Early inspiration brings international PhD students to the University of Alberta

Celebrating the 2017 Vanier scholars in the Faculty of Science

Katie Willis - 06 September 2017

Each year, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) recognizes outstanding graduate students at institutions across Canada with Vanier scholarships. Recipients demonstrate excellence in research, academic achievement, and leadership. Each scholar receives $50,000 over a three-year period to support their studies.

This year, two Faculty of Science students have been awarded this honour: Jens Boos in the Department of Physics, and Albert Remus Rosana in the Department of Chemistry.

Jens Boos

For PhD student Jens Boos, physics has always held a certain mystique. Born and raised in Germany, his first scientific love was experimental physics, sparked by his sixth grade teacher.

"We were learning about circuits and switches in class, and I went home to try and build my own," Boos said with a laugh. "My teacher took an interest. It was my first brush with research and experimenting. I loved it."

In his post-secondary career, Boos redirected his focus on theoretical physics, wanting to understand how we know what we know. A bachelor of science and two master's degrees later, Boos is embarking on the second year of his PhD studies at the University of Alberta under the supervision of Valeri Frolov, professor and Killam Memorial Chair in the Department of Physics. Now completed his course work, Boos will begin his research in September.

"My field of research involves using black holes as probes for new physics and new physics research," explained Boos. "We want to understand the types and behaviour of material that surround black holes, look for new, yet-to-be-discovered particles, and explore cosmic strings interacting with black holes."

Receiving the Vanier scholarship, Boos explained , has lifted a huge burden off of his shoulders. From knowing he will be able to see his family back in Germany to having the ability to travel and attend conferences, this scholarship comes with a world of possibilities.

"When I read, 'We are pleased to inform you…' I couldn't believe my eyes," Boos said. "It was very humbling. I see the kind of people who win Vanier scholarships, and it is an honour to be among them."

Albert Rosana

At age 19, first-year PhD student Albert Rosana moved from the Philippines to Singapore to build his career in applied microbiology. His expertise is in marine ecosystems, where he has studied many environments from the ecology of hot springs to the Canadian arctic. Now entering the second year of his doctoral studies at the University of Alberta, Rosana will turn his attention to microbial life--this time hunting for promising antibiotics.

"The vast oceans that cover our planet are home to diverse life forms," explained Rosana. "Many of them are still undiscovered, but are intricately connected to each other in supporting life."

Working under the supervision of John Vederas in the Department of Chemistry, Rosana will study the interaction between antibiotics, such as bacteriocins and pathogen receptors, in order to understand how they work and the role they play. "The ultimate aim is to lead a structure-based investigation of antimicrobial-receptor complexes for engineering new hybrid antibiotics to combat the rise of superbugs," he said.

For Rosana, receiving the Vanier scholarship that will support him over the next three years of his studies is both an incredible blessing and a great challenge.

"Realizing what it meant to hold this award really made me scared," said Rosana with a laugh, "Such a great opportunity is equated to a huge responsibility. I asked myself, 'How can I deliver?' It's something I'll work hard to do for the next three years and beyond."