Faculty of Science

Undergraduate Astrophysics student publishes a lead-author scientific paper

Saint Mary’s University Astrophysics student Sophia Waddell

Saint Mary’s University Astrophysics student Sophia Waddell

Publishing a lead-author scientific paper is always an exciting milestone for graduate students, one that comes after a lot of research, hard work and persistence to work through multiple edits with advisors and journal editors.  

Sophia Waddell has already achieved this goal after her third year of undergraduate studies, having published a paper with the Royal Astronomical Society. The Astrophysics student has also co-authored four other papers: one with a graduate student after her first year at Saint Mary’s, two with her supervisor Dr. Luigi Gallo, and another led by a postdoc.  

After coming up with the idea for the paper in her High Energy Astrophysics course, she wrote the paper and worked with Dr. Gallo on a series of revisions. She then submitted the paper to the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society for an anonymous review, which resulted in just a few changes before the paper was accepted.  

“It’s very rare that an undergraduate student is able to publish a lead-author paper,” said Dr. Luigi Gallo, Professor of Astronomy at Saint Mary’s. “Sophia has an amazing work ethic that is driven by her passion for the subject matter.  She is constantly reading papers, working the data, asking questions, and often stumping me.”  

Waddell’s paper, titled Multi-epoch X-ray spectral analysis of the narrow-line Seyfert 1 galaxy Mrk 478, explores X-ray data from a supermassive black hole (SMBH) called Mrk 478. “This black hole in particular is called an active galactic nucleus (AGN), which means that it is actively sucking in material, forming an accretion disk around the black hole,” explained Waddell.  

“The material located closest to the black hole gets so hot, that rather than radiating optical light (light our eyes can see), it emits high-energy X-rays. Using special space-based observatories, we can study the X-rays coming from active black holes, which can tell us about the structure and properties of the innermost regions.” 

In her paper Waddell used different models representing different physical structures of the inner region of this SMBH, and applied them to data collected with X-ray satellites. 

“Using the models, and a couple of other techniques, we were able to determine the structure and geometry of the inner region of this black hole, which can help tell us more about the evolution of galaxies and the Universe itself,” she said. 

“Sophia is currently following up on her results and is now looking at the rapid variability on time scales of a day, to see if those fast changes are consistent with the same model,” said Dr. Gallo. 

Black Holes

A black hole is a region of space that has experienced a gravitational collapse leaving behind a region from which nothing can escape, not even light. Supermassive black holes are the largest type of these astronomical objects, and are considered to be at least hundreds of thousands of times the mass of the sun. The concept of black holes was first considered in the 18th century, and the formation of supermassive black holes, first mentioned in the 1960s, is still a topic being researched by astronomers. The first photo of a supermassive black hole was only captured in the spring of 2019.   

Plans for the Future

Waddell has “loved all things math and science” since she was a small child, and with two parents who graduated from the Engineering program at Saint Mary’s, she had plenty of support at home for her STEM interests. After a unit in astrophysics in a high school physics class she was hooked and now plans to pursue an academic career as a physics and astrophysics professor. She’s currently applying to grad schools and would like to continue studying X-ray astronomy.  

“I think it’s incredible that we get to work with data taken by satellites in outer space, studying some of the most extreme objects in the Universe,” said Waddell. “I also love talking about my research and science in general, and I can’t wait to keep sharing my science with others!”

Saint Mary’s Researcher named a Fellow of the American Physical Society

Dr. Rituparna Kanungo

Dr. Rituparna Kanungo

Saint Mary’s University physicist Dr. Rituparna Kanungo has been named as a Fellow of the American Physical Society (APS) for her outstanding research on rare isotopes.  

This honour goes to scientists who have made significant innovative contributions to the field of physics. No more than one half of one percent of the Society’s membership who have been nominated by their peers are elected as Fellows. Dr. Kanungo was nominated by the Division of Nuclear Physics. She is a professor in the Astronomy and Physics Department and an Affiliate Scientist of TRIUMF, Canada’s particle accelerator centre in Vancouver.  

 “I am deeply honoured to be chosen to receive this prestigious recognition from the American Physical Society, which I would like to share with all my students, post docs and collaborators. I am immensely thankful to my peers for valuing my contributions, and I thank my supervisors, mentors and our funding agencies for their support,” said Dr. Kanungo.  

“This motivates me further to pursue and enable new discoveries with the rare isotopes in nature. It came as a truly rewarding moment with a burst of encouragement in a long and challenging journey to explore the unknown.”  

Dr. Kanungo’s nomination was for research which encompasses several projects in Canada and abroad. She has a large network of national and international collaborators, bringing together undergraduate, graduate students, post docs and collaborating scientists from around the world. 

 “Being elected as a Fellow of the APS is a testament to Dr. Kanungo’s work in the field of subatomic physics, allowing her to enhance her scientific research and further expand collaborations with other leaders in this field,” said Dr. Lori Francis, acting Dean of Science at Saint Mary’s University. “This honour is also an international recognition of Canadian expertise and an appreciation of the work being done at our university and across the country.”  

“We are very proud of Dr. Kanungo’s leadership in nuclear physics research, and this award is a wonderful endorsement of the impact Dr. Kanungo and her many Canadian and international collaborators have had on her field,” said Dr. Malcolm Butler, Vice-President Academic and Research 

At Saint Mary's University. “Saint Mary’s has been pleased to support Dr. Kanungo’s work, and our students have had tremendous opportunities to work with her and her collaborators at major laboratories in Canada (TRIUMF National Laboratory) and around the world. On behalf of everyone at Saint Mary’s University, I offer congratulations to Dr. Kanungo for being named an American Physical Society Fellow.” 

The APS citation of her recognition

For seminal studies of weakly bound nuclei that have challenged our understanding of the nuclear many-body system, and for the development of innovative experimental techniques and approaches used in measurements with rare isotope beams. 


Dr. Kanungo’s research focus is on nuclei, which are the core of all visible matter in our Universe. They embody the beauty and mystery of nature’s strongest force that binds two building blocks protons and neutrons into an enormous wide variety of complex many-body systems, forming the different elements and their isotopes. 

Only a small handful of the isotopes exist naturally on earth with most of them being stable or very long-lived. However, the access to explore the short-lived rare isotopes in nature, especially ones approaching the edges of the nuclear landscape, is revolutionizing nuclear science. 

Dr. Kanungo uses nuclear reactions to unveil the new features in rare isotopes. Her team, along with researchers around the world, are continuously working together to develop new experimental methods of harnessing the rare isotopes. 

“I look forward to contributing to a new era of exploration with the next generation rare isotope facilities coming online in this decade. Particularly, FRIB in the USA and ARIEL in Canada the new North American facilities, FAIR in Germany as well as the existing RIBF facility in Japan,” said Dr. Kanungo. 

More of Dr. Kanungo’s research can be found here.

APS Fellowships

The APS Fellowship Program was created since 1921 to recognize members who have made advances in physics through original research and publication or have made significant innovative contributions in the application of physics to science and technology. They may also have made significant contributions to the teaching of physics or service and participation in the activities of the Society.

Fellowship is a distinct honor signifying recognition by one's professional peers. Each year, no more than one half of one percent of the Society’s membership (excluding student members) is recognized by their peers for election to the status of Fellow of the American Physical Society.

Nomination Process 

The criterion for election is exceptional contributions to the physics enterprise; e.g., outstanding physics research, important applications of physics, leadership in or service to physics, or significant contributions to physics education.

Each nomination is evaluated by the Fellowship committee of the appropriate APS division, topical group or forum, or by the APS General Fellowship committee. After review by the full APS Fellowship Committee, the successful candidates are elected by APS Council.

Congratulation to Dr. Kanungo on behalf of the Saint Mary’s University community!

Dr. Christa Brosseau wins President’s Award for Excellence in Research

Saint Mary’s professor Dr. Christa Brosseau (left)

Saint Mary’s professor Dr. Christa Brosseau (left)

Dr. Christa Brosseau has won the Saint Mary’s University President’s Award for Excellence in Research for her outstanding work in the Chemistry department at Saint Mary’s.

Created in 1989 to honour outstanding research conducted by a full-time faculty member, the recipients of the Saint Mary’s University President’s Award for Excellence in Research must have a record of continued and exceptional contribution to research and scholarship, as well as national or international recognition as an authority in a major field of knowledge.

A world leader in her field, Dr. Christa Brosseau is an internationally recognized, highly productive, and influential scholar in the areas of electrochemistry, spectroscopy, and nanotechnology. By any metric of research success, be it number of publications, quality of publications, research grants obtained, awards received, high quality personnel trained, degree of innovation, potential for application, or knowledge transfer achieved, Dr. Brosseau exemplifies research excellence.

Dr. Christa Brosseau receiving the Saint Mary’s University President’s Award for Excellence in Research

Dr. Christa Brosseau receiving the Saint Mary’s University President’s Award for Excellence in Research

As a Canada Research Chair (Tier 2) in Sustainable Chemistry and Materials, Dr. Brosseau has received more than $1.1-million in research funding in the previous five years from such sources as Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI). She has trained nearly 40 students in her lab since 2009; these students have received more than 25 awards for their own research presentations and publications.

With an interdisciplinary Chemistry research program spanning the fields of spectroscopy, electrochemistry, nanoscience and biomedical studies, Dr. Brosseau’s innovations in the area of Surface-Enhanced Raman Spectroscopy allows for detection of biomolecules that revolutionize the way we can detect and diagnose diseases. Dr. Brosseau and her research group have developed fabric chips, or wearable sensor technology, that lead to many health applications. This technology has been applied to earlier detection of diseases such as tuberculosis and preeclampsia. This work can also be used to help understand how diseases are spread.

A tireless champion of science literacy, Dr. Brosseau speaks frequently at international conferences, meetings, and seminars, communicating her research findings and their potential applications to solve real world challenges to wide audiences. Her creative and innovative research appears in the top scientific journals, and her scientific work is often profiled in technology and industry-based outlets due to its high impact.

Dr. Brosseau partners her research passion with a high degree of commitment to teaching and service to Saint Mary’s University and to her professional community. She is the former Chairperson and current Vice-Chairperson of the Canadian Section of the Electrochemical society, Co-President of nanoAtlantic, and a board member of Techsploration. She won the Discovery Centre’s Emerging Professional Award in 2013 and the SMUSA faculty of Science teaching award in 2010. Saint Mary’s University is fortunate indeed that Dr. Christa Brosseau calls Saint Mary’s home.

Congratulations Dr. Brosseau!

Student team promote entrepreneurial thinking across faculties

Meet the new ENbassador team.  Back row, l-r: Aaron Graham, Commerce; Jake Chambers, Science; Emaaz Amjid, Science; Guillermo Villerreal De Lara, Arts. In front, l-r: Solana Purdy, Commerce; Amina Khan, Arts; Sambridhi Trikhatri, Commerce.

Meet the new ENbassador team. Back row, l-r: Aaron Graham, Commerce; Jake Chambers, Science; Emaaz Amjid, Science; Guillermo Villerreal De Lara, Arts. In front, l-r: Solana Purdy, Commerce; Amina Khan, Arts; Sambridhi Trikhatri, Commerce.

Last week, the Saint Mary's University Entrepreneurship Centre welcomed a brand new team of Student Entrepreneurship Ambassadors to their ENbassador Program.

These undergraduate students come from all academic faculties. The goal of the ENbassador program is to ignite an entrepreneurial mindset in all students at Saint Mary's and help them to develop skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, and resilience.

The team of students ENbassadors will work alongside the SMUEC to help plan, promote, and execute entrepreneurship events on campus throughout the year. These students are excited to share their passion for entrepreneurship and help other students understand the value that entrepreneurial thinking can have, not only for those eager to one day start their own business, but also for those who wish to work for an organization beyond graduation.

The ENbassador Program is a CASE (Community and Student Engagement) funded initiative that uses a multidisciplinary approach to create an entrepreneurial mindset.

Saint Mary’s PhD graduate wins international award

Dr. Samantha A. Penney

Dr. Samantha A. Penney

Saint Mary’s University is proud to announce that Dr. Samantha A. Penney, a recent PhD graduate in Industrial/Organizational Psychology, has received the prestigious 2019 Kenneth E. Clark Student Research Award from the Center for Creative Leadership and the International Leadership Association.

“It is an absolute honour to have my dissertation research recognized internationally,” said Dr. Penney.

In her award-winning paper on leadership titled Fostering a Psychologically Healthy Workplace through Leadership, Dr. Penney created and validated a scale to assess leadership behaviours that contribute to a healthy workplace, and then designed a workshop and phone-based coaching program which she delivered to leaders in eight organizations across seven provinces.

The training includes knowledge of what a healthy workplace is, leaders’ roles in creating that healthy workplace, and goal setting and skill development to act on that knowledge. “For example, infrequent feedback, such as only having annual performance reviews are a concern in organizations. Research has suggested that employees are more likely to change their behaviour and attitudes when they receive frequent positive and constructive feedback,” she explained.

 “The results demonstrate that leadership behaviours can be trained,” said Dr. Penney, adding that while many of the leadership behaviours identified aren’t new information, giving leaders the tools and training to apply the knowledge is key. “Employees often move up within an organization into a leadership role because they’re good at their jobs, but they don’t always have leadership skills.”

 “Working with leaders and organizations to provide practical recommendations is something that I am very passionate about, and my research ties into my new role of conducting leadership assessments for the purposes of selection and development,” she said.  

“Dr. Penney, and her research, are very deserving of this international recognition,” said Dr. Arla Day, her dissertation supervisor. “Not only does this award demonstrate her expertise and innovation in the area, but it also reinforces the reputation of Saint Mary’s as a high-caliber training institution with a strong level of research expertise in occupational health psychology.”


Dr. Penney recently completed her PhD in Industrial and Organizational Psychology at Saint Mary’s. She completed her Master of Science in Applied Psychology at Saint Mary’s and has an Honours Bachelor of Arts from Lakehead University.

She has authored several journal articles and book chapters on leadership and employee well-being, and has presented her work at national and international conferences.

Her experience as an independent consultant and leadership coach, developing both leader-level and employee-level training programs, and as a facilitator, delivering workshops and seminars to corporate clients aligns with her background in Industrial/Organizational Psychology.

She recently accepted a role as a Talent & Leadership Development Assessment Analyst at Lee Hecht Harrison Knightsbridge in Toronto.

About the Kenneth E. Clark Award

The Kenneth E. Clark Student Research Award recognizes one outstanding unpublished paper by undergraduate and graduate students each year. It is sponsored by the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) and the International Leadership Association (ILA).

Papers are evaluated by 13 CCL research faculty members through a multi-rater, blind review process. Winners of the international award receive a cash prize, and a trip to ILA’s Annual Conference to present the winning paper there and in various multimedia ILA publications.

Dr. Penney follows in the footsteps on another Saint Mary’s alumna in winning this award. Aleka MacLellan, who was then a recent PhD graduate in Industrial/Organizational Psychology, and won the same award in 2017.



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.

Dr. Danielle Tokarz's research receives boost from the federal government

The research of Saint Mary’s new chemistry faculty member, Dr. Danielle Tokarz, into the microscopic structure of large molecules in living animals and plants received a big boost, as a result of an investment of $153,026 from the federal government.

Dr. Danielle Tokarz

Dr. Danielle Tokarz

The research of Dr. Tokarz focuses on the structure of large molecules inside animals and plants which are relevant to the wellbeing of Canadians including collagen in humans and other animals, as well as cellulose and photosynthetic membranes in plants. The funding will allow Dr. Tokarz and her interdisciplinary team of chemists, physicists and biologists to build a new type of laser microscope, one that can measure the structure of microscopic regions of plant and animal tissues at record high speeds. The technology will allow the first live measurements of tiny structural changes in living creatures, allowing a fresh look at functioning biological phenomena. The research will address questions in biology such as, how does collagen degrade in organ tissues during ageing, and how woody cellulose, the leftover plant material after tree removal, can be efficiently degraded for conversion into biofuels.

In addition to the short term benefits of this research in increased knowledge of fundamental biological processes, long term benefits for Canadians are expected in healthcare and industry. Studies of collagen in the extracellular matrix during ageing will offer advances to the healthcare of Canadians. Studies of cellulose structure will have an impact on local industries including biofuels, pulp and paper, and biodegradable materials. Finally, studies of photosynthetic tissues will have applications in increasing plant growth efficiency, growing plants in colder climates and increasing global food supply. The proposed nonlinear laser microscope will be the first in Atlantic Canada, giving students and faculty the opportunity to use cutting-edge technology.