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Look Out, Algae Blooms
By: Michelle Thompson
Although they may sound pretty, algae blooms can be toxic and render affected lakes unusable for both recreational and drinking purposes and may potentially have harmful effects on the wildlife who use these lakes as their water source.
An aspiring veterinarian, second year Animal Science student Alexandra Warren will spend her summer on the Agricultural Campus studying algae blooms in lakes in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
Under the supervision of Dr. Tri Nguyen-Quang, Head of Biofluids and Biosystems Modeling Lab, Alexandra and the research team will be looking into how toxins can affect the wildlife that use these lakes as a water source, determine the causes behind the algae blooms and produce a mathematical model to predict future bloom patterns.
“All of the research we are targeting can be converted to mathematical models,” explains Tri. “Predictions mean that you can save time and money, and it can help you better prepare for the future; mathematical modelling can do that.”
Alexandra was one of three recipients of an Undergraduate Student Research Award (USRA) for the summer of 2016. This award is meant to stimulate an interest in research in the natural sciences and engineering. They are also meant to encourage students to undertake graduate studies and pursue a research career in these fields.
“The idea is to find a solution to these blooms as algae blooms are a world-wide phenomenon that has worsened in recent years,” said Alexandra. “Though not all algae are ‘bad’ certain types of algae, such as cyanobacteria or blue-green algae, can produce toxins. It’s amazing to be able to do actual research on an issue that has such widespread effects.”
Alexandra recently completed her second year at the Faculty of Agriculture with a major in Animal Science and a double minor in Genetics & Molecular Biology and Mathematics. “I’ve always known I wanted to work with animals so the Animal Science major was an easy decision for me,” she explained.
In the fall, Alexandra will be attending Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon. “After attaining my Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine I would like to go into research in some capacity whether I hold an actual research position or I do research on animal health while practicing as a vet. I do want to work with large animals/feedstock in the future.”
Originally from Calgary, Alberta, Alexandra was 10 when she moved to Houston, Texas for 18 months. She then lived six years overseas in the Middle East. Spending her last three years of high school in the Sultanate of Oman before repatriating to Canada for university, Alexandra has definitely been influenced by her travels in the choices she’s made towards her career goals and those that she will make in the future.
“I am very interested in methods of slaughter and animal treatment, for both pets and feedstock, because of what I was exposed to overseas. In the Middle East there is little education about animals and that leads to a lot of abuse when it comes to pets and feedstock,” says Alexandra.
For the past two years, Alexandra has been a tutor at the Math and Physics Help Centre where she received the Outstanding Tutor Impact Award this year for her work. This along with playing with the lambs in the RAC and laughing with friends in Jenkins and residence are very treasured moments for her.
“I knew I made the right decision in coming to the AC pretty much as soon as I got here. Everyone was really friendly and the professors were all willing to help you out. The AC has always felt more like a family than a school to me,” Alexandra explains. “Leaving this place will be very hard. I’ve made some incredible friends and I’ve made great connections with many of my professors. Particularly, Dr. Jin Yue, Department of Engineering, who not only is the reason I decided to minor in maths, but also recommended me for me the position with Dr. Tri this summer. My time here has meant a lot to me. I am so glad I made the choice to come here for my undergrad.”