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Leading-edge innovation

Federal investment boosts Memorial's specialized engineering research capacity

By Jeff Green

Dr. Baiyu (Helen) Zhang will continue her oil pollution control research thanks in large part to a major funding boost from the Government of Canada.

On Nov. 16, Dr. Zhang was renewed as a Tier 2 Canada Research Chair (CRC) in Coastal Environmental Engineering, a five-year award for $100,000 each year.

In addition, the Canada Foundation for Innovation will invest $82,201 to support Dr. Zhang’s research program through its John R. Evans Leaders Fund, as part of its partnership with the Canada Research Chairs Program.

François-Philippe Champagne, minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, made the announcement during the Canadian Science Policy Conference, which included funding for other researchers, scientists and students.

A professor in the Department of Civil Engineering, Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, Dr. Zhang was initially named a CRC in November 2017.

She says she is grateful for her renewal and the support to expand her research.

“This ensures the continuous growth of my research program in coastal environmental engineering at Memorial,” she told the Gazette.

“The re-appointment grants me the opportunity to further contribute to the knowledge of oil spill science, train the new generation of researchers and professionals, enhance Canada’s competitiveness and grow collaboration and impacts internationally in the field.”

Oil pollution expertise

A globally respected researcher, Dr. Zhang has dedicated her career to advancing ocean-related research.

Since joining Memorial in 2010, she has established a unique and vibrant research and training program.

“We will also investigate oil mitigation after dispersion and its impact on marine ecosystems.” — Dr. Baiyu (Helen) Zhang

Dr. Zhang leads the Coastal Environmental Research Laboratory, which is among a select group of worldwide facilities developing novel bio-products and eco-friendly technologies for marine oil spill response.

She is also heavily involved with the Memorial’s Northern Region Persistent Organic Pollution Control Laboratory, tackling the occurrence, transport, fate, impact and mitigation of emerging coastal contaminants such as microplastics and antibiotics.

Through her leading-edge research, Dr. Zhang has made important contributions to handling coastal oil and emerging contamination, while focusing on driving the ocean economies to be more sustainable and productive under a changing climate.

Respected researcher

A dynamic researcher, Dr. Zhang has led or co-led nearly 50 research grants and contracts totalling more than $12 million.

She has also co-authored more than 300 publications, including more than 150 peer-reviewed journal articles.

Dr. Zhang collaborates with global partners and routinely receives invitations to present her scientific work around the world, such as serving as a senior expert with the United Nations Development Program.

Wearing a black dress, beige blazer and dark-rimmed glasses,  Dr. Baiyu (Helen) Zhang smiles.
Dr. Baiyu (Helen) Zhang
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

In 2021 Dr. Zhang participated in a national discussion as part of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, organized by the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

The conversation focused on issues such as breaking down barriers to support future generations of women and girls in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

In recognition of her work, Dr. Zhang received the President’s Award for Outstanding Research from Memorial, a fellowship from the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering and a membership of the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists.

“During this term, my team will aim to achieve marine oil mitigation after spill response operations,” Dr. Zhang explained.

“For example, we will target generating innovative methodologies and green bio-products, such as bio-demulsifiers, for oil removal from the recovered (decanted) water after the skimming operation. We will also investigate oil mitigation after dispersion and its impact on marine ecosystems with and without the co-contaminants.”

‘Investing in our future’

Dr. Tana Allen, acting vice-president (research), says the CRC investment will help further grow Memorial’s worldwide reputation as a leader for ocean-related research and discovery.

She says Dr. Zhang is recognized and respected for her contributions to making our oceans and coastlines safer and that Memorial is “tremendously” proud of her leadership in the area and is looking forward to her continuing her work.

“Through the support of the Government of Canada, the Canada Research Chairs Program and the Canada Foundation for Innovation provides the opportunity for Memorial to recruit and retain top-notch scholars to Newfoundland and Labrador, empowering them to make world-class discoveries,” said Dr. Allen. “I thank the federal government for investing in our future.”

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