About Saint Mary's

New Funding Means New Technology for Two Saint Mary's Professors

16 April, 2014

UPDATE: New Funding Advances Research in Air Quality and Offshore Resorces


Two Saint Mary’s professors are celebrating a total of $215,000 in research funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) through its John R. Evans Leaders Fund. Matching funding and in-kind support for research being conducted by Drs. Aldona Wiacek and Jacob Hanley are expected to increase that amount to more than half a million dollars.

Tracking harmful chemicals in the atmosphere

Dr. Aldona Wiacek

‌Dr. Aldona Wiacek has high hopes for her CFI funding – sky high, in fact.

“Like most people, I feel happy when I see a clear, blue sky,” says Dr. Wiacek, who joined the Saint Mary’s faculty in July 2013 as a professor in the departments of Environmental Science and Astronomy & Physics. “Unfortunately, there’s more to that clear blue sky than meets the eye.”

A respected researcher in the area of atmospheric toxins such as trace gas and aerosol pollutants, Dr. Wiacek will use her CFI funding of $119,000 to purchase a ground-based, remote sensing instrument called an open-path Fourier transform infrared spectrometer. A central piece to Dr. Wiacek’s growing Tropospheric Remote Sensing Laboratory at Saint Mary’s, the spectrometer will provide real-time data that tracks harmful chemicals emitted into the atmosphere from economic activities, transportation, and natural processes.  

“This is an essential tool for characterizing a large number of air quality-relevant trace gases on time scales of minutes, during both day and night,” says Dr. Wiacek.

Professor Wiacek looks forward to acquainting her undergraduates with the equipment and is excited to involve her graduate students and research assistants in projects that will use it extensively.

“Studying the atmospheric environment is important for a number of reasons,” she says. “Not only does it add a new dimension to research at Saint Mary’s, but it also allows us to answer important questions about air quality in Nova Scotia, thereby informing policy, regulations, and individual decision-making through the Air Quality Health Index public advisory tool.

Microscope will allow innovative mineral exploration

Dr. Jacob Hanley

CFI funding of $96,000 takes Geology professor Jacob Hanley, one step closer to a laser Raman microscope for his Mineral Resources Lab at Saint Mary’s.

“Previous funding provided equipment that lets us characterize liquid-like inclusions in rock that represent trapped samples of ancient fluids that were responsible for depositing valuable metals in the Earth’s crust,” explains Dr. Hanley. “By using laser Raman spectroscopy, we will be able to look at the composition of gas and vapour-like inclusions as well, greatly extending the range of mineral resource types we can study.”

Dr. Hanley expects the new technology to have far-reaching applications for mineral exploration in and beyond Nova Scotia.

“Nova Scotia is renewing gold exploration,” he says. “Companies will be drilling for and mining gold that was formed here more than 300 million years ago.  This equipment will potentially lead to improved exploration criteria that will make it easier to predict where that gold will be found.”

In other good news for Nova Scotia, the new technology also takes some of the guesswork out of drilling for offshore oil and gas.

“My primary goal is to use this equipment to train students in methods of innovative mineral exploration,” says Dr. Hanley, “but it will also attract interest from industry and improve the quality of the their exploration toolbox.”