Jamie Cassels Undergraduate Research Awards (JCURA)

The University of Victoria Vice-President Academic and Provost sponsors a research scholarship program - the Jamie Cassels Undergraduate Research Awards (JCURA) - to allow exceptional undergraduate students the opportunity to participate in research relevant to their discipline.

Where do I find information about JCURA?

The Learning and Teaching Support Innovation Centre at UVic (LTSI) administers the award nomination process on behalf of the Provost’s Office so information about these awards can be found on the LTSI website.  These awards are designed for senior undergraduate students (3rd and 4th year) who have a high academic standing.  Research is undertaken under the mentorship of a faculty member and sucessful applicants receive financial credit in their UVic account.

For more information including eligibility rules and FAQ's, check out the LTSI website.

How do I apply for a JCURA?

Each academic unit within the University of Victoria is eligible to nominate 1, 2 or 3 students for a JCURA each year so a student must make application through their respective department. 

Application forms as well as frequently asked questions regarding JCURA can be found on the LTSI website.

JCURA abstracts 2021-22

Faculty Supervisor:  Devika Chithrani
Project Title:  Gold nanoparticles as a Model Nanoparticle System for Efficient Delivery of Anticancer Drugs
Our project is studying gold nanoparticles (GNPs) as a drug carrier to improve the efficacy of the anti-cancer drug bleomycin. Bleomycin (BLM) is a very potent drug, but its use is limited because of its toxicity (side effects). By attaching bleomycin to GNP surfaces, we can improve its delivery to tumour cells, so less drug dose is required to produce the same therapeutic effect. GNPs can also act as radiation dose enhancers. Therefore, this GNP-BLM complex would facilitate very promising combined cancer therapeutics. Both radiation therapy and chemotherapy are used heavily in treating cancer patients. Our approach will create a paradigm shift in the treatment of cancer in the near future.  To assess the efficacy of the treatment, we will conduct DNA double strand break assays and cell proliferation assays. Our proposed concept will be tested in vitro using both prostate and pancreatic tumor models.

JCURA abstracts 2020-21

Faculty Supervisor:  Ruobing Dong
Project Title:  Library of Shadows Cast by Two Inclined Inner Rings of a Protoplanetary Disk
As a leftover from star formation, an envelope of gas and dust is usually formed around a protostar. Over time, this envelope settles into a circumstellar disk, called a protoplanetary disk. One of the common features in these disks is the presence of multiple rings separated by low density gaps. When the inner rings of these structures are inclined with respect to the outermost ring, shadows are cast onto the outermost ring. Extensive research has been done on shadows produced in a two-ring system with one inclined inner ring. My project studies a three-ring system with two inclined inner rings. This is done by performing radiative transfer simulations of this system with varying inclinations and orientations of the inner two rings. The goal of this project is to construct a library of synthetic images produced from these simulations, which will serve as a useful guide in interpreting observations of shadowed protoplanetary disks. Misalignments of inner rings are thought to be a consequence of planets forming on titled orbits. Thus, inferring the misalignments from shadows in observations, using this library, could be a new method of exo-planet detection.

Faculty Supervisor:  Justin Albert
Project Title:  Optical and Thermal Design and Development of a Nanosatellite Photometric Reference Calibrator
The Canadian Space Agency-funded (and UVic-led) Optical and Radio Calibration of Atmospheric Attenuation (ORCASat) CubeSat will serve to photometrically calibrate astronomical reference objects, which ground-based telescopes across the world use in turn for daily calibration.  To design and develop ORCASat’s optical payload, I will complete hardware and software design, perform optical and thermal simulations of laser diodes and their heatsink cases, fabricate flight hardware, and perform both laboratory and outdoor testing.  From this project, ORCASat-enabled comparisons of onboard and observer-measured target light intensities will reduce the photometric uncertainty of ground-based telescopes by an order of magnitude.

JCURA abstracts 2019-20

Faculty Supervisor:  Sara Ellison
Project Title:  Observing the Frequency of Mergers in Post-Starburst Galaxies
Post starburst galaxies are defined as galaxies that have had star formation in the last billion years and then recently stopped forming stars. My research will select Post-Starburst galaxies from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey using a modern identification method and observe their morphologies to determine if they have recently merged with other another galaxy. I will then compare the merger frequency to a control sample and to sample of Post-Starburst galaxies selected using a more traditional method. The goal of this research is to quantify the relationship between mergers and Post-Starburst galaxies and to explore the different methods of identifying galaxies as Post-Starburst and classifying galaxies as mergers.

Faculty Supervisor:  Devika Chithrani
Project Title:  Gold Nanoparticle Mediated Cancer Radiotherapy
Gold is a high atomic number material that can enhance the radiation dose through Compton and photoelectric effect. The goal of this project is to use gold nanoparticles to target tumor cells for to enhance the local radiation dose during radiotherapy.
We will use head and neck cancer cell line, CAL-27, as our tumor model. We will use linear accelerator at BC cancer agency for our radiation experiments. Tumor cells will be targeted with GNPs followed by radiation. We will assess the damage by mapping the damage to DNA and other organelles in tumor cells.
Local improvement in radiation dose within tumor cells could improve the tumor cell killing while protecting the surrounding healthy tissue and organs. These novel technologies could improve the quality of life in cancer patients in the near future

Faculty Supervisor:  Geoffrey Steeves
Project Title:  Designing an External Cavity Diode Laser
An ECDL provides a stable single-frequency, single-mode laser output using an external cavity created between the laser diode and a diffraction grating. The external cavity, together with the internal cavity within the laser diode, provides a small range of wavelengths that can be scanned over using a piezo to perform laser absorption spectroscopy.  For this project, a design for the overall layout of the components needs to be created as well as controllers to stabilize the current and temperature of the diode.

JCURA abstracts 2018-19

Faculty supervisor:  Kim Venn
Project title:  Adversarial Learning Applied to Stellar Spectral Analyses
In an attempt to improve the efficiencies in the analyses of stellar spectra, a Generative Adversarial  Network *similar to Liu et al. 2018) will be developed by the student, and applied to both observed  and synthetically generated stellar spectra. The machine‐learning task is to map the two separate  domains to each other, to improve the analysis by bridging the synthetic gap.  We anticipate  improvement in a range of stellar parameters, as well as identification of new features. 

JCURA abstracts 2017-18

Faculty supervisor:  Devika Chithrani
Project title:  Cancer nanotechnology: Use of gold nanoparticles for improved cancer therapeutics
Gold nanoparticles are being used as radiation dose enhancers in cancer therapy. I will be using gold nanoparticles encapsulated in liposomes as my therapeutic system for this study.  Breast cancer cells (MDA-MB-231) will be first incubated with the nanoparticle system. Once nanoparticles are internalized within cells, a radiation dose of 2 Gy will be given. Effectiveness of the treatment will be assessed using clonogenic assay. As an NSERC USRA student, I am studying the cellular uptake of this nanoparticle system. If I am given this award, I have the opportunity to test this nanoparticle system in radiation therapy.

Faculty supervisor:  Julio Navarro
Project title:  The puzzle of one-armed tails in Galactic satellites
The Magellanic Stream is a trail of gas that emanates from the Magellanic Clouds and traces their orbit around the Milky Way. It is heavily lopsided, lagging behind the Clouds in their orbital path. This one-armed feature, together with the lack of stars associated with the  Stream, have raised question about its origin. If caused by Galactic tides, then one would expect a two-armed tail structure and the presence of stars. If caused by ram-pressure onto a tenuous halo of hot gas then its spatial distribution would not trace accurately the orbital path of the Clouds. We intend to address this puzzle using cosmological simulations of the formation of the Local Group of Galaxies from the APOSTLE project. Preliminary work has shown the presence of a number of one-armed features emanating from satellite galaxies in APOSTLE runs. Their detailed analysis should yield invaluable clues to interpret the properties of the Stream and to elucidate its origin.

JCURA abstracts 2016-17

Faculty supervisor:  Justin Albert
Project title:  ALTAIR Dark Energy Analysis and Instrumentation Development
We request a student to join the international ALTAIR team (http://projectaltair.org) to contribute to the development of the propulsion system for future ALTAIR payloads. Propulsion will greatly benefit the future of ALTAIR flights as the ability to more precisely control the flight path would allow ALTAIR to pass directly in front of type 1A supernovae rather than merely nearby. This allows for better calibration for the magnitude of the supernovae or other astronomical light sources. ALTAIR is a collaboration of 4 Canadian universities and 2 US universities plus NRC and NIST. Analysis of the observation and telemetry data, in order to obtain precise photometry of supernovae or other astronomical light sources, brings students into the heart of the scientific analysis required to obtain results.

JCURA abstracts 2014-15

Faculty supervisor:  Justin Albert
The anisotropy of light sources is often cited as a source of difficulty and systematic uncertainty in experiments. The proposed project seeks to create a light source that will offer improved isotropy over current methods. Applications are widespread and some examples include light dosimetry of human and animal tissue, imaging of water properties in the aphotic zone of the ocean, facial recognition, and in photometric calibration of telescope and camera optics. The primary focus will be toward improving the photometric calibration of Type Ia supernovae for Dark Energy Measurement.
A spherical homogeneous 60-sided polygon has been constructed with a light emitting diode (LED) affixed to each surface. The polygon is then placed at the centre of a diffusing sphere. The LEDs are controlled individually by an array of micro-controllers programmed to ensure that a uniform light intensity is emitted. Now that construction is complete a photodiode mounted on a goniometric test stand along with a dark room are being constructed to measure the irradiance as a function of angle which will determine the isotropy of the device.

Faculty supervisor:  Pavel Kovtun
One of the characteristic features of turbulent flow is the phenomenon of energy cascade. In three-dimensional classical fluids, a direct cascade implies the break-down of large-scale vortices until energy is dissipated by viscosity at small scales. Incompressible, inviscid two-dimensional classical fluids, however, exhibit different characteristics due to an additional invariant. Instead of being dissipated at small scale, vorticity aggregates into long-lived, large-scale structures. Their emergence is associated with a phase transition at negative-absolute temperature states. This phenomenon is known as an inverse energy cascade.  It may be understood by studying the idealized point-vortex model.
Superfluids, such as Bose-Einstein condensates, may also be agitated into states of chaotic vortex motion. Two of the main differences with classical turbulence are that quantum vortices have a well-defined length-scale and can only be removed from the fluid through annihilation. For that reason, the point-vortex model is relevant for 2D superfluids. Experimental and numerical evidence of the presence of a Kolmogorov spectrum in 3D quantum turbulence have motivated more work to link classical and quantum turbulence and understand the characteristics of 2D quantum turbulence.
The main goal of this research is to get a better understanding at the role of vortex annihilation in Bose-Einstein condensates. We wish to see the effect of vortex annihilation on the phase transition at negative temperatures in the point-vortex model. We will compare the kinetic energy spectra and derive the spatial velocity correlation functions for three models: the point-vortex model, the point-vortex model with annihilation, and the Gross-Pitaevskii equation.

Faculty supervisor:  Arif Babul
At present, the most important problem in the area of physical cosmology is to understand how galaxies arise and how they acquire their observed properties - in other words, identify the physical processes that shape galactic evolution and understand their action. This is key to not only making sense of the various multi-wavelength observations of galaxy populations at different epochs over the past 10 billion years, but also understand how structures at one epoch relate to structures at another, and how different components of the universe - dark matter, gas and stars - interact. Prof. Babul's research group has been using state-of-the-art, numerical simulations of the formation and evolution of cosmic structure to address the above issues. The proposed project has two objectives: first, to test some of the recent technical improvements that have been proposed in the community for a better description of the fluids dynamics by the simulation code, and second, to test the different facets of the physical model on which the simulations are based. Specifically, the project will involve running a suite of high-resolution cosmological simulations, making use of Dr. Babul computing time allocated on the High Performance Computing WestGrid network, as well as analyzing the output of these numerical simulations. This dataset, covering a wide range of both technical and physical parameters, will enable to assess the properties of the structures within the resulting virtual universe, and compare these to published results from observational surveys. The results will be written up and submitted for publication.

JCURA abstracts 2013-14

Faculty supervisor:  Justin Albert
The anisotropy of light sources is often cited as a source of difficulty and systematic uncertainty in experiments. This project seeks to create a light source that will offer improved isotropy over current methods.  Applications include calibration, metrology, medicine, and laboratory optics.  More specifically; light dosimetry in human and animal tissue, imaging of water properties in the aphotic zone of the ocean, in facial recognition, and in photometric calibration of telescope and camera optics.  A spherical homogeneous 60-sided polygon will be constructed with a light emitting diode (LED) affixed to each surface.  The LEDs will be controlled individually by an array of micro-controllers, programmed to ensure that a uniform light intensity is emitted.  The polygon will then be placed at the centre of a diffusing sphere.  After this construction is complete, a photodiode mounted on a goniometric test stand will be used to measure the irradiance as a function of angle, which will determine the isotropy of the device.

JCURA abstracts 2012-13

Faculty supervisor:  Jon Willis
The universal star formation rate density (SFRD) relation describes the rate at which new stars form in the universe considered over its 13.7 billion year lifetime.  Astronomers have recognized for some time that the rate at which stars form in the universe increase slowly as the universe aged, reaching a broad crescendo some 10 billion years ago.  The universal star formation rate in the present day universe is some 10 times smaller than at the peak. 
The project will use sensitive narrow band images taken with the Canada France Hawaii Telescope (CFHT) to identify a sample of some 600 [OII] line emitting galaxies at a redshift z=1.8 (corresponding to the peak in the universal SFRD relation).  The project will be developed in two phases: 1) the multi-wavelength brightness of each emission line galaxy will be analyzed employing a photometric redshift analysis to sift the z=1.8 [OII] galaxies from interloping emission line galaxies along the line of sight, 2) having identified the z=1.8 [OII] emitting galaxies, the sample will be processed to learn about the population as a while via statistics such as the luminosity function, the emission line equivalent width distribution and the colour distribution of galaxies.  This project – which will generate one of the largest samples of z=1.8 [OII] emitting galaxies – will begin to reveal in what type of galaxies star formation occurs and under what physical conditions.  In a sense it will provide us with a ringside seat at the peak period of universal star formation.

Faculty supervisor:  Richard Keeler
This project will test the Hanbury Brown and Twiss effect using photons in a bench top experiment. This is a quantum phenomenon where photons (particles of light) tend to 'bunch' together. The effect has been used to measure the size of stars and the size of particle interactions at high energy colliders. To accomplish this, construction of a device sensitive enough to detect single photons must be built, capable of detecting millions of them per second. This can be done using a recently invented device called an avalanche photodiode.  The physics department is interested in developing expertise in this area because being able to detect single photons opens up the possibility to do a large number of quantum optics experiments, including spooky entanglement measurements.

JCURA abstracts 2011-12

Faculty supervisor:  Sara Ellison and Kim Venn
Damped Lyman alpha (DLA) galaxies can be used to probe the evolution of galaxy populations. Using high resolution spectra obtained for ~10 of these objects, chemical abundance measurements will be gathered. Of the chemical species of interest, several of them are rarely detected elements outside of the Local Group (such as B, Ga, Ge, Sn and Pb). These observations should provide insight into understanding nucleosynthetic processes in the galactic environment by obtaining star formation rates, and the relative number of low, intermediate and high mass stars within the galaxies of interest.  This project would involve using previously developed software to identify and measure the column density of a specified list of carefully chosen absorption lines. This will be repeated for all the objects of interest. Some of these objects may require extra data reduction prior to determining the chemical abundances. Once completed, an analysis of the results will be carried out to study the stellar population within these DLA systems.

Faculty supervisor:  Kim Venn
This project will conduct an analysis of the chemistry and atmospheres of the outer halo globular cluster Palomar 15.  Palomar 15 is described as an enigmatic globular cluster, amongst the most distant and least studied GC’s in our galaxy.  Determining a detailed chemistry for the cluster, namely [α/Fe] and [Fe/H] ratios, is integral to increasing our understanding of the evolution of the Milky Way’s outer halo.1  For example, should the Palomar 15 cluster have an observed [α/Fe] ratio lower than comparable inner GC’s, it is likely that the exterior region of the galaxy originated externally from dissolved dwarf galaxies.2   Photometric data was obtained from the Ultraviolet and Visual Echelle Spectograph at the VLT and from the Hubble Space Telescope after observation of four target red giant stars with known radial velocities, by Dr. Venn and colleagues.1  This data was reduced to one dimensional flux versus wavelength spectra by Anna Delahaye, a former Astr 429B student, and will be the primary source of data.  Through derivation of α-element (ie. elements formed by alpha particle fusion – Mg, Si, Ca, Ti), H and Fe abundances, as well as the ratios previously outlined, an in-depth comparison can be conducted relative to similar, well studied inner galaxy objects.  Further, atmospheric modelling may be performed on the target stars to provide additional information concerning the evolution and age of the cluster, which carries important and direct implications for the origin and age of the outer halo of our galaxy.
1. Dotter A., Primas F., Venn K. The Enigmatic Outer Halo Globular Cluster Palomar     15. ESO Application for Observing Time, 2009.
2.  Venn K., Irwin M., Shetrone M., et al. AJ, 128, 1177. 2004.”