On track for discovery


- Alf Wilson

Thibodeau in the lab.

Matthew Thibodeau will be crossing the Farquhar Auditorium stage this November to receive his Bachelor of Science degree—and if he maintains the pace he set for himself at UVic, you might see him sprint across. During his undergraduate studies, Thibodeau ran on the Vikes track team, did several co-op terms in Heather Buckley’s lab, won UVic’s 2022 Honours Fest competition, earned co-authorship on four research papers, and is first author on a research paper due to be published soon.

Thibodeau grew up in Victoria and entered UVic with a general interest in science, especially chemistry, biology and microbiology. He gravitated towards biochemistry and microbiology because that program offered a good balance of those interests. 

Athletics—specifically track—has long been an important part of Thibodeau’s life. Although being on the Vikes team while carrying a full science course load kept his schedule very full, Thibodeau appreciates the synergistic relationship between mental and physical exertion. “It can get a little busy, but athletics actually help me do better in academics—it keeps me sharp,” Thibodeau says.

Looking for laboratory co-op work in biology, he followed a tip and spoke with Heather Buckley, professor of civil engineering and chemistry. Thibodeau did all his co-op terms in Buckley’s Green Safe Water lab, where they are exploring the use of green chemicals to treat biofilms, a form of solid bacteria. Biofilms foul reverse-osmosis water filtration systems, so this research could ultimately lead to technology that would provide fresh drinking water to millions. The interdisciplinary nature of the research also led him to work with Jeremy Wulff’s chemistry lab. Thibodeau’s work focussed on growing the bacteria. 

Eventually I got to lead the microbiology part of that research – basically, growing bacteria on antimicrobial coatings and measuring biofilm formation. But I also needed to develop various assays to quantify the amount of growth.”
UVic science alumni Matthew Thibodeau

Managing to get one published paper as an undergraduate student is a rare achievement, but those co-op terms also earned him a co-author credit on four publications.

Thibodeau also pursued a fourth-year honours project with UVic biochemist John Burke. They investigated how specific proteins, with and without chemical modification, regulate and alter the growth of cilia (short eyelash-like filaments that extend from exterior cell membranes). He was awarded the first prize in Honours Fest 2022, an annual event that showcases the research projects of honours undergraduate students from across the Faculty of Science. He continued the project, and because of his additional work, Thibodeau is now awaiting the publication of his first lead-author paper.

But it wasn’t always a walk—or run—in the park. Thibodeau struggled through some athletics injuries while still maintaining his busy academic schedule. “It was hard sometimes,” Thibodeau recalls, “but pushing through and healing from injuries has made me stronger.” 

What’s next? Thibodeau has hit the ground running in a UBC master's program, working on antibiotic resistance.

We’re working on understanding the mechanisms of antibiotic resistance with a focus on bacterial membrane proteins—hopefully we’ll also find new targets for antibiotics.”
—UVic science alumni Matthew Thibodeau

Whatever track Thibodeau takes from here, he says he’ll likely continue working on science that’s in the public interest.


In this story

Keywords: convocation, student life, research, athletics

People: Matthew Thibodeau

Publication: The Ring

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