Sky's the limit for Malaspina science grad

May 3, 2007 - 7:02am

When Skye Creba graduated from Malaspina University-College last June, she didn’t want to leave. Turns out, she didn’t have to.

Creba was one of three Malaspina science students selected to receive a $17,500 postgraduate scholarship from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the top national award for students entering graduate school.

Creba is currently enrolled in the Master’s program in Chemistry at the University of Victoria (UVic), and received special permission to conduct her graduate research at Malaspina. “It’s perfect,” said Creba, who works in the multi-million dollar Applied Environmental Research Laboratory (AERL) on the Nanaimo campus.

“I spent four years in this lab as an undergraduate student at Malaspina, and gained amazing research experience that would have been hard, if not impossible, to get anywhere else. It’s a huge privilege to workalongside my former professors and mentoryounger students while completing my Master’s.”

The AERL, built in 2002, allows students and faculty to conduct pure and applied research in environmental sciences and environmental chemical analysis. As a graduate student, Creba is working with chemistry professors Dr. Chris Gill and Dr. Erik Krogh of Malaspina and Dr. Tom Fyles of UVic, developing faster, better and cheaper analytical tools in the field of Membrane Introduction Mass Spectrometry (MIMS) to measure biological and environmental samples.

“The fact that Skye is allowed to conduct her graduate studies at Malaspina represents substantial recognition of her abilities by NSERC, UVic’s Chemistry department and  the AERL for continuing to support the work she will be doing,” said Gill, who also serves as an adjunct professor at UVic. “It also recognizes the fact that Malaspina is producing highly qualified students through their direct involvement in undergraduate research.”

Creba is one of three Uvic graduate students involved in mentoring undergraduate students while pursuing their own research aspirations in the AERL. She came to Malaspina after graduating from Nanaimo District Secondary School in 2000, and began working with Gill almost immediately in the AERL on an air toxicology study measuring a specific molecule in woodsmoke. “That was the beginning,” recalled Creba. “I fell in love with chemistry, which was completely unexpected. My research has evolved from there.”

Creba continued her research in the AERL after winning two prestigious NSERC Undergraduate Summer Research Awards. Gill and Krogh eventually hired her as a senior research assistant to help train other students in how to use lab equipment and analytical techniques.  Together with Gill,  she developed a new method of detecting larger biological molecules using a technique called "enzyme modified - membrane introduction mass spectrometry."

“Our research focused on directly measuring contaminants in water, air, human fluids, and waste streams,” explained Creba. “Using highly specialized equipment, we expanded the range of what we can look at minute-by-minute, in real time. It was the first time anyone was successful in trying this new technique.”

Creba’s achievements have earned significant national and international attention. Her work with the AERL group has appeared in two peer-reviewed publications, and she’s participated in 10 international conference presentations. In 2005, Creba received best presentation award at a Western Canada Undergraduate Chemistry Research Conference, beating students from several of Canada’s top universities.

Last year, she captured third place at an undergraduate poster presentation at the American Society for Mass Spectrometry Conference, in Seattle, Washington. “There were over 7,000 attendees at this international conference, so placing third was huge validation for Skye and for Malaspina,” said Gill.

In coming months, Creba’s work with the AERL group will be featured in the Journal for American Society of Mass Spectrometry.  All the attention is “extremely flattering,” said Creba, who eventually hopes to pursue a career in medicine. “I love research, so it’s wonderful to have world renowned scientiststake note.”

David Drakeford, Dean of the Faculty of Science and Technology at Malaspina, said Creba’s achievements reinforce the high calibre research conducted in the AERL, and Malaspina’s belief in the value of undergraduate research as a key element of the teaching and learning process. “We’re extremely proud of students like Skye and will watch with great interest as her scientific career unfolds.”

Krogh and Gill have mentored almost 40 undergraduate student researchers in the AERL, many of whom have gone on to careers and/or further studies in science, particularly in chemistry and environmental science.

“We’re grateful to have excellent students like Skye as part of our research group at Malaspina,”said Gill. “This new level of study/research represents a new and important mentoring step for both Skye through her graduate work and for current and future Malaspina students working with her in the lab as undergraduate researchers. It’s a win-win situation for all.”


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