How one biomedical physics master’s student uses her expertise to champion research innovation and science literacy.
Dana Wegierak is passionate about science. As a master’s of science student in biomedical physics at Ryerson University, a student researcher at St. Michael’s Hospital, and a Science Outreach coordinator, she advocates for the importance of science literacy and scientific research, both inside and outside of the lab.
“One of the biggest things I hate is when people say, ‘Oh math, physics – you don’t need to learn this stuff,’” she confides. “Yes, yes you do! You can use them all the time. I use them every day!”
Due to her many roles, Dana’s day-to-day schedule is anything but routine. One day she could be answering emails or completing coursework, while the next could be spent entirely in the lab. Her research, done through the Institute for Biomedical Engineering, Science and Technology (iBEST), falls under a partnership between Ryerson and St. Michael’s Hospital that brings together Ryerson’s engineering and science strengths with the hospital’s biomedical research and clinical expertise.
“When it comes to actually being at St. Mike’s, if I’m running an experiment, I could be spending a few hours setting up…sometimes even a few days just setting up!” she says.
The collaborative platform between the two institutions enables graduate students to translate research concepts into healthcare solutions and innovative ways of helping patients. Dana’s research focuses on the study and novel application of ultrasound contrast agents in new imaging modalities. Findings from her research about the new technique could potentially be used for diagnosis and treatment, such as cancer therapy.
“I do all kinds of research as far as medical health. [Essentially], I take physics principles and I try to apply them into the health field. Right now that involves medical imaging.”
When she’s not in the lab, Dana works with Science Outreach as a site coordinator for Let’s Talk Science, a program that offers opportunities for youth in the Greater Toronto Area to explore science activities at Ryerson. Like her research, her time spent contributing to large-scale events, such as Let’s Talk Cancer and Science Rendezvous, is a passion. By using applied physics principles to illustrate captivating concepts, she is able to educate youth and the general public about science literacy and future careers in STEM fields.
Dana’s career path developed as a Ryerson undergraduate student in medical physics. Although she struggled to feel connected on campus in her first year, joining the Medical Physics Course Union allowed her to meet more people in her field of study, as well as develop valuable transferable skills, such as leadership, networking and teamwork.
“The first year was really daunting to get involved and very scary, and I wish that I hadn’t been so scared,” Dana reveals. “But second year, I joined the Medical Physics Course Union. When you join the course union you get to meet older people, and you hear their advice to their younger selves. It’s also how I found out about Science Rendezvous and Let’s Talk Cancer – and how I started building up the nerve to go do stuff like that!”
What made Ryerson’s undergraduate program special and valuable to Dana, was learning how to take very difficult, sometimes intimidating concepts in the classroom and apply them to relevant, real life situations that help people. Her professors played a crucial role in not only teaching relevant curriculum, but also creating a supportive learning environment and community among students.
“The professors were extremely, extremely unique. Every single one of them insisted ‘You can talk to me on a regular basis – I’m approachable, I care about you.’ Our classroom sizes were small enough to actually talk to the professor. I think all of my professors knew my name, and I’d wave to them all in the hallways when I walked through.”
Dana first discovered she belonged at Ryerson very early on while touring a lab during an open house visit.
“I went to the lab tours and one of the lab techs was talking about this principle and that principle, and I was like, ‘Oh, I learned that, I know that!’ she shares. “And he said something along the lines of, ‘You know, in medical physics we don’t believe that you need to know one science, you need to know all the sciences, and be able to know how to meld them together,’ and I was like, ‘Yes, that’s so true!’”