2021 Celebration of Excellence in Research and Teaching

Meet the recipients of our annual awards, highlighting excellence and honouring our exceptional faculty and staff.

Andrew Lyle - 16 December 2021

Meet the recipients of the Faculty of Science's 2021 Celebration of Excellence in Research and Teaching awards.

Meet the recipients of the Faculty of Science's 2021 Celebration of Excellence in Research and Teaching awards. Photo credit: Dawn Graves

Each year, the Faculty of Science honours our exceptional faculty and staff at the Celebration of Excellence in Research and Teaching.

In most years, we gather together in the spring to recognize the contributions of our award winners and the work that our entire community does to make the Faculty of Science a leading place to learn, teach, and conduct research.

“Being able to return to largely in-person instruction this fall was a major step forward for the Faculty of Science in our return to normalcy after more than a year of pandemic restrictions, said Frederick West, acting dean of the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Science. “At the same time, that return came with challenges, and our amazing faculty, staff, and students rose to the occasion and continued to conduct world-leading research and teaching. That can-do attitude and continuing focus on excellence lies at the heart of this year's award winners”

The hard work of the 2021 award recipients and of the entire Faculty of Science community has made this semester a success, and continues to support our mission of world-leading research and inspired teaching and training of the next generation of scientists.

Please join us congratulating the 2021 award recipients on their embodiment of the Faculty of Science’s core values. 

Research Award - Daniel Alessi

Daniel Alessi, associate professor & Encana Chair in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, received the Research Award, in recognition of outstanding contributions in research. Alessi’s research focuses on the surface chemistry of materials, the biogeochemistry of metals cycling in water, soils and sediments, and the water cycle in unconventional energy recovery. Recently, Alessi also joined the Science Talks webinar series to discuss promising technologies to extract lithium from brines.

Tell us a bit about your research program. What do you study?

My work is broadly focused on the reactivity of surfaces in the environment, such as minerals, microbes, and biochar. I aim to understand how these materials control the transport and fate of metals and organic compounds in the environment. In addition, I work on the water cycle of industrial processes including hydraulic fracturing (HF), and on the extraction of potentially valuable metals such as lithium from brines produced during HF and conventional oil and gas extraction.

What makes this an important subject of study?

My research is important in a modern context to predict how contaminants move in soils and groundwater, and in understanding potential impacts of climate change on soil and water ecosystems. With collaborators, I also work on determining how environmental surfaces impact the cycling of metals and nutrients in the geologic past, critical in understanding the evolution of the biosphere. My applied work, on the hydraulic fracturing water cycle and extraction of lithium from those and other brines, supports the transition of the global economy to sustainable energy sources.

What was your reaction upon hearing that you were being recognized with this award?

Excited and grateful were my first reactions. Given the calibre of colleagues in the Faculty of Science, it is an honour to be granted the award.It is confirmation that I have built a productive research group in my eight years on campus, working on relevant research questions. It also makes me grateful to have launched my career as a faculty member at the University of Alberta.

Kathleen W. Klawe Prize for Excellence in Teaching of Large Classes: Keshwaree Babooram

Keshwaree Babooram, faculty lecturer in the Department of Chemistry, received the Kathleen W. Klawe Prize for Excellence in Teaching of Large Classes, chosen for outstanding instruction of a large class. Babooram teaches introductory chemistry courses with hundreds of students — an already challenging task made all the more noteworthy during the first semester returning to in-person learning on campus.

What do you enjoy most about teaching this subject?

Chemistry is present in so many different forms in our daily lives, from the margarine we spread on our toast in the morning to the gas we burn to power our car. Showcasing the applications and the interesting and fun facts about chemistry is what I enjoy most about teaching. I also really enjoy meeting my students and learning about their interests in these subjects.

What is your philosophy when it comes to instruction? How do you help your students succeed?

My teaching philosophy evolves from my own experiences as a learner and an instructor and it is guided by four main principles which are as follows: 

  1. Teaching is a learning process for the teacher as much as it is for the students. 
  2. Building and maintaining a positive relationship with students is vital for learning. 
  3. Connecting theory and concepts to real-life applications improves learning.
  4. An enthusiastic teacher stimulates interest which promotes learning.

I help my students by adapting to their learning needs, by listening to their concerns, and by providing them with resources to promote learning. I also go the extra mile to write detailed responses to students’ questions and send them by email or post them to the eclass discussion forum. I take time to meet any students who want to talk one-on-one and I offer advice when they ask after listening to their concerns/struggles. In some cases, I talk about time management/planning and share my own experiences from when I was myself a student.

What does this recognition mean to you?

I was excited and grateful that my hard work and dedication has been recognized. It is definitely a motivator to keep striving to do better because it is an indication that my teaching strategies have been successful in engaging students with the material meaningfully.

Graduate Mentoring Award - Katharine Magor

Katharine Magor, professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, received the Graduate Mentoring Award, chosen for demonstrating outstanding qualities in graduate student mentorship.

Tell us a bit about your research. Why is it important to study this subject?

We study the immune response to influenza in the reservoir host, ducks. Currently we are identifying the genes that protect ducks from H5N1 bird flu, which is fatal to everything else — including chickens in 24 hours. We study the function of key proteins that are involved in protection. On the other side, we also look at all the ways the virus can shut down immune responses in both birds and humans.

What is your philosophy when it comes to mentoring the next generation of scientists?

Everyone needs to bring their brain to work and think for themselves. I encourage students to own their project and run with it. Smart people just need the right environment to learn and trust their own ideas. 

What is your advice to students just beginning their own academic journeys?

Enjoy the journey. Keep it fun at work and in life. Play every day. Don’t worry about the destination. A career in science can take you anywhere in the world.

What was your reaction upon hearing that you were being recognized with this award? What does this recognition mean to you?

I was completed completely surprised. This is my first and only award, but it is also the best one.