June 4, 2019

Class of 2019: From promoting diversity to planetary exploration, this graduate really soars

Engineering grad Laura Fader looks back on a remarkable path to collecting parchment

Author

Michael Platt, Schulich School of Engineering

University of Calgary grad Laura Fader will present the concept for producing oxygen on Mars to the 70th International Astronautical Congress in Washington D.C. in October.

Laura Fader will present on producing oxygen on Mars to the 70th International Astronaut Congress.

Nouran Abdellatif, Student and Enrolment Services

Laura Fader clearly took the University of Calgary’s Eye’s High maxim to heart — it seems the Schulich School of Engineering graduate has had her eyes fixed on Mars ever since.

When Fader walks across the convocation stage on June 4, the former president of the Engineering Students' Society will know there’s still a whole lot of UCalgary in her future, thanks to an ongoing interest in keeping astronauts alive on the red planet through oxygen production.

And soon, Fader, a recipient of the University of Calgary President's Award for Excellence in Student Leadership, will be telling the world’s top space scientists about it. “We’re super excited for the competition in Washington this fall — it’s a big honour to take part,” says Fader, who is graduating as a chemical engineer.

International Astronautical Congress

Fader’s team recently received confirmation that their project, Oxygen Production on Mars with In-Situ Resource Utilization, had been selected for competition at the 70th International Astronautical Congress in Washington D.C. in October, when the world's space players gather to share information and ideas.

To be chosen out of 4,320 applications from 86 countries is a major achievement and just the latest success for a team that started at Schulich, under the supervision of Dr. Hector De la Hoz Siegler, PhD.

Already featured on national media, the prize-winning team won first place nationally at the Canadian Chemical Engineering Congress Hatch Plant Design Competition, and will now take their idea on generating oxygen via Mars’ abundant carbon dioxide to the people who will likely send astronauts to Mars.

“I’m incredibly excited to continue this crazy journey on the international stage with Alina Kunitskaya, Annie Nguyen, and Keith Cleland, with the support of our supervisor Hector De la Hoz Siegler,” says Fader, who won first place at Schulich’s Capstone Design Fair with the same team.

Remarkable undergrad journey

The trip to Washington caps a remarkable undergraduate journey for Fader, who is already working as consulting analyst even before officially graduating.

Looking back, Fader says taking part in so many group challenges was a highlight, including her time with UCalgary’s International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) team, and their “B.s. Detector” diagnostic tool for infectious diseases.

“One of the most surreal experiences was speaking at the United Nations Biological and Toxin Weapon Convention Meeting of Experts in Geneva, to an audience of 170 countries," recalls Fader.

“With iGEM Calgary, we designed a multiplexed diagnostic for developing countries that differentiates between symptoms that manifest similarly. We also competed with the project in Boston.”

More? Fader says she took every opportunity to travel as part of her education — and the results were life changing.

“I travelled to 48 countries over the course of my degree, volunteering in Mexico and Costa Rica, working in Switzerland and studying in Singapore,” says Fader, who received the University of Calgary Internationalization Achievement Award earlier this year.

Diversity and student support

Fader also invested energy into engineering diversity, and was a member of the Schulich Diversity and Inclusivity Committee and a recipient of the inaugural University of Calgary Diversity Award in 2019.

As well, she was awarded the title of Canadian Engineering Memorial Foundation Ambassador for the Prairies Region, which meant promoting engineering to young women and visiting high schools to speak about engineering, while volunteering with women in engineering days and presenting on STEM at Girl Guides science days.

Fader says one of her personal highlights was helping first-year students as they entered engineering, by ensuring they were part of the Schulich community.

"One of the things I'm most proud of is creating a Peer Mentorship Program as ESS president, for over 600 students," she says. "We paired incoming first-year students with upper-year mentors with similar academic and extracurricular interests, to foster an inclusive community and focus on engineering student mental health."