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Winners of the Undergraduate Research Poster Competition with university officials.

Winners of the Undergraduate Research Poster Competition and university officials Digvir Jayas (center), Vice-President (research and international), and James Blatz (far right), Associate Vice-President (partnerships). // Photo by Mike Latschislaw

The pure passion of research

Undergraduate research poster competition

November 1, 2013 — 

Chemistry student Alexandra Ciapala rapidly explains the use of a breakthrough sub-celluar Infrared imaging that works with chemicals. The finer points of Fourier infrared transform spectroscopy (FTIR) spectrochemical 3D imaging (and they are almost all finer points) are complex.

She most certainly knows her stuff. Ciapala is young, a bit nervous — and incredibly passionate about the pure beauty she sees in her topic. When she learns that the story will appear on the U of M news site, she lights up. “Oh good!” she says. “Because I’d like to advertise this a little, too. I really want other people to know about it. It’s a methodology that can be used for a lot of different research.”

Ciapala worked with chemistry professor Kathleen M. Gough in the Faculty of Science to do her research; her poster went on to win third prize in the Natural Sciences category.

This is the annual Undergraduate Research Poster Competition, an event that gives the undergraduate students  the opportunity to present research posters. Many of them are recipients of Undergraduate Research Awards, and the posters they are presenting are the result of research they’ve conducted with their advisors at the U of M over the past summer. For most of the 120 undergraduate participants, this is their first foray into major research, and the October 30 event was their first chance to present a research poster with the findings of their research projects.

In addition to the high calibre of posters on display, one of the striking things about the event is the breadth and variety of research. There are posters entered in five categories: applied sciences; health sciences; natural sciences; social sciences/humanities; and creative works. The research uses qualitative analysis, qualitative analysis or experimental research methodologies.

For instance, there’s the research by John Bryans, a third-year undergrad in the Faculty of Kinesiology & Recreation Management, whose poster “Body Royale: Aesthetic Ideals and Men’s Bodies in the Performing Arts” took top prize in the Qualitative Research Group category and second in the Social Sciences/Humanities category. He worked with Moss Norman, an assistant professor in the faculty who researches body image of men and boys; Bryans was one of the recipients of an Undergraduate Research Award for the project.

Bryans: “Men in the performing arts are nicely positioned to speak to body image because the body is central in their work. Their work is often contingent on how they look and their appearance.”

His research was initially motivated by his own experience. Bryans has a background in the arts; he worked as an actor for eight years in Toronto. In his profession, he felt the pressure to conform to a certain male ideal, he says. He wanted to look further into how physical ideals had evolved over the past 30 years, and the impact of that physical ideal on real men. He interviewed 12 men in the performing arts, whose professions included acting, performing and dancing.

He explained how his qualitative research fit into kinesiology. “In kinesiology we’re often looking at health in terms of exercise and nutrition for sport,” he says, “but for those in the performing arts, there is a performance aspect that transfers over to some of the kinesiology issues.

“Men in the performing arts are nicely positioned to speak to body image because the body is central in their work. Their work is often contingent on how they look and their appearance.”

Bryans’ poster compares the male body ideal in James Bond from 30 years ago (Sean Connery) to the James Bond of today (Daniel Craig). “Today, this ideal for men is muscular, zero per cent body fat – and there’s not a lot of variation in body type,” he notes, “even for men who aren’t playing an action role like James Bond. You have to be a certain body type; this perfect archetype.”

The ideal results in pressures for these men in terms of their health practices and nutrition, as well as their mental health, he adds. The pressure of having to live up to theses ideals, he says, “adds anxiety to a profession that’s already filled with pressure and anxiety, as I can attest. It has an effect on general health, including the impacts of guilt and shame.”

He plans to expand his study across the performing arts. The research he’s conducted will be submitted to an undergraduate journal and presented at a conference. He says that the poster competition, his first, increased his confidence in synthesizing and presenting his research. “I definitely wanted [the research] to have a life beyond this summer, which is why I did the poster competition. It was a great experience.”

Down another row, Colin Desmarais stands in front of his mathematics poster, “Negacyclic Weighing Matrices.” He handily explains the details of combinatorial matrix theory in his project. Another recipient of an Undergraduate Research Award, Desmarais worked with Robert Craigen, an associate professor in the department of mathematics, Faculty of Science. Desmarais says that he “fell in love” with the topic he had been assigned by Craigen, and spent the rest of the summer researching.

Natalie Baird, whose poster “Planting the Seeds of Change: Evaluating the Impact of a Research Documentary” took first place in the Social Sciences/Humanities category, was interested in the role of film and creative media in communicating or educating about environmental topics. She worked with Stephane McLachlan, a professor in the department of environment and geography, Clayton H. Riddell Faculty of Environment, Earth, and Resources. Baird studied the impact of Seeds of Change: Farmers, Biotechnology, and the New Face of Agriculture, a research documentary film produced by McLachlan, former PhD student Ian Mauro and independent filmmaker Jim Saunders, which was promoted on a website that has since had over 2 million views.

Chemistry student Daniel Robinson presented his poster, “Syntheseis of Modified Proline Building Blocks.” It was his first summer of research, after three years of undergraduate work. He enjoyed the hands-on experience of research. “You get to do something. It was fun to go out and make these molecules,” he says. He worked with Frank Schweizer, a professor of chemistry and assistant professor of medical microbiology.

Archibald: “I gained so many valuable field techniques. It was a steep learning curve, but I took a lot away from it.”

“Who Are You? Kin Recognition and the ‘Dear Enemy Phenomenon’ in Cape Ground Squirrels” was a poster presented by biology student Alyssa Archibald. She went to South Africa last summer with biological sciences associate professor Jane Waterman, whose research has focused this species and on the selective factors that influence the evolution of sociality and mating systems. Archibald notes that the species is extremely social; her research was an experiment set up to further investigate the phenomenon — of paying more attention to a stranger rather than a kin, because the stranger is more of a threat – in this species.

The summer she spent in South Africa sparked Archibald’s interest in research. It was her first experience with research, and field research in particular. “From this project and from others we worked on this summer, I gained so many valuable field techniques. It was a steep learning curve, but I took a lot away from it.”

Digvir Jayas, Vice-President (research and international), notes that, “This competition is an opportunity for undergraduate students to sharpen their skills and showcase research findings to their peers and to the public.”

The public was welcome to attend to see what undergraduate students can do in research at early stages of their careers. Many came by to view posters and ask the student researchers questions about their work.

Cash prizes of $500 for first, $300 for second and $200 for third place were awarded in each category. An additional prize, an iPad, sponsored by the Qualitative Research Group for the top qualitative research poster, was also awarded.








First Prize: Yaojie Cai, electrical engineering, Faculty of Engineering

Second Prize: Shaun McDonald, statistics

Third Prize: Fernanda Gouvea Pereira, soil science



First Prize: Phil Cook, Faculty of Education

Second Prize: Hamidreza Yeganeh, mechanical engineering, Faculty of Engineering

Third Prize: Fernanda Gouvea Pereira, Soil Science



First Prize: Rahul Jayas, Faculty of Science

Second Prize: Uliana Kovaltchouk, microbiology

Third Prize: Ella Thomson, Faculty of Engineering



First Prize: Benchmen Trieu, chemistry, Faculty of Science

Second Prize: Daniel Robinson, chemistry, Faculty of Science

Third Prize: Alexandra Ciapala, chemistry, Faculty of Science



First Prize: Natalie Baird, environmental sciences

Second Prize: John Bryans, Faculty of Kinesiology & Recreation Management

Third Prize: Tyler Kroeker, economics



iPad: John Bryans



Research at the University of Manitoba is partially supported by funding from the Government of Canada Research Support Fund.

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