Brock researchers working in the natural sciences have received nearly $2.6 million in funding to work on complex and timely projects with implications for human health and a better understanding of the natural world.
Several projects have been funded for five years by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) of Canada Discovery Grants program. The research is in the fields of chemistry, physics, biological sciences, applied health sciences, earth sciences and mathematics.
“We are delighted to see our researchers’ success in receiving funding through NSERC,” Ian Brindle, Vice-President Research, said. “The increase in funding over last year speaks to the quality of fundamental research being carried out at Brock, and to the abilities of our researchers to find answers to important questions that will benefit Canadians and the world.”
Discovery Grants support ongoing programs of research with long-term goals rather than a single short-term project or collection of projects. Researchers generally use the grant money to hire graduate students, replace or purchase new lab equipment, to conduct experiments, collect and analyze field data.
Here is a summary of the most recent NSERC-funded research:
• Jeffrey Atkinson, Chemistry, received $200,000 for an investigation into certain properties of Vitamin E in relation to its ability to find and protect lipids in the human body, assisting the body in times of stress from inflammation, autoimmune diseases and even pollution.
• Tony Bogaert, Community Health Sciences, received $210,000 to continue his work on sexual orientation in males with older brothers, and the potential impact on sexual orientation through certain prenatal mechanisms.
• Henryk Fuks, Mathematics, received $60,000 for studying better ways of predicting outcomes and probabilities in large complex systems known as dynamical systems, which change their state with time. This research is done to move towards solving the so-called forward problem so when the state of the system is known at a given time, predict its state in the future.
• David Gabriel, Physical Education and Kinesiology, received $135,000 for series of studies combining different ways of measuring how the nervous system regulates muscle force in the human body. Gabriel’s lab uses indwelling electrodes and surface electromyography to measure the electrical activity generated by the nervous system.
• Fiona Hunter, Biological Sciences, received $125,000 for studies on the systematics and behavioural ecology of various types mosquitoes, which includes fieldwork in Algonquin Park, Cypress Hills Research Station and in Ecuador. Hunter is also involved in West Nile virus mosquito surveillance.
• Paul LeBlanc, Community Health Sciences, received $130,000 for studies aimed at understanding the structure of skeletal muscle cellular membranes and their influence on biophysical and metabolic function.
• Ping Liang, Biological Sciences, received $155,000 for a program on the study of the mechanisms of DNA transposition, how this contributes to genetic diversity and the impact on the function and evolution of genomes. The work has far-reaching implications for medicine and agriculture.
• Costa Metallinos, Chemistry, received $200,000 for a program aimed at, among other benefits, developing safer preparation methods for drugs, through the development of a new class of catalysts used in synthesizing organic molecules.
• Maureen Reedyk, Physics, received $135,000 for a study on the properties of ‘exotic’ superconductors, or superconductors which are less known than the conventional ones used in everything from electronic gadgets to field magnets in medical scanners. The aim is to find superconductors that operate with the minimum energy loss.
• Mariek Schmidt, Earth Sciences, received $110,000 for her ongoing study reconstructing the geologic histories of volcanic fields on Earth (specifically in Oregon and New Mexico) and on Mars.
• Gaynor Spencer, Biological Sciences, received $319,940 for her ongoing work studying how retinoic acid affects the nervous system of invertebrates, through her lab work with lymnaea stagnalis (fresh water snail). The studies could have implications for use of retinoid therapies and an increased understanding of diseases such as Vitamin A deficiency.
• Jeff Stuart, Biological Sciences, received $135,000 for a study program that looks at better understanding animal lifespan, and in particular, ways of prolonging life through increased cellular stress resistance. Stuart will also continue his work studying the effects of dietary polyphenol resveratrol.
• Art van der Est, Chemistry, received $375,000 for his lab’s program of studying natural and artificial means of photosynthesis with an aim to better understand and utilize green energy alternatives. The ultimate goal of the research is to understand solar energy conversion in photosynthesis so that fuels such as hydrogen can be artificially produced using sunlight, providing a possible alternative to fossil fuels.
• Xiaojian Xu, Mathematics, received $60,000 for a series of research projects aimed at improving methods in the field of robust statistics, and in particular deriving reliable statistical procedures in data collection and calculation.
• Tony Yan, Chemistry, received $200,000 for his research into the modulations of nucleic acid, which performs a wide array of biological functions, including forming the building blocks of human genes. The modifications have potential implications for biochemical and medicinal applications.
These programs assist in promoting and maintaining a diversified base of high-quality research capability in the natural sciences and engineering in Canadian universities; fostering research excellence; and providing a stimulating environment for research training.
NSERC is a federal agency whose vision is to help make Canada a country of discoverers and innovators for the benefit of all Canadians. The agency supports some 26,500 university students and postdoctoral fellows in their advanced studies. NSERC supports both basic university research through discovery grants and project research through partnerships among universities, governments and the private sector, as well as the advanced training of highly qualified people. Over the past 10 years, NSERC has invested more than $7 billion in basic research, university-industry projects, and the training of Canada’s next generation of scientists and engineers.