Ten York University professors awarded prestigious CFI research awards

Ten professors at York University are among a national class of researchers to receive funding through the Canadian Foundation for Innovation’s (CFI) John R. Evans Leaders Fund (JELF). The infrastructure funding will enable to the researchers to pursue their research.

The funding announcement was made April 11 by Kirsty Duncan, federal minister of science and minister of sport and persons with disabilities. More than $42 million in research funding was awarded to 37 Canadian universities to support 186 new research infrastructure projects.

At York University, Professors Ali Abdul Sater, Caitlin Fisher, John Gales, Lyndsay Hayhurst, Ryan Hili, Ali Hooshyar, John McDermott, Gary Sweeney, Zheng Hong (George)  Zhu and Cora Young will receive funding totalling $1,373,745 for their projects.

“York is delighted to have 10 professors from the Faculties of Science and Health, the Lassonde School of Engineering and the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design receive the John R. Evans Leaders Fund from CFI,” said Vice-President Research & Innovation Robert Haché. “A critical strategic investment tool, this funding helps institutions in attracting and retaining the very best researchers who are undertaking innovative and cutting-edge work.”

JELF plays an important research support role for Canadian universities, helping them to attract and retain top talent – particularly early-career researchers – with the state-of-the-art equipment they need to excel in their field.

The funded projects at York University are as follows:

Ali Abdul-Sater (Faculty of Health) – A Molecular Immunology Laboratory to Elucidate the Mechanisms of Immune Regulation Following Exercise ($135,000)

Ali Abdul-Sater

Studies have shown that various exercise activities affect our ability to fight infections and defend ourselves against diseases. Moderate exercise can boost our immune system, which protects us from bacterial and viral infections, whereas prolonged and intensive exercise has the opposite effect. How and why this happens remains unclear. Abdul-Sater’s research looks to answer these two questions and the infrastructure funding will help him determine which guidelines should be recommended to boost the immune system while reducing the incidence and severity of unwanted inflammation, and those that help lower infection risks. His research has important implications for Canadian athletes, who engage in intensive exercises, and consequently suffer from infections that affect their performance, as well as for the general Canadian population.

Caitlin Fisher (School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design) – Immersive Storytelling Lab ($136, 575)

Caitlin Fisher

Caitlin Fisher wears an AR headset

The Immersive Storytelling Lab supports globally relevant content creation and technology innovation at the intersection of augmented reality and the moving image, enhancing Canada’s global presence in immersive digital storytelling. Located at York’s Cinespace Studio facility, the infrastructure supports innovative research-creation and technology development to advance best practices for content creation for immersive experiences, pioneer the ways to see the stories in which we are all already immersed and solidify Canada as a central player in conversations around the social implications of augmented reality. The lab is situated alongside a commercial film studio where researchers and their students can work and train across boundaries of art and engineering, promoting innovation and Canadian leadership in Augmented Reality.

John Gales (Lassonde School of Engineering) – Facility for Assessing the Fire Resiliency of Building Materials ($118,135)

Canada’s fire problem has worsened in recent years with several severe fires, including Lac Megantic, L’isle Verte, Fort MacMurray, and the Kingston Conflagration. Important construction material issues were identified during these fires, leading to increased uncertainty about how existing and future infrastructure responds to and recovers from fires. Gales will establish a laboratory at York University that will focus on developing fire safe, novel and sustainable materials for use in our built environment. The overall vision is for York University to become a national leader in structural fire resilience. The facility and Gales’s research will improve material manufacturing, the construction economy, building codes, designers and above al,l benefit Canadians with fire safe and sustainable infrastructure.

Lyndsay Hayhurst (Faculty of Health) – Digital Participatory Research & Physical Cultures Lab ($49,664)

Lyndsay Hayhurst

The Digital Participatory Research and Physical Cultures Lab (DPRPCL) will engage and coordinate stakeholders from across the globe in DPR around physical cultural studies, sport for social justice, health and human rights. Hayhurst’s research uses DPR to explore the ways organizations, communities and marginalized individuals experience sport for development (SFD) initiatives – or the growing use of sport to achieve development objectives such as alleviating poverty and promoting gender equality. Her research program aims to use DPR to extend current SFD studies to re-envision new, more community-oriented and socially just approaches to SFD initiatives. Her research will investigate the role of non-human objects (such as the bicycle) in development initiatives and explore how structural inequalities are exacerbated by global neoliberalism as it is facilitated through corporate-funded SFD programs in Indigenous communities in Canada.

Ryan Hili (Faculty of Science) – Expanding the Chemistry of DNA ($114,626)

Professor Ryan Hili

Professor Ryan Hili

Hili’s research focuses on technologies that harness the replicative and encoding power of DNA toward the evolution and discovery of novel molecules capable of serving a range of functions, including artificial antibodies for biomedical research and small molecule catalyst for synthesis of fine chemicals. The infrastructure funding will provide equipment that will enable rapid custom synthesis of DNA, the rapid purification of DNA, monitor the evolution and study the results. Artificial antibodies generated through his research will be used to elucidate protein and carbohydrate function in disease, and implemented in diagnostics screens for biomarkers implicated in human disease; this will directly benefit the health of Canadians and maintain Canada’s competitiveness in biomedical research. The proposed research will also serve to develop new green screening technologies for discovery of catalysts, which can be used to bring fine chemicals to Canadian markets at lower cost and with decreased environmental impact.

Ali Hooshyar (Lassonde School of Engineering) –  A real-time digital simulator to develop resilience-oriented protection systems for power grids ($150,000)

Ali Hooshyar

There is increasing severity, frequency and diversity of large-scale disturbances that can disrupt normal operation of power systems. The number of major climate disasters has risen substantially, and the grid has been exposed to cyber-attacks due to the expansion of communication-dependent technologies. Geomagnetic disturbances (GMDs) are causing growing concerns for utilities and regulators. Hooshyar’s research will gather the expertise and resources required for developing the next-generation digital protection methods to advance grid resilience. In the short-term, the research will focus on microgrid protection, the effects of GMDs on protection systems and cyber-security of communication-assisted protection systems. The protection methods developed will reduce the likelihood of power outages, provide Canadian relay manufacturers with resilience-oriented protection technologies and contribute to the development of 100 per cent renewable energy systems for Canadian remote communities.

John McDermott (Faculty of Science) – Fluorescence-Activated Cell Sorting for Muscle Cell Characterization and Purification ($200,920)

John McDermott

John McDermott

Aging primarily concerns organ function, where degenerative changes in organ systems can lead to diseases that limit both the quality and span of life. Heart disease is a major cause of death in Canada and globally. Muscle loss due to cancer drains patients of their energy, quality of life and independence due to a loss of functional muscle mass and mobility. McDermott will receive funding for a fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS) system to support research related to muscle development, skeletal muscle loss associated with aging and cancer, and heart disease. He will investigate the role of specific proteins, known as transcription factors, that precisely control gene regulation of skeletal muscle and heart development. The FACS system will yield high quality, purified heart and skeletal muscle cells. The research will provide new knowledge into how heart and skeletal muscle cells grow and mature, treat heart and skeletal muscle diseases and lead to novel strategies to engineer new tissue or drug treatments.

Gary Sweeney (Faculty of Science) –  Investigation of mechanisms responsible for diabetes and heart health ($180,270)

Gary Sweeney

There is an established correlation between obesity and metabolic complications in skeletal muscle leading to diabetes and in the heart leading to heart failure. Muscle is the most important tissue in the body for dealing with ingested glucose and if it does not properly contribute to glucose control, then diabetes will develop. The heart must metabolize nutritional fuels to maintain pumping. Previous studies have shown that inflammation is involved in causing dysfunction of muscle and heart, but the mechanisms responsible for regulating these changes have yet to be fully determined. Sweeney’s research focuses on a cellular process called autophagy believed to be required for good housekeeping in muscle and the heart. This project will examine the interaction between innate immunity and autophagy to unravel new pathways via which metabolic dysfunction occurs in obesity to provide new knowledge on mechanisms of obesity-related, immune-metabolic dysfunction.

Cora Young (Faculty of Science) –  Adaptable liquid chromatography system for online and offline analysis of trace atmospheric water-soluble compounds ($138,555)

Professor Cora Young

Professor Cora Young

Better understanding of environmental problems caused by pollution, including pollutant fate, air quality, and climate change, are necessary to protect human and environmental health. Study of these problems is limited by the measurements possible with existing methods. The requested unique, state-of-the-science instrumentation will allow development of new measurement methods for several pollutants that harm the environment. These new methods will be used to address gaps in our knowledge of the fate and transport of endocrine disrupting chemicals, sources of air pollution, and drivers of climate change through a combination of laboratory experiments and environmental measurements. The information gained from these studies will allow Canadian policy makers to better understand and predict the negative impacts of pollution and provide the basis for improved regulation.

Zheng Hong (George) Zhu (Lassonde School of Engineering) – Nanotechnology Enhanced Multifunctional Carbon Fiber Reinforced Polymer Space Structures ($150,000)

George Zhu

George Zhu

The driving force of space sector is mass reduction at launch. Zhu’s project will use the JELF infrastructure funding to develop the first manufacturing lab for Carbon Fiber Reinforced Polymer (CFRP) composite materials for spacecraft at York University. CFRP’s high strength-to-mass ratio and superior conformability to complex shapes has led to increasing adaptation of CFRPs in spacecraft to substitute metal parts or replace structures made from several parts with a single CFRP component. CFRPs are typically made of carbon fibre sheets with pre-impregnated polymers called prepregs. Prepregs are layered up as required and cured into a part at high pressure and temperature. A recent paradigm shift in mass saving in space sector is multifunctional CFRPs that integrate non-structural properties by adding carbon nanotubes (CNTs). However, it is not economically viable to pre-impregnate fibres with various CNT-polymer combinations to meet diverse end user requirements. The research seeks to develop a cost-efficient alternative to make multifunctional CFRPs with regular prepregs and CNTs using existing CFRP manufacturing processes. This innovative technology will allow great freedoms in making custom multifunctional CFRPs. The infrastructure will enable the new technology development and speedup its transfer from lab to industry.

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