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U of T's next generation of researchers boosted with $2.9 million

From fuel cells to educational innovation, Early Researcher Awards cover wide range

Professor Aimy Bazylak at the Gowlland Tod Provincial Park on Vancouver Island. (Photo courtesy of Professor Bazylak)

The fuel cell holds great promise as a technology that could well provide a way of powering our vehicles with much less energy use and environmental damage. 

But the technology isn’t quite right – yet.  Fortunately, U of T Mechanical and Industrial Engineering professor Aimy Bazylak is on the case. 

She is focussing on the fact that fuel cell performance is compromised by water build-up.  And her investigation into this phenomenon just got a big boost from the Province of Ontario’s Early Researcher Awards (ERA) program.

Bazylak is one of 21 U of T professors in the early stages of their research careers whose work has been honoured with funding from the ERA, which helps recently-appointed Ontario researchers to build their teams and enables Ontario to attract and retain the best and brightest research talent.  Each researcher receives $140,000 toward their projects. 

“This research work is important to helping us meet our health care challenges while fostering long-term job creation and economic growth. Ontario is a leader in health care innovation and this furthers that position,” said Brad Duguid, Minister of Economic Development and Innovation.

Bazylak says the ERA will enable her to “lead my research group to advance the understanding and development of polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells, which convert hydrogen and oxygen to electricity, with only water and heat as local by-products. This funding will enable me to use state-of-the-art x-ray radiography to study the microscale features of the fuel cell and develop a powerful modelling tool for designing the next generation of fuel cells.”

U of T President David Naylor hailed the value of the ERA. 

“The University of Toronto appreciates the Ontario government’s commitment to path-breaking research in the arts and humanities, social sciences and sciences alike,” said Naylor. “The Early Researcher Awards are an important step in supporting promising young researchers as they seek solutions to the most pressing issues of our time.”

Another ERA recipient, Professor Indigo Esmonde of U of T’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, is combining her scholarly background in mathematics with a commitment to social justice. 

“The Early Researcher Award will benefit my research by allowing me to take my work in new directions,” says Esmonde. “With the support of a strong graduate student research team, I plan to work directly with youth community activists in Toronto and across the province, helping them to use mathematics effectively to understand and take action on issues in their communities.”

U of T performed well in the ERA competition, capturing 33 per cent of all the awards given to Ontario institutions.  In addition, five U of T faculty members who applied through U of T partner hospitals were also awarded ERAs. 

Professor Paul Young, U of T’s Vice President, Research, notes that “while U of T has always done well in the ERA competition, our results in this round are stunning.  This is a clear reflection of the quality of our early career researchers and the innovation inherent in their work.  On behalf of the University, I applaud our new ERA winners and we offer our thanks to the Province of Ontario.” 

In addition to Bazylak and Esmonde, other ERA winners include:

Philip Kim, Banting and Best Department of Medical Research (BBDMR); Ashish Jagadish Khisti, Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE); Kagan Kerman, Department of Physical and Environmental Science, U of T Scarborough (UTSC); Marc Johnson, Biology, U of T Mississauga (UTM); Sean Hum, ECE; Megan Frederickson, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; Natalie Enright Jerger, ECE; Timothy Ching-yee Chan, Mechanical and Industrial Engineering; Amy Caudy, BBDMR; Peter Loewen, Political Science, UTM; Tina Malti, Psychology, UTM; Jennifer Mitchell, Cell and Systems Biology; Khandker Nurul Habib, Civil Engineering; Daman Panesar, Civil Engineering; E. Natalie Rothman, History, UTSC; Nicholas Rule, Psychology; Ruslan Salakhutdinov, Statistics; Nancy Salbach, Physical Therapy; Tricia Seifert, OISE.

View descriptions of  the ERA winners' work here.