Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

Invaluable skills, important research: StFX students thankful for opportunity afforded through John P. Cunningham and Richard Cunningham awards

September 16th, 2022
L-r, Lyza Ells, recipient of the Richard Cunningham Engineering Internship, and Kogie Esteban and Leah Baylis, recipients of the John P. Cunningham Internship (Chemistry)

Three StFX students had the opportunity to pursue research work they’re passionate about and gain valuable academic and career skills this summer thanks to the John P. Cunningham Internship (Chemistry) and the Richard Cunningham Engineering Internship awards.

Lyza Ells is recipient of the Richard Cunningham Engineering Internship and Kogie Esteban and Leah Baylis each received the John P. Cunningham Internship (Chemistry). Each internship provides $7,500 for 16 weeks of work


“It is an honour to have been chosen as a recipient of the Richard Cunningham Engineering Internship Award,” says Lyza Ells of Antigonish, NS, a third year student taking an advanced major in physics with a Diploma in Engineering. She is supervised by Dr. Karine Le Bris.

Ms. Ells says the objective of the research she’s been conducting for the past two summers is to investigate efficient means of detection and identification of organofluorine compounds in fluid solution using mid-IR quantum cascade laser fibre evanescent wave spectroscopy (QCL-FEWS). Mid-IR spectroscopy is a reliable means of non-invasive measurement of small amounts of biochemical compounds, as such compounds possess natural vibrational modes within the midIR range, she says.

“Organofluorine compounds are increasingly present in our atmosphere through human activity, and are known contributors to global warming. As someone who has always cared for the protection and preservation of our environment, it is a privilege to have been granted the opportunity to contribute to the detection of such compounds,” she says.

“The opportunity to conduct research this summer through the Richard Cunningham Engineering Internship Award has afforded me invaluable skills that I will continue to use throughout my academic career and beyond. These include managing multiple aspects of a project.”


“It was an honour to have the opportunity to work for a research lab this summer. This opportunity improved my laboratory technical skills, which will help to finish off my last year of my undergrad, and it made me realize that I enjoy research enough to want to continue my studies and apply for master's programs,” says Leah Baylis, a fourth year chemistry student from Barrie, ON whose research focused on photocatalysis of methylene blue, which used UV light to break down methylene blue, a dye and medication.

She is supervised by Dr. Geniece Hallett-Tapley.

“Methylene blue is harmful to the environment and often degrades very slowly so I was researching ways to speed up this process with the help of UV light and a biochar/TiO2 catalyst.” 

Ms. Baylis says she was able to form stronger relationships with many of the professors in her department, which can prove to be a mutually beneficial relationship going forward. “I had a lot of fun while continuing to learn more in the field of science in which interests me most.”


Kogie Esteban, a third year honours chemistry student from Manila, Philippines who is supervised by Dr. Shah Razul, says the main goal of his summer research, was to find the most optimum computational scheme to calculate the properties of ion-solvent complexes. “Using quantum chemical methods to understand ion-solvent systems are essential as they are seen in industrial applications and other important biological processes. It has further applications in drug design and food chemistry,” he says.

“This research award allows me to gain an in-depth understanding of computational chemistry—an interesting branch where I get to sharpen my logical thinking and attention to detail while having the unique opportunity of using high-performance computing.  

“It not only allowed me to learn concepts and skills that are usually not taught in the classroom, but I was also able to get a sense of doing my own research and working with my supervisors, which will be beneficial once I pursue further education in chemistry.”


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