This January five U of M researchers were presented with over $850,000 in federal funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI). Specifically, researchers Mazdak Khajehpour (chemistry), Peter Kulchyski (Native studies), Juliette Mammei (physics and astronomy), Genevieve Ali (geological sciences), and Barbara Sharanowski and Alejandro Costamagna (entomology) were recipients of CFI’s (CFI) John E. Evans Leaders Fund (JELF).
The CFI provides resources in the applied sciences for projects that aim to better the lives of Canadian citizens, and cast a light on Canada as a nation that supports cutting-edge research. The JELF (formerly known as the Leaders Opportunity Fund), in particular, is “designed to help universities attract and retain the very best of today’s and tomorrow’s researchers at a time of intense international competition.”
For physicist/astronomer Juliette Mammei, the CFI’s $97,067 in funding will be put towards establishing a high-energy physics detector development laboratory at the U of M. These detectors will be used the world over in a variety of high-energy experiments.
“The experiments use high energy particles such as electrons (accelerated to 99.999999 per cent the speed of light) to scatter from nuclear targets to study the properties of nuclei, protons, and neutrons,” Mammei told the Gradzette. “The ‘Standard Model’ is the physics theory that describes the fundamental particles and the interactions they can undergo. I will test the Standard Model by making extremely precise measurements of quantities that have definite predictions within the current framework of the model.”
Mammei’s prototype detectors will first be tested using cosmic rays, with one such experiment needing up to 224 quartz bars.
“Each about the size of a brick, the bars will be attached to aluminium light guides and read out with a photomultiplier tube. Specially designed electronics boards will process the signals, which will be sent to a computer and recorded for later analysis. Each of the detectors will have to be individually quality checked and fully characterized for use in the experiment.”
These detectors will have applications in the areas of space and medical physics.
“The same particles that plague astronauts and equipment located in orbit can be detected with similar detectors that are developed for particle physics experiments. Detectors used to measure neutron background in the experiments are similar to those that might be used in a medical physics setting to measure radiation exposure during diagnosis and treatment.”
Mammei is currently carrying out several experiments, each at various stages of completion, and she is open to taking on prospective graduate students.
“I think it’s important for graduate students to get both hardware and software experience, including design and simulation for a future experiment, testing of detector prototypes, participation in data-taking and analysis of a portion of the data from a completed experiment.”
For geologist Genevieve Ali, $148,242 in CFI funding will help her devise models of how watersheds function throughout the prairies.
“In the past, prairie researchers dealing with issues of runoff generation or nutrient transport have relied on conceptual models imported from abroad. However, prairie landscapes do not fit traditional theories of runoff generation because of their flatter topography and the regular occurrence of floods and droughts,” Ali told the Gradzette.
“Agricultural activities, especially drainage, also modify the pathways via which runoff and nutrients travel from land to waterways, and our incomplete knowledge of these pathways makes it difficult to get reliable predictions of water yield and water quality in the prairies in general and in Manitoba in particular.”
With her newly funded Mobile Hydrobiogeochemical LABoratory project, Ali hopes to develop a better understanding of prairie ecosystems. In particular, Ali cites the movement of diffuse nutrients, surface and subsurface runoff pathways, the residence time of water in watersheds (or the time water spends below ground before leeching into a watershed outlet), the rate of soil-water removal by vegetation, and the feedbacks and interactions between hydrological, soil, and vegetation processes as the key areas of interest.
Ali pointed to the abysmal health of Lake Winnipeg as motivation for her project and, although there are no current positions available in her lab, she encourages all potential students to email her (email@example.com) or visit the following news and blog website for future opportunities: http://galiresearch.com.
Resident bug experts Costamagna and Sharanowski are teaming up to study insect “pest” species: specifically, they are trying to uncover alternatives to pesticide application, approaches to managing these agriculturally destructive pests in a more environmentally friendly and economical fashion.
“We study the impacts of parasitoids and predators on agricultural pests across multiple crops in agricultural landscapes, using novel molecular techniques,” Sharanowski told the Gradzette.
“We are planning to field sample pests on multiple crops, as they share similar communities of generalist predators. We will determine how different species of predators and parasitoids interact and the relative contribution of each species in the control of pests in different crops.”
These “molecular technologies” involve the creation of DNA markers that will help identify the most successful insectivorous predatory species that prey upon agricultural pests, as well as the habitat characteristics that enhance their impact. The goal is to ultimately find ways to utilize natural predators, thereby reducing dependence on pesticides to control nuisance species populations.
“For example, incorporating areas with flower resources and perennial plants may provide important nutritional resources for beneficial insects that increase pest control before those pests reach outbreak levels.”
Sharanowski told the Gradzette that the graduate program in entomology is currently looking for students interested in working on the taxonomy and ecology of insects. Interested students should go to the departmental website: http://umanitoba.ca/faculties/afs/dept/entomology/.
Additional JELF recipients
Khajehpour received $235,812 to further his research on age-related illnesses on the molecular level – diseases like Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s.
Kulchyski was awarded $194,193 for his efforts to produce the Canadian Content Hemispheric Institute Digital Video Library (CC-HIDVL). Kulchyski’s hopes the CC-HIDVL will generate a platform for interdisciplinary research in the area of performance studies, a budding field concerned with any number of areas that involve performance – be it theatrical, cultural, artistic, sports-related, and beyond.