Engineering professor is new Canada Research Chair

Nov 7th, 2017

By Jeff Green

Dr. Helen Zhang
Engineering professor is new Canada Research Chair

Dr. Helen Zhang, an associate professor in the Department of Civil Engineering, Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, is the Canada Research Chair in Coastal Environmental Engineering.

Dr. Zhang is one of three new Canada Research Chairs (CRC) at Memorial, one of the country’s highest honours for research excellence.

The appointments are for tier 2 chairs, which are five-year positions worth $100,000 each year with the possibility of one five-year renewal.

The announcement was made on Nov. 2. In addition to the chairs’ funding, the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) announced a total of $176,649 for the researchers through its John R. Evans Leaders Fund (JELF), as part of its partnership with the Canada Research Chairs Program.

In total, the investments represent more than $1.6 million in federal funding for Memorial.


Dr. Zhang has been an associate professor with the department since 2015.

Her research involves coastal environmental engineering with a focus on the development of new methodologies and biotechnologies for studying and mitigating oil pollution in coastal soil, beaches and seawater under cold and harsh conditions.

Coastal oil pollution problems caused by oil spills into the seawater near shore and onto the land due to human activities or natural disasters can lead to major ecological and economic damage.

“This is especially true for Atlantic and northern Canada, where offshore petroleum and shipping operations are continuously growing,” Dr. Zhang said.

“To be a Canada Research Chair is an important career milestone that allows me to build a promising program at Memorial, enhance the national R&D capacity in related fields and contribute to the advancement of Canada’s northern strategy and environmental sustainability.”

Dr. Zhang’s research will help explore a new dimension of coastal oil pollution research to achieve a shift towards improved microbial engineering knowledge, eco-friendly technologies and novel bio-products so as to protect human health and the environment.

Other research chairs include Dr. Rachel Sipler, Department of Ocean Sciences, Faculty of Science, who is the Canada Research Chair in Ocean Biogeochemistry; and Dr. Julia Christensen, who is the Canada Research Chair in Northern Governance and Public Policy and joins the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in December.

Dr. Neil Bose, vice-president (research), says the federal funding will bolster Memorial’s research profile.

“Memorial is currently home to 12 Canada Research Chairs in areas as diverse as Aboriginal studies, marine geology and neuroscience and brain repair,” said Dr. Bose.

“The chairs program allows Memorial to recruit and retain talented researchers with incredible breadth, building our university’s research capacity in key strategic areas, while CFI provides funding for our researchers to access important tools and equipment to advance their work. I look forward to catching up with and discussing their research with Drs. Sipler, Christensen and Zhang, and seeing the outcomes of their research.”

Created in 2000, the Canada Research Chairs program has helped attract and retain some of the world’s most accomplished and promising minds to post-secondary institutions in the country.

Since its creation in 1997, CFI has ensured Canadian researchers have the tools — the cutting-edge labs, facilities and equipment — they need to push the frontiers of knowledge in all disciplines.

CFI and the Canada Research Chairs program partner through JELF to provide top-notch infrastructure for research institutions across Canada.

With files from Susan Flanagan.



Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science

230 Elizabeth Ave, St. John's, NL, CANADA, A1B 3X9

Postal Address: P.O. Box 4200, St. John's, NL, CANADA, A1C 5S7

Tel: (709) 864-8000