Meet Dr. Melanie Martin, recipient of the Faculty of Science Honoured Alumni Award 2017
As a young Physics undergrad working one of three summer terms as part of Canada’s National Research Council (NRC) Women in Engineering and Science program, Dr. Melanie Martin, [BSc (Hons.), Physics, First Class/95], took a few minutes to flip through some books about various NRC institute projects. When she spotted a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) depiction of the inside of a human body, she was hooked.
“They didn’t hurt the person, didn’t cut him open, didn’t inject anything into him, yet they could see inside his body. How did that work? I just had to know how they did that,” she recalls.
Since then, Dr. Martin has become a visionary physicist who has pioneered the development of microscopic MRI techniques, applying them to the physiological changes in living tissues – work that has the potential to speed up and improve the diagnosis and treatment of nervous system disorders like Alzheimer’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis and Schizophrenia.
“The ultimate goal is to catch things in the brain and diagnose them earlier, so we can start the treatment and fix them before the disease gets bad.”
As a professor of Physics at the University of Winnipeg, besides being a dedicated mentor to her students, Martin is also the director of the Magnetic Resonance Microscopy Centre and recently wrapped up a term as U of W’s Chancellor’s Research Chair. At the University of Manitoba, she is cross-appointed as a faculty member in the Department of Radiology as well as Pharmacology and Therapeutics, an adjunct Prof. in Physics and Astronomy and a Core Member of the Biomedical Engineering program. She is also the Canadian Association of Physicists’ Past Chair of the Division of Physics in Medicine and Biology.
“As the geeky physicist, I’m just having fun making these methods. The fact they could eventually have applications [that could help save lives] is kind of thrilling. But I’m not thinking about that when I’m making the methods.”
In addition to her BSC (Hons) in Physics from University of Manitoba, Dr. Martin also has two Masters degrees and a PhD in Applied Physics and Biomedical Engineering from Yale University, and was a postdoctoral scholar and associate scientist in Biology at Caltech in Pasadena, California before she returned to Winnipeg in 2004. She was a key contributor to the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC)-sponsored “Get the Full Picture: Women, Diversity and Research Excellence” event in June 2015, and co-conceived and co-organized an event for the International Day of the Girl in October 2015 with the Government of Manitoba, to help encourage the love of science in female high school students and show them women can be scientists too. A game-show enthusiast, in 2014 she was chosen to participate in Season One of the CBC program Canada’s Smartest Person.
On Thursday, January 26, 2017, Dr. Martin will receive the Faculty of Science 2017 Honoured Alumni Award for exceptional achievement in Physics.
Dr. Martin spoke to the Faculty of Science more about her experiences and the path her education and career have taken.
What was your strongest memory from your time studying at the U of M, Faculty of Science?
I always loved the Physics professors – they were all really good at sharing what they were doing and had a great passion for teaching. It’s also where I met my husband [also a physicist].
One neat experience was, Youth Science Canada used to send two students from Canada each year to the Nobel Prize ceremony, as part of the annual Stockholm International Youth Science Seminar. One year I was chosen, but it was right in the middle of exams. I had to go to the Physics Department, to the Dean, and even to the President’s office to try to arrange it so I could go for a week and a half. Around that time, someone else had given me a bunch of gift cards to a really expensive restaurant so I used them to thank the University presidents and the Dean of Science by taking them all out for lunch. It was just me eating with all these ‘big wigs’ and paying for it, which was kind of funny but a nice memory.
What opportunity during or after your time in the Faculty of Science helped launch your career?
I actually started thinking about this career before I started University, but it was still related to U of M. When I was in Grade 11, I found out that SHAD – then Shad Valley – had what I called ‘summer camp for geeks’. I lived on the U of M campus for all of July, going through University classes. I was a shy kid going in, never really having interacted with other smart people before. But now there were 40 or 50 of us – students and professors that were all really bright and had the same drive I had. Those four weeks completely changed my life – now I’m not shy at all, and I’m driven to continued success.
What is the most fascinating and/or engaging experience you have had during your career in science?
When I went to Ottawa for Get the Full Picture: Women, Diversity and Research Excellence, I was amazed at the number of Senators and MPs who had PhDs in science. I was trying to get a program going and needed federal equipment and provincial money. The senators were telling me, ‘If you need a letter of support, I’ll help you’. It was great to see how they cared.
2017 Faculty of Science Alumni Awards Event
Recognizing graduates who have made remarkable contributions to discovering the unknown, inventing the future, and advancing the well-being of society.
January, 26, 2017
Marshall McLuhan Hall (University Centre)
University of Manitoba, Fort Garry Campus
3:30 pm- 6:00 pm
The event includes a panel discussion and Q&A where our distinguished guests will share their experiences and offer advice to students about selecting areas of study, navigating career paths, and using their degrees in sometimes unconventional ways.
A reception will follow. Everyone is welcome to attend. Space is limited, so please RSVP by email to foscomms [at] umanitoba [dot] ca to secure your spot.