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Raising the bar for Canada’s Research Excellence: Seven SFU Canada Research Chairs announced

February 10, 2016
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Simon Fraser University has seven new Canada Research Chairs, as part of the $260 million in support for Canada’s postsecondary institutions announced today by the Honourable Kristy Duncan, minister of science.

“Since its establishment in 2000, the Canada Research Chairs program has helped SFU boost its research and innovation capacity,” says Joy Johnson, SFU's vice-president, research.

“Today’s investment supports senior and emerging scholars who are working to improve the health and wellbeing of people and the environment. We now have a total of 35 current CRC chair holders who are leading knowledge discovery and collective action, and raising the bar for Canada’s research excellence.”

Canada Research Chairs are awarded at two levels: Tier 1 chairs at $200,000 annually for seven years and Tier 2 chairs at $100,000 for five years. SFU’s seven new chairs represent a total investment of $6.2 million.

SFU’s new Canada Research Chairs are:

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Kelley Lee, Tier 1 CRC in Global Health Governance

Kelley Lee is researching how globalization generates new transboundary health risks (THR). This work includes examining pandemic diseases, the trade of unhealthy goods and services, and the import/export of unhealthy lifestyles. THRs threaten health security and/or generate significant social and economic costs. This research program informs and strengthens the capacity of public health institutions, in Canada and globally, to manage THRs by measuring their “global disconnect” with specific THRs, and applying design thinking to develop institutional innovations.

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John McDonald, Tier 1 CRC in Cognitive Neuroscience  

John McDonald tracks activity in the human brain while his research subjects perform attention-demanding tasks. His goal: to determine how people extract information from the environment and how paying attention improves our perception of visual and auditory objects. He and his students use cutting-edge signal-processing techniques to reveal changing patterns of brain activity related to the allocation of attention and the suppression of irrelevant but potentially distracting items in the environment. This work will further our understanding of the neural operations guiding attention in neurologically healthy individuals and shed light on disorders of the brain that affect our attentional capabilities.

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Marlene Moretti, Tier 1 CRC in Youth Clinical Psychological Science

Mental disorders comprise the single largest burden of disease, affecting 20 per cent of youth ages 15 to 25. Yet compared to all other age groups, young people and their families have the least access to evidence-based treatment. The immense burden of untreated mental health problems and associated financial costs can be significantly reduced by developing accessible and effective treatments. Marlene Moretti, a world-renowned expert in adolescent mental health and implementation science, will lead an international team of multidisciplinary researchers in implementing and evaluatiing evidence-based, sustainable and low-cost interventions.

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Jiguo Cao, Tier 2 CRC in Data Science

Jiguo Cao’s research focuses on two statistical areas: statistical inference for dynamic models and functional data analysis (FDA). He will develop methods for identifying genes that control complex dynamic systems like viral infection. This will be helpful for developing personalized medical treatments based on individual patients’ genetic information. Cao’s FDA research involves developing methods for analyzing data in the form of curves and images. These will improve the interpretation and robustness of the FDA estimator, and can be applied to environmental problems like detecting the effects of climate change on forest fires. His user-friendly software will be publicly available to researchers across disciplines.

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Roger Linington, Tier 2 CRC in Chemical Biology - High-Throughput screening

Environmental bacteria produce a vast array of natural compounds for defense, communication and the acquisition of nutrients. Many of these compounds have antibiotic and anti-cancer properties, and some have formed the basis for the development of clinically used drugs. His laboratory studies natural products chemistry, and specializes in the detailed biological and chemical characterization of compounds derived from environmental microorganisms. Through a combination of high-content screening, ultra-high sensitivity analytical chemistry, and genomics and informatics, his lab is  building a picture of the metabolic capacity of these environmental strains, and discovering new human health applications for many of these unique compounds.

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Stephanie Simmons, Tier 2 CRC in Quantum Nanoelectronics

Silicon transistors, the building block of electronic devices, cannot shrink much further without being rendered inoperable by quantum mechanics. However, this presents a tremendous opportunity. Simmons, a professor of physics, says if we harness quantum mechanics, rather than avoid it, we could accomplish certain computational tasks that would otherwise be forever unrealistic. Research at SFU has shown that the very atomic defects preventing smaller transistors lead to the best candidate quantum bits, or ‘qubits’, for quantum computing. Simmons aims to link these excellent atomic qubits with photon qubits–—a hybrid solution that paves the way for silicon to once again revolutionize the information age.

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David Sivak, Tier 2 CRC in Nonequilibrium Statistical Biophysics

Nature has evolved an amazing collection of molecular machines–microscopic objects performing many tasks. For example, some burn chemical fuel to transport cargos around cells, reminiscent of a car engine that burns gasoline to move people around town. The cellular world these microscopic machines inhabit is violent, unpredictable, and constantly changing. Sivak researches the design principles of these nanometer-sized car engines, uncovering how they manage remarkable fuel efficiency despite simultaneously navigating the microscopic equivalents of hurricanes and gridlock. This work promises applications for sustainable energy harvesting, efficient information storage, or targeted therapeutics.

Click here to see all of SFU's Canada Research Chairs.