Applied Research

  • Learning the Art of Conference Intentionality

    Blog Contributor: Meredith DeCock

    Once you’ve been to one or two conferences, you’ve been to them all, right? I have been to leadership, industry, and academic conferences, and until recently, I would have said that I went into each with the same mindset: networking. The goal was to make connections with people. The more connections the better. Until recently, I would say I fell into the habit of blindly treating all networking opportunities the same.

    As a graduate student in the Sustainability Science and Society master’s program, I have been very fortunate to attend and present at a few conferences in the last year. Each conference experience was unique in the type of conference, the audience in my presentation sessions, and the type of connections I made.

    The first conference I presented at was Mapping New Knowledges (MNK) at Brock University last fall. I presented a poster in a spot that was hard to access – behind a door, on the inside row of posters, and right by the window. There were not many people who attended my poster, which I don’t think had much to do with the non-ideal location. Poster sessions are awkward. People don’t want to come straight up to your poster until they are certain they want to engage in a conversation. The strange and beautiful thing about the MNK conference is that it is open to all Brock gradate students, regardless of faculty. Walking through the poster session, there may be an ecology poster beside a humanities poster, across from a linguistics poster – it’s what makes the MNK conference so interesting and allowed me to gain a deeper appreciation for the range of research being conducted on campus. The other fantastic part of MNK is the professional development element. Each day there were sessions to select from that were dedicated to student’s professional development, either within academia or outside of the academy. I may not have made any career-benefiting connections, but I went away from the conference with a feeling of deep support from the University for my personal and professional development.

    The second conference I attended was the Marine Environment Observation, Prediction and Response Network (MEOPAR) conference in Victoria this past June. This conference was different as it was primarily organized for people working on MEOPAR-funded research projects. Being surrounded and engaging with peers working within the same discipline almost made it feel like you were amongst family. Networking felt easy. Everyone was overwhelmingly supportive of each other’s work. I was placed in a session to present my work in what seemed like the only social science related break-out session of the conference. And although there were only two of us presenting it was still very well attended. My presentation title, which included the term “community engagement”, attracted certain attendees and led me to connect with an employee working for the City of Surrey, BC who was interested in our process due to his extensive work with public engagement.

    I recently came back from the inaugural Sustainability: Transdisciplinary Theory, Practice, and Action (STTPA) conference hosted by University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM). What I noticed immediately upon arrival at the conference was that most people seemed to know each other, and it was obvious who wasn’t affiliated with UTM. Networking felt like much more of a challenge than at the MEOPAR conference. As sustainability science is inherently inter and transdisciplinary, the research projects are as complex as the problems they are trying to help solve. This makes it challenging to group projects into themed sessions. I ended up in a geospatial group, presenting alongside researchers working on machine learning and remote sensing to identify tree species and track ecosystem health over time. My presentation certainly included geospatial data, but it also included a social science aspect that made me feel as though I didn’t quite fit with the others. I was nervous about this leading up to the session. But each of the presenter’s research was unique and stood out in its own way. Being in this particular session led me to making a connection afterwards with a peer at UTM wanting to cite our upcoming papers.

    A key lesson I have learned from these conferences over the past year is which sessions you choose to attend is important. Do you attend ones that sound the most interesting, or do attend one because the presenter could potentially be a great contact to make? Sometimes I choose not to go to the ones that most interest me, but the one I think may benefit myself or my research team the most. I also keep my future possible career options in mind when selecting which sessions to attend. Being intentional about which ones you choose may lead to connections or ideas that benefit you in ways you never could have seen coming. Not looking at the program in detail before the day of the conference can result in you ending up in the wrong room, in a session that you have no interest in attending, but you feel awkward leaving once you realize the mistake you made. Compare that to when I went to a session specifically because there was a researcher whose bio sparked my interest as she was doing similar work to my team at Brock. This led to us having an extended conversation after the session about different strategies that we are using for focus groups in our case studies and will hopefully lead to a mutually beneficial relationship between our teams.

    My experiences in the last couple of years have made me realize how important it is to be intentional about which conferences you are choosing to go to, which sessions you attend, and who you are trying to connect with. You don’t always get it right, but when you do, it is a rewarding experience.

     

    Categories: Applied Research, Conferences, SSAS Student Contributor

  • ESRC Researcher to Tackle Ecosystem Services Resilience and Sustainability in New Five-Year NSERC Strategic Network Project

    NSERC has recently announced $5.5 million in funding for NSERC ResNet: A network for monitoring, modeling, and managing Canada’s ecosystems services for sustainability and resilience, led by Dr. Elena Bennett (McGill). Dr. Julia Baird (CRC and Assistant Professor in the ESRC and DGTS) is a co-lead of one of three themes: ‘Mapping the decision-space for ecosystem services management’ and is one of 26 co-applicants from across Canada on the project. The funding will support a Post-doctoral Fellow at Brock University for four years and several Master of Sustainability students will engage in this pan-Canadian research project.

    NSERC ResNet “aims to transform Canada’s capacity to monitor, model, and manage its working landscapes and all the ecosystem services they provide for long-term well-being”. Ecosystem services are the benefits people derive from nature, such as food and timber, as well as the benefits that may be overlooked like carbon sequestration, flood regulation and aesthetic appreciation. These ecosystem services are not independent; rather, decisions that are targeted to one ecosystem service, such as food production, also have consequences for other ecosystem services, such as carbon sequestration. Accordingly, the decisions we make have far reaching implications for the ecosystem and human well-being and appropriate management is critical for resilience and sustainability.

    The project focuses on landscapes that are actively being used for resource production (such as agriculture, forestry, fisheries) that are abundant in Canada and so important to the well-being and prosperity of Canadians. The theme Dr. Baird is co-leading with Dr. Gordon Hickey (McGill) is focused on the management of the range of ecosystem services these landscapes provide to ensure their sustainability far into the future. They are using innovative research approaches that engage those in the study landscapes to tackle the question of management and dealing with the ‘messy’ nature of interrelationships and trade-offs among ecosystem services. Fortunately, they are drawing on a complement of accomplished collaborators from Brock (R. Plummer), U Waterloo (D. Armitage), McGill (B. Harvey), U Winnipeg (A. Diduck and R. Bullock) and the Stockholm Resilience Centre (Ö. Bodin) who bring a wealth and diversity of expertise to the project.

    An innovative element of NSERC ResNet is that the project model is transdisciplinary. It brings together academics, industry, non-governmental organization, Indigenous partners and government agencies in a co-design process. This is important since the project addresses a complex question embedded in diverse landscapes and social-ecological contexts. While each of the landscapes is unique, one of the goals of NSERC ResNet is to identify commonalities across them that will support the development of a decision support tool in the form of an ‘ecosystem services dashboard’ – a practical tool to incorporate an understanding of ecosystem services into management decision on working landscapes across Canada.

    Categories: Applied Research, Collaborations, Innovative Partnership

  • Dr. Jessica Blythe, 2019 SSHRC IDG Recipient

    Student Contributor: Noah Nickel

    Dr. Jessica Blythe is an Associate Professor at Brock University with the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre. Below is the transcript of an interview that I had with her in regards to the recent announcement of the 2019 SSHRC IDG recipients, which included Dr. Blythe.

    Q1: It was just announced that you were the recipient of one of the 2019-2020 Insight Development Grants. Can you tell us a bit about the significance of research grants, in regards to the facilitation of social science research?

    I’m thrilled to have received this grant.  Funding plays an essential role in enabling academics to undertake high-quality research.  Research grants support a range of research activities, such as field costs, support for graduate students, and dissemination of research findings. 

    Q2: More specifically, what does the IDG mean for your research project in particular?

    This IDG grant means we can take an idea that we’re really passionate about and bring it to life.  Without the grant, this project would not be possible.

    Q3: According to the release from the Government of Canada about your new SSHRC IDG, the title of your research project is “The Role of Virtual Scenarios in Realizing Ocean Transformations” can you elaborate on this, what exactly is the scope of the project?

    Our oceans are running out of time.  Climate change and overfishing, among other stressors, are pushing the oceans past their breaking point.  So, we need solutions (or transformations of current systems) and we need them quickly.  Realizing the kind of transformations that are required to secure safe and fair futures requires radically new ways of thinking.  Based on this idea, we will use our grant to bring future ocean scenarios to life.  Then, we’re going to measure whether experiencing the virtual futures changes the way people think about protecting our oceans. 

    Q4: What further or “real world” applications or implications could your research potentially have? Will it leave questions unanswered? Future avenues for research/questioning? Etc.

    This project represents a first step in exploring how virtual reality might change the way people think about the future of our oceans.  The next step is to explore whether changing the way we think changes the decisions we make about ocean governance.  If we can show that VR changes the way people think – and make decisions – the research applications are endless. 

    Categories: Applied Research, Blog

  • Student researcher explores future of electric buses in Canada

    Master’s student Tasnuva Afreen (right) and her supervisor, Associate Professor of Geography and Tourism Studies Christopher Fullerton (left), stand in front of a demonstration electric bus displayed at a conference. Afreen and Fullerton, along with the Canadian Urban Transit Research and Innovation Consortium, set up an internship with the non-profit funding agency Mitacs for Afreen to research the adoption of electric buses across Canada.

     

    It’s a simple, logical way to cut down on air and noise pollution.

    Electric buses don’t emit carbon or use fossil fuels, are low cost to maintain and, by the silent way they operate, reduce noise pollution compared to conventional buses.

    But replacing current buses with electricity-powered ones is easier said than done, says master’s student Tasnuva Afreen.

    Afreen recently wrapped up an eight-month internship with the Canadian Urban Transit Research and Innovation Consortium (CUTRIC) to collect and interpret information related to transit authorities’ transition to electric buses.

    “Now we’re trying to connect the dots,” says Afreen, who is in Brock’s Sustainability Science and Society program. “We hope to bring out what Canadians think of electric buses and identify the main barriers to bringing electric buses to transit authorities’ fleets.”

    Afreen, Associate Professor of Geography and Tourism Studies Christopher Fullerton and CUTRIC created the internship through the not-for-profit national research organization Mitacs.

    Mitacs partners with academics, private industry and governments to conduct research and training programs related to industrial and social innovation. The organization funds a number of research projects at Brock University.

    During her internship, Afreen organized consultations with industry representatives, transit authorities, government officials and academic researchers.

    She and her CUTRIC colleagues asked participants a series of questions about transit authorities’ experiences and challenges of experimenting with electric buses and the knowledge they need to acquire and integrate hydrogen fuel cell vehicles into their fleets.

    Afreen also asked transit riders to share their opinions on and experiences with electric buses.

    She then transcribed the consultation sessions and analyzed the comments. Afreen also gathered information on how to test electric buses in nine municipalities that expressed interest in becoming demonstration trial sites.

    Although she and Fullerton are still analyzing the data, Afreen says her preliminary results show that there’s much interest in putting electric buses on the road.

    But there are a number of barriers to overcome, she says.

    “Municipalities have to redesign their infrastructure to provide electric lines so that buses can recharge very quickly,” says Afreen. “Also, the upfront expense is huge — a lot of transit agencies don’t have the money in their pocket to go for this.”

    Fullerton, Afreen’s supervisor, says the research she conducted will lay the groundwork for CUTRIC’s efforts to encourage the adoption of electric buses across Canada.

    “While it has already demonstrated clear environmental, social and economic benefits in other parts of the world, electric bus technology is still relatively new and adopting it represents a major funding commitment,” says Fullerton.

    “Public transit agencies and other stakeholders, such as the various levels of government that provide subsidies for transit infrastructure, want to make sure that the technology is reliable and that their money is well spent,” he says, adding that Afreen’s work helps identify stakeholders’ concerns and information needs.

    Afreen will share her Mitacs-supported internship experience at Brock’s Shift Conference Tuesday, April 30 and the Launch Forum Wednesday, May 1. Mitacs Director Rebecca Bourque and Office of Research Services staff will be join Afreen at Launch in the 10 to 11:30 a.m. session in the Cairns Atrium to explore how faculty member and graduate student teams can navigate Mitacs internship opportunities.

    “Mitacs internships offer graduate students a valuable experience working with industry or community organizations,” says Industry Liaison and Partnership Officer Iva Bruhova. “It is a chance to apply their research skills and gain employment-ready skills.”

    In addition to the Mitacs session, the Launch event offers two other sessions on how faculty and staff can support graduate students through designing individual development plans.

    For more information, contact ibruhova@brocku.ca or kperry@brocku.ca

    Categories: Applied Research, Co-Op, Experiential Education, SSAS Program

  • Brock student wins two awards in national science photo competition

    Dana Harris calls Nov. 9 her “special day.”

    It was on that day last week that the Master of Sustainability student became a first time aunt, and also the day she was told, in the strictest of confidence, that she had captured two top prizes in a national science research photo competition.

    Harris had to keep the secret of her achievement under wraps until Nov. 14, when the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) announced the winners of its Canada-wide Science Exposedcompetition.

    The competition showcases images taken during scientific research being conducted in all fields by faculty and student researchers in post-secondary institutions and researchers in public and private research centres.

    Dana Harris photo submission

    Dana Harris’ submission to the NSERC Science Exposed competition featuring cells of the jack pine tree.

    Harris received the People’s Choice Award and a Jury Prize for her photo, “Exploring the Jack Pine Tight Knit Family Tree.”

    “It’s a super huge honour to have people sharing my photo, voting on it and just enjoying it,” says Harris. “And, to get that mention from the NSERC jury members was really gratifying.”

    Diane Dupont, Dean of Graduate Studies, said the Faculty is “so proud of Dana and her success in the NSERC Science Exposed photography contest.”

    “To win the People’s Choice Award is an outstanding achievement,” Dupont said. “This award is a testament to the cutting-edge research she is pursuing involving the globally-relevant topic of climate change.”

    Harris’ photo shows phases of developing xylem cells, stained in different colours, that are found in a wood sample cored from the outermost part of a jack pine tree in the Northwest Territories, where she is from.

    The image, shot from a microscope, shows the jack pine tree’s phloem, cambial and xylem cells (blue dye) and mature xylem cells (red dye) in a thin slice of the wood. It is one of a series of images taken weekly over the past year to track the growth of the jack pine tree’s various cells.

    “This type of information is useful for researchers who create climate reconstructions using tree rings as a source of historical climate data,” explains Harris.

    She thanked her supervisor, Professor of Geography and Tourism Studies Michael Pisaric, and her fellow student researchers in Brock’s Water and Environment Laboratory (WEL) for their support.

    “Dana’s research is helping to understand how important tree species in the boreal forest are affected by climate change,” says Pisaric. “Her research also helps to inform larger questions concerning carbon uptake by the boreal forest.

    “Northern regions of Canada are being impacted by changing climatic conditions, including warmer temperatures, changing precipitation regimes and altered frequency and intensity of forest fires and other disturbance agents.”

    The WEL lab is co-directed by Pisaric and Associate Professor of Geography and Tourism Studies Kevin Turner, with the aim to explore how terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems in Canada’s North are changing in response to climatic and environmental change.

    Harris says she is happy that research on climate change and environmental conditions in the North were acknowledged with awards in the competition.

    Earlier this year, the photos of 20 researchers from across Canada, including Harris’s entry, were shortlisted and posted on NSERC’s website. People viewing the 20 photos were given the chance to vote for their favourite image. A panel of judges also chose three images that won jury prizes.

    Harris was also a competitor in NSERC’s Science, Action! research video contest, making the first cut of the three-round competition with her video “Jack Pine Growth, NT.”

    NSERC is Canada’s federal funding agency for university-based research, supporting faculty and students through a number of awards. In the most recent round of funding, 18 faculty researchers and nine students received a total of $3.2 million.

    Story from The Brock News

    Categories: Applied Research, SSAS Program

  • Meet the Faculty of the ESRC: Dr. Jessica Blythe

    Blog Contributor: Kaitlin James

    For our second instalment of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jessica Blythe, an Assistant Professor at the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre (ESRC) to learn more about her new role at the Centre, and the journey she took to get to where she is today. Her research engages in issues related to resilience, climate change adaptation, and transformation. She is particularly interested in how societies both create and respond to change. Her numerous publications demonstrate her immense contributions to the field of sustainability science. It was a pleasure to interview her to learn more about all of the great research she does!

    Photo: Dr. Jessica Blythe, Assistant Professor, Environmental Sustainability Research Centre

    Q1: What excites you most about working at Brock University in the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre? 

    Everything!  But honestly, I’m really excited about two big things.  First, the research going on at Brock was the biggest draw for me.  Faculty within the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre are engaged in research at the frontiers of sustainability science.  It’s the kind of solution-oriented research that gets me out of bed in the morning.  Second, I find the applied, experiential nature of research and teaching at Brock really inspiring.  From the innovative partnerships with municipalities and parks in the area to the co-op options for students, Brock is leading the way building healthier, happier, and more sustainable futures.

    Q2: What are your research areas of focus? 

    Broadly, my research tries to understand how communities experience global environmental change and what explains their different capacities to respond to this change.  Specifically, I use a social-ecological systems perspective and resilience thinking to think critically about vulnerability, adaptation, and transformation.  I also examine how processes like decentralization and place attachment shape people’s relationship with their environment.

    Q3: What was your journey like in getting to your current research area of focus? 

    I grew up in Newfoundland during the collapse of the Northern cod stocks.  I think that watching how the moratorium impacted coastal communities around the province influenced my interest in becoming a researcher that focuses on coupled social-ecological systems.  It also sensitized me to that fact that vulnerable systems – that are close to a tipping point – can appear strong from the outside.  This experience drove home the fact that for me, sustainability has to be equally about healthy biosphere and thriving human communities.

    Q4: How are you complementing the existing strengths of ESRC faculty members?

    We all approach sustainability research through a social-ecological systems lens and draw on resilience thinking to frame our questions and analysis – so in that way the fit is really seamless.  My research explores adaptation in coastal systems and transformation in social-ecological systems, which will hopefully some new focal area to the ongoing research at the ESRC.

    Q5: As a sustainability scientist, how do you view the world? 

    For me, being a sustainability scientist and being a parent go hand in hand – I’m constantly thinking about what the future holds and how we can find sustainable pathways.  Fortunately, I get to work along side some of the world’s leading climate change and sustainability scientists and I am happy to report that for the most part, the scientists I know are optimistic.  The Paris Agreement was a huge step for us as a global community.  I draw comfort from the fact that so many engaged and innovative scientists and students are tackling our big sustainability challenges from so many different angles.  From where I’m sitting, the future of sustainability looks really bright!

    Categories: Applied Research, Blog, Faculty Contributor, Student Contributor

  • Meet the Faculty of the ESRC: Dr. Julia Baird

    Blog Contributor: Kaitlin James

    Last week, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Julia Baird, an Assistant Professor at the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre (ESRC) to find out more about her research and role at the ESRC. Her research interests centre around water. She agrees with the notion that water issues are ultimately issues of governance, and so her research focuses on the human dimensions of water resources. She has numerous publications that exemplify her vast amount of research within the field of sustainability science. It was great to learn more about her and the journey she took to get to where she is today.

    Julia Baird

    Photo: Dr. Julia Baird, Canada Research Chair & Assistant Professor, Environmental Sustainability Research Centre

    Q1:  What path did you take to end up where you are today, and how did you end up doing research for the ESRC? 

    I started as an undergraduate student in agriculture – crop science to be exact – and I think that was due to an increasing appreciation for the farm I grew up on and realizing just how much I didn’t know about how agriculture works. I had an excellent professor in my final year that guided me toward an opportunity to undertake a master’s degree in soil science at the University of Saskatchewan, where I developed a real love of research and realized that I wanted to continue on. I pursued an interdisciplinary PhD in the School of Environment and Sustainability at the U of S. Around the time I was completing my dissertation, my husband and I made the decision to move to Ontario for him to start graduate school. Our plan was to spend one year here and I contacted Ryan Plummer on the advice of one of his colleagues about a potential short term post-doc. It’s almost eight years later and I’m thrilled to still be here!

    Q2: What are your research areas of focus? 

    I have a range of research interests that reflect my path to this position, but all of them share the common threads of decision-making about our environment and environmental sustainability. I have a keen interest in water resources, agriculture, and resilience, and bring a social-ecological systems perspective to all of them.

    Q3:What do you want to achieve with your research? 

    Save the world, of course! It’s really important to me that my research contributes to both theory and practice, and what’s really great about the ESRC is that it supports that goal in an explicit way through its emphasis on transdisciplinarity and community engaged research. I hope to make an impact on real-world decision making and enhance the resilience of governance of water resources, whether it be in urban or rural settings.

    Q4: What is it like being one of Brocks’ 11 Canadian Research Chairs? 

    It’s an honour to hold a CRC, and there are benefits in terms of being able to focus more of my time on research which I appreciate and truly enjoy. I’m also working very hard to ensure that I make the most of this position and building a program of research that will have an impact locally, in Canada and internationally well past the tenure of this position.

    Q5: Could you please share a turning point or defining moment in your work as a sustainability scientist? 

    This is an easy one – it was during the second year of my master’s degree at the U of S. I was doing my fieldwork, collecting weed densities, probably. My project was focused on identifying appropriate seeding rates for organic production of two legumes using a range of variables. I remember wondering how my research findings would be received and how you actually get farmers to change their practices based on the scientific knowledge I was generating. That was it for me – a short time later I decided to transition to an interdisciplinary social science doctorate and start to investigate these types of questions. My desire to focus on real-world ‘problems’ and use scholarly research as a mechanism to contribute to solutions was the foundation upon which this and all my research that followed was and is built (though I didn’t know that there was a term for it back then!).

     

    Categories: Applied Research, Blog, Faculty Contributor, Student Contributor

  • Focus Group with Niagara Parks Commission

    On July 25th, members from the ESRC headed to the beautiful and historic Oak Hall in Niagara Falls for a focus group with key representatives from the Niagara Parks Commission. This productive meeting focused on developing our shared vision for environmental stewardship going forward. The development of this vision is one of the many expected outputs of the exciting new Excellence in Environmental Stewardship partnership between the ESRC and Niagara Parks.

    Photo Credit: Brooke Kapeller

    Categories: Applied Research, Blog, Environmental Stewardship Initiative, Innovative Partnership

  • Exploring the Niagara Glen Nature Reserve

    Blog Contributor: Angela Mallette

    Last week, myself and some fellow SSAS students that are still in the area for their co-ops/research, headed to the Niagara Glen Nature Reserve for a hike. My thesis research will be taking place in the Niagara Glen this coming summer, and we had met to go on a hike through a part of the Glen I hadn’t been to yet. Our hike had a productive purpose as well – I needed people to pilot my survey after hiking the trails. It was late in the afternoon, so the Glen wasn’t overly busy. We made our way down Eddy trail and then to Whirlpool trail, along the water and then up the Whirlpool staircase.

    The Niagara Glen is a hidden gem of the Niagara area. Despite living in the GTA my whole life, and visiting Niagara Falls almost annually, I had never even heard of it until this past year. The section of the river that runs along the Glen has bright turquoise-blue waters and intense rapids that are classified as class V rapids on a scale of 1-6. The whirlpool just upriver is class VI. Aside from the amazing sights of the river, I was also very excited to learn about the geology of the Glen (if you like fossils, potholes, or rocks in general, definitely go and check it out). Or, if you prefer plants, the Glen has hundreds of species, some of them rare or even unique to the Glen. If you prefer history, aside from evidence of a fascinating geological history, there is also a century old cobblestone path built when a railway used to run along the river about 100 years ago.

    The Glen is a site that is so unique geologically, ecologically, and historically. As I learn more about it, I’ve come to realize the significance of this site for my research. It is a significant and sensitive ecosystem but is also subject to hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. It is a perfect case study for sustainable ecotourism and its challenges. I am looking forward to beginning my research in the upcoming weeks and spending more time at the Glen. Thanks to Ben, Zach, Brooke, and Branden for coming out for an awesome hike and to pilot my survey!

    Categories: Applied Research, Blog, Environmental Stewardship Initiative, Innovative Partnership, SSAS Student Contributor

  • Brock student makes Top 20 in national science research photography contest

    Master of Sustainability Science student Dana Harris is wrapping up her degree program with a bang — or rather, a snap.

    She and 19 other researchers from across Canada are vying for the 2018 People’s Choice Award in a national research photography contest offered by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

    NSERC’s Science Exposed showcases images taken during scientific research being conducted in all fields by faculty and student researchers in post-secondary institutions and researchers in public and private research centres. Public voting to help determine the contest’s winners is now open on the Science Exposed website and continues throughout the summer.

    Harris’ photo, titled “Exploring the Jack Pine Tight Knit Family Tree,” shows phases of developing xylem cells, stained in different colours, that are found in a wood sample cored from the outermost part of a jack pine tree in the Northwest Territories, where she is from.

    Dana Harris photo submission

    Dana Harris’ submission to the NSERC Science Exposed competition features cells of the jack pine tree.

    She says she uses the photo and others like it as a conversation starter to explain her research, which examines the impacts of climate change on sub-arctic ecosystems.

    “When I would show my friends and family pictures of what my jack pine cells look like, they would say, ‘oh, I thought that was a scarf or knitting or netting,’” she says. “That’s where I got the title of my photo.”

    The image, shot from a microscope, shows the jack pine tree’s phloem, cambial and xylem cells (blue dye) and mature xylem cells (red dye) in a thin slice of the wood.

    It is one of a series of images taken weekly over the past year to track the growth of the jack pine tree’s various cells.

    “Understanding these growth dynamics will help better estimate the impacts of climate on cell development and jack pine tree ring formation,” says Harris. “This type of information is useful for researchers who create climate reconstructions using tree rings as a source of historical climate data.”

    Canada’s far north is widely considered to be the ‘canary in the coalmine’ of climate change, as melting permafrost, changes in vegetation cover and shrinking ice caps are among highly-visible changes to the environment.

    Harris is presenting her research findings at the “Wood formation and tree adaptation to climate” conferencein Orleans, France from May 23 to 25.

    “Brock is very proud of our student researchers, who channel their knowledge, energy and curiosity into investigations that address key challenges in society,” says Brock’s Vice-President, Research Tim Kenyon.

    “The fact that our student’s photograph is among the stunning images of scientific research is testament to her skill and the training and research mentorship she received from Brock University faculty.”

    Making it to the Top 20 for the People’s Choice Award is a particularly sweet victory for Harris.

    She was also a competitor in NSERC’s Science, Action! research video contest, making the first cut of the three-round competition. Altogether, seven videos from Brock University were in the contest.

    Harris’ video, “Jack Pine Growth, NT,” has garnered more than 1,400 views.

    Following her conference presentation in France, Harris will head back to her hometown of Yellowknife to “continue developing the overall understanding of the ecological and environmental impacts of climate change on sub-arctic ecosystems,” she says.

    Categories: Applied Research