CFI and NSERC to fund research leaders and natural resource protection
The University of Guelph is expected to receive an investment from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) of nearly $1.9 million. On top of CFI’s grant, the University is also expected to receive an additional $650,000 from the federal government organization Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).
The CFI, a non-governmental organization established by the Government of Canada in 1997, is aiming its investment at fifteen projects headed by U of G researchers. The grant will advance research development within all seven colleges. Funded areas of study include human heart disease, lung infections in cystic fibrosis, unmanned aerial vehicles, and consumer attitudes toward innovation. A high-performance computing facility for theoretical nuclear physics is also planned with the help of a $123,846 grant.
“This is a crucial investment in Guelph’s talented people and in our research capacity,” said Kevin Hall, U of G’s Vice President of Research.
“It provides researchers with the vital infrastructure they need to translate knowledge and discoveries into practical applications. It also means that students will have access to state-of-the-art equipment and facilities.”
Professor Lawrence Spriet and his team received $128,979 for a cutting-edge echocardiogram, essentially a sonogram designed for the heart. The new equipment will allow Spriet to study and evaluate heart structure, testing the effects of exercise and diet on the heart’s function.
“We were very happy to land this grant. The echocardiogram will allow us to use an established, non-invasive approach to evaluate heart structure and function in studies designed to demonstrate the usefulness of exercise and nutritional interventions for cardiac and whole body health,” said Spriet. Spriet will work alongside Professor Graham Holloway and Professor Jeremy Simpson on the project.
A $125,117 grant will aid Professor Ralph Martin in evaluating sustainable cropping systems using unmanned aerial vehicle technology. “We anticipate learning more about crop development throughout the growing season by using UAVs to fly low and slow over crops,” Martin said. “The sensors will help us see crops in ways so far not available from this vantage point.”
The University of Guelph has also received a $650,000 grant from the NSERC. The grant is directed at a project focusing on protecting natural resources. NSERC awarded the grant to Beverley Hale, a professor in the School of Environmental Sciences and Associate Dean in the Ontario Agricultural College, and Steven Siciliano, a professor in the Department of Soil Science and Toxicology Group at the University of Saskatchewan.
Their 17-member research team will collect and analyze samples from 18 contaminated soil sites across the country and develop new measurements of metal mixture impacts on soil microbes, invertebrates and plants.
“All of these organisms have an interactive effect on soil health, and understanding the entire soil biological system is key… This is a critical need for the Canadian metal and mining sectors as well as the agencies that regulate them,” said Hale.
Presently, risk assessment for Canadian mining sites accounts only for contaminant concentrations of individual metals, but not for the toxicity of the of the mixture of all metals. It is possible, says Siciliano, that the interaction of metals itself may increase the toxicity in the measured environment.
“In the real world, we’re exposed to mixtures of pollutants. There can be many different metals all at the same time, and we don’t really know very well how these mixtures of metals interact,” said Siciliano.
Canada is one of the largest mining nations in the world. The mining industry is worth $42 billion per year and contributes more than $8 billion per year in federal and provincial taxes.
Soil cleanup requirements are expensive in mining, and if current assessment tools over-estimate risk, companies pay more for clean-ups than necessary. “The higher purpose of this project is to correctly estimate metal risk to ecosystems,” said Hale.
The goal is not only to minimize unnecessary spending with respect to clean-ups; such clean-ups themselves can harm the environment, especially if they involve sealing of contaminated soil in concrete vaults.
“One approach to mitigating risk is taking soil that has taken thousands of years to develop, one of our most precious resources, and locking it in a vault because we think it’s dangerous: that is the tragedy,” said Sociliano. “That is what I care about. Let’s not throw it out, let’s make sure we only seal away the stuff that is dangerous, because once we do, we’ll never get it back.”