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Series: Undergraduate Student Research Awards Recipients

July 10, 2024 - This summer, twenty-two students have the opportunity to support research projects through Laurentian University with funding provided by Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).

Undergraduate Student Research Awards (USRAs) are meant to nurture interest among undergraduate students and develop their potential for a research career. This funding provides students with research work experience that complements their studies in an academic setting.

Students support research for a period of 16 weeks, on a full-time basis, from May to August. Students can hold one USRA per fiscal year but can hold up to three USRAs throughout their undergraduate career.

Getting the opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way to a research project is often reserved for graduate students. USRAs grant a unique and coveted opportunity to undergraduate students to get experience in their field of interest. The students’ year of study, major, and areas of research vary but they all similarly demonstrate the positive impact that this opportunity has on their current studies and future goals.

Throughout the summer the students will share in their own words about their ambitions, their interests, and a little about the research project they are supporting.

MacKenzie Hobbs

4th year Biology with a Minor in Environmental Chemistry at Laurentian University

Hometown: Espanola, Ontario

High school: École secondaire catholique La Renaissance

I grew up in Massey and spent many summers at my camp on Whiskey Lake where I developed a profound appreciation of and love for nature. I enjoy kayaking, camping, and hiking during the summer. I’m deeply passionate about the natural world and the urgent need for conservation efforts. Over the past three summers I’ve been given incredible opportunities as a USRA student with the Spiers Research Team at Laurentian. I’ve gained invaluable experience and knowledge, and I have enjoyed every minute of it. I plan to pursue a Master’s in Biology, with aspirations to one day conduct my own research in the field of environmental science.

The title of the research project I’m currently working on is “Elemental Content of Country Foods Growing on Smelter Impacted Landscapes”. We are looking to understand if our food here in Greater Sudbury is different as a result of the industrial past. To do this, we are collecting fiddleheads, blueberries, and various species of mushrooms throughout the summer to digest and analyze for metal and nutrient levels. Additionally, we will collect and analyze the same foods from local markets and grocery stores to compare locally farmed foods and internationally sourced foods with the wild samples collected locally.

Konan Blaise Koko

4th year Biochemistry at Laurentian University

Hometown: Cote d’Ivoire

I graduated from the Biochemistry program in June and am currently working on my second USRA. In my spare time, I love cross country skiing and adaptive rowing. For me, these are the best sports to allow me to stay healthy for hard work at school.

USRA played a significant role in shaping my future career goals and aspirations.The first one allowed me to work in a laboratory at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, where I was involved in a cutting-edge study on protein expression using a heterologous bacterial system. This hands-on experience enhanced my understanding of molecular biology principles and techniques, and my analytical skills.

My current USRA involves working in a genetics laboratory with Dr. Thomas Merritt at Laurentian University where I delve into the intriguing world of genetics regulation. I actively contribute to experiments involving the exploration of the genetic response to environmental toxins (Nickel) in the gene expression in Drosophila melanogaster. This experience has not only enhanced my laboratory skills but also sparked my curiosity about the potential of genetics molecular biology studies. I am thankful this most recent opportunity gave me the chance to join a laboratory that I would like to continue working with throughout my graduate study.

My experiences in molecular biology laboratories through my time in the USRA program have had a transformative effect on my career goals and aspirations. They enhanced my understanding of molecular biology and sparked my passion for medicine. My ultimate goal is to attend medical school.

Asma Bilgasem

4th year Interdisciplinary Science at Laurentian University

Hometown: Sudbury, Ontario

High school: Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School

I have just completed a Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Science from Laurentian University and will be attending the University of Toronto to pursue a medical degree in the fall. I’m very passionate about community health and have led events such as Wear Red Canada Sudbury and Hoops for Men’s Mental Health. In my spare time, I love going to the gym, trying new coffee shops, and spending quality time with friends and family.

I’m currently working on an antifungal project under the supervision of Dr. Sujeenthar Tharmalingam at NOSM University. The aim of this project is to develop a rapid point-of-care suitable for the needs of individual patients to detect antifungal resistance to manage infections. I'm extremely grateful for the opportunity to learn in a hands-on environment within a collaborative team of scientists while contributing to cutting-edge scientific research. Looking forward, I hope to bring the skills and knowledge I’ve gained through USRA to wherever my professional career takes me.

Noah Fenlon

4th year Astrophysics at McMaster University

Hometown: Toronto, Ontario

High school: Western Technical Commercial School

I’ve always been captivated by space and the vastness of the universe. I consider astronomers to be modern-day explorers, and exploring more of the universe is my dream and ultimate career goal. I proudly consider myself a nerd, and I love playing board games and card games with friends. I also love hiking, biking, and getting outside.

This summer, I was privileged to accept a USRA from Laurentian University for my research. I am working at SNOLAB, a dark matter and neutrino research lab just outside of Sudbury. To block cosmic rays, the main lab is located 6,800 feet underground in a mine! I am part of the SNO+ detector team, working on calibration for an external source and for supernovae in our galaxy. I have found this work very interesting and exciting. I’ve learned so much already, and it’s such a great experience to be working here.

Pictured above from left to right: MacKenzie Hobbs, Konan Blaise Koko, Asma Bilgasem, Noah Fenlon