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From robots to algae

NSERC funding empowers Memorial researchers to better the world

By Susan Flanagan

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) has announced almost $7 million in federal funding to support more than 65 research projects at Memorial.

The grants, scholarships and fellowships, which were announced on Sept. 8, span a variety of disciplines and cover topics from algae to tectonics to robotics.

‘Education and research solutions’

The total funding for Memorial is $6,902,478.

“As Newfoundland and Labrador’s university, Memorial plays a vital role in driving innovation and fostering new ideas across disciplines. I thank NSERC for its investment in Memorial researchers, not just today, but for almost four decades,” said President Gary Kachanoski.

“These investments allow our talented faculty and students to expand our capacity and capabilities to deliver education and research solutions to industry and community partners here and around the globe. I look forward to the results of these research projects and seeing how they can be applied to improve the quality of life and well-being of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, and all Canadians.”

Funding supports faculty and graduate students

Faculty and graduate student researchers from medicine, engineering and applied science, human kinetics and recreation, science and humanities and social sciences will benefit from today’s funding announcement.

“We are delighted with the recognition of our best students by NSERC and are proud of the many students who have received these prestigious scholarships,” said Dr. Aimée Surprenant, dean, School of Graduate Studies. “The support allows these students to fully concentrate on their studies and will help them to become the research leaders of tomorrow.”

The following three researchers are representative of the more than 65 projects receiving funding.

Dr. Yan Zhang

Dr. Yan Zhang is an associate professor of process engineering in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science.

Yan Zhang
Dr. Yan Zhang
Photo: Mike Ritter

She will receive $120,000 over five years for her research in the development of new biopolymer-based materials that can be used in separate certain metal ions from wastewater using a process called high performance liquid chromatography that, until now, has proved too costly for large-scale projects.

Dr. Zhang’s research aims to come up with more cost-efficient ways of separating biopharmaceuticals and metal ions.

“This Discovery Grant will assist in the development of cost-effective ways to recover precious metals from electrical waste and mining effluent, thus allowing these valuable elements to be reused,” she said.

“The grant provides a unique multidisciplinary environment for the training of five master’s and PhD students in fundamental and applied science and equips the students with important theoretical and practical skills essential for success in their future careers.”

Funding the next generation

Dr. Stephen Piercey is a professor in the Department of Earth Sciences in the Faculty of Science.

He will receive $195,000 over five years in NSERC Discovery Grant funding for his research into the genesis of volcanogenic massive sulfide zinc-copper-lead-gold-silver deposits which form on the seafloor.

Dr. Stephen Piercey (yellow jacket) talks to colleagues about the geology around the Kudz Ze Kayah VMS deposits, Finlayson Lake region, Yukon, summer 2017
Dr. Stephen Piercey (yellow jacket) speaks to colleagues about the geology around the Kudz Ze Kayah VMS deposits, Finlayson Lake region, Yukon, summer 2017.
Photo: Matt Manor

Dr. Piercey’s research will involve a multidisciplinary approach that integrates field work and laboratory-based analytical data to obtain a continent- to nano-scale understanding of how these deposits form and how we can explore for them more efficiently.

Volcanogenic massive sulfide deposits have been mined for millennia since the Roman Empire, yet are still critical metal sources for both the Canadian and the global market place, says Dr. Piercey.

“This research grant will provide my students and me the opportunity to answer fundamental questions regarding ore genesis and the evolution of the planet’s ocean, atmosphere, and crust.” — Dr. Stephen Piercey

Despite their importance, they are incompletely understood and many fundamental questions remain regarding their genesis.

“They have formed throughout the geological record for 3.5 billion years and thus can be used as a proxy for how ore formation, ocean and atmosphere chemistry, and mountain building processes have changed through geological time,” he said.

“This research grant will provide my students and me the opportunity to answer fundamental questions regarding ore genesis and the evolution of the planet’s ocean, atmosphere, and crust. In particular, we will be using various tools to evaluate the interplay between magmatism, mountain building processes, variations in oxygen content of the ocean and atmosphere and how these factors influence volcanogenic massive sulfide deposit genesis and how these have varied through geological time.”

Dr. Piercey’s students will also be trained in cutting-edge geological, geochemical and isotopic methods, to become the next generation of cutting-edge researchers and resource explorers, he says.

Earth sciences funding

Dr. Kim Welford is an assistant professor in the Department of Earth Sciences in the Faculty of Science.

She will receive a five-year Discovery Grant valued at $115,000 for her geophysical imaging research that will help characterize the submarine boundaries of Canada’s East Coast and the Arctic.

Dr. Kim Welford reviews a model of rock velocities and the geometry of the base of the thinned continental crust beneath Orphan Basin, offshore Newfoundland.
Dr. Kim Welford reviews a model of rock velocities and the geometry of the base of the thinned continental crust beneath the Orphan Basin, offshore Newfoundland.
Photo: Mike Ritter

Despite the fact that continental margins are of territorial and economic importance due to the presence of significant energy reserves, they remain largely under-explored and the processes that created them are not fully understood.

Through her research, Dr. Welford hopes to offer insight on how these rifted margins, which developed as continental plates were pulled apart, and how energy-rich sediment were eventually deposited on them.

“Great insight can be obtained by stitching the oceans back together.” — Dr. Kim Welford

These findings can greatly reduce exploration risks and costs making oil and gas extraction a safer and more economically viable industry.

“Great insight can be obtained by stitching the oceans back together to study how well the conjugate margins match, how asymmetries develop and whether those asymmetries existed long before the oceans opened,” said Dr. Welford.

“My NSERC Discovery Grant allows me to train and support undergraduate and graduate students in cutting edge geophysical techniques so that they can directly contribute to research on the evolution of rifted margins and be the academic, government and industry leaders of tomorrow.”

A list of the various NSERC award recipients can be found below.

Discovery Grant total: $5,860,978

Grenfell Campus total: $155,825

  • Rebecca Milley, Grenfell Campus, Combinatorial Games and Graph Optimization: Losing and Scoring, Packing and Walking
  • Adrian Unc, Grenfell Campus, Farming algae: Nutrient Stoichiometry for Microalgae Cultured on Wastewaters of Variable Quality
  • Olga Vasilyeva, Grenfell Campus, Nonlinear Population Dynamics in Rivers and River Networks

Faculty of Medicine total: $370,000

  • Graham Fraser, BioMedical Sciences, Quantitative microfluidic delivery systems for studying tissue microenvironment and microvascular blood flow regulation in vivo
  • John McGuire, BioMedical Sciences, Characterization and function of a novel receptor in smooth muscle cells
  • Dake Qi, BioMedical Sciences, The regulation of adipose-derived MIF: A novel secretory function of preadipocytes mediated by PAR2

Faculty of Science total: $3,529,000

  • Sherri Christian, Biochemistry, Characterization of extracellular microvesicles generated by immature B cell as mediators of cell-cell communication
  • David Heeley, Biochemistry, Isomorphisms in tropomyosin modulate binding, flexibility and thin filament function
  • Andrew Lang,  Biology, Gene transfer agents and movement of DNA in bacteria
  • Sunil Pansare, Chemistry, New Methods for Asymmetric Carbon-Carbon and Carbon-Heteroatom Bond Formation
  • Peter Pickup, Chemistry, Kinetics, stoichiometry and product distributions of electrode reactions at novel electrocatalytic materials
  • Yuanzhu Chen, Computer Science, Exploring Machine-Mediated Social Interaction Mesh from a Network Science Perspective
  • David Churchill, Computer Science, Automated Intelligent Decision Making in Domains With Large Action Spaces
  • Minglun Gong, Computer Science, Quality-driven autonomous 3D reconstruction of large-scale scenes
  • Andrew Vardy, Computer Science, Robots Organizing Environments: Collective Strategies based on Low-Cost Navigation
  • Michael Babechuk, Earth Sciences, Refining the understanding of Earth’s oxygenation through the paleo-redox geochemistry of redbeds
  • John Jamieson, Earth Sciences, Geochronology of Seafloor Hydrothermal Systems
  • Graham Layne, Earth Sciences, Metallogeny of the Avalon Terrane During the Late Neoproterozoic
  • Stephen Piercey, Earth Sciences, Interrogating the role of magmatism, tectonics, crustal growth and basin redox in controlling localization, genesis, tonnage, and grade of exhalative base and precious metal mineralization along evolving continental margins
  • Kim Welford, Earth Sciences, Imaging and characterization of rifted continental margin structures using geophysical methods: seeking deeper constraints and their tectonic implications
  • Taraneh Abarin, Mathematics and Statistics, Bayesian Methods for Imprecise Data
  • Graham Cox, Mathematics and Statistics, Stability of coherent structures in evolutionary partial differential equations: a geometric approach
  • Marco Merkli, Mathematics and Statistics, Effective Evolution of Open Quantum Systems
  • Yorck Sommerhäuser, Mathematics and Statistics, Extensions of Yetter-Drinfel’d Hopf algebras
  • Jie Xiao, Mathematics and Statistics, Convex Geometric Potential Theory
  • Yuan Yuan, Mathematics and Statistics, Functional Differential Equations in Biology and Epidemiology
  • Christopher Parrish, Ocean Sciences, Production, transport, fate and effects of lipids in the marine environment
  • Paul Snelgrove, Ocean Sciences, Evaluating Biodiversity-Ecosystem Functioning Relationships in Marine Seafloor Habitats
  • James LeBlanc, Physics and Physical Oceanography, Numerical simulation of the physical spin and charge response of correlated materials
  • Ivan Saika-Voivod, Physics and Physical Oceanography, Nucleation and glassy dynamics in liquids and nanoparticles
  • Francis Bambico, Psychology, Cortical endocannabinoid signaling and stress controllability
  • Jonathan Fawcett, Psychology, Trying to forget: Characterizing the mechanisms and consequences of intentional forgetting
  • William Montevecchi, Psychology, Ocean Survival: Seabird Responses to Climate Change, Prey Availability and Fishing-Gear             

School of Human Kinetics and Recreation total: $125,000

  • David Behm, Human Kinetics and Recreation, Non-local neuromuscular effects and mechanisms

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences total: $138,615

  • Rodolphe Devillers, Geography, New geovisualization methods for supporting marine conservation planning

Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science total: $ 945,000

  • Oscar De Silva, Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, Multi Model State Estimator Design for Micro Aerial Vehicle Navigation Systems
  • Weimin Huang, Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, Further Investigation of Ocean Remote Sensing Using High-frequency and Microwave Radars
  • Sohrab Zendehboudi, Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, Laboratory and Theoretical Determination of Asphaltene Precipitation/Deposition/Inhibition in Canadian Oil Reservoirs
  • Yahui Zhang, Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, Relationship between Chemical Structure and Adsorption Preference to Metal Ions of Chelating Resins and Their Applications in Removal of Iron from Copper Leach Solutions
  • Yan Zhang, Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, Development of advanced adsorptive separation technology for environmental and biopharmaceutical applications
  • George Mann, Mechanical Engineering, Coordination and Control of Ground-Aerial Robotic Systems
  • Ali Nasiri, Mechanical Engineering, Welding Solutions Advancement of High-Strength Pipeline Steels

Research Tools and Instruments Grants Program recipients total: $597,538

  • Matthew Parsons, principal investigator, BioMedical Sciences, and co-applicants Jacqueline Blundell; Michiru Hirasawa; Craig Moore; Jacqueline Vanderluit, Electrophysiology core facility for cellular and molecular neuroscience research
  • Cora Young, Chemistry, Optical instrumentation to understand the chemistry of the atmospheric chlorine budget
  • Minglun Gong, principal investigator, Computer Science, and co-applicants, Rodolphe Devillers; George Mann; Mohamed Shehata, A UAV-based system for hybrid LiDAR and photogrammetry sensing
  • Kevin Pope, principal investigator, Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, and co-applicants, Xili Duan; Yuri Muzychka
  • Greg Naterer, Laser Doppler Anemometry to Study Multiphase Flow and Phase Change

Discovery Accelerator Supplements total: $240,000

  • Weimin Huang, Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, Further Investigation of Ocean Remote Sensing Using High-frequency and Microwave Radars
  • Rodolphe Devillers, Department of Geography, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, New geo-visualization methods for supporting marine conservation planning

NSERC Postgraduate Scholarships total: $644,000

Alexander Graham Bell Canada Graduate Scholarships-Doctoral Program

  • Pradeep Bobby, CGSD, Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science
  • Lydia Ottenheimer Carrier, CGSD, Psychology
  • Maxwell Little, CGSD, Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science
  • Christina Prokopenko, CGSD, Biology

NSERC Postgraduate Scholarships-Doctoral Program

  • Quinlan, Emma, PGSD, BioMedical Sciences
  • Danielle Quinn, PGSD, Biology
  • Lucas Brehaut, PGSD, Geography
  • Robert Douglas Luther, PGSD, Mathematics and Statistics
  • Tomer Katan, PGSD, Ocean Sciences

Alexander Graham Bell Canada Graduate Scholarships master’s total: $157,500         

  • Katrien Kingdon, Biology
  • Jenna MacKinnon, Environmental Science
  • Emma Cooke, Ocean Sciences
  • Katie Goodwin, Geography
  • Andrew Hynes, Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science
  • Andrew Rose, Mathematics and Statistics
  • Kaylee Busniuk, Cognitive and Behavioural Ecology Program
  • Julie Jacques, Ocean Sciences
  • Patrick Glavine, Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science

Overall total: $6,902,478

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