Undergraduate students conduct science research with federal funding

Ten talented Brandon University (BU) Science students are working on significant research projects with federal funding.

The students are recipients of $6,000 Undergraduate Student Research Awards (USRA) from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada (NSERC). Support for their projects will be topped up with $1,500 each from BU, and in some cases additional funding from their supervisors.

This year’s USRA recipients are Carter Loewen, Milah Mikkelsen, Raya Turner and Olivia Erickson in Biology; Juliana Hebert and Michael McFarland in Mathematics and Computer Science; Zakariya Abidullah and Mitchell Stanton in Chemistry; Bryce Friesen in Physics and Astronomy; and Hanna Gross in Geography and Environment.

“Our Faculty of Science students benefit from hands-on experience working with top researchers,” said Dr. Christophe LeMoine, Acting Dean of Science. “The lessons that they learn in their classrooms and their labs really come to life when they start exploring these concepts for themselves.”

“The lessons that they learn in their classrooms and their labs really come to life when they start exploring these concepts for themselves.”

Dr. Christophe LeMoine, Acting Dean of Science

Students are looking at topics such as quantum computing, agriculture, environmental pollution and cybersecurity. Each student works closely with a faculty supervisor, who guides their efforts and offers insight from their own research experience, while allowing the students to pursue the thrill of discovery themselves.

“Some of these projects are very local in scope and will be used to offer solutions to issues we face right here in Manitoba, while others answer some of the great questions of the cosmos,” said Dr. Kofi Campbell, Provost and Vice-President (Academic) at BU. “I give great credit to our faculty for their mentorship and helping our students understand and analyze the issues that are in front of them, while also broadening their minds to the world of possibilities in research.”

In some cases, the undergraduate projects will lead to larger scale studies in the future. Many past USRA recipients have gone on to build on their undergraduate work as graduate students.

“The ability that we have to involve our undergraduate students in research is one of the great strengths we have at Brandon University,” said Dr. Heather Duncan, Associate Vice-President (Research). “These projects can lead to incredible careers in academia and research, but even those who choose to pursue other paths benefit greatly from the analytical and problem-solving skills they gain from their work.

USRA Recipients

Juliana Hiebert (Supervisor: Sarah Plosker)
Hiebert is studying the transfer of quantum states, a critical task required for quantum computing.

Hanna Gross (Supervisor: Peter Whittington)
Gross is collecting and studying moss samples from peatlands in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Ontario to contribute to a global database of moss species found in peatlands and their ability to retain water, nutrients and chemicals.

Carter Loewen (Supervisor: Barry Madison)
Hiodon (mooneye and goldeye) are fish native to Manitoba that are an important food source and are also believed to be vital to the sustainability of the province’s population of sport fish. Loewen is studying methods to identify trends in the local Hiodon populations in the Assiniboine River.

Zakariya Abidullah (Supervisor: Eric Bushnell)
Abidullah is studying how formate dehydrogenase, an enzyme, converts carbon dioxide (CO2) to formic acid.  By looking at variants of the enzyme, Abidullah can learn what modifications can be made to improve the efficiency of CO2 capture. The efficient conversion of CO2 to formate could be useful for other researchers, who are studying the potential of formate as an alternative fuel.

Bryce Friesen (Supervisor: Margaret Carrington)
Friesen is building on years of work by physicists, who have been trying to solve the Yang-Mills equation, which is used to understand the motion that occurs when plasmas collide with heavy ions. An exact solution to the equation cannot be determined analytically, and numerical methods, based on estimates, all have weaknesses and limitations. Friesen is comparing the predictions obtained from numerical methods with experimental measurements to determine and approximate solution to the Yang-Mills equation.

Milah Mikkelsen (Supervisor: Bryan Cassone)
Wireworms attack and damage a variety of economically important crops grown in Manitoba by feeding on their seeds, roots and other tissues below the ground. Mikkelsen is using wireworms taken from Manitoba fields to determine the severity of damage caused by different species to corn and barley seeds.

Michael McFarlane (Supervisor: Gautam Srivastava)
Security and privacy protocols on Internet-enabled devices is often compromised for the sake of usability. McFarlane is examining current levels of security used on devices and testing improved cryptographic algorithms to see how they can improve security and efficiency.

Raya Turner (Supervisor: Christophe LeMoine)
Past research has demonstrated how waxworms can consume and break down plastics, creating optimism for that the process they use can be refined to reduce waste. Turner is studying the metabolic effect on the waxworms to learn the repercussions of a plastic diet.

Olivia Erickson (Supervisor: Bernadette Ardelli)
A number of natural processes fragment plastics into smaller particles known as microplastics. Erickson is studying how these microplastics can affect our immune system, in particular how they can cause inflammation.

Mitchell Stanton (Supervisor: Eric Bushnell)
Sulfanomides are compounds that are important in the design of pharmaceutical drugs. Using a combination of experiment and computation, Stanton is studying the characteristics of chemical reactions involving sulfanomides.


To receive any BU publication in an alternate format please contact Communications@BrandonU.ca

About BU

Success is built at Brandon University. Our growing, progressive campus welcomes a diverse and inclusive community that combines proud tradition with shared ambition. Through our excellence in teaching, research, and scholarship, we educate students to make a meaningful difference as engaged citizens and leaders. Join us at BrandonU.ca.