Student Success

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 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.



New SMU space at Volta open for business


Saint Mary’s students, faculty and researchers now have access to a new office space at Volta in downtown Halifax.

Dubbed the Entrepreneurship Connector, the bright new space can accommodate up to 6 people and puts Saint Mary’s in the heart of the Halifax innovation district, providing access to resources and allowing faculty, researchers and programs to better reach and engage with the community and local businesses.

The space and the partnership “creates a direct pathway for students, faculty and staff from across all disciplines within the university to engage in entrepreneurship and help grow and support the start-up ecosystem,” says Michael Sanderson, Director of the Saint Mary’s University Entrepreneurship Centre.

Volta, now in its sixth year of operation, tripled in size last year to 60,000 square feet. Spanning across three floors of the Maritime Centre, the innovation hub is creating a place for entrepreneurs and innovators to work, learn and connect with each other.

Saint Mary’s is the first post-secondary institution to provide its students and faculty direct access to Volta’s community of innovators with a dedicated work space onsite.

Faculty and students can book the space via an online:

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.

Saint Mary's signs MOU with the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre

SMU Indigenous Student Advisor Raymond Sewell; Saint Mary’s President Dr. Robert Summerby-Murray, Pam Glode-Desrochers, Executive Director of the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre; Elder Debbie Eisan; and Tom Brophy, Senior Director, Student Affairs & Services.

SMU Indigenous Student Advisor Raymond Sewell; Saint Mary’s President Dr. Robert Summerby-Murray, Pam Glode-Desrochers, Executive Director of the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre; Elder Debbie Eisan; and Tom Brophy, Senior Director, Student Affairs & Services.

Saint Mary’s has taken another step forward on the path towards reconciliation.

This month Dr. Rob Summerby-Murray and Pam Glode-Desrochers, Executive Director of the Mi’kmaq Native Friendship Centre (MNFC) signed an important MOU that strengthens connection and collaboration between the two organizations.

The Mi’kmaq Native Friendship Centre helps provide social-based programming for Urban Aboriginal People and serves a focal point for the urban Aboriginal community to gather. The new MOU creates a partnership that will see Saint Mary’s consult the Friendship Centre on the development of appropriate protocols for on-campus activities and enhancing support for Indigenous students, faculty and staff.

Another key part of the agreement is that the MNFC will provide an Elder on Campus four hours per week, a role now being filled by Elder Debbie Eisan.

Elder Debbie Eisan was on hand for the signing and told the group that Indigenous students at local highschools are increasingly aware of the work happening at Saint Mary’s and appreciate knowing that Indigenous Student Advisor Raymond Sewell is available to them.

“We are really excited about how the MOU articulates the mutual desire to strengthen connections between Saint Mary’s University and the Mi’kmaq Native Friendship Centre,” says Tom Brophy, Senior Director, Student Affairs and Services. “It opens the door for the MNFC to provide support and advice to Saint Mary’s as we move to continue to improve the experience of the Indigenous students and Indigenous culture on campus broadly.”

“I am delighted that we have taken this important step together,” said Dr. Summerby-Murray. “Saint Mary’s is looking forward to the many opportunities to collaborate on Indigenous-related programming, Indigenous-focused projects, research and of course enhancing learning opportunities for Indigenous students.”

An official celebration of the MOU signing is being planned for fall 2019.

Young historians shine at Provincial Heritage Fair

The future of history is in great hands, if the Nova Scotia Provincial Heritage Fair is any indication.

Eighty students from across the province showcased their excellent and informative history projects on June 6 and 7, in the McNally Theatre Auditorium at Saint Mary’s University. Ranging from Grades 4 to 9, the students researched everything from local theatre and Louisbourg to maple syrup and “Canadian stereotypes, eh?”

With a new award this year for military heritage, some projects reflected Nova Scotian involvement in the Second World War, particularly poignant as the fair coincided with 75th anniversary commemorations for D-Day. Other new awards recognized student research in African heritage topics, environmental history, equity and justice, immigration studies, the history of science and technology, and more.

Cultural heritage also had a strong showing, with detailed projects about Viola Desmond, the ‘60s Scoop, an Inuit family tree, the Underground Railroad, Portuguese and Dutch immigration to Canada, Celtic fiddles and Acadian culture.

Many students found inspiration in their own families, including a Grade 6 girl from Bridgewater researched Portia White, “whose brother Lorne was my great grandfather”. A Grade 6 boy from Albert Bridge, Cape Breton, chronicled the history of Sydney Steel, where his grandfather and great grandfather both worked. “It was definitely a tough job,” he said.

The projects were winners at regional fairs across the province before coming to SMU. The Provincial Fair judges are all professionals active in the fields of culture, history and heritage – professors from the SMU Faculty of Arts, archivists, librarians, museum curators, museum interpreters and more.

The student delegates and their chaperones stayed overnight on campus in residence. They also took part in workshops at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, creating their own folk art inspired by Maud Lewis, who was the theme for this year’s event. Africville will be the focus for next year’s Nova Scotia Heritage Day and the Provincial Fair.

Follow the Nova Scotia Provincial Heritage Fair on its website, on Facebook at @novascotiaheritagefairs, and on Instagram at nsprovincialheritagefair.

Saint Mary's engineering team wins major industry prize


A team of engineering students and the Laboratory of Control Systems and Mechatronics (LCSM) research lab led by Dr. Adel Merabet, has won a Typhoon HIL402 lab, one of only 10 available to educational institutions in North America and 50 worldwide.

 “The students enrolled in an online course to obtain the HIL Specialist Certification,” said Dr. Merabet. “The team consisted of four graduate students from my LCSM research lab and 18 undergraduate students from my Circuit Analysis (EGNE 2311) course.”

 The prize includes a free HIL402 hardware unit and a lifetime Typhoon software license.

“The hardware and the software will be used in the LCSM research lab in the Division of Engineering to conduct research on renewable energy and microgrids,” said Dr. Merabet.

The Typhoon Awards 10 for 10 program, celebrating 10 years in business, recognizes academic institutions and research groups that use the company’s technologies, which include an online learning hub for professionals and students. The master model and simulation-based systems engineering tools are designed for future power electronic and power systems engineers.

Universities and research groups who focus on disciplines such as electrical engineering, power electronics, and power systems were eligible to submit a nomination for a 10 for 10 program Award. With these awards, Typhoon HIL recognizes academic institutions that utilize their products in academia and share their work with the Typhoon academic community. 

Typhoon HIL Inc. is the market and technology leader in the rapidly-growing field of ultra-high-fidelity controller-Hardware-in-the-Loop (C-HIL) simulation for power electronics, microgrids, and distribution networks.

MassChallenge Picks Ashored

Ashored co-founders and Saint Mary’s alumni Aaron Stevenson, Ross Arsenault and Maxwell Poole .

Ashored co-founders and Saint Mary’s alumni Aaron Stevenson, Ross Arsenault and Maxwell Poole.

After fielding 3,000 applications, MassChallenge this month accepted 100 startups into its international accelerator for 2019, and it included only one Canadian company – Ashored Innovations of Dartmouth.

In an interview after the announcement, Ashored CEO Aaron Stevenson said he was thrilled to be accepted into the Boston-based program and spoke about the doors it will open for the company. But he was more eager to discuss another aspect of his company’s experience – the opportunity to join the global discussion on protecting marine environments.

Ashored is developing commercial fishing equipment that aims to avoid harm to sea life and the marine environment. Stevenson said the company is still “firmly in research and development mode”, but as it develops the product Stevenson and his five colleagues have been involved in events around the world discussing how to better protect our oceans.

“In so much of the commercial fishery, there’s a gap between where they are today and . . . and where the public would like to see the wild fishery,” said Stevenson. “The whole idea of sustainably caught wild fish . . . that’s where people want to go. It’s clear that the old ways of doing things are not going to be tolerated for much longer.”

Read more about Ashored Innovations, the MassChallenge and more at

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.

SMU Model UN group returns from New York with two awards


They came home with a gold and a silver! If the National Model United Nations conference was a sporting event, that would be the equivalent.

The Saint Mary’s delegation left Halifax on March 23 and returned from New York earlier this week with two new awards for the university’s collection:

  • Overall, the group of 20 students won a Distinguished Delegation Award (silver) for its excellent week-long performance representing Kuwait across 10 Model UN committees; and

  • Students Yankun Li and Hannah Shuttleworth won an Outstanding Position Paper award for their pre-conference preparations for the UNFCCC COP (Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change).

Dr. Marc Doucet, Chair of Political Science and professor of SMU’s Model United Nations course, said it was a terrific outcome, especially considering that many other delegations get to practice at other Model UN simulations prior to the international conference. The event typically attracts more than 5,500 students from some 200 universities around the world.

“In our case, we had four students who participated last year but for the majority of our students, this was all new to them. So the fact that they’re earning awards in their first go at this is quite impressive. They were very dedicated and worked really hard,” he said. 

Alyssa Frampton, president of SMU’s Model UN Society, had the opportunity to give a 30-second speech from the podium at the UN General Assembly. View the video online – Alyssa’s speech is at the 37:58-minute mark. Each delegation had selected one of its members to briefly address the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“Alyssa did phenomenally well, and the speeches are now in the UN’s official archives,” said Dr. Doucet.

Another highlight of the week was visiting the UN Permanent Mission for the State of Kuwait and meeting with diplomatic attaché Ali Abdullatif Ali Al-Yahya, who graciously answered all of the team’s questions. After the briefing, the young diplomat posted kudos on his Twitter feed: “It was an absolute pleasure hosting a group of bright and inspiring students from @smuhalifax, very impressed by the research they did on Kuwait. I hope I answered all your questions. Thanks for such a nice gift. All the best at your MUN conference! Do Kuwait proud!” 

The Saint Mary’s students represented Kuwait on 10 different model UN committees this year, including the Security Council. Our team itself was quite an international group this year, with students from the Bahamas, Bangladesh, Britain, Canada, China, India, Mauritius and Turkey.  

Yankun Li said that representing Kuwait was an opportunity and a challenge at the same time, and admits she didn’t know much about the country prior to this experience. 

“During the research and class discussion, I gradually got a clearer overall image about Kuwait,” she said. “Also, since my committee was about climate change, it was fascinating to see how Kuwait struggles between gaining profit from oil production and combating climate change and how they made their policies due to this struggle. Representing Kuwait in such a big MUN conference gave me the chance of closely studying a country that I almost knew nothing about. It provided me another perspective of viewing global issues.”

Submitted by Marla Cranston, Faculty of Arts.