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$4.8M from Canada Research Chairs program retains and recruits stellar researchers

Danelle D'Alvise, Research Communications
March 13, 2012

It would seem to be as easy as one, two, three when it comes to McMaster’s ability to attract and retain some of the world’s most accomplished researchers as Canada Research Chairs.  The latest round of Chairs announced today by Gary Goodyear, Minister of State for Science and Technology, features one advancement, two renewals and three new Canada Research Chairs for McMaster University.

John Brennan , formerly a Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Bioanalytical Chemistry was promoted to a Tier 1 CRC in Bioanalytical Chemistry and Biointerfaces, while anthropologist Hendrik Poinar, Canada Research Chair in Paleogenetics, and psychologist Mel Rutherford, Canada Research Chair in Social Perceptual Development, had their Chairs renewed for a second five-year term.

Three new Chairs were also announced for our University, awarded to:  McMaster researcher and gastrointestinal disease specialist Dr. Elena Verdú; Aimee Nelson, an alumna recruited from the University of Waterloo to join the department of kinesiology; and Shinya Nagasaki, a world-renowned nuclear engineer, who will be winging his way from Japan to begin his tenure as a Tier 1 Chair in July.

“The Canada Research Chairs program has given us the ability to both recruit at an international level and to retain our international stars,” said Mo Elbestawi, vice-president, research and international affairs. “These exceptional researchers provide us with a competitive edge globally and substantially increase McMaster’s research capacity.”

The six individuals recognized in the federal government's March 13 announcement:

John Brennan

 Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Bioanalytical Chemistry and Biointerfaces, John Brennan, professor in the department of chemistry and chemical biology, will be continuing his ground-breaking work in new materials such as those used for printing biologicals (proteins, aptamers and cells) onto bioactive paper sensors. His approach to materials discovery is one that will lead to new probes for understanding biological systems and new tools to modulate biological pathways. These advances will lead to improved point-of-care diagnostic devices, which have a profound impact on human health.


Shinya Nagasaki has been recruited from the University of Tokyo as a Canada Research Chair in Nuclear Fuel Cycle and Waste Management. Nagasaki's Tier 1 Chair will focus on modeling the physical and chemical reactions of radioactive waste to predict long-term impacts on the environment that can be addressed now. His research program will lead to improved nuclear energy performance and safety, and a more sustainable, publicly acceptable approach to radioactive waste management.


Aimee Nelson

Aimee Nelson's Canada Research Chair in Sensorimotor Control (Tier 2) will be giving hope to those with impaired hand function. Nelson is a specialist in focal hand dystonia (FHD), a movement disorder characterized by involuntary muscle contractions that occur during a specific skilled hand movement. It affects one in 2,000 individuals, many of them musicians, surgeons, writers and others whose professions rely on fine motor skills. She uses imaging technology to determine how sensory input affects neural activity within brain areas that control hand function, research that will lead to the development of new therapies to imporove hand function in patients with neurological impairmnet such as stroke and FHD. Nelson, currently an associate professor at the University of Waterloo, will be joing the department of kinesiology in July.


Associate professor of medicine, Elena Verdú, a member of the Farncombe Family Digestive Health Research Institute, has been awarded a Canada Research Chair in Intestinal Inflammation, Microbiota and Nutrition. Her Tier 2 Chair will allow her to further investigate the mechanisms underlying food intolerance in functional gut disorders, and shed light on the role gluten intolerance plays in the development of diseases as diverse as celiac (an autoimmune disease) and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (a functional disorder).


Mo Elbestawi notes that the process for renewing a Chair is as rigorous as the initial application and is not automatic. "Every Chair renewal translates into significant benefits for both the researcher and their students," said Elbestawi. "The continuation of Professors Poinar and Rutherford's Chairs confirms that McMaster identified ideal candidates initially and by so doing, enriched the research focus in their areas of strategic importance. The foundation has been laid, their research is in motion and their students are reaping new opportunities as they work and train with these world-class scientists."


Hendrik Poinar will continue his focus on developing innovative methods to extract, immortalize and sequence heavily damaged nucleic acids (DNA and RNA) from forensic, archaeological and paleontological remains. The overarching goal in the first five years of his Canada Research Chair in Paleogenetics was to use the past to address the present and the future. Poinar's research objectives for his renewed term are to: study ancient pathogen genome evolution; chronicle and decipher the effects of rapid climate change in North America during the Holocene prior to human arrival; explore the relationship between climate change and current worldwide extinctions; and develop novel strategies to extract, enrich and sequence DNA from poorly preserved samples.


As Canada Research Chair in Social Perceptual Development, Mel Rutherford will use the second term of his Tier 2 Chair to continue to explore social perception, including face perception, the perception of animate motion, and the early perceptual development of young children. Rutherford, an associate professor in the department of psychology, neuropsychology and behaviour, will further his leading-edge research on early markers of autism by testing early social development, and test whether early social perception predicts later social cognitive development.

There are two types of Canada Research Chairs:

Tier 1 Chairs, tenable for seven years and renewable, are for outstanding researchers acknowledged by their peers as world leaders in their fields. For each Tier 1 Chair, the university receives $200,000 annually for seven years.

Tier 2 Chairs, tenable for five years and renewable once, are for exceptional emerging researchers, acknowledged by their peers as having the potential to lead in their field. For each Tier 2 Chair, the university receives $100,000 annually for five years.