UVic adds three new Canada Research Chairs in science


- Vimala Jeevanandam

Katherine Elvira

The University of Victoria’s three newest Canada Research Chairs—announced in 2017—are doing scientific research that cuts to the heart of issues related to human health and safety.

The three new chairs—all from the Faculty of Science—are developing more efficient and accurate patient testing and drug discovery methods, refining our understanding of seismic hazards, and combing through vast amounts of data to make sense of genome sequencing.

Four other chairs in the faculty have also been renewed: Verena Tunnicliffe (Earth and ocean sciences/ biology) in Deep Ocean Research; Jeremy Wulff (chemistry) in Bioactive Small Molecule Synthesis; Guatam Awatramani (biology) in Synaptic Physiology; and Martin Boulanger (biochemistry and microbiology) in Molecular Interactions and Structural Biology.

“These chairs affirm UVic’s position as a top-tier research-intensive university and further strengthen our expertise in materials science, biostatistics and Earth systems,” says Rob Lipson, dean of science. “The research these chairs do is vital to understanding the world around us, and promises to have an impact far beyond the university.”

Lab-on-a-chip technologies

As the Canada Research Chair in New Materials and Techniques for Health Applications, Katherine Elvira works at the intersection of chemistry, biology and engineering. Working with the pharmaceutical industry and health care organizations, she’s developing microfluidics technologies that manipulate miniscule amounts of a sample substance on a single chip.

“Microfluidics can help save time and resources,” says Elvira. The technology will help medical researchers test the properties of a potential new treatment, determining how a drug will transport in the human body before doing live-testing. She’s also developing platforms that will allow health care workers to rapidly and accurately assess patient status and deterioration.

Bird's-eye view of geohazards

Edwin Nissen, the Canada Research Chair in Geophysics, studies geohazards across the world, from the subduction zones of the Cascadia plate boundary to recent earthquakes in Iran and New Zealand.

Clarifying the characteristics and behaviour of subduction zones is vital to predicting patterns of rupture, ground shaking and tsunamis. “A recent global surge in seismic events has overturned the consensus on how seismologists think about these areas,” says Nissen.

At UVic, he’s gathering data from across northern Cascadia to better understand the characteristics of the seismic hazard. He uses cutting-edge space-borne and airborne sensors to map surface deformation and topography associated with earthquake faulting.

Unravelling big data

As the Canada Research Chair in Biostatistics and Bioinformatics, Xuekui Zhang develops statistical algorithms and software for analyzing genomic data, and applies them to help biological and medical researchers.

“Next-generation sequencing technologies are creating huge amounts of genomic data,” says Zhang. “This creates exciting opportunities in biological mechanisms and medical research, but to take advantage of this, researchers need to efficiently analyze the big data generated from sequencing genomes, extract useful signals and precisely interpret the results.”

That’s where Zhang comes in. He’s collaborating with medical researchers, such as those at the BC Cancer Agency and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and researchers in a variety of other fields to develop effective experiments and understand the data they’ve gathered.

All three are five-year Tier 2 chairs, which go to researchers who are acknowledged as having the potential to lead in their field. For each chair, the university receives $100,000 annually. The new chairs bring UVic Canada Research Chairs to a total of 38.

Story updated Jan. 3, 2018


In this story

Keywords: research, chemistry, Earth and ocean sciences, mathematics and statistics, biomedical

People: Katherine Elvira, Edwin Nissen, Xuekui Zhang

Publication: The Ring

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