World’s leading researchers give presentations at Canada Excellence Research Chairs Summit

From developing hybrid powertrains to testing an experimental vaccine for hepatitis C and stopping at most points in between, thirteen of the world’s top researchers gave pecha kucha-style presentations of their work at the inaugural Canada Excellence Research Chairs (CERC) Summit at The University of British Columbia’s Robson Square on February 15, 2012.

“The CERC Summit was an excellent way of getting our research out to a wider audience in an accessible and fun way,” said Adrian Owen, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience and Imaging at Western University. “From a researcher’s perspective, it has been fascinating to find out what other chairholders are doing, especially since this can lead to new research collaborations and directions.”

Co-organized by the Canada Research Chairs Secretariat and The University of British Columbia, the afternoon of lectures was split into two sessions.

The first session focused on information and communications technologies (ICT), health and engineering. The speakers were David Cory, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Quantum Information Processing at the University of Waterloo; Robert Boyd, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Quantum Nonlinear Optics at the University of Ottawa; and Younès Messaddeq, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Enabling Photonic Innovations for Information and Communication at Université Laval. The three researchers took the audience on a whistle-stop tour of the ultra-fast world of nanophysics, where we now have the ability to slow down and accelerate the speed of light, develop quantum devices for use in the detection of landmines, and build inexpensive tools to transport, process and deliver light.

The health component of this first session featured Michael Houghton, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Virology at the University of Alberta; Frederick Roth, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Integrative Biology at the University of Toronto; and Adrian Owen.

During his presentation, Houghton revealed that he is close to discovering a vaccine for hepatitis C that appears to work against all major strains of the disease. He said that new data shows his vaccine, which includes one strain of the hepatitis disease, produces antibodies that can neutralize all types of the hepatitis C virus. "It's a very unexpected result and it's guiding us toward the development of a successful hepatitis vaccine,” he said.

After a brief break, attention turned to Ali Emadi, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Hybrid Powertrain at McMaster University, and Thomas Thundat, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Oil Sands Molecular Engineering at the University of Alberta.

In introducing Emadi and Thundat, senior advisor to the CERC program and event emcee Carmen Gervais commented that “Canada is at the forefront of developing the next generation of automobiles, which will lead to a paradigm shift in the automotive industry with impacts on related industries such as electric power and telecommunications. Canada is also developing technologies that will allow environmentally sound extraction of oil from the oil sands,” Gervais continued “and perhaps even the exploitation of the electrochemical properties of bitumen to harness electrical power.”

The second session focused on the topic of water. The speakers included Søren Rysgaard, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Arctic Geomicrobiology and Climate Change at the University of Manitoba; Douglas Wallace, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Ocean Science and Technology at Dalhousie University; Philippe Van Cappellen, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Ecohydrology at the University of Waterloo; and Howard Wheater, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Water Security at University of Saskatchewan.

“We did a tour of a world of research, touching down to get a tantalizing taste of the finest the world has to offer in thirteen research areas,” said Gervais. “Everyone in the room came away with a better understanding of the complexities of our world and the importance of understanding and managing our impact on it—at all levels, literally, from the microscopic to the global.”

Michèle Boutin, executive director of the Canada Research Chairs Secretariat, wrapped up the proceedings. “The brilliance of the research being undertaken by the Canada Excellence Research Chairs at Canada’s universities is simply breathtaking,” she said. “The brief insights given by the chairholders are a clear statement that the investment made in the CERC program by the Government of Canada is not only paying dividends, but will also benefit the country and Canadians for years to come.”