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New tools for top talent: Dal researchers receive CFI funding

- April 15, 2016

Friday morning, the Government of Canada announced nearly $20 million in funding at 33 universities across Canada through the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s (CFI) John R. Evans Leaders Fund (JELF). The fund is designed to help universities attract and retain top research talent from around the world by giving them access to start-of-the-art research tools and equipment.

“When researchers are equipped with the right tools, they can make the kinds of discoveries that improve our environment, economy and wellbeing,” said Kristy Duncan, Minister of Science in a news release. “Investments like the one announced today will increase our capacity for innovation and discovery, as well as benefit Canadians for generations to come.”

Four Dalhousie researchers were included in Friday’s announcement, across four different faculties, with support totaling more than $350,000. Matching funds were also provided by The Nova Scotia Research and Innovation Trust (NSRIT).

Claudio Aporta, Marine Affairs

As the effects of climate change redefine Canada’s Arctic landscape and coastlines, the region’s geopolitical importance increases. Melting sea ice is opening up new opportunities for shipping and allowing for unprecedented consideration of natural resource exploration and extraction.

But many of the regions where these activities would take place have also been the home to Inuit peoples, whose ancestors have inhabited the Canadian Arctic seas and lands for thousands of years. Inuit communities see the potential developments with caution, recognizing opportunities for growth, but also anticipating problems and conflict. Planning and management of shipping and exploration must consider how Inuit communities rely on historically significant hunting and fishing routes for their livelihood.

Claudio Aporta, director of the Marine Affairs Program at Dal, has spent years exploring the cultural geography of the Arctic and experimenting with spatial techniques to document, represent and analyze Inuit knowledge. With the JELF CFI funding, he’s initiating Spatial Atlases for Innovation and Learning (SAIL), a research centre dedicated to the geo-visualization of uses and perceptions of marine and coastal spaces.

“You’ve probably heard the saying, ‘a map is worth a thousand words,” says Dr. Aporta. “[SAIL] is about using the power of the map as a medium to help information and knowledge flow across sectors and cultural understandings. Maps can help different stakeholders and interest groups communicate with each other, as spatial representations are generally understood.”

While Dr. Aporta’s work focuses on the Canadian North, other Dal researchers working in marine spatial analysis and planning will benefit from SAIL too.

“SAIL is expected to become a place of collaboration, where interdisciplinary approaches to marine and coastal issues are developed,” says Dr. Aporta. (Nikki Comeau)

Karen Foster, Sociology and Social Anthropology

Karen Foster, assistant professor of sociology and Canada Research Chair in Sustainable Rural Futures for Atlantic Canada will lead the Rural Futures Research Centre (RFRC) at Dalhousie, which will be the first and only social research centre in the region of its kind. It will provide the infrastructure, training and methodological expertise to gather, analyze and disseminate data about social life in the region's rurual areas. The data will be timely, comprehensive, quantitative and qualitative.

“The Rural Futures Research Centre is going to enable rural communities across Atlantic Canada to participate in social surveys that tap into their needs, desires, strengths and challenges, especially in terms of work and sustainability,” says Foster.

The RFRC will include research workstations, with each containing Computer-Assisted Telephone Interviewing (CATI) software as well as other cutting-edge equipment to produce engaging, informative research outputs for lay and policy audiences.

“There’s a lot of talk about the future of Atlantic Canada’s rural places and people, but it doesn’t always feature their voices prominently, and it also doesn’t necessarily include a diversity of voices and opinions” adds Dr. Foster. “Telephone survey research can allow a researcher like me to gather data from a wide range of households and really illuminate the breadth of perspectives on, and experiences of, economy, society, and sustainability in rural Atlantic communities.”

The RFRC’s primary purpose is to support Foster’s CRC research, which critically assesses the pursuit of economic growth as a strategy for sustaining rural communities in Atlantic Canada, but it will also be open to other researchers at Dalhousie and across the region. It could also provide a space for university researchers to assist rural non-profit organizations and community groups that wish to collect data to meet their needs. (Genevieve MacIntyre)

Azadeh Kermanshahi-Pour, Process Engineering and Applied Science

Azadeh Kermanshahi-Pour, assistant professor in the Department of Process Engineering and Applied Science, joined Dalhousie's Faculty of Engineering in December 2013. Her research is in the broad area of biochemical engineering, with a specific focus on microalgal biotechnology, integrated biorefinery and bioremediation process development. Her work heavily involves use of advanced analytical and extraction equipment to identify specialty and commodity products in microalgal biomass as well as derivation of these products from biomass.

“Lack of availability of analytical equipment has been a major challenge for our research team,” says Dr. Kermanshahi-Pour. “Our work involves cultivation of microalgae to generate biomass, which must be harvested, characterized and processed in a timely manner and as such it is crucial to have a dedicated infrastructure.”

Dr. Kermanshahi-Pour says her team is excited for this funding, as it will enable dedicated infrastructure for infrastructure for microalgae cultivation, characterization and product recovery, which will form the foundation of Biorefining and Remediation Laboratory at Dalhousie.

“The funding will significantly impact both fundamental and applied aspects of our research, enables us to broaden our collaboration and provides an exceptional training environment for our graduate students and postdoctoral fellows,” she says. (Jennifer Moore)

Johan Van Limbergen, Pediatrics

Dr. Johan Van Limbergen, assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics, is tackling inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), for which rates in Nova Scotia are among the highest in the world. The disease, which consists of two major subtypes (Crohn’s disease [CD] and ulcerative colitis [UC]), is caused by abnormal immune responses to intestinal microorganisms, leading to chronic intestinal inflammation.

If it’s out of balance, an individual’s own gut bacteria can trigger IBD. Dr. Van Limbergen’s research focuses on pediatric CD, the interaction between an individual’s genes and their microbiome, and the use of nutritional formula as dietary therapy.

“Anti-inflammatory treatment can promote mucosal healing and remission of IBD inflammation, but too much immune suppression can have serious side effects,” says Dr. Van Limbergen. “Our nutritional therapy approach — used alone or combined with anti-inflammatory treatment — may produce sustained clinical remission of the disease.”

Dr. Van Limbergen’s research will look at the structure and function of gut bacteria, along with clinical data, blood and stool tests of inflammation, and genetics. The project will address how our genetic make-up and changes in gut bacteria can be used to personalize and improve treatment in CD. (Cory Burris)


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