Meet 2017 Vanier Scholar Julian Lamanna

October 17, 2017 by Dan Haves

This summer, Julian Lamanna was named as one of 2017’s Vanier Scholars, Canada’s most prestigious award for doctoral studies. Lamanna, who is supervised by Professor Aaron Wheeler, was one of 13 U of T students to win the award in the area of health research.

What was your reaction to being named a Vanier Scholar?

I was actually out for lunch with a few lab members on the day that I knew the results would be released. I remember how nervous I was, and so I was continuously refreshing my emails on my phone. When I finally got the email that my application status had been updated and I found out I was named a Vanier Scholar, I was actually quite surprised. I had to read the letter twice to make sure I was reading it correctly. With so many highly qualified applicants, I felt most honoured to be recognized for all of the hard work I put into my academics, research and outreach. 

Tell me a little bit about the research you’re doing in the Wheeler Lab.

My research is focused on using a digital microfluidic laser cell lysis platform for performing non-invasive prenatal genetic diagnostics. Currently, invasive procedures like amniocentesis and chorionic villus sampling are the gold standard tests for detecting genetic disorders such as Down syndrome. My work aims to simplify the testing procedure, allowing for genetic diseases to be detected five to six weeks earlier in pregnancy than the gold standard tests, with zero risk to the mother and unborn baby. 

How has the Department of Chemistry helped you reach your goals?

The department has honestly been amazing! All of the staff, faculty and students are so supportive. From the assistance and feedback I have received on my scholarship applications, to the leadership and student governance opportunities I have been able to take as the President of the ChemClub, to the chemistry education research I am currently doing as a part of the Chemistry Teaching Fellowship Program, the department has provided me with all of the support and opportunities I’ve needed to help me reach my goals.

What keeps you busy outside of your research?

Research definitely occupies a lot of my time, but I do work hard to create a good balance of research, outreach and fun in my life. Outside of research, I try to be as actively involved in the university and my local community as possible. I am the co-founder and current co-chair of a student group called Relay for Life U of T, which aims to raise awareness on cancer related issues. 

I also volunteer in the Dialysis and Magnetic Resonance Imaging departments at Michael Garron Hospital and I’ve been doing that for the last five-and-a-half years. I really value the ability to be able to take time out of my research to perform outreach and give back to my community.

When not trying to juggle around all of these other things, I enjoy going mountain biking, hiking, playing soccer for the department’s Chemistry Team, and playing both indoor and beach volleyball. 

Where do you see yourself after your studies at U of T?

This is a tough question because my PhD is rather unique in that it is so interdisciplinary compared to traditional chemistry PhDs. And because of that I have had the opportunity to do research in a variety of different fields stemming from global and public health, to genetic testing, to disease diagnostics. So there are many paths that I could take. Being at a university that has so many start-ups being founded has made me really gain an appreciation for entrepreneurship. I would love to see non-invasive prenatal genetic testing being performed in hospitals around the world, so I could definitely see myself spinning off a company related to the research done during my PhD.