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Hundreds of students to benefit from $6.6 million in training funds

U of T wins four CREATE awards, only institution to receive more than one

Professors Molly Shoichet, Murray Thomson, Kenneth Burch and Aled Edwards lead students working on the CREATE-winning projects (image by Jon Horvatin)

Hundreds of U of T students and postdoctoral fellows will benefit from $6.6 million in funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council’s CREATE program, which trains the next generation of researchers to tackle Canada’s most pressing scientific challenges.

This year,  U of T is the only institution to receive more than one award, and its winning projects represent 26.9 per cent of the total funding awarded. 

The CREATE (Collaborative Research and Training Experience) program aims to improve the mentoring and training environment by improving communication, collaboration and professional skills, as well as providing experience relevant to both academic and non-academic research environments.

Four successful projects will receive $1.65 million each over six years. Together, the projects will offer the equivalent of 398 student-years of training (some students will train for more than one year, so the actual number of students will be smaller).

“Taming the Lost Heat: Training and Research in Thermoelectrics,” directed by Professor Kenneth Burch of the Department of Physics, is inspired by the challenge that half of all energy is lost as heat. Key tools in improving on this ratio are thermoelectrics materials, in which a temperature differential generates a voltage (or vice-versa).

The project will create a consortium of engineers, physicists and chemists to train students in making, modeling and measuring thermoelectric devices.

Achieving gains in energy efficiency would provide advantages to Canadian industry and help address global climate change.

“Collaborative Medicinal Chemistry Network in Epigenetics Training (ChemNET): Training Canadian Chemists Within a Global Open Access Public-Private Partnership,” directed by Professor Aled Edwards of the Banting and Best Department of Medical Research, will train students in medicinal chemistry.

The students will work within an open access international research collaboration involving four Canadian universities, the Structural Genomics Consortium and the research labs of Pfizer, Novartis and GSK.

Trainees will generate research tools to study the science of epigenetics, a fundamental gene regulatory mechanism that influences diseases such as cancer, depression and diabetes as well as bioenergy, livestock science and agriculture. They will spend time in university research environments and in the labs of pharmaceutical companies and attend a “bootcamp” where they will learn specialized techniques in drug design.

The chemical tools generated will be made available to all researchers without restrictions on use.

“Manufacturing, Materials and Mimetics (M3),” directed by Professor Molly Shoichet of the Departments of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry and the Institute of Biomaterials & Biomedical Engineering, is based on the ideas that the next generation of cellular therapeutics will depend on engineering and manufacturing cell-based products and that the global market for regenerative medicine is large and growing.

The project will provide students with the breadth and depth they will need for success in industry. Students will acquire hard skills by working in labs of researchers working in cell manufacturing, biomaterials and tissue mimetics. Experiential skills will come from internships in industry where they will work on product development, intellectual property or regulatory affairs. Finally, they’ll gain skills by taking courses in leadership and communications. Partners are leading Canadian companies.

“The Program in Clean Combustion Engines,” directed by Professor Murray Thomson of the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, will train students to become the next generation of combustion experts.

Combustion of fuels provides over 91 per cent of the world’s energy—and is the principal contributor to global warming and air pollution. Canada has many companies that develop combustion engines, and they are being challenged by increasingly strict regulations requiring new clean combustion approaches, better fuel efficiency and alternative fuel use. The program will bring together five universities and four companies to train students who will be required by this knowledge-intensive industry.

“Congratulations to the project directors, co-investigators and to the hundreds of students and postdoctoral researchers who will come together on these exciting projects,” said Professor Paul Young, U of T’s vice-president (research and innovation).

“The CREATE program is important not only for our students, but for Canada. By training the students who will be the next generation of leaders in industry and academia, NSERC is investing in Canada’s future. It is these students who will tackle some of our most pressing problems, ranging from energy to health care. I look forward to seeing what they accomplish in the coming years.”

Jenny Hall is a writer with the Office of the Vice-President, Research and Innovation.