbell, who wants to teach high school English and biology, said the conference is a great way for students to interact with each other and see what others are investigating.

The weekend conference, which included addresses from scientific researchers, kicked off on Friday night with a poster competition. Posters shown to their peers carried titltes such as “Archaeopteryx lithographica: Bird or Reptile?”; “The Molecular Biology of Infection and Treatment of HIV/AIDS”; and the “Effects of Humidity on Deciduous Lichen Growth.”

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com

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