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About the Institute

Profile of Andre Chevrier

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Andre Chevrier, PhD Candidate

By: Sylvia Dick

Andre Chevrier

  • PhD Candidate, University of Toronto, Institute for Medical Science
  • Research Trainee, Neurosciences & Mental Health

1. Where are you from? Where did you study?
I grew up in Ottawa and went to the University of Waterloo for an undergraduate degree in physics. Because of the co-op program I gained a lot of valuable experience in my field, with an opportunity at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre followed by a term in Switzerland working on nuclear reactors, particle physics and chaos theory. It was while studying particle physics that I became interested in neuroscience. I realized that figuring out the brain could help to better understand certain principles in physics. At this time I am working to complete my PhD at the University of Toronto.

2. What are you researching right now?
I am currently working in the lab of Dr. Schachar on brain imaging with a focus on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other types of hyperactivity disorders in children. I use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to look at brain function and to identify certain correlates of ADHD. FMRI uses a magnetic field to look at the oxygen levels and blood-flow changes that occur when different regions of the brain are being used. Brain activity unfolds in tens of milliseconds so it is difficult to trace – this is where a background in physics is useful.

At the same time I am studying holographic theories of the brain.  My research aims to reveal if we can use a holographic mechanism as a framework to understand how different systems in the brain fit together. I am focusing specifically on the systems that interact between perceptual and behavioural processing in the context of goal-directed behaviour.

3. Who is your all-time favourite scientist and why?
My favourite scientist is Richard Feynman (1918-1988) because he was such a renegade physicist. He had a really brilliant and child-like inquisitive mind. He wouldn’t limit himself by rational hypothesis, he would find systematic ways of testing ideas (which had previously been deemed irrational) and I see that as a real strength. He reformulated quantum mechanics with pictures and was also the real brain behind the atom bomb. He figured out why the space shuttle Challenger blew up in 1986. There are some terrific youtube videos of him where he comes across more like a performer than a physicist.

4. What in your opinion is the single most important scientific breakthrough?
The development of atomic theory was a major breakthrough for science. It basically determined that everything is made of little bits of matter. This has had a huge impact over time and allows us to make models of things from the bottom up.

5. What are your major interests outside the lab?
I am currently doing a lot of writing for my PhD and it is very integrated with the rest of my life. That said, I still manage to fit in a bit of exercise, biking, wall climbing and boxing. I find it is when I take a break from writing and do something else that I get the best ideas.

6. Why science?
My interest in science began with genetics and biology when I was in grade four and five – a time when I was not considered a “good student.” I remember watching a television show about DNA and discovering that there is stuff in every bit of you that encodes the rest of your body on a larger scale. I almost couldn’t believe it and so I went to the library to take out a book on it.

I work in science because I want what I do at work to be integrated with the rest of my life. Nothing else stimulates my mind in this way and there is never a dull moment. Being a scientist gives me a richness of experience that I don’t get from anything else.

7. Why SickKids?
SickKids is the best medicine-based research environment I’ve ever seen in my life and I have worked at high-end physics institutes in different countries, including ETH Zurich, where Einstein studied. SickKids is about as avant-garde as you can get in research.

8. What are you reading right now?
A People’s History of Science by Clifford D Conner. It is a really interesting read which reveals the complicated origins of many important ideas. Some of the most important ideas have bubbled up from the bottom of the social hierarchy. An example in the book reveals how geometry was the math of the elite, as it was consistent with distribution of wealth according to 'proportion,' whereas arithmetic and the number zero were developed by merchants. I was shocked to read that arithmetic was effectively banned throughout antiquity as it was seen to be a seed of affirmative action. What I like about the book is that it proves how many seemingly unrelated factors came into play as social and economic models were developing. Some of these factors have had stronger influences than we realize.

9. What is the most controversial question in your field?
I would say the question of how the brain works is still pretty controversial. There remains a giant fundamental gap in our understanding. With every other organ of the body, we know the basic operating principle in a way that you can at least simulate its function. That doesn’t exist for the brain. There is a lot we do know, but how everything fits together hasn’t been totally figured out yet.

10. What does the SickKids Centre for Research and Learning mean to you?
I think it’s great. I love that SickKids keeps on growing because it reflects how much momentum there is here. I see the new tower as integrated with MaRS and the entire Discovery District and with the extraordinary collaboration taking place, both within the hospital and outside, the potential for new discoveries is huge.

December 2012