Researcher helps people move to well-being

(Edmonton) When someone missing the ability to move regains the ability to hold a cup of coffee or starts to walk, Rui Zhou is deeply gratified.

“After a loss of mobility, there is a huge impact on physical and psychological well-being, and if we can bring back even a little movement for someone, it really helps them.”

As a recipient of the 2012 Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship, Zhou is deeply invested in finding new ways to improve function for people immobilized by spinal cord injuries and for amputees. Based in the University of Alberta’s Centre for Neuroscience, she is earning her PhD by researching the intricate mysteries of the nervous system and motor function.

“We are finding new methods for paraplegics to walk better and for amputees to use prosthesis more intuitively, and that helps their lives greatly.”

Zhou is among top students, faculty and staff being recognized at the U of A’s Celebrate! Teaching, Learning, Research event being held at the Myer Horowitz Theatre Sept. 27.

Growing up as an only child in China, Zhou became fascinated by the idea of biomedical engineering while attending high school. “I didn’t want to be a doctor, but I wanted to bring new techniques to the medical field and answer the questions that doctors cannot answer.”

Zhou began her educational journey by earning a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering from Sun Yat-sen University in China in 2006. A master’s degree from the University of New Brunswick in the same field followed in 2008.

She enrolled at the U of A in 2010, drawn by the university’s excellence in research.

“The U of A has a top reputation in science and engineering.” As well, Zhou was inspired by the work of her supervisor, Vivian Mushahwar of the U of A’s Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, a leader in researching spinal cord injury and neuroprosthesis. “She has very interesting applications and I knew I wanted to get into her lab.”

The U of A itself offers a supportive atmosphere through a “quality research environment, prestigious facilities,” and several scholarships that have helped her, Zhou said.

Among those is the university’s President’s Doctoral Prize of Distinction, a U of A Recruitment Scholarship and a Graduate Studentship from Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions. Given all the key elements important to a graduate student, she is able to immerse herself fully in her work and concentrate on achievement.

“It shows how the university is proud of me and it encourages me to continue doing what I am doing right now.”

Zhou’s parents, both law practitioners in China, are “pretty proud of my success in science,” she added.

Zhou is open to where her career path will lead—in academia or perhaps working in a medical aid non-governmental organization—when she graduates from the U of A in 2015. But either way, she is glad that she’ll be able to develop new treatments, stimulate health research and seek ways to improve quality of life for others. “I have so many thoughts; I’m excited for the future.”

Celebrate! Teaching. Learning. Research

Everyone is invited to attend the Celebrate! Teaching, Learning and Research event, which begins at 4 p.m. Sept. 27 in the Myer Horowitz Theatre. There is no cost to attend, but please RSVP to the Academic Awards and Ceremonies Office at 780-492-2449.