Faculty of Science

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.

Maximizing land use and earning more money for farmers part of new federally funded research at SMU

Research into how poor-quality, marginal land can be used to produce biomass as a potential revenue stream for farmers underway at Saint Mary’s University received $1.2 million in funding from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s AgriScience program and the Nova Scotia Innovation Hub Fund.

“Community is at the heart of all that we do at Saint Mary’s University, including our research,” said Saint Mary’s president Robert Summerby-Murray. “We are committed to working with the community and sharing our expertise to find innovative solutions to real-world challenges. I want to thank the Government of Canada for supporting Atlantic Canadian researchers who are at the forefront of agricultural research, research that will benefit us all.”

Dr. J. Kevin Vessey

Dr. J. Kevin Vessey

Led by Dr. J. Kevin Vessey, the project receiving funding is called “Purpose-Grown Biomass Crops: Efficient Production, Yield Modelling and Real-world Verification.” The five-year project aims to determine what substances and organisms best promote plant growth and decrease production costs in a variety of plants including willow and switchgrass. The project will assess the yield potential of the crops on marginal soil areas on farms and AAFC research sites across Nova Scotia. The result is a database and yield prediction model for the four crops under examination.

“The long-term goal of my research is to enhance the bioeconomy, the part of the economy that uses renewable biological resources from the land and sea, of Nova Scotia. To do this we need to increase the production of biomass for processing into biofuels and other bioproducts in a sustainable way,” said Dr. Vessey.  “This research is crucial to de-risking the use of biomass by providing a sustainable feedstock supply, which can attract more biomass processors to Nova Scotia. It has the potential of greatly diversifying the Province’s biomass feedstock inventory, while also contributing to rural economies and environmental sustainability.”

Sites for the project extend from Yarmouth to Inverness County. Partners on the project include: Acadian Seaplant Ltd, ADECO BioResources Inc., The Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture, Port Hawkesbury Paper, and Propel Bioenergy.

The funding comes as part of the federal Biomass Cluster announced by Lawrence MacAulay, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. The Cluster, led by the BioFuelNet Canada Network, includes a federal investment of up to $7 million along with an additional $3.1 million in contributions from industry, for a total investment of $10.1 million.

Service Learning adds value for students and our community

Students present their projects to residents during their final visit to Northwood’s Halifax Campus.

Students present their projects to residents during their final visit to Northwood’s Halifax Campus.

There was excitement buzzing in the lounge on the on the top floor of Northwood’s seniors home as residents awaited a presentation from Terry Goldsmith’s CSCI 3428 Software Engineering class.

The students took part in a Service Learning project, which combines course curriculum with community-based experiences. Their task over the fall term was to create inclusive software for residents of the long-term care facility in Halifax.

After speaking with residents and occupational therapists to discover their unique wants and needs, the students worked in groups to come up with concepts such as voice-activated software, messaging apps, and an online calendar for use in the facility. They then made modifications based on feedback from their clients.

“As a professor, and a continuing care assistant, I witnessed something truly amazing when this bright and energetic group of residents worked with my class of 30 software engineering students,” said Goldsmith.

“I saw software engineers taking on the role of continuing care assistant, and residents taking on the role of software engineer. They could learn together, because of the opportunity service learning provided,” he said.

Feedback from residents included suggestions to use voice-activated commands, face recognition capability, and requests for colours that work best for people with vision issues – black and yellow is a popular combination, explained Margaret Szabo, Director of Business Development at Northwood.

“Memos are also a useful feature, easing anxiety for people who have memory issues,” she said, adding that being able to complete any tasks in two clicks or less is also ideal.

“It’s amazing how quickly the students learn to take feedback, reflect, and change; there’s a big difference from when we started in September to the final presentations in November,” said Sarah Bray, Service Learning Placement Coordinator, Student Affairs & Services at Saint Mary’s.

Saint Mary’s students help Northwood resident Trudie Helmke.

Saint Mary’s students help Northwood resident Trudie Helmke.

Northwood resident Trudie Helmke was particularly impressed by the team that built a voice-controlled virtual assistant that they named Ellen.

When asked if she would use one of the apps if it were made available, Helmke said she would.

“I’ve been telling others about Ellen who would love to use it because they don’t want to keep spending money on [other similar products]… I’ve been spreading the word,” she said.

The benefits of service learning, the networking, and the connections with clients can last long after the courses end.

“It becomes real, you have to get out of the classroom and out of your comfort zone,” said Bray.

“These are skills that will serve these students in other classes and in future careers, while encouraging them to reflect on personal values, assumptions, and issues of social responsibility,” she said.

To learn more:

Service Learning opportunities for students
Service Learning Courses
Information for Faculty


Saint Mary's researcher part of group looking to get a glimpse of the hot universe

Dr. Luigi Gallo, member of the XRISM science team and professor of astronomy and physics at Saint Mary's University. (Credit: Ryan Taplin)

Dr. Luigi Gallo, member of the XRISM science team and professor of astronomy and physics at Saint Mary's University. (Credit: Ryan Taplin)

Many people think of space as a cold and empty place, but some structures in the universe are incredibly hot. In fact, at the centre of most galaxies lie supermassive black holes, whose surrounding regions can reach millions of degrees.

X-rays can be described as a hot, high-energy form of light that the human eye cannot see. Many kinds of astronomical objects, like massive stars, black holes, and clusters of galaxies, emit X-rays. Because Earth's atmosphere shields us from this cosmic radiation, astronomers must send observatories into space to study these exotic objects.

Led by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the X-Ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission (XRISM) is a new space observatory that will take a closer look at the hot, often violent ways that galaxies form and stars burn out.

The XRISM observatory will feature two scientific instruments, Xtend and Resolve, which must be tested and calibrated before installation and launch. NASA has chosen to perform these tests at the Canadian Light Source, an synchrotron facility in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, that is capable of generating X-rays.

In addition to these efforts, the Canadian Space Agency is also supporting the participation of Canadian scientists:

  • Dr. Luigi Gallo, of Saint Mary's University, on the XRISM science team

  • Dr. Brian McNamara, of the University of Waterloo, on the Resolve instrument team

Members of Canada's astronomy community will be able to compete for guest observer time, an exciting opportunity to conduct cutting-edge research into cosmic sources of X-rays and to shed light on the structure of our universe.

More information can be found be found here at the Canadian Space Agency website.

SMU faculty participate as scientific experts at G7 Oceans Inspiration Expo

Dr. Danika van Proosdij speaks at the G7 Oceans Summit

Dr. Danika van Proosdij speaks at the G7 Oceans Summit

Three Saint Mary’s University faculty members were invited to participate as experts at the G7 Oceans Summit at the Halifax Convention Centre, in parallel with the G7 Joint Ministerial Session on Healthy Oceans, Seas and Resilient Communities.

The summit, and the G7 meeting, generally focused on oceans – with the three themes of the gathering being: plastic reduction, sustainable fishing, and coastal resilience. Professors Dr. Danika van Proosdij, Dr. Cathy Conrad and Dr. Tony Charles represented the university, working with 200 other global experts to develop the framing and guiding document on Oceans for the G7 ministers meeting that followed.

This collaboration was thanks to an ongoing partnership between the Canadian Government’s Environment and Climate Change department (ECCC) and the Community Conservation Research Network (CCRN) led by Dr. Tony Charles and based at Saint Mary’s University.

Dr. van Proosdij was a panellist for the “Resilient Coasts and Communities” event, speaking about her Natural Infrastructure to adapt to climate change impacts. She has worked in Canada, and on the Indian Ocean and Caribbean, primarily on vulnerability assessment and recommendations of implementation.

She was also a judge at the Clean Coastal Challenge, where youth pitched and designed sustainable coastal communities. The communities had to be sustainable, circular economy, renewable energy and healthy lifestyles.

Saint Mary’s was the only university with a booth at the Oceans Inspiration Expo, a public G7 event with presentations by Sylvia Earle and Alexandra Cousteau. The booth featured the work of the CCRN, on local communities around the world that are conserving their environment and sustaining their local economy, as well as several other university ocean and coastal initiatives.

Dr. David Bourgeois wins Father William A. Stewart Medal for Excellence in Teaching

Dr. David Bourgeois receives the Father William A. Stewart Medal for Excellence in Teaching from Mary-Evelyn Ternan (BA’69, BEd’70, MEd’88), Past President of the Saint Mary's Alumni Association

Dr. David Bourgeois receives the Father William A. Stewart Medal for Excellence in Teaching from Mary-Evelyn Ternan (BA’69, BEd’70, MEd’88), Past President of the Saint Mary's Alumni Association

Dr. David Bourgeois, Associate Professor of Psychology, is known for offering students interactive, hands-on learning experiences. He respects diverse learning needs and places great importance on cross-cultural education.

Aside from teaching in the classroom, Dr. Bourgeois shares talks and lectures with the broader community, including Nova Scotia school teachers, prospective Saint Mary’s students and their parents, and visiting academics from Beijing Normal University. He also created the Documentaries with Dave series, which is open to the public and covers social justice issues and politics. Dr. Bourgeois’ interest in Peace and Conflict Studies is demonstrated in his role as a faculty mentor in the Northern Ireland Conflict Resolution Program (NICRP); this initiative has existed at Saint Mary’s since 2004 and has included more than 180 students in its mission of fostering peace education locally and abroad. Dr. Bourgeois also contributed significantly to the development of the University’s new Peace and Conflict Studies minor, and he has been a member of the Board of Directors for Peaceful Schools International, a partner organization of the NICRP, for over a decade.

Committed to university affairs, Dr. Bourgeois serves on a number of Saint Mary’s committees, including the Faculty of Science Curriculum Committee, the Academic Discipline Committee, the Social Benefits Committee of the Faculty Union, and the Conflict Resolution Advisory Committee.

The Medal for Excellence in Teaching is named for the late Father William A. Stewart, a philosophy professor and administrator at Saint Mary’s from 1950-1982. Father Stewart was known for his inclusivity, approachability, innovative teaching, and service to the University.

Premier Stephen McNeil on campus to congratulate Enactus team on the success of the Square Roots food token program

Premier Stephen McNeil came to Saint Mary’s recently to congratulate Enactus team members on the success of the Square Roots food token program, as they prepare for a national competition. Enactus is a global student organization focused on addressing social issues through entrepreneurship. A total of 38 students are heading to Toronto next week to compete in the Enactus Canada National Exposition.

The Province of Nova Scotia recently supported Saint Mary’s work in entrepreneurship when it announced an $11 million investment for the creation of the Entrepreneurship, Discovery and Innovation (EDI) Hub on campus.

Saint Mary’s celebrates new and existing Canada Research Chairs

Members of the Saint Mary’s University community formally welcomed the institution’s newest Canada Research Chairs (CRC), Drs. Ivana Damjanov and Mohammad Rahaman, and celebrated existing CRCs at a reception held today.

Created in 2000, the CRC Program invests $265 million per year across Canada to attract and retain the world’s best researchers in the fields of engineering, the natural sciences, health sciences, humanities, and social sciences.

“Whether investigating the consequences of low-wage practices on the worldwide economy or using the world’s most advanced telescopes to delve into details of galaxy formation and evolution, Saint Mary’s CRCs are making an impact on our world and on society’s foundational knowledge,” says Dr. Malcolm Butler, Vice President of Academic and Research at Saint Mary’s University.

With the addition of Dr. Ivana Damjanov, CRC in Astronomy & Astrophysics, and Dr. Mohammad Rahaman, CRC in International Finance and Competitiveness, Saint Mary’s University is proud to host nine more Canada Research Chairs.

The following is a list of Saint Mary's University's Canada Research Chairs:

•    Dr. Todd Ventura, CRC in Petroleum Systems, Geochemistry, and Reservoir Characterization

•    Dr. Christa Brosseau, CRC in Sustainable Chemistry and Materials

•    Dr. Marcin Sawicki, CRC in Astronomy

•    Dr. Gavin Fridell, CRC in International Development Studies

•    Dr. Karly Kehoe, CRC in Atlantic Canada Communities

•    Dr. Kevin Kelloway, CRC in Occupational Health Psychology

•    Dr. Najah Attig, CRC in Finance

•    Dr. Ivana Damjanov, CRC in Astronomy & Astrophysics

•    Dr. Mohammad Rahaman, CRC in International Finance and Competitiveness

Dr. Ivana Damjanov, Canada Research Chair in Astronomy & Astrophysics

Dr. Ivana Damjanov, Canada Research Chair in   Astronomy & Astrophysics and Dr. Malcolm Butler, Vice-President, Academic and Research

Dr. Ivana Damjanov, Canada Research Chair in Astronomy & Astrophysics and Dr. Malcolm Butler, Vice-President, Academic and Research

Dr. Damjanov’s research involves using images and spectroscopic signatures of massive galaxies to follow the evolution of their stellar and dark matter content over 7 billion years of cosmic time. As Canada Research Chair in Astronomy and Astrophysics, she seeks to expand the spectroscopic and imaging surveys of galaxies to cover large areas of the sky and provide the highest-quality data. By carefully analyzing these information-rich datasets Dr. Damjanov and her team hope to reveal how the biggest building blocks of the universe form and evolve.

Dr. Damjanov is a Professor in the Department of Astronomy & Physics.

Dr. Mohammad Rahaman, Canada Research Chair in International Finance and Competitiveness

Dr. Mohammad Rahaman, Canada Research Chair in International Finance and Competitiveness and Dr. Malcolm Butler, Vice-President, Academic and Research

Dr. Mohammad Rahaman, Canada Research Chair in International Finance and Competitiveness and Dr. Malcolm Butler, Vice-President, Academic and Research

Dr. Rahaman’s research is in the area of international finance, international competitiveness, corporate finance, and cross-country financial development. As Canada Research Chair in International Finance and Competitiveness, Dr. Rahaman is investigating how manufacturing and job losses induced by competition from low-wage countries are influencing the way capital is accessed in high-wage countries. His work will contribute to our understanding of how small and medium-sized enterprises in Canada can overcome their financing constraints and contribute to employment growth in our increasingly globalized and competitive world economy.

Dr. Rahaman is an Associate Professor in the Department of Finance, Information Systems, and Management Science.

Saint Mary’s enhances entrepreneurship and innovation through new centre

To celebrate more than 25 years of cultivating entrepreneurship at Saint Mary’s, the school is today introducing the Saint Mary’s University Entrepreneurship Centre.

Meet the disruptive entrepreneurs from Saint Mary's

Meet the disruptive entrepreneurs from Saint Mary's

“Although Saint Mary’s has always aimed to instill an entrepreneurial mindset within our students across all academic disciplines, we’re now taking our focus on entrepreneurship to the next level,” says Saint Mary’s University President Dr. Robert Summerby-Murray.To launch the new entrepreneurship centre, more than 200 Saint Mary’s alumni, business partners, and government representatives are gathering tonight at a special venture showcase. In conjunction with the centre’s launch, the university is also kicking off a creative campaign celebrating graduates’ entrepreneurial successes.

“We created this campaign to highlight the immense number of inspiring stories that started in the hallways of Saint Mary’s University,” says Dr. Patricia Bradshaw, Dean of the Sobey School of Business. “Today, and over the coming months, we’re celebrating the success of our alumni by showcasing the great entrepreneurial careers launched by graduates in Arts, Business, and Science.”

The Saint Mary’s University Entrepreneurship Centre, formerly known as the Sobey School Business Development Centre (BDC), has played a key role in building workforce skills, creating employment, supporting start-ups, and growing companies. It has also offered undergraduate and graduate students hands-on business research and consulting experience.

“Approaching the BDC’s 30-year mark, we’ve helped thousands of businesses and tens of thousands of graduates,” says Michael Sanderson, the Saint Mary’s University Entrepreneur Centre’s Acting Director. “As a bridge to the community, we’re pleased to see the repositioning of our role through the launch of the Saint Mary’s Entrepreneurship Centre; we’re ready for growth.”

“Saint Mary’s has been developing and mentoring entrepreneurs for decades,” says
Dr. Summerby-Murray. “We’re proud to play a key part in the ongoing growth of Atlantic Canada. And I hope that when our federal, provincial, and industry partners look to Saint Mary’s, they see eager learners and doers who spark innovation within our region, across Canada, and around the world.”

The Saint Mary's Entrepreneurship Centre

Saint Mary’s biologists receive federal funding for Fish Behaviour and Physiology (FiBP) Lab

Dr. Laura Weir and Dr. Anne Dalziel

Dr. Laura Weir and Dr. Anne Dalziel

Two Saint Mary’s biologists have received funding to investigate how environmental variation influences fish populations in Atlantic Canada, which should help predict how fish will fare with continued changes in climate. Drs. Laura Weir and Anne Dalziel will use their $200,000 John R. Evans Leaders Fund award from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI) to develop a Fish Behaviour and Physiology (FiBP) Lab at Saint Mary’s University.

 “Saint Mary’s is delighted that Drs. Weir and Dalziel have received a prestigious CFI research award,” says Dr. Malcolm Butler, Vice-President Academic and Research. “This investment supports not only the world-class research taking place at Saint Mary’s, but also our students access to state-of-the-art infrastructure and technologies.”

Integrative studies that combine the genetic, biochemical, physiological, and behavioural mechanisms are needed to understand how fish populations adapt to environmental change. The FiBP Lab will investigate how these mechanisms contribute to differences in environmental tolerance, physiological performance, and reproductive behaviour among populations and species of fish common to Atlantic Canada, including salmon, trout, stickleback, killifish, alewife, and herring.

“Fish are a valuable natural resource,” says Dr. Laura Weir, assistant professor in the Department of Biology. “Our research will provide important baseline knowledge and inform policy and conservation efforts for our local fish populations.”

Research in the FiBP Lab will also help scientists and the public understand how biodiversity in aquatic environments is affected by coastal development.

“Canada has the longest coastline in the world, and understanding how changes to coastal waters will impact the animals living there is essential,” says Dr. Anne Dalziel, assistant professor in the Department of Biology.

The FiBP Lab formalizes an existing research collaboration between Dr. Anne Dalziel, an expert in fish physiology and evolutionary biology, and Dr. Laura Weir, whose expertise lies in behavioural and evolutionary ecology. Currently, the pair are working together to discover the physiological and behavioural mechanisms that lead to the unique breeding coloration of the white stickleback, an endemic Nova Scotian fish.

About the John R. Evans Leaders Fund

The John R. Evans Leaders Fund (JELF) supports Canadian researchers by providing them with the research tools and infrastructure required to become leaders in their field. It also helps Canadian institutions attract and retain world-class researchers by remaining internationally competitive in areas of research and technology development aligned with their strategic priorities.