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5th graders form judging panel for research event

Aug 17, 2018

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5th graders

Some summer research students at Sunnybrook had to explain their work to some small and inquisitive young judges this week.

As part of the Sunnybrook Research Institute Summer Student Research Day, summer students were invited to submit a simple summary of their work in a way the public – even kids – would understand. More than 40 projects were submitted. Five finalists competed for a cash prize.

Eleven youngsters took part in judging the finalists, who presented complicated research about stroke, opening clogged arteries, knowledge translation, repairing nerve cells and heart surgery using simple language. 

“If you touch the middle of your chest, there’s a hard bony part called the sternum. In order to open up the chest and reach the heart, doctors need to cut the sternum in half and separate it,” explained Apurva Dixit during her presentation. “After the surgeon is done the heart repair, it’s important that they put the sternum back together properly and this is what my research looks at.”

Apurva went on to explain that her summer research looked at wire versus cable ties when it comes to re-fastening the sternum. She was comparing which method has better outcomes — fewer infections and less pain for patients.

The young students didn’t let the summer researchers off easy. They put them on the hot seat and asked lots of questions to make sure things made sense.

Jennifer Hutter, a 4th year kinesiology student at McMaster University, was awarded first place for her presentation about stroke and exercise.

“For people with stroke, regular exercise is really important. Scientists have found that it can help them move better, get stronger, and even make it less likely that they’ll have a stroke again in the future,” Jennifer told the youngsters. “But there’s a problem: even though doctors tell their patients that it’s very important to exercise, some of them still don’t get active.”

Jennifer’s work, which she conducted this summer at St. John’s Rehab, involved meeting with patients and asking them about their lives and exercise habits, and then the patients wore a FitBit for a week to track their exercise. Jennifer then looked at what things made it harder for people to get exercise – in hopes of finding ways to make that easier in the future (for example, a family exercise class to help people who don’t exercise because they have many people to take care of).

She said it was exciting to see the 5th graders so engaged with the research.

“I was also surprised by how much the experience helped me understand my research,” Jennifer said. “At first, I just wanted to communicate it in a way that other people could understand, but as I worked through the various drafts of my presentation, I was forced to think about the broader implications of my research and it allowed me to understand how important it truly is.”

She said it’s important to be able to explain your research in a way even kids can understand because the research being done at Sunnybrook affects everyone - not just adults and certainly not just the scientists conducting it.

“With the amount of time, energy and funding invested in the research we do, it's important that the general public understands what exactly is coming out of it,” Jennifer said.

In addition to the presentations, the young students also visited Sunnybrook’s research floor, where they met with Nilesh Ghugre and Mitchell Doughty, scientists who are coding special goggles to allow doctors to see 3D heart models based on CT and MRI images to help them during heart procedures. 

The initiative is part of Sunnybrook’s ongoing effort to involve the community in all aspects of the health-care setting and bring research to the public.

Congratulations to Jennifer and the other finalists: Apurva Dixit, Daphne Walford, Gursharan Sohi and Humna Noman.

A big thank you to all our judges: Sarah, Neil, Oliver, Hannah, Yumi, Elizabeth, Declan, Nathanael, Jacqueline, Quintin and Stephanie.

And a big thank you to Nilesh Ghugre and Mitchell Doughty in the Ghugre Lab (part of the Schulich Heart Research Program).