Media releases

  • Brock scientist to continue with Mars rover mission studying dust, rocks

    MEDIA RELEASE: R00093 – 28 April 2016
    Brock University — Communications & Public Affairs

    On Earth, dust tends to be nothing more than a cause of frustration for people. But for Mariek Schmidt, dust from another planet is something to be studied and examined.

    The Brock University scientist has been chosen by the U.S. government’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration to continue working on the Mars rover mission.

    “I see the dust as what’s in the way, but at the same time, there’s also this really interesting focus of trying to get at what the composition of the dust is,” says the volcanologist and igneous petrologist.

    “I’m interested in understanding the effects of surface dust on rocks and how that influences rock compositions,” Schmidt says of the next phase of her research.

    Schmidt is among 28 researchers who NASA chose last month to be part of its Curiosity Mars rover mission.

    In her case, Schmidt is being re-selected to participate on the Mars Science Laboratory Project, which built and operates the rover. The Associate Professor of Earth Sciences’ first term on the project began in 2012.

    When the rover Curiosity approaches rocks to examine them, a brush on the rover sometimes clears away dust so that an instrument called Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) can measure the chemical compositions of rock surfaces.

    When the rover does not brush the dust away, the APXS’s chemical measurement of the rock is influenced by the presence of the dust, which contains sulpher and chlorine.

    Schmidt and her team are developing a technique to separate the dust coating from the surface of the rock, enabling scientists to get a clear chemical measurement of the rock. They will also study the chemistry of the dust itself.

    Analyzing Martian dust is one of four activities within Schmidt’s research program, “Resolving the Igneous, Alteration, and Dust Coating Histories of Rocks in Gale Crater.”

    Schmidt is also:
    •    classifying rocks in Gale Crater
    •    looking for elements – such as zinc or nickel – in sedimentary and igneous rocks and using these elements to infer how these rocks were formed and altered
    •    studying original and altered igneous rocks as a way of better understanding Mars magma – the liquid rock found under the planet’s surface – and how Mars’ mantle – the area between the planet’s core and crust – was formed

    “At this point, we’re still understanding the environmental conditions on Mars and whether or not these might be favourable to life,” says Schmidt. “Understanding Mars’ geologic setting is very important.”

    The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has awarded Schmidt $200,000 over four years for this research.

    Schmidt’s research team at Brock includes post-doctoral fellow Matt Izawa and graduate students Jeff Berger and Alicia Thomas.

    For more information or for assistance arranging interviews:
    * Cathy Majtenyi, research communications/media relations specialist,, 905-688-5550 x5789 or 905-321-0566
    * Dan Dakin, Media Relations Officer, Brock University,
    905-688-5550 x5353 or 905-347-1970

    – 30 –

    Categories: Media releases

  • Million dollar research program invests in grape and wine industry’s future

    MEDIA RELEASE: R00092 – 26 April 2016

    Canada’s $6.8 billion grape and wine industry faces several multifaceted challenges in order to sustain its economic impact and meet its growth potential.

    To address these challenges, Brock University researchers are leading a five-year, $1.42 million integrated research program to improve grapevine health, wine quality, market competitiveness and the sustainability of the Canadian industry.

    Project lead Debbie Inglis, Director of Brock’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI), says many of the challenges the industry faces are due to changing climate conditions that must be addressed by working closely with industry partners.

    “The outcomes of this research program will continue to open new doors for Canadian wine while also increasing Canada’s reputation as a global leader in cool climate oenology and viticulture,” says Inglis.

    CCOVI’s senior scientists Belinda Kemp and Jim Willwerth will be collaborating with Inglis on the program’s various projects which include identifying the best clone and rootstock combinations for Ontario’s climate and soil types, developing vineyard practices tailored to sparkling wine production, and managing tannins in Canadian red wines.

    Grape growers will be able to use the clone and rootstock results to help overcome climate change challenges and the project will also commercialize precise decision-making tools and real-time monitoring technologies for growers and winemakers.  

    To support this research, CCOVI received a $600,000 grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), $345,000 in funding from Ontario Grape and Wine Research Inc. and in-kind support from industry partners totaling $484,600.

    “By leveraging funding and support from both government and industry, we are able to address timely, industry-driven research questions that will help sustain the industry’s growth,” says Inglis.

    Industry partners contributing in-kind support to the project include Chateau des Charmes, Constellation Brands Canada, Huebel Grapes Estates, Schenck Farms and Greenhouses, Trius Winery at Hillebrand and Ziraldo Estate Wines.

    Supported Research Projects:
    The funding announced today will be used to support five interrelated research projects based out of CCOVI.
    •    Clone and rootstock combinations for the Canadian climate and terroir.
    •    Grapevine cold hardiness: biochemical and physiological responses and influence of clone, rootstock and environmental interactions.
    •    Cold hardiness predictive systems with automation to mitigate the impact of cold weather events on grapevines.
    •    Impact of leaf removal timing and severity on red and sparkling wine quality.
    •    TanninAlert: an online tannin management tool for Ontario winemakers.

    The impact from CCOVI’s research and activities goes beyond the grape industry. A recently released economic impact study found that in 2014-15 the institute contributed more than $91-million and the equivalent of 307 jobs to Ontario’s economy.

    To learn more about CCOVI’s impact on the grape and wine industry visit:

    For assistance arranging interviews:
    * Kaitlyn Little, Marketing and Communications Officer, Brock University,, 905-688-5550 x4471 or 289-241-9154

    – 30 –

    Categories: Media releases