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Luise Sander Committed to the geophysical community

by Virginia Heffernan on September 26, 2014 profiles

Luise Sander receives the 2013 Businesswoman of the Year award from the Women’s Business Network of Ottawa.

Practical experience is a crucial component of geoscience training, yet many budding geoscientists lack exposure to fieldwork before they graduate. Luise Sander, co-president of Sander Geophysics Limited (SGL), stands out in the industry for welcoming both summer and graduating students to work for the Ottawa-based firm because she recognizes that they represent the future.

“I think it’s important for students to get experience in as many different aspects of geophysics as they can,” says Luise, whose company has hired 14 summer students mostly from the Universities of Ottawa, Waterloo and Western Ontario as well as Carleton University this year.   “And once they get their first job, it’s really important to be involved in as much of the business as possible, making sure they know what the pilots and maintenance engineers are doing for example. That way they get a broader understanding of the projects and what they would like to specialize in.”

Specifically, SGL runs an in-house program for newly graduated geophysicists that offers training in airborne potential fields, an aspect of geophysics they are unlikely to encounter while pursuing an undergraduate degree.

Luise’s commitment to mentoring is just one of the reasons she received the 2013 Businesswoman of the Year award (in the corporate category) from the Women’s Business Network of Ottawa. She also strives to make SGL, which employs 160 people internationally, an engaging and healthy workplace by supporting a company soccer team and running club, fitness and yoga classes, BBQs, beach volleyball and lunchtime hockey in the winter.

“We’re very activity oriented,” says Luise, whose company includes geophysicists, software and hardware engineers, aircraft maintenance engineers, administrative personnel and pilots.  “Because SGL is made of such a diverse group of specialists, it’s important for us to get together socially when we are in Ottawa.”

Her passion for community extends beyond the office. Sander organizes the Ottawa chapter of the Canadian Exploration Geophysical Society (KEGS). The group holds monthly meetings to encourage learning and dialogue among government, academic and private sector geophysicists, regularly attracting up to 50 members.

Specializing in high resolution airborne geophysical surveys for petroleum and mineral exploration, Sander Geophysics has flown surveys in Papua New Guinea, Malawi and Uruguay. Show above: Luise Sander in Mauritania.

She accomplishes all this while leading, along with her brother Stephan, one of the world’s top airborne geophysical firms. The siblings – two of six – assumed leadership of SGL from their father, George, who founded the company in 1956. Sander’s husband and three children also work alongside her.

“I have been involved in geophysics more or less since birth,” she says. “It was never really my plan to work in the geophysics business –my undergraduate degree was in applied math and I have a masters in computer science – but that’s the way it worked out.”

While Stephan looks after the financial aspects of the business, Luise is more involved in data processing, personnel, aircraft maintenance and flight operations. She is proud of the company’s safety record. There has never been a major incident or accident in the company’s history.

SGL specializes in high resolution airborne surveys for petroleum and mineral exploration and for geological and environmental mapping. In June, Luise presented a talk at the Arctic Days Conference in Norway on the contribution SGL’s AirGrav – the only gravimeter built specifically for the airborne environment – has made to airborne magnetic surveys in the north, including mapping the Gamburtsev Mountains buried under more than four kilometres of ice in Antarctica and similar in size and character to the Alps.

“Our particular instrumentation works particularly well in the very far north and Antarctica, so we have been working with NASA since 2006 to measure things like sea floor topography and the change in ice depth with time,” says Sander. NASA is currently bridging the data gap between their original ICESat-1 (Ice, Cloud, and Land Elevation Satellite) and ICESat-2 scheduled for a 2017 launch by using airborne surveys to collect information.

Aside from the the company’s work in the north, SGL recently completed a gravity and magnetic survey over the prospective foreland and highland areas of Papua New Guinea, is currently flying a countrywide airborne survey in Malawi, and has been awarded a contract to complete more than 180,000 km of high resolution geophysics in Uruguay.

Because of the international nature of her work, Sander has travelled extensively throughout her career. One of her most memorable experiences was working on a survey of Rwanda, where she and her husband lived for nine months in the 1980s. She still finds it difficult to reconcile the beauty of the country and its people with the atrocities that followed her time there as Rwanda slid into civil war.

At home in Ottawa, Sander - computer scientist, mentor, world traveller and company president - sets an example by participating in outdoor activities such as cross country skiing, orienteering and bicycling. She believes this commitment to healthy living, as well as to her employees and students, is a large part of what makes SGL a world leader in its field.


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