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Eureka! DISCOVER CARLETON’S FACULTY OF SCIENCE | SPRING 2021

SPECIAL ALUMNI ISSUE

LIFE OUTSIDE THE LABS Where Science Can Take You

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PAYING IT FORWARD

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CARLETON GRADS SHAPING THE FUTURE

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STAYING CONNECTED A WORLD AWAY


Jason Flick, Computer Science | pg. 24

Catherine Kennedy, Health Sciences | pg. 36

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Eureka! Spring 2021 Bryan Luu, Biology | pg. 36


Eureka! Discover Carleton’s Faculty of Science Editor: Kathryn Elliott, Communications Officer, Faculty of Science Story Development: Chris Cline, Social Media & Digital Communications Specialist, Department of University Communications Designer: Michelle Co, Full Stack Web/Multimedia/Mobile Developer, Faculty of Science/Dept. of Earth Sciences Editorial Advisory Committee: Chuck Macdonald, Dean, Faculty of Science Valerie Pereboom, Executive Assistant to the Dean, Faculty of Science Jessie Cartwright, Outreach and Community Engagement Officer, Faculty of Science Lily Visanuvimol, Science Student Success Officer, Faculty of Science Anisha Ghelani, Science Student Success Administrator, Faculty of Science Kylie Patrick, Senior Development Officer, University Advancement Madeleine Ibrahim, Research Administrator, Tri-Agency, Carleton Office for Research Initiatives and Services

Steven Lee, Physics | pg. 18

Contributors: Suzanne Bowness, Laura Paquet, Fangliang Xu, Elizabeth Howell, Dan Elliott, Tyrone Burke, Giordano Ciampini, James Park, Camus Photography Eureka! is published for the alumni, faculty, staff, friends, and partners of the Faculty of Science. The magazine is intended to showcase the faculty’s researchers, teachers and students, and to connect alumni to each other and the university. Your input is important Please send feedback to odscience@carleton.ca or via Twitter: @CarletonScience Giving to Carleton

Health Sciences alumna Amisha Agarwal and her sister, Kajal Agarwal | pg. 6

The Faculty of Science at Carleton has many longstanding partnerships with alumni, friends, the community, and industry, who share our vision and provide support in the form of collaboration and financial engagement to help us work toward our goals. One of our core values is our commitment to student success and academic standards. Our summer research internships, scholarships, bursaries and experimental funds provide much-needed financial support to science students. We look forward to a future where, with your support, we are the science faculty of choice in Canada for students and alumni who value a comprehensive and life-enriching science education. We encourage you to explore the many ways to support the Faculty of Science with a financial contribution by following us on FutureFunder.ca Carleton University is fully compliant with FIPPA and endeavours at all times to treat your personal information in accordance with this law. Personal information is used by the university to inform you about programming, events and offers from our affinity partners, to communicate Carleton news, and for fundraising purposes. To update your name or address or stop mail, please contact the Department of University Advancement at 1-800-461-8927 or advancement@carleton.ca We are Carleton Science

On the cover

Department of Biology

Carleton Biology alumna Genevieve Perkins enjoys the outdoors in British Columbia, where she currently works as a biologist specialist. Read her story on page 6.

Department of Chemistry Department of Earth Sciences Department of Health Sciences Department of Neuroscience Department of Physics

Photo by Camus Photography

Institute of Biochemistry Institute of Environmental and Interdisciplinary Science School of Computer Science School of Mathematics and Statistics Technology, Society, Environment Studies

FACULTY OF

Science Eureka! Spring 2021 Owen Hovey, Biology | pg. 19

FACULTY OF

Science

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Dean’s

MESSAGE

SPRING – a time for change and new beginnings. As many of us anticipate sunny days and warmer temperatures, our graduating class is rounding out a very important chapter of their lives at Carleton University and preparing to embark on an exciting new journey, degrees in hand. While many graduates will continue with important research in lab settings, our magazine’s theme, Life Outside the Labs, illustrates the vast array of opportunities, personal and professional, that await our alumni after completing their degree programs. As Dean of Science, I’m always interested in learning about what our 17,000 (and counting!) alumni do after graduation. For this reason it gives me great pleasure to present this special alumni edition of Eureka! magazine, which shines a light on 20 of our graduates and answers the question, “Where are they now?” You’ll find Carleton Science graduates establishing careers in academia, high-tech sector, health care, and everything in between – a testimony to the diversity and depth of the degree programs we offer. Several of the alumni you will meet in this issue have become leaders and change-makers in their chosen fields, while others are achieving academic success while continuing their education in Canada and abroad. Although their journeys are quite different, the alumni featured in these pages all share something in common beyond their alma mater. All are making an effort to share their scientific knowledge and expertise with their communities, and all are making positive impacts on our society. Many are making an impact on our faculty, too, by supporting the students who follow in their footsteps. For years, Carleton Science students have benefited from meeting alumni and hearing their stories. To stay connected in the era of COVID-19, our faculty reimagined events, like the Science Student Alumni Mixer, to facilitate student-alumni connections virtually. The Alumni Mentors program continues to help students and recent graduates develop skills for the workplace and expand their professional networks. If you are part of the Carleton alumni network, I invite you to explore the ways you can stay connected to Carleton and contribute to the success of future science alumni. Whatever makes you a member of our growing Carleton Science community, I hope you enjoy this special alumni edition of Eureka! magazine, and that you will join me in congratulating our new graduates, the Class of 2021, whose scientific discoveries and career successes we look forward to one day reading about.

Charles (Chuck) L. B. Macdonald

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IN THIS ISSUE PROFILES

14 Darin Wagner, Earth Sciences Paying it Forward

FEATURES

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Life Outside the Labs

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A Window of Connection

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Nancy Binnie, Chemistry At the Intersection of Science and Heritage Conservation

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Carleton Alumni Set Sights on Academic Research Careers

24 33 Erika Anderson, Earth Sciences Down to Earth

35 Robyn McQuaid, Neuroscience Exploring Pathways to Resiliency

Leading the Way

30 Practical Math: How it all adds up

36 Medical Mastery

40 Q&A: A World Away Eureka! Spring 2021

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Life Outside the Labs Alumnae working for the public good reflect on their Carleton experience and share how it has influenced their lives and careers By Laura Paquet Photographs by Camus Photography and Fangliang Xu

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Genevieve Perkins, M.Sc. Ecology/15

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FEATURE

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hether they’re analyzing ecological data in British Columbia, interpreting COVID-19 statistics in Ottawa or using machine learning to catch cybercriminals, three graduates of Carleton’s Faculty of Science are putting their skills to excellent use in fascinating jobs. Perhaps that’s not surprising, since all three clearly enjoy a challenge. For instance, after earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology, Genevieve Perkins decided to travel before settling into a career. However, rather than following a common path, such as backpacking through Europe or hitting the beach in Thailand, she and her boyfriend set off in fall 2015 on an 18-month, 30,000kilometre unsupported cycling trip from British Columbia to the southern tip of South America. “Starting in September in Prince George was good motivation to head south quickly to get to warmer weather!” she says. Along the way, they navigated through quicksand landslides in Ecuador and a sandstorm in Argentina, pushed their bikes uphill for nine hours along a horse track in Peru, and camped among flamingos and king penguins in Chile. Despite the difficulties they faced, Perkins says the generosity of strangers made it all worthwhile. “Overwhelmingly, I was taken aback by the number of friendly and helpful folks who went out of their way to offer us help, show support or make a kind gesture.” Back in Canada, she began working as a resource management officer for Parks Canada in Banff National Park. “I really enjoyed spending time outside in the backcountry and visiting places off the beaten track,” she recalls. “Working for Parks also gave me a better understanding of the

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impact of people in these areas and the tough management issues which arise in such a popular park.” In her current job as a Biologist Specialist with the B.C. government, she still gets the chance to do outdoor field work occasionally; for instance, she recently spent a week classifying ecosystems in the woods. However, as the technical lead on a project to develop efficient, accurate ways to predict ecosystem mapping, she spends more of her time these days at her computer, working with data and running models. “This project brings together new modelling approaches, such as machine learning and high-resolution spatial data (LiDAR and satellite imagery), which is fun and challenging! The aim is to develop standards that can be applied across the province,” she explains. Fellow Carleton alumna Amisha Agarwal might well sympathize with Perkins’ long days at the computer. Since she joined Ottawa Public Health (OPH) as an epidemiologist in July, Agarwal’s workdays have been long and busy—but she wouldn’t have it any other way. “To work as an epidemiologist in the middle of a pandemic, you’re kind of thrown in the fire, and that’s really where you get to use all the knowledge and skills that you learn in your program, in a very real way.” Her fascination with epidemiology was sparked at Carleton, where she had entered the Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences program with the intention of moving on to medical school. “I think I just always envisioned that science leads to medicine.” However, when a professor suggested Agarwal take a geography of health class, a whole new world opened up to her. “I didn’t even know what epidemiology was, and that was

my first exposure to epidemiology. I got curious,” she recalls. She began researching the field and learning where it could take her. After finishing her Carleton degree, she earned a Master of Science in Epidemiology from the University of Ottawa. She went on to work in various positions at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health, and Health Canada. While she enjoyed them all, they were somewhat tangential to her training as an epidemiologist. And she had always


To work as an epidemiologist in the middle of a pandemic, you’re kind of thrown in the fire, and that’s really where you get to use all the knowledge and skills that you learn in your program, in a very real way.

Amisha Agarwal, B.Sc., Concentration in Health Sciences, Minor in Psychology/12

wanted to work at OPH, where she had volunteered as a student. “I love public health,” she says simply. So when the OPH job was posted, she leapt at the chance to apply. In her job, she collects, analyzes, interprets and reports public health data in areas ranging from drug use and overdoses to mental health and wellbeing. A primary focus these days, naturally, is the city’s efforts to track and control COVID-19. The public health organization releases a daily dashboard of case counts, weekly trend reports and supplemental reports on societal impacts of the pandemic, such as its effects on mental health. Agarwal says it is very satisfying to present and share crucial information in a way that helps Ottawans make important decisions for themselves and their families. With a chuckle, she also notes that 2020 has illumi-

nated her profession for the general public. “Before the pandemic, you would tell people you studied epidemiology, or you’re an epidemiologist, and they’d look at you, like, ‘I have no idea what you’re saying! Are you talking about feet? Are you talking about skin?’” Now, she says, many more people understand—and appreciate—her work in public health. Another Carleton alumna, Maria Pospelova, also uses computing power to tackle a major threat. However, instead of trying to get ahead of COVID-19, she works to thwart cybercriminals. Using machine-learning algorithms, Pospelova developed numerous models to surface anomalous behaviour within the network, authentication, resource, end-point and other cybersecurity data sources.

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Maria Pospelova, MCS, Specialization in Data Science/15

She now works at Interset, an Ottawa-based division of Micro Focus, a multinational software and information technology provider with over 12,000 employees worldwide. Her work is complex, but it can be boiled down to a simple slogan, she says with a grin: “Catching bad guys with math.” She notes that the field is an ideal environment for applying machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), which she explored while writing her master’s thesis under the supervision of Frank Dehne, professor in Carleton’s School of Computer Science. Her thesis focused on the realtime automated tuning of YARN/Hadoop for big data applications. “The lack of tuning would result in the same job taking days instead of hours, hours instead of minutes. And in the big data world, it means a lot of money wasted,” she explains. She adds that, given the shortage of qualified tech talent, hiring people to do a tedious task of manual tuning is not an easy quest. “However, AI doesn’t mind such tasks, so this is exactly what we worked on.” Like Agarwal, Pospelova discovered her niche after beginning more general studies. She was taking a Bachelor of Computer Science with a Specialization in Biomedical Computing. Then, a faculty advisor asked whether she would be interested in an accelerated program that would allow her to take some graduate

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courses in her final undergraduate year and move easily into the master’s program in data science. She was surprised. “I wasn’t even considering a grad degree,” she explains. “The conversation with professor Anil Maheshwari helped me to make that leap of faith and commit to continue my education in grad school. And I’m extremely thankful for that. It definitely was the right move.” She went on to earn a Master in Computer Science with a Specialization in Data Science at Carleton. She says her job at Micro Focus— which requires her to understand cybersecurity, software development and data science, as well as the intersection between the three—is a good match for her generalist mindset and her fascination with solving puzzles. People in the data science field, she says, have to accept “not to be experts in every aspect of the domain, but being able to connect the dots between multiple domains and areas of expertise and find the optimal solution which includes all pieces of the puzzle and fits the bill. This is a thrilling aspect of my job that I love.” Perkins and Agarwal share Pospelova’s enthusiasm for Carleton and its influence on their lives and careers. They all mention the fact that the university felt like a welcoming, col-

laborative space to learn, network and explore new ideas. “I chose Carleton primarily after I visited [Professor] Lenore Fahrig’s lab,” Perkins remembers. “I was investigating options for my master’s and I found not only was the group working on interesting ecological questions, but they were all willing to discuss ideas and help each other out in a very supportive environment.” Agarwal notes that she often urges friends and colleagues to get outside their comfort zone—an attitude she honed during her undergraduate studies and continues to pursue, both in her work and in her personal life. Hooked on adventure, she has travelled extensively and is fascinated by Latin American culture; in her free time, she studies Spanish and enjoys salsa dancing. “Carleton opened up my doors, my mind, to opportunities, but also so much growth—to try new things, experience new things.” Pospelova makes a similar point. “That’s probably the best thing about being at a university. It’s not the beautiful campus, not the courses you take, but the people you interact with,” she says. “There is a vast amount of mentorship and advice available to you. You just have to be open-minded, ask questions and truly listen to the answers.”


A WINDOW

OF CONNECTION Student-alumni events go virtual By Suzanne Bowness

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FEATURE

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here’s no doubt 2020’s Science Student Alumni mixer looked a little different than other years, with alumni peering in from the squares of a videoconferencing platform and students practicing their mic checks rather than their handshakes. And yet the same expertise and wide range of career fields that their flagship event has long offered students was still evident in the lively Q&A with a screenful of five guest speakers of various job descriptions from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Interset, Siemens and Health Canada. Millie Close, two-term Science Student Society president and host of the 2020 virtual mixer, says perhaps the best part of the mixer and events like it is the opportunity to meet alumni and help students to expand their notions of what’s possible for a science degree. “Depending on your field, sometimes you’re presented with only a few career options, such as medical school. It’s easy to fall into a rut and think it’s the only direction you can take your degree. What’s nice about this event is that it’s a great reminder that sometimes the career that fits you best is something you don’t even know about,” she says, adding that meeting alumni who were once at your exact age and stage is also a lot more personal than alternatives like random online searches on what to do with your degree. Lily Visanuvimol, team lead for the Science Student Success Centre (SSSC) says that an additional benefit is the networking opportunity. “Students learn the importance of networking, and also how to get the most out of that networking. Even if the person they’re listening to is not the exact career they want to go into in the future, what they gain is still the importance of building on their own network,” she says, adding that the alumni really enjoy the event as well. “They love to come back and share their knowledge with the students. It’s that sense of giving back and having that impact on the younger generation.”

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Variety of opportunities for science students While the Science Student Alumni Mixer is the SSSC’s flagship fall event, the SSSC provides many more resources to the cohort of over 5,000 science students in its charge. Reaching out at first-year orientation, the SSSC offers students workshops on topics from medical school to poster presentations to time management. They also bring in representatives from organizations such as Google or IBM to speak with students and offer a mentoring service that connects upper-year students with newcomers for academic support and study skills coaching. Close says that the mentoring service made a big difference to her success. “When I came in my first year, I suffered a dip in my grades and my GPA. And I was able to go to the Science Student Success Center, meet with someone in my program, and get a better feel for how I should be studying for my exams—it was a really great resource.” That connection also led the Bachelor of Health

Millie Close, President of the Carleton Science Student Society


formed to reflect social distancing requirements, and included a variety of activities, such as a virtual tour of campus, a bingo night, a panel about climate change, and a virtual version of the Butterfly Show at Carleton’s Arboretum. Impressively, the total number and variety of events were only diminished slightly with around 27 events compared with the usual 30 to 35, and Christina Chénard, Carleton’s Acting Director of Alumni and Donor Relations, says they engaged close to the usual number of alumni with just over 7,000 grads participating comAbove: SSSC working with students prepared with the usual 10,000. pandemic. Left: Christina Chénard, Acting As part of revisioning ThrowDirector, Alumni and Donor Relations. Below: back for online platforms, the Virtual 2020 Science Student Alumni Mixer. Advancement team was on the lookout to make things special, with one of its biggest challenges being how to represent sporting events, usually a big draw. The solution? Create an online watch party of a historical football game from 1985 where the Carleton Ravens bested Sciences student to start volunteering in first year for the the Concordia Stingers in the Ontario-Quebec IntercolScience Student Society, which offers more social suplegiate Football Conference Championship. On top of port for science students, from trivia nights to its ten-year streaming the game, they also arranged for live commengala event featuring popular science YouTubers. tary from a current Carleton coach and a player from the Close says getting involved has really boosted her 1985 game. They made the game extra special for one Carleton experience. “Besides the obvious skills developalumnus in particular, tracking down one of the first presiment like speaking in front of large audiences, it’s helped dents of the alumni association, a commerce graduate me to figure out exactly where I’m comfortable at Carleton, and football player from the class of 1950. Collaborating to really find my niche. The relationships, the friendships with his care home, they arranged to stream the game I’ve developed at Carleton, I don’t know that I would have online so he could watch with his friends, complete with a become close with those folks if I hadn’t been involved,” special dedication to honour his attendance. she says. Chénard says that while the alumni events looked a little different this year, the strategy to keep grads connected remained in place. “Online events allow people Wider (virtual) alumni connection who might not be able to come back to Ottawa, or would Of course, SSSC alumni events are just part of the widnever come back to campus because it just didn’t fit into er offering by Carleton’s alumni relations department. their schedule, to participate and meet with students and Like SSSC, alumni relations offers a mentoring program, faculty and friends,” says Chénard. “It’s a time for them regular events, and its biggest celebration, the weeklong to reconnect with their former classmates and profeshomecoming-style event called Throwback, now in its sors and learn about things that are going on on cameighth year. As with the Science Student mixer, this year’s pus, things that are going on in their programs, and touch spectrum of academic and social events were transbase with the current students.”

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PAYING IT FORWARD Mining industry expert Darin Wagner establishes scholarship to support Carleton’s Earth Sciences students By Laura Paquet

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Photo supplied by VR Resources Ltd.


Darin Wagner, M.Sc. Earth Sciences/93

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arin Wagner didn’t set out to be a geologist. He wanted to join his family’s landscaping firm right out of high school, but his father insisted he get a university degree first. A strong high school student, Wagner enrolled in an accounting program at Wilfrid Laurier University, hoping to quickly earn a degree that would satisfy his dad. However, he soon became fascinated by an elective course in geology at the nearby University of Waterloo. The professor’s enthusiasm for mineral exploration—along with a captivating slideshow of the places around the world he had travelled in his career—inspired Wagner to switch both universities and majors. “I loved the idea of me outside, working with my head, working with my hands. So I quit!” When he left Waterloo with an undergraduate geology degree, he decided to pursue a master’s. He considered several schools but chose Carleton because it offered the chance to work with a wide range of leading scientists, both inside and outside the university. “The ability to work with that broader pool of talent and to learn from some of the bestknown names in the industry who were at the

Geological Survey [of Canada] at the time, plus the professors at Carleton, was a big part of the appeal,” he explains. After graduating from Carleton in 1993 with a Master’s of Earth Sciences, Wagner pursued a career in mineral exploration that took him to 15 countries—including Brazil, South Africa and Tanzania— initially with Noranda (now Glencore) and Cominco (now Teck). As a project geologist, he helped discover deposits of gold, copper, nickel, platinum and palladium. However, he soon learned that there was much more to the mining business than finding valuable natural resources. To profit from those discoveries, mining companies also need to find investors to fund their development. As a project geologist, he explains, “You work for one of the big companies and you’re just a technical guy, gal, and you do your technical thing, but you are missing out on half the business. There’s another side to our business, which is the financial component, because it takes a lot of money to find a mine and build it.” As he moved into increasingly senior positions at mining and exploration companies such as New Millennium Metals Corp. and West Timmins Mining Inc., he had to learn about the financial side of the industry as he went. “I love the geological [side of things], and I wouldn’t give that up for a minute, but I had to learn the financial side on the run.” Today, Wagner is chairman of the board of VR Resources, a Vancouver-based mineral exploration company. For 10 years, he also served as President and CEO of Balmoral Resources Ltd., another Vancouver firm. When Wallbridge Mining Company Limited bought Balmoral in May 2020, he was looking for a place to invest some of his profits from that sale. He found that place at Carleton. Wagner learned that the Department of Earth Sciences and the Sprott School of Business had recently combined forces to offer a new joint program: an Honours Bachelor of Science in Earth Sciences with Concentration in Finance: Resource Valuation. By taking courses ranging from field geology and physical hydrogeology to management accounting and applied corporate finance, students get a good grounding in both sides of the mining industry. “I think it will prepare kids that are coming out of that program to work on the junior side of the business,” Wagner says. “It’s unique.” He approached the university and found it very straightforward to set the wheels in motion to establish the Darin Wagner Scholarship in Earth Sciences. It will be awarded annually to an outstanding student enrolled in a Bachelor of Science degree in Earth Sciences, with preference for a student pursuing the resource valuation concentration. INFOR Financial Group, the merchant and investment bank that had worked with Wagner on the sale of Balmoral to Wallbridge, agreed to jointly endow the new scholarship. “We were able to do it on a much bigger level because they chipped in as well,” he notes. He is happy to be in a position to offer other students the sort of financial help he received as a student. “I benefited from a program like that when I was at Carleton, so to be in a position to give back on that front was really cool.” And as for his abandoned landscaping career? “I’ve got a great garden – but I found my thing and my dad, who lost his successor, was fine with that!”

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CARLETON ALUMNI SET SIGHTS ON ACADEMIC RESEARCH CAREERS Carleton’s Faculty of Science has helped thousands of students launch careers in chemistry, biology, physics, materials science, and more. Meet three alumni who are making a difference in their communities.

By Elizabeth Howell

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PhD Chemistry/16, B.Sc. Neuroscience/09

ERIN M. MCCONNELL Erin M. McConnell finished two degrees at Carleton – her Bachelor of Science in Neuroscience in 2009 and her Ph.D. in Chemistry in 2016. She is now a researcher at the University of Ottawa specializing in nanotechnology. Her research involves using DNA-based tools called DNAzymes to make sensors, with applications such as environmental monitoring and health. In 2018, she was announced as the 2018 NSERC and L’Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science Supplement recipient. “Where Carleton felt like home, the chemistry department felt like family. During my near decade as part of the department, I worked with so many incredible people who always offered a friendly face and kind words of support. I miss them very, very much,” McConnell said. “After graduating, I worked as a postdoctoral fellow on a collaborative project with a team from professors Maria DeRosa and Matthew Holahan’s labs, where we worked to develop DNA-based interventions for Parkinson’s disease.” “For the past three years,” she continued, “I’ve worked as a postdoctoral fellow at McMaster University in the Faculty of Health Sciences, and Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences. Under the supervision of Professor Yingfu Li, I led an amazing team of interdisciplinary scientists with the common goal of developing a DNA-based sensor to detect the pathogenic bacteria, Legionella pneumophila, in water systems.” “This bacterium can contaminate cooling towers that supply water to the buildings in which we live and work. Exposure to the bacteria through these water sources can lead to a severe form of pneumonia called Legionnaires’ disease. A simple, user-friendly method to detect this bacterium is necessary, since isolated cases and outbreaks can lead to loss of life.” McConnell just embarked on a new postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Ottawa with Prof. Vincent Tabard-Cossa. “Again, I’ll be using DNA, but this time to build highly sensitive disease diagnostic tools,” she said. McConnell has also done extensive outreach, including serving as a long-time volunteer in the popular Carleton Chemistry Magic Show, being a chapter coordinator with the Canadian Association for Girls in Science (CAGIS), delivering presentations for NSERC’s Science Literacy Week, and organizing Science Rendezvous events. Erin M. McConnell and Carleton Chemistry Prof. Maria DeRosa

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M.Sc. Physics/18, B.Sc./16

STEVEN LEE

Steven Lee completed his Bachelor of Science at Carleton in 2016. Before completing his Master of Science at Carleton in 2018 under Prof. Thomas Koffas, Lee was involved in an upgrade of the ATLAS particle accelerator at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). Today, Lee is studying for his Ph.D. at the University of Zurich, where he is working on the Dark Matter In CCDs (DAMIC) experiment at the underground Sudbury Neutrino Observatory Laboratory (SNOLAB). The experiment uses CCD detectors as particle detectors, to search for blips of electric charge caused by interactions with dark matter, a poorly known substance that makes up most of our universe. Lee also formed a collaboration called RAdiation DAmage In CCDs (RADAC), which is comprised of experts in radiation damage. “The development of technique has an application, obviously, in astrophysics and astronomy – but I am also intending to model radiation damage in the CCDs down to the atomic scale,” Lee said. SNOLAB, being about two kilometres underground, is in a zone where it is easier to isolate single neutrinos blasted to Earth from the sun; only a fraction of neutrinos can penetrate so far underground, allowing us to isolate and study these fundamental particles more easily. “It has proved to be an optimal location to also study radiation damage,” Lee said. “I am taking advantage of the experimental setup that was designed to look for dark matter to study the properties of radiation damage, and in return use the radiation damage studies to look for dark matter.” Lee’s journey underground began with service in the Canadian military. After being injured on duty, he decided to invest in more education because he knew his military career could not continue in the same way. “Carleton, at the time, was my ‘second chance’,” he recalled. “On one of the student lab tours in the physics department, I learned about CERN and Carleton’s involvement. I became fascinated with the idea of CERN being the largest global collaborative effort to extend human knowledge in particle physics. I think I could really say that Carleton and the Faculty of Science helped me pave my way to exactly where I wanted to be.”

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B.Sc. Biology/16

OWEN HOVEY At Carleton, Owen Hovey studied in the lab of Prof. Bill Willmore, who researches the health effects on humans living or working at high altitudes. After completing his Bachelor of Science in Biology in 2016, Hovey completed his Master of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Ottawa in 2018. He is now pursuing his PhD in Biochemistry at Western University, where he is researching the migration of breast cancer cells. “My project is working on a mechanism that drives cell migration in healthy cells, but is commonly mutated in cancer cells,” Hovey says. “This mechanism is referred to as the P-switch. We are trying to identify how cancer cells migrate without a complete P-switch. Because breast cancer commonly metastasizes to the lungs, I’m also identifying differences in breast cancer cells that have higher affinity to metastasize to the lungs, using a human cell line which has been xenographed into mice.” Hovey said his Carleton experience was crucial to getting ready for helping breast cancer research. His opportunities in the Willmore lab began a love of research that showed him skills and techniques still useful in his PhD studies. “During my last year at Carleton, I was able to obtain a Federal Student Work Experience Program position at Health Canada working at the stem cell lab,” he added. “This gave me the experience required to do my master’s, working on the interaction of two types of stem cells: connective stem cells called mesenchymal, and blood stem cells called hematopoietic stem cells. Hematopoietic cell studies are useful for improving cord blood transplants for people who needed bone marrow transplants.” The first two years of Hovey’s PhD were funded by the Translational Breast Cancer Research Unit. He also is a busy volunteer, with experience including co-chairing the Let’s Talk Cancer day-long event at Western, and being a member of the Canadian Cancer Society’s Research Information Outreach Team.

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NANCY BINNIE At the Intersection of Science and Heritage Conservation By Elizabeth Howell Photographs supplied by Canadian Conservation Institute

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Nancy Binnie, M.Sc. Chemistry/89, B.Sc. Chemistry/84

Nancy Binnie’s diverse career includes paint detective for heritage buildings, excavator for shipwrecks, and serving on a recovery team searching out Avro Arrow plane models in Lake Ontario. These are just some of the roles the Carleton Faculty of Science graduate took on after joining the Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI), where she now serves as a senior conservation scientist. In 1986, Binnie won a competition for a position as a CCI contract research scientist – a job she saw posted on a bulletin board in Carleton’s Department of Chemistry. “My career choice, and indeed my first job, was a direct product of the strong skills in analytical chemistry obtained at Carleton,” she says. Her first duties were to examine the effects of a fumigant – sulphuryl fluoride (Vikane®) on the cellulose

and lignin components of paper and textile objects in museum collections. As Binnie gained experience, she found herself following her own interests and pursuing research questions put forward by the museum community. “The environment I work in now closely resembles the Carleton laser research laboratory run by my M.Sc. thesis supervisor, Dr. J. Arnold Koningstein,” she said. “Graduate students were encouraged to work independently, but to consult with others to develop theories and research plans. I was fortunate to do many science courses at Carleton within the chemistry, physics, geol-

ogy and biology departments – an eclectic course load that suited me well as the requirements of my career changed direction.” In recent years, Binnie carried out on-site investigations for more than 60 heritage buildings across Canada to determine their historic paint and finish schemes – places like the Parliament Buildings or Rideau Hall’s ballroom. She performed onsite sampling that required work on scaffolding, ladders and mechanical lifts. Back at the lab, Binnie and her team identify paint layers by colour, particle morphology and composition – much in the same ways that biologists count tree rings. “Field

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Biological samples being sorted and filtered during field work.

Nancy Binnie conducts an underwater underwater examination of a prehistoric fishing weir stake.

Measuring colour with a portable spectrophotometer 22 cotta Eureka! Spring 2021 on terra stone.


Examining the interior of the Delta Test Vehicle at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum.

Field work planning is critical because if you don’t have the right tools or your equipment does not function, you can’t get the work done.

work planning is critical because if you don’t have the right tools or your equipment does not function, you can’t get the work done,” she said. Binnie’s interest in metals corrosion led to a collaboration with archaeological conservators and underwater archaeologists at Parks Canada, to investigate how shipwrecks and other heritage sites deteriorate in freshwater environments. “I started as a surface observer, and quickly realized that participating as a scuba diver would allow me make direct observations and better carry out experimental work,” Binnie said. “I helped excavate shipwrecks such as the Elizabeth and Mary, which was lost during a storm in 1690 while Massachusetts governor William Phips was launching an invasion of Quebec that ultimately failed.” Binnie has also worked on Parks Canada-led projects to monitor shipwrecks at Fathom Five National Marine Park, and in the harbour at

the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site. Binnie’s interest in shipwrecks led her to submerged airplane wreckage, including 20 years supporting searches for the elusive one-eighth scale Avro Arrow free flight models fired over Lake Ontario, south of Prince Edward County. These models informed the design of the CF-105 Arrow. The airplane was considered one of the most advanced jet interceptors of its day, but was canceled under the Diefenbaker government in 1959 over concerns about cost and flight delays. Binnie’s role in recovering the models included providing conservation plans for archaeological permits, modelling the underwater corrosion of the models, and contributing to logistical plans for handling the recovered models to minimize damage during salvage. Her work was featured in a 2003 National Geographic episode of “The Sea Hunters,” among other accolades.

The Arrow model recovery project has had notable moments for Binnie. In 2018, the CCI team helped recover a nearly intact 3.2-metre test vehicle, which was exhibited at Ottawa’s Canada Aviation and Space Museum on Canada Day 2019. And in September 2020, the recovery group found the wreckage of another model, and is deciding whether to proceed with a recovery operation. “For me, the best part of this project took place during the winter months of conservation work in 2018 and 2019, when I was able to observe and measure the recovered model and prepare scale drawings for the exterior and interior structure, to better understand the assembly method and function of all components,” Binnie said. “Should future diving operations recover the newly found model wreckage, thanks to our team’s work, CCI and the museum will be better prepared to stabilize, conserve, and interpret the artifacts found.”

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FEATURE

LEADING THE WAY By Tyrone Burke and Laura Paquet Photography by Fangliang Xu and Giordano Ciampini

Tech Innovator

Jason Flick Chief Executive Officer, You.i TV B.Sc. Computer Science/96 “IT’S IMPORTANT FOR ENTREPRENEURS TO LOOK AT THE WORLD, AND HAVE A VIEW OF WHERE IT’S GOING,” says Jason Flick. “I take a hands-on approach. Whenever a new piece of technology comes out, I’m playing with it myself, but I’m

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also talking to other people who use it. I try to be connected with the bulk of a product’s audience. The things that you do need to be able to go mainstream.” Flick has managed to anticipate what will be mainstream, before it actually is. He graduated from Carleton with a Bachelor of Computer Science degree, and in 2002, he founded Flick Software. It was one of Canada’s first mobile app development companies – five years before the iPhone even launched. Then, he anticipated streaming. In 2008, Flick founded You I Labs, an Ottawa-based tech firm that developed software that ensures a smooth user experience across different operating systems and devices. Now known as You.i TV, the company has counted Disney, Twitch, and Comcast among its clients, and in December, it was acquired by Warner Media in a $100 million USD deal. A subsidiary of AT&T, Warner Media has been a major You.i TV customer for years, and unfettered access to its software will be a competitive advantage as it launches HBO Max, its new streaming service. “The vision for You.i TV was to take what we saw on the iPhone in 2008, and bring that transformational experience everywhere,” says Flick. “We took our lead from video games, and brought that to the app world. If you play Words with Friends or Call of Duty, it’s the same awesome experience on different


devices. That’s because the same code base runs everywhere. But for some reason, apps are recoded for each different operating system. They code separately for iOS, Android, Roku, LG, and Samsung.” You.i TV’s software communicates directly with the hardware, by-passing the operating system, and allowing streaming services to transfer the user experience between them. It took more than a decade for Flick to guide You.i TV from an idea into a mature technology sought by the world’s largest media companies. And now that he has, he’ll be taking some time to contemplate his next move. “My wife Deborah and I often use the metaphor that the company is our baby,” Flick says. “It went through its teenage years. Now it’s an adult, and I’m going to hand it off. Many staff and executives will stay, but my challenge is done.” Flick will continue to work in the community, and will consider where technology is headed. “There are many areas that I’m passionate about, but to succeed, you need to find the right combination of timing, passion, experience and opportunity. So, I won’t be jumping into anything immediately. I will take time to think.” When he does launch his next venture, Flick will rely on the lessons he learned in this one. “Communicating is an art. Sometimes, we did it well, and sometimes we didn’t,” he says. “We went through several rounds of funding, and it can take a lot of work to distill your vision into something that is consumable for financial folks. About 90 percent of the

time, you will be sitting across the table from a financial person who doesn’t see the same vision, and you need to be able to get them to see it.” Once funding was in place for You.i TV, Flick put together a team with high level coding skills and a keen eye for design. “I’ve been coding since I was a little kid, but I’m really a big picture guy. There are people who are much better coders than me, and one of the big things for me as a leader has been realizing what my strengths and weaknesses are,” says Flick. “I might not be a great developer, but I hire worldclass developers. We want people who are curious and creative. We need great problem solvers, because we do stuff that hasn’t been done before. I spend a lot of time with my staff to figure out what their strengths and weaknesses are. No one is great at everything, and every strength has an alternate weakness. Someone who is super visionary is almost certainly not a detail person – and vice-versa. Leaders need to be able to identify these dynamics in their teams.” Once he does, Flick takes a fluid approach to leadership. “One of the most challenging parts of leading a company is knowing what kind of leader the company needs you to be at a given time. When everything is going really well, you might need to be a cheerleader. If something fundamental is broken, you might need to be a tactician. You always need to look at the basics, and ask; why are we not getting this done?”

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Bioscience Champion

Gail Garland President and Chief Executive Officer, Ontario Bioscience Innovation Organization B.Sc. Biology/78 26

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Even though Gail Garland doesn’t make her living as a scientist, she credits her science degree from Carleton with starting her on the path to success. Garland earned her Bachelor of Science in Biology in 1978 and went on to a wide-ranging career in the banking, pharmaceuticals, biotech, and medical devices industries. In 2009 she founded the not-for-profit Ontario Bioscience Innovation Organization (OBIO), of which she remains CEO. Recognizing her success, Carleton included her in a group of notable alumni showcased during the university’s 75th anniversary celebrations in 2017. OBIO advocates for Ontario’s human health technologies sector and develops strategies, policies and programming designed to help the sector prosper. Garland saw the need for OBIO because many Ontario bioscience startups were facing obstacles to growth. OBIO began working to help firms access talent and investment, but a related problem soon became apparent: “We knew that we had good companies here, but we couldn’t find a way to keep them here,” Garland says. So, in 2017, OBIO brought industry, government, academic, legal, accounting, and investment leaders together to figure out why Ontario doesn’t have more “anchor” bioscience companies—established firms that hire lots of employees, conduct significant research and development, serve as models and mentors, and have the resources they need to stay and flourish in the province. One factor they


Everyone who is drawn to the biosciences sector feels the pull to do something to benefit humanity. Whether they’re developing a therapeutic, a diagnostic device, a digital health platform, or they’re working in the regenerative medicine space….they do it because they want to have a positive impact on people’s health and well-being.

pinpointed was the lack of a strong local market for bioscience products. To address that issue, OBIO established the Early Adopter Health Network (EAHN), which introduces Ontario hospitals and other health care organizations to new made-inOntario health technologies. OBIO recently reviewed applications from more than 70 companies and chose the first eight technologies that EAHN will support. They include a smartwatch and mobile app that help adults with intellectual disabilities manage stress, and a wireless technology that allows medical personnel to monitor and evaluate blood flow in critically ill patients. Health care organizations will buy, use and evaluate the technologies, giving the public access to cutting-edge products while providing Ontario bioscience companies with a stable market and valuable feedback. That, in turn, will make those firms more appealing to investors, Garland says. “We knew from all of our conversations with global investors that if a company had a market here, if they had relationships here with the health system, if they had key opinion leaders here, if they had relationships with academia here, if they had relationships and understood patients here, that, as investors, they’d be quite happy to leave companies here.” OBIO also fosters investment in the local bioscience industry through the OBIO Investment Summit. That annual event, launched in 2017, brings together companies and investors to discuss potential partnerships. So what drew Garland to the health technologies field? She says she shares a primary motivation with the entrepreneurs and scientists OBIO supports. “Everyone who is drawn to the biosciences sector feels the pull to do something to benefit humanity. Whether

they’re developing a therapeutic, a diagnostic device, a digital health platform, or they’re working in the regenerative medicine space….they do it because they want to have a positive impact on people’s health and well-being.” Garland’s urge to help others doesn’t stop at OBIO’s door. She is currently in her third year as an alumni representative on Carleton’s Board of Governors, which oversees the university’s management of its work, property and revenues. Serving on the Board of Governors, she says, is a way “to give back to the university that launched my life.” She also recently created a Carleton bursary to support female Indigenous students in science—a decision that grew out of both her own experience and recent events. While studying science at Carleton in the 1970s, she was one of the few women in her program. Even though female enrollment in science programs has risen since then, she feels it is still critical to help women interested in science pursue that dream. She chose to further focus on Indigenous students because she wanted to support Carleton’s work on reconciliation, diversity and inclusion, particularly in the context of discussions of racism that engaged many people around the world. Garland wanted to make it possible for Indigenous women to benefit from the Carleton experience, as she did. She strongly believes that her studies gave her a solid foundation for her groundbreaking work. “My experience is one that shows every science student that, with a science degree, there are so many careers that are open to you.”

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Driven Entrepreneur

Obaid Ahmed Founder, Botmock B.Math/07

“You need to believe in yourself and your vision – that if you build a good product, customers will buy it,” says Obaid Ahmed. “There will always be people who doubt your plan. It’s a challenge that can come from outside your organization, but also within it.” Ahmed is a serial entrepreneur and the founder of Botmock, an Ottawa-based tech company whose software makes it easier for companies to create chatbot and interactive voice response experiences on digital assistants like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. “It can create a sample dialogue and prototype the experience with no code,” says Ahmed, a graduate of Carleton’s Bachelor of Mathematics program. “Botmock users just drag and drop on to the canvas to build experiences. Once they have what

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they want, they can begin deploy their chatbot on any platform. We work with companies like Microsoft, IBM Watson, and Google Dialogflow. We abstract all of the complexity, so there is no code or local solution needed.” Today, Botmock’s technology is used by companies like Accenture, Delta, and GM. But in the early days, Ahmed was selling a product that investors did not realize they needed yet. “Our job is to build something useful – a product that can make a business stronger and more productive,” says Ahmed. “But it is a challenge when they don’t know what our software is – and we can’t blame our clients for that. How could they know we exist if they haven’t heard about us?” It’s the kind of challenge that Ahmed went through with his other start-ups too. “You get push back on ideas that are hard to validate,” says Ahmed. “But with the help of my mentors, I was able to find ways to handle these situations, whether they happened with investors or within my team.” Now, Ahmed shares that knowledge with others. “As an entrepreneur, I get asked for advice a lot,” he says. “I always tell people that I can only offer my opinion based on own my experiences, and that their challenge is take my advice, and localize it to their own situation. In the end, I always tell people to go with their gut. There is no one map to success. We all make our own.”


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Practical Math: How it all adds up By applying mathematics to answer incredibly complex questions, two Carleton alumni have forged bright careers in academia in the years since they graduated. By Laura Paquet

P

hilippe Trinh was drawn to Carleton by a generous scholarship and the chance to complete his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics at the same time, through the university’s fast-track program. He earned both degrees in three years and graduated in 2007 with a perfect 12.0 undergraduate GPA. “I was interested in that challenge,” he says. Looking back, Trinh wishes he had taken more time to enjoy his Carleton experience, but he says the rigours of completing the program so quickly gave him the stamina for the next steps — earning his PhD as a Clarendon scholar at the Mathematical Institute of the University of Oxford, and doing postdoctoral work at

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Princeton University. Today, he is an assistant professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at the University of Bath in the U.K., where he researches the applications of mathematics to fluid and solid mechanics. For example, he works with the UK Environmental Agency to model potential floods. “It’s a very challenging phenomenon to model, because not only are you trying to model big things like rivers and oceans, but you also have to model extremely small things like soil and how the water goes through the soil.” Equations that predict these myriad factors are so complex that they may be beyond the capability of even the most sophisticated computers to solve. That’s where Trinh’s work comes


in. He simplifies the calculations to the point that computers can analyze them. “The dream for every mathematician is to take something extremely complicated and then write down one equation or something that just has the key detail of the phenomena that you’re trying to describe,” he explains. In high school, he was inspired by stories he read about the ways famous mathematicians applied theoretical concepts to real-world problems. He adds that, like many others, he saw pure mathematics as a very clever game. “It’s clean and elegant and beautiful, and these are the things that kids—and also some grownups—become really attached to.” That element of mathematics also appealed to Erin Johnson. Like Trinh, she was partly attracted to Carleton by a substantial undergraduate scholarship. After earning her bachelor of science in chemistry there, she completed a PhD at Queen’s University, and a postdoctoral fellowship at Duke University. Now, she is a professor and the Herzberg-Becke Chair in Theoretical Chemistry at Dalhousie University in Halifax. She recently received both the Royal Society of Canada’s Rutherford Memorial Medal—awarded for outstanding research in physics and chemistry—and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship. The latter includes a $250,000 grant awarded over two years to enhance the career development of outstanding, early-career faculty. “My group works in many different areas of chemistry. I’ve always been interested in a wide range of subjects and applications,” she explains. “I enjoy working on these chemical puzzles.” The Steacie fellowship has allowed her to double the size of her research team, which now includes eight graduate students. Her specialty is density-functional theory, specifically developing computational methods for modelling the way molecules will interact with each other. She explains it using an analogy: Imagine molecules as a pile of LEGO bricks. Those bricks can be assembled in various ways, each of which will have different

I really love to teach, and you need to teach to continue to learn,” says Philippe Trinh. “I think, as an academic, you really do need to push yourself in both areas.

Prof. Philippe Trinh, M.Sc. Mathematics/07, B.Math/06

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Prof. Erin Johnson, B.Sc. Chemistry/04

properties. In the world of solid-state chemistry, the various arrangements of bricks are called polymorphs, and distinguishing the differences between them is one focus of Johnson’s work. “Crystal structure prediction is an extremely challenging computational problem. It requires both highly accurate and efficient methods to describe the minute energy differences between different polymorphs.” She uses Canada’s national supercomputing infrastructure for this work, which has applications in a wide range of fields, such as drug development. “The possibility of having different polymorphs of a compound is of primary importance in the pharmaceutical industry,” she explains. “Different solubilities will result in differing availability of an active drug in the body and, hence, its effectiveness.” Other possible applications include catalysts and energy conversions and storage. The diversity of uses was one of the reasons Johnson was drawn to this area of research. “I liked the idea of being able to use math to describe chemical processes, which are what governs everything around us. So I thought it was very interesting and fascinating to build these theoretical models to predict whether a reaction would occur or a process would happen.” As well as conducting research, both Johnson and Trinh also teach. Trinh appreciates the balance between the two parts of his job. “I really love to teach, and you need to teach to continue to learn,” he says. “I think, as an academic, you really do need to push yourself in both areas.” Johnson notes that Carleton was an excellent training ground for academic life. For instance, all three of the

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students in her fourth-year statistical mechanics course went on to academic careers in theoretical chemistry or physics. “I made some strong personal connections with other students at Carleton,” she adds. “That helps build a professional network.” During her time at Carleton, she was able to contribute to four academic papers — an opportunity that not every university offers undergraduates. “That’s very unusual and stood out on my applications for graduate school fellowships,” she says. Over her career, she has published more than 100 papers, resulting in more than 15,000 citations. Interestingly, she notes, one of her undergraduate papers from 2001 is still her third most-cited article. Another advantage of Carleton, both Johnson and Trinh note, is that they were able to tailor their course choices to their interests. In Johnson’s case, she realized early in her undergraduate studies that she wasn’t interested in lab work and that she wanted to specialize in both math and chemistry. Carleton’s integrated science program allowed her to substitute math courses for labs. “Carleton provided me with an excellent foundation in chemistry and math.” As for Trinh, even though he was in the fast-track mathematics program, he was required to take courses in other subjects. “I do really value the fact that I took courses in philosophy and in physics and in biology,” he says. “I think it’s made me into a better teacher and it’s made me into a better researcher, because I’m able to incorporate a lot of ideas from other areas.” As an undergrad tutor at Carleton, he worked with students of many ages and backgrounds. “That diversity changes the way that you teach, a little bit later on, and it just changes the kind of person that you are.”


DOWN to EARTH Erika Anderson’s journey with geology

Image (left) from the 3D film Volcanoes: The Fires of Creation featuring an introduction by Erika Anderson, M.Sc. Earth Sciences/14

By Tyrone Burke

As a child, nightmares of volcanic eruptions kept Erika Anderson awake at night. As an adult, Anderson has studied volcanoes in Nicaragua and the western United States – and shared her passion for geology with the public as a Mineralogy Curator at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa. “But I was nowhere near an active volcano. It was a full-on, weird phobia for a kid growing up in Calgary to have, and the juxtaposition with studying volcanoes is pretty funny,” says Anderson. A 2014 graduate of Carleton’s Master of Science in Earth Sciences program, Anderson’s research focused on the Upsal Hogback volcano in northern Nevada. Located about 100 kilometres east of Reno, the Upsal Hogback complex consists of four volcanic vents that were formed by the interaction of water and magma about 11,000 to 15,000 years ago. Over time these volcanic features were eroded by the glacial lake that once covered the area and their origins were not fully understood. “My supervisor, Brian Cousens, wanted to spend more time studying Upsal Hogback to figure out what kind of eruption had occurred,” says Anderson. “The glacial lake had moved parts of the volcano around, which made it a lot more difficult to map. Our analysis showed that the north and south complexes of Upsal Hogback had come from the same source, even though they were geochemically distinct.” Anderson initially considered a career in academic research, but a volunteer position at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto opened her eyes to the possibilities in museum work. “I really didn’t know that museums have mineral col-

lections until I got to Carleton, and my experience at the ROM set me up well for a position at the Canadian Museum of Nature.” says Anderson. “It is rare to have a background in both geology and museum work.” Anderson’s work as a mineralogy curator drew more upon her general knowledge of geology and mineralogy than her specialization in volcanology. “Mineralogy is fundamental to all of the different geological sciences,” Anderson says. “Minerals are the building blocks of rocks, and you see nice specimens during undergraduate courses. A lot of them are shiny, but don’t have the best form — especially the volcanic ones. That’s because everything cools fast during volcanic activity, and there isn’t much time for beautiful crystals to grow large.” In autumn 2020, Anderson shifted her focus and began work as a senior hub integrator with Laboratories Canada, a 25-year strategy to strengthen collaboration between the federal government’s scientific research institutions. “I’m really excited to approach science from an organizational standpoint,” says Anderson. “The position opens the door to so many other different types of science — it isn’t only geology. It’s pretty geeky, but I’m excited to learn about how labs will share equipment and get the best of all worlds. I will be working between the hubs of different science-focused government organizations, and will be making sure that the necessary collaboration between these scientific organizations and Laboratories Canada is happening.”

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Prof. Robyn McQuaid PhD Neuroscience/15, M.Sc. Neuroscience/11


E

xploring Pathways to Resiliency

Neuroscience graduate Robyn McQuaid returns to Carleton to lead research program in the field of mental health By Tyrone Burke • Photograph by Fangliang Xu

Traumatic experiences don’t only impact those who live through them, they can be passed down through generations. “Trauma can have a lasting impact on human biology, and there is a lot of interest in understanding intergenerational trauma on a biological level,” says Robyn McQuaid, Assistant Professor in Carleton’s Department of Neuroscience. Trauma can set off a cascade of biological events that can have a major impact on mental health. Those who encounter trauma often show elevated inflammatory biomarkers in their blood — changes that can also be found in depressed individuals. Understanding this type of biomarker could help develop more targeted and effective treatments for depression. “When we think about depression, individuals can show vastly different symptoms, but receive the same treatments. And for many, those treatments are ineffective. I’m looking to understand how inflammatory and other biomarkers map onto subtypes of depression, and consider the root cause of their condition — hopefully to inform more personalized treatments in the future.” McQuaid was originally drawn to Carleton’s Department of Neuroscience for her graduate studies by the prospect of working under the supervision Prof. Hymie Anisman, an expert in the field of stress. After completing her PhD in 2015, she accepted a research and policy advisor position with the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA). In January 2021, McQuaid returned to the department to accept a tenure-track position. She credits the Royal Ottawa’s Emerging Research Innovators in Mental Health program with helping her return to academia and her work with CCSA with broadening her research horizons.

“As a neuroscientist, I focus on biological factors like stress hormones, inflammatory factors, and genetic and epigenetic markers to understand mental illness such as depression. But a big piece of my research program is combining that with the social determinants of health. When people live in poverty, or experience food insecurity, these stressful experiences can affect their biology, which can contribute to mental illness.” The Emerging Research Innovators program has helped McQuaid launch her research program, which examines the biological basis of stress and traumatic experiences as a root cause of mental illnesses, and seeks to identify pathways to resiliency. “My research program takes a multidisciplinary approach to studying the impacts of stress across diverse populations including Indigenous peoples in Canada, university students struggling with their mental health, and clinical populations diagnosed with major depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.” Working with data from the First Nations Information Governance Centre, McQuaid is exploring some of the continued and intergenerational impacts of Canada’s residential school system. “We know that among First Nations youth who live in communities across Canada, those who have a family history of residential schools have greater distress and thoughts of suicide compared to youth without those family experiences,” says McQuaid, who is working with Dr. Amy Bombay, a Dalhousie University researcher from Rainy River First Nations. “However, we also know that having strong feelings of belonging to their home community and participating in community cultural events can buffer against these stressors to promote youth wellness.”

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MEDICAL MASTERY Life Sciences foundation paves pathway to med school By Tyrone Burke Photographs by Fangliang Xu and James Park

Bryan Luu, PhD Biology/2018, M.Sc./13, B.Sc./11

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Luu completed his PhD in Biology at Carleton UniverFor Miski Dahir, Carleton’s Science Student Success sity in 2018 under the supervision of Prof. Ken Storey. FolCentre (SSSC) helped open the doors to the University lowing graduation, Luu began his studies in medicine at of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine, where she began her McGill University. Last fall, he started his clerkship at studies in fall 2020. “When I started at Carleton I was exMcGill’s Campus Outaouais in Gatineau, and he credits cited — but I was also really nervous — and that nervousthe diversity of opportunities he had at Carleton with preness manifested in my doing a lot of research in to how to paring him to achieve success in medical school. study for university,” says Dahir. “In 2014, I had the opportunity to travel to the “That’s how I became aware of the SSSC. I read their Mekong River delta in Vietnam to study farmed fish there. online resources about how to manage time, and invest They can survive in very muddy conditions, but some fish more of it in certain classes. I read about how to recogare more sensitive than others. They can live in swamps, nize when you need help — and how to ask for it. Once I but at a certain point, they don’t grow as fast.” started classes, the time management skills helped The research sought to identify how low me achieve excellent grades.” oxygen levels can be before the fish are Dahir graduated with a Bachelor “I got to go to affected, and how dehydration stress of Science in Neuroscience, and affects ischemia reperfusion — the during her time at Carleton, took Vietnam, Taiwan, return of blood supply after a peon research internships with Kim and Austria, and I colriod of reduced oxygen. Matheson and Alfonso Abizaid. The reoxygenation process “Both labs provided a wonlaborated with researchers also has major implications for derful introduction to research, from other departments and human organ donation. “There and gave a practical application is only a short window in which to what I was learning in class,” other universities. I was able says a donated organ can be sucDahir. to publish a lot of papers as cessfully transplanted,” says Luu. “Seeing research firsthand re“You might have a perfect match ally solidified everything that I well. It really opened so was for a kidney, but if it’s in Australia, learning in class, and it was a many doors for me.” we can’t get it there in time. growth moment for me. Working in “We want to extend the window that the lab, there are times when you make an organ is viable outside the body. That mistakes, and I got comfortable with that could open up so many more matches, and enduring those internships, which was really critiable donated organs to be paired with transplant patients cal to my growth as a person.” more efficiently.” “I had a lot of critical support in my journey to mediLuu completed each of his bachelor’s, master’s and cal school through both research experiences as well as PhD degrees at Carleton, and has been able to use the through many other wonderful individuals in the neuroskills he developed in medical school. science department.” “I stayed at Carleton a long time, and I did that because During her second year, Dahir became a mentor at the I got a lot of opportunities that I would not necessarily SSSC. She helped incoming students navigate their new have gotten at other universities,” says Luu. “I got to go environment. “I loved being a mentor because I could to Vietnam, Taiwan, and Austria, and I collaborated with remember how daunting it was coming to university from researchers from other departments and other universihigh school,” says Dahir. ties. I was able to publish a lot of papers as well. It really “Each summer, I would get in contact with incoming opened so many doors for me.” science students. I would answer any questions that

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Miski Dahir, B.Sc. Neuroscience/20

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SEEING RESEARCH FIRSTHAND REALLY SOLIDIFIED EVERYTHING THAT I WAS LEARNING IN CLASS, AND IT WAS A GROWTH MOMENT FOR ME.

they had, and give them a personalized tour of campus. During the school year, I mentored students who had questions about how to access resources on campus, or had interest in getting in to medical school themselves.” Helping others is part of what motivated Dahir to study medicine – and it is something that she hopes to continue doing as a physician. “The human connection really drives me,” says Dahir. “You can make meaningful connections with people, and help them when they are at their most vulnerable. But on top of that, you don’t only get to help patients one-on-one, you can also have an advocacy role.” Studying medicine in the time of COVID-19 has less face-to-face interaction than it did before. The pandemic has pushed Dahir’s coursework online. For Catherine Kennedy, the pandemic has also meant learning from a distance, even while enrolled at the St. George’s University in Grenada. “The last few months of my undergraduate degree were online, so the transition hasn’t been too difficult,” says Kennedy. “Besides, I’d rather not risk it.” In addition to online course work, medical students at St. George’s have been using digital tools to connect with each other. “Students are using various social media platforms. I have joined groups specifically with Canadian students and have been able to connect with another student from Ottawa.” The 2020 graduate of the Bachelor of Health Sciences program credits her time at Carleton with providing a solid foundation to study medicine. “It has been a lot of studying, but my undergraduate studies prepared me well for the course work,” says Kennedy. “Carleton’s health sciences program has an interdisciplinary approach that examines the biomedical, environmental and social factors which impact health outcomes. This has given me a different perspective. It showed me how medicine is not black and white; there is much more to be taken into consideration.”

Catherine Kennedy, B.H.Sc. Concentration in Biomedical Science/20

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Q&A

A WORLD AWAY Fahrig and Young met at Carleton in 1991, when she joined the faculty as he was pursuing his PhD studies. Both were deeply inspired by their work with Gray Merriam, now professor emeritus in Carleton’s Department of Biology. Fahrig and Young have stayed in touch and often connect when he travels from Australia to Canada for work. We interviewed them together over Zoom, from their home offices in Ottawa and Canberra. This interview has been edited and condensed.

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with ANDREW YOUNG Andrew Young (PhD in Biology, ’93) is the Science Director for the National Collections and Marine Infrastructure Program at Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). He researches plant population genetics, ecology and invasion biology, particularly the way genetic processes interact with demography to influence population viability.


with LENORE FAHRIG

AND

Lenore Fahrig (M.Sc. in Population Ecology and Ecological Modelling, ’83), a Chancellor’s Professor of Biology at Carleton, has received numerous research and teaching awards. Her research focuses on the effects of landscape structure on the abundance, distribution and persistence of organisms.

ANDREW: In my current role, we have pretty strong interactions with Agriculture Canada, which is where I did a fair bit of the lab work for my thesis. I’m in Canada now every 18 to 24 months, probably, and I tend to just call [Lenore] about a week before and say, “Hey, do you want to catch up? If you’d like me to, I’d be happy to drop in and talk to your graduate students, see if there’s anybody who wants to come and study in Australia.” LENORE: It’s great to have someone like Andrew come back and describe what he’s been doing. It’s really

good, also, for the graduate students to get that sense of connectivity with past generations of students. ANDREW: It shows that there’s this big international community of people who see the same questions they do and are dealing with the same kinds of issues in different contexts. I’m a Kiwi who studied in Canada and now lives in Australia, and that’s a really common path. I’ve hired a lot of people in the last 20 years into our program, and more than half of them are not Australian. And that’s how it should be. Science is an international communal pursuit.

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Do you think that students studying biodiversity today have an international perspective? ANDREW: I think so. There’s definitely a perspective that we can’t manage in our little pieces. You need to be cognizant that a lot of the big drivers of where we’re going, even in your local patch, are global-scale drivers. Regional security is dependent on things like water security and food security and food sovereignty. Those are affected by how your regional neighbours live and the pressures that are on them. So we do work in Indonesia and in New Guinea and in the Pacific. They’ve got a good science base of their own, but [we are] trying to help. We have projects on sandalwood in Fiji. We have projects on fish stock management in New Guinea and Indonesia, because those fisheries support local livelihoods. They need to both be conserved from a biodiversity sense but [also] harvested to make sure that local people have enough to eat. LENORE: You’re right. I teach conservation biology, and the whole course is about those types of issues. Also, I’ve had a lot of visiting researchers in my lab from other countries, including Mexico and Brazil and other parts of South America, and various parts of Europe such as Sweden, France and Italy and Spain. If someone asks whether they can visit for a period of time, I always say yes, not knowing what will come of it. It’s really important to get a feel for how your study in your region relates to everything else that’s going on in the world. Do you see similar patterns as in other places? Are there similar challenges? Are there completely different problems in other

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Lenore Fahrig conducting her M.Sc. field work on white-footed mice during the summer of 1982 near Ottawa. The backpack is filled with footprint-tracking tubes.

places? Part of the process is to try to make those connections elsewhere in the world and give [students] a sense of the whole picture.

In terms of the top couple of biodiversity challenges facing your respective countries, is there a lot of overlap? LENORE: Globally, the big thing is loss of natural habitat. There are a lot of reasons why natural habitats are disappearing or changing in negative ways. An area might still be natural, but if the climate has changed too much in that spot, then it’s essentially lost habitat to whatever was living there. But the main reason for habitat loss continues to be conversion of land for agriculture, and that would be the same just about anywhere. It’s about increasing population and increasing resource use, and there’s only so much in the way of resources on the planet, so we’re coming up against these limits pretty well all over the place.

How did your studies at Carleton influence your subsequent work? ANDREW: Gray [Merriam] was always open to an interesting idea, and that was a great thing. If you had an interesting idea, you could always discuss it with him and often convince him that you should be allowed to have a bit of a go at it. I think it’s a really good way to do things, but I don’t think it’s a universal experience for graduate students. LENORE: I agree. I think his mentorship style during my master’s is what I try to mimic as a mentor — the combination of really listening to what you have to say and letting you go with it.


Andrew with fellow Merriam lab graduate students John Wegner (centre) and Ron Fritz (right) visiting a local field site during a winter ecology field course in 1989. Photo by Kringen Henein.

ANDREW: We had a really great group of graduate students. It was a really rich environment. It’s funny—people talk about it now as though it’s a new way of doing things: You’ve got to embrace innovation and have fast-fail projects, because it’s okay to fail. Well, all that’s true, but Gray knew that 30 years ago. He just did it instinctively. LENORE: Yeah, I feel like I’ve spent the past 30 years talking about how ahead of his time Gray always was. ANDREW: I reckon the three big resources in that lab were, [one], Gray’s brain and attitude. Two, the community of people who would kick ideas around. We just had a great bunch of people. But one of the real things was what I call the infrastructure — that is, knowledge of sites around Ottawa where you could set up experiments. When I wanted to start looking for study sites, there were maps. People knew a lot of the woodlots. They knew the owners; they knew how to get access. People had worked there before. You didn’t spend four or five months having to drive out and try and find all that yourself. Having multiple overlapping studies going on one system, I thought, was helpful in understanding the system, but it also meant that you could get onto questions quicker. Do you reckon that’s true, Lenore? Or do I just have rose-colored glasses?

LENORE: Yeah, I think that’s probably true. An example I was thinking about—Etsuko [Tsuchiya] was this undergraduate honors student with Gray, and she did this really cool project. We had ideas about how animals move around in the landscape. We imagined that their movements were quite restricted. Etsuko had genetic samples from mice from all across the region, including on the other side of the St. Lawrence River. Essentially, she found that it was one huge free-flowing mouse population all the way to the river, and then it changed across the river. That was definitely a barrier, but nothing else that we had been assuming would be a constraint on movement turned out to be evident in her samples. I think some researchers, if they get something they don’t expect like that, try to cram it into something they did expect. If [Gray] found something unexpected, he would get more excited almost than if he found something expected. ANDREW: He’d say, “If that were true, what would it mean?” The least helpful thing you can do is to take a piece of data and disagree with it just because it doesn’t fit where you thought you were.

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What drew you to study at Carleton? And did Carleton provide you with the springboard you’d hoped for? LENORE: In 1981, I wanted to do a master’s, and I had become interested in spatial patterning of the environment. How does the spatial pattern of the environment affect the number of species you have or the population size of a species? I also had become fascinated with computer modelling. And I also wanted to do something that was important in terms of the problems with the environment. Someone suggested that I talk to Gray Merriam. He sat on the bench outside [his] office and said to me, “What

do you want from your master’s degree?” He didn’t sit down and say, “Okay, I’ve got this project, I’ve got this project, I’ve got this project. Which one do you want to do?” I said, “I have these three criteria.” And he said, “Okay, well, we can do two out of three. We’ve got really interesting spatial stuff. I know a great computer modeller. But you’re going to probably have to work on mice.” I was in the lab when the whole modern field of landscape ecology started up. It was just really exciting. I got to learn these things I wanted to learn, do these things that I wanted to do, and do it in the context of this new field, with the guy who was Canada’s representative of that field. The defining period of my career was my master’s thesis with Gray at Carleton.

Shutterstock image

The main reason for habitat loss continues to be conversion of land for agriculture, and that would be the same just about anywhere.

How about you, Andrew? How did you end up coming to Carleton? ANDREW: I was in New Zealand in the second year of my master’s degree there, doing plant ecology, interested in conservation. And I [wanted] to do a PhD. I wrote letters to [professors in] five or six different places, saying, “I’m from New Zealand. Here are some of the things I’m doing. I’d be really interested in graduate work.” Everybody got back to me except for Gray. [Then], after two or three months, this letter arrived.

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The other letters had been quite formulaic: “We’ve got some things you could apply for. Here’s a bunch of forms to fill in.” Gray’s was handwritten. It was a six- or eightpage letter telling me everything that was going on in the lab and why he’d really like to start doing a bit more plant work. And it was just the most engaging letter ever. I went and talked to my [girlfriend, now my] wife. I said, ‘This looks really interesting.’ And she came back and said, ‘Ottawa looks just lovely and the universities look good. I reckon we should go there.’ And we did. That was how you made decisions in the ’80s.


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