Tromping through bubbling brooks; sun streaming through mountain peaks; faint scents of pine; fishing in a small aluminum boat – all images you wouldn't expect to associate with work. But for U of L doctoral student Lars Brinkmann, these images fill the landscape of his daily life throughout the summer months.
Brinkmann is the first to admit that sometimes his research feels a lot more like vacation than a scholarly pursuit. But don't be deceived – the discoveries that result from his studies have significant ripple effects in the way we understand fish populations and ultimately the environmental impacts of human actions.
As a past U of L undergraduate and graduate student, and now as a doctoral student, Brinkmann has worked to understand how mercury levels in fish populations are affected by the food they eat and the amount of energy they use to survive. He also looks at how different food web structures can result in lower mercury concentrations in fish.
It's research that's hard to fully appreciate until you
understand its impact. Brinkmann explains that understanding mercury levels in fish populations can ultimately help with conservation efforts (such as preserving native fish populations) and lake management (including sustainable ways to build reservoirs or clear-cut forests).
This fall, Brinkmann received a major boost to his academic career when he was selected to receive a $30,000 fellowship, the largest individual student award endowed at the U of L.
It's an award made possible through Nexen Inc., an independent, Canadian-based global
energy company that has donated funds to support the creation of a $600,000 endowment fund – the University of Lethbridge's single largest corporate-funded award for graduate students.
Nexen Inc.'s initial investment of $300,000, when matched through the Province of Alberta's Access to the Future Fund, will establish graduate scholarships and fellowships in water research at the U of L. These prestigious awards will continue to help attract and retain top students like Brinkmann.
"We chose to create this endowment for two reasons," says Nexen President and CEO Charlie Fischer. "First, because we are strong supporters of post-secondary education and believe this is the key to future economic success. And second, because we believe in environmental sustainability and using resources wisely. Research on water will help companies like Nexen plan environmentally-sensitive projects in the future."
For Brinkmann, having industries like Nexen support research is a move in the right direction.
"Receiving this award is such an honour, and it's exciting because it shows that Nexen recognizes the importance of environmental research," explains Brinkmann. "In the past, I think environmental research was viewed as something that would block exploration and progress. But the reality is that environmental research should be determining how we can ensure progress and exploration of resources, while at the same minimizing, or even eliminating, the effects on the environment. This funding shows that we are on our way to achieving that goal."
For additional information about Nexen's donation, visit uleth.ca/giving.