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Concordia’s 2017 Vanier scholars: ‘This is a great responsibility’

From surgical robots to the intersection between art and medicine, 3 researchers prepare to tackle major research projects
September 18, 2017
By Daniel Bartlett

Darian Stahl: “My long-term goal is to start more departments of medical humanities in North America.” Darian Stahl: “My long-term goal is to start more departments of medical humanities in North America.”

Talk to Concordia’s three newest Vanier scholars and one thing becomes clear: receiving the distinguished award has boosted their resolve to make an impact.

“The principal Canadian research funding agency has confidence in my work,” says Anne-Marie Turcotte, a PhD student in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology.

“This is a great responsibility and I’ll do everything that’s necessary for my project to be a success.”

Turcotte, along with Darian Stahl and Amir Hooshiar are the 2017 Concordia recipients of the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships.

A maximum of 167 scholarships are distributed annually among the social sciences and humanities, natural sciences and engineering, and health. Each award is valued at $50,000 a year for three years.

Stahl and Turcotte’s projects are supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), while Hooshiar’s research is funded through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

For Stahl, a student in the Humanities Interdisciplinary PhD Program, the scholarship provides her with more opportunities to travel while conducting her research.

“Being able to go to the Wellcome Collection in London or the Ars Medica Collection in Philadelphia and look at the medical art that’s happening there is so important,” Stahl says.

“You can only glean so much from a computer screen when you’re viewing artwork. Getting a chance to experience it first-hand will have a huge impact on my research.”

When Hooshiar received news that he was selected as a Vanier scholar, he also understood that this honour comes with a great deal of responsibility.

“You’re expected to do a level of research that demonstrates advanced leadership skills,” explains Hooshiar, a PhD candidate in the Department of Mechanical, Industrial and Aerospace Engineering.

“Now I have to improve the goals that I already set forth in order to develop a higher calibre research project that answers this call.”

Children’s voices are important

After working for eight years with the Nunavik Youth House Association (NYHA), Turcotte decided to go back to university to pursue a master’s and a PhD degree.

She didn’t leave her experience at the NYHA behind, though, focusing her PhD research on the concerns of children living in Nunavik.

“I want to verify to what extent destructive behaviour is an indicator of youth distress,” Turcotte explains.

Anne-Marie Turcotte: “Children’s voices and perspectives are important.” Anne-Marie Turcotte: “Children’s voices and perspectives are important.”

Her analysis will pay close attention to youth breaking windows and the ways different people experience this behaviour.

“The fact that breaking windows is regarded as a children’s game is significative,” she says. “It allows me to investigate further the meaning of destructiveness by directing my investigation towards feelings youth have when committing these acts.”

Turcotte adds that the literature addressing this type of behaviour cites common reactions that include relief, satisfaction and pleasure.

The Concordia researcher sees this project as the start of a long collaboration with the NYHA, youth centres and Nunavimmiut youth. She also hopes her investigations will have a positive impact on the communities she’s working with and encourage young people to talk about their own experiences and worldviews.

“Conducting research with youth can be very challenging but also rewarding,” Turcotte says. “Children’s voices and perspectives are important.”

A role for art in medicine

Often the youngest presenter at medical conferences, Stahl initially expected a lot of resistance from health experts when she introduced her artwork, which combines magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans with images of daily life.

Instead, she has received nothing but support and enthusiasm for creating a space for art to re-enter the medical field. “A lot of people want to show this work in their medical schools, which is exactly where I want it to be,” Stahl explains.

By reinterpreting MRI scans within a fine arts context, Stahl wants to demonstrate that there are a lot of ways to approach health care. “My long-term goal is to start more departments of medical humanities in North America,” she says.

For now, she is happy to be at Concordia because she believes she could not do this research at any other institution. She also credits an exhibition at the Alberta Printmakers for exposing her work to a wide range of audiences.

“What was really nice about that exhibition was that it attracted non-conventional gallery attendees,” Stahl recalls. “It was really nice to bring printmakers, medical experts and outsiders together in the same space to start a conversation.”

Amir Hooshiar: “It’s an honour for me to be here and work with this team.” Amir Hooshiar: “It’s an honour for me to be here and work with this team.”

Improving the safety of robotic-assisted surgery

Before he became a researcher at Concordia’s Tactile Sensors Laboratory, Hooshiar read three books by engineering professor Javad Dargahi and his team.

Hooshiar likened Dargahi’s publications to the “Bibles” of the robotic surgery field, and this work prompted him to move to Montreal in 2015 to pursue his PhD studies at Concordia.

“It’s an honour for me to be here and work with this team,” Hooshiar says.

His research topic examines ways to make robotic-assisted cardiovascular interventions safer. The end goal is to create a haptic feedback system that mimics the tactile feeling surgeons have during conventional surgeries.

“The vibrations of the catheter that’s inside the patient’s vasculature transfer to their hands while they’re performing the surgery,” Hooshiar explains.

“By using surgical robots, this is lost. That’s where my research comes into play.”

Since there is currently no haptic feedback available during robotic-assisted surgeries, these interventions carry a higher risk of vessel perforation that, in some cases, could result in fatal complications.

Hooshiar says his research aims to reduce this risk, while also shortening the impacts of X-ray exposure time common in conventional cardiac interventions.

“This is an emerging market and the industry is in need of this technology.”

Learn more about
research at Concordia. Find out how to apply for a Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship.


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