Environmental and Life Sciences (ENLS) M.Sc. graduate student Hai Nguyen recently presented his leading research to the Canadian Society of Plant Biologists (CSPB), receiving one of three Director’s Awards for his oral presentation.
“My research is relevant to both academic and industrial applications of phytohormone in response to heavy metal toxicity, particularly in the mining sector,” explains Hai. “At Trent, I have had the opportunity to work alongside Dr. Neil Emery, who does a fantastic job of bringing phytohormone stories to life, and his attention to detail, comments and suggestions on my project and writing contributed to my success at the CSPB.”
The CSPB serves as a forum through which plant scientists from across the country can network and discuss the latest scientific developments in the field. It also recognizes excellence in plant biology through several awards, including the Directors' Awards for the best student oral and poster presentations. This year, 50 invited presentations were made over 13 sessions.
Hai’s presentation, titled Phytohormone – Enhanced Heavy Metal Responses in Euglena Gracilis, outlined his research into the functioning of cytokinins and abscisic acid in heavy metal stress response in algae. Cytokinins are a type of plant hormone that are potent regulators of plant development, and Hai hopes to create effective and environmentally-friendly methods for bioremediation – a process through which microbes, small organisms like algae or photosynthetic protist, are used to clean up contaminated soil, groundwater or other subsurface materials.
Inspiring mentors and a bright future
Hai was inspired to pursue his Masters at Trent after attending a seminar by Professor Emery, one of the world’s leading experts in the study of plant hormones.
“I am very grateful for the welcoming community I found at Trent,” Hai says, assuring future students that a fulfilling experience awaits them. “You will have a lot of opportunities to work with professors and experts in your field. You will have more hands-on experience and you will have more resources. Just ask for help. There is a lot available.”
This rising star in the field of phytohormone research also received a five-year fellowship to the prestigious Dartmouth College, an Ivy League research university in New Hampshire, where he will continue to build on the research he has been conducting in Trent’s Emery Lab.
“Institutions like Dartmouth only look seriously at applicants with the complete package,” explains Prof. Emery. “The accomplishment of a lot of experiments (i.e. they work extremely hard), mastery of the latest, high-end lab skills, and a rare ability to translate all that precious work into multiple, high-impact journal publications. At Trent, Hai has excelled magnificently in all those respects.”
In the past two years at Trent, Hai has published six journal articles, mostly relating to phytohormones and algae tolerance to heavy metals.
“Hai is always laser-focused in generating data in the lab and has made major gains in our understanding of how algae can program themselves to not only resist heavy metal toxicity but also take that metal from out of water and thus reduce environmental harm. He has done this using several cutting-edge techniques,” says Prof. Emery. “His work offers creative scientific insights into algal biochemistry, which will be widely read in our field and also help our industry partner, Noblegen Inc., develop new product offerings.”
Access to state-of-the-art labs at Trent
Beyond his work in the Emery Lab, Hai says Trent has also given him the opportunity to work with the state-of-the-art equipment in Trent’s Water Quality Centre, the most comprehensive mass spectrometry facility in Canada, and Noblegen Inc., a biotechnology company with strong ties to Trent.
“For this interdisciplinary project, I had the rare opportunity to work with a few research groups,” says Hai. “While my M.Sc. project mainly involves experiments in the Emery Lab, it also requires the use of several other laboratories to access the scientific instruments to analyze the anatomy and biochemistry of algae and test biotechnology applications. For example, I conducted a metal analysis using ICP-MS and Organic Mass Spectrometry with Dr. Huy Dang, Dr. Anna Kisiala and Dr. Naomi Stock in the Trent Water Quality Centre.”