Branching Out: New Environmental Sustainability Research

by Alyssa Reid

Samuel Woodman is using science to positively impact global change. He is only in his second year of environmental science at the University of Lethbridge, but he has worked on a number of research projects including the Heritage Youth Researcher Summer (HYRS) program, the Red Deer River oil spill, and the Alberta Springs project. He has also won a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) award to continue his research this summer.

Sam began his science career the summer after he completed grade 11. He was accepted into the HYRS program – a program that offers young Albertans the opportunity to do hands-on scientific research in Calgary, Edmonton and Lethbridge – at the U of L. He worked for two months under Dr. Robert Sutherland at the Canadian Centre for Behavioural Neuroscience (CCBN) researching the hippocampus, the memory part of the brain, in rats and their ability to remember objects. Sam’s interest in the program was not to specifically work in neuroscience, but to gain invaluable research experience. “It is one of the great programs this University offers. It let me know that science was something I would be interested in doing,” explains Sam.

Sam knew that the Department of Environmental Science at the U of L was the place for him. The state-of-the-art Alberta Water and Environmental Science Building, the cutting edge environmental research opportunities for undergrad students, and the opportunity to develop hands-on expertise with scanning electron microscopy, an advanced analytical technique that is generally reserved for graduate students and researchers at most universities, greatly influenced his decision to study here. “The U of L has an exceptional environmental science program,” says Sam, “The multidisciplinary nature of the degree provides an enriching learning experience that spans multiple areas within the science discipline.”

The next summer Sam met with Dr. Stewart Rood, a biology professor and researcher for the Water Institute for Sustainable Environments (WISE) at the University of Lethbridge. Rood offered him an Applied Studies position in his lab for the summer. “I started working for Dr. Rood before my first semester of university classes, so I was gaining hands-on experience far sooner than any of my peers. It was an incredible opportunity,” says Sam. This will be the third summer that Sam has worked for Rood.

Sam’s work with Rood has included both the Alberta Springs Project and researching the Red Deer River oil spill. The Alberta Springs Project included surveying springs around Waterton and southern Alberta to create a more sustainable future for groundwater sources. “We were assessing the health of the springs to determine the impact that people have had on that important and interesting ecosystem,” Sam explains.

The most recent research Sam has conducted is the effect of the Red Deer River pipeline rupture and the impact the spilt oil has on the riparian zone, the environment along the riverbank. Researchers are hoping to gain insight into the environmental impact of oil spills on river systems and how they recover. Surprisingly there have not been many previous studies on this, even though pipeline breaks are quite common, so researchers working on the Red Deer River oil spill are taking this opportunity to learn and possibly develop guidelines for safer pipeline development near waterways and managing oil spill cleanups. “The oil and gas industry is huge here and the more we know the safer development will be. It is a relevant area of research, especially in Alberta,” says Sam.

Sam has recently received the prestigious NSERC award in undergraduate research, which comes with a generous federal grant, to continue his work with Rood on the oil spill. “The thought of doing original work as an undergrad is alluring,” says Sam, “This summer I will co-author some papers that will hopefully get published.”

Next year, as a part of his environmental science degree, Sam will complete his technical semester at Lethbridge College. This semester includes practical experience in a number of different scientific fields. Sam is not sure what his next project will be, but he is optimistic about his future as an environmental scientist, “The nice thing about the environmental science degree is that there are a lot of opportunities.”

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