Canada Research Chairs announced

A $7.5 million federal investment through the Canada Research Chairs program will fund two researchers exploring rural innovation, economic development, the safety and security of our water supplies and back the continued efforts of four researchers working in atmospheric, materials and crop sciences.

By Mark Ferguson
"These Canada Research Chairs recognize the strength and growing preeminence in several of our signature areas of research," said U of S Vice President Research Karen Chad. "Their work will help us protect vulnerable water resources, help us understand our climate, provide knowledge to develop advanced materials for our technological society, and provide tools for our rural and Aboriginal communities to build a more prosperous future."

Funds from Canada Research Chairs are used for the researchers' salaries and for operating their research programs. Two new Chairs will be funded.

Ken Coates, a new faculty member in the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy (JSGS), will receive $200,000 per year for seven years from his new Canada Research Chair in Regional Innovation. Coates' research will identify barriers preventing rural and remote communities from reaping the benefits of scientific and technological innovation enjoyed in more metropolitan areas. Coates' appointment in the JSGS takes effect in April 2012.

Working with Aboriginal groups, northern and rural communities, business groups, and provincial and federal governments, Coates will examine innovation-based investment, skills training and entrepreneurship in non-metropolitan areas, and look at best practices in other countries that can be applied in Canada.

Markus Hecker, associate professor in
the School of Environment and Sustainability, will receive $100,000 per year for five years from his new Canada Research Chair in Predictive Aquatic Ecotoxicology. Hecker's research lab will examine more effective and objective ways to gauge how environmental stressors such as pollution from human activities or climate change affect water quality and aquatic species in western and northern Canadian watersheds.

Working out of the U of S Toxicology Centre, Hecker focuses on indicator species – in this case, ecologically important native fish – whose health reflects the health of the ecosystems in which they live. Hecker is particularly interested in how these fish species respond to chemicals such as endocrine-disrupting compounds that enter the watershed from human activities like oilsands development and wastewater effluent. This research and its results will inform the scientific community, governments, and industry as they develop solutions to sustainably manage our environment and its resources.

Four U of S Canada Research Chairs were renewed, including:

Ravindra Chibbar, Canada Research Chair in Molecular Biology for Crop Quality, will receive $200,000 per year for seven years. Chibbar uses genomics to improve quality in wheat, barley, and pulse crops such as lentils and chickpea. One focus is carbohydrates, a major source of calories in human diet, to improve the profile of slow-digestible carbohydrates in cereals and pulses to help protect against diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

Soledade Pedras, Canada Research Chair in Bioorganic and Agricultural Chemistry, will receive $200,000 per year for seven years. Pedras is investigating the natural reactions of plants to pests and pathogenic microbes to discover natural defense processes that protect plants. She discovered a novel generation of nature-inspired, environmentally safer products – the paldoxins – that could control multiple plant fungal diseases such as blackleg and black spot in canola.

Jean-Pierre St. Maurice, Canada Research Chair in Environmental Sciences, will receive $200,000 per year for seven years. St. Maurice studies "space weather" – disturbances in the upper atmosphere from frequent storms of high-energy particles from the Sun that can have serious side effects on space vehicles, communication satellites, power grids, and Earth's climate. Using PolarDARN, a new radar developed at the U of S Institute of Space and Atmospheric Studies, he measures upper atmosphere winds over the Canadian Arctic and relates them to energetic particles from the Sun's storms.

John Tse, Canada Research Chair in Materials Science, will receive $200,000 per year for seven years. Using the Canadian Light Source synchrotron, Tse examines materials under extremely high temperature and pressure to unravel the relationship between the structure of a material and its properties such as electrical conductivity and strength vs external pressure. This knowledge is the basis for developing, for example, advanced materials for the electronics and aerospace industries.

The U of S currently has 27 Canada Research Chairs (CRC). The program aims to attract and retain leading researchers from around the world.

In the more than 10 years since the inception of the CRC program, the U of S has received more than $71.4 million. This includes the chairs themselves, plus investment from the Canada Foundation for Innovation and provincial matching and operational funding. Canada Research Chair holders typically attract and secure several times these initial amounts in additional grants during their terms. They also provide graduate and doctorate-level training for dozens of highly qualified professionals who go on to contribute their expertise to industry, government, and further research.

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