Grand slam: Four new Canada Research Chairs named

Feb 10th, 2016

By Jeff Green

Meet Memorial's newest Canada Research Chairs.
Grand slam: Four new Canada Research Chairs named

Memorial has hit a proverbial grand slam with the appointment of four professors as Canada Research Chairs (CRC), one of the country’s highest honours for research excellence. Memorial is now home to a total of 15 CRCs.

Kirsty Duncan, the federal minister of science, made the announcement on Feb. 9, at the University of British Columbia. The new CRCs are:

  • Alex Bihlo, Department of Mathematics and Statistics, Faculty of Science, Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Numerical Analysis and Scientific Computing;
  • Daniel Fuller, School of Human Kinetics and Recreation, Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Population Physical Activity;
  • John Jamieson, Department of Earth Sciences, Faculty of Science, Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Marine Geology; and
  • Benjamin Zendel, Faculty of Medicine, who is located at Grenfell Campus, Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Aging and Auditory Neuroscience.

“The CRC program strengthens Memorial’s research expertise and reputation in a wide range of areas while helping attract and retain established and emerging researchers to Newfoundland and Labrador,” said Dr. Gary Kachanoski, president and vice-chancellor. “I applaud the federal government for its vote of confidence in Memorial University, the continued support for our researchers through the Canada Research Chairs program and offer my congratulations to these four individuals.”

Dr. Richard Marceau, vice-president (research), says the announcement underscores the value and importance of Memorial’s expertise and the capabilities of its researchers.

“The research outcomes of our newest CRCs have the potential to impact the health of millions of Canadians, enhance a deeper understanding of our environment and provide important contributions to the worldwide scientific community,” he said. “The CRC program also provides training opportunities for graduate students, thereby fostering the next generation of researchers right here at Memorial.”

Tier 2 Chairs, tenable for five years and renewable once, are exceptional emerging researchers acknowledged by their peers to have the potential to lead in their field. For each Tier 2 Chair, the university receives $100,000 annually for five years.

'Exciting phase'
Dr. Bihlo says being named a CRC will play a “key role,” in his current and future research career. A former post-doctoral fellow at Memorial, he says he was eager to return to this province to conduct research.

“Memorial is a great place and there are so many possibilities for research and collaboration here,” he said. “This is obviously going to be an exciting phase of my research right now.

“Along with the Canada Research Chair award came funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the Research & Development Corporation,” he added. “This means funding for computing equipment, my own research group and being able to efficiently work on multiple research problems at the same time. This research should form a basis for the next generation of climate prediction models.”

Dr. Jamieson says the support from the CRC program provides him with the “freedom to hit the ground running.” He is focused on setting up a radioisotope lab while making plans to head out on the water and explore the world’s seafloor. He’s investigating the mineral potential of the deep oceans.

“I will be participating on four research cruises – one in the South Pacific, one off the coast of British Columbia and two in the central Atlantic,” he noted. “With all of this activity, there will be plenty of questions to answer and plenty of data for my students and me to work with. Before starting this position, I was living and working in Europe but was keen to come back to Canada. The CRC position at Memorial was the ideal opportunity.”

Dr. Fuller, who is currently based in Saskatchewan but will be relocating to St. John’s in the coming months, says he is looking forward to collaborating with colleagues in the School of Human Kinetics and Recreation and other researchers across the country. He is examining the best ways to design and build cities and towns to increase physical activity for Canadians. Currently, he says, only 15 per cent of people across the country meet physical activity guidelines.

He admits he was “extremely happy and a little scared,” when he received his formal CRC appointment.

“I tweeted the Shad song Always winnin as a personal celebration,” he said. “I came home and told my partner ‘We’re moving to Newfoundland!’ We spent the evening talking about house prices, the weather in St. John’s and how our two-year-old son would get a new accent. I have thought about the CRC every day since then. I can’t wait to get started.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Zendel says his CRC appointment means he’ll be able to create a state-of-the-art research lab on the province’s west coast. His research aims to improve hearing abilities in older adults throughout the province and across the country.

“As far as I know, this lab will be unique in the province. There are only a few comparable labs across the country,” he said. “The CRC will fund the building of the lab and will facilitate hiring students and other highly qualified personnel to staff the lab.

“For my own research, it means I can continue to examine how aging impacts hearing and start using the results to help improve hearing abilities in older adults,” Dr. Zendel added. “My hope is that this research will help older adults across the province and country.”

A total of 305 new and renewed CRCs were announced on Feb. 9.

In addition to the CRCs appointments, the Canada Foundation for Innovation announced total contributions of $244,891 for Memorial's chairholders on Feb. 9.

Dr. Bihlo received $50,000; Dr. Fuller received $96,188; Dr. Jamieson received $48,703; and Dr. Zendel received $50,000. 

Created in 2000, the CRC program has helped attract and retain some of the world’s most accomplished and promising minds to post-secondary institutions in the country. Currently, there are more than 1,700 Canada Research Chair holders working in natural sciences and engineering, health and social sciences and humanities at more than 70 postsecondary institutions in Canada.

Memorial is home to CRCs in areas such as Aboriginal studies; natural resource sustainability and community development; marine bioscience; environmental science; and neuroscience and brain repair, among others.