Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

Eight StFX students will spend the summer conducting original research as Irving Research Mentorship Award recipients

May 23rd, 2018
Front row, l-r, Sophie LeBlanc, Andrew Duffy, Jessie Doyle and Thomas Ciha. Back: Erin Samson, Amy Graham and Jamie Samson. Missing is David Barry.

Thanks to the Irving Research Mentorship Awards program at StFX, eight undergraduate students will spend the summer involved in original research from investigating ethical questions surrounding organ donation to developing more environmentally friendly antifouling solutions to prevent and reduce marine mussel biofouling.

Irving Research Mentorships were awarded to StFX students David Barry, Thomas Ciha, Jessica Doyle, Andrew Duffy, Amy Graham, Sophie LeBlanc, Erin Samson and Jamie Sampson. 

The prestigious awards, offered through StFX’s Frank McKenna Centre for Leadership with an endowment established by Irving Oil, provide each recipient $6,250 in funding for 12 weeks of research. The students, from a variety of disciplines, each work under the guidance of a StFX faculty member.


“This research project presents an opportunity for me to expand my academic experiences at StFX beyond the classroom,” says Erin Samson of Louisdale Cape Breton, a fourth year BSc human kinetics student who is taking a minor in health sciences.

“I get to learn about subjects beyond my program and help drive innovation in my field, while getting to know the people I go to school with and the professors that teach my classes. This project allows me to explore potential future career paths while gaining relevant experience, and I am very grateful to be able to participate in it,” she says. 

Working with supervisor Dr. Daniel Kane, her research will focus on the effects of an antihistamine, exercise and combined intervention on mitochondrial function. Specifically, the research is concerned with oxygen uptake and the production of reactive oxygen species in mitochondria subjected to various combinations of exercise and antihistamines.

“Antihistamines are widely used in our society, including by athletes and exercisers, and it is in our best interests to understand how this antihistamine use might impact the way our bodies work and move,” she says.

Sophie LeBlanc of Ottawa, ON, a fourth year honours chemistry student supervised by Dr. Truis Smith-Palmer and Dr. Geniece Hallett-Tapley, is conducting research on biofouling, when organisms adhere to and grow on a surface, and will be working on developing more environmentally friendly antifouling solutions to prevent and reduce marine mussel biofouling on surfaces such as the nets that are used at the Waycobah trout farms in Cape Breton. 

“We will be testing various polydimethylsiloxane-based fouling-release surfaces in the Bras d'Or lakes this summer to evaluate their antifouling potential.” 

She says this summer of research will allow her to become immersed in new scientific knowledge and techniques, providing a solid foundation of knowledge and experience to allow her to hit the ground running in the fall with her thesis work.

“I am honoured to be a recipient of the Irving Mentorship Award as this opportunity allows me to gain valuable research experience in a field of applied analytical and surface chemistry combined with biology, which are areas that I find fascinating.”

She says biofouling can be a burden in many industries such as aquaculture and can have implications in the biomedical field. “Previously, toxic paints such as tributyl tin were used as antifouling materials, but these had toxic effects on aquatic organisms and were extremely damaging to marine ecosystems.” 


Jamie Samson of Louisdale, Cape Breton, starting her final year of an honours philosophy degree, working with supervisor Dr. William Sweet, will look into the ethical questions surrounding organ donation and transplantation in Canada. 

“The organ donor, the transplant recipient, and the system generally are all things which deserve further ethical exploration, as conflicts still arise between these groups in the news media. With an issue of life-saving treatment, it is important to have as full of an understanding as possible of the ethical consequences of every practice, whether simply as a member of the Canadian population or as a direct recipient of any of these procedures,” she says. 

“I hope to be able to present different views on the matter and provide ethical analyses of these ideas.”

Ms. Samson says she is extremely grateful for this opportunity. 

“Logistically this grant provides me with an interesting and rewarding summer job, but it is more than just employment. Not only am I spared much of the stress of having to write a large research project at the same time as attending classes next year, but I am also given 12 weeks to dedicate solely to thought, which is a much appreciated privilege, especially in my discipline. Looking in depth at the ethics of a certain area is something most people go their whole life without doing, though perhaps holding strong beliefs nonetheless; therefore while looking at this issue from a scholarly point of view, I also hope to be able to formulate my own thoughts and come to know more about my own personal ethics in the process.”


David Barry of Dartmouth, NS, entering his fourth year of an honours political science degree with a subsidiary in economics will focus his research on the political implications of East Asian monetary regionalism for Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) states. Its principal focus is the Chiang Mai Initiative Multilateralization (CMIM), a regional institution whose purpose is to make large loans available to member countries in case they face a financial crisis.

David Barry in Singapore

His supervisor, Dr. Youngwon Cho, hired him as a research assistant last July. “The project I’ve helped him with centres on the ASEAN+3 Macroeconomic Research Office (AMRO), the nascent economic surveillance branch of the CMIM. I've been lucky enough to travel with him to Singapore to help conduct interviews of senior officials at AMRO. 

“Much that has been written on the CMIM has centred on China and Japan—the larger powers involved in the initiative. In contrast, my research through the Irving Research Mentorship will focus on the perspectives of the smaller ASEAN countries. All countries in the CMIM share incentives to mitigate potential financial crises. But this topic’s appeal for an international relations student like myself comes from the inevitable presence of politics and consequences of power imbalances in efforts to address such a shared concern. After our stay in Singapore, we plan to interview central bank officials in surrounding ASEAN countries; this primary data will directly supplement my research under the mentorship award,” he says. 

“The award allows me to pursue my own avenue of research related to but distinct from what I’ve done as Dr. Cho's research assistant. It grants me the time needed to produce something rigorous and carves out space for me to produce something original, all while allowing me to continue to benefit from Dr. Cho’s guidance and expertise. I’m deeply grateful for this opportunity.”


“The Irving Research Mentorship Award has given me the opportunity to participate in novel research in an exciting field working to reduce the environmental impact of chemical processes,” says Andrew Duffy of Glenfinnan, PEI, a fourth year honours chemistry student supervised by Dr. Geniece Hallett-Tapley. 

The goal of the research, he says, is to employ the principles of green chemistry in the development of more sustainable and eco-efficient processes for the transformation of lignin, one of the main constituents of wood, into high value-added products. “One of the key factors in the development of these processes will be the synthesis of various photocatalysts containing gold or silver nanoparticles supported on a semiconductor. The principles of green chemistry will be applied throughout the project.” 


Jessie Doyle of Antigonish, NS, is starting her fifth year in an honours psychology degree with a Concentration in Forensic Psychology. Working with supervisor Dr. Margo Watt, her research is interested in elucidating the construct of ‘creepiness.’ 

“We all know what it is, yet when perusing the research literature, there have only been two studies to date that have attempted to define who and what is ‘creepy.’ I will be exploring this topic through a forensic lens, wherein detecting "creepiness" is considered to be a part of an intuitive risk analysis in everyday encounters, which we, as humans, have come to develop as a product of evolution in order to detect a potential threat to our safety. Eye tracker technology and a software called Affectiva, which has the capacity to discern emotional reactions via affect display, will be some of the ways in which determining the basis upon which we judge something or someone as ‘creepy,’” she says.  

She says the opportunity to conduct such novel research is exciting for a number of reasons.

“The implications of this research could be informative of our ability to accurately assess potential risk or threat to self, but also to assess the accuracy of our assessment of risk to others. For instance, labelling someone as ‘creepy,’ thus potentially misperceiving threat, could be detrimental to marginalized populations, such as the homeless, people on the autism or schizophrenia spectrum, insofar as it may result in social ostracization, which, as we know, can have deleterious repercussions. 

“On a more personal level, receiving the Irving Research Mentorship allows me to focus my energy and time into a field that I am deeply passionate about. As someone who aspires to pursue a career in academia, the whole process of applying for this award was a valuable learning experience, and the gratitude that I experience as a result of my effort being recognized and commended in this fashion is truly overwhelming.”

Thomas Ciha of Germantown, Wisconsin, entering his third year in computer science with a minor in economics and finance will work with supervisor Dr. Laurence Yang to research machine learning applications for time series forecasting, financial modeling and algorithmic trading.

“I am so grateful to be given the opportunity to grow intellectually and to continue cultivating my passion for artificial intelligence. In the office, the hours fly by. I'm loving every minute of it and can't wait to apply these models in real-world applications,” he says. 


“This grant has given me the opportunity to develop hands on research skills. It has allowed me to connect with other like-minded researchers in my community that aspire to positively impact our health care system,” says Amy Graham of Ottawa, ON, who just completed her first year at StFX, and will work with supervisor Dr. Daniel Kane to research mitochondrial function post-exercise with antihistamine drug treatment. 

“I hope to discover how antihistamines may affect mitochondrial function, as this may have implications for exercising populations with metabolic diseases,” she says. 

This research is, in part, made possible by the Government of Canada Research Support Fund.


Start Your Journey