Vanier celebrates the nation’s finest

Seven Western graduate students have been named among 166 nationwide recipients of the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship, each receiving $50,000 annually for up to three years. Vanier scholars are selected based on leadership skills and high standard of scholarly achievement in the social sciences, humanities, natural sciences, engineering and/or health sciences.

“I want to congratulate our Vanier winners on their personal achievements, which also helps Western raise the profile of our research enterprise on the national and world stage,” Western President Amit Chakma said.

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Ayden Scheim
Population Health
Syndemic production among transgender Ontarians: A social-epidemiological approach to HIV risk, mental health and substance use

Scheim’s research tackles methodological and theoretical issues key to unpacking vulnerability to HIV among sexual and gender minorities, as well as other health conditions disproportionately impacting these populations. The primary objective is to understand how marginalization and discrimination impact the health of transgender people, and, in particular, how they may drive health problems documented in some transgender populations including HIV, depression, suicidality and substance use. Ultimately, the aim is to identify intervention strategies at the social and policy levels. The research is part of the Trans PULSE Project, a community-based study exploring the health of trans people in Ontario.

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Raechelle Gibson
Sensory Systems and Perception
When the brain plays music: Brain representations of moving in time with a musical beat

Music inspires movement. Although it comes naturally to many, coordinating movements in time with a rhythm requires precise communication between sensory and motor areas of the brain. In fact, moving in time relies on similar mental processes as understanding and producing language. In both cases, we need to form representations of complex time structures and synchronize our movements with those structures. The neural mechanisms of these cognitive and perceptual processes are not well understood, particularly when the time structure of sensory information becomes increasingly complex. Using different measures of brain activity and behaviour, Gibson’s research will identify the neural mechanisms that allow humans to coordinate movements with auditory and tactile stimulation. This research will help us to better understand other important human abilities that also rely on time representations, such as basic motor control, hearing and speech.
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Tanya Harrison
Earth Sciences
Global scale studies of Martian mid-latitude landforms

Obliquity is the angle of a planet’s axis of rotation relative to its orbit around the Sun. Today, Mars’ obliquity is close to that of Earth — about 25 degrees vs. Earth’s 23.5 degrees — leading to similar types of seasons. Over the past 10 million years, however, Mars’ obliquity has varied wildly from 10 degrees to 50 degrees, resulting in wild climate shifts. Water on Mars today is present in the atmosphere as vapour, and in winter deposits onto the surface in the form of frost in the middle and high latitudes. In the past, when Mars’ atmosphere was thicker and more water was present in its global circulation cycle, climate models suggest water was deposited on the surface in the form of massive ice sheets. These sheets were concentrated near the equator at high obliquity, and began to migrate poleward as the obliquity shifted. Evidence for this change in climate is present in the form of a suite of landforms unique to the mid-latitudes of Mars. Harrison is mapping the global distribution and preservation states of these landforms in order to constrain how they formed, telling us about the climate history of Mars in the relatively recent past and if it was conducive to sustaining life.

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Dibakar Mondal
‘Chemical and Biochemical Engineering
Novel degradable biomaterials for bone regeneration

Bone is a major structural tissue of the human body which provides support and protection of various organs, produce bone marrow cells and store minerals. Therefore, bone fracture and disorder is a major burden in terms of quality of life, health-care costs and economic impact. Surgical interventions to repair bone involve the use of the patient’s own bone or a bone graft from donors. However, bone grafts harvested from patients cause donor-site morbidity and bone grafts from other donors have the risk of disease transmission and infection. To overcome these limitations, Mondal is preparing novel materials capable of bone regeneration and replacement by using bioactive polymer and calcium phosphate minerals. With a new class of biodegradable and bioactive materials, it will be possible to fabricate materials that mimic the hierarchical complex structure of native bone, suitable bioactivity, and mechanical properties.

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Sarah Mason
Geography
Community conflict and management challenges surrounding urban biosolids in rural areas

With the changing dynamics of rural areas, conflict surrounding the processing of urban waste in rural communities has increased, and this conflict demands a better understanding of residents’ perceptions of waste management industries. Existing research surrounding regional biosolid-(sewage sludge)-to-agricultural-fertilizer processing facilities focuses mainly on potential health and environmental effects of biosolids, and not on the public’s response to risk. Mason investigates the debate about when ‘waste’ becomes a ‘resource’ and how dynamic rural communities are responding to this debate. This research will provide a greater understanding of the emotional impacts biosolid management processes can have on communities influencing residents’ sense of place in response to the intrusion of urban biosolids into their communities. This research will inform policy that seeks to better balance competing values and interests and improve two-way communication.

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Katerina Rnic
Psychology
The influence of schemas and mediating social behaviours on interpersonal stress generation

Interpersonal stress has a considerable impact on families and businesses, creating a significant economic and social burden due to lost productivity, individual suffering and lower quality of life. Research increasingly recognizes individuals are not merely passive respondents to stress, but play an active role in generating stressful life events. Furthermore, some individuals may generate more life stress than others. One likely candidate for stress generation involves one’s schemas, enduring cognitive structures that have a significant influence in shaping experiences and interpretations of one’s social environment.

Rnic’s research investigates the impact schemas have in predicting stress. Personality traits such as negative urgency, or the tendency to act rashly when in a state of negative affect, are also explored as risk factors that may drive stress. These risk factors likely cause stress by increasing the individual’s tendency to engage in aversive social behaviours, including excessive reassurance seeking, rumination and avoidance. Rnic’s work will improve the field’s conceptualization of the cognitive and behavioural mechanisms involved in the generation of interpersonal life stress.

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Alexandre Sannen
Literature, French
The expression of hedonism in postmodern french literature

Further to the rise of consumerism and the sexual revolution during the 1970s, hedonism has taken an important place in all discussions about pleasure. Its resurgence is correlated with the development of the postmodern condition which can be characterized by the transition from a ‘production society’ to a ‘consumption society,’ by the emergence of the late capitalism, and by suspicion about metanarrative stories which make space for nihilist hedonism.

These changes have affected artistic expressions. As much in form as in content, French postmodern novels reveal these new societal paradigms where individuals are under the obligation to increasingly experience and accumulate pleasures. In this context, hedonism appears as an engine of contemporary literary practices which has consequences for the act of reading and artistic creation as expressions.

Sannen analyzes postmodern French novels as a space of social practices aroused by hedonism to further understand our relationship to pleasure and how this relationship has changed during the 20th century.