Twelve Western researchers – who delve into mysteries as deep as the human mind and as vast as the universe itself – have been named Canada Research Chairs as they bolster their place among the top scholars and scientists in their fields.
The 12 were among 156 new and renewed chairholders announced Tuesday morning by François-Philippe Champagne, federal Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry. The announcement was part of a package of $635 million in multi-agency grants, appointments and projects in science, research and engineering for 4,800 Canadian researchers and their teams. “You are literally helping solve the problems of today and tomorrow,” Champagne said during the announcement in Quebec.
The Canada Research Chairs (CRCs) program is designed to attract and retain some of the world’s most accomplished and promising minds in engineering, natural sciences, health sciences, humanities and social sciences.
“Being named a Canada Research Chair is one of the country’s highest research honours,” said Lesley Rigg, Western’s vice-president (research). “I am really happy to see the breadth of research recognized today and am excited to watch the careers of these 12 chairs flourish in the years to come.”
Of this cohort, only Engineering professor Andy Sun, an innovator in battery technology, is a returning/renewed CRC.
The new CRCs are working to solve arthritis; advance Indigenous art and education; shed light on black holes and spacetime; prevent HIV transmission; develop wearable sensors to improve mobility; apply data analysis to health-care decisions; keep children safe from family violence; improve Canadians’ activity levels; understand how the brain works during everyday activities; create technologies to battle climate change; and develop polymers to deliver just the right amount of medicine at the right time.
The CRCs program is supported by participating universities and funded through three federal funding agencies: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).
Canada Research Chairs announced Tuesday, by name, faculty, research specialty and funding agency are:
Lauren Cipriano, Ivey Business School: health-care analytics, management and policy (NSERC)
Cipriano’s research applies data-driven and evidence-based approaches to allocate resources efficiently and equitably in Canadian health care. Cipriano will develop new decision-making frameworks that include addressing resource allocation and patient prioritization in a time of technological change.
Jody Culham, Brain and Mind Institute, Social Science: immersive neuroscience (NSERC)
Culham’s research program in immersive neuroscience aims to understand brain functions in realistic environments and compelling virtual simulations – while people perform everyday actions like grasping and feeding, for example. Culham also uses virtual reality to investigate whether simulations can effectively substitute for reality or whether there are crucial differences that affect behaviour and brain processes. This project will enhance the theoretical and experimental sophistication of neuroscience research and will foster the effective development of neuroscientific applications for everyday life.
Spy Dénommé-Welch, Education: Indigenous arts, knowledge systems and education (SSHRC)
Dénommé-Welch will lead significant research on Indigenous education and arts-informed research. Dénommé-Welch will develop a sound lab to conduct land-based research and sound/music composition activities; create a virtual archive (website) to
document, curate and exhibit Indigenous story and land-based notation systems produced from the sound lab; and develop an Indigenous creation and performance learning hub to generate new understandings of Indigenous pedagogy, Indigenous
methodologies, and gendered and Two Spirit perspectives of art and land-based research.
Elizabeth (Beth) Gillies, Science and Engineering: polymeric biomaterials (NSERC)
Polymers have immense potential to improve treatments for many diseases, but most research, so far, has focused on a limited subset of polymers. Gillies is developing materials with new properties and functions through innovative polymer design and synthesis. For example, she is developing polymers and coatings that can be triggered to degrade in specific conditions and using them to release therapeutics such as proteins, DNA and antibiotics at specific sites where they are needed in the body. She is also developing injectable delivery systems that can release drugs in joints as triggered by disease.
Matthew Grol, Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry: musculoskeletal biology and health, (CIHR)
Grol will investigate the role of inflammation and tendon/ligament pathobiology in the progression of post-traumatic and genetic forms of osteoarthritis, a disease that occurs when joint structures are damaged due to trauma or other causes, including genetic factors. Grol will target osteoarthritis using gene therapy strategies – an emerging but understudied approach in bone and joint diseases – to halt disease progression and associated symptoms of osteoarthritis.
Jessica Prodger, Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry: genital immunology and prevention of sexually transmitted infections (CIHR)
There are 38 million people living with HIV who require daily, lifelong medication, and an additional two million people become infected each year. Prodger’s research aims to bring a cure and new prevention tools to sub-Saharan Africa. The first aim is to develop new methods to prevent heterosexual HIV transmission, by optimizing the penile microbiome. The second aim is to identify features of the epidemic in Africa that may influence cure strategies.
Katreena Scott, Education: ending child abuse and domestic violence (SSHRC)
Scott’s research is intended to enhance child health and well-being by reducing violence in family relationships. Her research includes expertise in addressing violence perpetration in men and fathers. Her research plan aims to promote safety for children in high-risk families; work collaboratively to improve responses to domestic violence; and recognize and respond to maltreated children within educational settings.
Andy Sun, Engineering: (renewed CRC) nanomaterials for energy conversion and storage (NSERC)
Energy shortages and environmental pollution are serious, long-term challenges facing humanity. Nanotechnology and advanced materials can address the key challenges of developing clean energy devices. Sun’s research program will develop safe and low-cost, all-solid-state lithium batteries and low-temperature fuel cells. This will result in a revolutionary acceleration of the commercialization processes of all-solid-state lithium batteries and low temperature fuel cells.
Jane Thornton, Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry: physical activity, health and smart technology (CIHR)
Physical inactivity is a leading risk factor for death worldwide, and low fitness is associated with a greater risk of mortality than smoking, obesity, hypertension or high cholesterol. Health screening and monitoring via digital health tools can save physician time and promote patient adherence to prescribed physical activity. The research program will develop, implement and evaluate novel applications of health technology to increase patients’ physical activity and improve health outcomes for all Canadians.
Ana Luisa Trejos, Engineering: wearable mechatronics (NSERC):
Billions of people around the world suffer from diseases that make it difficult tomove. Advanced wearable technologies are a possible solution to many mobility problems, but they need to be made lighter and smaller, and to automatically respond to the person’s needs. Trejos’s research program is aimed at developing smart wearable garments to support upper-body mobility. With unique designs that integrate hardware within clothing, and software that can intelligently respond to the user, her work has the potential to restore mobility and increase quality of life for those who suffer daily from an upper body disability.
Francesca Vidotto, Science: foundations of physics (NSERC)
The intersection of the physics of space, time and quantum theory raises interesting conceptual issues. As first understood by Einstein, space and time are manifestations of the gravitational field. Like all other physical fields, gravity should have quantum properties, appearing in extreme regions of the universe, such as the beginning of our universe, or the interior and the long-term evolution of black holes. A deeper understanding of the quantum correlations that weave the fabric of spacetime will allow us to shed new light on cosmology and black holes, and discover novel physical phenomena.
Ying Zheng, Engineering: chemical reactions and intensification (NSERC)
Zheng’s research will contribute to Canada’s commitment to targeting significant carbon dioxide reduction through new processes that improve the performance, reliability and cost of decarbonization technologies. This will be accomplished by creating massive micro-/nanointerfaces to lower operating pressure for biofuel production; maximizing CO2 hydrogenation to valued chemicals via incorporation of plasma; and integrating modular processes to maximize the overall efficiency. Technology innovation with industrial applications, interdisciplinary research and national/international collaboration will be foundational to this work.