Canadian universities attract top minds

Canadian universities have lured 19 world-leading researchers as prestigious Canada Excellence Research Chairs.

Canadian universities have lured 19 world-leading researchers as prestigious Canada Excellence Research chairs.

For each chair, 13 universities will receive up to $10 million over seven years to support chairholders and their research, Industry Minister Tony Clement said at an event in Toronto on Monday announcing the recipients.

"This is about brain gain, instead of brain drain — attracting the best in the world and getting them here," Clement said.

The research fields include health and related life sciences and technologies, environmental sciences and technologies, natural resources and energy, and information and communications technologies.

In the health field, Matthew Farrer, Canada Excellence Research chair in neurogenetics and translational neuroscience at the University of British Columbia, studies neurodegenerative disorders, with a focus on molecular genetics and modelling of movement disorders such as Parkinson's disease.

At the University of Toronto, structural biology researcher Oliver Ernst will continue his research into the light receptor of the eye at the molecular level, and its role in the development of neurological diseases such as Parkinson's and dementia.

Ernst's wife, Cordula Enenkel, has also accepted a position as an associate professor in biochemistry at the University of Toronto, where she will join scientists working on protein folding and degradation in health and disease.

"We both have very good scientific possibilities in terms of research, and we are both looking forward to coming to this country to work here," Ernst said.

Also at U of T, Frederick Roth will use his computational expertise to probe how diseases such as cancer develop, with the aim of contributing to the discovery and development of new drugs.

Parkinson's, hepatitis and diabetes

"It's thrilling to be somewhere where the government is willing to invest in basic research," said Roth, who is leaving Harvard medical school to become the Canada Excellence Research chair in integrative biology.

The University of Western Ontario in London welcomed Dr. Adrian Owen, who will address residual brain function in patients who are non-responsive after suffering a severe brain injury. He will also study the cognitive problems in patients suffering from Parkinson's, Huntington's, Alzheimer's and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS.

Building on the knowledge he gained in discovering the virus that causes hepatitis C, Michael Houghton, the Canada Excellence Research chair in virology at the University of Alberta, will work to develop low-cost vaccines against HCV, and therapeutic vaccines against hepatitis B.

Also at the University of Alberta, diabetes researcher Patrik Rorsman will study how human pancreatic islets function, and develop new treatments that preserve, regenerate and transplant these insulin-producing cells back to healthy condition to restore pancreatic function.

Environment, quantum computing advances

At the University of Prince Edward Island, veterinary researcher Ian Gardner will develop cost-effective testing strategies and surveillance programs to prevent and control diseases, and investigate disease dynamics and health interactions between farmed and wild fish populations.

In the field of environmental sciences and technologies, Ali Emadi, a top researcher in hybrid engine technology, will join McMaster University in Hamilton.

Dalhousie University in Halifax attracted one of the world's leading oceanographers, Douglas Wallace, who will lead a research team working to increase understanding of ocean changes and provide new tools for predicting them.

The University of Manitoba gained Søren Rysgaard, a leading academic who studies climate change in the Arctic, focusing on sea ice chemistry.

The other chairs are:

  • Philippe Van Cappellen, ecohydrology at the University of Waterloo. Van Cappellen hopes to increase understanding of how groundwater and surface waters interact, and how these interactions affect the health of human populations and aquatic ecosystems.
  • Marcel Babin, remote sensing of Canada's new Arctic frontier, at Laval University. Babin and his research team will apply the most recent advances in satellite remote sensing to track how Arctic ecosystems respond to climate change.
  • Graham Pearson at the University of Alberta will develop the first detailed picture of rock formations hidden deep under the Earth’s crust in Canada’s Arctic region, revealing new data on the landmasses where diamonds are formed.
  • Thomas Thundat at the University of Alberta will develop new detection and extraction technologies to improve the overall efficiency of how Canada’s oilsands are processed.
  • Howard Wheater, chair of water security at the University of Saskatchewan, whose research brings together ecology, toxicology and hydrology. He will develop new science and risk assessment tools  to understand and manage the complex interactions between water, land use and climate change.
  • Robert Boyd, quantum nonlinear optics at the University of Ottawa, is a global leader in the field of photonics — the study of photons and their application in telecommunications and informatics.
  • David Cory of the University of Waterloo, who is building the tools to navigate, control and exploit the properties of quantum mechanics, such as future quantum computers.
  • Younès Messaddeq at Laval University, whose work in photonics or fibre-optic materials promises applications for industry. Progress in the field has already improved how we communicate, gather and store information, and potential advances include new fibre lasers in dentistry and minimally invasive imaging.
  • Bertrand Reulet at Sherbrooke University will work toward engineering the first generation of quantum information processors by tackling the biggest obstacle currently facing quantum computing pioneers — electronic noise.

The chair program was announced in the 2008 federal budget as part of the government's aim to build expertise in its science and technology.