Science postdoc receives Memorial's first Banting fellowship

Oct 29th, 2014

Kelly Foss

Science postdoc receives Memorial's first Banting fellowship

Dr. Trevor VandenBoer is the recipient of Memorial University’s first Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship.

The Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships program provides funding to “the very best postdoctoral applicants, both nationally and internationally, who will positively contribute to the country’s economic, social and research-based growth.”

The objective of the Banting program is to attract and retain top-tier postdoctoral talent, develop their leadership potential and position them for success as research leaders of tomorrow. Only 70 of these are awarded annually at a value of $70,000 a year for two years.

Originally from Ontario, Dr. VandenBoer holds an undergraduate degree in Forensic Science and Analytical Chemistry from Laurentian University. He completed an MSc and PhD in Environmental Chemistry, specializing in Atmospheric Chemistry, at the University of Toronto before beginning a postdoc at Memorial University in 2012 with Dr. Christina Bottaro, Chemistry, and Dr. Sue Ziegler, Earth Sciences.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity to hold a Banting Fellowship at Memorial,” said Dr. VandenBoer. “It will provide me with the opportunity to expand my currently funded research projects into a larger program that I hope will continue at Memorial into the future. The research environment in St. John’s has already provided me with collaborators on campus and in the community and I look forward to continuing my engagement with people spanning academia, industry and government.”

For the next two years, this funding will allow Dr. VandenBoer to work with Dr. Ziegler and her partners from the Canadian Forest Service and the provincial Centre for Forest Science and Innovation to build upon their studies of how boreal ecosystems are impacted by climate change.

In particular they will collect information from the Newfoundland and Labrador Boreal Ecosystem Latitudinal Transect (NL-BELT), an instrumented platform of four study regions in western Newfoundland and Southern Labrador consisting of stream and terrestrial sites that are similar in terms of forest type, age of trees, and soil type, but differ significantly in latitude, and therefore climate. Measurements of the conditions and state of the southern sites are providing indicators that will help predict how climate change will affect those areas further north.

“One important data gap we’re trying to address is the influence of nitrogen on carbon cycling in boreal forests and their watersheds and we use the transect as a natural proxy for climate change,” he explained. “Nutrient transport to those systems, in the form of nitrogen, can act as a fertilizer or a catalyst for growth, but also as a catalyst for rapid ecosystem change if you have too much of it.

“We need to get a handle on nitrogen’s movement into and out of biological systems, these terrestrial and aquatic environments, and into the atmosphere. It will let us better understand the carbon storage in the boreal forest landscape on a longer time scale, whether these ecosystems will respond to climate change by releasing more carbon, which will exacerbate the problem, or whether it will help the forest grow and store more carbon for us.”

Without that information, Dr. VandenBoer says we won’t be able to predict the impacts of climate change on these important ecosystems, which in turn may contribute to a runaway effect when it comes to climate change.

Dr. Ziegler says Dr. VandenBoer’s environmental chemistry background has done a lot to span the divide between disciplines at Memorial. He lends his expertise to a vast array of environmental questions being studied in earth sciences, ecology, chemistry, physics and archaeology during regular meetings of a group of researchers from these disciplines focused on environmental research.

“Over the past couple of years, Trevor has been developing collaborations with a number of people across the university,” she said. “That’s creating a fun intersection which has fostered interdisciplinary thinking and has provided significant opportunity for important problem solving in environmental sciences here at Memorial.”