VIU Student Makes an Impression at UBC Undergraduate Research Conference

VIU Undergrad Melynda Bergen Takes Home MURC 2019 Award

VIU Biology Student Melynda Bergen

April 8, 2019 - 9:00am

VIU undergrad Melynda Bergen took home an award from the University of BC (UBC) Multidisciplinary Undergraduate Research Conference on March 16, 2019. 

NANAIMO, BC: Vancouver Island University (VIU) biology student Melynda Bergen made history at the University of BC’s Multidisciplinary Undergraduate Research Conference last month. 

She is the first non-UBC student to win an award at their annual celebration of undergraduate research. To recognize the diverse and impressive research happening at the undergraduate level outside of UBC, event organizers decided to extend the invitation to nearby universities. More than 260 presentations were delivered by more than 400 students. 

Three VIU students were chosen to showcase their research – Bergen, who presented a 10-minute talk about the Synthesis of novel coumarins as potential antibiotics, and Csilla Vasarhelyi and Rae Wilson, who were invited to be part of the Poster Session. 

Bergen won best oral presentation award in the Innovation and Technology stream of the event.

“My research, supervised by chemistry professor Jessie Key, involved designing and making new synthetic coumarins, which are a group of molecules originally derived from plants. Coumarins are known to have antibiotic, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory properties; so, after successfully synthesizing several novel coumarins, I tested them to see if they had antibiotic properties that could be used for pharmaceutical purposes,” explains Bergen.

Bergen’s research, which she conducted over the summer of 2018, was funded by the VIU REACH awards.  

“I successfully synthesized two parent molecules and I was able to further modify these parent molecules into three pure daughter molecules that are, to my knowledge, entirely novel molecules,” says Bergen. “One of them demonstrated antibiotic properties in biological assays, suggesting it could potentially go on to be used as an anti-microbial agent or possibly as an antibiotic.”

VIU Student Research Engagement Coordinator Kendra Stiwich witnessed Bergen’s presentation at MURC and was impressed by her poise and professionalism, noting she is only just finishing her third year.

“Not only did Bergen present a topic that would normally be out of reach for a generalized audience, but she was able to present and teach in a way that allowed for universal comprehension of her work. All of this in 10 minutes.”Melynda Bergen Presenting at MURC 2019

Key says in today’s competitive job market, soft skills such as public speaking are essential.

“Being able to communicate well and get your point across to non-experts and people outside of your field is really important,” adds Key. “Bergen was competing against different research fields and various disciplines from across the University. Winning this award is a feather in her cap. She learned from it and showed what we can do here at VIU. We can compete with the big schools and even win sometimes.”

“I think it is really important for scientists to be able to present to the general public, I am really passionate about it and this is something I want to be good at,” says Bergen.

Her winning presentation included animations Bergen created on her iPad. “I decided to make my presentation really visual and artistic, and not too heavy on the chemistry, to help people understand.” 

She only had time to practice her presentation twice for professors and peers before the UBC conference. 

“One thing I took away from the conference after listening to other undergraduate students, is how significant it is to be doing primary research in a laboratory setting as an undergraduate student,” says Bergen. “Not many of the UBC students had that opportunity, and it made me feel really privileged. When I initially approached Jessie about the REACH award, he told me if you are going to do research you should be getting your hands dirty; you need to be in the lab. I hadn’t even realized that was possible!”

Bergen will be presenting April 10, 2019, at VIU CREATE 2019. The CREATE Conference is a three-day event that showcases major undergraduate and graduate student research projects through posters, artwork, displays, performances and presentations.



Annette Lucas, Communications Officer, Vancouver Island University

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