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Down to a science

{Research Students}
Students making research happen at Memorial include (L-R) Amy King, Shane Greene, Tammy Bennett and Nancy Hackett.

Students are making research happen at Memorial University. Thanks to the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), and the commitment of Memorial's professors. Students such as Tammy Bennett, Shane Greene, Amy King and Nancy Hackett are working throughout the summer to foster scientific understanding and change.

Since its inception in 1978, NSERC has worked diligently with industry and universities to further student studies and Canadian lives. Over $615 million will be invested in researching all of the natural sciences in 2001-2002. Memorial University's students are living proof of this sound investment.

Tammy Bennett is conducting fuel membrane research with Memorial's chemistry department this summer. The third-year biochemistry student, along with her supervisor Dr. Peter Pickup, Dr. Brandi Langsdorf, and a team of graduate students from all around the world, is working in conjunction with H Power Enterprises of Canada toward the improved performance of the fuel cell.

"With the help of a Differential Scanning Calorimeter (DSC), I am studying the different characteristics of the fuel cell membrane in the hopes of understanding it better," said Ms. Bennett. "The more we know about the fuel cell membrane, the greater our chances are of improving its performance."

This research project may one day lead to great innovation in the power industry. For the moment, however, it is allowing Ms. Bennett a rare opportunity for intensive research. "When I get results from my experiments, it is always so exciting. It goes far beyond class labs," she said.

Newfoundland and Labrador's vast terrain is home to Shane Greene's research lab. As an undergraduate student in geography and geology, NSERC sponsored him to comb the limestone barrens from Port-au-Choix to Cape Norman. Mr. Greene was in search of undiscovered Braya longii and Braya fernaldii, two rare plants unique to Newfoundland. This summer, he will spend two months on Labrador's coast, along the Porcupine Strand, studying sea level change and its effects on coastal geomorphology. Mr. Greene's work, along with that of Dr. Trevor Bell, may provide a greater understanding of how global warming affects shoreline sensitivity.

"Just north of Cartwright, there are 35 kilometres of sandy beach where we will be collecting soil samples, doing cross-sections, and taking profiles of the beach, all in an effort to understand its morphology," said Mr. Greene.

A recent graduate of Memorial University, NSERC has awarded Mr. Greene funding for future studies in Ottawa. "I will be doing graduate work in hydrogeology and geochemistry, and will have an opportunity to do fieldwork in the Northwest Territories. I believe the undergraduate fieldwork that NSERC made possible was really valuable in securing funding."

Amy King and Nancy Hackett were virtual strangers before an NSERC grant brought them to Memorial University's Basic Medical Sciences this past May. With their backgrounds in neuroscience and biology, respectively, the young students have been conducting experiments on rat neurons and various human cell lines. Their work, under the supervision of Dr. K. M. Mearow is important to the continuing research of neurological disorders and cancer cells.

"We stress the neurons, taken from rats, with heat or drugs to determine if more of a potentially protective protein, Heat Shock Protein (HSP), is produced under these conditions," said Ms. King. "The human cells we use are cancer cell lines that normally express heat shock proteins, and by trying to down-regulate expression of one particular protein we are trying to see if we can make them more sensitive to certain drugs," added Ms. Hackett.

In the later stages of the project, the students' work will become more diversified. Ms. King will focus primarily on cell survival, while Ms. Hackett will chart cell growth under varied conditions.
In addition to providing summer employment opportunities for undergraduates, NSERC enables students to gain actual research experience that goes far beyond text-book instruction. "You can read about lab work for years. But nothing compares to the real thing," said Ms. Hackett.

Ms. Bennett, Mr. Greene, Ms. King, and Ms. Hackett are all enjoying their work tremendously thus far. From the people they work with, to the challenges they meet and exceed daily, NSERC brings research down to a science for these students.

"We truly enjoy the people we work with and the learning that is continuously happening. Our outlook on research has definitely changed for the better," commented Ms. King.

For more information about NSERC, please go to www.nserc.ca.

{Memorial University of Newfoundland}