$5.2M in Canada Research Chairs announced
UAlberta awarded four new Canada Research Chairs, one renewal.
By MICHAEL BROWN
(Edmonton) The University of Alberta has been awarded four new Canada Research Chairs (CRC) to go along with one renewal, worth a total of $5.2 million.
New Tier 1 Chairs, designations that come with a $1.4-million award to be paid out over seven years, include business professor Michael Lounsbury, CRC in entrepreneurship and innovation, and chemistry researcher Todd Lowary, CRC in carbohydrate chemistry. Meanwhile, neurologist David Westaway was renewed as Tier 1 CRC in prion disease.
The U of A also received two new Tier 2 Chairs, each of which is worth $500,000 paid out over five years. Physicist Darren Grant was named as the CRC in astroparticle physics, while computing science professor Zachary Friggstad is the new CRC in combinatorial optimization.
Lounsbury’s research focuses on how entrepreneurs create new markets as well as fundamentally reshaping existing ones. His recent work has tracked how nanotechnology entrepreneurs were able to attract venture capital funding to support the creation of a carbon nanotube industry.
Lounsbury, director of the Technology Commercialization Centre, has also been instrumental in helping the Alberta School of Business scale up its curricular and co-curricular programming in entrepreneurship—such as eHUB and Entrepreneurship 101—to enable students across campus to pursue entrepreneurship as a career possibility.
“Entrepreneurship and innovation are crucial to catalyzing economic growth and development in Alberta and Canada,” said Lounsbury. “At the Alberta School of Business, we have assembled a world-class group of entrepreneurship and innovation scholars who are at the forefront of developing knowledge about entrepreneurial processes, social innovation, profound institutional change and family business.
“My research has practical implication for creating and sustaining economic prosperity and the benefits it brings, such as high-paying jobs.”
Lowary, who celebrated the official launch of the Canadian Glycomics Network, or GlycoNet, on April 10, says it is his hope to continue carbohydrate research excellence in the U of A's Department of Chemistry that goes back a half century.
Beginning in the early 1950s, U of A chemistry professor Raymond Lemieux and his colleagues were the first to synthesize sucrose, which paved the way for the creation of new antibiotics and blood reagents. Chemistry professor David Bundle was part of the U of A team headed by Raymond Lemieux that developed the first synthetic blood-group antigens in the early 1970s. The achievements of Bundle’s lab, in which Lowary played an integral role, include a new sugar molecule to block the toxins caused by bacteria such as E. coli and cholera.
Lowary’s proposed research program will use carbohydrate chemistry to provide molecules that can be used to explore the function of carbohydrates, or glycans, in mycobacterial diseases, including tuberculosis, as well as food-borne infections including those caused by infection with campylobacters and E. coli.
“Broadly speaking, this university has had strength in this area for more than 50 years and I am proud to be a continuation of that legacy,” said Lowary.
Westaway, who was first named as a CRC in 2007 and is the director of the university's Centre for Prions and Protein Folding Diseases, investigates the way prion diseases, like bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as mad cow disease, emerge in seemingly healthy hosts. In addition to providing insight into prison diseases threatening Canadian livestock, Westaway’s research offers hope to human neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and other forms of dementia.
Unlocking the mystery of neutrinos
Grant, a professor in the Department of Physics and the head of DeepCore, the low-energy extension of the IceCube Neutrino Observatory located in the Antarctic, has dedicated his career to the detection and understanding two of the universe’s most elusive particles—neutrinos and dark matter.
“A neutrino is a subatomic particle, a foundational particle, from which the universe is made,” said Grant. “They’re everywhere, billions of them passing through us every second—they go right through and they don’t interact. But we don’t know very much about them, they are one of nature’s great mysteries to study.”
What little there is to know about the neutrino, Grant's work has played a role in discovering. His PhD thesis on the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory demonstrated that neutrinos have mass, providing the first evidence for physics beyond the Standard Model of Particle Physics.
He says his CRC is the next step in the design and construction of a new generation of neutrino detectors, and helps further the U of A’s position in this field. The U of A is Canada’s first IceCube collaboration institute, one of the four founding members of TRIUMF—Canada’s National Laboratory for Particle and Nuclear Physics, and a full member of the SNOLAB Institute, which operates Canada’s International Facility for Underground Science in Sudbury.
“The U of A offers an exceptional environment for research in astroparticle physics," he said. "This is exemplified by the infrastructure that has been developed in the Department of Physics and the Centre for Particle Physics over the last two decades. The U of A’s infrastructure for subatomic research is second to none at Canadian universities, as are the technicians, technical resources and funding.”
Just as Grant's impact on neutrinos was immediate, Friggstad has been making a name for himself removing some of the fright from some of the most daunting logistical nightmares since his earliest days as a grad student at the U of A.
Despite massive computing clusters, Friggstad says these classic optimization problems—such as the coordination of fleets of vehicles and locating distribution centres to routing wires in large-scale circuit design—are intractable, meaning there is expectation that there would ever be an efficient enough algorithm to solve them.
Of course, that hasn’t stopped Friggstad from trying.
A classic optimization problem would be finding the optimal number of facilities to serve the maximum number of clients, while minimizing the costs of serving clients—a problem for which Friggstad developed an approximation algorithm with his master’s thesis in 2007.
His early and profound understanding of this field put him in the driver’s seat when he began searching for a post-secondary institution to further his academic career.
“One of the things that made me make a personal decision about joining the Department of Computing Science was it seemed that there was a real interest in collaboration and adding a theoretical foundation to their work,” he said.
The U of A now lays claim to 48 Tier 1 and 39 Tier 2 CRCs worth $13.5 million annually.
In 2000, the Government of Canada created the CRC program to establish 2,000 research professorships across the country. The program invests $300 million per year to attract and retain some of the world's most accomplished and promising minds.