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Finding the bigger picture in microscopic algae

At a glance
The intern

Hayfa Mhamdi, Tunis University

Hosted by

Fathallah Nouboud and Alain Chalifour, Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières

The research

Using a new mathematical approach to evaluate the microscopic organisms in fresh and salt water

As a student at Tunis University, Hayfa Mhamdi was interested in pursuing an international internship, but hadn’t settled on a destination.

After hearing about Mitacs’ Globalink Research Internships through her department head, she set her sights on Canada and submitted her application.

Hayfa’s interest in research abroad soon found her in Trois-Rivières, Quebec, where she’s studying algae in order to learn more about the health of the province’s lakes and rivers. Her research project, based at the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières (UQTR), uses a new mathematical approach to evaluating the microscopic organisms in fresh and salt water.

The algae, called ‘diatoms’ are found in bodies of water ranging from oceans to creeks, and their presence can tell researchers a lot about water quality. Hayfa is analyzing 500 images of diatoms and classifying them by shape and placement. Since some images are lower-quality, Hayfa also needs to reduce the amount of visual “noise” on each image in order to analyze them. Her research will help the team at UQTR better understand the health of regional bodies of water, since diatoms produce oxygen, provide a food source for fish, and keep toxic algae blooms at bay.

In addition to gaining research experience in her field, Hayfa is exploring Canada and already preparing to return. “This has been an excellent experience,” she says. “I’ve been meeting lots of people who are encouraging me to return here for graduate studies.” She’s exploring potential universities, and her professor has invited her to apply for a master’s program at UQTR.

When asked about her Globalink experience, Hayfa is clear: “I’m very, very satisfied — this is an exceptional experience you can’t find anywhere else.”


Mitacs would like to thank the Government of Canada, along with the Government of Alberta, the Government of British Columbia, Research Manitoba, and the Government of Quebec for their support of the Globalink Research Internship program. In addition, Mitacs is pleased to work with the following international partners to support Globalink: Universities Australia; the China Scholarship Council; Campus France; the German Academic Exchange Service; Mexico’s Secretariat of Public Education, Tecnológico de Monterrey, and the National Autonomous University of Mexico; Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Education; and Tunisia’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research and Mission Universitaire de Tunisie en Amerique du Nord.