Brock graduate students recognized for their grape and wine research

Three Brock University graduate students have received awards in recognition of their ongoing grape and wine research.

Hannah Charnock is the 2020-21 recipient of the Ruth Binnie Fellowship from the Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW), Margaret Thibodeau received Brock’s 2019-20 Harrison-Thompson Bursary Trust and Robert Allie is the recipient of the Donald Ziraldo and Laura McCain CCOVI Director’s Award.

“At Brock, we have many outstanding students working in the sciences, and I am so pleased to see Hannah, Margaret and Robert receive recognition for their accomplishments,” says Interim Dean of Graduate Studies Diane Dupont. ”Receiving these awards validates the importance of their research and contributions to the larger scientific community. I encourage them to push onward and continue with the valuable work they are doing.”

Allie and Charnock (MSc candidates in Biotechnology and Biological Sciences, respectively) and Thibodeau (a PhD candidate in Biological Sciences) are all conducting research to advance the Canadian grape and wine industry under the supervision of researchers at Brock’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI).

Allie expressed his gratitude to the Niagara Community Foundation for the award and said that it will “help to provide financial stability and allow me to concentrate on my studies.” The award is named in honour of Canadian Icewine ambassador Donald Ziraldo, and Laura McCain, founder and former owner of Creekside Estate Winery in Jordan, Ont.

“This award seeks to propel studies in Icewine or wine business, and Robert’s research examining the biochemistry of yeast strains and how it pertains to producing premium Icewine makes him a well-deserving candidate,” says Debbie Inglis, Allie’s supervisor and Director of CCOVI. “His research, and the research of all of these recipients, will help to advance the critical priorities of the cool climate grape and wine industry.”

Charnock says it is an honour to have been selected as this year’s Ruth Binnie Fellowship recipient from the CFUW, a Canadian organization that works to improve the status of women and to promote human rights, public education, social justice and peace. The award supports women pursuing post-secondary studies in fields related to consumer science, human ecology and home economics.

“It has been a humbling experience to be awarded among the incredibly talented past recipients,” she says. “It is also very validating as it helps to diminish the feelings of imposter syndrome that I’ve often confronted in academia.”

Charnock’s research focuses on a specific system of chemical reactions known as the Maillard reaction, believed to contribute desirable aromatic qualities such as bready, roasted and caramel notes to aged sparkling wine. By better understanding these reactions, she hopes to identify strategies to advance quality, sustainability and innovation in sparkling wine.

“The Ruth Binnie Fellowship will reduce the financial barriers associated with pursuing graduate studies and provide financial security as I move forward in both my education and career,” she says. “I’m very grateful for the support of the CFUW and I’m looking forward to engaging with the CFUW community.”

Charnock is co-supervised by Belinda Kemp, CCOVI Senior Scientist, Oenology, and Gary Pickering, CCOVI Researcher and Professor of Biological Sciences and Psychology.

“I am so very proud as Hannah has been recognized as a rising star in STEM,” says Kemp. “In these unprecedented and difficult times of COVID-19, this scholarship and support of our future women scientists engaged in research and science communication is invaluable. I would like to thank the National Fellowships and Awards Program of the Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW) for their belief and support of Hannah’s research.”

Thibodeau’s research seeks to understand how the most common sensations elicited by alcoholic beverages (sweet, sour, bitter and astringent) interact with those elicited by ethanol to produce the overall flavour of alcoholic beverages. This is the third year Thibodeau has received the award.

“I would genuinely like to thank the donors for the award,” she says. “The financial support is invaluable and provides both a boost to my moral and a vote of confidence in my abilities.”

She plans to use some of the funds to attend the International Symposium on Olfaction and Taste (ISOT) this August, which has been moved to an online forum due to COVID-19. The scholarship will also play an important role in supporting not only her research, but her overall well-being.

“These funds allow me to access mental health services to help treat my anxiety disorder,” Thibodeau says, “which will help keep my academic progress on track.”

Thibodeau is also supervised by Pickering, who says she is a fitting candidate for the recognition.

“Her course work and research have been outstanding during her time at Brock,” he says. “Her PhD research findings are already making significant contributions to the field of taste research, and she has published several papers from that work in high-impact scholarly journals.”

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