Three new Canada Research Chairs announced

- Valerie Shore

Improving aircraft design, understanding the ocean’s critical role in climate change, and finding new ways to deal with vast amounts of medical imaging data—these are the pressing societal challenges being tackled by the University of Victoria’s three newest Canada Research Chairs.

The three UVic chairs were announced on March 28 by Ed Holder, Minister of State for Science and Technology as part of a national announcement of 59 new chairholders across the country.

A Canada Research Chair designation brings reputational and funding benefits to the researcher and his or her host university. For Tier 1 chairs, which go to researchers considered world leaders in their fields, the university receives $200,000 annually for the seven-year term. Tier 2 chairs go to emerging researchers who have the potential to lead in their field and the university receives $100,000 annually for five years.

A greener future for aviation

“Leaner, greener and safer”—that’s the new mantra these days for aerospace systems engineers such as Afzal Suleman. As the Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Computational and Experimental Mechanics, he’s using advanced computational tools to develop state-of-the-art, sustainable designs for the next generation of aerospace transportation systems.

“Air traffic in Canada is expected to double every 16 years, which means environmental factors—such as noise and emissions—will play a dominant role in future aircraft design,” says Suleman, who is director of UVic’s Centre for Aerospace Research. “The challenge is to design more environmentally and economically efficient aircraft, while improving public safety.”

Suleman isan international leader in the fields of smart structures and aeronautical design. He’s also director of UVic’s Centre for Aerospace Research, which works closely with industry and academic partners on the design of unmanned air vehicles for uses such as precision agriculture, wildlife conservation and oceans monitoring.


The science of oceanic change

Where does carbon go in the ocean and why? Where will it go next? As the Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Ocean Carbon Dynamics, oceanographer Roberta Hamme measures dissolved gases in the ocean to answer these questions about the carbon cycle, which is critical to life on Earth.

“Few people realize that the ocean ultimately controls atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide (CO2), and that it currently absorbs about one-third of the excess CO2 that humans produce,” says Hamme. “Determining how that absorption is evolving and what factors control it are essential to predicting the progression of global climate change.”

Hamme studies air-sea gas exchange, biological productivity, and the transport of gases from the surface to the deep ocean. In 2010, she was lead author of a high-impact paper that linked iron fertilization by a volcanic eruption to the largest phytoplankton bloom ever recorded in the subarctic North Pacific.


Data-driven medical mathematics

The rapid advancement of modern biotechnology is creating a major challenge for medical researchers—huge and complex datasets. As the Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Biostatistics for Spatial and High-Dimensional Data, statistician Farouk Nathoo is developing new models and computational methods for processing these datasets, particularly those related to 3D-imaging.

“Scientists studying how the brain works and how genetic variation influences the brain need new tools to understand the vast datasets, which are increasingly coming from multiple imaging sources,” says Nathoo. “For example, within the field of imaging genomics, it’s not unusual to conduct over one billion statistical tests to identify the genes that influence the brain.”

Nathoo is internationally recognized as a rising star in the field of spatial, environmental and medical statistics. He applies his work within a wide range of disciplines, including neuroscience, ecology, epidemiology, geography and environmental science. “Being able to apply statistics to all of these areas is very satisfying,” he says.


Now in its 14th year, the Canada Research Chairs program helps Canadian universities attract and retain the best scholars in the world and build on existing areas of research strength. The program also gives students the opportunity to work with researchers who are world leaders in their fields.

The March 28 announcement also includes the renewal of UVic philosopher Margaret Cameron as the Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in the Aristotelian Tradition. UVic currently has 34 filled Canada Research Chairs.


In this story

Keywords: climate change, research, Canada Research Chairs

People: Ed Holde, Afzal Suleman, Roberta Hamme, Farouk Nathoo, Margaret Cameron

Related stories