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The passionate eye

Graduate student nabs top prize in national video research contest


By Jeff Green

Master’s student Jenna MacKinnon is the winner of a $3,000 prize as part of a national video contest highlighting research in the North.

Ms. MacKinnon claimed the special jury prize in this year’s Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Science Action! contest, which challenged post-secondary students to demonstrate the impact science and engineering has on improving our lives.

Unique competition

Her video showcased her research on healthy fats at the base of marine food webs.

“It is amazing that NSERC and other Canadians were able to see how passionate I am about my project,” Ms. MacKinnon told the Gazette in an interview from Brazil where she is currently doing research.

“This competition is a unique and a challenging way for young researchers to showcase new research on a national level.”

Phytoplankton focus

Ms. MacKinnon, who is completing her master’s degree under the supervision of Dr. Chris Parrish, Department of Ocean Sciences, Faculty of Science, admits she was “shocked,” when she learned she landed a top prize and was the only Memorial student to be among the winners.

She says her research focuses on the importance of phytoplankton and their ability to make healthy fats, passing them to higher levels in the food chain.

“This project looks at the effects of environmental changes, such as increasing ocean temperature or decreasing pH, on these healthy fats found in phytoplankton,” she explained.

Master's student Jenna MacKinnon's video focused on healthy fats at the base of marine food webs.
Master’s student Jenna MacKinnon’s video focused on healthy fats at the base of marine food webs.
Photo: Submitted

“I also look at the “second level” in the food chain, which are tiny consumers called zooplankton, to see how well energy transfers between these two levels. Since our environment is changing so rapidly, especially in the Arctic, this research is important for current monitoring and, perhaps, future predictions.”

Northern snapshot

Ms. MacKinnon’s research is also part of a national collaborative project with the Canadian Healthy Oceans Network (CHONe), which is housed at Memorial and led by Dr. Paul Snelgrove.

Her research will be paired with other data to create a more complete picture of our Northern region.

“I am incredibly grateful for the NSERC’s support throughout my entire master’s degree.” — Jenna MacKinnon

While in Brazil, Ms. MacKinnon is writing the results from her Canadian Arctic project, which is the main focus of her master’s thesis.

“I am incredibly grateful for NSERC’s support throughout my entire master’s degree,” she noted.

“I received a NSERC Michael Smith Foreign Study Supplement, which funds international research for master’s and PhD students who presently hold a Canada Graduate Scholarship, to continue my research. It has been an amazing opportunity to expand my academic network, learn new laboratory techniques, and experience the culture and people of Brazil.”

NSERC’s Science, Action! contest challenged post-secondary students to film a 60-second video of the people, research and innovations that are transforming the way Canadians live and work.

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