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Expert expansion

Five new Canada Research Chairs bolsters Memorial’s international profile

By Jeff Green

New federal investments totalling more than $4.5 million will enhance Memorial’s research expertise in areas ranging from climate change to health care to oceans research.

Five new Canada Research Chairs (CRC) — one of the country’s highest honours for research excellence — have been appointed at Memorial. The results were made available on Thursday, May 3.

Innovative research

“For nearly two decades, the Canada Research Chairs program has played a critical role in helping recruit and retain elite scholars to our university and Newfoundland and Labrador,” said President Gary Kachanoski.

“This latest investment demonstrates the Government of Canada’s value in cutting-edge research at our university. I thank the federal government for its continued commitment and wish our newest Canada Research Chairs much success.”

Multi-year funding

Two faculty members have been named tier 1 chairs, which are seven-year awards for $200,000 each year with the possibility of one seven-year renewal; while three researchers were named tier 2 chairs, which are five-year awards for $100,000 each year with the possibility of one five-year renewal.

In addition to the CRC announcement, the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) also announced a total of $260,700 in funding for the five researchers for infrastructure.

Dr. Uta Passow, Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Biological Oceanographic Processes, Department of Ocean Sciences, Faculty of Science

Dr. Uta Passow
Dr. Uta Passow
Photo: Submitted

Dr. Passow’s research will increase our understanding of the impacts of climate change and oil or plastic pollution on marine ecosystems and allow development of mediating measures. She is joining Memorial from the University of California Santa Barbara.

“Memorial’s location at the gateway to the fast-changing Arctic, and its proximity to both Europe and the U.S., facilitate stimulating collaborations and the integration of Canadian efforts into a global network of oceanographic research,” said Dr. Passow, who noted she’s excited to contribute to Memorial’s “first-class” oceanographic research program

“The support granted to CRCs will allow my research and my research group to thrive and expand. Exploring new landscapes, whether physical or conceptual, inspires and promotes creativity, which is central for excellent research. New collaborations act as fertilizer for cutting-edge research. This CRC will thus stimulate and enhance my work.”

Dr. Sue Ziegler, Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Boreal Biogeochemistry, Department of Earth Sciences, Faculty of Science

Dr. Sue Ziegler
Dr. Sue Ziegler
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Dr. Ziegler and her research group are investigating the chemical clues uncovered from organics in soils, streams, rivers and coastal ecosystems in order to determine how boreal landscapes are responding to climate change and what impacts those responses have on aquatic and marine ecosystems.

“Results from this research will enable an increased understanding of climate change impacts on ecosystem function, such as carbon, nutrient cycling and food webs, and climate feedbacks within boreal watersheds and their associated coastal environments,” said Dr. Ziegler, who previously held the position of Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Environment Science at Memorial from 2006-16.

“This understanding is required to develop adaptation strategies for forestry and fisheries resources and enable more accurate Earth system models for better climate predictions.”

Learn more about Dr. Ziegler’s Biogeochemistry of Boreal Ecosystems Research Group online.

Dr. Amanda Bates, Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Marine Physiological Ecology, Department of Ocean Sciences, Faculty of Science

Dr. Amanda Bates
Dr. Amanda Bates
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Dr. Bates’ research focuses on developing novel theories and approaches for managing and conserving marine living resources. Dr. Bates joins Memorial from the University of Southampton.

“My research identifies species and communities which will win under climate change, and those that will lose,” she said. “In doing so, I am aiming to generate priorities and approaches for managing and conserving marine living resources, and ultimately contribute to a more sustainable future.”

Dr. Bates said this province’s location — perched in the North Atlantic — as well as the presence of the Ocean Sciences Centre offer her an ideal “experimental playground.” She says being named a CRC is a professional honour.

“It is the value that the CRC appointment places on the diverse set of work across disciplines, rather than an expertise in any one area, that has been most important, and most exciting, to my professional advancement.”

Dr. Touati Benoukraf, Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Bioinformatics for Personalized Medicine, Faculty of Medicine

Dr. Touati Benoukraf
Dr. Touati Benoukraf
Photo: Submitted

Dr. Benoukraf joins Memorial from the National University of Singapore. His research aims to generate and analyze individual genomic data sets to discover novel mechanisms involved in pathogenesis and therapeutic resistance.

He says Memorial is an ideal university for his research, allowing his team to “fight diseases with genomic analytics.”

“The Faculty of Medicine at Memorial goes beyond the clinic with its important computational infrastructure via the Translational and Personalized Medicine Initiative, which is an ideal environment for my research,” said Dr. Benoukraf.

“Moreover, along with clinicians and biologists, Memorial has experts in biostatistics and computer science, who are focusing on analyzing large biological data sets. This critical mass is propitious for enhancing multidisciplinary research.”

Dr. Katleen Robert, Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Ocean Mapping, Marine Institute

Dr. Katleen Robert
Dr. Katleen Robert
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Dr. Robert’s research is focused on mapping the spatial complexity of the ocean from the seafloor to the surface with the goal of creating an integrated picture of our oceans to better understand where species are and why.

She joins the Marine Institute from the National Oceanography Centre in the U.K.

“By studying the complex relationships between habitats, resources and human activities, and by providing a baseline to monitor ecosystem responses to environmental change, this research will help inform management decisions to support sustainable resource exploitation,” said Dr. Robert.

As part of her research she will work with underwater robotic vehicles, which allow sonars and cameras to be brought closer to the seabed to collect high-resolutions acoustic data and videos.

“The CRC is an incredible opportunity, it provides me with the funds to support graduate students to form the multidisciplinary team needed to tackle complex research questions,” she added.

Boosting global profile

Dr. Neil Bose, vice-president (research), says Memorial is recognized internationally for its research leadership and innovation in the areas of oceans- and health-related research.

“Our newest Canada Research Chairs will further that global profile, allowing Memorial to forge new worldwide partnerships and attract the next generation of top graduate students to our university,” he said.

“These researchers will join strong teams in their disciplines and I look forward to hearing about their accomplishments in their new roles.”

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