Media releases

  • Brock Mars researchers launch new summer course on planetary science

    MEDIA RELEASE: R00104 – 16 May 2016

    Space, the final frontier. It’s an iconic Star Trek quote but to three Brock University scientists, it’s more than just words.

    Earth Sciences professors Mariek Schmidt, Frank Fueten and Rick Cheel are bringing their passion for the solar system to students through a new online course they are developing called Planetary Science.

    The half-credit science context course — ERSC 1P94 — is aimed at students who don’t have a background in science.

    “We are making the content accessible to the audience without bogging them down with scientific bafflegab,” said Fueten, a structural geologist who works on Mars projects. “The reality is a lot of scientific concepts can be explained in plain language.”

    Schmidt, a volcanologist and igneous petrologist who has made headlines for her continued work on NASA’s Mars Rover mission Curiosity, said the course covers everything from planets and planetary bodies to the formation of planets and the characteristics of their surfaces.

    “The course will include the form water takes around the solar system and wraps up with the search for life and the future of planetary exploration,” she said.

    Cheel, who specializes in clastic sedimentology, said students will benefit from having three professors working with them.

    “We each have expertise to bring to the table,” he said.

    Students can expect some science-fiction movie references peppered through the curriculum, which is delivered entirely online and includes reading modules, quizzes and assignments.

    “We try to make it fun by making pop culture references,” Schmidt said, noting students seem to respond to movie references, such as to Wolverine or The Princess Bride in her other courses.

    All three scientists said it’s an amazing time to be studying space.

    “We are really in a golden age of space exploration,” Fueten said. “There have been so many cool missions recently.”

    Cheel agreed, adding that “the whole solar system has opened up.”

    Missions including Curiosity to Mars, New Horizons: The first mission to Pluto, the Dawn Mission to the dwarf planet Ceres and the Rosetta mission to catch a comet are a few of the recent NASA endeavours resulting in a broadened understanding of the solar system, they said.

    The three scientists said wanting to know about what’s beyond our planet is part of the human journey.

    “Humans want to know what’s beyond the next horizon. As a species we’ve always been driven to explore,” Schmidt said.

    She said there are many, varied reasons why understanding the solar system is important.

    Fueten agreed, adding: “You should be aware of where you live. You care about what happens down the street, this is just a bigger neighbourhood.”

    The course starts in July and is filling up fast. For more information visit

    For more information or for assistance arranging interviews:

    * Dan Dakin, Media Relations Officer, Brock University, 905-688-5550 x5353 or 905-347-1970

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    Categories: Media releases

  • Brock University wine researchers headed to Parliament Hill

    MEDIA RELEASE: R00105 – 17 May 2016

    Jeff Stuart and his team of research students from Brock University in St. Catharines will showcase industry-changing grape research in an event on Parliament Hill this week.

    Stuart, a biologist in Brock’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI), has partnered with Niagara-based company Sweet and Sticky to research ways of fortifying the company’s ice syrups, a non-alcoholic product made from icewine grapes that is sold as a gourmet ingredient throughout the world.

    After a similar presentation at Queen’s Park in February, Stuart along with Brock student researchers Breanne Gillie and Shehab Selim, and Sweet and Sticky president Steve Murdza, will take part in a university research showcase event in Ottawa Wednesday, May 18 organized by Research Matters.

    Stuart says he’s looking forward to talking about the research.
    “The project received almost $50,000 in funding from the Ontario and federal governments, so it’s important to show that the investment produced results.”

    The University/industry collaboration is studying how to introduce resveratrol and other polyphenols extracted from grape skins into the company’s non-alcoholic products. Resveratrol, which is found in wine, has been shown to slow the growth of cancer cells and tumours.

    But, “in ice syrup, the levels of resveratrol and related molecules are lower, because it’s not a fermentation process, so there is no alcohol and therefore lower solubility of the molecules of interest,” explains Stuart. “Our challenge was to increase these levels.”

    To increase the concentration of the molecules in ice syrup, Stuart and his team came up with the idea of using a tasteless carrier molecule.

    “One resveratrol molecule fits neatly inside the carrier molecule’s structure and there it is shielded from water while the outside structure of the carrier is interacting with the surrounding water,” he says.

    The carrier molecule’s structure is shaped like a donut or a life preserver, which has the added benefit of protecting resveratrol during the initial stages of digestion.

    “This is a way to go from having relatively low levels of these resveratrol molecules in ice syrup to having potentially more than is found in any wines,” explains Stuart.

    More testing is needed before the Brock innovation makes its way into Sweet and Sticky’s products, “but the preliminary results are promising and the research continues to be funded to progress toward commercialization,” he says.

    In addition to the importance of research and development work happening in Niagara, Stuart says the project is “really about job creation.

    “If we are successful and develop new products, the company will need to recruit and employ more people,” he says.

    The research team’s visit to Parliament Hill in Ottawa is part of Research Matters’ Pop-Up Research Park, an annual event in which researchers from universities across Ontario showcase their work to MPs and staff.

    Stuart, Gillie, Selim and Murdza are all available to speak with the media in Niagara or Ottawa this week.

    For more information or for assistance arranging interviews:

    * Dan Dakin, Media Relations Officer, Brock University, 905-688-5550 x5353 or 905-347-1970

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    Categories: Media releases