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Meet the all-star judges for NII Explore’s Spring Break Mission to Mars challenge

Teams compete to win $2,500 as well as other great prizes

The countdown to next week begins as teams prepare to compete in NII Explore’s Spring Break Mission to Mars challenge, hosted by the Nuclear Innovation Institute (NII) from April 12-16.

Asking the question “What will it take to establish the first human settlement on Mars?”, this unique new virtual Spring Break program sponsored by Bruce Power is designed for high school students across Bruce, Grey and Huron counties.

Students will work with a roster of scientists to solve some of the biggest challenges in space exploration.

At last count, high school students from Arran-Elderslie, Hanover, Kincardine, Northern Bruce Peninsula, Owen Sound and Saugeen Shores have taken up the challenge.

“This is going to be a really exciting contest,” said Director of NII Explore Phillip Craig.

“We are placing these students in the shoes of future astronauts and asking them to solve problems that don’t have one right answer. It is going to be interesting to see what creative solutions these young minds can come up with.”

Those interested can tune in to their local Rogers TV channel (where available) at 2:00 pm on Friday, April 16 to watch the final showcase as the top three teams present their ideas to NII’s all-star panel of judges.

The prizes:

Awarded by a panel of judges and donated by Bruce Power, the grand prize of $2,500 will go to the team that successfully solves the most challenges and presents its solutions in the most thorough, creative, and thought-provoking way.

Along with the grand prize, Bruce Power has also provided prizes throughout the week worth more than $1,000.

Meet the judges:

Tim Haltigin is the Senior Mission Scientist, Planetary Exploration at the Canadian Space Agency, where he helps lead Canada’s efforts in exploring the solar system. Tim is currently leading the development of the international science program for the Mars Sample Return campaign, a decade-long effort that started with the Perseverance rover landing.

Dr. Andrei Hanu is currently a senior scientist at Bruce Power, with four years of experience as an instrument scientist and research astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center in Maryland. Andrei is running a research project to put a radiation detection device into space, part of the payload on a future SpaceX mission to help scientists understand the effects of radiation on long-distance space travel. Read more about Andrei in his Environment@NII researcher profile.

Alex Ruff is the Member of Parliament (MP) from Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound with an interest in space exploration. As an infantry officer in The Royal Canadian Regiment (The RCR), he served twice in Bosnia-Hercegovina, twice in Afghanistan and most recently in Baghdad in 2018. Alex’s last job in Canada prior to Iraq was as the Director of all joint training for the Canadian Armed Forces. While earning his Honours Space Science degree at the Royal Military College, Alex was part of a team that looked at what it would take to transport crew and cargo from the International Space Station to the Moon and back.

James Scongack is the Executive-Vice President of Corporate Affairs & Operational Services at Bruce Power. Leading a team of talented individuals that provide operational services and support for construction activities of the Bruce Power site, James also has responsibility for external relations, market and business development, regulatory affairs and the company’s medical isotopes business.

Dr. Karin Stephenson is the Manager of Commercial Operations for Nuclear Operations and Facilities at McMaster University and serves as a Member at Large on NII’s Board of Directors. Karin has more than 20 years of experience in nuclear science, medical isotopes and radiopharmaceutical development. In her role at McMaster, Karin is responsible for business opportunities as well as R&D technology/product development relevant to the growth of the nuclear sciences field.

To learn more and for a last chance to register for this experience, check out or contact

NII Explore is a program dedicated to delivering enhanced educational opportunities for school-aged children to learn, experiment, discover and create. NII Explore’s educational programming offers a range of learning styles that connects students to the best teaching and knowledge available.


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