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June 30, 2004


NSERC awards over $5 million to MUN

Dr. Christina Bottaro
Dr. Christina Bottaro, Chemistry, was among a successful group of Memorial researchers.

By Deborah Inkpen
The number of NSERC Discovery Grant holders at Memorial continues to grow as a result of the latest NSERC Research Grants Competition. Nearly $4.3 million will be distributed at Memorial in the 2004-05 fiscal year among 163 new and continuing Discovery Grant holders with an additional $778,973 provided in support of eight Research Tools and Instruments (Category 1) grants and ongoing instalments for three Major Facility Access Grants, bringing the total funding of $5,076,661 from NSERC this fiscal year.

NSERC’s Discovery Grants Program, which now normally provides five years of support before reapplication, is an important source of funding for research in the natural sciences and engineering. For some researchers, these grants represent the sole source of support for their programs of research, while for others, it provides a core of funding, which is supplemented by support from other sources.

Each year, thousands of professors from post-secondary institutions across Canada apply to NSERC for research and equipment grants. The professors dedicate a large portion of their grant funds to training the next generation of Canadian undergraduates, postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers. The funding announced June 8 injected $15.5 million into the Discovery Grants budget for new researchers. NSERC also allocated $24.8 million for our Research Tools and Instruments competition, which resulted in a 29 per cent funding rate.

This year, Memorial researchers achieved a 40 per cent success rate on applications submitted under the Research Tools and Instruments category and a grant renewal rate in excess of 90 per cent in the Discovery Grants competition. In addition, 13 researchers received first time Discovery Grants in a variety of disciplines including chemistry, computer science, engineering, human kinetics, mathematics, medicine, ocean sciences, pharmacy and physics.

Examples of the awards won by Memorial University researchers include:

Dr. Christina Bottaro, Chemistry
The quality of our water and our environment continues to be a significant concern for most Canadians. As a number of health problems have been attributed to the presence of very small quantities of organic pollutants in the environment, Dr. Bottaro said, “it is important to find appropriate methods to analyze these contaminants at trace concentrations.” Her research will aim to develop new methods to analyze trace quantities of specific compounds produced as by-products of chlorine disinfection of drinking water and wastewater, as well as those produced from the destruction of PCBs by sonic methods. Dr. Bottaro’s project will focus on the development of sensitive, high throughput instrumental analytical techniques for rapid screening of environmental samples. The results of her work will further the field of analytical chemistry through the development and promotion of capillary electrophoresis techniques for the analysis of water pollutants and will allow monitoring of water resources in a more comprehensive manner, allowing for better assessment of exposure and risk to human health.

Dr. Scott MacKinnon, Human Kinetics and Dr. Don Bass, Engineering
Seafaring occupations remain one of the most hazardous occupations demonstrating high operator risk for accident and injury. Maritime industries such as fishing, transportation and oil and gas exploration are critical to Atlantic Canada’s economy. Reducing risk of accident and injury is a priority. Drs. MacKinnon and Bass will examine the suitability of seakeeping procedures and their relationship to the occurrences of motion induced interruptions (MII), task efficiency and risk of injury with a focus on the lower back. “Working on moving platforms induces perturbation to the stability of the operator,” said Dr MacKinnon. “These perturbations will influence the efficiency of task performance, but more importantly increases the risk of slips, trips and falls.”

Simultaneous measures of platform motion, load kinetics and operator dynamics will allow relationships between MIIs and task performance to be examined. These measurements will be done in both simulated and actual seagoing environments. Research outcomes of this project should include both a better understanding of injury mechanisms as well as proposed changes to current seakeeping and occupational health and safety practices.

Dr. Michiru Hirasawa, Medicine
It was once believed that neuronal connections in the central nervous system were static in mature brains. However, it has now become evident that connections of neurons called synapses can change their efficacy as well as structure (synaptic remodeling) in response to physiological and pathological stimuli, which at least partially explains the flexibility of the brain as seen for example in learning and memory. As a result of synaptic remodeling, the communication efficacy between neurons will be altered. The supraoptic nucleus (SON) is one of the brain areas known to undergo dramatic synaptic remodeling in response to physiological stimuli in adult brains. SON neurons synthesize and secrete neuropeptides that are important for regulation of milk secretion, salt-water balance, etc, and synaptic remodeling is thought to be necessary during lactation or dehydration to meet the increased demand for neuropeptide release. It is largely unknown, however, what causes the remodeling. By recording synaptic activity from SON neurons in brain slices, where original synaptic connectivity is preserved, I will investigate for the mechanisms that initiate synaptic remodeling. The proposed study will help us further our understanding of the cellular mechanisms of synaptic remodeling and flexibility of the adult central nervous system.

A complete listing of all grants from the recent Discovery and RTI-1 competition can be found at:

Under its Research Partnerships Program (RPP) NSERC also supports research with industry partners that put new knowledge to productive use in the economy. The results of those competitions are announced throughout the year.


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Next issue: July 22, 2004

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