'Research in action': U of T awarded 21 Canada Research Chairs
Flying robots. New breast cancer treatments. Better health outcomes for sexually diverse groups. They are all examples of work by University of Toronto researchers who were today awarded new Canada Research Chairs.
In an announcement made at U of T, Kirsty Duncan, the federal science minister, revealed the university will be home to 21 new and renewed chairs as a result of the program’s most recent competition.
The total value of the funding associated with the U of T chairs is $19 million.
“It’s a source of great pride that the University of Toronto boasts so many great researchers who lead on discoveries that range from the microscopic to the galactic,” said Duncan, who was formerly a U of T researcher herself in health studies.
Created two decades ago, the Canada Research Chairs program is the centrepiece of the federal government’s strategy to make Canada a leader in research and development. The program seeks to attract and retain researchers in engineering and the natural sciences, health sciences, humanities and social sciences.
U of T holds the largest allocation of research chairs in the country, with some 275 chairs awarded to the university and its partner hospitals. Of the 21 new and renewed chairs awarded to U of T, half went to women and nearly 60 per cent supported emerging researchers.
Duncan thanked U of T and other post-secondary institutions for taking meaningful steps to boost the numbers of underrepresented groups in the federal program, citing numbers from the most recent competition.
“U of T supports this initiative wholeheartedly,” said U of T President Meric Gertler, adding the university is implementing the recommendations of an equity, diversity and inclusion working group that was struck last year to evaluate U of T’s research apparatus.
“We hold these principles as central to our public mission and our commitment to academic excellence.”
Duncan also used today’s U of T event to announce a plan to invest $210 million over the next five years to add 285 additional chairs to the federal program. That includes an additional supplement of up to $20,000 per chair to assist researchers who are in the early stages of their careers.
Angela Schoellig is one of 14 researchers from U of T who was awarded a new chair. An assistant professor at the U of T Institute for Aerospace Studies, Schoellig’s work is focused on meshing artificial intelligence and advanced robotics to create self-driving cars, self-flying vehicles and robotic arms, among other things.
“Robotics promises to connect the virtual world with the real world,” Schoellig said at the event.
Schoellig will use the funding from her Canada Research Chair to tackle fundamental problems associated with machine learning and robotics control in devices like this miniature drone (photo by Nick Iwanyshyn)
There’s just one problem. The real world is an unpredictable place. Self-driving cars, for example, must cope with everything from reckless drivers to jaywalking pedestrians. Hence, Schoellig said the funding associated with her Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Machine Learning for Robotics and Control will be used to tackle fundamental problems associated with machine learning so robots can better respond to unfamiliar situations.
To give attendees a taste of what goes on in her lab, Schoellig showed a video that included footage of a swarm of miniature drones flying in a vortex – a project created by one of her students.
Vivek Goel, U of T’s vice-president of research and innovation, said Schoellig’s presentation served as a reminder that investing in fundamental research doesn’t only benefit researchers themselves.
“The research is really for the benefit of Canadians and the training opportunities it provides for students,” he said. “In less than two decades, the Canada Research Chairs program has transformed research in this country.”
From left to right: SSHRC President Ted Hewitt, Assistant Professor Angela Schoellig, Federal Science Minister Kirsty Duncan, Professor Rama Khokha, U of T President Meric Gertler and U of T Vice-President, Research and Innovation Vivek Goel (photo by Nick Iwanyshyn)
Rama Khokha’s research certainly qualifies as work that could benefit Canadians. A professor in the Faculty of Medicine and a senior scientist at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, Khokha said her Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Adult Tissue Stem Cell Niches will be used to “fuel new ideas, especially around the prevention of breast cancer and how to create novel therapies for women with breast cancer.”
Not all of U of T’s new research chairs are working in laboratories.
With a focus on the sexual and mental health of gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men, Assistant Professor Daniel Grace was awarded a Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Sexual and Gender Minority Health for his work at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health on understanding epidemics related to HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
Despite significant advancements in prevention and treatment in recent years, Grace said there remains a pressing need for research on how these advancements are actually being adopted in the real world.
“My research is really about understanding the everyday experiences of diverse, gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men – how they take up and use services and information, including persistent barriers to access, as well as the role of health-care providers,” Grace said.
He also studies the social and economic drivers of what he dubs a “mental health crisis” among sexual and gender diverse groups, and said the funds associated with his chair would also support collaborations with community groups to improve access to sexual and mental health information and services.
“I’m deeply committed to research in action,” he said, “asking questions that have real implications for the communities that I work with on the ground.”
In total, the federal government invested $156 million in 187 new and renewed research chairs through its most recent competition. They were awarded to 49 institutions across the country.
New U of T Canada Research Chairs
- Brian Ciruna, professor, Faculty of Medicine, department of molecular genetics and Hospital for Sick Children – Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Developmental Genetics and Disease Modelling
- Alan Davidson, professor, Faculty of Medicine, department of molecular genetics - Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Bacteriophage-Based Technologies
- Daniel Grace, assistant professor, Dalla Lana School of Public Health - Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Sexual and Gender Minority Health
- Rayjean J. Hung, associate professor, Dalla Lana School of Public Health and Mount Sinai Hospital – Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Integrative Molecular Epidemiology
- Marc Johnson, associate professor, U of T Mississauga, department of biology – Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Urban Environmental Science
- Rama Khokha, professor, Faculty of Medicine, department of medical biophysics and University Health Network – Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Adult Tissue Stem Cell Niches
- Carmen Logie, associate professor, Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work – Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Global Health Equity and Social Justice with Marginalized Populations
- Dana Philpott, professor, Faculty of Medicine, department of immunology – Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Microbe-host Interactions in Intestinal Homeostasis
- Martine Puts, associate professor, Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing – Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Care of Frail Older Adults
- Pierre Savard, professor, Faculty of Arts & Science, department of physics – Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Experimental High Energy Physics
- Angela Schoellig, assistant professor, Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, U of T Institute for Aerospace Studies – Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Machine Learning for Robotics and Control
- Daniel Simpson, assistant professor, Faculty of Arts & Science, department of statistical sciences – Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Bayesian Spatial Modelling
- Lisa Strug, associate professor, Dalla Lana School of Public Health and the Hospital for Sick Children – Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Genome Data Sciences
- Mei Zhen, professor, Faculty of Medicine, department of molecular genetics and Mount Sinai Hospital – Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Neural Circuit Development and Function
Renewals of U of T Canada Research Chairs
- Richard Bazinet, associate professor, Faculty of Medicine, department of nutritional sciences – Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Brain Lipid Metabolism
- Daniel Durocher, professor, Faculty of Medicine, department of molecular genetics and Mount Sinai Hospital – Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Molecular Genetics of the DNA Damage Response
- Jason Fish, associate professor, Faculty of Medicine, department of laboratory medicine and pathobiology and University Health Network – Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Vascular Cell and Molecular Biology
- Patrick Gunning, professor, U of T Mississauga, department of chemical and physical sciences – Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Medicinal Chemistry
- Elizabeth Johnson, associate professor, U of T Mississauga, department of psychology – Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Spoken Language Acquisition
- Rosemary Martino, professor, Faculty of Medicine, department of speech-language pathology – Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Swallowing Disorders
- Piero Triverio, associate professor, Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, department of electrical and computer engineering – Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Computational Electromagnetics