It wasn’t until Science 10 in high school when Gabriella Gelinas, a self-described “science-y” person, BSc’23, decided physics was going to be her academic journey.
“My high school teacher was a physicist by trade, so she really brought back the questioning to science that I was missing,” explains Gelinas.
While still in high school, Gelinas had the opportunity to conduct research with a physics professor on the University of Calgary campus, and she says seeing science in action was a huge motivator for her as she began her honours degree in physics with a minor in mathematics with the Faculty of Science.
Gelinas would arrive on campus in the fall of 2019, having already received one of the university’s most prestigious scholarships. She is one of just nine students in the 2023 class who received the Chancellor’s Scholarship, an award presented to incoming students who have shown academic excellence, extensive volunteer involvement, strong leadership skills, and committed service to the community.
Time management and a high GPA
Gelinas admits there was a bit of pressure to live up to that award, knowing that she had to maintain a high GPA while also continuing the same level of extracurricular involvement, even while all her classes were getting harder.
“It was scary at first to try and balance all of it,” she explains. “But I just pushed through, and it didn’t end up being as bad as I thought. Plus, I got very good at time management very quickly, which was certainly an asset.”
Gelinas certainly lived up to the scholarship. On the extracurricular front, she was a pillar in the Physics and Astronomy Student’s Association, serving on the executive for all four years including the last two as president. She also served on other committees within the Physics and Astronomy (PHAS) community, including curriculum development, student advocacy, and equity, diversity, and inclusion.
“I have a lot of fun doing it. I like being on the inside and seeing all the behind-the-scenes elements.”
Gelinas was also involved in producing a video series aimed at showcasing the work of strong women in PHAS in hopes of inspiring female students and showing them there is a place for them in physics.
“I know a lot of high school students didn’t have the strong physics influence that I had, so I wanted to be a part of passing on the excitement of physics to others,” she says.
Hooked on high-end research
On the academic side, Gelinas’ resume is full of high-end research projects. She says she was hooked on research from her time in high school working in the PHAS Isotope Science Lab. She returned to the same lab for her first undergraduate research term, where she worked in commissioning the lab’s new mass spectrometer and developing a sample preparation method.
“What always interested me the most was how do I make my measurement better and what makes this measurement work,” she explains. “I was really given the opportunity in undergrad to dive into the mechanics of mass spectrometry, and it was so exciting.”
Gelinas would then go on to work on the TITAN collaboration at TRIUMF, Canada’s particle accelerator. This was another impressive achievement, as she was one of two students in Canada to work at TRIUMF on the inaugural Richard E. Azuma Fellowship, which selects students who are known amongst peers and teachers as exceptional individuals with a demonstrated track record of talent, passion, and leadership.
Her work during the fellowship focused on improving the mass measurement precision of their mass spectrometer by reimagining the use of existing equipment.
Next up: Graduate studies
She will now begin her graduate studies in the fall at UBC, studying particle physics and working with the DarkLight collaboration searching for the intermediate boson between the standard model and dark matter.
“The standard model is everything we see and interact with on a daily basis, but dark matter, together with dark energy, is what we think makes up 95 per cent of the universe,” she explains. “Right now, we use gravitational evidence to talk about dark matter since we are not able to interact with dark matter.
“I will be trying to unlock a new tool to study dark matter.”
Gelinas says her goal entering university was to become a high school teacher so she could have the same influence as her teacher had on her. However, her undergraduate research has convinced her to pursue her doctorate and return to academia as a professor.
“I certainly want to be involved at a university,” she says. “Being able to teach and have that influence on students is still really important to me.”