Thompson Rivers University

Hatched at home and avatar physicists: Faculty of Science rolls with COVID changes

May 21, 2020

Out for a stroll are three of four ducks hatched by the Animal Health Technology program in April. Even though the pandemic moved classes to alternate delivery, the four birds weren't lost in the shuffle.

COVID-19 has led to a share of disruptions, but it hasn’t hampered our ability to adapt and to roll with the changes. What follows are just two examples from the Faculty of Science. The first is from Animal Health Technology and the second from Physics.

Four-ever friends

Kinder is the eldest, is friendly, and loves to snuggle.  

Phoenix is also affectionate and is the largest of the four.  

Nacho and Buck love swimming and are rarely seen apart. 

They are four ducks born last month and were scheduled to hatch in one of the Animal Health Technology (AHT) labs. But with campus classes moved online, the four and their incubator found themselves in the home of AHT faculty member Erica Gray Gowans.  

“We have two teenagers who are unable to see their friends right now,” Gray Gowans said. “It was great to all sit downstairs together when the ducklings were small and watch them swim and run around. Colton, our 12 turning 13-year-old, even had them in his room for a while. During this time, I think it’s been incredibly important to see new life.”  

LEARN MORE about Animal Health Technology at TRU

Kinder entered the world on April 1, Phoenix the next day and Nacho and Buck almost didn’t make it.  

“The other two didn’t hatch for another week,” Gray Gowans said. “I wasn’t sure if they were going to hatch and I had to assist them as they weren’t as strong as the first two. I gently opened their shells for them when I realized it was taking too long. “ 

Birds an important part of the program

Wondering why are ducks in the program? AHT is a comprehensive diploma that sets someone up for a career as a Registered Veterinary Technologist (RVT). RVTs are highly sought after members of the veterinary medical team. The curriculum covers a range of companion and farm animals and that includes birds. Students learn bird medicine, pathology anatomy, how to handle them, husbandry, general care and about eggs. 

“It’s an amazing experience to see something hatch and grow,” Gray Gowans said, adding that one year the class took on the challenge of hatching quail eggs. “Birds have a very efficient digestive and respiratory system and both are very different from mammals.” 

What’s next for the feathered four?

Classes are over, grades have been handed out and the ducks are transitioning out of their cute phase, now what? What will become of Buck? Of Nacho? Phoenix and Kinder?  

“They will stay here,” Gray Gowans said. “We have a little house for them and they love to explore in our garden. Our dog, Pearl, likes to keep them safe from predators. She is a livestock guardian dog, so she protects our calves and now the ducks. We had originally thought about finding homes for them, but we are so attached to the little ducks, and Pearl has really bonded to them too.” 

Virtual Physics Conference organizing committee
The organizing committee for the TRU Virtual Physics Conference held in May 2020. Left to right: Brendin Chow (SFU), Patrick O’Brien (UofA), Dominique Trischuk (UBC), Mark Paetkau (TRU), Pramodh Senarath Yapa (UofA) and Owen Paetkau (UofC).

Physicists unite for virtual conference 

In the physics department, plans were well underway to host upwards of 125 people for a regional conference this month. The Northwest chapter of the American Physical Society would attract working physicists, academics, researchers, recent university graduates and those doing graduate and undergraduate studies. Attendees would be from BC, Alberta and the US states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska.  

Not holding the conference would be a loss for learning.

Instead of scrapping the whole idea, TRU faculty member Mark Paetkau and others searched for options, especially those that would be as close to the in-person experience as possible. What they chose for the May 20 conference was a virtual world of avatars and computer-generated environments.   

“We want to give attendees something a little bit novel,” said Paetkau. “When I first started this conference, the big concern was the level of interaction because conferences allow people to share their work, hear about others and make connections to enhance their research, teaching, and idea-sharing. I think it will be interesting to see a room full of avatars watching a presentation.” 

Close to 50 people presented during the week, on a range of topics, speaking for 10 to 20 minutes. Each presenter was available to answer two questions.  

Of all the reasons not to scrap the conference, one reason stood tall for Paetkau—research needs to be shared.  

“As more conferences were being cancelled through the spring and summer, there was a lack of options for graduate students and early-career physicists to present and network,” Paetkau said. “I was able to connect with graduate students in physics from the universities of Alberta, Calgary, BC and Simon Fraser, and together this group put the word out to fellow graduate students and tracked down plenary speakers.”  

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