Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

StFX student Shae Nickerson wins Geological Association of Canada medal for best thesis

June 15th, 2020
Shae Nickerson

Shae Nickerson, of Hazel Hill, Guysborough County, NS, has capped off her student career at StFX winning a national medal for outstanding work on her thesis.

Ms. Nickerson, who graduated from StFX in May with an honours BSc in geoscience, was awarded the Léopold Gélinas Medal for her BSc thesis from the Geological Association of Canada Volcanology and Igneous Petrology Division. The award annually recognizes the most outstanding undergraduate thesis written by a Canadian student or an international student studying at a Canadian university that comprises material related to volcanology (the study of volcanoes and volcanic rocks such as basalt) and/or igneous petrology (the study of the processes responsible for the origin of igneous rocks such as granite).

Nominated theses are evaluated based on originality, validity of concepts, organization and presentation of data, understanding of volcanology and petrology, and depth of research.

“Shae’s thesis entitled,“The mineralogy and petrogenesis of rare-element granitic pegmatites in northeastern Nova Scotia,” was rated very highly by the award adjudicators and it is an honour for her to receive this national medal,” says StFX earth sciences professor Dr. Donnelly Archibald, Ms. Nickerson’s supervisor.  

“Her work investigated the origin of uncommon rocks known as granite pegmatites, rocks that can host very high concentrations of rare elements such as tin, lithium, tantalum and beryllium. Shae mastered several analytical techniques while completing her thesis, a challenging task for an undergraduate student. She used her data to demonstrate the degree of rare-element enrichment and determined the geological processes that formed these rare rocks in addition to incorporating her data into the regional geological framework. Shae’s thesis is very well written and she was a pleasure to have as a student.”


Ms. Nickerson says she was surprised and a little shocked when she received the email from Dr. Archibald to let her know she had won. “I had no idea I was nominated! I felt extremely proud and honoured to receive the award after it sank in, I worked very hard on my thesis.”

In her thesis, Ms. Nickerson investigated the Lower Caledonia pegmatite, located approximately 60 km south of Antigonish. “Using several geological techniques and state-of-the-art technologies, I characterized the rocks, determined how they formed, and compared them to similar pegmatites in Nova Scotia. My thesis would not have been possible without the guidance and patience of my supervisor Dr. Donnelly Archibald, and additional advice from Dr. Alan Anderson (StFX) and Dr. Sandra Barr (Acadia),” she says.

Ms. Nickerson says she became interested in pegmatites after learning about them in a second year earth sciences class and from Dr. Anderson who is very knowledgeable of pegmatites. Dr. Archibald had asked her about doing a thesis and had a few topics in mind. After seeing a sample of the Lower Caledonia pegmatite, she says she knew she wanted to write her thesis on it.

Ms. Nickerson, recipient also of the 2020 Professor Donald J. MacNeil Memorial Award for Earth Sciences and the 2020 Mining Society of Nova Scotia Centennial Scholarship Medal, says her first year at StFX was intimidating after coming from a very small high school. In second year, she says when she took more earth sciences classes, these classes were small, and much more personable making it more enjoyable for her. She got to know “remarkable professors, like Brendan Murphy, Mike Melchin, and James Braid just to name a few.” Most of the earth sciences courses provided hands-on learning, especially Geological Field Methods and Advanced Geological Field methods. “These courses taught me the fundamental skills for geological mapping. The first course took place just outside Antigonish and then to Spain for the advanced course!” Throughout her time at StFX, she also participated in two Atlantic Universities Geoscience Conferences (AUGC). She helped organize the 2019 AUGC hosted at StFX and gave an oral presentation on her thesis that year.

“From these experiences at X I have grown as a person. I’ve gained more confidence, improved my social skills, learned to pursue my goals, and made great memories.”

Ms. Nickerson will begin a masters in geology at Acadia University this fall under the supervision of Dr. Barr. Following her masters, she plans to pursue a career in geology, preferably within Nova Scotia, though she says after travelling to Spain for a geology course she’s caught the travel bug and hopes to continue to travel internationally and explore.

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