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Raymond William Scott & Mia Tullio, winners of the Beilhartz Earth Science Undergraduate Thesis Award

As we celebrate all of our BSc graduates who concluded their undergraduate academics with an Honours thesis this spring, we are focussing first on the two who won the annual “Beilhartz Earth Science Undergraduate Thesis Award”.

Established by our proud alumnus David Beilhartz, the purpose of this award is to recognize excellence in undergraduate thesis work for two individual Harquail School of Earth Sciences students at Laurentian University. As of 2020, the prize criteria have changed in that the $1,000 prize is split into two equal amounts to recognize both the best undergraduate thesis in terms of “Scientific Content”, and the best thesis in terms of “Style and Organization”.

Raymond William Scott, Best Undergraduate Thesis - Scientific Content

Photo: Raymond William Scott in the Mackenzie Mountains, NWT, Canada 

Thesis title: “Lower Cambrian trilobite biostratigraphy in the Misty Creek embayment, Northwest Territories, and its implications for basin development”

Scope: The study approaches the evolution of the important Paleozoic Selwyn basin (NWT and YT), host of past-producing SEDEX base-metal deposits, using biostratigraphic methods to decipher subsidence behaviour during the critical early stages in the basin’s development.

Summary of key content: the thesis contains (a) an extensive literature review of previous work, going back over 100 years, on the mechanics, history, and philosophy of identifying extinct fossil organisms and then using them to ‘tell time’; (b) a very detailed results section in which a large collection of specimens is carefully analysed and allocated to appropriate taxonomic group and put into a temporal context; and (c) a thoughtful discussion that explores both the meaning of the fossil assemblages and their implications for the development of the deep-water basin in which the past-producing SEDEX deposits of the Selwyn basin accumulated. The self-generated figures include new maps and stratigraphic plots that illustrate the problem and outcome of the study, as well as exquisite photographic plates of trilobite fossils.

“The level of scientific discourse and insight in Raymond William Scott’s BSc thesis is truly excellent. The quality of the data is outstanding, as shown by the painstaking photography in the taxonomic plates and accompanying, minutely detailed explanation of how each taxon was identified and compared to similar taxa both in this collection and elsewhere in Laurentia’s Cambrian fossil record. The quality of the writing in this thesis is impeccable, evincing a subtle command of English syntax and an ability to express difficult concepts succinctly and elegantly, using an extensive scientific vocabulary specific to the topic. This is a very substantial piece of work demonstrating both scientific breadth and depth. The student has risen to the challenge of understanding complex detailed evidence (trilobite taxonomy), mastering a complex and substantial literature on two distinct topics (trilobite taxonomy and evolution; basin analysis) and approaching a ‘big-picture’ problem (SEDEX basin evolution).”

Dr. Elizabeth C. Turner, Professor of Carbonate Sedimentology and Invertebrate Paleontology


Mia Tullio, Best Undergraduate Thesis – Style and Organization

Thesis title: “Channel-Flow Structure and Relation to Fluvial Morphodynamics in Lower Slims River, Yukon Territory”

Scope: Mia’s thesis aimed at characterizing the surface processes and landforms in the Slims River of the Kluane National Park and Reserve, a watercourse that has recently undergone rapid change in response to watershed piracy driven by climate warming. Notably, while watershed piracy is inferred to be a relatively common process over geological time scales, this was the first such event directly witnessed in historical times.

Summary of key content: through a combined analysis of sedimentary landforms in the field and photogrammetric data collected with an unmanned aerial vehicle, Mia’s thesis characterized a pattern of sharp channel shrinking over the last 3 years, in response to diminished discharge and sediment supply from the watershed into the river. Mia’s work also aided in the identification of propagating erosional features along the river profile, called knick points, which are associated with the sudden drop that the Kluane Lake (into which the Slims River abuts) experienced, again, in response to diminished discharge.

“Mia’s thesis provides a crucial advancement in our understanding of human-driven landscape change, and of its ramifications in a fragile environment such as the Canadian Arctic. This is a thematic that is receiving immense attention from the public and policy makers in Canada, something that makes Mia’s work particularly topical. Working with Mia has been an absolute pleasure; this thesis reflects her outstanding writing skills, work ethic, and capacity for independent analysis and interpretation of diverse datasets. I truly wish her all the best with her upcoming academic endeavours at the graduate level!”

Dr. Alessandro Ielpi, Assistant Professor of Sedimentology

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