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Athabasca University

Science News and Announcements

Faculty of Science and Technology’s Bachelor of Science

Big changes are coming to the Faculty of Science and Technology’s Bachelor of Science and its majors (Applied Mathematics, Computing and Information Systems, and Human Science).

Starting in September 1st, 2017 the Faculty of Science and Technology is pleased to provide students the opportunity to select both their major and minor at the time of enrollment in Athabasca University’s BSc program.

BSc majors are available in Applied Mathematics, Computing and Information Systems, and Human Science. Students may also select the following minors: Applied Mathematics, Computing, Information Systems, Human Science, Biology, Geoscience, Physical Sciences, Learning Technology, Architecture, Game Programming, Game Development and Design, Web Development, Information Systems Management, Psychology, Finance Management, and Business Administration.  Students may also elect to complete a double major.  Students will still have the option to graduate with a BSc in general science without a specific area of focus, and also have the option of selecting a major without a minor.

If you have any questions, please contact the Student Success Centre.

Bachelor of Science in Applied Mathematics Now Open

The Bachelor of Science in Applied Mathematics opened on January 1, 2015. This online 4-year Bachelor's degree in mathematics, which is geared towards applications across a wide variety of scientific and math-related disciplines, is the first of its kind in Canada.

"The Bachelor of Science in Applied Mathematics is an advanced program that fosters innovative thinking towards the solutions of scientific, environmental, and even sociological issues using mathematical methods. Students will develop a deeper understanding and alternative perspectives of problems in math-related interdisciplinary fields," says Dr. Lisa Carter, the dean of the Faculty of Science and Technology.

The program will prepare students for careers in engineering, computing sciences, life sciences, statistics, bioinformatics, environmental science, finance and economics, ecology and epidemiology. Graduates of the program will have the opportunity to continue their career at the graduate level.

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WHMIS 2015 (GHS)

The Faculty of Science and Technology offers WHMIS 2015 (GHS), a new online course in workplace health and safety.

This would not be possible without our partnership with Gemini Performance Solutions, a company that specializes in the development of quality safety modules that are suitable for students, industry personnel and individuals who seek an affordable and flexible mode of delivery that is accessible anytime, anywhere. You can access this course on any mobile device.

AU Learning Designers Win International Prize for Innovation

A paper by AU Learning Designers Hongxin Yan and Dr. Sandra Law has taken home the International Council on Open and Distance Learning (ICDE) Prize for Innovation and Best Practice and the Honorable Mention of the Best Paper Award at the organization's recent conference in China. The organization recognized their work in helping students who are struggling with first-year calculus.

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Robotic Telescope No Longer Under Wraps

Early season winter weather dealt harshly with the Athabasca University Robotic Telescope. Near the end of October, its clamshell dome partly froze shut, then broke free from ice and opened so violently it could no longer be shut. Since it was being controlled from only a few km away in Athabasca itself, staff took quick action and covered the telescope, and the next day the entire dome, as shown here.

Robotic Telescope No Longer Under Wraps

After nearly a month out of operation, repairs have been done and full functionality restored. The telescope is available for remote operation by students doing senior astronomy project courses, and was recently shown to be capable of research in the exciting field of exoplanets (planets orbiting other stars). Please see the ASTR 495 course page for further details.


Sam Fefferman has been awarded the President's Award for Tutoring and Mentoring Excellence

It is with great pleasure that I am able to announce that Sam Fefferman has been awarded the President's Award for Tutoring and Mentoring Excellence. Sam has been a longstanding tutor in math at Athabasca University and has a proven track record in guiding students through the various concepts.

Students have taken the time to review his work, and words such as "amazing teacher", "takes time to explain in detail", "quick to return feedback" and "patient" truly show Sam's gift as a tutor and instructor.


Legislation Needed to Reduce Salt Consumption

Opinion: Excess of it plays role in raising blood pressure

by Norman Temple, special to The Vancouver Sun

August 30, 2013

It has been known for many years that our diets contain grossly excessive amounts of salt. The source of the problem is that salt is generously added to most foods that pass through a food-manufacturing facility. Indeed, roughly 75 to 80 per cent of the salt in the diet comes from processed foods, while only a small fraction comes from salt naturally present in food.

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Amazing Star Plays Where's Waldo

In support of a student project, the "Algolcam" has been photographing variable stars using an ordinary digital SLR camera on a computer-controlled mount. Despite very cloudy weather in the winter 2012-2013, it has caught the amazing binary star U Cephei in action. Since the camera is in development, the tracking is not perfect, so the position of stars varies in these two images, taken about an hour apart. The challenge is to find U Cephei, which is the only star to change dramatically in brightness in the pictures. (Hint: the red spot near the center of the first image is a camera defect, not a star). Once you have found U Cephei, reflect on the fact that it is made up of two stars roughly similar in size to our Sun, orbiting each other every 5 days. One is redder and fainter than the Sun, the other is very hot and blue and much brighter than the other star (or the Sun). When the faint one goes between the hot one and the Earth, the whole system, which looks like one star from our great distance, gets much dimmer: this is an eclipse. The Algolcam, when finished, will allow studying thousands of variable stars very efficiently.

Binary star U Cephei in action Binary star U Cephei in action

Students are invited to inquire about ASTR 495 projects using the Algolcam, to Martin Connors,


Professor Publishes through Online Publisher

Dr. Shauna Reckseidler-Zenteno's research work has been published by InTech, an open access publisher that provides free access to scientific research. Her chapter entitled "Capsular Polysaccharides Produced by the Bacterial Pathogen Burkholderia pseudomallei" appears in the book "The Complex World of Polysaccharides".

Science Outreach Receives Support from Wildlife Filmmakers

More information about Science Outreach can be found at:


Annual Perseid Meteor Shower - August 12, 2012

This time lapse movie, photographed by an automated camera at the Athabasca University Geophysical Observatory II (AUGO II) at Long Lake/Narrow Lake, Alberta, captured the annual Perseid meteor shower and a dramatic aurora. It captures the night sky from 10:30 PM to 5:30 AM on August 12, 2012. The short, thin streaks of light that flash through the night sky are the Perseid meteors. These tiny dust particles, ejected from the comet Swift-Tuttle, heat to incandescence (burn up) as they enter the Earth's atmosphere. More information about the Perseid meteor shower can be found at wikipedia:


(Download QuickTime or Windows Media Player for free to view the video.)

Tutor Receives Award

Dr Georgia Goth, Biology tutor with the Centre for Science, has been awarded the President's Award for Tutoring/Mentoring Excellence. The award recognizes excellence for outstanding instructional service to students at Athabasca University.


Venus Transit - June 5, 2012

Here are images from 4:05 to 4:17 pm MDT June 5 2012, taken from near the giant Easter Egg in Vegreville AB, using a Nikon D5100 camera on an ETX 90 telescope, with a full aperture solar filter. As far as can be told this was the clearest sky within 100 km of Edmonton, and even at that, cloud moved in to end the sequence (which is also why the colour gets more red). Venus moves slowly onto the disk of the Sun, moving westward (toward the right). North is at the top. Marks at lower right are sunspots.

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Transit of Venus

In preparation for the once-in-a-lifetime Venus transit that will be visible from western North America on June 5, 2012, the partial solar eclipse of May 20, 2012 was photographed. These four photos show the Moon moving over the face of the Sun from west to east (right to left). North is at the top, and further south than Edmonton, the Sun was covered centrally, resulting in a "ring of fire" or annular solar eclipse. Sunspots are visible on the face of the Sun. These photos were taken with a Nikon D5100 camera using a Meade ETX-90 telescope with over 1 m focal length and a full-aperture solar filter. Please do not attempt to view the Sun without an approved solar filter, during the transit of Venus or at any other time.

Partial solar eclipse of May 20, 2012 Partial solar eclipse of May 20, 2012

Partial solar eclipse of May 20, 2012 Partial solar eclipse of May 20, 2012

To learn more about the Transits of Venus view the presentation, "Transits of Venus - Triumphs and Tribulations" presented by Dr. Douglas P. Hube, Professor Emeritus, Department of Physics, University of Alberta.


“Earth’s Trojan Asteroid”

Earth’s Trojan Asteroid

Arts and Science Research Talk presented by Dr. Martin Connors.

View presentation

Image courtesy of Paul Wiegert (University of Western Ontario).

Aurora Lights up Opening Night

Clear and very dark skies over Athabasca University Geophysical Observatory's new Long Lake facility on its February 15 opening night allowed this video to be made. It shows a very typical aurora as seen from the Athabasca region. Here, auroras are usually seen near the northern horizon and from the side, as vertical curtains with red light emitted above the lower green light (here shown more as blue). Under less common, more active conditions, auroras can move southward and be seen overhead. This movie has compressed time and shows about two hours of activity, with a sound score composed by AU's Blaise McMullin.

AUGO Opening Curtain Video (MP4 - 3.4MB)

Courtesy of Dr. Martin Connors.

Tutor Receives Award

The Centre for Science is pleased to announce that Alexandra Venter has been awarded the President's Award for Tutoring/Mentoring Excellence. The award recognizes excellence for outstanding instructional service to students at Athabasca University.


Moons of Jupiter

The picture of Jupiter

Taken on the morning of September 15, 2011, this picture shows the moon Ganymede to the left of Jupiter. It has moved behind Jupiter from the right to the left in the space of a few hours. The other moons have also changed position, but not apparently as much. In order from Jupiter, the large Galilean moons are Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. By being further from the planet, Ganymede actually moves more slowly than Io and Europa, however sometimes (as here) its apparent movement can be more obvious.

Photos courtesy of Professor Martin Connors


Clear September skies have featured brilliant auroras detected by instruments at Athabasca University Geophysical Observatory (AUGO)

A spectacular coloured curtain of light

Observatory Researcher Ian Schofield has recently automated a regular Canon camera to take pictures of the sky all night to photograph auroras. Late on September 12, 2011 (referred to below as the Universal Time (UT) day of September 13), a spectacular coloured curtain of light emerged from an auroral band to mark the beginning of a "substorm". In this poorly understood process, energy from the solar wind is stored behind the Earth and then suddenly released. The origin of the colours is, however, well understood. The dominant green light comes from atmospheric oxygen hit by electrons, while lower down is a purple colour due to nitrogen. These gasses glow for much the same reason as do those in a fluorescent tube, but due to natural electricity.

AUGO has studied magnetic fields due to the aurora for many years. The graph shows magnetic data from the time of the substorm, mostly indicated by a sudden drop in the northward part of the magnetic field, visible in the blue trace in the top graph at 6:30 UT, exactly the time of the auroral brightening. The magnetic field has its origin in the electric currents flowing in the upper atmosphere and in space near the Earth. Properly prepared students may do PHYS 495 projects using auroral data from AUGO and from spacecraft. To contact Professor Martin Connors visit his personal page.

The graph of magnetic data


New Nikon Superzoom P500 camera put to the test at Athabasca University’s observatory

the Moon

The picture of the Moon was taken with nearly the maximum possible zoom (about 100x) and shows the Moon just past full on September 14, 2011. The full Moon in autumn rises near the same time each night and dominates the eastern sky, being called the "harvest Moon". The most prominent feature is the bright crater Tycho in the southern hemisphere (bottom), and it shows rays or streaks of bright material that were blasted from the crater. The edge is not smooth at the right where mountains and craters are on the edge of shadow. The apparent roughness of the round edges where the Moon meets the sky is due to turbulence in Earth's atmosphere. The resolution has been slightly reduced for fast web viewing.

The picture of Jupiter

The picture of Jupiter, with slightly less zoom, shows three of the four moons discovered by Galileo slightly over 400 years ago. From left to right these are Callisto, Europa, and Io. The moon Ganymede is actually also in the field of view, but not visible due to being in the shadow of Jupiter. The angular distance from Callisto to Jupiter in this image from September 14, 2011 is about 1/10 of a degree. For comparison, the Moon is about 1/2 degree across.

These tests indicate that a superzoom camera can act like a small telescope for photographing bright sky objects, and could be used for introductory astronomy labs.

Photos courtesy of Professor Martin Connors


Science Labs Underway in New Facility

The Centre for Science is now conducting lab sessions in the new Robert Holmberg Science Laboratory. Shauna Reckseidler‐Zenteno, Centre for Science chair and assistant professor, said the larger facility will enable the Centre to teach more students in person and prepare more lab kits for science courses.

"The newly renovated and expanded lab offers a wide range of practical lab components. For example, the remote lab will enable science faculty to develop labs that can be accessed and controlled by a student at any location in the world through their computer."

The first to be held in the new facility, a Biology 325 (Introductory Microbiology) laboratory was held in June. Twenty students from across Canada attended the session. Labs to be run in the facility include Comparative Anatomy of Vertebrates, Introductory Biology, and Introductory Microbiology.

Boasting a modern teaching lab, and geology, chemistry, physics and biology labs, the facility will also enhance the research activities of faculty members and visiting scholars alike.


Earth's First Trojan Asteroid Found

Martin Connors of Athabasca University,
Lead Author of Paper on New Discovery

Nature Cover

NASA Press Release July 27, 2011:

PASADENA, Calif. – Astronomers studying observations taken by NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission have discovered the first known "Trojan" asteroid orbiting the sun along with Earth.

Trojans are asteroids that share an orbit with a planet near stable points in front of or behind the planet. Because they constantly lead or follow in the same orbit as the planet, they never can collide with it. In our solar system, Trojans also share orbits with Neptune, Mars and Jupiter. Two of Saturn's moons share orbits with Trojans.

Scientists had predicted Earth should have Trojans, but they have been difficult to find because they are relatively small and appear near the sun from Earth's point of view.

"These asteroids dwell mostly in the daylight, making them very hard to see," said Martin Connors of Athabasca University in Canada, lead author of a new paper on the discovery in the July 28 issue of the journal Nature. "But we finally found one, because the object has an unusual orbit that takes it farther away from the sun than what is typical for Trojans. WISE was a game-changer, giving us a point of view difficult to have at Earth's surface." Read the full article.

Mission news from the WISE Mission

Artist's Concept of Trojan's Orbit

More from National Geographic


Rare Cloud Over Edmonton

Rare Blue Cloud Over Alberta

Courtesy of Professor Martin Connors

After the fireworks in Edmonton on July 1, a strange type of blue cloud could be seen in the sky. This was not smoke, but rather “noctilucent” or “night-glowing” clouds. These rare clouds can be seen only at latitudes near those of Edmonton and Athabasca, and only for a few weeks near the summer solstice (June 21). The clouds are 80 km high in the atmosphere, while normal clouds are restricted to 15 km or so. They are still in sunlight when the Earth below is in darkness, so appear bright against the dark background of the sky as seen from the ground. This photo shows them over Edmonton and the Alberta Legislature, but an ongoing project of the Athabasca University Geophysical Observatory in cooperation with the Swedish Space Agency regularly monitors the clouds as part of a world-wide network.Meteor - view from Athabasca


Quadrantid Meteor Shower

After being in development for nearly 10 years, Athabasca University's meteor patrol is in full swing. During the Quadrantid meteor shower of early January, automatic cameras at Athabasca and at our cooperating institution The King's University College of Edmonton both caught a bright "fireball" meteor. It was low on the horizon from Athabasca (left image), yet passed almost overhead near Edmonton (right image).

Meteor shower fireballs, even very bright ones like this one, burn up high in the atmosphere. Meteor showers take place when Earth passes through fragile dust and ice debris trails left by comets. The network is mainly hoping to detect and trace "bolides", which are bright meteors that do bring material to the surface of the Earth (as meteorites). Helping to reduce data from the network would be an excellent topic for a 3-credit ASTR 495 project for qualified students. Interested students may contact Professor Martin Connors.

Meteor - view from Edmonton

Updated January 07 2020 by Student & Academic Services

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