Research in Action: Lakehead professor assessing walleye movement in Black Bay

Dr. Rennie

Photo cutline: Lakehead University graduate student Graydon McKee returns an acoustically-tagged walleye that will be tracked to assess its movement in Black Bay.

Published in The Chronicle Journal on Saturday, July 21, 2018

 Decades after the collapse of a fish species in an area east of Thunder Bay, researchers are hoping walleye will make a comeback someday.

Early results from a study in Black Bay suggest a great deal of movement in and out of the no-fishing zone, meaning a re-evaluation of the situation may be in order.

“What’s your management strategy?” asks Lakehead University’s Dr. Michael Rennie. “Protect the whole bay from angling in order to speed up recovery of the species or keep one small portion closed? You might change your management strategy based on an understanding of how fish move seasonally.”

An assistant professor in Biology and Canada Research Chair in Freshwater Ecology and Fisheries, Rennie is involved in a collaborative project with Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry to assess walleye movement in Black Bay. Master’s student Graydon McKee is analyzing data from walleye fitted with acoustic tags to analyze and track their movement throughout the bay. He also collects biological samples to assess growth and feeding patterns.

Black Bay is unique because, unlike much of Lake Superior, it is shallow, relatively warm and murky, making it an ideal habitat for walleye. The researchers have found two distinct groups of walleye in the bay: migrators and residents. Some walleye leave during the summer (following spawning) and return in the fall, while another group stays the year round.

“When looking at growth patterns, the migratory fish grow larger than their resident counterparts,” McKee states.

This may be due to the type of food available outside of Black Bay. But a more definitive analysis awaits.

The species suffered a major collapse in the late 1960s. From the line that now represents the no-fishing sanctuary in the bay, 70 per cent of the fish that are tagged actually move out of the sanctuary.

“So it might represent some kind of refuge,” Rennie says. “But if you think it protects the walleye we have in the system, well, they’re moving around quite a lot, so the fishing ban doesn’t protect fish if they are angled when they leave the sanctuary.”

Black Bay walleye movement is one of several projects Rennie is involved with focusing on lakes and how they respond to climate warming, invasive species and contaminants.

As lead researcher of the Community Ecology and Energetics Lab, much of Rennie’s work is located at ISD Experimental Lakes Area (IISD-ELA), a set of 58 lakes and their watersheds just outside Kenora that are dedicated to experimentation on whole lakes. A unique kind of real-world laboratory, it is the only place of its kind in the world.

Rennie is completing a project with Trent University examining nanosilver, an understudied substance that can be found in everything from athletic clothing and socks to coatings on cutting boards. Initially, it was thought this anti-microbial would impact the lower food web, such as algae and zooplankton.

“What we found was quite the opposite,” Rennie says. “We found most of the impacts were on fish rather than organisms lower in the food web. They were eating less in the presence of this silver, and smaller/younger fish were growing slower.”

It is hoped the results will spur regulators to limit the amount of nanosilver being released into the environment.

Other work at IISD-ELA shows that lakes recovering from acid rain have lake trout populations that are stunted, less abundant and have high levels of mercury. That could be due to the absence of a freshwater shrimp called Mysis diluviana, on which the trout feed, which were eliminated from the lake during acidification. This year an experiment is being launched to add Mysis back into the lake to see if it improves trout populations.

Rennie is also looking for Mysis DNA in the lake sediment (or environmental DNA) from the acidified lake to see if this technology can be applied to other affected lakes.

“You can now use the sediment to ask the question: what used to be here before we messed the system up?” Rennie says. “It will help managers set restoration targets. If you’re introducing species to ecosystems, you want to put back what was there already, which you might not have information on. We’re trying to use the DNA trapped in sediments from this lake as a case study for how you can apply this technology to other impacted lakes in Ontario.” 



Research in Action: Mining for gold with cyclotron

Published in the Chronicle Journal Tuesday, February 4, 2020

By Julio Heleno Gomes

 Deep in the heart of a modern office building is a multimillion-dollar machine used to help in the diagnosis and treatment of cancers and heart disease. This cyclotron is also the newest tool in gold exploration.

Using a byproduct of the production of medical isotopes, researchers at Lakehead University and the Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute can activate samples to determine how much gold they contain — a potential breakthrough in gold analysis.

“When you’re trying to find gold, you don’t want to miss something in the samples,” explains lead researcher Dr. Michael Campbell. “We have to do more testing to confirm this is a method that will give us results comparable to what is the current standard for testing for gold and other minerals.”

The project is funded by a National Science and Engineering Research Council partnership grant with Newmont Goldcorp, the world’s leading gold company. Newmont Goldcorp operates the Musselwhite mine, north of Pickle Lake. Shortly after the cyclotron went on-line, the company approached Campbell about analyzing gold samples. Campbell was in charge of designing the cyclotron facility and commissioning the particle accelerator. Now a research chair in Lakehead’s department of Chemistry, he continues as the facility’s radiation safety officer.

The $4-million cyclotron is a device that produces isotopes used in medical imagining for the detection and staging of various types of cancer. A byproduct of producing radio-isotopes are subatomic particles called neutrons. Normally these bounce harmlessly around the shielded, underground vault until they are absorbed by the walls. In this work the researchers are taking advantage of neutrons to detect the presence of gold and other minerals.

“It’s an opportunity to create a non-destructive method for assaying metals,” Mark Somppi, Manager, Process Ops & Asset Management at Musselwhite, says of the process.

The traditional method for gold analysis has been fire assay, which is labour-intensive and produces waste. With the cyclotron, a mineral sample smaller than a packet of sugar is placed into the stream of the neutrons. This makes the sample radioactive for a short period of time. The gamma rays coming off the sample are then measured as the sample decays.

“We can use that to determine how much gold was in that original sample. The more radioactivity is produced the more gold is in that sample,” Campbell explains.

The testing apparatus was constructed in-house with plumbing parts and an air compressor, materials available at any hardware store.

“I’m pretty sure the guy in the plumbing department at Home Depot thinks I’m nuts,” Campbell laughs when describing how he sourced the parts.

Adrianna Tikka, a research assistant who graduated with a master’s degree in Environmental Engineering, helped develop the system that moves ore samples to and from the cyclotron vault. She also tests the samples and analyzes the results — a role that will benefit her as she pursues a career in the engineering field.

“Companies will see that I am working with a corporation wanting to reduce their ecological footprint and perhaps will see the potential of having someone on their team with first-hand experience in such matters,” she says of this work.

One of the advantages of this technique is that since the neutrons are a byproduct from normal cyclotron operation there is no additional cost since the cyclotron is already running. The short half-life of the radio-isotopes produced also means there will be no long-lived radioactive waste to deal with.

Employing a consistent and accurate assay method is key for a business seeking to maximize profits, Somppi says. “The industry is always looking for the fairest exchange methodology on the finance-metal sales side of the business,” he explains, adding that a consistent and accurate assay method is part of this process.

“If we can help them get a fraction-of-a-per-cent more gold out of that tonne of rock they bring up,” Campbell says, “that could add up to a huge amount of additional gold that could be recovered.”

The proof-of-concept phase of the project is now complete and based on the preliminary results Campbell is continuing with the research.

“We’re not at the point yet where we can replace the current assays, but we’ve shown we’re able to detect gold in a variety of different samples,” he states.

“We have to get a bit more data and test a few more samples so we get consistent results under a wide variety of conditions.”

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Research Stories: Mining for gold with cyclotron

Research in Action: Bringing new life to 17th century choral music

If you haven’t heard of Henry Aldrich, the famous 17th century composer, architect and Oxford dean, you’re likely not alone.

But Lakehead University music professor and Orillia campus principal Dr. Dean Jobin-Bevans wants to convince you to tune in.

“I was immediately drawn to his work as it’s the music I love to hear and perform myself,” says Jobin-Bevans, who came across Aldrich’s archived manuscripts in 2013 during a sabbatical researching in the Christ Church Library, Oxford. “There is also a modern appeal to his music – it’s still accessible and relevant all these centuries later.”

Aldrich’s music, most of which are anthems composed for the cathedral at Christ Church, was written for both unaccompanied choirs or those singing with an organ accompaniment. Typically thought of as an English style of church music, choral anthems have a long history of performance in the Anglican tradition and are almost exclusively sung in English.

Henry Aldrich collected, transcribed and composed as many as 8,000 scores of choral music for cathedral performances during his career at the University of Oxford’s Christ Church college, as a way to inspire his own creative work and religious musical expression. A prolific 17th century English writer, theologian, philosopher, composer, and architect, he also served as Dean of Christ Church and as the University of Oxford’s Vice-Chancellor.

Intrigued by Aldrich’s unique approach to choral music, Jobin-Bevans set out to transcribe select pieces from the 300-year old collection, editing and creating musical scores for contemporary church choirs, instrumentalists, and music scholars. Working his way through original leather-bound, handwritten manuscripts, Jobin-Bevans spent six years editing and digitizing 20 different scores, updating elements such as time signatures and adding musical bars and vocal clefs.

A CD of the new editions was released in November of 2019 and some of Aldrich’s original manuscripts are also captured on the project website. Jobin-Bevans says that hearing the music performed for the first time by the Cathedral Singers of Christ Church, who also recorded the music for the CD, was hugely rewarding and speaks to the lasting quality of Aldrich’s work.

Viewing history through the late composer’s musical lens is another takeaway of the project, says Jobin-Bevans. “Aldrich grew up, was educated and appointed Dean during the period of the English Restoration, a time of great upheaval, politically and socially. His work reflects that history and tells us a lot about what his creative mind was thinking concerning the role and function of Restoration church music and liturgy.”

Jobin-Bevans also agrees a parallel can be drawn between himself and Aldrich that goes beyond the music.

“He was passionate about connecting architecture, logic, and math through music to both teach and inspire,” reflects Jobin-Bevans. “His work has been an inspiration to me and has kept me engaged in new ways to teach, lead as a principal, and continue building this lasting digital archive of his legacy.”

Dr. Dean Jobin-Bevans’ research is a partnership with the Christ Church Library, Oxford. Samples of the music are available at: The full album, Henry Aldrich: Sacred Choral Music, can be purchased on iTunes or borrowed from the NAXOS Music Library through your local library.

Research in Action: Research helping to improve the efficiency of motors

As the negative climate effects of fossil fuel-based energy sources become more apparent, governments, scientists and industries around the globe are putting more resources into developing sustainable and environmentally friendly alternatives.

Locally, Dr. Mohammad Nasir Uddin is contributing to the effort with his research, funded through Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Discovery Grants, on optimizing the efficiency of wind energy and electric motor drives.

A professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering at Lakehead University, Uddin and his graduate students are working on wind energy conversion systems to achieve maximum power extraction from the wind and maximum output from wind generators. They do this by creating intelligent algorithms that mimic the human brain by telling the system what to do in any given circumstance.

To illustrate what an algorithm is, Uddin gives the example of a commuter on the way to work in Toronto. “As she heads down the highway, her brain has planned out the shortest and fastest route. That’s an algorithm. Then she hears on the radio that there is an accident up ahead. Her brain takes that new information and creates an alternate route. That’s another algorithm.”

Uddin’s team has also developed control algorithms that improve the power quality and dynamic performance of wind generators by responding appropriately and quickly to unpredictable abnormal variations of wind speeds or power system fault conditions. Thanks to this kind of research the creation of a cost effective and sustainable wind energy system can be achieved.

Another area of Uddin’s research involves loss minimization in electric motors. “Fifty-five per cent of the total electric energy produced in the world is consumed by electric motors,” says Uddin. “If we use the algorithms to force the motor to follow certain conditions so that voltage and current give the minimum loss, then we can improve the overall efficiency of the system and achieve the best motor performance.”

Uddin has shared his findings in 228 papers that have published or accepted in refereed journals and conferences including 53 papers in IEEE Transactions which is considered the top ranking journal in his area of research. In 2010 he won the Lakehead University’s Distinguished Researcher Award.

Uddin’s impact in the field of Electrical Engineering goes beyond his own research. After more than 25 years of teaching and research experience at various universities in Canada, the United States, Bangladesh, Japan and Malaysia he has mentored and inspired many students. They include 50 highly qualified engineers (nine Ph.D., 24 Master’s, 14 Research Associates and three Postdoctoral fellows) and 82 undergraduate students. Most have gone on to work for companies like General Motors, Mercedes Benz, Rockwell Automation, AMEC, Caterpillar and Schneider Electric where they continue to develop optimization algorithms that improve efficiencies in motor drives used in transportation, robotics, automotive and oil industries.

Dr. Mohammed Nasir Uddin is a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering at Lakehead University; Coordinator of the Electrical Engineering program under the Lakehead-Georgian Partnership; and the Director of the Renewable Energy, Power Systems and Drive Research Lab located in Barrie.

A man stands facing the camera in a computer lab

Research in Action: Making mathematics more meaningful through culturally responsive education

Women smiling wearing pink frame glasses and a blue flowered shirtMath is not a four-letter word. But to those with rampant math phobia, it certainly feels like it. Dr. Ruth Beatty, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education at Lakehead University’s Orillia campus often sees students who actively dislike or even fear math. To her the problem isn’t with math itself, it’s with how the subject traditionally has been taught.

She started her research career looking at how children understand math and how educators can best teach the subject. She found that by looking beyond numbers and symbols and by taking a more holistic approach to what it means to think “mathematically” teachers could make math more accessible and fun.

Nine years ago, while teaching in the Master's program at Lakehead’s Thunder Bay campus, Beatty made a fascinating connection that has guided her work since then.

“Some of my students were First Nations educators or had been teaching in First Nation schools and we were talking about the disconnect between Indigenous culture and mathematics education in Ontario curriculum,” said Beatty. “I started visiting communities to learn more.”

While working with the Elders she realized that math is naturally embedded in Indigenous cultural practices like beadwork or birch-bark basket-, snowshoe- and moccasin-making.

“Take a beaded bracelet, for example,” says Beatty. “There's so much math in it. There is patterning and algebraic reasoning, there’s geometric transformations, proportional and spatial reasoning. There's number sense and numeration.”

With that cultural connection in mind, Beatty began a study in 2012 with the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation and teachers from the Renfrew County District School Board at a school with 20 per cent Indigenous students and 80 per cent non-Indigenous students. The project partnered community members, artists, Elders, and Knowledge Keepers with Indigenous and non-Indigenous educators to co-plan math instruction for Grade 3 and 6 students based on Algonquin loom beading. Cultural and language teachings were also integrated into the math unit.

The results were overwhelmingly positive. Indigenous students got to share their heritage and gain a sense of pride in their own knowledge systems that were valued on the same level as Western curriculum. Non-Indigenous students gained an appreciation of Indigenous culture. Most importantly, both groups learned exciting new math skills in a fun and engaging environment.

Perhaps the best endorsement of the math classes came from the students themselves. At the end of a session, with students working in their designs, making calculations to determine how many beads they would need, the teacher told them to wrap it up, math class was over. They looked up in surprise. Wait? What? Math? They had spent three hours absorbed in their learning with no idea they were, in fact, doing math.

Beatty and her team have collaborated with nine more communities around the province including The Chippewas of Rama First Nation and Simcoe County District School Board. Her work shows that math doesn’t belong to Eurocentric culture or scholars. Math is all around us and if taught in inventive, positive, and culturally responsive ways, no one needs to be afraid of it.

Faculty of Education professor Dr. Ruth Beatty and her school board partners received funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, CanCode, and the Council of Ontario Directors of Education to carry out this important research.

Man presents black framed award to woman during award ceremony

Research in Action: Uncovering the importance of human capital

Before he became a university professor and author, Dr. Kunle Akingbola had a successful career as a Human Resources (HR) professional. He was the HR manager for the Canadian Red Cross in Toronto while working on the second of his three Master’s degrees. As he grappled with choosing a thesis topic, his research advisor made a suggestion that would change the course of Akingbola’s work and his life.

At the time, the Red Cross had just taken over managing a homeless shelter over the winter for the City of Toronto, which was downsizing services to the non-profit sector. On top of their regular programs, Red Cross employees had to create and staff a completely new program that they would give up in six months time, only to bring back another six months after that.

Akingbola took his advisor’s advice and used the Red Cross case study as the basis for his Master’s thesis on non-profit HR management. That line of study eventually led to his Ph.D. dissertation, which examined the entire strategy of non-profit organizations across Canada and the impact of government funding and the environment.

Akingbola’s growing expertise led to part-time university teaching. He eventually left his HR career to become a full-time professor. Today he is Associate Professor of Human Resource Management and Organizational Behaviour in the Faculty of Business Administration at Lakehead University’s Orillia campus.

With numerous publications including books, chapters in edited books, and articles in leading journals, research continues to be a large part of Akingbola’s work, which looks at ways to optimize the effectiveness of non-profit organizations while increasing employee satisfaction and improving outcomes for the communities they serve. He encourages his students to get research experience by helping him do surveys and data sorting.

“Prior to my study, no one had ever looked at HR management in non-profit organizations, says Akingbola. “There had been research on volunteers, but not employees of non-profit organizations that make up a major part of the Canadian social sector and account for about nine per cent of Canada’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).”

His vast personal experience in HR in non-profit and healthcare sectors combined with his extensive ground-breaking research give Akingbola rare insight and expertise into social purpose enterprises. He understands the fine line organizations are forced to walk to secure the funding that is essential to support their services. It’s especially frustrating in the face of what Akingbola calls “mission drift.”

“How do you manage people who joined your organization because they believe in your mission, but now you have to go in a different direction because that’s where the funding is dictating you go?” says Akingbola.

One thing he is certain of is the importance of the human component in non-profit activities.

“The nature of service is emotional and it is human based,” says Akingbola. “You can install an ATM on Jarvis Street in Toronto that gives out blankets and coffee to the homeless on a cold winter’s night. But it can’t dispense compassion. In that regard you can’t replace human capital.”

Dr. Kunle Akingbola is the lead author of the book "Change Management in Nonprofit Organizations: Theory and Practice" (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019) and the author of "Managing Human Resources for Nonprofits" (Routledge, 2015).

A male professor stands with his arms crossed in a hallway at Lakehead University

Research in Action: Pediatric vaccine may offer hemodialysis patients better protection against infections







Published in The Chronicle Journal Tuesday, April 7, 2020


People undergoing treatment for kidney failure may be able to avoid further complications with doses of vaccines intended for children, suggests the findings of a project being conducted by Lakehead University and researchers at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine.

The five-year study involving patients with severe chronic kidney disease found that the risk of infections was decreased if they received vaccinations normally prescribed for infants.

“We see that a pediatric pneumococcal vaccine works nicely in these people,” says Dr. Marina Ulanova, the principal investigator. “It will be the best way to prevent infection, to use a pediatric vaccine rather than the one that is given to them routinely.”

Dr. William McCready says the purpose of these trials was to understand how best to protect patients with severe kidney disease from developing other serious health issues.

“Patients with kidney failure are more susceptible to infection because their immune systems are impaired by their kidney failure,” says McCready, who has worked as a nephrologist and internist across the Northwest for more than 30 years.

A Lakehead professor and researcher with NOSM, Ulanova’s background is in immunology and pediatrics. She is leading several projects related to infection and disease, particularly in Indigenous populations. Chronic kidney disease is a significant issue in Northern Ontario, which already suffers from high rates of diabetes.

“Chronic kidney disease is a huge issue in northern communities,” she says. “We know their immune system is weakened because of diabetes and kidney disease, and they need better protection against infection.”

The trials began in 2015 and include a mixed group of patients undergoing regular hemodialysis treatment at Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre. As a result of their compromised immune system, these patients are more likely to develop other problems such as pneumonia and blood stream infections, which can be fatal.

A total of 132 people were enrolled in the program. All received the second-generation pneumococcal vaccine, Prevnar13, and were followed for one year. One group was already immunized with the adult Pneumovax23 vaccine; the other was not. Assessment included immunological response, vaccine safety and longevity of protection.

“Pneumovax23 has some weaknesses,” Ulanova says. “It’s not very strong in inducing immune response. For this reason it was suggested to use the pediatric vaccine for immunization of adult people with weakened immune system. Indeed, we found Prevnar13 worked well in both groups and, moreover, people who have not been previously vaccinated with Pneumovax23 have even stronger immune response to Prevnar13.”

Gabrielle Gaultier, a PhD student, is assisting Ulanova on this project. Her role is to collect blood samples from patients, isolate cells from the blood, and quantify the results.

“We hope our research will contribute to determining an optimal pneumococcal immunization schedule to better protect patients with severe chronic kidney disease against serious pneumococcal infections,” she says.

Gaultier hopes to use this experience to pursue a post-doctoral position in the fields of immunology and microbiology.

The last participants were immunized in February 2019. Ulanova and her group are now into the laboratory phase of the work, analyzing this data. She hopes results can be published within the year.

McCready — who has held numerous positions with NOSM and the Regional hospital — was the physician supervisor for these trials.

“These studies are an example of the synergies that can be achieved when clinicians collaborate with scientists and we are both motivated by trying to help patients from Northern Ontario,” he says.

This study was supported by Pfizer and the Northern Ontario Academic Medicine Association’s Innovation fund.


Story and photo by Julio Heleno Gomes, originally published in The Chronicle Journal Research in Action Series, April 7, 2020.


Dr. Marina Ulanova and Lakehead University graduate student Gabrielle Gaultier have been studying the immune response of patients with severe chronic kidney disease to a certain type of vaccine.

Research in Action: Wabakimi partners with Lakehead for research and experiential learning

Published in The Chronicle Journal, Saturday, April 4, 2020.

Students canoeing in Wabakimi - view of their backs

For over 20 years, Dr. Tom Potter, Professor in Outdoor Recreation, Parks, and Tourism (ORPT) at Lakehead University, has maintained a working relationship with Wabakimi Provincial Park.
More recently, Alexa Haberer, a Technologist in the ORPT program, has also been involved.
Each year, Potter and Haberer facilitate two-week research journeys for about a dozen third year undergraduate students in the ORPT program.

The journeys are the culminating project for their field exploration course. The trips have three main learning goals: expedition planning and preparation, which they undertake throughout the year; gaining experience in remote back county travel in the northwest ecoregion; and fostering first-hand data collection.

“I am extremely grateful to the staff of Wabakimi Provincial Park who have been highly supportive of our work over the years,” said Potter.

Shannon Lawr, Park Superintendent, Wabakimi Provincial Park, along with Shannon Walshe, Park Biologist, work with Potter and Haberer to identify the types of data collection that students could do to benefit the park, as well as canoe routes through the park that need attention. For example, students might document evidence of caribou, conduct a population study of beaver, identify and document plant species, or evaluate the state of campsites and portage routes.

“The students’ research and recreation-based activities, linked to our canoe routes, fill information gaps in terms of park operations and resource management,” said Lawr.

“The partnership with Lakehead also ensures the next generation of paddlers contributes to Wabakimi’s future and builds understanding as to why it is such a treasure,” he added.

Hannah Terejko, a fourth year ORPT and Natural Sciences student from Brantford, Ont went on last year’s trip, and echoes this sentiment.

“It is one thing to hear about a park and how amazing it might be, but to get to know it and connect to it like it is home creates respect, and drives the motivation to maintain its health,” she said.

Following the journeys, students compile comprehensive research reports that they present to the park. Through the students' detailed investigations, they make meaningful and unique contributions to park planning and management. They also expand their own vision and knowledge of the cultural, recreational and biological aspects of the park.

“It's a joy for me to watch students organise and conduct their data collection, and revel in their research accomplishments as they travel through some very challenging areas and environmental conditions,” said Potter.

During the trip, students are accompanied by qualified guides, including Lakehead faculty or staff. When possible, park staff members join the expedition group, too, which gives the students a chance to learn from someone working in their field. The experts, however, encourage students to lead. Students plan out their roles for the trip, rotating between leader, navigator, chef, head researcher, and assistant researcher positions.

“Everyone gets a chance to do everything, so each gets a chance to let the leadership skills they’ve developed over the program shine,” explained Haberer.

When asked about what she will take from the experience, Terejko reflected on these leadership skills.

“Being able to work with others and take initiative where it is needed, even in small tasks, can be more help to the group than it might seem, and is a great skill to bring into future jobs and careers,” she said.

Potter also noted the unique opportunity for not only hands-on learning but personal growth.

“Their projects encourage them to struggle more, see more, learn more, and appreciate more. And, they get to learn how challenging, exciting, and useful research can be,” he said.

Photo description: Lakehead University Outdoor Recreation Students in Wabakimi Provicial Park summer 2019
Photo credit: Hannah Terejko
Story written by: PhebeAnn Wolframe-Smith
Story published in Chronicle Journal "Research in Action Series" April 4, 2020

Research in Action: Testing shines a light on effectiveness of UV lamps


Originally published in The Chronicle Journal April 28, 2020

Lakehead University professor Dr. Siamak Elyasi makes an adjustment to an instrument he has developed to test ultraviolet lamps.

A study being undertaken by Lakehead University to analyze the performance of ultraviolet lamps used to disinfect wastewater before being released into Lake Superior is moving to the next phase of testing. The aim is not just to determine which lamps perform better, but how to improve the process and optimize costs.

“The City of Thunder Bay is looking to gain a better understanding of the aging process of the ultraviolet lamps,” explains Lindsay Menard, process engineer at the City’s Water Pollution Control Plant. “The intended goal of this project is to optimize the UV system and decrease operating costs.”

The study is a collaboration with Dr. Siamak Elyasi, an associate professor in Chemical Engineering. Elyasi’s broad interest is drinking water and wastewater treatment.

“Having clean water for all human kind is my dream,” Elyasi says. “Clean water prevents many waterborne diseases, which reduces health costs and improves the economy of the people and the prosperity of the country where they live.”

About 70 million litres of wastewater flows to the City’s Water Pollution Control Plant (WPCP) each day. The wastewater is treated through various processes before being discharged into the Kaministiquia River.  Preliminary treatment, the first stage of treatment, is where large objects such as rags, paper and wood debris are removed in the bar screens and suspended solids are removed in the grit tanks. 

The next treatment process, primary treatment, involves the organic materials and dissolved contaminants settling in clarifiers.  Following primary treatment, the wastewater receives secondary treatment.  The WPCP uses a secondary treatment process referred to as the Biological Aerated Filter (BAF) process.  The BAF process removes carbonaceous biochemical oxygen demand, total suspended solids, phosphorus and ammonia. 

The treated wastewater is disinfected with ultraviolet (UV) light to destroy pathogenic bacteria.  This process adds UV light, and therefore has no impact on the chemical composition of the wastewater.

Disinfection is the primary method of destroying disease-causing bacteria, to prevent the spread of waterborne diseases, says the City’s Menard. There are various methods of disinfection used by wastewater plants. The best option for the City of Thunder Bay, says Elyasi, is to have the treated wastewater exposed to UV radiation. To that end, from mid-April to mid-October — the “disinfection season” as defined by the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks — the treated wastewater flows through a channel where light from an array of UV lamps damage the cells of micro-organisms that might be in the water.  When bacteria, viruses and protozoa are exposed to the UV light, they are rendered incapable of reproducing and infecting.

The system is equipped with more than 700 UV lamps, some costing hundreds of dollars each. The lamps have an expected life of 12,000 hours, but how effective are they as they slowly lose intensity?

Elyasi has developed an instrument to test a variety of lamps, to compare their performance over their life expectancy.

“You have to be very careful the UV lamp has the exact same performance or better,” Elyasi explains. “If they are less expensive, it doesn’t mean they are better, it doesn’t mean they are worse. You have to test them. If they can meet the performance of the original UV lamp, and are less expensive, that’s definitely the best choice.

“That is the goal of every manufacturer and plant operator: to reduce the cost of the operation,” he adds.

The project involved research/thesis student Mrunmayee Ravindra Nikam. Along with reviewing the literature during the development phase, she also performed experimental analysis of UV lamp output and collected data and documented the research findings. Her two years on this project gave her valuable experience in engineering research and designs.

“Throughout this research project I acquired numerous project management skills and further developed my abilities to think analytically, critically and logically,” Nikam says.

She graduated with a Master of Science degree in Environmental Engineering and plans to pursue a doctoral degree. Her ultimate goal is to become an environmental entrepreneur and implement a sustainable approach to preserve the environment.

Elyasi is pleased with the performance of the equipment and hopes it can be deployed at the Water Pollution Control Plant when the technology is proven.

“The UV process is an important step in the treatment of wastewater,” says the City’s Menard. “We are always looking for ways to improve our operations and we believe the work Dr. Elyasi is doing is one way to help us get better.”

Research in Action: Project guides climate change communication strategies


Originally published in The Chronicle Journal on Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Dr. Lindsay Galway giving a presentation

Photo: Dr. Lindsay Galway speaking at the March climate change communication workshop.

That climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing humanity is not news. This awareness, however, does not always translate into action. To move people to action, governments and organizations need to understand how best to communicate climate change information.

In March 2020, Dr. Lindsay Galway, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Health and Behavioural Science at Lakehead University and her team completed a project that sought to understand how citizens in Thunder Bay, Ont., and Prince George, BC, can become better engaged with climate change. Northern communities are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Although research has been conducted in the arctic, until now, little was known about public responses to climate change in the provincial norths.

“Provincial norths are unique case studies, because their economic wellbeing, culture, and history is often closely connected to resource extraction. They are also more remote and politically marginalized. But there is also a strong sense of place, of community, and of connection to the land,” said Galway.

The two-year project, funded the Social Sciences and Humanities Council of Canada, involved three components: representative postal surveys in Thunder Bay and Prince George; interviews with “climate champions” in each community who are engaged in climate change education and action; and lastly, the development of climate change communication strategies based on the gathered data.

The postal surveys involved using Canada Post’s address database to randomly select 2000 households for each community and then adjusting based on census data to make sure these households represented the demographics of the community as a whole. Surveys were mailed to these households asking about climate change beliefs and attitudes, impacts of climate change, and climate change action. The team received just under 400 completed surveys for Thunder Bay which is considered a strong response rate.

Key findings from the Thunder Bay postal survey in regard to attitudes and beliefs include that 95% of respondents believe climate change is happening, and 86% feel very or somewhat worried about climate change. 40% of respondents report experiencing climate change impacts in Thunder Bay such as shifts in seasonal patterns, changing frequency and intensity of precipitation, and extremes of weather.

Other key findings, those that relate to action, highlight areas for education and change. 70% feel that addressing climate change will have positive effects on the long-term health of our communities, but paradoxically, 51% are concerned about whether addressing climate change will increase taxes. Similarly, while 80% felt Thunder Bay community members should do more to address climate change, only 60% reported taking action themselves. 70% of respondents felt that climate change is more likely to be a threat in the future than in the present.

“People still think of climate change as a threat of the future – that’s key. Climate science clearly illustrates that it is problem of now. If we are going to act to address climate change, we need to do it in the next five years” emphasized Galway.

The research was supported by an advisory group in each community made up of representatives from organizations who are working to address climate change. Following analysis of the data, 30 people from the advisory group and other organizations took part in a climate change communication workshop in March 2020 to discuss the results of the research, and to build best-practices for communicating about climate change in Thunder Bay, facilitated by Galway and Dr. Paul Berger, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education at Lakehead.

“Dr. Galway's research provides a solid foundation from which to take strong action. Scholarly evidence of strong local support for addressing climate change helped to secure a unanimous vote in favour of the City of Thunder Bay’s declaration of a climate emergency” said Aynsley Klassen, Program Coordinator at EcoSuperior, and a member of the research advisory group.

“Eco-superior is also able to use Dr. Galway's research to guide program development, increase the effectiveness of climate-related communications, and engage community residents in climate actions,” she added.

Another outcome of the project has been a video which recently was a finalist in the Social Sciences and Humanities Council Storytellers competition. The video was created by Robert Sanderson, a Master of Health Sciences Student at Lakehead, who was a research assistant on the project.

“Working on the project expanded my own interests and knowledge – it was a great opportunity to learn and make connections and gain research experience. I got to see a whole project from start to finish – to see the steps, the challenges and how to overcome them,” he said.

Sanderson’s video can be viewed at here and the final report from the project can be accessed here.

Photo credit: Paul Berger