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Research trio

More than $1.6 million in federal funding for three Canada Research Chairs

By Jeff Green

Memorial is home to three new Canada Research Chairs (CRC), one of the country’s highest honours for research excellence.

The appointments are for tier 2 chairs, which are five-year positions worth $100,000 each year with the possibility of one five-year renewal.

The announcement was made on Nov. 2. In addition to the chairs’ funding, the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) announced a total of $176,649 for the researchers through its John R. Evans Leaders Fund (JELF), as part of its partnership with the Canada Research Chairs Program.

“The chairs program allows Memorial to recruit and retain talented researchers with incredible breadth.” — Dr. Neil Bose

In total, the investments represent more than $1.6 million in federal funding for Memorial.

Dr. Rachel Sipler
Surf and Turf: How Changes on Land Impact the Ocean

Dr. Rachel Sipler

Dr. Rachel Sipler, Department of Ocean Sciences, Faculty of Science, is the Canada Research Chair in Ocean Biogeochemistry.

Dr. Sipler’s research focuses on identifying the physical and chemical factors controlling ocean productivity now and how they may change in the future.

“Phytoplankton form the base of the marine food web and are ultimately the food for all marine organisms. Without them there would be no larger organisms, like fish,” she said.

“Phytoplankton supply the oxygen that we breathe and use the carbon dioxide that we produce.”

Dr. Sipler is interested in better understanding how phytoplankton will respond to changes in their environment. Identifying the most harmful chemical inputs is the first step to pinpointing regions most at risk, reducing negative impacts and preserving marine resources for the future.

She has worked in the Arctic, Antarctic and many systems in between. She was most recently a research scientist at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, College of William and Mary.

“I have always wanted to work in the waters off Newfoundland and Labrador,” said Dr. Sipler. “Being awarded the CRC was incredibly exciting because it will allow me to work and live in such a dynamic place.”

As the Canada Research Chair in Ocean Biogeochemistry, Dr. Sipler and her team will use both traditional and cutting-edge biological and chemical methods to determine what factors are most critical to maintaining healthy and productive marine systems.

Dr. Julia Christensen
Finding Home in an Urbanizing Arctic

Dr. Julia Christensen

Dr. Julia Christensen, Canada Research Chair in Northern Governance and Public Policy, joins the Department of Geography, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, in December.

Coming from Roskilde University, Denmark, Dr. Christensen’s research involves using creative, community-engaged research methods to understand the social dimensions of Arctic urbanization and homelessness.

This research will examine the role of northern social policy and governance and uneven rural-urban geographies in rising visible homelessness in urbanizing Arctic locales. There is significant evidence to suggest the North is urbanizing, but what urbanization means for the social fabric of northern communities has yet to be fully explored.

“As the Canada Research Chair in Northern Governance and Public Policy, Memorial is an ideal location,” she said.

“The university and the department have impressive reputations in the areas of northern research, research in collaboration with Indigenous communities and community engagement. I can’t wait to get started with my work, and to use this chair to further establish Memorial as a centre for meaningful, policy-relevant social research with northern communities.”

Dr. Baiyu (Helen) Zhang
Controlling Oil Pollution

Dr. Baiyu (Helen) Zhang

Dr. Baiyu (Helen) Zhang, Department of Civil Engineering, Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, is the Canada Research Chair in Coastal Environmental Engineering.

She has been an associate professor with the department since 2015.

Dr. Zhang’s research involves coastal environmental engineering with a focus on the development of new methodologies and biotechnologies for studying and mitigating oil pollution in coastal soil, beaches and seawater under cold and harsh conditions.

Coastal oil pollution problems caused by oil spills into the seawater near shore and onto the land due to human activities or natural disasters can lead to major ecological and economic damage.

“This is especially true for Atlantic and northern Canada, where offshore petroleum and shipping operations are continuously growing,” Dr. Zhang said.

“To be a Canada Research Chair is an important career milestone that allows me to build a promising program at Memorial, enhance the national R&D capacity in related fields and contribute to the advancement of Canada’s northern strategy and environmental sustainability.”

Dr. Zhang’s research will help explore a new dimension of coastal oil pollution research to achieve a shift towards improved microbial engineering knowledge, eco-friendly technologies and novel bio-products so as to protect human health and the environment.

Enhancing research capacity

“I am delighted that through the Canada Research Chairs program, and the Canada Foundation for Innovation, Memorial is able to welcome two new researchers to further enhance our research capabilities,” said President Gary Kachanoski.

“I look forward to hearing more of Drs. Christensen and Sipler’s work as their research progresses. And of course, Dr. Zhang’s expertise in her field has been recognized for some time here at Memorial. The fact that she has been awarded a Canada Research Chair further affirms that she is a leader in coastal environmental engineering.”

Critical investments

Dr. Neil Bose, vice-president (research), says the federal funding will bolster Memorial’s research profile.

“Memorial is currently home to 12 Canada Research Chairs in areas as diverse as Aboriginal studies, marine geology and neuroscience and brain repair,” said Dr. Bose.

“The chairs program allows Memorial to recruit and retain talented researchers with incredible breadth, building our university’s research capacity in key strategic areas, while CFI provides funding for our researchers to access important tools and equipment to advance their work. I look forward to catching up with and discussing their research with Drs. Sipler, Christensen and Zhang, and seeing the outcomes of their research.”

Federal partnership

Created in 2000, the Canada Research Chairs program has helped attract and retain some of the world’s most accomplished and promising minds to post-secondary institutions in the country.

Since its creation in 1997, CFI has ensured Canadian researchers have the tools — the cutting-edge labs, facilities and equipment — they need to push the frontiers of knowledge in all disciplines.

CFI and the Canada Research Chairs program partner through JELF to provide top-notch infrastructure for research institutions across Canada.

With files from Susan Flanagan.

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