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Spotlight on Student Leaders in Science

Sahil Karnani is the new President of the McMaster Science Society (MSS). The Society works to enhance the undergraduate science student experience through providing resources, services, and events. With the goal to support the diverse needs of the McMaster Science community, the Society is run by students, for students.

Rhea Desai is returning as President of the Science Graduate Students Association (SciGSA). The Association brings scientists from diverse fields together to make a difference in the graduate student experience at McMaster University. 

Sahil Karnani
President, McMaster Science Society (MSS)

"I’m currently in my fourth year of Honours Biochemistry. The academic work I get to do really fascinates me, especially when it pertains to microbiology and immunology. There’s lots of great work going on here at McMaster, which makes my experience even more enjoyable.

"My favourite part of  the MSS and the work I get to do is interacting with, and playing a part in building, the student community. Having a community in the Faculty of Science has always been something I’ve enjoyed and taken pride in being a part of. By working in my role, and completing projects within the MSS, I’ve collaborated with students from a variety of programs to build a better community for the future, which excites me to be part of the MSS every day. Having a sense of community builds our character and identity for the student body in the Faculty of Science, and that’s going to become stronger than it ever has been.

"I’m very excited to implement the MSS Clubs department in the coming months. The MSS is looking to expand and fund student-run and science-based clubs to host events and provide resources for students in the Faculty of Science.

"Outside of the Faculty of Science and student leadership, I really enjoy photography - its been a passion of mine for years. Inside the Faculty of Science, I’ve had my fair share of experience pursuing my photography hobby, as I was the photographer for the McMaster Science Society in the 2019-2020 school year. It was a great experience and I learned how to balance my academic workload. That role really improved my technical skills and fed my creative hunger."


Rhea Desai
President, Science Graduate Students Association (SciGSA)


"I’m in the second year of my PhD in the Department of Biology. My field of research is radiation biology where my project specifically focuses on the low dose effects of ionizing radiation. I gain a greater appreciation for this field the more I dive into my research and learn about the fundamental science behind how ionizing radiation interacts with systems at the cellular level. This is super intriguing to me because of all the ways radiation plays a role in Canada’s economy. From nuclear energy to diagnostic imaging, it’s important to understand how even low doses of radiation may interact with individual systems and overall ecosystems.

"I’m very excited for the SciGSA to host speakers on a diverse range of topics. We found that many students are already attending regular seminars held by their departments and schools but students in the Faculty of Science have a wide variety of interests. To speak to this we hope to invite speakers to talk about art, the community, social change and much more. Coming up on November 4th, Chief Stacey Laforme of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation will be joining us on Zoom to talk about raising consciousness in our own communities, his thoughts on the times we are living in and he will also share some of his poetry. 

"By far, my favourite part of the work I get to do with SciGSA  is the people I get to meet and collaborate with. If it wasn’t for this opportunity with the SciGSA I wouldn’t have met so many other students with unique backgrounds and inspiring personal stories or faculty members who have been great influences as leaders. While this opportunity has been a whole lot of fun so far, I’m grateful I get to learn from my peers and mentors while working on such meaningful programming throughout the year.

"This might sound a bit odd for a student who should be reading every day about their field of research but I really have jumped back into reading as a hobby. Sometimes after a long day of being in the lab I felt like there was no way you could catch me reading for enjoyment but recently I’ve been exploring authors of diverse backgrounds and have found a lot of joy in reading from these perspectives. Anything from poetry to reading about social justice issues or a comedic dialogue, I find the more I read the more open minded I become which ultimately leads to better leadership.

Student Leader Wins National Competition

Julia Azzi talked her way to first place in a national competition this summer.

The Medical and Biological Physics student won the 2021 Canadian Astroparticle Summer Student Talk Competition with her presentation on Radon Measurements and the Lucas Cell System. Forty-four students from 15 postsecondary institutions participated in the competition co-sponsored by the Arthur B. McDonald Canadian Astroparticle Physics Research Institute and SNOLAB. 

"Talk competitions are great ways to improve presentation skills and network with other students," says Julia. "I'm fascinated by so many areas of science, so I love learning about all of the cool research that undergraduate students from across Canada and around the world are involved in."

Julia's 10-minute talk summarized data collected during her work term at SNOLAB in Sudbury, Ontario. "As research projects often go, modifications had to be made to the experiment until consistent results were achieved. My reliable data finally came about a week before my talk. I then put slides together and did a couple of practice talks with my supervisor before presenting at the competition."

Julia, the Vice President Academic for the McMaster Science Society, is entering her fourth year and will be completing her senior research project under the supervision of Kari Dalnoki-Veress. "Dr. Dalnoki-Veress' lab studies soft matter systems, which is about as different from astroparticle physics as you can get within the field of physics. As someone who likes all things science, I'm hoping these two different research positions will give me insight into what I should pursue as a graduate student."

Earlier this year, Julia placed first in the SNOLAB Spring Student Talk Competition. She also received a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Undergraduate Student Research Award in 2020.

Alex PleavaJoining Julia in the winner's circle at the Canadian Astroparticle Summer Student Talk Competition was Alex Pleava. Alex, who's entering his fourth year in the Honours Physics program, finished fourth in the competition. Alex delivered a talk based on his research as a SuperCDMS summer student at SNOLAB.

" I entered the competition because I love taking opportunities to further develop my scientific communication skills," says Alex. "On top of that, it's also a fun opportunity for me to look back on what I accomplished over the summer."

Congratulate Julia at azzij@mcmaster.ca and Alex at pleava1@mcmaster.ca.

Research Series for Students Earns High Marks

A collage of two images of Alyssa Benitez (left) and Paige Cheveldayoff (right)
Alyssa Benitez (left) and Paige Cheveldayoff were exactly the kind of students three Kinesiology faculty members were thinking of when they launched an online research training series this summer.

"Before the pandemic hit, I'd only been exposed to research as a research participant," says Alyssa, a fourth-year Kinesiology student minoring in Psychology who also serves as Vice President Social with the Kinesiology Society.

"The research series was a great way to get involved and immerse myself in the science community. The best part of the series was viewing scientific research from a different lens. It was refreshing to dig deeper into topics such as equity, diversity and inclusion within the scientific community. These important topics created thought-provoking conversations during the series that truly allowed me to reflect on my role as a science student within my own community."

Paige, also in her fourth year, took part in the training series to prepare for her research practicum during the Winter term. "I really enjoyed the equity, diversity and inclusion session. EDI and anti-racism are not one-and-done topics so I appreciate any opportunity to education myself on the topic and learn from individuals with first-hand, lived experience."

Like Alyssa, Paige was unable to get any research experience before the pandemic forced the move to a virtual campus. "I'm originally from Saskatoon so I went back home during the pandemic and continued working as a medical radiography assistant and medical imaging porter at one of the major hospitals in my hometown."

Alyssa and Paige were among the more than 60 students who participated in the summer research training series launched by three of the newest faculty members in the Department of Kinesiology. - Assistant Professors Trevor KingJeremy Walsh and Baraa Al-Khazaji. Jeremy joined McMaster in 2020 while Baraa and Trevor joined in 2019. 

Baraa, Jeremy and Trevor wanted to help students like Alyssa and Paige who'd had few, if any, in-person research opportunities because of the pandemic. The series featured three research-focused online lectures plus interactive workshops held during the summer.

"It was a fantastic experience and we got as much out of it as the students," says Baraa about the training series. "The students really brought the magic. They fully engaged with the material and generously shared their thoughts and perspectives."

Baraa, Jeremy and Trevor also said graduate students Elric Allison, Jem Cheng, Joshua Cherubini, Michelle Mei, Sydney Valentino and Jennifer Williams did an outstanding job facilitating sessions and offering their expertise. 

The enthusiastic response from students has convinced Baraa, Jeremy and Trevor to continue the research training series. The series will focus on furthering develop students' understanding of cardiovascular physiology plus offer additional lectures focused on transferrable skills including critical appraisal of scientific literature and scientific communication from presenting accessible figures to effective presentations and scientific writing.

Statistician Elected Royal Society Fellow

Narayanaswamy Balakrishnan is one of three McMaster faculty who've been elected to the Royal Society of Canada as Fellows.

The Royal Society of Canada (RSC) announced Sept. 7th that Narayanaswamy Balakrishnan, Bonny Ibhawoh with the Faculty of Humanities and Harriet MacMillan with the Faculty of Health Sciences had been elected Fellows and that Ryan Van Lieshout, also with the Faculty of Health Sciences, was chosen for the Royal Society’s College.

Eighty-nine new Fellows were elected by their peers for their outstanding scholarly, scientific and artistic achievements. Recognition by the RSC for career achievement is considered the highest honour an individual can achieve in the Arts, Social Sciences and Sciences.

A Distinguished Professor with the Department of Mathematics & Statistics, Narayanaswamy is internationally recognized for his research in data analysis and applied probability, as well as his pioneering contributions to applied sciences and engineering, including analytical modelling, and the development of new applications. He has also written books on the theory and applications of statistics and has co-edited the Encyclopedia of Statistical Sciences.

Named a Distinguished Professor in 2014, Naravanaswamy received the President's Award for Excellence in Graduate Supervision in 2018 and has won the McMaster Students Union Teaching Excellence Award five times. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of Communications in Statistics and Mathematical Methods of Statistics, Associate Editor for 11 journals and Advisory Editor for two journals.

“Bala, as Professor Balakrishnan is known to everyone at McMaster, is the full package”, says Matheus Grasselli, Chair of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics. “Not only is he one of the most cited statisticians in the world, he is an inspiring teacher, a tireless supervisor of countless graduate students, and a terrific colleague.” 

Founded in 1882, the Royal Society of Canada comprises the Academies of Arts, Humanities and Sciences, and The College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists. The Royal Society of Canada recognizes excellence, advises the government and the larger society, and promotes a culture of knowledge and innovation in Canada and with other national academies around the world.

Congratulate Narayanaswamy at bala@mcmaster.ca.

New Centre Supports World-Class Research

Two researchers look at a monitor connected to advanced microscopy instruments in the CALM space

The newest core research facility in the Faculty of Science brings high-end scientific workhorses together under one roof for faculty and students. 

The McMaster Centre for Advanced Light Microscopy, located beside the Canadian Centre for Electron Microscopy in the basement of the Arthur N. Bourns Building, gives researchers ready, reliable and affordable access to the newest technologies and techniques in light microscopy, photo-patterning and light-assisted 3D printing. 

"Microscopes are essential tools for researchers," says Jose Moran-Mirabal, CALM’s Scientific Director and Canada Research Chair in Micro- and Nanostructured Materials. "CALM provides both the equipment and the expertise that underpin world-class research."

Microscopes are heavily used by more than 50 research groups at McMaster. While indispensable, microscopes can be prohibitively expensive for individual groups to buy, maintain, upgrade and repair. CALM eliminates that cost and offers researchers use of some of the best microscopes on the market.

Among the seven microscopes currently available to faculty and students are Nikon's newest inverted confocal and upright confocal microscopes, and structured illumination microscopy. Jose says there are plans for CALM to have 20 microscopes within the next five years. 

Facility Manager Joao Pedro Bronze de Firmino, who joined McMaster from the University of Toronto where he ran a similar centre, provides on-site training and technical support to faculty and students.  

Along with supporting world-class research, CALM will play a key role in teaching and training the next generation of researchers and serve as a catalyst for collaboration, says Jose. "McMaster is the only university in Canada to have centres with full capabilities for light and electron microscopy located next to each other. New partnership are inevitable whenever you bring researchers together," says Jose.

CALM is a joint initiative of the Faculties of Science, Engineering and Health Sciences, with support from the Provost’s Office. Jose, together with co-founders Ray Truant from Health Sciences and Qiyin Fang from Engineering, serve on a leadership group with Dr. Juliet Daniel, Associate Dean, Research & External Relations with the Faculty of Science, Dr. Jonathan Bramson, Vice Dean, Research with the Faculty of Health Sciences and Dr. John Preston, Associate Dean, Research with the Faculty of Engineering. CALM is also establishing user, outreach and equity and inclusion working groups to stay responsive to the needs of faculty and students.  

CALM is one of four core research facilities in the Faculty of Science, which also includes the McMaster Regional Centre for Mass Spectrometry (MRCMS), the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) Facility and the McMaster Analytical X-Ray Diffraction Facility (MAX).

Contact CALM to book a tour, request a quote or request more information.



A CALMING INFLUENCE: Facility Manager Joao Pedro Bronze de Firmino, graduate student Mouhanad Babi and Scientific Director Jose Moran-Mirabal are ready to welcome faculty and students to the McMaster Centre for Advanced Light Microscopy.

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