Kudos: Major NSERC funding awarded to Saint Mary’s researchers

Saint Mary’s is pleased to announce significant funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) in the last year. 

A just-announced Strategic Partner Grant, designed to support networks to connect companies and government to work together to address challenges in research areas where Canada can be a world leader, will see Dr. Danika van Proosdij and Dr. Jeremy Lundholm continue their work on Nova Scotia dykeland restoration. Funding for this project and another Strategic Partnership Grants for Networks will total $11-million, with a detailed funding breakdown to follow.

As well, Saint Mary’s researchers will receive funding worth more than $1.2 million over five years from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) for eight Discovery Grants plus a Discovery Development Grant.

“I am really pleased to celebrate the success of our researchers here at Saint Mary's,” said Dr. Lori Francis, acting Dean of Science. “The funding awarded in the recent announcements is a significant recognition of the high quality and impactful research taking place across the faculties at Saint Mary’s. Not only does it allow our researchers to pursue innovative, ground-breaking research, it also provides remarkable research opportunities for our undergraduate and graduate students.”

The Discovery Grants Program, NSERC’s largest program, supports ongoing natural sciences and engineering research projects with long-term goals. In addition to promoting and maintaining a diversified base of high-quality research at Canadian universities, Discovery Grants help provide a stimulating environment for student research training.

Selection is based on peer review recommendations, and these grants are designed to support ongoing research programs with long-term goals. Thanks to their long term, typically five years, Discovery Grants give researchers the flexibility to explore the most promising avenues of research as they emerge.

“Saint Mary’s University is proud that our professors are seeing this level of success in securing competitive federal science research funding,” said Dr. Adam Sarty, Associate Vice-President, Research and Dean, Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research. “For a university with a relatively small number of faculty members, being awarded 10 new NSERC research grants in one year – with professors from eight different departments, representing all three of our Faculties – is a true demonstration of the strength and breadth of the research enterprise at Saint Mary’s. 

These research grants will benefit many undergraduate and graduate students that become involved with these professors, allowing them to serve our local communities or create new fundamental understandings, or both,” said Dr. Sarty.

Congratulations to all, this research work in the Faulty of Science, and across the entire university, is exciting and inspiring.

 Details about the exciting work our faculty members are doing is found below. 

 Co-leads Jeremy Lundholm (Biology) and Danika van Proosdij (Geography and Environmental Studies)

NSERC Strategic Partnership Network Grant

Title: NSERC ResNet: A network for monitoring, modeling, and managing Canada’s ecosystem services for sustainability and resilience

 A Canadian future of shared health, prosperity, and resilience will depend on our ability to manage ecosystems and all the services they provide for human well-being now and in the future. Working landscapes — land actively used for production of resources such as food, fish, and forest products — are of particular importance for their contributions to Canada’s wellbeing.

 NSERC ResNet will launch investigations (co-designed with local communities) into the provision, impact and management of multiple ecosystems services in six landscapes across Canada. Saint Mary’s University will play a key role in the Bay of Fundy Agricultural Dykeland Restoration landscape, with Drs. Danika van Proosdij and Jeremy Lundholm as co-leads along with Dr. Kate Sherren at Dalhousie.

 The proposed research builds on long-term collaborations with industry and government partners, including a successful history of idea development, innovation and HQP training. Dr. van Proosdij’s group, through a Coastal Restoration Fund grant (DFO), has established four managed realignment sites in Bay of Fundy dykelands that will provide a physical, living platform upon which to conduct applied research.

 Dr. Tony Charles (Environmental Science / Management)

Title: Sustainability of Fisheries, Coasts and Oceans - Integrated Systems Approaches

 The NSERC grant awarded to Dr. Tony Charles will enable the development of the tools and knowledge base needed to meet one of the most challenging problems facing Canada and the world today: achieving sustainability of fisheries, oceans and coasts. Dr. Charles’ research will highlight the importance of healthy ocean ecosystems and healthy coastal communities and the value of conserving biodiversity and taking action on climate change. His research has four main aspects: (1) developing new fishery management approaches, including ecosystem-based and community-based methods; (2) helping to resolve conflicts between fisheries and conservation; (3) improving climate change adaptation in fisheries and coastal communities, and (4) supporting coastal communities in planning their future.

Erin Adlakha (Geology)

Title: Linking high spatial resolution accessory mineral chemistry and geochronology to large-scale ore-forming hydrothermal processes in the crust.

Dr. Adlakha’s research examines the composition and timing of minerals in ore deposits to understand how they formed over a hundred million (sometimes even over a billion) years ago. Some minerals in ore deposits are not necessarily of economic interest but provide a wealth of information in their mineral chemistry. The composition of a mineral can help fingerprint the type of fluids from which it formed, and also give clues as to the conditions during ore deposit formation. An understanding of how ore deposits form bolsters mineral exploration models for the exploration and mining industry.

 Jiju Poovvancheri (Mathematics & Computing Science)

Title: Towards Seamless Interaction and Navigation in Virtual Worlds using Multiple 3D Sensors

Dr. Poovvancheri’s research is positioned to support the ongoing efforts of graphics and gaming industry to utilize digitized world in virtual/augmented reality applications. As part of the proposed research, a fully automatic computational framework that creates highly detailed and semantically rich digital models of physical world at scale will be developed. Tremendous possibilities 3D sensing technology (Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) and RGB-D cameras) combined with deep neural networks for the digitization problem will be leveraged and further investigated. Digital models thus created are key to various applications such as VR games or tours (Google Earth VR) and 3D maps for navigation. Together with the digitization effort, interaction of humans with virtual (digital) objects and navigation of humans in the virtual spaces-two core enablers of VR applications, are also investigated under this project.

 Tim Frasier (Biology and Forensic Science)

Title: Understanding the strength and demographic consequences of inbreeding depression in the wild, and the subsequent implications for conservation

The overall goal of this work is to improve our understanding of the strength and consequences of inbreeding depression in the wild. Specifically, Dr. Frasier will combine genomic data with long-term field research to quantify the impacts of inbreeding on individual health, reproductive success, and survival in the endangered North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis); and then assess how these individual effects combine to shape population growth rates and recovery potential. This work will have impacts at two different scales. At a narrow scale it will identify the degree to which inbreeding is shaping patterns of individual fitness, and how these individual effects combine to limit the recovery potential of this endangered species. At a broader scale, this work will provide much needed information on the strength and consequences of inbreeding depression in the wild, the subsequent effects on recovery potential and population viability, and the implications for conservation.

 Erin Cameron (Environmental Science)

Title: Soil invertebrates under global change

Dr. Cameron will investigate how global change affects soil invertebrates and how impacts vary across spatial and temporal scales, particularly in northern ecosystems. She uses earthworms as a model group to study these effects because they act as ecosystem engineers with the potential for large impacts on other organisms and because many species have invaded new regions. Dr. Cameron was also awarded from NSERC a “Northern Research Supplement” in addition to her Discovery Grant.

Mitja Mastnak (Mathematics & Computing Science)

Title: Hopf algebras, combinatorics, and operator theory

Symmetry is one of the most important concepts in mathematics and physics. For example: a wheel is useful precisely due to its symmetry with respect to rotation. Hopf algebras are algebraic structures that can be used to encode and study symmetry. Dr. Mastnak’s research focuses on Hopf algebras in order to classify them, construct new interesting examples, and apply them to problems in other branches of mathematics.

 Robert Thacker (Astronomy and Physics)

Title: Toward more robust numerical and observational comparisons

 The funding for the project will cover research into the accuracy of simulations of the formation of galaxies. “We have been doing this simulation work and comparing to observations of real galaxies for nearly three decades, but as both simulations and observations of galaxies get better, the comparisons have actually become more difficult,” said Dr. Thacker. “In essence we've hit the end of the beginning of this research, now we have to start answering some really tough questions about how accurate the simulations reproduce dynamical behaviours like chaotic evolution.”

 Karen Harper (Biology)

Title: Understanding boundary structure and function in heterogeneous landscapes

Discovery Development Grant

Natural boundaries between adjacent ecosystems are important features of landscapes that might harbour greater diversity. However, fragmentation from human activity results in negative effects of the creation of artificial edges. The recent proliferation of studies on vegetation at edges suggests that the time is right for a comprehensive global review of edge studies. Natural and man-made boundaries need to be considered in the context of heterogeneous landscapes. My long-term aim is to develop a model of stand and landscape-level effects on edge influence and dynamics, and to assess the landscape context of boundary structure and function. Dr. Harper’s proposed research will advance knowledge by providing a more detailed analysis of vegetation structure on a broader scale that has the potential to reveal interesting and important patterns of structural diversity on Canadian and global landscapes.

 Hai Wang (Finance, Information Systems and Management Science)

Title: Predictive Business Analytics for Incomplete Data

Dr. Wang’s NSERC grant is to design new predictive business analytics technologies which are capable of making well-defined predictions about the future based on historical data for better business decision making. His research has been supported by NSERC since 2005. 

 -- Submitted by Danielle Boudreau, Faculty of Science