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Sharon LackieOperating the scanning electron microscope at the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research, Sharon Lackie helps researchers make breakthroughs in chemistry, biology, physics, engineering, environmental science, geology, and more.

Microscope technician looks into prehistoric discovery

When the Royal Ontario Museum’s curator of invertebrate paleontology needs to learn more about a 500-million–year-old fossil, he turns to UWindsor’s Sharon Lackie.

Lackie operates the scanning electron microscope at the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research. On even the most routine of days, Lackie helps researchers make breakthroughs in chemistry, biology, physics, engineering, environmental science, geology, and more.

But recently, she was featured along with Jean Bernard-Caron of the Royal Ontario Museum in a yet-to-be-aired international episode of the CBC science documentary series, The Nature of Things, about a discovery that has changed our understanding of prehistoric life.

The episode features the planet’s first animals — creatures that perished in an underwater mudslide more than half a billion years ago and remain buried in the Rocky Mountains’ Burgess Shale. In the episode, Dr. Bernard-Caron brings a sample to Lackie for elemental analysis, discovering that the tiny white spots on a fossil were actually eggs the creature was carefully transporting under its shell.

The arthropod, called Waptia, is the earliest creature ever discovered to have displayed brood care. In her 12 years of analyzing fossils for the museum, Lackie has also helped Bernard-Caron discover the first animal with a spinal cord, and, by analyzing the eyes on another creature, establishing that mollusks existed much earlier than previously believed.

“This is a very interesting job,” said Lackie. “I feel very lucky.”

As its name suggests, a scanning electron microscope uses electrons to create an image as they hit the surface of the sample. It has a camera so the user can see the sample as it sits in the chamber, and x-rays for elemental analysis.

The microscope generates electrons by passing electricity through a filament, not unlike the ones contained in light bulbs, except that the one in this instrument costs $10,000 to replace if damaged.

The electrons go down into a cylinder through a vacuum to prevent them from scattering. As the electrons hit the surface of a sample, they generate an image that is reproduced on a computer screen. The GLIER microscope can magnify specimens up to 250,000 times.

It’s an indispensable tool for paleontologists and inventors because samples can be analyzed in their natural state. Other electron microscopes require samples to be first coated in a conductive material like gold or carbon.

The instrument can identify every element contained in a sample, with the exception of hydrogen, helium and lithium which are too light to detect. It generates a graph with each element represented, and a map representing each element by a different colour.

“We can determine the composition of anything we look at,” Lackie said, demonstrating how the microscope can be programmed to scan a sample, area by area, pixel by pixel.

Lackie said that’s how she often handles fossils hand-delivered to her by workers from the museum. She will put the fossil in the chamber on a Friday and allow the microscope to run all weekend.

Lackie, who holds a Master’s degree in plant science as well as a Bachelor of Education, trains researchers on how to use the microscope and schedules their time, usually booked three weeks in advance.

It’s used for on-campus research as well as by industry, and is especially useful for scientists developing new materials on a nanoscale.

“Often they can’t see if their work has succeeded until they come here.”

Lackie said she feels privileged to contribute to new discovery.

“I could be looking at bacteria in the morning and car parts in the afternoon,” she said. Then there are the odd 500-million–year-old fossils thrown in for good measure.

“It’s amazing to me.”

─Sarah Sacheli

Sean SennettActing alumnus Sean Sennett will appear this weekend in the rock musical We Will Rock You at Caesars Windsor.

Grad to grace Caesars stage in Queen tribute

Sean Sennett wasn’t out of school a month before landing a role in a touring production of the rock musical We Will Rock You, which will make a stop this weekend at Caesars Windsor.

After graduating in April 2019 with a BFA in Acting from the School of Dramatic Art, Sennett sent in an audition to the company putting together the first national tour of the hit show — a theatrical production with a story by Ben Elton built around the songs of the band Queen.

As a new grad, Sennett didn’t know what to expect, but was blown away when he received the phone call telling him he was cast as an ensemble member and an understudy for one of the lead roles.

“Everything has just sort of aligned to this one particular show,” he says, “It’s just so crazy. I’ve been a Queen fan my entire life so this is even that much better.”

Sennett was memorable in his roles with University Players last year as Bart in Mr. Burns and Alan in God of Carnage.

Since 2002, more than 16 million theatregoers in 19 countries have seen We Will Rock You, featuring some of Queen’s biggest hits songs, including We Are the Champions, Bohemian Rhapsody, and Another One Bites the Dust.

Caesars Windsor will present the show Nov. 29 and 30. Tickets are available here.

artwork My Student Support ProgramThe My Student Support Program offers UWindsor students 24-hour access to counselling services.

Program providing mental health support to students

UWindsor students have constant access to counselling services with the launch of the My Student Support Program (MySSP), offered in partnership between the University of Windsor and the University of Windsor Students’ Alliance (UWSA).

Funding for a two-year term makes UWindsor the first post-secondary institution in Ontario to offer this program to its entire student population. The program, which offers calling and a live text-chat function with licensed counsellors, had previously been available only to international students.

The new commitment will allow all students on campus, including international students, those away on exchange, and alumni entering the workforce, free access to these services.

Through a downloadable app called MySSP, students can call or live chat via text for confidential counselling services round the clock in up to 140 different languages and dialects, also available by phone through a 1-800 number and through the website. The app is downloadable in simplified Chinese, Korean, Arabic, Spanish, English, and French, with Hindi to be added in the next quarter.

“Access to services like these is in direct alignment with UWindsor’s Student Mental Health Strategy and a priority of the University of Windsor in response to the growing need for mental health supports across all campuses,” says Mohsan Beg, executive director of Student Health, Counselling, & Wellness Services.

For more information on My Student Support Program, visit uwindsor.ca/MySSP.

Anna Claudia AgazziAnna Claudia Agazzi of Sao Paulo State University will discuss her research into music performance and new technologies in a public lecture Nov. 27.

Piano professor to address performance research

A professor of piano from Brazil will discuss her research into music performance and new technologies in a free public lecture in the Wildeman Centre for the Creative Arts’ Multimedia Studio on Wednesday, Nov. 27, at 5 p.m.

Anna Claudia Agazzi teaches in the Instituto de Artes at Sao Paulo State University. A roundtable discussion of issues in research-creation in Canada and Brazil will follow her presentation, entitled “Pianistic installations: Creative experiments through the interface between piano repertoire and contemporaneity.”

Dr. Agazzi is currently a visiting scholar at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music. Her appearance in Windsor is sponsored by the Propeller Project; the School of Creative Arts; and the Faculty of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences.

Find more information, including a brief biography, on the event website.

Paolo Vasapolli serving up soupExecutive chef Paolo Vasapolli hands over a cup of tomato tortellini soup during a charity luncheon Tuesday in the student centre Commons.

Soup-off ladles out spirit of giving

Clam chowder can be a divisive subject. Not everyone likes it, but those who do, like it a lot. That fondness won out Tuesday, as clam chowder earned a win for human kinetics in the Great Faculty Soup-off, a fundraising lunch for the United Way.

The event offered diners samples of eight soups, one served by each academic faculty, for a contribution of $8 to the charity. Patrons supped and sipped before voting for their favourites.

Doris Liu, a master’s student in education, said she found the timing propitious.

“The soup is warm for the winter, it’s a good meal for students heading into finals, and knowing it’s for charity sets the atmosphere for the holidays,” she said as she tried a cup of beef barley.

Sheri Lowrie, co-chair of the United Way campus campaign, announced that with a total of almost $93,000 in pledges before counting retiree supporters or Tuesday’s proceeds, donations will almost certainly top the $100,000 mark.

A prize draw for employee contributors handed out:

  • a six-month campus parking pass to Sarah Cats;
  • a one-year membership to the Forge Fitness Centre to Theresa Whelan;
  • three-play subscriptions to University Players to Nancy McNevin and Laura Mclean;
  • tickets to a School of Creative Arts concert to Laurie Soulliere; and
  • an extra day’s vacation to Marnie Kuhn.

Kuhn said the prize was an unexpected bonus.

“The United Way is a terrific organization that does so much good in our community,” she said. “I’m happy to support it.”

Learn more about the United Way on the website for its campus campaign.

Ethan D’sa, Julien JouanFirst-year student Ethan D’sa and Julien Jouan select some sweatshirts from the sale display in the Campus Bookstore.

Sale offering savings on sweatshirts

The Campus Bookstore is offering a 40 per cent discount on selected styles of sweatshirt during its Black Friday Sale, continuing through Nov. 29.

Choose from crewneck and hooded designs in sizes ranging from extra small to triple extra large. Find a list of available items in the store catalogue or drop by its location on the lower level of the CAW Student Centre.

files labelled PayrollThe finance department has posted its December payroll schedule to its website.

Finance department issues accelerated schedule for December payroll

Due to the limited time available to process payrolls during the month of December, the finance department requests co-operation in adhering to an accelerated schedule posted to its website.

Payroll manager Jessica Higgins notes that manual cheques will not be available: “so please ensure you meet the required time card submission deadlines.”

Find details in the payroll memo.