June 7, 2024

Vet med alum recognized for excellence in public education on parasites

Chenhua Li promotes marriage of science and art to disseminate knowledge of science to the community
Chenhua Li accepting the public education award from a delegate.
Chenhua Li accepts the public education award from a delegate. Canadian Society of Zoologists

The Canadian Society of Zoologists has presented its Public Education Award to University of Calgary alum Dr. Chenhua Li, PhD’23, for her exceptional contributions to public education in the field of parasitology.

“As a passionate parasitologist, I saw that scientific papers have accurate graphics, but they are not always appealing to people,” says Li, a graduate of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (UCVM). “So, I started making comics and graphs with an artist friend for my presentations and people liked them. I began with rough drawings of parasite life cycles because they are complicated and involve multiple hosts, and the artist made the magic happen.

"I have increasingly felt a strong desire to turn the impression towards parasites from ‘disgusting’ to ‘fascinating’."

Li's research focuses on host-parasite interactions, and she is determined to spread knowledge about the diverse aspects of these organisms and their importance to the health of our ecosystem. Li believes raising awareness about parasites can help bridge the gap between research and education.

Li and colleagues from UCalgary established the Global Parasitologist Coalition to promote the knowledge of parasites in a fun way, inspiring future researchers and students. The coalition creates advanced communication programs and materials with leading parasitologists, communicators and emerging artists from across the world.

In 2021, under the coalition, Li organized the Parasite Biodiversity Day event, funded partly by the UCalgary GSA Quality Money Program. The event included prominent parasitologists from around the world, including an interview with Nobel Laureate Dr. William Campbell, PhD. The event inspired an undergraduate student at Oklahoma State University to advocate for the inclusion of parasitology as a high school elective course in Virginia, highlighting the impact of Li's efforts on education. 

Li’s taped interviews from the event, Who? Parasitologist? are now used as content in an advanced parasitology course at the University of Lethbridge. The event's inclusive nature fostered valuable conversations among parasitologists across international borders.

Parasite sticker created by Li and colleagues

Parasite sticker created by Li and colleagues

Chenhua Li

In December 2022, Li led a team to create a creative and novel Parasite Personality Quiz. By early 2024, the quiz had already attracted more than 4,500 participants, including high school, undergraduate and graduate students, as well as educators/researchers and members of the public. This innovative quiz aims to make the interesting facts of parasites more accessible. 

In January 2023, Li started a project to produce a series of collectible parasite cards branded Phenomenal Parasites. Early versions of three cards from the first collection won the Palettes & Parasites Award for the best art piece at the 97th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Parasitologists in College Station, Texas.

Li’s commitment to public education goes beyond these projects and she desires to continue contributing to the local Calgary community, which she now calls home. In March 2023, she was invited as a speaker for the Evenings of Conversation and Connection event organized by Calgary on Purpose and Contemporary Calgary

Her presentation was on Something Almost Invisible Makes a World of Difference, and attendees were able to take the Parasite Personality Quiz, and many reported a changed perception of parasites as a result. 

Group of people hold Parasite specimens

Li and colleagues with parasite specimens at the Beakerhead event. From left: Shijie Zong, former owner of DayDream Coffee; Li; UCVM alums Kyle Lesack and Stephen Pollo; Yuanzhe (Rock) Wang (consultant); and Grace Mariene (UCVM PhD candidate).

Chenua Li

UCVM alums Pollo and Li at the Beakerhead event.

UCVM alums Pollo and Li at the Beakerhead event.

Chenua Li




In September 2023, Li and colleagues organized a section at Beakerhead 2023 and attracted hundreds of audiences of all ages with fun activities, parasite-themed mocktails and a small exhibition of parasite specimens in collaboration with UCVM. 

Li also made it to the Map the System 2023 UCalgary Finals with her project, Raising the Public’s Awareness of Parasites, in which she presented the world of parasites to an audience of entrepreneurs, undergraduate and graduate students.

Li’s initiatives include publishing the monthly online series Parasite Comics, which uses art and humour to explore the secret life of various parasites. 

Li’s goal is to reduce the stigma and “ick” factor surrounding the study of parasites.

“The main challenge is common perception of parasites is negative. Parasites contribute to more than 40 per cent of biodiversity and they play an important role in the ecosystem. Most don't harm humans. I hope that, by raising public awareness of the complex and irreplaceable nature of parasites, more students will be encouraged to join this field and there will be increased allocation of funding and resources to support their research.”  

Looking ahead, Li’s vision is to continue building a strong and comprehensive platform for public education and communication about parasites. She aims to share not only the scientific knowledge of parasites, but also the stories and passion of those who study them. Through her tireless efforts, Li is making significant strides in transforming public perceptions of parasites and inspiring the next generation of parasitologists.

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