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Biomedical Communications Alumni Association


This past month, the Vesalius Trust for Visual Communication in the Health Sciences announced this year’s award winners. The Vesalius Trust annually awards scholarships and research grants to students, based on overall academic achievement and their specific research projects. With so many incredible projects from this year’s graduating BMC class, it’s no surprise that several current students were awarded for their work.

Inez Demonet Scholar: Felix Donghwi Son

The Demonet Scholarship is the highest award given to a graduating student from an accredited graduate program in medical illustration.

Project Title: The role of Actin in Cell Motility

Summary: My MRP is creating an educational animation for undergrad students in a cell biology class. Actin cytoskeleton plays an important role in cell migration which is essential for immune cells such as lymphocytes. This 3D animation is to visually explain actin dynamics and cytoskeletal fiber formation driving cell protrusion, adhesion, and contraction, which ultimately allowing lymphocytes' immune surveillance and defense.

About Felix: Felix is a biomedical communicator with a passion for storytelling in science, and aesthetics of nature. He is from South Korea with a background as a medical representative in the pharmaceutical field, a military chef, and a world traveler. His mother is a painter, so his love of art and nature started early in his childhood. This intrigued him to pursue microbial engineering at Konkuk University in Seoul where his interests in science visualization grew. The AMI website introduced the field of medical illustration and led him to come to Canada to pursue his Master of Biomedical Communications at the University of Toronto. He has been enjoying studying and working closely with inspiring individuals in the Toronto program. Now he is excited to further develop his artistic and technical capabilities. With a keen interest in cellular and subcellular events, he is looking forward to having more opportunities to visualize beauty and stories in science.

After graduating, what are you planning to do next? After BMC, I would like to travel for at least a couple of weeks. - I have always wanted to go to Prague and Budapest! After enjoying some fresh air, I am planning to revisit what I have learned from BMC and continuously practice 2D illustration and 3D animation. By working with creative people, I would keep exploring innovative technologies for scientific communications and for making a beautiful cell!

What will you miss most about BMC?

BMCers. I’ll miss a lot hanging out with and being inspired by classmates, professors. But, we will meet together again!

Alan Cole Scholarship: Alexander Young

The Joyce McGill Scholarship is the highest honour for excellence in research.

Project Title: TWIN-TWIN Training Simulator: Scaffolding learning using visual complexity in a surgical simulator for TTTS

Summary: Twin-twin transfusion syndrome (TTTS) is a rare, but major complication during monochorionic twin pregnancies. The treatment of choice for TTTS is fetoscopic laser ablation, a complex procedure only performed at specialized surgical centres. This project aims to develop a 3D library for a future, full-scale TTTS surgical simulator, while simultaneously exploring how low- and high-complexity simulators can be used to scaffold learning for users. The end result of the MRP will be a workable prototype of the simulator, robust documentation detailing the design of the project, and a thorough methodology that can be applied in a future study to evaluate the efficacy of scaffolding low- and high-fidelity simulators in surgical education.

About Alex: Alexander Young is a scientific communicator that enjoys animated feature films, narrative-driven video games, and when he gets serious, working collaboratively in order to solve complex communication problems. A graduate of the H.BSc in Integrated Science program at McMaster University, Alex spent three years working as a multimedia designer for post-secondary institutions after graduating. His undergraduate degree, time working in the communications field, and studies as a BMC student have underscored the importance of research, scientific literacy, and the value of multiple disciplines working together when attempting to tell complex scientific stories. Alex's current goal is to use creative, tested solutions to successfully share these stories using animation and interactive applications for the purpose of science education.

After graduating, what are you planning to do next?

After graduating, Alex hopes to find a role as a science communication designer, helping create user interfaces for interactive applications and working as a bridge between illustrators, animators, and developers. In his spare time, he'll be working as a freelance scientific illustrator and 3D animator to ensure his skills stay up-to-date.

What will you miss most about BMC? The people. Spending nearly two years with a group of the most supportive, inspiring, and awe-inspiring friends is a hard thing to let go of. Luckily, Alex plans to stay in touch, but not seeing folks every few days is still going to be a tough change!

Vesalian Scholar: Shirley Long

Project Title: Metabolism in Motion

Summary: Introductory undergraduate biochemistry courses often serve as a prerequisite for upper-year studies in a variety of life science fields, such as molecular biology and human pathology. Metabolism, the study of the body’s production and regulation of energy, is a core subject taught in biochemistry. However, many students struggle with this subject due to its inherent complexity and high-volume of information. Students end up focusing on memorizing individual metabolic pathways and pathway subcomponents (e.g., enzymes, substrates, and products) rather than developing a high-level understanding of the interplay between pathways, and appreciating the real-life application of this knowledge. We are currently working to address this educational gap through visual storytelling and 3D animation. We hope to test this tool in collaboration with lecturers at the University of Toronto Department of Biochemistry.

About Shirley: Shirley is a biomedical communicator with a passion for design, story-telling, and compelling aesthetic. She grew up drawing and painting from a young age, and was drawn to science for its complexity and opportunities to make a positive impact on society. She completed an undergraduate degree in Human Physiology and Pharmacology at the University of Western Ontario, and was heavily involved in academic research and working within healthcare. She has experienced firsthand some of the many communication gaps and poor design decisions that science and healthcare face, and thus feels very excited to be a current student of the Biomedical Communications (BMC) program at the University of Toronto where she can work to improve biomedical media designs. Since joining BMC, she’s been involved in numerous projects with professionals from hospitals and research institutions to improve patient and student learning material. She hopes to continue working with others to innovate scientific communication and make meaningful 3D animations and tools for users.

After graduating, what are you planning to do next?

Hopefully continue to work within the fields of biomedical media design and 3D animation, not to mention take a much-needed break from the nonstop work and challenges of BMC!

What will you miss most about BMC?

Definitely the professors! I know I'll stay in touch with my classmates and we'll continue to be part of each other's lives. However, it's not everyday you come across such amazing and supportive faculty/superiors, and I will definitely miss seeing them regularly and just stopping by randomly for a chat.

Vesalian Scholar: Mona Li

Project Title: Palliative care comics: A pilot study to design and evaluate a person-centred patient education tool

Summary: Palliative care is a person-centred approach that improves quality of life of patients with life-limiting illness by addressing their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. Research shows that palliative care improves patients' mood, quality of life, and even survival when it is started early in the illness trajectory. However, widespread myths about palliative care prevent patients and families from getting the help they need at the right time.

Well-designed comics can be used to address complex, stigmatized topics in medicine. Since palliative care is valued as person-centred (i.e., holistic and patient-led), comics may be uniquely suitable to teach about palliative care while embedding information in the context of an individual patient journey. Thus, I am designing a patient education comic to improve patients' understanding and acceptance of palliative care, thereby encouraging timely use of services. Formative evaluations will be conducted to validate the visual and narrative design of the comic before it is implemented with patients.

About Mona: Mona loves drawing and telling stories - preferably at the same time. She went to McGill University to pursue life science, dabbled in wet and dry lab research, and majored in Psychology. Between reading, pipetting, and entering data, she realized what truly excited her about science: when knowledge gleaned from research is properly communicated, it can transform the attitudes, behaviours, and overall health of a community. This excitement brought her to BMC, where she gets to practice using visual storytelling to solve problems in healthcare and education. She loves that she can say, in the same sentence, that she specializes in illustration, comics, and patient education.

After graduating, what are you planning to do next?

I love the ideation, scientific direction, and problem-solving involved in making visual narrative content about health and science, and hope to do so professionally by joining a studio/organization as a medical illustrator!

What will you miss most about BMC?

I don't think I've ever experienced such a warm and supportive learning environment as BMC. The faculty here truly model what it means to encourage high levels of achievement without losing compassion. I know that I'll be leaving BMC with long-lasting friendships and mentorships, but I hope that I can also bring what I've learned here about teaching and teamwork to my next collaborative workspace.

Vesalius Trust Research Grant: Colleen Tang Poy

Project Title: A Digital Game Based Approach to Glucose Metabolism

Summary: The passive and linear nature of present teaching methods fail to convey the inter-pathway relationships central to glucose metabolism, promoting only a surface-level understanding. Sugar Scramble (working title) is designed to be a 2D computer game that uses a digital game-based learning (DGBL) approach. Games actively engage the learner with an immersive environment that facilitates productive negativity—players making and learning from their mistakes—which can potentially promote a conceptual understanding of the pathways. This game will be designed using the Activity Theory Model for Serious Games (ATMSG) with an additional game-trace layer, meaning that the relationship between learning and instances of in-game failure can be investigated and statistically analyzed in potential future studies. Sugar Scramble seeks to be one of the first games designed to study the effectiveness of serious games and productive negativity using this method within the context of biochemistry.

About Colleen: I entered the BMC program at U of T after completing an HBSc in Psychology, Neuroscience, & Behaviour (Mental Health specialization) at McMaster University where they did eye-tracking research in the perception of dance in the Digital Music Lab. I am particularly interested in student/patient education through serious games and graphic medicine, and using collaborative visual problem solving to potentially impact real communities. In the long term, I hope to help the community at large by making scientific/health information more accessible, telling stories, and helping others—especially marginalized groups—tell their own through illustration and interactive media.

After graduating, what are you planning to do next?

After graduating BMC, I will be moving to Boston, MA for an apprenticeship as a Healthcare Designer and Strategist. On my own time, I hope to continue making comics as well, and have also been toying with the idea of taking up tattooing for fun as a side job further into the future.

What will you miss most about BMC?

I will most definitely miss my classmates, the faculty, and the warm environment they provided me--I will definitely strive to bring that kind of atmosphere with me wherever I go. I've grown a lot thanks to my BMC family and am very grateful. (I will also miss morning chats with Anya, petting Jodie's dog Lily, Dave's long anecdotes, and pizza rendering nights.)

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