Lethbridge Herald – University of Lethbridge goes global with its research

Four top university students from countries like India, China, Brazil and Mexico are working in research labs at the University of Lethbridge this summer during a three-month internship through a program called Globalink.

Mariel Rodriguez, a student at UNAM, the National Autonomous University of Mexico, has been in Lethbridge since May working in Claudia Gonzalez’ lab. She has been studying psychology and neuroscience in Mexico and working on a research project about anorexia nervosa.

“I was interested in doing an internship out of my country and I was looking for options for doing that with a scholarship,” she said.

She found an opportunity through Mitacs, a non-profit organization that co-ordinates industry-university research projects, and applied. She was matched with Gonzalez, a kinesiology professor.

“I’m doing a study about proprioception; it’s called a hand-map study,” she said. “I study the way we perceive our hands and how it changes with a task.”

Proprioception is the way people perceive their own bodies. Rodriguez has focused specifically on how people perceive their hands to see if their perception is symmetrical and if their perception changes as they perform different actions such as grasping or using a tool.

“The mental map that we have of our bodies is inaccurate but it’s also plastic and we are studying how to change that mental perception to become more accurate using functional tasks,” said Jason Flindall, a PhD student who works with Gonzalez.

Their research could ultimately lead to new therapies for people who have proprioceptive disorders such as anorexia nervosa.

Much research work in the area of proprioception is needed and Rodriguez said she hopes to return to the U of L to do a master’s degree in neuroscience. She’s at the end of her internship and has six months left to complete her undergraduate degree.

Huiqiang Jia, who attends Nankai University near Beijing, has been in Lethbridge for about a month working in Theresa Burg’s biology lab. Jia knew Burg was looking into the evolution of high-latitude birds.

“The lab work that I do at my university in China is the same as in Dr. Burg’s lab,” he said.

He’s been working alongside graduate students in the lab and in the field catching birds, specifically black-cap chickadees. They banded the birds and took blood samples before releasing them.

“This week I will do the DNA extraction,” he said. “I think we can see some similarity or divergence between different populations of birds.”

The lab analysis will help determine how bird populations are connected along riparian areas.

Burg said the internship gives students the chance to see how things are done in other countries.

“I have a number of foreign students, from Europe as well. What’s nice is they get exposed to different ideas. They may decide they want to stay on and do graduate studies here,” Burg said.

Mitacs is a non-profit organization dedicated to co-ordinating industry-university research projects with the goal of developing the innovation leaders of the future. The Globalink internships are competitive and given to international undergraduates from Brazil, China, India and Mexico. Next year undergraduates from Turkey and Vietnam will be added. The internships are available at more than 30 Canadian universities. This summer more than 280 students participated.

By Caroline Zentner