Tag Archives: NSERC

Suggestions for the new Canadian government regarding science and a Chief Science Officer (Advisor)

I wasn’t the only *one* writing about the new cabinet. In my Nov. 4, 2015 posting I included a roundup of early responses to the election *(oops, the roundup of responses is in my Nov. 2, 2015 posting)* and what that might mean for science and I also speculated on what the new government’s first ‘science’ move might be.

I missed John Dupuis’  (Confessions of a Science Librarian) posting where he provides a roster of the new ministers with some science or technology responsibilities in their portfolios in his Nov. 4, 2015 posting (Note:  Links have been removed),

But Canada has a new government, a new prime minister in Justin Trudeau and a new cabinet. Kirsty Duncan, an actual scientist who worked on the IPPC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change], has been appointed Science Minister. Come to think of it, we have a Science Minister. [Note: Canada has had a Minister of State (Science and Technology) for a number of years. This was considered a junior ministry and the junior minister reported to the Minister of Industry Canada, a ministry which seems to have been changed to Innovation, Science and Economic Development.]

The roster of ministers in other science and technology-related portfolios is also very strong. Navdeep Singh Bains at Innovation, Science and Economic Development. Lawrence MacAulay at Agriculture and Agri-Food. Jane Philpott at Health. Marc Garneau at Transport. Jim Carr at Natural Resources. Hunter Tootoo at Fisheries and Oceans, and Canadian Coast Guard. Catherine McKenna at Environment and Climate Change. And yes, we have a Minister of Climate Change. And Mélanie Joly at Heritage, in charge of Libraries and Archives Canada. [emphasis mine]

Bit of a surprise to see Libraries and Archives Canada listed there but it makes sense when you follow the reasoning (from Dupuis’ Nov. 4, 2015 posting; Note: A link has been removed),

What hasn’t really appeared on any of the lists [of recommendations for what the new government should be addressing] I’ve seen is fixing the damage that the previous Conservative government did to the science library infrastructure in Canada, most prominently to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans library system but also to the systems at Environment Canada and others.

While those libraries were being closed and consolidated, we were assured that the collections were properly merged and weeded, that new scanning and document delivery procedures were being implemented that would effectively replace the local staff and collections and that researchers would see no difference in the level of service. The Federal government did announce an extensive re-visioning of it’s science library infrastructure. Which looks good on paper.

But it’s safe to say that basically no one believed the Conservatives were up to the challenge of doing a good job of this. All the evidence that we were able to see indicated that the merging and consolidation of collections was rushed, haphazard and devoid of planning at best and willfully destructive at worst. As far as I can tell, we have nothing but the previous government’s word that the scanning and document delivery services that were rushed into the breach are anywhere near sufficient. Nor did we see real evidence that they were truly committed to the revisioning.

For more about the depredations to the Fisheries and Oceans libraries along with other government science libraries see my Jan. 30, 2014 posting. In it I note there are issues with digitizing material (there were claims the books weren’t needed as they’d been digitized) and accessing that information in the future.

Getting back to Dupuis, do read his post in its entirety to find out what his suggestions are for a renaissance of a science library system in Canada.

Suggestions for a Chief Science Officer/Advisor

I haven’t seen anyone making suggestions for this office and while I feel the choice of Ted Hsu would be too partisan given that he was a Liberal Member of Parliament and the party’s science critic in the last government, there are other possibilities such as Arvind Gupta (computer scientist) and Lynnd Quarmby (molecular biology).

Gupta who recently and unexpectedly resigned as president of the University of British Columbia (UBC; there’s more about the resignation in my Nov. 4, 2015 posting) has moved, temporarily at least, to the University of Toronto. From 2000 to 2014, Gupta had a enviable reputation as the CEO [Chief Executive Officer] and scientific director of Mitacs Canada, a non-profit that worked with federal and provincial governments and industry to fund student researchers. He was also a member of the Conservative government’s Science, Technology and Innovation Council and was involved in a review of government funding for science (aka, Review of Support to R&D [Research and Development]) resulting in what was known as the Jenkins report or by its formal title: Innovation Canada: A Call to Action (published in 2011).

Lynne Quarmby who recently ran for election as a member of the Green Party has had her research recognized by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) with a 2011 Discovery Accelerator Supplement, a funding program reserved for researchers who show strong potential to become international leaders within their field. She is an advocate in a number of areas including gender equality for women in science and technology, as well as, science and climate issues.

Truthfully, I’d like to see Gupta and Quarmby share the position.

Also, I’d like to find out who you’d suggest take on the role* of Canada’s Chief Science Officer/Advisor. Please let me know your recommendations in the comments section.

*This correction made to the first sentence ‘one’ and this correction made to the first paragraph ‘(oops, the roundup of responses is in my Nov. 2, 2015 posting)’ Nov. 5, 2015 at 1145 hours PST.

*’rold’ corrected to ‘role’ on Nov. 16, 2015.

2015 Canadian federal election and science: Science panel on CBC Radio, NDP platform, Maclean’s policy poll, and a Science Integrity Project

Election 2015 science panel

It took them long enough. After weeks of waiting,(my last plea was in a Sept.18, 2015 posting; scroll down about 50% of the way) the folks at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Quirks and Quarks radio programme have finally announced that there will be an election 2015 science panel show featuring representatives from Canada’s political parties. Here’s the tweet,

Game on! We’re recording our all-party election science panel next week, with all the major parties participating. Details to folo

This is pretty fresh news (fours ago means it was announced about 6:15 am PST (9:15 am EST where Quirks & Quarks is recorded). As for the details, they still have yet to follow.

NDP (New Democrat Party) science platform for 2015 federal election

Yesterday (Sept. 30, 2015), I received news from Kennedy Stewart’s, science shadow minister, team (that the New Democrat Party has announced a science platform for the 2015 election along with a plea for money. This news about the platform is a stunning turnaround for the NDP who largely ignored science in their 2011 campaign and whose previous shadow science minister, Jim Malloway. had an insurance agency and, apparently, no interest in science. However, Kennedy Stewart who has since taken on that portfolio and been very active seemed cautiously optimistic when I saw him at the Trottier Observatory opening at Simon Fraser University as noted in my April 17, 2015 posting. It looks like he was successful beyond his wildest dreams (amazing what a dip in the polls can do when your party has been almost leading for weeks in a tight three-way race).

Here’s more about the platform from Kennedy Stewart’s website, NDP Science Platform page,

NDP Science Platform Details

Restore the voice of scientists in Canada

We will create a Scientific Advisory Council to the Prime Minister headed by a Chief Science Advisor to ensure that our government always has access to the best possible scientific advice from experts in all fields.
We will establish the Office of the Parliamentary Science Officer as per Bill C-558 to ensure that parliamentarians have the best possible access to science-based analysis.
We will immediately move to restore the mandatory long-form census and provide the necessary funding to ensure it can be included in the 2016 census.
We will put an end to the Conservatives’ policy of muzzling scientists and ensure that Canada’s leading experts are freely available to speak to the media and to publish their findings. We will implement the NDP’s comprehensive plan to promote the voice of scientist’s in Ottawa as laid out in M-453 to promote scientific integrity.
We will work to re-establish scientific capacity in government departments, including Environment Canada and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Support Canada’s world-class researchers

We will restore the independence of Canada’s granting agencies and respect their status as arm’s length government agencies to ensure the best research gets funded.
We will maintain the Canada First Research Excellence Fund to help Canadian universities compete globally.
We will support researchers in post-secondary education institutions – including universities, colleges and polytechnics – with a total investment of $105 million in new funds over five years. We will make sure that government policy supports both our leading research institutions and values the role that smaller colleges and universities play in communities across Canada.
Ensure a balanced approach to science and technology policy. We will undertake a transparent and inclusive review of Canada’s science and technology strategy to ensure that all voices are heard.
We will make government data open and available by default, in a useable format to assist researchers and businesses across Canada.

Maclean’s: a surprising result from their 2015 election policy poll

Amanda Shendruk in a Sept. 23, 2015 posting for Maclean’s magazine notes some unexpected (to the unobservant) results in their informal online poll about policy (Note: Links have been removed),

Maclean’s readers are overwhelmingly in favour of a policy that would put an end to Ottawa’s well-trod path of data destruction and scientist silencing. A month ago, we published the Policy Face-Off Machine, an online tool that pits two policies against each other at random, asking you to choose which you prefer. The catch? The parties pitching the policies aren’t identified when you’re making the pick. Well, we’ve been keeping track of these policy votes and, with more than 100,000 visitors already, we’ve got a great pile of data on what proposals Canadians prefer. With some surprise, we’ve discovered that Canadians really want government-funded science made available to the public. In fact, that Green- and Liberal-backed policy was chosen over other policies three out of four times, and is the tool’s most-picked policy to date.

There’s more including a graph of the results in Shendruk’s posting.

Science integrity

John Dupuis of the Confessions of a Science Librarian blog loosely links science integrity and the 2015 federal election in his Sept. 30, 2015 posting about a new project (Note: Links have been removed),

Though not explicitly tied to our current federal election campaign, the début this week of the Science Integrity Project and the publishing of their Statement of Principles for Sound Decision Making in Canada just as the campaign heats up is surely not coincidental.

There are excerpts from the site in Dupuis’ posting which I have eschewed (why repeat work that has been done, i.e., summarizing the information) in favour of material from the Science Integrity Project website’s Background page (Note: Links have been removed),

Background

Canada has a history of initiatives aimed at ensuring the effective use of science and technological advice in government decision-making. “Backgrounder: The Evolving Context of Science Integrity in Canada” provides an overview of past efforts, highlighting good practices for science advice. *
In this background document, we focus primarily on the historical relationship between science (as defined here) and policy making in Canada. In the accompanying “Science Integrity Project: Synthesis of Pre-Forum Interviews”, we address the history and use of both science and indigenous knowledge in policy making.

To establish the scope and nature of issues involved with the effective and consistent use of the best available evidence, the Science Integrity Project began with a series of interviews with scientists, indigenous knowledge holders, and policy makers across Canada. The resulting insights from 30 interviews are summarized in the “Science Integrity Project: Synthesis of Pre-Forum Interviews”.

From February 2-4, 2015, a Forum was held in Toronto with over 60 scientists and public policy analysts, current and past representatives of public and Indigenous governments, philanthropists and representatives of non-government organizations to discuss the status of evidence-based decision-making at every level of government. To inform this discussion, the summary report of interviews was shared with Forum participants. The “Statement of Principles for Sound Decision-making in Canada” and the accompanying illustrative examples are products of the Forum’s work.

Comments

I’d like to see at least four parties at the CBC science panel, the Conservatives, the Liberals, the NDP, and the Greens. I’d really like to see something that goes beyond the “Conservatives are bad because they muzzled scientists and are making data and research unavailable” discussion. Here are some of my questions,

  • What priorities does your party want to set for research in Canada?
  • What role does your party see for Canada’s Science and Technology Museums Corporation?
  • How is your party going to address the impacts from synthetic biology, robotics, nanotechnology and other emerging technologies as they become part of our daily lives?
    • For example, what impact on the economy does your party foresee as artificially intelligent and/or robotic devices come online?
  • Does your party foresee a role for citizen science and what might that role be?
  • Does your party plan on additional science outreach? And, will it stretch itself beyond the current twin and near maniacal obsessions evinced by media and popular culture:  (1) youth already understand science easily and are the only ones who need outreach (BTW, it’s poorly planned and there are big gaps for kids who have grown past the ‘wow’ presentations and don’t plan on being scientists but are still really interested) and (2) old people aren’t important and they’re all sick and draining our resources so why bother teaching them anything?
  • Does your party have a plan to better recognize that social sciences are ‘sciences’ too? And, is there a plan to foster closer cooperation not only with the social sciences but the arts and the humanities?

There are other questions out there. Science Borealis (Canadian blog and blog aggregator) has a Sept. 18, 2015 posting (it’s in the subsection titled: Resources) which aggregates a number of resources including places where you can get ideas for election 2015 science questions.

One final comment, it’s exciting but I hope we keep our heads. There’s a certain pedantic, top-down quality to the discussion and projects such as the Science Integrity Project. For example, in posts such as a Sept. 15, 2015 posting on Science Borealis where the writers discuss Science Borealis’ participation in a discussion with the Canada Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC)  on its new strategic plan which includes a mandate to foster a science culture in Canada. The comments are all top-down as in, “We scientists will tell you (everybody else) what is good science and what science we should have. We are the only arbiters.” It’s an unconscious bias and, by now, everyone should know how that works out.

That said, I’m very enthused about the possibilities and excited about the upcoming radio science debate.

University of Guelph (Canada) gets money for new nanotechnology antimicrobial delivery vehicles

It’s usually an agricultural story when I cover nanotechnology happenings at the University of Guelph (Ontario, Canada).  However, this July 10, 2015 news item on Azonano is focused on pharmaceutical,

EastGate Biotech Corp., an emerging pharmaceutical company aimed at utilizing drug delivery innovations in the development of improved novel formulations and alternative dosage forms of existing biologically active molecules, has announced that its research collaborator, the University of Guelph, Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology received a grant from the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

A July 7, 2015 Eastgate Biotech news release, which originated the news item, describes the nature of their previous collaboration with the University of Guelph but nothing much about the work being undertaken under the auspices of the latest NSERC grant,

Previously the company announced that its research collaboration with the University of Guelph involved measuring the antimicrobial activity of the company’s natural antibacterial products, Cleanezze™ and Vclean™ (www.nano-essentials.com).   Cleanezze™ is a long acting hand sanitizer that contains 3 different natural antibacterial compounds.  Vclean™ is a natural, non-toxic and highly effective concentrate for the elimination of dangerous germs from surfaces of fruits, vegetables, kitchen tools, etc.  The results of this study demonstrated the effectiveness of these products.

The research team at the University of Guelph led by Principal Investigator, Dr. Cezar Khursigara will continue to study the antimicrobial activity of our products.

“We are pleased with the grant awarded to our collaborators at the University of Guelph”, says Anna Gluskin, EastGate’s CEO. “This support will serve to validate the effectiveness of the company’s natural antibacterial products and provide the competitive benefits for the demanding marketplace looking to combat increases in microbial outbreaks”, continued Ms. Gluskin.

I went to the NSERC website for more information and found a list of 2015 research grant recipients listed by institution, which yielded this likely entry under the University of Guelph (Note: I have not replicated the table formatting of the original entry),

Khursigara, Cezar
Department: Molecular and Cellular Biology – Molecular and Cellular Biology
RGPIN
Probing the molecular interactions and architecture of bacterial cell division proteins
1501
5
$34,000.00

That’s all I can find by way of details. By the way, Eastgate Biotech is a Canadian company headquartered in Toronto, Ontario.

2015 Canadian federal budget and science

Think of this post as a digest of responses to and analyses of the ‘science component’ of the Canadian federal government’s 2015 budget announcement made on April 21, 2015 by Minister of Finance, Joe Oliver. First off the mark, the Canadian Science Policy Centre (CSPC) has featured some opinions about the budget and its impact on Canadian science in an April 27, 2015 posting,

Jim Woodgett
Director, Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute of Sinai Health System

Where’s the Science Beef in Canadian Budget 2015?

Andrew Casey
President and CEO, BIOTECanada

Budget 2015: With the fiscal balance restored where to next?

Russ Roberts
Senior Vice President – Tax & Finance, CATA Alliance

Opinion on 2015 Federal Budget

Ron Freeman
CEO of Innovation Atlas Inc. and Research Infosource Inc. formerly co-publisher of RE$EARCH MONEY and co-founder of The Impact Group

Workman-Like Budget Preserves Key National Programs

Paul Davidson
President, Universities Canada

A Reality Check on Budget 2015

Dr. Kamiel Gabriel
Associate Provost of Research and Graduate Programs at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT), Science Adviser and Assistant Deputy Minister (ADM) of Research at the Ontario Ministry of Research & Innovation

The 2015 Federal Budget Targets Key Segments of Voters

I suggest starting with Woodgett’s piece as he points out something none of the others who chose to comment on the amount of money dedicated to the tricouncil funding agencies (Canadian Institutes of Health Research [CIHR], Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council [NSERC], and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council [SSHRC]) seemed to have noticed or deemed important,

The primary source of science operating funds are provided by the tricouncils, CIHR/NSERC and SSHRC, which, when indirect costs and other flow through dollars (e.g. CRCs) are included, accounts for about $2.5 billion in annual funding. There are no new dollars added to the tricouncil budgets this year (2015/16) but there is a modest $46 million to be added in 2016/17 – $15 million to CIHR and NSERC, $7.5 million to SSHRC and the rest in indirects. [emphases mine] This new money, though, is largely ear-marked for new initiatives, such as the CIHR Strategy on Patient Oriented Research ($13 million) and an anti-microbial resistant infection program ($2 million). Likewise for NSERC and SSHRC although NSERC enjoys around $16 million relief in not needing to support industrial postgraduate scholarships as this responsibility moves to MITACS with no funding loss at NSERC. Alex Usher of Higher Education Strategy Associates, estimates that, taking inflation into account, tricouncil funding will be down 9% since 2008. [emphasis mine] It is hardly surprising that funding applications to these agencies are under enormous competitive pressure. At CIHR, the last open operating grant competition yielded unprecedented low success rates of ~14% along with across-the-board budget cuts of grants that were funded of 26%. This agency is in year 1 of major program reforms and has very little wiggle-room with its frozen budget.

To be fair, there are sources other than the tricouncil for science funding although their mandate is for ‘basic’ science, more or less. Over the last few years, there’s been a greater emphasis on tricouncil funding that produces economic results and this is in line international trends.

Getting back to the CSPC’s opinions, Davidson’s piece, notes some of that additional funding,

With $1.33 billion earmarked for the Canada Foundation for Innovation [CFI], Budget 2015 marks the largest single announcement of Canadian research infrastructure funding. This is something the community prioritized, given the need for state-of-the-art equipment, labs, digital tools and high-speed technology to conduct, partner and share research results. This renewed commitment to CFI builds on the globally competitive research infrastructure that Canadians have built over the last 15 years and enables our researchers to collaborate with the very best in the world. Its benefits will be seen in universities across the country and across disciplines. Key research infrastructure investments – from digital to major science infrastructure – support the broad spectrum of university research, from theoretical and discovery to pre-competitive and applied.

The $45 million announced for TRIUMF will support the laboratory’s role in accelerating science in Canada, an important investment in discovery research.

While the news about the CFI seems to have delighted a number of observers, it should be noted (as per Woodgett’s piece) that the $1.3B is to be paid out over six years ($220M per year, more or less) and the money won’t be disbursed until the 2017/18 fiscal year. As for the $45M designated for TRIUMF (Canada’s National Laboratory for Particle and Nuclear Physics), this is exciting news for the lab which seems to have bypassed the usual channels, as it has before, to receive its funding directly from the federal government.

Another agency which seems to have received its funding directly from the federal government is the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA), From an April 22, 2015 news release,

The Council of Canadian Academies welcomes the federal government’s announcement of new funding for in-depth, authoritative, evidence-based assessments. Economic Action Plan 2015 allocated $15 million over five years [$3M per year] for the Council of Canadian Academies.

“This is welcome news for the Council and we would like to thank the Government for this commitment. Over the past 10 years the Council has worked diligently to produce high quality reports that support policy and decision-making in numerous areas,” said Janet Bax, Interim President. “We appreciate the support from Minister Holder and his predecessors, Minsters Goodyear and Rickford, for ensuring meaningful questions have been referred to the Council for assessment.” [For anyone unfamiliar with the Canadian science minister scene, Ed Holder, current Minister of State for Science and Technology, and previous Conservative government ministers, Greg Rickford and Gary Goodyear]

As of March 31st, 2015 the Council has published 31 reports on topics as diverse as business innovation, the future of Canadian policing models, and improving medicines for children. The Council has worked with over 800 expert volunteers from across Canada and abroad. These individuals have given generously of their time and as a result more than $16 million has been leveraged in volunteer support. The Council’s work has been used in many ways and had an impact on national policy agendas and strategies, research programs, and supported stakeholders and industry groups with forward looking action plans.

“On behalf of the Board of Governors I would like to extend our thanks to the Government,” said Margaret Bloodworth, Chair of the Board of Governors.  “The Board is now well positioned to consider future strategic directions for the organization and how best to further expand on the Council’s client base.”

The CCA news is one of the few item about social science funding, most observers such as Ivan Semeniuk in an April 27, 2015 article for the Globe and Mail, are largely focused on the other sciences,

Last year [2014], that funding [for the tricouncil agencies] amounted to about$2.7-billion, and this year’s budget maintains that. Because of inflation and increasing competition, that is actually a tightening of resources for rank-and-file scientists at Canada’s universities and hospitals. At the same time, those institutions are vying for a share of a $1.5-billion pot of money called the Canada First Research Excellence Fund, which the government unveiled last year and is aimed at helping push selected projects to a globally competitive level.

“This is all about creating an environment where our research community can grow,” Ed Holder, Minister of State for Science and Technology, told The Globe and Mail.

One extra bonus for science in this year’s budget is a $243.5-million commitment to secure Canada’s partnership in the Thirty Meter Telescope, a huge international observatory that is slated for construction on a Hawaiian mountain top. Given its high price-tag, many thought it unlikely that the Harper government would go for the project. In the end, the telescope likely benefited from the fact that had the Canada committed less money, most of the economic returns associated with building it would flow elsewhere.

The budget also reflects the Harper government’s preference for tying funding to partnerships with industry. A promised increase of $46-million for the granting councils next year will be largely for spurring collaborations between academic researchers and industrial partners rather than for basic research.

Whether or not science becomes an issue in the upcoming election campaign, some research advocates say the budget shows that the government’s approach to science is still too narrow. While it renews necessary commitments to research infrastructure, they fear not enough money will be left for people doing the kind of work that expands knowledge but does not always produce an immediate economic return.

An independent analysis of the 2015 budget prepared by Higher Education Strategy Associates, a Toronto based consulting firm, shows that when inflation is factored in, the money available for researchers through the granting councils has been in decline since 2009.

Canadian scientists are the not only ones feeling a pinch. Neal V. Patel’s April 27, 2015 article (originally published on Wired) on the Slate website discusses US government funding in an attempt to contextualize science research crowdfunding (Note: A link has been removed),

In the U.S., most scientific funding comes from the government, distributed in grants awarded by an assortment of federal science, health, and defense agencies. So it’s a bit disconcerting that some scientists find it necessary to fund their research the same way dudebros raise money for a potato salad. Does that migration suggest the current grant system is broken? If it is, how can we ensure that funding goes to legitimate science working toward meaningful discoveries?

On its own, the fact that scientists are seeking new sources of funding isn’t so weird. In the view of David Kaiser, a science historian at MIT, crowdfunding is simply the latest “pendulum swing” in how scientists and research institutions fund their work. Once upon a time, research at MIT and other universities was funded primarily by student tuition and private philanthropists. In 1919, however, with philanthropic investment drying up, MIT launched an ambitious plan that allowed local companies to sponsor specific labs and projects.

Critics complained the university had allowed corporate interests to dig their claws into scientific endeavors and befoul intellectual autonomy. (Sound familiar?) But once WWII began, the U.S. government became a force for funding, giving huge wartime grants to research groups nationwide. Federal patronage continued expanding in the decades after the war.

Seventy years later, that trend has reversed: As the federal budget shrinks, government investment in scientific research has reached new lows. The conventional models for federal grants, explains University of Iowa immunologist Gail Bishop, “were designed to work such that 25 to 30 percent of studies were funded. Now it’s around 10 percent.”

I’m not sure how to interpret the Canadian situation in light of other jurisdictions. It seems clear that within the Canadian context for government science funding that research funding is on a downward trend and has been going down for a few years (my June 2, 2014 posting). That said, we have another problem and that’s industrial research and development funding (my Oct. 30, 2013 posting about the 2013 OECD scorecard for science and technology; Note: the scorecard is biannual and should be issued again in 2015). Businesses don’t pay for research in Canada and it appears the Conservative and previous governments have not been successful in reversing that situation even marginally.

Frogs: monitoring them, finding new species, and research about the golden ones in Panama

I have three frog-oriented items and while they’re not strictly speaking in my usual range of topics, given this blog’s name and the fact I haven’t posted a frog piece in quite a while, it seems this is a good moment to address that lack.

Monitoring frogs and amphibians at Trent University (Ontario, Canada)

From a March 23, 2015 Trent University news release,

With the decline of amphibian populations around the world, a team of researchers led by Trent University’s Dr. Dennis Murray will seek to establish environmental DNA (eDNA) monitoring of amphibian occupancy and aquatic ecosystem risk assessment with the help of a significant grant of over $596,000 from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

Awarded to Professor Murray, a Canada research chair in integrative wildlife conservation, bioinformatics, and ecological modelling and professor at Trent University along with colleagues Dr. Craig Brunetti of the Biology department, and Dr. Chris Kyle of the Forensic Science program, and partners at Laurentian University, University of Toronto, McGill University, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry and Environment Canada, the grant will support the development of tools that will promote a cleaner aquatic environment.

The project will use amphibian DNA found in natural breeding habitats to determine the presence and abundance of amphibians as well as their pathogens. This new technology capitalizes on Trent University’s expertise and infrastructure in the areas of wildlife DNA and water quality.

“We’re honoured to have received the grant to help us drive the project forward,” said Prof. Murray. “Our plan is to place Canada, and Trent, in a leadership position with respect to aquatic wildlife monitoring and amphibian conservation.”

Amphibian populations are declining worldwide, yet in Canada, amphibian numbers are not monitored closely, meaning changes in their distribution or abundance may be unnoticeable. Amphibian monitoring in Canada is conducted by citizen scientists who record frog breeding calls when visiting bodies of water during the spring. However, the lack of formalized amphibian surveys leaves Canada in a vulnerable position regarding the status of its diverse amphibian community.

Prof. Murray believes that the protocols developed from this project could revolutionize how amphibian populations are monitored in Canada and in turn lead to new insights regarding the population trends for several amphibian species across the country.

Here’s more about NSERC and Trent University from the news release,

About NSERC

NSERC is a federal agency that helps make Canada a country of discoverers and innovators. The agency supports almost 30,000 post-secondary students and postdoctoral fellows in their advanced studies. NSERC promotes discovery by funding approximately 12,000 professors every year and fosters innovation by encouraging over 2,400 Canadian companies to participate and invest in post-secondary research projects.

The NSERC Strategic Project Grants aim to increase research and training in areas that could strongly influence Canada’s economy, society or environment in the next 10 years in four target areas: environmental science and technologies; information and communications technologies; manufacturing; and natural resources and energy.

About Trent University

One of Canada’s top universities, Trent University was founded on the ideal of interactive learning that’s personal, purposeful and transformative. Consistently recognized nationally for leadership in teaching, research and student satisfaction, Trent attracts excellent students from across the country and around the world. Here, undergraduate and graduate students connect and collaborate with faculty, staff and their peers through diverse communities that span residential colleges, classrooms, disciplines, hands-on research, co-curricular and community-based activities. Across all disciplines, Trent brings critical, integrative thinking to life every day. As the University celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2014/15, Trent’s unique approach to personal development through supportive, collaborative community engagement is in more demand than ever. Students lead the way by co-creating experiences rooted in dialogue, diverse perspectives and collaboration. In a learning environment that builds life-long passion for inclusion, leadership and social change, Trent’s students, alumni, faculty and staff are engaged global citizens who are catalysts in developing sustainable solutions to complex issues. Trent’s Peterborough campus boasts award-winning architecture in a breathtaking natural setting on the banks of the Otonabee River, just 90 minutes from downtown Toronto, while Trent University Durham delivers a distinct mix of programming in the GTA.

Trent University’s expertise in water quality could be traced to its proximity to Canada’s Experimental Lakes Area (ELA), a much beleaguered research environment due to federal political imperatives. You can read more about the area and the politics in this Wikipedia entry. BTW, I am delighted to learn that it still exists under the auspices of the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD),

Taking this post into nanotechnology territory while mentioning the ELA, Trent University published a Dec. 8, 2014 news release about research into silver nanoparticles,

For several years, Trent University’s Dr. Chris Metcalfe and Dr. Maggie Xenopoulos have dedicated countless hours to the study of aquatic contaminants and the threat they pose to our environment.

Now, through the efforts of the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), their research is reaching a wider audience thanks to a new video (Note: A link has been removed).

The video is one of a five-part series being released by the IISD that looks into environmental issues in Canada. The video entitled “Distilling Science at the Experimental Lakes Area: Nanosilver” and featuring Professors Metcalfe and Xenopoulos profiles their research around nanomaterials at the Experimental Lakes Area.

Prof. Xenopolous’ involvement in the project falls in line with other environmental issues she has tackled. In the past, her research has examined how human activities – including climate change, eutrophication and land use – affect ecosystem structure and function in lakes and rivers. She has also taken an interest in how land use affects the material exported and processed in aquatic ecosystems.

Prof. Metcalfe’s ongoing research on the fate and distribution of pharmaceutical and personal care products in the environment has generated considerable attention both nationally and internationally.

Together, their research into nanomaterials is getting some attention. Nanomaterials are submicroscopic particles whose physical and chemical properties make them useful for a variety of everyday applications. They can be found in certain pieces of clothing, home appliances, paint, and kitchenware. Initial laboratory research conducted at Trent University showed that nanosilver could strongly affect aquatic organisms at the bottom of the food chain, such as bacteria, algae and zooplankton.

To further examine these effects in a real ecosystem, a team of researchers from Trent University, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Environment Canada has been conducting studies at undisclosed lakes in northwestern Ontario. The Lake Ecosystem Nanosilver (LENS) project has been monitoring changes in the lakes’ ecosystem that occur after the addition of nanosilver.

“In our particular case, we will be able to study and understand the effects of only nanosilver because that is the only variable that is going to change,” says Prof. Xenopoulos. “It’s really the only place in the world where we can do that.”

The knowledge gained from the study will help policy-makers make decisions about whether nanomaterials can be a threat to aquatic ecosystems and whether regulatory action is required to control their release into the environment.

You can find the 13 mins. video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_nJai_B4YH0#action=share

Shapeshifting frogs, a new species in Ecuador

Caption: This image shows skin texture variation in one individual frog (Pristimantis mutabilis) from Reserva Las Gralarias. Note how skin texture shifts from highly tubercular to almost smooth; also note the relative size of the tubercles on the eyelid, lower lip, dorsum and limbs. Credit: Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society

Caption: This image shows skin texture variation in one individual frog (Pristimantis mutabilis) from Reserva Las Gralarias. Note how skin texture shifts from highly tubercular to almost smooth; also note the relative size of the tubercles on the eyelid, lower lip, dorsum and limbs.
Credit: Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society

Here’s more about the shapeshifting and how the scientists figured out what the frogs were doing (from a March 23, 2015 Case Western Research University news release on EurekAlert; Note: A link has been removed),

A frog in Ecuador’s western Andean cloud forest changes skin texture in minutes, appearing to mimic the texture it sits on.

Originally discovered by a Case Western Reserve University PhD student and her husband, a projects manager at Cleveland Metroparks’ Natural Resources Division, the amphibian is believed to be the first known to have this shape-shifting capability.

But the new species, called Pristimantis mutabilis, or mutable rainfrog, has company. Colleagues working with the couple recently found that a known relative of the frog shares the same texture-changing quality–but it was never reported before.

The frogs are found at Reserva Las Gralarias, a nature reserve originally created to protect endangered birds in the Parish of Mindo, in north-central Ecuador.

The researchers, Katherine and Tim Krynak, and colleagues from Universidad Indoamérica and Tropical Herping (Ecuador) co-authored a manuscript describing the new animal and skin texture plasticity in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society this week. They believe their findings have broad implications for how species are and have been identified. The process may now require photographs and longer observations in the field to ensure the one species is not mistakenly perceived as two because at least two species of rain frogs can change their appearance.

Katherine Krynak believes the ability to change skin texture to reflect its surroundings may enable P. mutabilis to help camouflage itself from birds and other predators.

The Krynaks originally spotted the small, spiny frog, nearly the width of a marble, sitting on a moss-covered leaf about a yard off the ground on a misty July night in 2009. The Krynaks had never seen this animal before, though Tim had surveyed animals on annual trips to Las Gralarias since 2001, and Katherine since 2005.

They captured the little frog and tucked it into a cup with a lid before resuming their nightly search for wildlife. They nicknamed it “punk rocker” because of the thorn-like spines covering its body.

The next day, Katherine Krynak pulled the frog from the cup and set it on a smooth white sheet of plastic for Tim to photograph. It wasn’t “punk “–it was smooth-skinned. They assumed that, much to her dismay, she must have picked up the wrong frog.

“I then put the frog back in the cup and added some moss,” she said. “The spines came back… we simply couldn’t believe our eyes, our frog changed skin texture!

“I put the frog back on the smooth white background. Its skin became smooth.”

“The spines and coloration help them blend into mossy habitats, making it hard for us to see them,” she said. “But whether the texture really helps them elude predators still needs to be tested.”

During the next three years, a team of fellow biologists studied the frogs. They found the animals shift skin texture in a little more than three minutes.

Juan M. Guayasamin, from Universidad Tecnológica Indoamérica, Ecuador, the manuscript’s first author, performed morphological and genetic analyses showing that P. mutabilis was a unique and undescribed species. Carl R. Hutter, from the University of Kansas, studied the frog’s calls, finding three songs the species uses, which differentiate them from relatives. The fifth author of the paper, Jamie Culebras, assisted with fieldwork and was able to locate a second population of the species. Culebras is a member of Tropical Herping, an organization committed to discovering, and studying reptiles and amphibians.

Guayasamin and Hutter discovered that Prismantis sobetes, a relative with similar markings but about twice the size of P. mutabilis, has the same trait when they placed a spiny specimen on a sheet and watched its skin turn smooth. P. sobetes is the only relative that has been tested so far.

Because the appearance of animals has long been one of the keys to identifying them as a certain species, the researchers believe their find challenges the system, particularly for species identified by one or just a few preserved specimens. With those, there was and is no way to know if the appearance is changeable.

The Krynaks, who helped form Las Gralarias Foundation to support the conservation efforts of the reserve, plan to return to continue surveying for mutable rain frogs and to work with fellow researchers to further document their behaviors, lifecycle and texture shifting, and estimate their population, all in effort to improve our knowledge and subsequent ability to conserve this paradigm shifting species.

Further, they hope to discern whether more relatives have the ability to shift skin texture and if that trait comes from a common ancestor. If P. mutabilis and P. sobetes are the only species within this branch of Pristimantis frogs to have this capability, they hope to learn whether they retained it from an ancestor while relatives did not, or whether the trait evolved independently in each species.

Golden frog of Panama and its skin microbiome

Caption: Researchers studied microbial communities on the skin of Panamanian golden frogs to learn more about amphibian disease resistance. Panamanian golden frogs live only in captivity. Continued studies may help restore them back to the wild. Credit: B. Gratwicke/Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute

Caption: Researchers studied microbial communities on the skin of Panamanian golden frogs to learn more about amphibian disease resistance. Panamanian golden frogs live only in captivity. Continued studies may help restore them back to the wild.
Credit: B. Gratwicke/Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute

Among many of the pressures on frog populations, there’s a lethal fungus which has affected some 200 species of frogs. A March 23, 2015 news item on ScienceDaily describes some recent research into the bacterial communities present on frog skin,

A team of scientists including Virginia Tech researchers is one step closer to understanding how bacteria on a frog’s skin affects its likelihood of contracting disease.

A frog-killing fungus known as Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, or Bd, has already led to the decline of more than 200 amphibian species including the now extinct-in-the-wild Panamanian golden frog.

In a recent study, the research team attempted to apply beneficial bacteria found on the skin of various Bd-resistant wild Panamanian frog species to Panamanian golden frogs in captivity, to see if this would stimulate a defense against the disease.

A March 23, 2015 Virginia Tech University news release on EurekAlert, which originated the news item, provides a twist and a turn in the story (Note: Links have been removed),

They found that while the treatment with beneficial bacteria was not successful due to its inability to stick to the skin, there were some frogs that survived exposure to the fungus.

These survivors actually had unique bacterial communities on their skin before the experiments started.

The next step is to explore these new bacterial communities.

“We were disappointed that the treatment didn’t work, but glad to have discovered new information about the relationship between these symbiotic microbial communities and amphibian disease resistance,” said Lisa Belden, an associate professor of biological sciences in the College of Science, a Fralin Life Science Institute affiliate, and a faculty member with the new Global Change Center at Virginia Tech. “Every bit of information gets us closer to getting these frogs back into nature.”

Studying the microbial communities of Panamanian golden frogs was the dissertation focus of Belden’s former graduate student Matthew Becker, who graduated with a Ph.D. in biological sciences from Virginia Tech in 2014 and is now a fellow at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute.

“Anything that can help us predict resistance to this disease is very useful because the ultimate goal of this research is to establish healthy populations of golden frogs in their native habitat,” Becker told Smithsonian Science News. “I think identifying alternative probiotic treatment methods that optimize dosages and exposure times will be key for moving forward with the use of probiotics to mitigate chytridiomycosis.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Composition of symbiotic bacteria predicts survival in Panamanian golden frogs infected with a lethal fungus by Matthew H. Becker , Jenifer B. Walke , Shawna Cikanek , Anna E. Savage , Nichole Mattheus , Celina N. Santiago , Kevin P. C. Minbiole , Reid N. Harris , Lisa K. Belden , Brian Gratwicke. April 2015 Volume: 282 Issue: 1805 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2014.2881 Published 18 March 2015

This is an open access paper.

For anyone curious about the article in the Smithsonian mentioned in the news release, you can find it here.

 

Medical isotope team at TRIUMF (Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics) wins award

I’ve written a few times about the development of a new means for producing medical isotopes that does not require nuclear materials. (my June 10, 2014 posting and my June 9, 2013 posting,) The breakthrough was made at TRIUMF, Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics, which is located in Vancouver, and the team which made the breakthrough is being honoured. From a Feb. 17, 2015 TRIUMF news release,

For their outstanding teamwork in realizing a solution for safe and reliable isotope production for hospitals in Canada,interdisciplinary research team CycloMed99 will be receiving a prestigious national award at a ceremony in Ottawa today [Feb. 17, 2015]. The Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, will present the NSERC  [Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada] Brockhouse Canada Prize for Interdisciplinary Research in Science and Engineering to the team in recognition of their seamless teamwork and successes.

Drawing from expertise in physics, chemistry, and nuclear medicine, the team set out five years ago to develop a reliable, alternative means of production for a key medical isotope in order to eliminate the threat of a supply shortage – a catastrophic healthcare crisis for patients around the world. Technetium-99m (Tc-99m) is the world standard for medical imaging to diagnose cancer and heart disease. Every day, 5,000 medical procedures in
Canada and 70,000 daily worldwide depend on this isotope. With funding support from NSERC, CIHR and Natural Resources Canada, the team developed technology that uses medical cyclotrons already installed and operational in major hospitals across Canada to produce enough Tc-99m on a daily basis.

This innovation is safer and more environmentally friendly than current technology because it eliminates the need for highly enriched uranium, also avoiding the generation
of highly radioactive waste. Canada’s healthcare system would save money by producing isotopes locally under a full-cost recovery model.

The project resulted in over a dozen scientific publications, several provisional patents and a training opportunity for more than 175 individuals.

Now, the research team is focused on working with the world’s major cyclotron manufacturers to add factory-supported Tc-99m production capability to their existing product lines so the technology will become standard in future machines.

CycloMed99 is also working with a Canadian start-up company to license, transfer and sell this technology around the world. This will allow hospitals and companies with cyclotrons to retrofit their existing infrastructure with a Made in Canada solution to produce this valuable material.

Congratulations to the CycloMed99 team, recipients of the Brockhouse Canada Prize:

• Dr. Paul Schaffer, a chemist by training and Division Head, Nuclear Medicine at TRIUMF; Adjunct Professor, Dept. of Chemistry at Simon Fraser University; and Professor, Dept. of Radiology at the University of British Columbia (UBC);

• Dr. François Bénard, a clinician by training and BC Leadership Chair in Functional Cancer Imaging at the BC Cancer Agency; and Professor, Dept. of Radiology at UBC;

• Dr. Anna Celler, a medical physicist by training and Professor, Dept. of Radiology at UBC;

• Dr. Michael Kovacs, a chemist by training; PET Radiochemistry Facility Imaging Scientist at Lawson Health Research Institute; Associate Professor at Western University;

• Dr. Thomas J. Ruth, a nuclear chemist by training and researcher emeritus at TRIUMF; and Professor emeritus at UBC, and;

• Dr. John Valliant, a chemist by training and Scientific Director and CEO of the Centre for Probe Development and Commercialization; and Professor at McMaster University.

There’s more information about TRIUMF and the business aspect of this breakthrough in a Jan. 16, 2015 article by Tyler Orton for Business in Vancouver.

Nanoscale light confinement without metal (photonic circuits) at the University of Alberta (Canada)

To be more accurate, this is a step forward towards photonic circuits according to an Aug. 20, 2014 news item on Azonano,

The invention of fibre optics revolutionized the way we share information, allowing us to transmit data at volumes and speeds we’d only previously dreamed of. Now, electrical engineering researchers at the University of Alberta are breaking another barrier, designing nano-optical cables small enough to replace the copper wiring on computer chips.

This could result in radical increases in computing speeds and reduced energy use by electronic devices.

“We’re already transmitting data from continent to continent using fibre optics, but the killer application is using this inside chips for interconnects—that is the Holy Grail,” says Zubin Jacob, an electrical engineering professor leading the research. “What we’ve done is come up with a fundamentally new way of confining light to the nano scale.”

At present, the diameter of fibre optic cables is limited to about one thousandth of a millimetre. Cables designed by graduate student Saman Jahani and Jacob are 10 times smaller—small enough to replace copper wiring still used on computer chips. (To put that into perspective, a dime is about one millimetre thick.)

An Aug. 19, 2014 University of Alberta news release by Richard Cairney (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more technical detail and information about funding,

 Jahani and Jacob have used metamaterials to redefine the textbook phenomenon of total internal reflection, discovered 400 years ago by German scientist Johannes Kepler while working on telescopes.

Researchers around the world have been stymied in their efforts to develop effective fibre optics at smaller sizes. One popular solution has been reflective metallic claddings that keep light waves inside the cables. But the biggest hurdle is increased temperatures: metal causes problems after a certain point.

“If you use metal, a lot of light gets converted to heat. That has been the major stumbling block. Light gets converted to heat and the information literally burns up—it’s lost.”

Jacob and Jahani have designed a new, non-metallic metamaterial that enables them to “compress” and contain light waves in the smaller cables without creating heat, slowing the signal or losing data. …

The team’s research is funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Helmholtz-Alberta Initiative.

Jacob and Jahani are now building the metamaterials on a silicon chip to outperform current light confining strategies used in industry.

Given that this work is being performed at the nanoscale and these scientists are located within the Canadian university which houses Canada’s National Institute of Nanotechnology (NINT), the absence of any mention of the NINT comes as a surprise (more about this organization after the link to the researchers’ paper).

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Transparent subdiffraction optics: nanoscale light confinement without metal by Saman Jahani and Zubin Jacob. Optica, Vol. 1, Issue 2, pp. 96-100 (2014) http://dx.doi.org/10.1364/OPTICA.1.000096

This paper is open access.

In a search for the NINT’s website I found this summary at the University of Alberta’s NINT webpage,

The National Institute for Nanotechnology (NINT) was established in 2001 and is operated as a partnership between the National Research Council and the University of Alberta. Many NINT researchers are affiliated with both the National Research Council and University of Alberta.

NINT is a unique, integrated, multidisciplinary institute involving researchers from fields such as physics, chemistry, engineering, biology, informatics, pharmacy, and medicine. The main focus of the research being done at NINT is the integration of nano-scale devices and materials into complex nanosystems that can be put to practical use. Nanotechnology is a relatively new field of research, so people at NINT are working to discover “design rules” for nanotechnology and to develop platforms for building nanosystems and materials that can be constructed and programmed for a particular application. NINT aims to increase knowledge and support innovation in the area of nanotechnology, as well as to create work that will have long-term relevance and value for Alberta and Canada.

The University of Alberta’s NINT webpage also offers a link to the NINT’s latest rebranded website, The failure to mention the NINT gets more curious when looking at a description of NINT’s programmes one of which is hybrid nanoelectronics (Note: A link has been removed),

Hybrid NanoElectronics provide revolutionary electronic functions that may be utilized by industry through creating circuits that operate using mechanisms unique to the nanoscale. This may include functions that are not possible with conventional circuitry to provide smaller, faster and more energy-efficient components, and extend the development of electronics beyond the end of the roadmap.

After looking at a list of the researchers affiliated with the NINT, it’s apparent that neither Jahani or Jacob are part of that team. Perhaps they have preferred to work independently of the NINT ,which is one of the Canada National Research Council’s institutes.

CREATE ISOSIM (isotopes for science and medicine) and NanoMat (nanomaterials) program at the University of British Columbia (Canada)

It seems the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC; one of Canada’s ‘big three’ science national funding agencies) has a new funding program, CREATE (Collaborative Research and Training Experience) and two local (Vancouver, Canada) institutions, the University of British Columbia (UBC) and TRIUMF (Canada’s National Laboratory for Particle and Nuclear Physics) are beneficiaries to the tune of $3.3M.

Before getting the happy news, here’s a little information about this new NSERC program (from the CREATE page),

The Collaborative Research and Training Experience (CREATE) Program supports the training of teams of highly qualified students and postdoctoral fellows from Canada and abroad through the development of innovative training programs that:

  • encourage collaborative and integrative approaches, and address significant scientific challenges associated with Canada’s research priorities; and
  • facilitate the transition of new researchers from trainees to productive employees in the Canadian workforce.

These innovative programs must include the acquisition and development of important professional skills among students and postdoctoral fellows that complement their qualifications and technical skills.

In addition, these programs should encourage the following as appropriate:

  • student mobility, nationally or internationally, between individual universities and between universities and other sectors;
  • interdisciplinary research within the natural sciences and engineering (NSE), or at the interface between the NSE and health, or the social sciences and humanities. However, the main focus of the training must still lie within the NSE;
  • increased collaboration between industry and academia; and
  • for the industrial stream, an additional objective is to support improved job-readiness within the industrial sector by exposing participants to the specific challenges of this sector and training people with the skills identified by industry.

I wonder what they mean by “professional skills?” They use the phrase again in the Description,

The CREATE Program is designed to improve the mentoring and training environment for the Canadian researchers of tomorrow by improving areas such as professional skills, communication and collaboration, as well as providing experience relevant to both academic and non-academic research environments.

This program is intended for graduate students and has two streams, Industrial and International Collaboration. At this point, they have two international collaboration partners, one each in Germany and in Brazil.

There’s a subsection on the CREATE page titled Merit of the proposed training program (in my world that’s ‘criteria for assessment’),

Applicable to all applications:

  • the extent to which the program is associated with a research area of high priority to Canada and will provide a higher quality of training;
  • how the research area proposed relates to the current scientific or technical developments in the field, with references to the current literature;
  • the extent to which the research training program will facilitate the transition of the trainees to the Canadian workforce and will promote interaction of the trainees with non-academic sectors, such as private companies, industry associations, not-for-profit organizations, government departments, etc., as appropriate;
  • the description of the potential employers and a qualitative assessment of the job prospects for trainees;
  • the extent to which the program will provide opportunities for the trainees to develop professional skills;
  • the extent to which the program uses novel and interesting approaches to graduate student training in an integrated manner to provide an enriched experience for all participants;
  • the research training program’s focus and clarity of objectives, both short- and long-term; and
  • the added value that trainees will receive through their participation.

Clearly, this program is about training tomorrow’s workers and I expect CREATE is welcome in many corners. We (in Canada and elsewhere internationally) have a plethora of PhDs and nowhere for them to go. I have, of course, two provisos. First, I hope this program is not a precursor to a wholesale change in funding to a indulge a form of short-term thinking. Not every single course of study has to lead to a clearly defined job as defined by industry. Sometimes, industry doesn’t know what it needs until there’s a shortage. Second, I hope the administrators for this program support it. You (the government) can formulate all sorts of great policies but it’s the civil service that will implement your policies and if they don’t support them, you (the government) are likely to experience failure.

Here’s the CREATE funding announcement in a May 19, 2014 news item on Azonano,

Researchers studying nanomaterials and isotopes at the University of British Columbia received a $3.3 million boost in funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

Two UBC teams, led respectively by Chemistry Prof. Mark MacLachlan and Physics Prof. Reiner Kruecken, received $1.65 million each from NSERC’s Collaborative Research and Training Experience (CREATE) grants. The funding extends over a six-year period. The investment will help MacLachlan and Kruecken mentor and train graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.

A May 16, 2014 UBC news release, which originated the news item, provides more information including some background for the two project leaders,

Mark MacLachlan, Professor, UBC Department of Chemistry
NanoMAT: NSERC CREATE Training Program in Nanomaterials Science & Technology

Nanomaterials have dimensions about 1/1000th the width of a human hair. Though invisible to our eyes, these materials are already used for diagnosing and treating diseases, environmental remediation, developing solar cells and batteries, as well as other applications. Nanomaterials form a multi-billion dollar industry that is expanding rapidly. To address the growing need for highly qualified trainees in Canada, UBC researchers have spearheaded the NanoMat program. Through a unique interdisciplinary training program, science and engineering students will undertake innovative research projects, receive hands-on training, and undertake internships at companies in Canada and across the world.

Reiner Kruecken, Professor, UBC Department of Physics and Astronomy
ISOSIM, ISOtopes for Science and Medicine

The ISOSIM program is designed to provide students with enriched training experiences in the production and preparation of nuclear isotopes for innovative applications that range from medical research and environmental science to investigations of the foundations of the universe. This will prepare students for positions in a number of Canadian industrial sectors including medical diagnostics and treatment, pharmaceutical sciences, development of next-generation electronic devices, environmental sciences, and isotope production. This project builds on the existing cooperation between UBC and TRIUMF, Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear phsyics, [sic] on isotopes science.

Not mentioned in the UBC news release is that ISOSIM is a program that is jointly run with TRIUMF, Canada’s National Laboratory for Particle and Nuclear Physics. Here’s how TRIUMF views their CREATE grant, from a May 16, 2014 TRIUMF news release,

The ISOSIM program will train undergraduate students, graduate students, and postdoctoral researchers at UBC and TRIUMF from fields associated with isotope sciences in an individually tailored, interdisciplinary curriculum that will build on and complement the education in their specialty field. Unique in Canada, this program offers a combination of interdisciplinary isotope-related training ranging from pure to applied sciences, industrial internships, and mobility with German research institutions with unique large-scale equipment and scientific infrastructures.

It seems this particular grant was awarded as part of the international collaboration stream. (I wonder if TRIUMF or TRIUMF-friendly individuals had a role in developing that particular aspect of the CREATE program. Following on that thought, is there a large Canadian science organization with ties to Brazil?)

Getting back to TRIUMF’s current CREATE grant, the news release emphasizes an industrial focus,

“ISOSIM represents a timely and nationally important training initiative and is built on a world-class collaborative research environment,” says Dr. Reiner Kruecken, TRIUMF’s Science Division Head and Professor at UBC Department of Physics and Astronomy. Kruecken is leading the ISOSIM initiative and is joined by over twenty collaborators from UBC, TRIUMF, and several research institutes in Germany.

ISOSIM is poised to create the next generation of leaders for isotope-related industries and markets, including commercial, public health, environmental, and governmental sectors, as well as academia. The combination of research institutions like UBC, TRIUMF, and the BC Cancer Agency with Canadian companies like Nordion Inc., and Advanced Cyclotron Solutions Inc., have transformed Vancouver into a hub for isotope-related research and industries, emerging as “Isotope Valley”.

The inspiration for the ISOSIM program came from an interdisciplinary TRIUMF-led team who, in response to the isotope crisis, demonstrated non-reactor methods for producing the critical medical isotope Tc-99m. This required a coordinated approach of physicists, chemists, biologists, and engineers.

Similar interdisciplinary efforts are needed for expanding the use and application of isotopes in key areas. While their medical use is widely known, isotopes enjoy growing importance in many fields. Isotopes are used as tracers to examine the trace flow of nutrients and pollutants in the environment. Isotopes are also used to characterize newly designed materials and the behaviour of nanostructured materials that play a key role in modern electronics devices. The production and investigation of very short-lived radioactive isotopes, also known as rare-isotopes, is a central approach in nuclear physics research to understand the nuclear force and how the chemical elements heavier than iron were formed in stars and stellar explosions.

I really wish they (marketing/communications and/or business people) would stop trying to reference ‘silicon valley’ as per this news release’s ‘isotope valley’. Why not ‘isotope galaxy’? It fits better with the isotope and star theme.

Getting back to the “professional skills” mentioned in the CREATE grant description, I don’t see any mention of etiquette, good manners, listening skills, or the quality of humility, all of which are handy in the workplace and having had my share of experience dealing with fresh out-of-graduate-school employees, I’d say they’re sorely needed.

Regardless, I wish both MacLachlan and Krueken the best as they and their students pioneer what I believe is a new NSERC program.

Federico Rosei (Québec nanoscientist) scores another honour, an E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship

On the heels of last week’s announcement (featured in my Jan. 27, 2014 posting) that Federico Rosei of the Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS) will be receiving the Canadian Society for Chemistry’s (CSC) 2014 Award for Research Excellence in Materials Chemistry comes this announcement (from a Feb. 4, 2014 news item on Azonano),

Federico Rosei, professor at the INRS Énergie Matériaux Télécommunications Research Centre, is the recipient of an E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship, one of the most prestigious honours awarded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). An internationally renowned researcher, Professor Rosei has made a name for himself through his pioneering work on advanced materials, which has enormous technological potential in electronics, photonics, life sciences and energy conversion.

The Feb. 3, 2014 INRS news release by Stéphanie Thibault, which originated the news item, describes the fellowship (Note: A link has been removed),

The Steacie Fellowship, which is granted for a two-year period and comes with a $250,000 research grant and $180,000 salary support, will allow Professor Rosei to explore new avenues and implement effective new strategies in the design, development, and characterization of multifunctional materials.

“Receiving the highly-coveted E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowshipis a true honour that inspires me to redouble my efforts to gain a greater understanding of the multiple properties of nanomaterials in order to contribute to scientific and technological innovation,” Professor Rosei said.

E.W.R Steacie Memorial Fellowships

Every year NSERC awards up to six E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowships in memory of Edgar William Richard Steacie, an outstanding chemist and research leader who made major contributions to the development of science in Canada. The Fellowships are awarded to enhance the career development of outstanding and highly promising Canadian university faculty by relieving them of teaching and administrative duties, so that they can devote all their time and energy to research.

Congratulations to Dr. Rosei.

L’actualité en français: http://www.emt.inrs.ca/actualites/attribution-dune-prestigieuse-bourse-steacie-au-professeur-federico-rosei

Nanoelectronics at the University of British Columbia (UBC located in Vancouver, Canada)

Hidden in a Jan. 9, 2014 University of British Columbia (UBC) announcement abut funding from Canada’s Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) was some information about a nano electronics laboratory,

  • Flexible, efficient solar-battery nano-textile, led by Peyman Servati, funded for $514,000.
  • Bio-inspired soft epidermal and wearable nanofiber electronics for wireless health monitoring, led by Peyman Servati, funded for $516,000. [emphases mine]

Peryman Servati leads FEEL, the flexible electronics and energy lab according to his faculty bio page. The two FEEL project s listed in the announcement have received a total of $1.3* (corrected to $1.03M, Jan. 30, 2014) in funding, over 1/3* (it’s closer to 1/4; corrected Jan. 30, 2014)  of the $4.3M earmarked* (spelling corrected Jan. 30, 2014) for nine UBC projects. Here’s more about the lab’s current roster of four ‘research areas’ from the Research Projects webpage,

1. Transparent Electrodes for Photovoltaic (PV) Devices:

Solar energy, as a clean and renewable resource, is heavily untapped, mainly due to the high cost (>$2 per watt) and low conversion efficiency (~20% for silicon) of today’s PV devices. This project aims at reducing the manufacturing cost of PV devices, by finding a scalable transparent electrode for replacing metal fingers or indium tin oxide (ITO) electrodes of conventional devices. We deposit nanocomposite fibers (NFs) with embedded conductive nanotubes (NTs) and nanowires (NWs) using novel electrospinning process that provides multiscale ordering and alignment in the structure of the NF mesh, similar to veins of a leaf (below). The process is scalable to substrates including plastic, paper and fabric, in a roll-to-roll manufacturing system. Challenges for integration of the NF mesh with Si and thin-film PV panels are being investigated to achieve the required properties at low cost.

2. Nanowire (NW) Growth and Device Fabrication:

Semiconductor and metallic NWs have unique electrical and optical properties not present in the bulk. We grow different NWs with controlled morphology using chemical vapour deposition and other growth techniques. We also work on integration of these nanomaterials into large area electronic devices, including transistors, strain sensors, bio-sensors, photodetectors, and solar cells. Materials of interest include Si, Ge, ZnO, and GaAs.

3. Flexible Organic Solar Cells:

Organic semiconductors can be deposited at low temperature on a variety of substrates. We investigate the aging and annealing effects in these materials and how the morphology of these semiconductors and blends change with time. The goal is to improve efficiency and stability of these devices.

4. Modeling of Nanomaterials and Nanocomposites:

We investigate the electron transport and band structure of novel electronic materials such as nanowires, nanotubes and graphene using atomistic modeling and simulation. [emphasis mine] Our work points out the delicacy of the surface properties of silicon nanowires (NWs) (below) and the dependence of electronic properties on surface composition and reconstruction. In addition, we work on developing analytical models that connect properties of single nanostrucutres to the properties of materials and devices made by using a large number of these nanostrucutures.

My guess is that the two projects which have received money are being investigated via the lab’s four ‘research areas’.

I am glad to have found this nanoeletronics laboratory. Sadly, they’re not investigating the memristors which so fascinate me but I can now say with certainty that there’s at least one laboratory in Canada researching, the world’s currently trendiest nanomaterial, graphene.