Highlights

By tackling the challenges that our society faces, researchers at Western Science often publish papers highlighting new discoveries, receive awards for outstanding and novel science, and produce patents that transform discovery to application. Featured below are the most recent announcements from different research groups at Western Science regarding publications, awards, and patents. Explore the accomplishments of Western Science and be sure to come back to see the new and exciting projects that being are undertaken at Western Science.

Featured Highlights

Western-led research team uncovers lost images from the 19th century using 21st century tech

Art curators will be able to recover images on daguerreotypes, the earliest form of photography that used silver plates, after a team of scientists led by Western University learned how to use light to see through degradation that has occurred over time.

Research published today in Scientific Reports - Nature includes two images from the National Gallery of Canada’s photography research unit that show photographs that were taken, perhaps as early as 1850, but were no longer visible because of tarnish and other damage. The retrieved images, one of a woman and the other of a man, were beyond recognition.

“It’s somewhat haunting because they are anonymous and yet it is striking at the same time,” said Madalena Kozachuk, a PhD student in Western’s Department of Chemistry and lead author of the scientific paper.

“The image is totally unexpected because you don’t see it on the plate at all. It’s hidden behind time,” continues Kozachuk. “But then we see it and we can see such fine details: the eyes, the folds of the clothing, the detailed embroidered patterns of the table cloth.”

The identities of the woman and the man are not known. It’s possible that the plates were produced in the United States, but they could be from Europe.

For the past three years, Kozachuk and an interdisciplinary team of scientists have been exploring how to use synchrotron technology to learn more about chemical changes that damage daguerreotypes.

Invented in 1839, daguerreotype images were created using a highly polished silver-coated copper plate that was sensitive to light when exposed to an iodine vapour. Subjects had to pose without moving for two to three minutes for the image to imprint on the plate, which was then developed as a photograph using a mercury vapour that was heated.

Kozachuk conducts much of her research at the Canadian Light Source (CLS) and previously published results in scientific journals in 2017 and earlier this year. In those articles, the team members identified the chemical composition of the tarnish and how it changed from one point to another on a daguerreotype.

“We compared degradation that looked like corrosion versus a cloudiness from the residue from products used during the rinsing of the photographs during production versus degradation from the cover glass. When you look at these degraded photographs, you don’t see one type of degradation,” said Ian Coulthard, a senior scientist at the CLS and one of Kozachuk’s co-supervisors. He is also a co- author on the research papers.

This preliminary research at the CLS led to today’s paper and the images Kozachuk collected at the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source where she was able to analyze the daguerreotypes in their entirety.

Kozachuk used rapid-scanning micro-X-ray fluorescence imaging to analyze the plates, which are about 7.5 cm wide, and identified where mercury was distributed on the plates. With an X-ray beam as small as 10x10 microns (a human scalp hair averages 75 microns across) and at an energy most sensitive to mercury absorption, the scan of each daguerreotype took about eight hours.

“Mercury is the major element that contributes to the imagery captured in these photographs. Even though the surface is tarnished, those image particles remain intact. By looking at the mercury, we can retrieve the image in great detail,” said Tsun-Kong (T.K.) Sham, Canada Research Chair in Materials and Synchrotron Radiation at Western University. He also is a co-author of the research and Kozachuk’s supervisor.

This research will contribute to improving how daguerreotype images are recovered when cleaning is possible and will provide a way to seeing what’s below the tarnish if cleaning is not possible.

The prospect of improved conservation methods intrigues John P. McElhone, recently retired as the chief of Conservation and Technical Research branch at the Canadian Photography Institute of National Gallery of Canada. He provided the daguerreotypes from the Institute’s research collection.

“There are a lot of interesting questions that at this stage of our knowledge can only be answered by a sophisticated scientific approach,” said McElhone, another of the co-authors of today’s paper. “A conservator’s first step is to have a full and complete understanding of what the material is and how it is assembled on a microscopic and even nanoscale level. We want to find out how the chemicals are arranged on the surface and that understanding gives us access to theories about how degradation happens and how that degradation can possibly or possibly not be reversed.”

As the first commercialized photographic process, the daguerreotype is thought to be the first “true” visual representation of history. Unlike painters who could use “poetic licence” in their work, the daguerreotype reflected precisely what was photographed.

Thousands and perhaps millions of daguerreotypes were created over 20 years in the 19th century before the process was replaced. The Canadian Photography Institute collection numbers more than 2,700, not including the daguerreotypes in the institute’s research collection.

By improving the process of restoring these centuries-old images, the scientists are contributing to the historical record. What was thought to be lost that showed the life and times of people from the 19th century can now be found.


See the feature in The Globe and Mail, and more information at Western's Media Relations.

2018 Paul De Mayo Award: Stephanie Barbon

Dr. Stephanie Barbon awarded the Paul De Mayo award for her outstanding research pertaining to chemical bonding and control sequencing in polymers.

There’s an undeniable celebratory energy inside the venue. This is a victory lap of sorts for one of Western’s most promising recent graduates.

Earlier, I had the opportunity to sit down with Stephanie and find out a bit more about this outstanding representative of the science community.

“I grew up in London, so it always made sense for me to study here.”

Stephanie lived the London dream, choosing to go to Western for her undergraduate and eventual doctoral studies. After seven years at Western and with only a year and a half remaining in her doctoral studies, a captivating guest lecture, from superstar chemist Craig Hawker, prompted her to send him an email, asking if he had a spot for her in his lab at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Hawker took a look at Stephanie’s academic record – there was no question that he could find her a spot.

“Craig has a really big reputation in our field of research and is an extremely impressive guy. I jumped at the opportunity to work with him. It’s always tough to be away from your family, but it’s been a fantastic place to live and a thrilling place to do research. I’m learning lots.”

Stephanie enrolled at Western as a chemistry major in 2011, but it wasn’t until a second-year research project in Newfoundland where she found her true passion: polymers.

“We were generating polymers with catalysts. I realised that I was much more interested in the polymers that were being created, rather than what was creating them. Ever since then, I’ve been engrossed in the study of polymers.”

Stephanie’s research focuses on creating the synthetic replication of molecules that control our cellular processes and initiate the reactions that occur in living cells.

"Historically, polymers have just been a single molecule repeated along a lengthy chain. What we’re working on, is being able to control the order of the molecular structure. If you think of a protein, you can control which amino acids are next to each other. Our goal is to be able to replicate that process in synthetic polymers too. We want to be able to control the properties very finely, based on the order that they’re in.”

Stephanie wants to unlock new functions for materials that have never gone through the chain-like chemical bonding process known as polymerisation.

“I’m working with polymerising new materials. Specifically, materials that could be useful for a variety of applications that we haven’t been able to access yet. I’m also looking at anti-bacterial polymers. Hospitals need anti-bacterial coating for everything to reduce the spread of bacteria. A lot of the coatings that have been developed in the past are peptide- (small proteins) based. Peptides are expensive and difficult to make, so we think that if we can replicate this process with polymers, then it’s going be a lot easier to scale up, make big batches and coat the whole hospital both effectively and in a less expensive fashion.”

If it sounds ambitious, that’s because it is. The complex functions that polymers such as protein and our own DNA provide, make up the very fabric of who we are.

“Proteins have very specific functions based on the way they orientate, and so if we can control the way that polymers combine, we may produce some naturally occurring functions in synthetic polymers.”

This research led Stephanie to be selected for the Governor General’s Gold Medal for Academic Excellence and the aforementioned ‘Paul De Mayo Award’. Notably, the ‘Paul De Mayo Award’ aims to recognize a graduate student who not only excels in their own research, but helps breed a culture of critical thought and scientific excellence within the Department of Chemistry. It comes by no surprise that Stephanie won this award considering her engagement in public outreach.

Employee of the year in 2015, Stephanie beams when recalling her time visiting elementary schools, setting up booths at community events and brainstorming science activities. She embodies the “pay it forward” concept with the way in which she approaches teaching and sharing science knowledge.

“I had a lot of awesome teachers in elementary and high school, who fuelled my interest in science. If I can do the same thing for one person, then it’s worth all the effort.”

What’s next for Stephanie in her scientific endeavours? First, she will be completing the second year of her two year fellowship at Santa Barbara. After that, it’s time to come home.

“I aspire to end up back in Canada. That’s my goal. California’s nice but it’s not home. I will be back.”


Fun with Main Group Chemistry

The Ragogna Research Group

The main group elements, a sub-group of the iconic Periodic Table of the Elements, have long been the vanguard for establishing parameters for principles of chemical structure (molecular shape) and bonding (forces holding atoms together). A main group chemist often tries to push the boundaries of established rules for structure and bonding, which makes the research area both interesting and frustrating.

Chemists working with compounds derived from this part of the Periodic Table have not only made ground-breaking, fundamental discoveries (e.g. Noble Gas compounds), but have also generated new materials that are of immense practical benefit to humanity (e.g. Silicone polymers).  Since 2005 our group has spent considerable effort investigating the fundamental chemistry the main group elements, and although we cannot lay claim to such impactful discoveries such as silicones, we do indeed look to discover applications for our new knowledge.  In this context, key fundamental discoveries that have emerged from our lab and the spin-off, industrially-relevant research will be highlighted.  Most importantly, the lecture will be a tribute to the clear dedication, skill, and tenacity of the many undergraduate and graduate students and postdoctoral researchers that have passed through the Ragogna Group laboratories.  As we all know, without such a team, none of the discoveries would have come to fruition.

2018 Science Rendezvous @WesternU

Thank you to everyone who joined us for Science Rendezvous @WesternU this past Saturday! It was amazing to see so many families running around TD Stadium exploring the exciting complement of science booths and activities. Despite the rain, over 1500 people joined us for a day filled with scientific exploration.

Science Rendezvous @WesternU is part of a national celebration of science held across Canada. For Western Science, it is an opportunity to open our doors to the community and welcome you to campus to see the exciting science taking place here. Whether it was making your own slime, driving a mini-space rover, or simply holding a stick insect for the first time, we hope that you now love science as much as we do.

If you missed us on Saturday, click here for photos and be sure to catch us next year! 

We would especially like to thank our sponsor. This day was only possible because of your generous support.

2018 Florence Bucke Science Award

The Florence Bucke Science Award recognizes excellence in research conducted by a young and upcoming faculty member. The award was made available through an endowment from the late Florence Bucke who received a BA from Western University in 1926 and went on to teach in Fort Erie until 1971.

The prize consists of a certificate, a $2000 award, and public lecture which will take place on Wednesday, April 25th at 3:30 pm in the Physics and Astronomy Building, Room 100. A reception will follow.

This year's recipient is Dr. Paul Ragogna from the Department of Chemistry. Paul's research focuses on the synthesis of new molecules containing the main group or transition metal elements and their application in practical chemical processes. An abstract for Paul's lecture can be found below.


Fun with Main Group Chemistry

The Ragogna Research Group

The main group elements, a sub-group of the iconic Periodic Table of the Elements, have long been the vanguard for establishing parameters for principles of chemical structure (molecular shape) and bonding (forces holding atoms together). A main group chemist often tries to push the boundaries of established rules for structure and bonding, which makes the research area both interesting and frustrating.

Chemists working with compounds derived from this part of the Periodic Table have not only made ground-breaking, fundamental discoveries (e.g. Noble Gas compounds), but have also generated new materials that are of immense practical benefit to humanity (e.g. Silicone polymers).  Since 2005 our group has spent considerable effort investigating the fundamental chemistry the main group elements, and although we cannot lay claim to such impactful discoveries such as silicones, we do indeed look to discover applications for our new knowledge.  In this context, key fundamental discoveries that have emerged from our lab and the spin-off, industrially-relevant research will be highlighted.  Most importantly, the lecture will be a tribute to the clear dedication, skill, and tenacity of the many undergraduate and graduate students and postdoctoral researchers that have passed through the Ragogna Group laboratories.  As we all know, without such a team, none of the discoveries would have come to fruition.

Western University's Three Minute Thesis Winner

Image of Western Science's 3MT competitors, including Tianqi

Western Science's 3MT finalist, Tianqi Xie is second from the right.

Tianqi Xie, Western University’s 2018 winner of the campus-wide Three Minute Thesis Competition, is on a journey to unlock the secrets of the Moon. Through her research, she dives into the explosive history that shaped our closest neighbor, trying to understand how it’s surface evolved over billions of years.

We’ve all seen a full Moon on a clear night, some of us might have even been fortunate enough to catch the “Super Moon” this past year, but if you’ve ever looked at a snapshot of the Moon you will see thousands of circular, bowl-shaped features covering the surface. They can range from a few meters to hundreds of kilometers wide. Called impact craters, these geologic landmarks are formed by the collision of material whipping around in space at kilometer per second speeds, often ten times the speed of most bullets.

When rocks collide at these speeds, a catastrophic explosion results. The impactor is vaporized in seconds and the bodies that have been hit are fundamentally changed. When these collisions unfold on the Moon, solid rock is instantly turned into liquid, molten material. Even more material is displaced, ejected, and thrown across the surface. The energy of the impact unleashes a shockwave several times greater than those experienced during the nuclear testing of the Cold War. It is how this shockwave travels through solid material that Tianqi is most interested.

The analytical system Tianqi uses to do her research is called Raman spectroscopy. This non-destructive technique is commonly used to identify organic and inorganic material in geologic samples. In NASA's upcoming Mars 2020 mission, a Raman spectrometer will be used to try and find evidence for life on the Martian surface.

Tianqi is one of the few people in Canada who gets to hold pieces of the Moon and explore its crystalline structure by shooting lasers at them. By looking characteristic pattern returned from this shocked lunar material, Tianqi examines how the structure of the material has changed, what pressures the material experienced, and how proximal was the material from ground zero of the impact. In doing so, she hopes that we can better understand this geologic process, which has shaped every planetary body in our Solar System.

After finishing her BSc and MSc in Beijing, she became part of the Western Science community in the fall of 2014 as she started her PhD. Whether it's catching a new play or her Flamenco lesson, she has found time to take in the rich culture around her. Tianqi has loved her time in Canada. She hopes to pursue an academic career here in Canada, but she is certainly open to exploring and discovering new destinations as her career takes off.


The Three Minute Thesis Competition

The 3MT (Three Minute Thesis) competition asks graduate students to present the breadth and significance of their thesis in 1 slide and 3 minutes to do just that to a non-specialist audience. This fun and challenging academic competition gives Western Science graduate students the opportunity to improve their communication skills while potentially winning a first place prize of $1000. 

The 3MT Competition was originally developed by The University of Queensland, Australia, but since then, it has become a truly international phenomenon with global competitions held each year. The exercise develops the ability to effectively communicate complex research using open language, allowing you to explain the significance of your research to your peers and the wider community.

2018 Fallona Family Research Showcase

Join us for a celebration of outstanding interdisciplinary research. The 2018 Fallona Family Research Showcase is your opportunity to re-engage with the research community at Western University. By highlighting recent research achievements, this event allows you to explore potential new collaborations with research colleagues across Science and Engineering and beyond the campus gates with industry, government and alumni guests.

The showcase will be held on Thursday, April 12th, 2018 from 10:30 am to 4:00 pm in the atrium of the Physics and Astronomy Building. A detailed agenda can be found here.

This year, Dr. Raquel Urtasun, Head of Uber ATG Toronto, Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair in Machine Learning and Computer Vision at the University of Toronto will be our keynote speaker and recipient of the Fallona Family Research Award. A full biography is available below.

Poster presentations on the cutting-edge interdisciplinary research being conducted by the Faculties of Science and Engineering will be presented throughout the day.

The poster presentation registration deadline is April 5, 2018. Prizes will be presented to the top three posters.

A select group of students will also be invited to deliver a five-minute oral presentation during the main speaking portion of the event. If you would like to be considered for this opportunity, please be sure to complete and submit the registration form no later than March 30. You will be contacted during the first week of April if you are chosen to deliver an oral presentation.

REGISTRATION FORM FOR POSTER AND ORAL PRESENTATION


Dr. Raquel Urtasun

Images of Dr. Raquel Urtasun and autonomous vechiles

Images of Dr. Raquel Urtasun and autonomous vehicles.

Raquel Urtasun is the Head of Uber ATG Toronto. She is also an Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Toronto, a Canada Research Chair in Machine Learning and Computer Vision and a co-founder of the Vector Institute for AI. Prior to this, she was an Assistant Professor at the Toyota Technological Institute at Chicago (TTIC), an academic computer science institute affiliated with the University of Chicago. She was also a visiting professor at ETH Zurich during the spring semester of 2010. She received her Bachelors degree from Universidad Publica de Navarra in 2000, her Ph.D. degree from the Computer Science department at Ecole Polytechnique Federal de Lausanne (EPFL) in 2006 and did her postdoc at MIT and UC Berkeley. She is a world leading expert in machine perception for self-driving cars. Her research interests include machine learning, computer vision, robotics and remote sensing. Her lab was selected as an NVIDIA NVAIL lab. She is a recipient of an NSERC EWR Steacie Award, an NVIDIA Pioneers of AI Award, a Ministry of Education and Innovation Early Researcher Award, three Google Faculty Research Awards, an Amazon Faculty Research Award, a Connaught New Researcher Award and two Best Paper Runner up Prize awarded at the Conference on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition (CVPR) in 2013 and 2017 respectively. She is also an Editor of the International Journal in Computer Vision (IJCV) and has served as Area Chair of multiple machine learning and vision conferences (i.e., NIPS, UAI, ICML, ICLR, CVPR, ECCV).

2018 C. Gordon Winder Memorial SCUGOG Public Lecture

Join us for the 2018 C. Gordon Winder Memorial SCUGOG Public Lecture given by Dr. Natalya Gomez.

Dr. Gomez is the Canada Research Chair in ice sheet - sea-level interactions at McGill University and will be giving a talk on Ice, Sea Level, and the Solid Earth. An abstract and Dr. Gomez's biography can be found below.

The talk will be Thursday, February 1st, 2018 at 7:00 pm in Middlesex College, room 110. A reception will follow.

Ice, Sea Level, and the Solid Earth

Sea-level rise is projected to displace communities around the world in the coming centuries, and the melting of the polar ice sheets is expected to make a significant contribution to the rising water levels. In particular, recent research suggests that unstable, runaway retreat may already be underway in certain sectors of the Antarctic Ice Sheet. A critical task of climate change research is to understand the response of present-day ice reservoirs to climate warming and estimate their contribution to future sea-level rise. In this talk, I will discuss the stability and evolution of the polar ice sheets, the physics of the associated sea-level changes, and the role that the solid Earth plays in these changes.

Natalya Gomez's Biography

Natalya Gomez is an assistant professor in the Earth and Planetary Sciences Department at McGill University and a Canada Research Chair in the Geodynamics of Ice Sheet - Sea Level interactions. She works at the intersection between two rapidly progressing areas of research: Solid earth geophysics and climate science. Her research centers around modeling the interactions between ice sheets, sea level and the solid Earth and understanding how these earth systems evolve in response to past, present and future climate changes in regions such as Antarctica, Greenland, North America and the Arctic. A highlight of her work has been to identify and quantify a previously neglected feedback between sea level changes and ice sheet dynamics. Her approach to modeling this sea level feedback has been adopted by groups around the world to study a wide range of problems in paleo, modern and future climate change. She has recently applied the approach to demonstrate the potential importance of local sea level changes and variations in Earth structure on ice-sheet evolution and the interpretation of geologic and geodetic records in Antarctica. She is also interested in the implications of climate change for coastal communities and environments in the Canadian Arctic.