Faculty of Science

Saint Mary’s part of new $6.5 million offshore de-risking project

Adam MacDonald, NS Department of Energy & Mines, examines a core sample taken during an offshore coring cruise. (Source: Genome Atlantic)

Adam MacDonald, NS Department of Energy & Mines, examines a core sample taken during an offshore coring cruise. (Source: Genome Atlantic)

Saint Mary’s University is part of a major new initiative that adds genomics technologies to traditional geoscience with the aim to reduce the risk for oil exploration in Nova Scotia’s offshore. 

The $6.5 million project, Validation and Integration of Genomics Solutions for Offshore Oil Exploration in Nova Scotia and Beyond, was announced by the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science and Sport, as one of 20 projects across Canada awarded through Genome Canada’s Genomic Applications Partnership Program (GAPP). 

The initiative builds on the work of a previous GAPP project in which genomics data and results were compared with petroleum geochemistry data to paint the clearest picture yet of petroleum deposits in areas of Nova Scotia’s offshore. This new project, involving the same team, will take that work to the next level by delivering high-resolution tools and maps developed with the help of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), advanced ‘omics technologies and machine learning.

 “The idea of using genomic (DNA-based) tools to help de-risk offshore oil and gas exploration efforts has transitioned from a ‘what if’ idea not that long ago into a compelling opportunity that has earned the support of this project’s many partners,” said Steve Armstrong, President and CEO of Genome Atlantic. “We are extremely pleased to have the opportunity to work with such a dedicated and talented group committed to establishing Nova Scotia as a leader within this globally competitive sector.”

Project co-lead Dr. Todd Ventura

Project co-lead Dr. Todd Ventura

The project is co-led by Dr. Todd Ventura (Saint Mary’s University), Dr. Casey Hubert (University of Calgary), and Adam MacDonald (Nova Scotia Department of Energy and Mines) and is managed by Genome Atlantic in partnership with Genome Alberta.

“This GAPP is expanding on the microbiological toolkit with the addition of lipidomics,” said Dr. Todd Ventura, Saint Mary’s University.  “This may allow us the ability to detect more ancient seepage events that can lead to the discovery of new active petroleum systems in the offshore.”

Project partners include the Nova Scotia Department of Energy and Mines; the Geological Survey of Canada, Natural Resources Canada; Research Nova Scotia; Nova Scotia Offshore Energy Research Association (OERA); Mitacs Canada; Applied Petroleum Technology (APT); the University of Calgary; and Saint Mary’s University.

“De-risking our offshore for exploration is critical for Nova Scotia to remain competitive in a global market,” said Adam MacDonald, NS Department of Energy and Mines. “Adding new tools and building innovative and integrated projects such as this collaboration with the University of Calgary and Saint Mary’s University gains recognition and attention to our quality and capacity to compete. Not only do we de-risk exploration but this project provides environmental baseline information on the benthic life and communities that may be dependent on natural occurrences of hydrocarbon on the seafloor.”

The Province of Nova Scotia’s commitment to the project is part of its $12 million investment in offshore R&D over the next four years.

“For generations, the offshore has paid off for Nova Scotians and it still holds tremendous potential to grow our economy and create jobs across the province, especially in rural areas,” said Nova Scotia Energy and Mines Minister Derek Mombourquette. “By continuing to invest in leading-edge research we will find cleaner and safer ways to look for resources and attract international investment to our shores.”

Forensic Science Camp underway

It’s an exciting week for students in our popular Forensic Science Camp in the Faculty of Science.

Now in its second year, and with a second week added due to popular demand, teens in Forensic Science Camp learn about DNA extraction and examination, fingerprint collection and analysis, and examination of blood stains and spatter patterns.

“Forensic science is the application of science with a legal component,” explained Dr. Brenna Frasier, the camp’s founder and lead instructor.  “You could use forensics in chemistry, biology, engineering… it encompasses almost any scientific field.”

The lessons are a combination of instruction and hands-on learning, designed for students who are keen to learn and participate and who want experience conducting scientific research in a lab. They also learn to work as a team, as they would in “real world” situations.

An exciting part of the camp is doing a mock crime scene investigation in the field – in this case, in a staged residence room. Processing a crime scene is followed by a mock trial and presentation of evidence. Students also meet with professionals working in the field.

This camp gives participants a feel for the forensic science industry, and most of these students are already considering university programs in this field. By learning about skeletal remains, hair and fibre examination, and crime scene examination from our expert faculty members, students learn what crime scene investigators, forensic experts and other professionals do in their careers, and many are looking forward to pursuing this study further.

To be accepted into the camp, students age 14-17 complete an application form and an essay outlining their interest in Forensic Science.  To learn more, click here. Registration for summer 2020 will open in February.

Dr. Roby Austin recognized with the Father William A. Stewart Medal for Excellence in Teaching

Bafana Mashingaidze BSc’14 MBA’16, Secretary of the Alumni Council, with Dr. Roby Austin

Bafana Mashingaidze BSc’14 MBA’16, Secretary of the Alumni Council, with Dr. Roby Austin

Dr. Roby Austin, Professor of Astronomy & Physics, has been recognized by her current and former students and colleagues with the Father William A. Stewart Medal for Excellence in Teaching for her dedicated teaching approach and empowerment of women in science. 

She received the award at convocation on May 17, 2019.

Since joining Saint Mary’s in 2004, Dr. Austin has served on the Saint Mary’s Academic Senate and curriculum committees for Senate and the Faculty of Science. The classes she teaches range from first year physics courses to graduate level courses, and she has supervised both B.Sc. Honours and M.Sc. students. Her focus as a teacher is to create a classroom environment which encourages students to work with and understand the material. Alumni commend her for her accommodating and respectful approach with her students. 

An accomplished researcher, Dr. Austin has published more than 20 papers and received more than $4 million in research grants. She is committed to continuous learning, and is a member of the Division of Physics Education of the Canadian Association of Physicists, the Forum on Education of the American Physical Society, and the American Association of Physics Teachers. Students recognize her dedication to learning and improving teaching methods in the classroom. 

Outside of the classroom, Dr. Austin volunteers her time with Techsploration and Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Atlantic. These organizations create opportunities for girls and young women to explore science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and empower them to consider a career in STEM. 

The Medal for Excellence in Teaching is named for the late Father William A. Stewart, a Professor of Philosophy and administrator at Saint Mary’s University from 1950-1982. Father Stewart was known for his inclusivity, approachability, innovative teaching methods, and service to the University. The Medal is awarded by the Saint Mary’s University Alumni Association in partnership with the Faculty Union.

Ancient vapours are helping researchers identify gold deposits in Nova Scotia

Kevin Neyedley, left, and Dr. Jacob Hanley of Saint Mary’s University in Halifax are doing research supported by Nova Scotia’s Mineral Resources Development Fund. (Photo: Kelly Clark/Communications Nova Scotia)

Kevin Neyedley, left, and Dr. Jacob Hanley of Saint Mary’s University in Halifax are doing research supported by Nova Scotia’s Mineral Resources Development Fund. (Photo: Kelly Clark/Communications Nova Scotia)

Vapour trails from an ancient volcano may point the way to an economic opportunity in modern-day Nova Scotia.

Researchers at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax are using the composition of ancient volcanic vapours, trapped in tiny fragments in rocks, and other geological features, to learn more about a type of precious metal deposit called epithermal gold. Their work over the past year was supported by the province’s Mineral Resources Development Fund.

Geology professor Dr. Jacob Hanley said the project’s goal is to gather information on how and when the gold deposits formed, and to generate exploration criteria that may predict where the highest concentrations of gold may be found in the province. Giving companies a better idea where to explore has financial and environmental benefits.

“The more information we gain about where the deposits are sitting in this vast array of rocks which we have in the province, the better off the environment will be. The overall footprint is smaller in terms of that activity.”

Hanley and PhD student Kevin Neyedley received a $47,500 grant from the development fund in 2018 for their project, which focuses on deposits in the Eastern Cobequid Highlands. The area is about 50 kilometres north of Truro, Nova Scotia.

Continue reading the full article from the Department of Energy and Mines.

Mineral Resources Development Fund expansion announced at Saint Mary’s University

Dr. Jacob Hanley and Kevin Neyedley chat with Sean Kirby, left, executive director of the Mining Association of Nova Scotia, and Energy and Mines Minister Derek Mombourquette. (Photo: Kelly Clark/CNS)

Dr. Jacob Hanley and Kevin Neyedley chat with Sean Kirby, left, executive director of the Mining Association of Nova Scotia, and Energy and Mines Minister Derek Mombourquette. (Photo: Kelly Clark/CNS)

Businesses, prospectors and researchers now have more support for innovative projects in the mining sector as the result of a provincial government announcement at Saint Mary’s University.

As part of Budget 2019-20, the province is increasing the Mineral Resources Development Fund by $800,000 to a total of $1.5 million. Energy and Mines Minister Derek Mombourquette opened the fund to applications in an event at Saint Mary’s on April 9.

“Mining is a globally competitive sector that creates career opportunities for our young people, while generating revenue for programs and services that benefit all Nova Scotians,” said Minister Mombourquette. “These investments make connections and develop new ideas that help our companies stay at the forefront of technology and environmental protection.”

Saint Mary’s University Professor Dr. Jacob Hanley and PhD student Kevin Neyedley received $47,500 from the fund in 2018. They are working on research and gathering geological information about how strategic minerals formed. This will help identify where deposits may be located and then extracted with minimal environmental impact.

“It is vitally important for Nova Scotians to have access to the most current scientific knowledge, gathered using cutting edge research tools,” said Dr. Hanley.

“Our research can help attract companies by reducing exploration costs for industry and reduce the impact that grass-roots exploration has on the environment through narrowing the size of mineral deposit targets,” said Mr. Neyedley.

Last year, the province supported 28 projects including mineral exploration programs, professional development, innovation, university research and training opportunities for young people.