Three Engineering researchers awarded $500k in “Exploration” funding to advance bold, innovative programs

Posted on April 05, 2022


The Government of Canada has announced a $45 million investment to support high-risk, high-reward research through the New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF) Exploration and Research in a Pandemic Context streams. The announcement was made Monday by the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, and the Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Health.

Queen’s researchers have received a total of $3 million in support.

"The NFRF programs challenge researchers to come up with out-of-the-box solutions to complex global problems – from climate change to how we can leverage learnings from the COVID-19 pandemic," says Nancy Ross, Vice-Principal (Research). "Congratulations to our funded research teams for their novel ideas and creativity. I look forward to seeing how these projects progress and evolve."

The 2021 Exploration stream grants funding for programs that propose exciting new areas of research with an interdisciplinary approach. Five Queen’s research programs will receive $250,000 each:

 

Cao Thang Dinh and Laurence Yang (Chemical Engineering) will work with a team of experts in electrochemical engineering, computational system biology, and microbiology to find solutions to improve the efficiency of bioprocesses – that is, processes that use living cells to convert carbon dioxide, renewable, non-food biomass and waste into chemicals with industrial applications – by powering them with renewable electricity such as wind and solar using an electrochemical process. Their research has potential impact in reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as enabling cost-effective, large-scale production of biodegradable bioplastics to reduce plastic waste.

Zongchao Jia (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences) and Yong Jun Lai (Mechanical and Materials Engineering) are partnering to develop a microsensor to help test novel drugs with potential to treat bacterial infections without causing antibiotic resistance. They will work with a family of compounds that, instead of killing the bacteria, reduce their virulence. The immediate application of the research would be to treat infections caused by Pseudomonas aeruginosa, an opportunistic bacterium known for causing severe disease, particularly in immunocompromised patients and those with cystic fibrosis.

The genetic and epigenetic origins of cancer are the root of a program led by Anna Panchenko (Pathology and Molecular Medicine) and Maria Aristizabal (Biology). The team will investigate the role of mutations in histone genes in the genesis of cancer using an integrative in silico/ in vivo platform. Histones are proteins that help form the structure of chromosomes and might have the potential to be used as diagnostic biomarkers or targets for therapeutic intervention.

A team led by Beata Batorowicz (School of Rehabilitation Therapy) and Sidney Givigi (School of Computing), experts in the fields of rehabilitation science, child development, computer science, engineering, education, and ethics will work together to develop new tools to improve communication for children with neuromotor disabilities. Their idea is to use robots to improve quantity and quality of social interactions, helping children overcome the challenges posed by impaired speech and mobility.

Jason Gallivan (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences/ Psychology) and Anita Tusche (Economics/ Psychology) are looking into the potential of digital technology to  protect people from the bodily effects of social isolation – experienced, for example, during the pandemic lockdowns. They aim to understand the multifaceted neurobiological changes that occur during isolation and test how virtual interactions – like video chats – can reduce them. The team expects results could be used to rethink digital technology applications (e.g. remote education, telemedicine) and social policy (e.g. concerning vulnerable populations with limited access to digital resources).

 

The NFRF is an initiative created by the Canada Research Coordinating Committee. It is managed by a tri-agency program on behalf of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. To find out more about the funding announcement, visit the website.

 

This article in its original form first appeared in the Queen’s Gazette.