Four new Canada Research Chairs for Western, two renewed

Western is home to four new Canada Research Chairs, professors whose work will have global impact on autism, data science and children’s learning.

Two chairs, in business sustainability and neuroscience, have been renewed.

Celebrating its 20thanniversary this year, the Canada Research Chairs Program invests up to $295 million per year to attract, support and retain some of the world’s most outstanding scholars and scientists – those who are in the early stages of their careers as well as those who have already made significant contributions in their fields. Chairholders aim to achieve research excellence in engineering and the natural sciences, health sciences, humanities, and social sciences.

“Canada Research Chairs are widely seen as the gold standard for excellence in Canadian research,” said Dr. Sarah Prichard, Acting Vice-President (Research).

“This is tremendous news for Western and for all our successful Chairs, including the first three ever in our Faculty of Education,” she added. “I’m happy to see such a public acknowledgement of our excellence in research and scholarship in education as this important work helps us understand how people learn and how they can better teach and train others. This is at the heart of what we do as universities.”

Funding for the Chairs flows through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).

Chairholders with Tier 1 designation are researchers acknowledged as leaders already making noteworthy impact in their fields; Tier 2 chairs are exceptional emerging researchers recognized for their potential to lead in their fields.

Canada Research Chairs newly announced or renewed at Western are:

Daniel Ansari

Daniel Ansari, Tier 1 CRC of Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience and Learning in the Faculties of Education and Social Science (funded through CIHR):

Studies have shown that numerical skills obtained in the early years are an even more important predictor of life success than are reading abilities. But there’s a paucity of research investigating how children learn about numbers and why some children struggle with math. Ansari’s research program aims to isolate the best predictors of mathematical success using both behavioural and brain-imaging methods. He is developing a screening tool to be used in countries across the globe to identify children at risk of falling behind in math. The work may well transform our understanding of children’s mathematical abilities.

Tima Bansal

Tima Bansal, Tier 1 CRC (renewal) in Business for Sustainable Development in the Ivey School of Business (funded by SSHRC):

Bansal’s research explores the decisions and actions that businesses make in the pursuit of sustainable development. As the planet reaches its limit of industrial growth, business has the potential to assure human prosperity for today or tomorrow through technological innovations. Bansal explores time, space and scale in organizations to make sustainability a reality in an era of profound systems changes.

Emma Duerden Emma Duerden, Tier 2 CRC of Neuroscience and Learning Disorders in the Faculty of Education (funded by CIHR):

This research will identify risk factors for learning difficulties in children with autism. Social interactions are sources of daily stress for children with autism and severe social deficits are related to greater difficulties with learning. These social deficits may trigger a stress response that adversely impacts brain regions involved in learning. Duerden’s research aims to determine the relationship among social deficits, stress responses, alterations in brain development and learning ability in infants and children with autism. It will inform ways to monitor interventions that target social deficits in children with autism, with a goal of promoting brain health and learning abilities.

Emma FenesiBarbara Fenesi, Tier 2 CRC professor of the Science of Learning in the Faculty of Education (funded by SSHRC):

The goal of Fenesi’s research is to develop evidence-based interventions for academic success through classroom physical activity. Little is known about how incorporating physical activity directly into classroom instruction can improve learning, and most classrooms remain sedentary. Fenesi’s research aims to investigate the neuropsychological processes through which physical activity increases student attention and promotes learning. She also aims to identify best practices for incorporating physical activity into instruction by investigating the duration, types and frequency of physical activity that best support learning, including learning by students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Penny MacDonaldPenny MacDonald, Tier 2 CRC (renewal) of Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging in the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry (funded by CIHR):

MacDonald works to understand how a brain region, the striatum, is involved in thinking, attention, and memory (processes collectively known as cognition) in various brain disorders. In Parkinson’s disease, the striatum is the brain region that is most deprived of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Her research includes determining functions of the striatum and understanding how disease or medication can alter brain dopamine levels to affect cognition, behaviour and psychiatric symptoms in people with Parkinson’s disease, obsessive-compulsive disorder or addiction.

Grace YiGrace Yi, Tier 1 CRC of Data Science in the Faculty of Science  (funded through NSERC)

With the rapid advancement of technology in acquiring data, large data sets are becoming more accessible than ever before. However, the quality and complexity of the information make it challenging to extract useful information for decision-making. Yi’s work addresses these issues in an effort to generate valid, evidence-based results. This research will develop novel and flexible modeling, estimation and learning tools to handle multi-dimensional data that has measurement error and missing observations. Through innovative methodology, she will advance foundational work that leads to scientific applications in public health, medical studies and data science.


Western lands nine new CRCs among latest round, June, 2019

World-changing research fueled by new CRCs, November, 2018

Four scholars named among nation’s elite, September, 2017

Six researchers named among nation’s elite, February, 2016

Western adds three new CRC chairs, three more renewed, April, 2015