Now that 2013 is behind us, here is a review of the Trent science department’s major accomplishments, challenges, and groundbreaking discoveries. Here is also an idea of some significant changes that the Trent community can expect and look forward to from the department in 2014.

2013 started with a team of researchers, led by Director of the Natural Resources DNA Profiling and Forensic Centre, Dr. Bradley White, securing multi-partner grants totaling $100,000 to conduct primary research on the genetics of a high-performing breed of dairy goat. This made Trent one of the first labs in the world to compile data on goat genetics that can be cross-referenced to productivity, feed regimens, and health.

Similarly, graduate student Lanna Desantis and colleagues discovered that, despite the high levels of cortisol in the everyday lives of northern and southern flying squirrels, they did not show any negative consequences of exposure to stress hormones. From their findings, the flying squirrels became the second group that didn’t follow the rules of stress regulation, the other known group being a small number of monkeys in South America.

Three Trent researchers made a discovery that some arctic-nesting shorebirds have the potential to cope with the reduced food availability and maintain above average growth through energy trade-offs. The study brought to attention the importance of looking at all the factors that might affect the growth of shorebird chicks in the Arctic.

Master’s candidate Jordan Ahee of the Environmental and Life Sciences program was credited for discovering a new species of gall midge (a small fly), a discovery he made in 2010 as an undergraduate student. The species discovered will help control the spread of common reed, one of the worst invasive plants in Canada.

Another team of researchers found that the biodiversity found in the Great Lakes region of Ontario might be much greater than previously realized, after discovering that the threatened species, Branched Bartonia, in Ontario was genetically unique and also under a much greater threat than previously thought.

Environmental & Life Sciences Master’s student Michael Peers showed how increased competition, owing to climate change and the expansion of bobcat into lynx range, may cause lynx to be more susceptible to changing climates by forcing southern lynx into the habitats where they’re least likely to encounter bobcat. Further, Peers also found, in yet another notable research, that the Canada lynx may need to undergo dramatic changes to survive climate change by exploiting higher portions of alternate food. His study also found that natural selection might act on marginal populations to accommodate changes, which will allow the increased use of alternate resources.

However, these brilliant minds mentioned above are just a few among many others. Likewise, Dean of Arts and Science (Science) Holger Hintelmann, who was hesitant to single out individual people in terms of their research achievements, has said that if he were to go by size-wise national and international visibility, he would first mention the success of his colleagues who had been publicly vocal in advertising and advocating for the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA), which was threatened to be closed. Through the effort of some of the faculties in the biology and environmental science departments, it led to the Ontario government taking over or providing significant funding in order to ensure the ELA would continue.

Further, Trent’s science faculty was very successful in Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and Canada Foundation for Innovation’s (CFI) competitions. $1.65 million in grants was received to expand the water quality center at Trent, and this, according to Dean Hintelmann, will greatly befit undergraduate students, as it will allow them to participate in state-of-the-art research programs.

Although the science department overall didn’t see any additional new programs or degrees, what is interesting is that many individual departments were, and are, in the process of developing courses that include more experiential learning parts through practical placement, reported Dean Hintelmann.

He cited an example where students can do practical practice with the Peterborough Regional Health Centre, or the introduction of new internship courses by some of the individual departments. There have been a lot of single individual courses added to the existing curriculum.

In terms of new degree programs that are currently under development and are to be expected in 2014, a new program in Water Science has gone through Trent’s Senate, and has now been submitted to the provincial Quality Council for approval. Likewise, an application for a new degree in Biomedical Sciences is in its final stages.

Hintelmann, who considers it a very exciting degree, hopes to see it being offered very soon. Both programs are following Trent’s tradition of offering interdisciplinary degrees. For example, the Water Science degree is a collaborative effort by the Departments of Chemistry, Biology, Environmental Science, and Geography.

Last year was another year where the science department had to face the usual challenges of trying to respond to and accommodate the needs of students as best they can within the funding resources available.

Despite Trent’s general challenges in trying to increase overall student numbers, enrollment in the sciences has steadily increased by almost 10 percent from year to year, said Dean Hintelmann. So, the challenge this year was more to make sure that an adequate amount of additional resources were available for the science department.

Even with the increasing demand, the department managed to provide faculties with the resources they needed to offer the high-quality education for which Trent is known. For example, new permanent positions were created in the Departments of Biology, Environmental Sciences, and Forensic Science, Hintelmann shared.

They were also able to make more online and summer course options available, and offered more sections for courses that would normally run on wait list to address the needs students had.
Another change to be expected this year is that the Department of Chemistry is now working on developing an online version of the first year introductory course, which will be offered during the summer. It is the first time that chemistry is offering an online course, unlike other departments such as biology and psychology that have been continuously adding new online courses over the years.

According to Dean Hintelmann, the first-year online chemistry course, expected to be offered during the summer, has modules that are quite interesting and different from the face-to-face class version of the course.

The nine departments under science, namely Biology, Chemistry, Computing and Information Systems, Environmental Resource Studies/Sciences, Forensic Science, Geography, Mathematics, Physics & Astronomy, and Psychology (in the Science Division of the Faculty of Arts & Science) offer a broad range of degrees including B.Sc., B.A., and graduate degrees.