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Collage of newsletter photosSCIENCE MATTERS

In this issue:

Assistant Professors Rebecca Batstone (left), Kirsten Bell and Patrick Clancy were among the seven McMaster researchers to receive more than $2 million from the Canada Foundation for Innovation's John R. Evans Leaders Fund this fall. 

The fund is designed to help universities recruit and retain the very best researchers by providing them with the foundational equipment and facilities they need to become leaders in their field. This year, the foundation invested a total of $64 million in research infrastructure to support 251 projects at 40 universities across Canada.

Rebecca is using the funding to establish the Batstone Lab for Symbiosis Evolution in the Department of Biology while Kirsten is establishing the Bell Nutrition Lab in the Department of Kinesiology and Patrick is establishing a lab in the Department of Physics & Astronomy for the study of quantum materials under extreme conditions. 

Rodrigo Alejandro Vargas-Hernandez
Assistant Professor
Department of Chemistry & Chemical Biology

Rodrigo joined the Faculty of Science in September.  Rodrigo earned his PhD in Theoretical Chemistry at the University of British Columbia and his Honours BSc in Chemistry and Theoretical Chemistry from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. Prior to joining McMaster, Rodrigo was a postdoctoral researcher at the Unviersity of Toronto and an Affiliate Postdoctoral Researchers at the Vector Institute.

What's the focus of your research?
My research is focused on the application and development of machine learning algorithms to advance materials simulations.
Who inspired you to become a scientist?
My parents who've supported me through my research career. If you weren't an assistant professor, what would you be doing for a career?
Knowledge and freedom are the primarily motivators for my job. If I wasn't an assistant prof., I will likely be part of a research group in the industry.
What do you enjoy doing away from work?
In my spare time I usually practice bike & cafe - choose a coffee shop or a bakery and then cycle there.'

Your hometown?

I was born in Mexico City.

Welcome Rodrigo at

Ryan Cloutier
Assistant Professor
Department of Physics & Astronomy

Ryan joined the Faculty of Science in September. Ryan earned his PhD in Astronomy and Astrophysics from the University of Toronto. Prior to joining McMaster, Ryan was a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Astrophysics at Harvard University, tackling modern problems in exoplanetary astrophysics using data-driven methods and probabilistic modelling.

What's the focus of your research?

I'm an observational astronomer who focuses on the detection and characterization of the galaxy's most common planets around its most common stars. 

What inspired you to become scientist?

For science it was probably using microscopes in eighth grade science class to look at cell structures. For astronomy, it was Professor Bob Abraham at the University of Toronto and his delivery of the first-year Origins of the Universe course.

If you weren't an associate professor, what would you be doing?

Realistically, a veterinarian. Unrealistically, a top-line center for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

What do you enjoy doing away from work?

Hockey, homebrewing craft beer and playing my bass.

Your hometown?

Mississauga, ON.

Welcome Ryan at

It's a homecoming for the new program manager and research coordinator of the McCall MacBain Postdoctoral Fellows Teaching and Leadership Program. Katie GeorgeKatie George graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Neuroscience in 2006. "Walking through the doors of the Psychology Building was like walking back in time. I was half-expecting to see Dick Day pop up on a TV monitor to greet me. I had forgotten how exciting campus can be and how much I had missed it."
The made-at-McMaster program provides postdoctoral fellows with the training and support Katie wished she had received before she started teaching nearly 16 years ago at Mohawk College. "I had never attended teachers' college. I had never received any formal training in teaching and I was terrified. If I'd been armed with the tools that we equip postdocs with, I would've incorporated cognitive principles within my lectures. I learned through experience and trial and error, with my students as test subjects."
Katie has also put her McMaster education to work as an advanced rehabilitation therapist helping individuals with acquired brain injuries. "The inner workings of cognition, neurology and the impact of injury have always intrigued me.  When I had the opportunity to work with individuals impacted by brain injury, it allowed me to put my knowledge into practice.  Talking about the frontal lobe or hippocampal functioning and its implications on memory is fascinating.  Applying those concepts to help someone re-learn and create compensatory strategies to live their day-to-day life is extremely rewarding." 

Outside of work, Katie is with her two kids "which often involves chauffer duties and deep discussions about SpongeBob Square Pants. When I have a moment to myself, I love running, hiking, spending time in nature or enjoying a good Stephen King novel."
The McCall MacBain Postdoctoral Fellows Teaching and Leadership Program was launched in 2019. Katie works with Joe Kim to deliver the year-long training program which develops the teaching, communication and leadership skills of postdoctoral fellows through workshops, presentations and research projects. Thirty-eight postdoctoral fellows have completed the program with 12 postdocs enrolled this year.

Welcome Katie at

The honours continue for Christine Wilson.  

Christine, a Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Physics & Astronomy and the (Tier 1) Canada Research Chair in Extragalactic Star Formation, has been recognized as one of the top 1000 female scientists in the world by Christine has ranked 23rd in Canada and 697th in the world. Earlier this year, Christine received the 2022 Executive Award from the Canadian Astrological Society.

"The Department is very pleased to see that Christine is being recognized for her impressive body of work," says Physics & Astronomy Chair Alison Sills. "She is a leader in her field and in the Department, and has been an inspiration and mentor to many of us in all aspects of academic life."

Deborah Cook, a Distinguished Professor of Medicine, Clinical Epidemiology & Biostatistics and Academic Chair of Critical Care with the Faculty of Health Sciences, is the other McMaster researcher among's list of top 1000 female scientists.

The 2022 edition of's ranking of the world's top female scientists are based on the H-index metric provided by Microsoft Academic Graph. said it launched the ranking to "inspire female scholars, women considering an academic career, as well as decision-makers worldwide with the example of successful women in the scientific community. We hope that it will contribute to providing more opportunities, visibility, and equal chances for women in science."

According to, approximately 33 per cent of people employed in science research are women and, relative to their male peers, are less likely to be named on a patent or article, and their contributions are often unacknowledged. also says that among graduate students, female students have a 14.97 per cent chance of getting an attribution, compared to 21.47 per cent for male students.

Congratulate Christine at

Anu Kumar
Anu Kumar is getting an eight-week head start on her co-op work placement.

The third-year Actuarial Financial Mathematics student and seven of her classmates are enrolled in a new pilot program created by The Co-operators General Insurance Company and the Faculty of Science.

Advancing Tomorrow’s Actuaries provides students with technical and soft skills training, one-on-one mentoring and a guaranteed co-op work placement at The Co-operators this January. 

The students applied to the program in the summer and were selected by committee made up of members from The Co-operators and the Faculty of Science.

"I've heard such great things about working at The Co-operators so I was excited to find out about this program," says Anu. "The stars aligned."

Anu says the pilot program’s been a confidence booster. This will be her first co-op work placement and while she's worked retail jobs and at the McMaster Student Success Centre, she’s yet to work in a corporate office. “I could go on about all the benefits of this program, but overall it comes down to confidence. Confidence gives you the power to do so much. Because of this program, I know I’ll be confident and successful during my co-op.”

Helping students excel during their co-op is the reason The Co-operators got behind the program, says Jean-Sebastien Nepton, Associate Vice President of Home Pricing.

Like Anu, Jean-Sebastien was a co-op student 15 years ago. “I remember the steep learning curve and worrying that I lacked all the necessary skills and knowledge. This program helps flatten the curve and reduce stress for students. As a co-operative, giving back to the community is one of our objectives. For our team, we identified this pilot program as a great opportunity to share our knowledge and expertise with McMaster students.”

It's also been a rewarding experience for the eight Co-operators employees who’ve volunteered to serve as one-on-one mentors. “They’re  excited to be part of this journey,” says Jean-Sebastien about his colleagues. “Our mentors were looking to develop their coaching and teaching skills. In our usual recruitment process, we don’t interact much with students during the months between their interviews and the start of their placements. Our mentors appreciate being able to meet with the students and learn about them before they start their co-ops with us.”

Anas Abdallah, Assistant Professor and Co-ordinator of the Actuarial & Financial Mathematics program in the Department of Mathematics & Statistics, says his former employer has been an outstanding partner and student champion. 

“Thanks to The Co-operators, our students will be even better prepared to contribute right from day one on the job. They’ll arrive with advanced technical skills unique to the industry plus the soft skills that are often learned on the job.”

Dan Manns, a Career Development and Relationship Manager with Science Career & Cooperative Education, worked with Anas and Jean-Sebastien to create the first-of-its-kind pilot program in the Faculty of Science. Dan says they took a student-centred pedagogical approach in building a program that connects industry, academics and students.

“We’ve built a bridge between everything that students learn in their program and what they’ll be doing during their co-op,” says Dan, who’s delivering the soft skills training.

The project is earning high marks from Anu and the other seven students in the program. In a survey completed at the mid-point of the program, all the students agreed they are increasing their knowledge and skills to prepare for their work term, are enjoying the training and feel engaged in the program.

The students in turn are getting rave reviews. “I’m really impressed by their commitment, professional and desire to learn,” says Jean-Sebastien.

While the pilot program is the first of its kind for the Faculty of Science, Dan and Anas hope other companies in the insurance industry follow The Co-operators lead and adopt the Advancing Tomorrow’s Actuaries program with its winning combination of technical and soft skills training, mentorship and guaranteed co-op work placements for Actuarial Financial Mathematics students.

“Companies would be hard pressed to find better prepared and more enthusiastic students,” says Anas.

Founded in 1945, The Co-operators is a leading Canadian financial services co-operative with more than 6,000 employees, over 2,500 licensed insurance representatives and more than 200 locations across the country.


Sophie Wilkinson and Chantel Markle
Postdoctoral fellows Sophie Wilkinson (top), Chantel Markle and Colin McCarter have made history in the McMaster Ecohydrology Lab.

It’s the first time three current lab members have been recruited as assistant professors within months of each other. Colin is now an assistant professor in Climate and Environmental at Nipissing University. Chantel joins the University of Waterloo as an assistant professor in Wildlife Ecohydrology & Global Change this January. Sophie will join Simon Fraser University as an assistant professor in Applied Terrestrial Ecology next July.

While the appointments are unprecedented in the 25-year history of the lab, their supervisor isn’t surprised.

“Drs. Markle, McCarter and Wilkinson were already exceptional scientists when they started their postdoctoral fellowships in our lab,” says Mike Waddington, who leads the McMaster Ecohydrology Lab and holds a Canada Research Chair in Ecohydrology.

“They excelled at integrating across multiple environmental science fields with a backbone of hydrological and soil science. The research synergies were incredible to be a part of and I learned a lot of science from Sophie, Chantel and Colin. I’m really excited to follow their careers with interest.”

Sophie says the lab’s culture of support and collaboration proved invaluable. “Through my time as a PhD student and postdoctoral fellow with the McMaster Ecohydrology Lab I was given a wealth of opportunities to lead and develop my own research and Mike was always very supportive,” says Sophie.

“I collaborated with amazing students and worked on interdisciplinary projects. The breadth of the knowledge and experiences gained as part of the McMaster Ecohydrology lab were paramount in my receiving an NSERC postdoctoral fellowship in the James Lab at the University of Toronto and now my appointment as Assistant Professor in Applied Terrestrial Ecology at Simon Fraser University. Thanks to Mike and the Ecohydrology lab for seven great years.”

Chantel says had a similar experience. “I valued the collaborative environment within the group and the support to pursue my interdisciplinary research interests. I’ve had the opportunity to work with a diverse group of collaborators to tackle conservation challenges for reptiles and I’m excited for my research to continue at the University of Waterloo.”

Sophie and Chantel are now recruiting students and can be reached at and

The McMaster Ecohydrology Lab, which advances integrative water and ecosystem science for boreal wetland conservation, restoration and management, has more than 100 past members working across Canada and around the world. Mike is currently supervising four postdoctoral fellows and research associates and 14 graduate and undergraduate students.

Collage of Avis Favaro photos

It’s been four weeks of unlimited brain candy for Avis Favaro at McMaster University.

The award-winning broadcast journalist is in her final week as the Faculty of Science’s inaugural journalist in residence. When her residency ends Friday, Avis will have met with dozens of faculty and students from across the University and toured research facilities including the McMaster Nuclear Reactor, the Physical Activity Centre of Excellence, LIVELab and the McMaster Centre for Climate Change’s Turkey Point Observatory.

“The phrase I’ve been using a lot is brain candy,” says Avis when she’s asked to describe her residency at McMaster. “It’s like being in a candy store filled with brilliant people who you get to spend time with and sample their research, without the pressure of working to deadline and shoehorning everything I’ve learned into a 110-second story.”
Faculty and students have left a lasting impression, says Avis. “Every time I’ve walked into classrooms and labs at McMaster, it felt like I was walking into rooms full of hope. I’ve been so impressed with the enthusiasm of all the researchers I’ve met. There’s a fire burning in them as they look for answers to questions that could make such a huge difference.  There are so many stories that deserve to be told here and so many remarkable people working on projects that will in many ways make the world a better place.”
Avis, who spent nearly 40 years with Global TV and CTV National and received an honorary degree from McMaster in 2018, says the media industry is rapidly changing and scientists will need to find new ways to showcase their research and build support for science.
Helping faculty and students build the confidence to connect and communicate with journalists and the general public is the reason why the Faculty of Science launched a journalist in residence program. “Science communication is a priority for our Faculty of Science and Avis has done a wonderful job of advising and inspiring established, emerging and future researchers,” says Dean Maureen MacDonald.
Researchers say meeting with Avis was time well spent. “It was a wonderful opportunity to learn from someone with such a distinguished career in media and who has a deep interest in health research,” says Katrina Choe, an assistant professor with the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behavior. “I found Avis’ media interview coaching to be quite helpful.”

Altaf Arain, director of the McMaster Centre for Climate Change and a professor in the School of Earth, Environment & Society, took Favaro to the top of a scaffolded research tower above the treeline near Turkey Point Provincial Park. “I very much enjoyed our discussions with Avis about our climate, environment and forest research. She asked thought-provoking questions and was very engaging with our students.”

Avis has one final piece of advice as her residency draws to a close. “Connecting people to each other is one of the things that journalists do well. I was surprised that some scientists don’t know what their fellow researchers are doing just a few lab doors down the hall. If I had one wish, it would be for more researchers to connect with each other. Connections create power and potential.”
The Faculty of Science plans to continue the journalist in residence program in 2023.


McMaster has ranked 85th worldwide in the 2023 Times Higher Education World University Rankings and is one of only four Canadian universities in the global top 100.

THE World University Rankings logo“I’m delighted that McMaster continues to earn its international reputation as a centre of excellence for teaching, learning and innovation,” says President David Farrar.

McMaster ranked first in Canada and 66th globally for Industry Income, which reflects the demand from businesses for research, and the university’s ability to attract funding in the commercial marketplace.

“At McMaster, we strive to be a go-to place for world-class researchers and collaborators who share our commitment to working together across disciplines, sectors and borders to develop knowledge, tackle global issues and advance human understanding,” says Karen Mossman, vice-president, Research.

McMaster ranked also first in Canada in the area of citation impact, an indicator of “how much each university is contributing to the sum of human knowledge.” This includes research that has been built on by other scholars and has been shared around the global scholarly community.

This year’s Times Higher Education World University Ranking measured the performance of 1,799 universities from 122 countries, using a number of performance indicators in the areas of teaching, research, citations, reputation, international outlook and industry income.

The annual rankings are widely regarded around the world as a barometer of excellence in higher education.

FACULTY OF SCIENCE PULLS TOGETHER FOR A GOOD CAUSE (AND THE WIN). The Faculty of Science team won fastest time at the 7th annual Pull4Mac Bus Pull for the United Way. The team pulled a McMaster Shuttle Bus 100 feet in just 16.75 seconds. Pulling the Faculty of Science to victory were Maureen MacDonald, Peter Rukavina, Steve Bray, Andi Lemus, Ana Campos, Jacob Brodka, Alex Hall, Matthew Vonk, Kris Knorr plus Luca Bernardini and Giuliano Serafino from the McMaster Science Society. The Pull4Mac McMaster Bus Pull raised $7,728.77, with the Faculty of Science team contributing $711.38.

Science Champion Anthony ChibbaThe Faculty of Science has launched a social media campaign to recognize more than 60 McMaster faculty, students, alumni and staff who excel at science communication and community outreach. Along with posts on Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn, they're featured on the Science Champions website, which includes tips for aspiring champions, the latest Science Long Read on the importance of science communication and a thank-you from the Dean. There's an online form to nominate science champions not yet recognized in the campaign. Similar campaigns to celebrate excellence in learning and discovery are planned.

Special thanks to Science IT team members Jacob Sloots, Jessica Blackwood and Jamie Kaushal.Special thanks to photographer Connor MacLean, writer Ashley Rabinovitch and the team at Research and High-Performance Computing Support, especially Todd Pfaff, Wale Soyinka, Ginet Segui Lines and Ye Yuan. The team’s help was instrumental in configuring the backend environment for the Science Champions web application and their maintenance of the McMaster GitLab instance where the science champions codebase lives.

For more on the Science Champions campaign, please contact communications manager Jay Robb at
Graduate Research Symposium Day Dec 6

Register here for the inaugural Graduate Research Symposium on Dec. 6th at the McMaster Innovation Park. The celebration of graduate research will feature two keynote speakers, student presentations, a lunch time poster session showcasing dozens of graduate student projects plus networking opportunities with McMaster alumni and faculty. event will consist of two amazing keynote speakers (see below), student presentations, a lunchtime poster session celebrating dozens of graduate student projects, an awards presentation and opportunities to network with McMaster Alumni and faculty. For more information, contact Graduate Support Officer Ryan Trepanier at

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