Why Giving Matters

Young Researchers Can Dig Deeper

Timothy Gibson’s geology research takes place in far-off locations and difficult conditions. But you won’t hear him complain. Thanks in large part to the Eric Mountjoy Fellowship, Gibson (pictured above) spent several months on the northern tip of Baffin Island in Nunavut, completing fieldwork for his geology thesis. Helicoptered into Arctic polar bear territory, he worked on about 20 different sites.

Thanks to this fieldwork, he was able to date an algae fossil that is the first example of a multi-cellular organism to use photosynthesis. It turned out to be about 150 million years younger than scientists had previously thought, about a billion rather than 1.2 billion years old.

That discovery made it into the journal Geology and to mainstream news in 2017. “Overall, we’re looking at sedimentary rocks, trying to determine their age, and also understand the environments in which they were formed,” explains the new Dr. Gibson – he graduated from the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences in spring 2018.

Gibson was the inaugural recipient of the Eric Mountjoy Fellowship in 2013. Although he never had the chance to meet the fellowship’s namesake professor, Gibson feels a certain kinship; in particular, he describes a shared approach to research. “Eric did a lot of the seminal work on the sedimentology of the Canadian Rockies, and he’s definitely an inspiration for me,” says Gibson, who’s originally from West Virginia. “Like him, I’m a sedimentologist looking at big picture questions.”

The Eric Mountjoy Fellowship was established by Earth and Planetary Sciences alumni, as well as colleagues, friends and family of Professor Mountjoy (pictured on left), including his widow, Anita Mountjoy, BN’66, MSc’76. Together, they honoured Professor Mountjoy’s memory by enhancing funding for outstanding graduate students in the department where he made his career.

Anita Mountjoy, herself a former faculty member in McGill’s Ingram School of Nursing, proved her unwavering support when she set up a bequest in support of the fellowship through McGill’s Bequests and Planned Gifts program. Without the fellowship, Gibson says, “I would have either had to go elsewhere or waited to start grad school at a later date.”

Mrs. Mountjoy (pictured below with Gibson) was a constant throughout Gibson’s research adventures and successes. She often took him for lunch at local haunt Amelias Pizza, and even attended his thesis defense.

Despite the inherent challenges of the environment, including an August storm that dumped a half-metre of snow on his campsite, Gibson loved the opportunity to work in the Arctic: “It’s an absolutely incredible destination,” he say. “Being there in the summer when the sun doesn’t set, it just swings around overhead, is really energizing; you can potentially work 20 hours a day.” Gibson describes working on sea cliffs, seeing beluga whales, narwhals, and enormous icebergs: a truly unforgettable experience.

“If you have the skills to access remote areas, there are a lot of outstanding research questions to be solved,” he says.

Read our full Report on Giving 2018.