Dr. David Risk

Faculty of Science

E-mail: drisk@stfx.ca

Dr. Dave Risk is an earth scientist, assistant professor, and a talented innovator. And though he is a new addition to the StFX faculty, he's already made a big impact, and is likely to continue making waves in the future. If all goes to plan, his inventions will yield four patents for the university.

Dr. Risk's research can be split into two areas: pure research, and equipment-related research. In his pure research, he looks at greenhouse gas emissions from soils. Ultimately, he would like to learn of any methods which could be used to increase the amount of carbon that could be preserved in soils. If this can be accomplished, there would be less carbon in the atmosphere, and the magnitude of the greenhouse effect could be reduced. Interestingly enough, problems in this research helped to create his other research area. Some time ago, Dr. Risk realized that he was unable to effectively get certain measurements of gas emissions. He thought about the problem, and developed a new device for collecting uncontaminated samples of gas emitted from the ground. Computerized equipment controls the sample-taking process, providing the necessary accuracy for these sensitive measurements. This device will soon likely earn StFX's first patent. Another device built by Dr. Risk which measures rates of gas transport in soils, the only device in the world which does this, will soon yield another. It could be used to measure the amount of radon, a natural radioactive gas, entering the basements of homes. The third device Dr. Risk is working on prepares samples in a laboratory for analysis, and the fourth will monitor emissions from soil surfaces in a way which is much more cost-effective than current methods. StFX plans to patent these devices as well.

Eventually, Dr. Risk would like to see that people actually get something out of his research. “I like applied research of all sorts,” he says. “I'm really interested in that. I'm not just talking about technology in particular, but it's nice if some of the pure research you're doing can be taken and packaged in some way that is useful to other scientists, companies, and industries that work on these systems. Hopefully they can make their practices better as a result of the information we're getting.” He tries to always be conscious of the practical applications of any research he's working on, though it might be in a more academic area. His research is funded by three grants from the Nova Scotia Office of Economic Development, a grant from the Springboard Patent Fund, while his work with the Environmental Sciences Research Center (ESRC) is funded by an operating grant from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA).

Dr. Risk feels very lucky that in his work, components of chemistry, biology, geology and physics come together and help provide him with a better picture of what's going on. He believes that greater integration of the sciences will provide better opportunities. He feels that it's good that he can sit in between different disciplines and weigh the opinions of people arguing over the importance of their research areas. Though specialization is also important, he says, interdisciplinary work is key to the future of science.

The two awards of which Dr. Risk is most proud are the Outstanding Student Paper Award in the biogeoscience section of the American Geophysical Union meeting in December, 2001, and the Rupert MacNeil Award for the best student paper at the colloquium of the Atlantic Geoscience Society in February, 2002. In addition to the patents he has provided StFX and the grants funding them, he has received a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) scholarship, a Canadian Forest Service graduate supplement, and a graduate research grant from the Geological Society of America.

The outdoors and applied settings are what Dr. Risk enjoys most about earth science. Teaching in these settings is his passion. “It's great when students are along for the ride,” he says. Working in the machine shop is great fun as well. In his spare time, he likes being outside, hiking, biking, and is very interested in the theater. His love of innovation remains a force in his personal life as well; he likes to fix old trucks, and enjoys any woodworking, construction or fabrication projects.

Alex Marshall