Researchers share developments at the University of Alberta

Call it intellectual gymnastics! From neuroscience and virology to electrified cars and kimberlite volcanics, some of Canada’s top researchers shared key developments with the public at the University of Alberta on Monday, May 13.

Organized by the university, with support from the Canada Research Chairs (CRC) Secretariat, the gathering of Canada Excellence Research Chairs (CERC) was split into four sessions:  health sciences, environmental sciences, natural resources and energy, and information and communications technologies. A total of 18 presentations offered insight into the impact the chairs’ work is having on Canada’s future.

Michael Houghton, CERC in Virology at the University of Alberta, shared news of new funding from Alberta Innovates Health Solutions (AIHS) Collaborative Research and Innovation Opportunities (CRIO) to develop a vaccine against the hepatitis C virus and to test it in Canadians within the next four or five years. Houghton also mentioned that many lab discoveries are currently being translated for clinical and commercial use in the newly-formed Li Ka Shing Applied Virology Institute.

Adrian Owen, CERC in Cognitive Neuroscience and Imaging at Western University, shared how his team continues to develop novel neuroimaging tools for the assessment of “residual cognitive function” and consciousness after serious brain injury. This includes a portable and cost-effective mobile electroencephalogram (EEG) unit—when packed up in a jeep, it’s dubbed the EEJeep—which is used to recruit and assess patients from across Canada.

Søren Rysgaard, CERC in Arctic Geomicrobiology and Climate Change at the University of Manitoba, described the Arctic Science Partnership—a collaboration between the University, the Greenland Climate Research Centre and the Arctic Research Centre in Denmark—which is bringing together a large number of the world’s leading scientists in climate-related research.

Erin Rees represented Ian Gardner, CERC in Aquatic Epidemiology at the University of Prince Edward Island. Rees, a research scientist, said she believes the aquaculture industry has the potential to support the world’s growing appetite for animal protein. The work at the Centre for Aquatic Health Sciences (CAHS) at the Atlantic Veterinary College (AVC) focuses on improving ecosystem health and the biological and economical sustainability of Canadian and global aquaculture.

Thomas Thundat, CERC in Oil Sands Molecular Engineering at the University of Alberta, demonstrated single-wire and wireless concepts for supplying electrical power to the sensors.

Ali Emadi, CERC in Hybrid Powertrain at McMaster University, reiterated that his goal is to give an edge to Canada in the global automotive market. The team at the McMaster Automotive Resource Centre (MARC) hopes to achieve this by integrating world-class research, education, entrepreneurship, and leadership to develop and commercialize transformational technologies for the next generation of electrified vehicles. Emadi also mentioned the growth of the automotive program: over 200 researchers, collaborations with numerous private and public sector organizations, and a new 80,000 square-foot facility.

Marie-Hélène Forget represented Marcel Babin, CERC in Remote Sensing of Canada’s New Arctic Frontier at the Université Laval. She announced that the Laval team is launching a major research program—that will involve several Canadian, European and American teams—on the function and productivity of Arctic marine ecosystems.

Graham Pearson, CERC in Arctic Resources at the University of Alberta, has shown that kimberlite volcanics (host rocks for diamonds) originate 400 km beneath the Earth’s surface, deeper than any other terrestrial magmatic rocks. The research team is mapping the deep roots of the Canadian North, which will be of direct use to mineral exploration.

Bertrand Reulet, CERC in Quantum Signal Processing at the Université de Sherbrooke, explained that in the quest to understand quantum electricity, exploring some strange properties of the microwave light radiated by a tiny conductor and powered by a quantum current forms a bright idea: the quantum light bulb.

Each participating CERC or representative led a 20-minute presentation and answered questions from the audience of about 100 students, researchers, and postdoctoral fellows. Michèle Boutin, executive director of the Canada Research Chairs Secretariat, called the presentations “stimulating and thought provoking.”

“The brief insights given by the chairholders make it clear that investment made in the Canada Excellence Research Chairs program by the Government of Canada is not only paying dividends, but will benefit Canadians for generations to come,”  she said.