Twelve Trent University scientists will continue to tackle important research in areas such as how our memories can become resistant to Alzheimer’s, the fate of mercury in the environment, and how mining companies can reduce more greenhouse-gas emissions, thanks to more than $2.4 million from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) announced today.
“Support for the sciences and globally impactful research is more important than ever,” said Dr. Leo Groarke, president and vice-chancellor of Trent University. “I’m delighted to see this round of funding support three of our newest researchers at the University, among many other distinguished faculty. This NSERC funding helps emphasize our long-standing leadership in the environment and supports Trent’s emerging strengths in health sciences and agriculture.”
On behalf of the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, minister of Science and Sport, the Honourable Maryam Monsef, minister of Status of Women and Trent alumna, announced the funding – part of a $558 million investment in research from NSERC, the largest in discovery science grants in Canadian history – at an event at Trent University.
“Canada is already a world-leader in science and the investments we are making today at Trent University will ensure researchers and students are able to pursue their dreams and come up with solutions to some of our most pressing challenges. Our investments show that Canada is serious about science. I congratulate all of today’s recipients,” said the Honourable Maryam Monsef, member of parliament for Peterborough-Kawartha.
Trent research projects awarded five-year NSERC Discovery Grants include:
Dr. Christina Davy, Environmental and Life Sciences: ecological effects of resource development on threatened wildlife
Professor Davy’s research focus is on the impact of rapid environmental changes on small or declining wildlife populations, and on producing rigorous science that can help with the recovery of these populations. Her research aims to improve our understanding of the ecological impacts of human landscape use, in order to help Canadian jurisdictions to make evidence-based decisions when balancing recovery of threatened wildlife populations with unavoidable human demands on natural resources.
Dr. Ian Power, Canada research chair in Environmental Geoscience within the Trent School of the Environment: carbon dioxide sequestration and mining environments
This research will make significant contributions to sustainable development of mineral resources and facilitate society’s transition to a low-carbon economy. It will also help mining companies reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit the costs of carbon pricing. Developing and implementing new technologies and processes for reducing greenhouse gas emissions will create new employment opportunities for Canadians in the emerging sectors of carbon management and sequestration while enhancing the competitiveness of Canada’s mining sector.
Dr. Robert Huber, Biology: better understand the roles of important proteins in the cell
Professor Huber’s research will use a model organism (soil microbe) to reveal the precise function of the CLN3 protein (belonging to the NCL protein family). In humans, mutations in NCL proteins cause Batten disease, the most common form of childhood neurodegeneration. In the long-term, this work will have a significant impact on our understanding of the roles these important, but poorly characterized, proteins play in the cell.
Dr. Holger Hintelmann, Chemistry: studying the fate of mercury in the environment
Mercury contamination poses a significant threat to human health and natural ecosystems and man-made mercury emissions have increased substantially since pre-industrial times. Professor Hintelmann’s research will provide methods to distinguish between geogenic and anthropogenic mercury in the environment. This research will help shape policies for the future management of mercury in affected communities and other vulnerable ecosystems in Canada and around the world.
Dr. Hugo Lehmann, Psychology: how our memories can become resistant to brain damage or neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s
Our long-term memories are supported, in part, by a brain structure called the hippocampus. Damage to this structure causes severe memory loss, but repeated learning trials or memory reactivations, termed reinstatements, enable the memory to become resistant to hippocampal damage. This research aims to determine the brain plasticity that makes reinstated memories more resistant to brain damage, with an emphasis on damage that includes the hippocampus. Ultimately, this research should be of interest to anyone who has considered why brain injuries or certain neurodegenerative disorders may cause amnesia for some memories and not others.
Dr. Neil Emery, Biology and vice-president Research and Innovation: how plant hormones called cytokinins are also controlling growth of fungi, slime moulds and insects
In previous grants, Professor Emery’s research showed how plant hormones called cytokinins acted like steroids that increased growth and yield of crop plants. His recent discoveries now confirm that these hormones are not specific to plants and that they are also made by fungi, slime moulds and insects. This new research will investigate how these hormones travel and communicate through different organisms and among the kingdoms of life, while impacting each other’s growth in the form of tumors, galls, and seed and spore development.
Dr. William Atkinson, Physics and Astronomy: material that can be used in the push towards making smaller and faster electronics
As computers, cellphones and medical equipment continue to get smaller and faster, interest is growing in broadening the capabilities of nano-electronic devices. Professor Atkinson’s research will focus on transition metal oxides, which hold much potential because they can have many properties — including superconductivity, magnetism and ferroelectricity — that are not found in conventional semiconductors.
Dr. Marcel Dorken, Biology: evolution and ecology of plant reproductive strategies
The flowering plants dominate terrestrial ecosystems and are the ultimate source of nearly all food consumed by birds and mammals (including humans) but our understanding of their ecology and evolution lags far behind that of animals. Professor Dorken uses theoretical models and experiments to make progress in our understanding of this important group of organisms.
Dr. Dennis Murray, Biology, Canada research chair in Integrative Wildlife Conservation: the predation of snowshoe hares by lynx and coyote in Canada’s northern forests
Professor Murray’s research will comprehensively address major knowledge gaps and establish a new basis for understanding predator-prey interactions. This information will help better manage and conserve these animals that are of important commercial value to northern communities. In addition to the Discovery Grant, Prof. Murray also received a Northern Research Supplement.
Dr. Steven Rafferty, Chemistry: understanding the bioinorganic chemistry of an important human and animal pathogen.
The iron-containing cofactor heme is a versatile molecular tool that enables our hemoglobin to carry oxygen, but it does much more than that, and it is indispensable for most organisms. Until recently, the parasite Giardia intestinalis was thought to be one of the rare organisms that did not need heme and could not make it - yet surprisingly, the genome of Giardia has genes for several heme proteins. Professor Rafferty’s research investigates the nature of these proteins and seeks to discover additional ones that may have escaped easy identification. Together with the research of Janet Yee in the Biology department this makes Trent one of the only centres for Giardia heme protein research in the world.
Dr. Aaron Slepkov, Physics & Astronomy, Canada research chair in Physics of Biomaterials: advanced nonlinear microscopy tools for label-free materials characterization
Professor Slepkov’s research will investigate the potential of a powerful type of imaging, known as nonlinear optical microscopy, to answer important questions in other disciplines such as biomaterials, drug forensics, the geosciences and paleobiology.
In addition to Discovery Grants, Dr. Liana Brown, Psychology, received a Discovery Development Grant for her research on how using our hands can help improve vision. This research has the potential to help rehabilitation specialists develop strategies for treating people with brain injury. Experiments so far have shown that we can see things better when they are in or near our hands or when they are near a tool that we know how to use well. Professor Brown’s proposed experiments will study the degree to which this near-hand advantage can be explained by the possibility that things appearing near your hands activate brain areas specialized for planning and executing actions.