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Eyes on the Prize

Jan 4, 2013

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National student competition recognizes excellence in biomedical research

By Eleni Kanavas 

Six undergraduate students from Ontario universities presented their research projects to Sunnybrook Research Institute (SRI) faculty, staff and students at the second annual Sunnybrook Prize competition. The day-long event, held on January 4, was hosted by SRI scientists within the Physical Sciences platform.

Dr. Kullervo Hynynen, director of Physical Sciences at SRI, welcomed everyone. "All of you are already winners, you are the finalists," he said in his opening remarks. "Remember that you have something that indicates you can make a difference in science." Hynynen is also a professor in the department of medical biophysics at the University of Toronto and holds the Canada Research Chair in Imaging Systems and Image-Guided Therapy.

The national award, which includes a $10,000 cash prize, was established by faculty in SRI's Physical Sciences platform who saw an opportunity to acknowledge students for their hard work and contributions to research. The aim of the competition is to recognize excellence in undergraduate research in the physical sciences and engineering, and promote careers in biomedical research. The competition is open to undergraduate students in their final two years of study at a Canadian university who have completed a research project.

During the morning portion of the event, each finalist had 15 minutes to present their work and answer questions from the judges. Hynynen then led the students on a tour of the labs in the Centre for Research in Image-Guided Therapeutics (CeRIGT).

In the afternoon, students heard talks from SRI scientists. Dr. Simon Graham, a senior scientist in SRI's Brain Sciences Research Program, gave a presentation on CeRIGT. Dr. Brian Courtney, a clinician-scientist at SRI, shared lessons learned from commercializing his research and starting three companies. Dr. Stuart Foster, a senior scientist in Physical Sciences, spoke about the department of medical biophysics at U of T.

As the event came to a close, Dr. Michael Julius, vice-president of research at SRI and Sunnybrook, congratulated the finalists and announced the winner.

Ben Ouyang, a fourth-year biomedical engineering student at the University of Toronto, won the Sunnybrook Prize. His project focused on tissue engineering and developing an elastic, biodegradable material that has the unique ability to be tunable to mechanical properties.

"I was very nervous, this is probably the most nervous I've been for a presentation," Ouyang said, who was the last presenter among the finalists. "When I read about the winner last year, who won in quantum computing and later published a paper as a first author, I was very intimidated coming into this competition."

When asked how he will spend the cash prize, Ouyang said, "I'm going to treat my parents to a nice dinner and buy a new laptop." He plans to apply to the MD/PhD program at U of T this year.

Each finalist received a $100 honorarium. The Sunnybrook Prize is funded by income generated by royalties from technology developed by SRI scientists.