Discovering science

- November 8, 2013

Leanne Lucas outside the Dunn Building. (Bruce Bottomley photo)
Leanne Lucas outside the Dunn Building. (Bruce Bottomley photo)

For Leanne Lucas, science is a family affair.

Her brother Stewart is currently completing a PhD in chemistry at the University of Victoria, while she just graduated with her Master of Science degree in Physics at Dalhousie. (She’s actually the first African Nova Scotian to do so from Dal.) While her brother works with inorganic chemical reactions from base elements, Lucas’ research project at Dal focused on Raman spectroscopy imaging and treatment technique for cancers.

“Some of the elements Stewart works with are carcinogenic, so his joke for me sometimes is, 'You’ll be working to cure that cancer that I’m going to cause,’” she laughs.

Leanne and her brother Stewart. (Provided photo)

Lucas’ story at Dal began in 2005 when she came to study in the Integrated Science Program. “It was pretty instrumental in making me realize how much I like research, especially with the research project component of it. It was a small taste of what research is like.”

Her undergrad was in Chemistry: she graduated with honours from the co-op program, where she met her supervisor, Kevin Hewitt. Through her work on the cancer research project, she made the switch from chemistry to physics.

“Not many people are using Raman now,” she explains. “They typically use MRI or ultrasound to detect, and radiation therapy and chemotherapy for treatment. So with Raman spectroscopy, they want to use natural proteins that are over-expressed in some cancers that we’re looking at.”

Grad research hasn’t been without its challenges: “Second guessing myself and asking if it’s going to work,” she says, when asked, “but I guess that doesn’t really matter as you can never know when you start something.”

It also comes with its fair share of excitement.

“Just to know not many people are working on this. Not many people know that Raman spectroscopy can be used for imaging. It’s just exciting to be a part of that group that’s starting to use Raman to treat cancers.”

As for next steps, Lucas is volunteering in the lab, finishing publications and other work that she was pursuing during her master's program. In the future, she hopes to complete a PhD in chemistry or physics but, for now, she is looking for opportunities in research.


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