News & Events

McDonald Institute Student Achievement Award Recipients

Each year the McDonald Institute looks to celebrate student excellence. The McDonald Institute Student Achievement Awards facilitate members to nominate students who have made significant contributions within the last year. The McDonald Institute Student Achievement award recipients receive a $250 honorarium and commemorative certificate in honour of their efforts.  

This year, the McDonald Institute celebrates Ingrida Semenec, Daniel Durnford and Callan Jessiman for receiving the 2021 McDonald Institute Student Achievement Awards. Their three individual awards recognize significant contributions in Equity Leadership, Outreach & Education and Research Contribution. 


Inigrida Semenec, Queen’s University – 2021 McDonald Institute Award for Student Achievement (Equity Leadership)

The underrepresentation of women in physics is well known, but increasing diversity needs to start by making sure our community is inclusive. Ingrida has worked tirelessly to help make the physics department more welcoming to women and other gender minorities. She has initiated activities and gatherings that considered substantial problems, and all department members had a chance to provide input. Her roundtable discussions are well known and groundbreaking for a physics department. Ingrida was a founding member of the department’s Equity, Diversity, Inclusivity and Indigenization Facilitation EDIIF Committee. The committee works rigorously to collect data to understand shortcomings and chart a new path. 

Ingrida’s most reputable contribution was her efforts with Gender Minorities In Physics (GEMINI-P). In a short amount of time, the group has run activities that educated department members about diversity and sought to help diversity-seeking groups feel welcome. By making our department (and the astroparticle research groups) more inclusive, Ingrida has made physics more attractive to future graduate students, thus bolstering the diversity of future research teams. 

  • Nomination by Dr. James Fraster, Queen’s University 


Callan Jessiman, Carleton University – 2021 McDonald Institute Award for Student Achievement (Outreach and Education)

Since 2018, Callan Jessiman has directed the Carleton Physics Department’s Astronomy Nights. Before the pandemic, the event took place almost every month (weather permitting). The consistent tens of public members who attended demonstrated that the event was a perfect fit for the community. 

Before every event, Callan would prepare an object of interest and guide the viewing with interesting astronomy facts and the physics behind them. With his broad knowledge of physics and astronomy, he answered a wide range of questions from the public. 

When the pandemic started, Callan pivoted the programming online. He continues to deliver Astronomy Night virtually through YouTube live, streaming and answering questions from the participants. The online streaming has allowed Callan’s reach and audience size to expand, with one of the sessions receiving 500+ viewers. 

On top of his busy study and research schedule, Callan has been a major contributor to the physics department outreach programs. With 3+ years of outreach work, Callan brings the joy and wonder of astronomy and physics to hundreds (if not thousands) of people in the Ottawa community. 

  • Nomination by Dr. Tong Xu, Queen’s University 


Daniel Durnford, University of Alberta – 2021 McDonald Institute Award for Student Achievement (Research Contribution)

Daniel Durnford’s nomination comes from his exemplary leadership in the installation, commissioning, and data analysis of NEWS-G’s dark matter physics results. In addition to providing an improved computational method for the calculation of the nucleation efficiency of nuclear recoils in super-heated liquids, a field of physics that previously was unfamiliar to him. 

For NEWS-G, Daniel was the expert on-site to commission the detector at Modane, and he distinguished himself by achieving exceptional work. Daniel’s research contribution paved the way for NEWS-G to obtain a dark matter limit at the lowest possible WIMP masses. He has also established a list of several requirements and commissioning runs to take once the detector begins operation at SNOLAB. 

Daniel’s results opened the door for dedicated studies that will be led by Daniel using the UofA sphere to conduct measurements of fundamental gas properties to improve understanding of the physical processes occurring in the detector. It will consist of empirical measurements of the average energy required to ionize one electron/ion pair, a fundamental property of gases in ionization detectors. These precise measurements of different gases and gas mixtures assists the NEWS-G search for dark matter, but also the search of other ionization gas detectors. These results are critical aspects of future NEWS-G DM publications, and again, would also be relevant to other low-energy ionization detectors in dark matter physics.

Daniel’s research contribution in the determination of the nucleation efficiency for nuclear recoils is necessary for the interpretation of experimental results for dark matter for the next generation of bubble chamber detectors. The results he obtained from 6 years of dedicated calibration data of the PICO collaboration are the most up-to-date dedicated analysis, and he successfully applied his new method for the SBC detector submitted in the LIDINE proceeding. His results confirm once again that the threshold for nucleation deviates from the predicted Seitz threshold. Thanks to his results, the NEWS-G team is currently working on a model that better describes what happens in bubble growth in superheated fluids to represent the experimental results without deviation.