Alumni story

Leanne Lucas (MSc’13)

Leanne Lucas of Lucasville, N.S. may be the first African Nova Scotian to graduate from Dalhousie with a Master of Science degree in Physics, but she’s not the only member of her family to graduate from Dal. In 2011, her younger brother Stewart received his Bachelor of Science in Chemistry before going on to do his PhD at the University of Victoria.

Attending an open house as a high school student gave Leanne her first look at what studying science at Dal could offer: “We made holograms at the Physics station and visited the planetarium,” she says, adding that she decided to study at Dal “because of the great science programs.” Later, as a Dal student, she “helped with open house events, explained how lasers and interference works, and made holograms for potential new students.”

Her interest in research was piqued in Dalhousie’s Integrated Science Program (DISP), designed for first-year students who want a more intensive learning experience. “It was a great introductory science program. It emphasized interdisciplinary aspects of learning and research,” says Leanne.

It wasn’t her original intention to specialize in Physics – in fact, her bachelor’s degree is in Chemistry – but a co-op work term with Dr. Kevin Hewitt in 2008 made her realize she wanted to pursue Physics. “I saw the interesting imaging applications of Raman spectroscopy,” she says.

Dr. Hewitt’s project proved to be so interesting that Leanne applied to the MSc program in Physics in order to continue working on it. The research, which uses Raman spectroscopy to detect cancers, “is interdisciplinary, combining aspects of Physics, through Raman spectroscopy; Chemistry, through nanoparticle synthesis, protein to nanoparticle bioconjugation, and Raman spectroscopy; and Biology, through cell culture.” Dr. Hewitt was her master’s thesis advisor: “He’s been very encouraging,” she says.

Graduate-level courses “were all pretty interesting, but I really liked the Chemometrics class with Dr. Peter Wentzell,” which was a “good introduction to programming,” she says. “The class project was also useful toward starting to write a program to analyze the Raman spectroscopy map data, to potentially identify changes between cancerous and normal tissues.”

Leanne’s hard work and abilities paid off. She received several scholarships during both her bachelor’s degree and her master’s, including a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) PGS-M award valued at $17,300.00.

It wasn’t all studying all the time, however. Leanne got involved in a couple of Dal’s student societies: “I enjoyed taking belly dance classes through DalDance. I also became a member of Alpha Gamma Delta, a women’s fraternity on campus that stands for sisterhood, scholarship, and philanthropy. I continue to volunteer with AGD – I’m the finance advisor.”

Of her time at Dal, Leanne says, “I’ll remember the people: everyone was kind – they try to help each other reach the goals they’re striving for.”