Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

Nine StFX students receive NSERC USRA awards, will gain valuable summer research experience

April 11th, 2016
Seated, l-r, Thomas Faour, Erin Aucoin, Emil Jurga, Dylan Coakley. Standing: Michael Kinach, Katie MacEachern, Lynsay Spaffod and Warren Ferguson. Missing is Matthew Martell.

Once again this summer, undergraduate research will be in full swing in labs across campus. In particular, nine StFX students have received Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Undergraduate Student Research Awards (USRA) valued at $4,500 each.

These awards provide 16 weeks of summer employment, and allow students to learn and excel in their field by gaining research experience that complements their studies. . 
The nine students include Warren Ferguson, Thomas Faour, Michael Kinach, Matthew Martell, Lynsay Spafford, Erin Aucoin, Emil Jurga, Dylan Coakley, and Katie MacEachern.
“Having this opportunity will allow me to gain immense technical experience, and work with the energy sector to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve public safety,” says Lynsay Spafford of Athabasca, AB, who is in her third year of an honours environmental sciences, biology concentration, degree.
This summer she will detect and measure leakage from abandoned oil wells in Saskatchewan using a mobile survey technique, and make a comparison between the rate of Albertan abandoned wells leaking and the rate of Saskatchewan abandoned wells leaking. The conclusions will be presented to the Saskatchewan minister of the economy, and will serve to inform oil companies in Saskatchewan upon whether well casings are sufficiently containing gases from abandoned wells, she says.
“This is an incredible opportunity to be offered an NSERC USRA and research internship. It will allow me to gain valuable experience in a field that I am very interested in, and help me work toward pursuing graduate studies in physics,” says second year physics student Matthew Martell of Bedford, NS. 
“The research project I am going to be working on, under the supervision of Dr. Karine LeBris, involves mid-infrared laser spectroscopy of organic molecules. It aims to determine the spectral signature of certain organic compounds, many of which are greenhouse gases, which have been introduced into the atmosphere through pollution by industry. The data collected will allow us to assess how these molecules contribute to global warming.”
Michael Kinach of Delta, BC, a third year honours physics student, will be working with Dr. Peter Marzlin in the field of electrodynamics. “Specifically, we will be studying dielectric materials and the theory of general relativity. It happens that the wave equation for dielectric materials is similar to the wave equation for a curved spacetime. We will investigate whether a curved spacetime could be simulated using dielectrics and light,” he says. “I'm very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with Dr. Marzlin. This project will allow me to explore topics from my coursework in a deeper research context and learn valuable research skills.”
Thomas Faour, a third year physics student from St. John's, NL will use computer simulations to study proteins and how they fold. Specifically they will be developing a new technique to observe the protein's dynamics. “Having this opportunity means a lot to me as I find the research very interesting, and the experience it will bring to me is invaluable,” he says. 
“I am honoured to have this opportunity because it will allow me to learn about and gain experience in a field I intend on pursuing. As a first year student I am particularly grateful to have been selected to work among my professors and fellow students on this project as it will present me with continuous learning opportunities throughout the summer,” says Katie MacEachern, a first year science student from Richmond County, NS, who will be doing work in computer science with Dr. Martin van Bommel and also with Dr. Stephen Finbow. 
Erin Aucoin, a third year physics and engineering student from Ottawa, ON, will be researching the magnetic properties of pure and doped FeGe2. “I am so pleased to have this opportunity to spend the summer exploring the field I love and gain experience working in physics,” she says.
For second year computer science student Dylan Coakley of Florence, NS, his research project involves the study of Dominating Grid Graphs. More specifically, what is the minimum number of guards required to defend a 6 x n grid graph from attackers. “I am extremely honoured to have been chosen by one of my professors as a research assistant and also receiving the NSERC USRA award. I am passionate about academics and love doing self-study, so I believe this position will be very rewarding for me. This is a fantastic opportunity to become more acquainted with professors in my department, which is also exciting.”
“Having the opportunity to sequence the DNA of an organism will give me important experience in molecular biology,” says third year biology honours student Emil Jurga of Antigonish, NS who will be using a recently-developed next generation DNA sequencer to sequence the chromosomal DNA of a species of algae that effectively lives inside the eggs of some amphibians, including salamanders in Nova Scotia. 
“All the techniques I will be using have been well-established for some time now, with the exception of the sequencer itself, therefore, this project will give me the opportunity to familiarize myself with core methods that are used in molecular biology. This will be invaluable should I choose to pursue career in this field,” he says. 

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