Dean Karlen, particle researcher in UVic’s Department of Physics and Astronomy and a physicist with TRIUMF, is pictured beside a small section of the ARIEL electron accelerator during its construction at TRIUMF. (UVic)

UVic researchers to get $9.5 million boost in federal grants

The grants will go to 81 faculty members and students in natural sciences and engineering.

University of Victoria’s research department is in for a major boost, after Federal Science Minister Kristy Duncan announced $9.5 million in Discovery grants to 81 faculty members and students earlier this week.

Discovery grants are awarded annually by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). In this current round of awards, UVic researchers are being awarded the funds in three categories: individual grants, scholarships and fellowships, and accelerator supplements.

“We believe in encouraging scientists’ cutting-edge ideas that will lead Canada to greater social and economic growth,” Duncan said.

In total, NSERC is providing $515 million in Discovery grants this year to researchers at universities nationwide.

The 48 researchers awarded individual grants are receiving a total $7.8 million over the next five years that will support wide-ranging research in diverse areas – molecular interaction between intestinal parasites and microbes, high-performance thermal building insulation, community resilience, operational costs at the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre, and the engineering of neural tissue, to name a few.

“These awards recognize that creativity and innovation drive research advances,” said Jamie Cassels, UVic president. “We appreciate NSERC’s vital ongoing support for fundamental research and the training of the next generation of our leaders in natural sciences and engineering.”

Four UVic researchers were in this week’s spotlight:

Stephanie Willerth is an associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at UVic, and Canada Research Chair in Biomedical Engineering. Her “Willerth Lab” at UVic involves engineering tissue that can be transplanted into people to treat diseases of the nervous system such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, or to repair spinal cord damage. Willerth’s goal is to genetically modify human cells to become muscle, blood, heart or nerve cells – a future for regenerative medicine and personalized medicine. The day could come, for instance, when someone needing a liver transplant could have a new liver created from their own cells, notes Willerth.

Dean Karlen is a particle researcher in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at UVic. He is a physicist with the TRIUMF project – Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear-based physics and accelerator-based science – and leads the flagship multidisciplinary research facility there, the Advanced Rare IsotopE Laboratory (ARIEL). UVic is one of 19 Canadian universities that own and operate TRIUMF. The work done at ARIEL is broadening Canada’s research capabilities in particle physics, nuclear physics, nuclear medicine, and materials science.

Fraser Hof is an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Victoria. He is a Canada Research Chair in Supramolecular and Medicinal Chemistry, doing research work to fill the gap between recent cancer-research discoveries and the development of new anti-cancer drugs. Hof investigates these “protein-protein” interactions as targets for disruptive agents that could stop the growth of cancers and serve as new therapies.

Hof is also a potential hero to all beer ethousiasts, as his research found Canadian breweries typically lose up to two per cent of their annual beer production due to not having a precise method of identifying when brewer’s yeast has been exhausted and can no longer be reused. Working with scientists at Phillips Brewing and Malting Co., Hof identified a “chemical enrichment method” that solved the problem.

Brad Buckham is an associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the UVic. His current research focuses on using computer simulations to improve the designs and operating strategies for offshore technologies, including remotely operated vehicles used in deep sea explorations, and moored wave-energy converters. Buckham also leads the West Coast Wave Collaboration Project, which collects and analyzes information on the wave-energy potential at Amphitrite Bank off Vancouver Island’s west coast at Ucluelet, and is co-inventor of the SyncWave Power Resonator, which harnesses wave energy for sustainable power generation.

Click here for more detailed info on the four researchers, as well as the Discovery Grants and NSERC.


Canada Research Chair in Biomedical Engineering Stephanie Willerth at work in her Willerth Lab at UVic in January 2017. (UVic Photo Services)

Mechanical engineer Brad Buckham, director of the UVic-led West Coast Wave Initiative, pictured with an AXYS wave buoy in October 2016 at UVic. (UVic Photo Services)

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