For Nicole Mirecki, it’s not about the fish. It’s about the physics.
Mirecki, who is heading into Grade 12 this fall at Paul Kane High School, is one of three St. Albert students taking part in the Women in Scholarship, Engineering, Science and Technology (WISEST) summer research program, running, which runs until Aug. 16 at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.
There, sShe is stationed in the civil and environmental engineering lab, where she and a graduate student are studying the dynamics of fish migration, working to create more environmentally friendly ways for fishthem to travel upstream around man-made obstacles like dams.
But Mirecki said it wasn’t the marine life that attracted her to the program — it was the math behind it.
“I’m not learning so much about the fish; it’s more about the actual physics, the velocity and stuff,” she said. “It’s more an engineering thing than environmental; I’m not specifically learning about fish.”
One of the solutions they are studying is a “rocky ramp” pathway — using rocks and natural materials instead of metals to slow the water’s velocity.
“It’s been really great,” Mirecki said. “We have weekly activities; I’ve already been on two tours to facilities — Syncrude oil and the Dow chemical facility. They encourage women to go into less traditional career paths and they want you to see what’s out there, show you a bunch of new opportunities and really broaden your knowledge.”
Meanwhile, St. Albert Catholic High School student Bailey Sadowsky is nearby on campus, working in the mechanical engineering building to find better ways to set broken bones.
“It’s honestly so much fun. I get upset on Saturdays because I can’t go to work,” she said.
One of the methods Sadowsky and her grad student are testing is the braiding of Kevlar strands into an “internal composite sock” to hold the bone in place while it heals. Some of the variables include the thickness of the strands in the braid and the angle at which they are braided.
“When you apply to WISEST, you have to write an essay and I wrote mine on biomedical engineering because that’s something I’ve been interested in the past couple of years to do as a graduate study,” Sadowsky said. “I was so happy I got into WISEST … [it] gave me exactly what I wanted to do in university.”
Ă©cole Secondaire Sainte Margeurite d’Youville student Danielle Pertschy is also taking part in the program, working in the university’s oncology lab to gather data on the treatment of prostate cancer.
Denise Hemmings, chair of the WISEST program, said that after 27 years, it has a long history of successful graduates who excel in scientific fields.
“We’ve had just tremendous success,” Hemmings said. “The attitudes of the students from the beginning, before they start, [to] afterwards, the change in six weeks is actually phenomenal.”
She added the program targets young women after their Grade 11 years because that’s when some major decisions are made about future career paths.
“This helps them to realize that, to get in, to experience the university, to experience working in a lab and looking at research, which I don’t think any of these kids would understand what this means if they hadn’t had the experience of going in and seeing what research really is at a university level,” she said.
It’s an important opportunity that Hemmings said she wishes she had when she was growing up and it’s an opportunity not lost on either Sadowsky or Mirecki as they plan for their futures.
“The biggest thing is the networking — the people you meet,” she said. “My principal investigator, Dr. Jason Carey, he’s the head of the biomedical option department of the U of A, so getting to know him and getting to know some of the other researchers and the people working there, I think is going to be really helpful.”
“The department I’m in right now — civil and environmental engineering — after high school, I think I really want to go into that,” Mirecki added. “It has really encouraged me and given me a good idea of what I want to do after high school.”