Spanning two laboratories on Trent’s Symons Campus, the Water Quality Centre (WQC) is renowned as Canada’s most comprehensive mass spectrometry facility.
Not limited in name, this state-of-the-art research facility draws world-class researchers in a range of fields to Trent, including forensics, biology, chemistry, anthropology and environmental studies, to name a few. With its unique, highly sophisticated instrumentation, the WQC is an ideal partner for government, industry and other universities that require analytical services or training.
“I’m excited to see the Centre’s service offerings grow into new research areas by augmenting the use of our existing instrumentation, applying new technologies and developing new methods of analysis,” says Dr. Paul Szpak, director of the WQC and Canada research chair in Environmental Archaeology and Anthropology professor at Trent.
The WQC currently houses 13 mass spectrometers, including the Bruker SolariX XR (eXtreme Resolution), one of only a few such mass spectrometers in the world. Another rare find in the WQC is the Plasma 1700, used for heavy isotope analyses in applications such as examining the origins of the solar system. With a 4 x 4 m2 footprint, this instrument enables the WQC to tackle extremely demanding applications that cannot be performed on other instruments.
Playing an instrumental role in research excellence
Many of Trent’s leading researchers rely WQC’s high-tech equipment to analyze a variety of organic materials, such as food products, plants, invertebrates, bird eggs and feathers, fur, sediments, soils, fly ash, municipal wastewaters, process waters, and industrial by-products, as well as inorganic materials, such as metals.
And yes, the Centre analyzes water samples too, says Professor Szpak, who, as a leader in research using stable isotope analyses, has been using the instrumentation in the WQC for a range of research projects. A recent study with former Banting research fellow and adjunct Anthropology professor Dr. Eric Guiry explored the impact of overfishing in the Gulf of Mexico nearly 200 years ago to inform modern-day policymaking around fishing.
Another leading researcher and Trent’s dean of Science, Dr. Holger Hintelmann, was one of the principal investigators of the Mercury Experiment to Assess Atmospheric Loading in Canada and the US (METAALICUS), a 20-year, multimillion-dollar ecosystem study that delivered promising insights into how to minimize the exposure to and impact of mercury pollution on human health. Using the equipment available in the WQC, the research team developed new methods to precisely measure mercury isotope ratios in environmental samples.
Trent Biology professor, Dr. Neil Emery has been conducting plant hormone research for the past decade in the Water Quality Centre, which led to the recent launch of a new biofertilizer, M-BOS, in partnership with a company specializing in the field of plant nutrition and crop technology. Professor Emery and his team used one of the WQC’s cutting-edge organic mass spectrometers that has the precision to sort through the many chemicals in a plant to find new key performance compounds.
Facilitating groundbreaking student research
“We host a lot of graduate students using our equipment for their research, as well as a few undergraduate students who are involved in thesis projects,” adds Prof. Szpak. “In addition, students in our Master of Instrumental Chemical Analysis program gain extensive hands-on experience on operating and repairing instruments, which is a key component of the program.”
Working in the WQC is a big draw for many international graduate students in particular.
Chetwynd Osborne, who is completing his Ph.D. in Trent’s Environmental & Life Sciences (ENLS) graduate program, is investigating the impact of gold mining activities on aquatic health in Guyana. Although much of his fieldwork and analyses will be conducted on-site in Guyana, Chetwynd is excited to bring some of his soil and sediment samples for testing at the WQC.
Dr. Ainsely Lewis, a post-doctoral fellow in the Emery Lab, and Daniel Palberg, an ENLS Ph.D. candidate, are both conducting critical research on biofertilizers and were recently featured on the award-winning virtual platform, FarmFood360, which offers Canadians a behind-the-scenes look at how and where their food is produced.
“Trent is already a big player in the sustainable agriculture field, but this video highlights our expertise in the broader picture of food security in the Canadian context,” says Dr. Lewis, who hails from Mandeville, Jamaica. Both researchers believe that their work is bolstered by Trent’s world-class analytical equipment and laboratories, such as the WQC.
As Prof. Szpak notes, undergraduate students also have access to the WQC’s instrumentation – all part of the advantage of studying at Trent. Biology student, Bryan Hughes, recently used the Centre to examine the compounds in flying squirrel fur to better understand the mechanisms causing fluorescence in mammal fur. Bryan’s research was conducted through the Kawartha Flying Squirrel Project, a partnership between Trent and the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources, and Forestry.
Visit the Water Quality Centre website to learn more about the role this facility plays in advancing knowledge through research and innovation.