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Canada Foundation for Innovation funds leadership awards at Schulich

May 29, 2017
Steven Bryant (left) and Ke Du.
Jennifer Allford

Five University of Calgary researchers have been awarded Canada Foundation for Innovation John R. Evans Leaders Fund (JELF) awards, valued at over $1.3 million. Announced today by the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science, the awards will support research in the Cumming School of Medicine, the faculties of Kinesiology and Arts, and the Schulich School of Engineering.

The newly funded health scholars include Dr. Paul Arnold for his work in population neurogenetics for child and youth mental health, kinesiologist Arthur Kuo for his research to enhance mobility for amputees and the elderly, and Amanda Melin for her field and genetics research dedicated to understanding how primates and humans are adapting to environmental changes. 

Scholars working in energy and environmental management include Steven Bryant, for his leadership in refining oil recovery processes to reduce carbon emissions, and engineering professor Ke Du in collaboration with Simon Park, for their work in atmospheric monitoring and pollution control.

“Support from the Canada Foundation for Innovation will allow these five established and emerging research leaders to advance discoveries in our priority areas of health and energy innovation,” notes Dr. Ed McCauley, vice-president (research) at the University of Calgary. “Awards like the CFI’S JELF enable our scholars to make incredible progress using the most sophisticated research facilities and equipment available.”

The John R. Evans Leaders Fund helps universities attract and retain the best and brightest researchers from around the world by supporting state-of-the-art research tools.

“Investments in Canada’s research infrastructure, like those we are celebrating today, are incredibly important to our nation’s future. They help us to attract and retain the very best scientists and give Canadian researchers the tools they need to perform excellent, cutting-edge research, train the scientists of tomorrow and enable innovative new discoveries that improve our environment, economy and communities," notes Minister Duncan.

The work of professors Du and Park in the Schulich School of Engineering offers a case in point. The two are looking at atmospheric emissions in Alberta to gain a fuller understanding of their origins, to better understand how to manage them.  

All air pollution is not created equally — and two researchers from the Schulich School of Engineering have received a $136,500 grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation to identify different sources of industrial air pollution in Alberta and develop special instruments to monitor it.

“In order to make targeted emission reduction strategies, we need to know what emits pollutants in Alberta, and in what quantities. There is limited information on this, but we need more,” says Du, assistant professor in Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering. “We need to know more about the sources of fugitive greenhouse gases and particulate matters in the oilsands and other industries.”  

Identifying pollutants

With funding for research infrastructure from the CFI, Du and Park, a professor in Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering and AITF/iCORE Strategic Chair in Sensing and Monitoring, will start by identifying the key sources of pollution around the oilsands and Alberta’s two major cities, Calgary and Edmonton. “The ultimate goal is to protect public health,” says Du.  

“We’ll collect samples in the field and analyze them using both chemical and isotopic techniques to see what pollutants are in these samples,” he says “We’ll run chemical and statistical models to determine the relative contributions of each pollutant for each source.” Without this sort of specific information, it’s “extremely challenging” for regulators and the energy industry to determine which source of pollution to cut, how much and how best to achieve emission reductions.

Du, who has been studying the mechanisms of air pollution and developing innovative air monitoring technologies for more than a decade, says technologies and approaches developed elsewhere cannot be directly transferred to Alberta. “We have a pretty unique climate system and a unique combination of different sources of industrial pollution,” he says.

Industry application

The researchers will also develop protocols for optical remote sensing (ORS) monitoring and low-cost sensors that could be used with drones to monitor the air and leaks from fugitive sources over a wide area.

“When the technology is commercialized it can be used by the oilsands industry or by the monitoring agencies in Alberta to get the actual amount of emissions from hard to measure sources,” says Du. The technology could also be used for agriculture and other industries.

Newly announced University of Calgary, Canada Foundation for Innovation John R. Evans Leaders Fund awardees

  • Steven Bryant, Influence of Nanoparticles and Chemicals on Multiphase Oil Recovery Processes at Reservoir Conditions

Professor Steven Bryant, Canada Excellence Research Chair in the Schulich School of Engineering at the University of Calgary, is focused on engineering nanoparticles for the recovery of unconventional petroleum resources. Bryant’s program is aimed at meeting the needs of Canada's shifting energy economy, through a highly interdisciplinary research and training approach. The CFI award will support the acquisition of unique and highly specialized equipment that will enable the study of fluids and nanoparticles at reservoir operating conditions. The novel equipment will facilitate research involved in monitoring and improving reservoir processes for greater efficiency and less environmental impact, especially in-situ oil recovery processes such as SAGD. The program leverages the remarkable discovery that combining nanoparticles with certain chemicals yields performance far greater than particles or chemicals alone. Professor Bryant was recruited from the University of Texas at Austin to bring his global leadership in subsurface applications of nanomaterials and digital petrophysics to Alberta and Canada.

  • Ke Du, Innovation in Atmospheric Monitoring and Pollution Control

Professor Ke Du’s environmental engineering research in the Schulich School of Engineering is dedicated to atmospheric pollution control in Alberta’s energy sector. With the world’s third-largest oil reserves, researchers like Du play a critical role in technology developments for sustainable energy production and use. With the CFI’s support, Du will acquire the advanced analytical and monitoring equipment needed to first identify and quantify the unique fugitive sources in the oilsands. Du and his team will develop a complete database of area-specific emission sources and properties; cutting-edge optical remote sensing (ORS) monitoring protocols and advanced portable, low-cost air monitoring systems for better emission control. Du has been studying the mechanisms of air pollution and developing innovative air monitoring technologies for more than a decade.

  • Paul Arnold, Population Neurogenetics and Precision Medicine in Child and Youth Mental Health: From Genomes to Outcomes

Dr. Paul Arnold was recruited by the Hotchkiss Brain Institute and Department of Psychiatry in the Cumming School of Medicine as the director for The Mathison Centre for Mental Health Research & Education and to lead research on the genetic determinants of childhood psychiatric disorders. Building on UCalgary’s world leadership in neuroscience, this advanced research is aimed at improving mental health care for Canadian children and adolescents. The CFI funds will be used to acquire new equipment for the extraction and storage of DNA to establish a DNA biobank and database. The database will serve to identify candidate biomarkers in a large community sample of children and adolescents to test whether these biomarkers can predict early risk and treatment outcomes. 

  • Arthur Kuo, Biomechanics and Health Monitoring for the Real World

Professor Arthur Kuo, from the Faculty of Kinesiology’s Human Performance Lab, is applying biomedical engineering advances to understand and address the needs of mobility-challenged individuals, such as amputees and the elderly. The CFI award will allow Kuo to overcome one of the current limitations of lab-based locomotion research, by enabling data recording and mobility assessment to occur outside the lab, during daily living. Kuo’s research team will be acquiring new wearable bio-sensors to help identify the specific challenges that impair human mobility in the environments they navigate in the course of their home, work, and recreational lives. This field-based biosensing will be complemented by the acquisition of the latest lab technologies and development of data processing algorithms to gain the most information from both wearable and lab-based information. Professor Kuo was recruited from the University of Michigan.

  • Amanda Melin, Integrating Primate Genomics and Dietary Ecology to Reveal Adaptation and Assess Health

Professor Amanda Melin’s evolutionary ecology research in the Faculty of Arts and the Cumming School of Medicine draws together a wide array of disciplines to better understand how primates are adapting to changes in their environment. By studying behavioural and physiological adaptations through metagenomics, observations of sensory behaviours, and dietary ecology, Melin’s research will offer insights into how humans can respond to shifting diets and climates. The CFI funding will support this novel program by providing portable experimental equipment for combining field and molecular laboratory research. Melin completed her BSc with distinction in Biological Sciences and her MA and PhD in Anthropology from the University of Calgary and was recently recruited back from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. 

About the Canada Foundation for Innovation

The Canada Foundation for Innovation gives researchers the tools they need to think big and innovate. By investing in state-of-the-art facilities and equipment in Canada’s universities, colleges, research hospitals and non-profit research institutions, the CFI is helping to attract and retain the world’s top talent, to train the next generation of researchers, to support private-sector innovation and to create high-quality jobs that strengthen the economy and improve the quality of life for all Canadians.

John R. Evans Leaders Fund

The CFI pays tribute to the outstanding contributions of Dr. John R. Evans, the CFI’s first board chair, by renaming one of the CFI’s core funds in his honour. At a time of intense international competition, the John R. Evans Leaders Fund is a critical strategic investment tool designed to help institutions attract and retain the very best of today’s and tomorrow’s researchers.