Dal AC student recognized for engineering research

[Canada] Dalhousie University’s faculty of agriculture prides itself on its brilliant students.

From undergraduates to graduates and everyone in between, students continue to shine new light on agriculture through research, achievements and recognition.

Earlier this year, three undergraduate students, including Emily Merks, were awarded Undergraduate Student Research Awards (USRA). Merks said she always knew she wanted to be a mechanical engineer.

“I am fascinated with science and math-related topics so becoming an engineer seemed to be the best option for me,” she said.

Growing up on a poultry farm in Grand Pre of the Annapolis Valley, Merks came to Dalhousie University’s faculty of agriculture because of good things she had heard about the campus. After hearing about the knowledgeable professors, small class sizes, and the opportunity to play sports, Merks knew Dal AC was for her.

Dalhousie University Agricultural campus
Dalhousie University Agricultural campus

“I’ve heard so many positive things about the atmosphere and people here on campus,” Merk said.

“Everyone I knew who had come to the AC kept telling me how nice the faculty, staff and students are.”

Not only does Merks enjoy her program, she’s excelling at it too. After completing her first year in engineering, she was awarded a USRA. USRA’s are awarded to undergraduate students who are interested in natural sciences and engineering and careers in their field of research. The USRA’s allow students to work with researchers during the summer and gain experience in their area of study.

“It means a lot to me to receive an Undergraduate Student Research Award,” Merks says. “It’s a dream come true to already be working in the field after completing only the first year of my diploma program. This award has provided me with an opportunity to study a growing worldwide problem.”

This summer, Merks is working alongside Dr. Tri Nguyen-Quang and his team of researchers in the biofluids and biosystems modelling lab (BBML). They are researching the possible causes of abnormal and toxic, blue-green algal blooms in Mattatall Lake.

“I am focusing on the land use within the watershed to try and make links to it and various chemical patterns in and around the lake,” she said.

Merks said algal blooms are a rapidly growing problem, not only in Nova Scotia, but worldwide. Algal blooms, which are large accumulations of algae cells in a body of water, typically occur in freshwater and marine environments. The blooms are becoming more and more frequent and are threatening safe drinking water supplies.

“Unfortunately, Nova Scotia has little research being done on this problem compared to other provinces. An abundance of specific nutrients, like phosphorous, is considered to be a major contributing factor to the occurrence of algal blooms. This summer, I want to help locate and address the major contributing sources of nutrients to Mattatall Lake.”

Through her and her coworker’s research at BBML, Merks hopes to find what is causing the occurrence of algal blooms in Mattatall Lake. They then want to propose a solution that will help the residents of Mattatall Lake prevent future algal blooms. On a personal level, she would like to sharpen her sample taking and analysis skills.

Merks is set to graduate next spring from the engineering diploma program. After she graduates, she plans to move on to Dalhousie’s Halifax campus to pursue a bachelor’s degree in engineering. With her degree in hand, Merks would eventually like to be involved in the research and design of renewable energy systems or some other project focused on improving our environmental state. Her passion and determination for engineering and improving the environment has lead her on a successful path so far. And her journey has only just begun.


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