Three Waterloo Science Graduate Students win prestigious Vanier Scholarship

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Last week, this year's Vanier Scholarship award winners were announced. Among the prestigious group were Finnian Gray, Christian Ieritano, and Spencer Weinstein, three Faculty of Science graduate students.

These three scholars will each receive $50,000 over three years from the Natural Science and Research Council (NSERC). The Vanier Scholarships were developed by NSERC to attract and retain world-class doctoral students from around the world and to establish Canada as a global centre of excellence in research and higher learning. Vanier scholars are chosen based on their academic excellence, research potential, and leadership qualities.

Finnian GrayFinnian Gray is a PhD student in Physics and Astronomy working in Professor Robert Mann and adjunct faculty David Kubiznak's group. Now in his 2nd year of his PhD, Gray considers it a privilege to study at Waterloo. “Waterloo Science presents many opportunities for research experiences,” Gray said, “including working at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics.” His research focuses on using quantum mechanics to study black holes via thermodynamics. Applying quantum mechanics to a black hole shows that instead of black holes being an absence of light, as was once thought, they actually emit light and heat. Therefore, physicists like Gray can explore the temperature and entropy of black holes. Combining this temperature with the principles of thermodynamics allows physicists to study the intersection of general relativity and quantum mechanics within black holes, expanding our fundamental knowledge of the principles of physics. “The Vanier Scholarship will give me the freedom to really focus on my research, and I will have more time to theorize about the nature of black holes.”

Christian IeritanoChemistry PhD student Christian Ieritano, working with Professor Scott Hopkins, will be using this scholarship to further his research of rapid molecule testing and prediction to aid in the drug discovery process. Traditionally, screening for appropriate and effective pharmaceutical drug molecules has been a long and expensive process. Ieritano is working on a system which uses Differential Mobility Spectrometry (DMS) to quickly characterize molecules, and then uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to accurately predict which molecules are likely candidates for drug development. This combination of techniques, pioneered by the Hopkins lab, has the potential to significantly increase the speed and reduce the cost of drug discovery. “It’s nice to be recognized for doing research that others can see the benefit in,” said Ieritano. This award will allow him to travel to international conferences - when that’s an option again after COVID-19!

Spencer WeinsteinSpencer Weinstein is completing a PhD with Professor Heidi Swanson in aquatic ecology in the Department of Biology. Weinstein’s research involves working with the community of Kugluktuk, Nunavut, to understand why the Arctic char fish population is rapidly declining and changing. Using a combination of molecular tools, ecology, and community knowledge, she is working to characterize and understand the current state of the community's fisheries. This will contribute to developing a long-term plan to maintain a sustainable fish supply for the community. Additionally, her multidisciplinary approach will help inform the management of Arctic fisheries amidst the impacts of climate change. “Receiving this scholarship is validating, not just for myself, but also for the greater project, as this research matters a lot to the community,” said Weinstein. "It’s encouraging that the selection committee sees the importance of working with and supporting Indigenous communities.”

Congratulations to this year's winners!