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Critical mass

More than $6.7-million investment in facility to address modern environmental challenges

By Jeff Green

Memorial is celebrating a major federal investment for state-of-the-art equipment to be housed in a new multidisciplinary research centre.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced more than $518 million on March 3 to support the infrastructure needs of universities and research institutions across the country. The funding comes from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI)’s Innovation Fund.

The CFI is investing a total of $6,773,058 for the Atlantic Canada Environmental and Sustainable Chemistry Centre (ACESCentre), which will be located in the Core Science Facility.

The ACESCentre will be equipped with high-performance instrumentation for chemical and materials analysis for research, such as environmental monitoring, sustainable resource development and green materials synthesis.

Historic investment

“Our overarching goal is to study and solve problems related to several key, interrelated areas of environmental and economic importance pertaining to sustainable resource development and environmental knowledge in Atlantic Canada,” Dr. Chris Kozak, ACESCentre project leader, and professor, Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Science, told the Gazette.

“These include use and development of biomass, including wastes from fishery and aquaculture, into new materials and products, catalysis, environmental chemistry and analysis.”

In the video below, Dr. Kozak thanks the CFI and says the investment will “change the research landscape in Atlantic Canada.”

“Quite frankly, the ACESCentre would not be possible without CFI funding. It is vital to its creation. To my knowledge, this is the single largest investment of infrastructure funding in the history of the Chemistry department at Memorial.”

Diverse team

The centre is a collaboration between researchers from a variety of disciplines.

Its new sophisticated infrastructure will be incorporated into existing satellites of the Core Research Equipment and Instrument Training (CREAIT) Network, which is part of Strategic Institutional Research Initiatives.

Dr. Chris Kozak
Dr. Chris Kozak
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Primary co-applicants from Memorial are from the departments of Chemistry and Ocean Sciences in the Faculty of Science and the Department of Process Engineering in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science.

The extended user group includes researchers from the Department of Archaeology, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences; the departments of Earth Sciences, Biochemistry and Physics and Physical Oceanography, Faculty of Science; and the Department of Civil Engineering, Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science.

“We look forward to highlighting Atlantic Canada’s abilities and goals on an international stage.” — Dr. Christa Brosseau

This project is a partnership with chemists and environmental scientists at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, N.S.

“These significant investments in science and technology will provide our team with the ability to build on a history of collaborative research excellence, with a focus on sustainable chemistry and materials,” said Dr. Christa Brosseau, project co-leader and professor of chemistry at Saint Mary’s.

“We are grateful to be able to share this knowledge with the next generation of scientists. With this strengthening of our Centre for Environmental Analysis and Remediation, we look forward to highlighting Atlantic Canada’s abilities and goals on an international stage.”

Developing solutions

Dr. Kozak says the new centre’s high-tech equipment will empower researchers to solve contemporary environmental challenges.

Its service areas will range from nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy to ocean and environmental science.

“By bringing in researchers from diverse backgrounds and expertise, we intend to develop solutions to the complex problems of natural resource development in Atlantic Canada while balancing the need for responsible environmental stewardship and monitoring human impact on our ecosystems,” Dr. Kozak noted.

Dr. Kozak adds that the facility will both modernize existing core instrumentation and bring in new capabilities that will be unique within Atlantic Canada.

‘Existing strengths’

The total project cost for the ACESCentre is nearly $17 million.

Memorial and Saint Mary’s are providing in-kind and cash contributions. With the CFI’s “sizeable” investment, Dr. Kozak says he and his collaborators want to leverage critical support from other agencies, as well as attract and retain new research talent.

Research infrastructure acquired by the CFI Innovation Fund grant will add extensive research capacity to Memorial’s existing facilities, such as the X-ray diffractometer shown here, installed in 2019.
Research infrastructure acquired by the CFI Innovation Fund grant will add extensive research capacity to Memorial’s existing facilities, such as the X-ray diffractometer shown here, installed in 2019.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

“The next stage will be to ambitiously pursue funding for recruitment of top personnel at many levels, from undergraduate and graduate students and post-doctoral research associates to technical support and academic staff members,” he said.

“The student training experience will be hugely transformed, and a university’s true “product” is the people it trains. Our reputation will be our people, not only our publication records and patents. This investment builds on existing strengths and past investments, which is an important criterion for CFI funding.”

‘Game-changer’

Dr. Neil Bose, vice-president (research), says the CFI’s investment will further enhance Memorial’s international reputation for leading-edge research.

“This federal commitment is truly a game-changer, as it ensures our talented teams have access to critical tools and resources to remain at the forefront of environmental-related research and the economic development associated with sustainable use of resources,” he told the Gazette.

“The research that will take place in the ACESCentre will benefit the people and communities of our province, Canada and beyond, as well as help train the next generation of scientists ready to tackle our world’s challenges. I commend the CFI for its longstanding support of Memorial’s innovative research.”

core science
Memorial’s Core Science Facility
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

National funding

Memorial’s investment was part of a national announcement supporting 102 projects at 35 post-secondary institutions and research hospitals across the country.

“Canada’s researchers and scientists are some of the brightest and most skilled in the world,” Prime Minister Trudeau said in a release. “Today’s investments will ensure that they have what they need to help us build a Canada that is healthier, cleaner and more competitive.”

Ocean productivity

In addition to the ACESCentre project, Memorial is co-leading a project with Dalhousie University.

Dr. Uta Passow, Canada Research Chair in Biological Oceanographic Processes, Department of Ocean Sciences, Faculty of Science, is co-team leader on A BGC Argo Program for the NW North Atlantic Ocean, that is receiving $3,511,591 from the CFI.

Researchers with that project will install and operate an array of biogeochemical (BGC)-Argo floats, which are free-drifting, battery-powered profilers that carry miniaturized sensors and relay their data in real-time via satellite.

The project will enable scientists to address pressing questions about ocean productivity and carbon export in the North Atlantic Ocean, as well as advance Canadian sensor technology and provide training in the growing sector.

Hunting for dark matter

Grenfell Campus researchers Drs. Svetlana Barkanova and Aleksandrs Aleksejevs, School of Science and the Environment, are both team members on the project, The MOLLER Detector: Expanding Our Understanding of Matter in the Universe, with a new precision electron detector, led by the University of Manitoba.

The CFI is investing more than $2.3 million, which will allow researchers to measure the interaction properties between pairs of electrons down to separation distances of zeptometers – roughly a million times smaller than the size of the smallest atomic nucleus – to unprecedented accuracy.

Aging research

Dr. Gerry Mugford, clinical epidemiology, Division of Community Health and Humanities, Faculty of Medicine, is a collaborator on the project, Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA): A Platform for Interdisciplinary Research, led by McMaster University, which was awarded more than $9.5 million from the CFI.

The CLSA is a Canada-wide, 20-year followup study of 50,000 people between the ages of 45 and 85 years at baseline. It is a research initiative will cement Canada’s place on the world stage by bridging biological with population sciences to test novel hypotheses that are relevant to the health of the public.

Materials science

Dr. James LeBlanc, Department of Physics and Physical Oceanography, Faculty of Science, is a collaborator on the project, Building a Future for Canadian Neutron Scattering, led by McMaster University and awarded more than $14.2 million.

This is a national project that will enable research and innovation in areas such as materials for clean energy technology, materials for structural integrity of reliability-critical components of vehicles or nuclear power plants, biomaterials for understanding and combating disease, and materials for information technology.

Details on the CFI’s Innovation Fund are available here. You can also follow the CFI on Twitter @InnovationCA and subscribe to its YouTube channel to find videos about the CFI and its transformative research projects.


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