AU researchers awarded grant funding
Three Athabasca University (AU) researchers have been awarded grants totalling close to half a million dollars over the next five years from a major federal research-funding body.
Federal Science and Sport Minister Kirsty Duncan announced a total of $588 million through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s (NSERC) Discovery Grants program May 21 in Hamilton, Ont. She described the money as a “historic investment in the discoveries of tomorrow.”
For AU, the grant money will help to support important work being done within the Faculty of Science and Technology.
Detecting and remediating water pollutants
Dr. Shawn Lewenza has been awarded $160,000 over five years for his project, Bacterial biosensors for detection and bioremediation of wastewater pollutants.
Building on his previous NSERC Discovery Development Grant, this research aims to develop a biosensor technology that could be used to detect and remediate pollutants in industrial wastewater and municipal water. The biosensor technology will also be used to identify bioremediation genes which stimulate growth of microorganisms and degrade target pollutants.
“The five-year funding from an NSERC Discovery Grant will allow me to really develop our biosensor platform, and to demonstrate how powerful this technology can be,” he said. “It’s a huge boost and a great natural fit to also receive funding from the oilsands industry.”
Lewenza said the NSERC grants is not just great news for his own research, but for others doing natural sciences research at AU.
“The other win is for Athabasca University, as more and more researchers are successfully competing for national research funding, and our research capacity is building,” he said.
Analyzing water microbes
Dr. Junye Wang has been awarded approximately $122,000 over five years for his project, Integrated approach for analyzing water-microbe-DOC-oxygen interaction in soil micropores.
This project builds on his previous research, and aims to understand how water content and flow, soil pore structure, dissolved organic carbon (DOC) availability and movement, and microbial activities in soil drives processes to stabilize DOC—storing DOC in soil is an approach to mitigate global warming.
“The NSERC project recognized the importance of micro-soil processes to complement and improve our understanding of nutrient cycles in soils,” he said.
This project focuses on a micro scale but shares similarities with work Wang and his post-doctoral research team do focusing on larger-scale working with the Athabasca River Basin Research Institute. Regardless, he said this project will highlight the research opportunities at AU.
“This will help to build world-class capacity at Athabasca University for collaborative research in water, soil, air, and environmental health,” he said.
Measuring water runoff and its impacts
Dr. Scott Ketcheson has been awarded $125,000 over five years, plus an additional $12,500 in support for early career researchers when they receive their first Discovery Grant, for his project, Coupling the soil catena to the runoff enigma in Canada’s Boreal Plain.
With this work, he seeks to identify and understand new mechanisms of water movement within the boreal plain and to evaluate their significance for regional scale runoff within the Athabasca River Basin. Understanding the flow of water is important to all aspects of our environment and activities, but hydrological measurements of the data are scant and this limits the ability to interpret and predict runoff variability and trends.
“Given the large-scale industrial activities in this region, a changing climate, and recent natural disasters, we urgently need to solve this runoff enigma,” he said.
News of the grant actually reached Ketcheson while he was in northern Alberta working on this project.
“I received the good news while I was out in the field in northern Alberta on a spring research campaign, which both made for an extra-enjoyable day in the field, as well as reinforced the scientific relevance and importance of the work that my research team and I are doing,” he said.