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Awards expand emerging researchers' teams

Danelle D'Alvise, Research Communications
May 2012

Four McMaster researchers have been recognized by the provincial government for the potential of their research programs to decrease the number of obese children, improve the diagnosis and treatment of the growing number of individuals identified with Alzheimer’s disease, better understand what “counts” in the voting behaviour of the Canadian public, and further the field of algebraic number theory.

Brian Timmons, Maikel Rheinstädter, David Feinberg and Chung Pang Mok are McMaster’s latest recipients of the Early Researcher Award (ERA), which recognizes promising, recently-appointed Ontario researchers.  The ERA program provides them with $140,000 to build their research teams of undergraduates, graduate students and post-doctoral fellows; each award is matched with $50,000 from the University.

“These up-and-coming researchers have been acknowledged by our provincial government as significant contributors to their field of research, with the ability to transform their disciplines,” said Mo Elbestawi, vice-president, research and international affairs. “The work done by professors Feingberg, Mok, Rheinstädter and Timmons will provide new knowledge, strategies and solutions that will help to maintain and improve Ontario’s health and economic well-being, and train the next wave of talented young scientists.”

Elbestawi notes that the four award recipients will be hiring and training 30 new researchers  – at the undergraduate, master’s, doctoral and postdoctoral level – to work in their labs over the 5-year period funded by the ERA program.

McMaster's latest Early Researcher Award recipients and their projects

Statistics suggest about three-quarters of obese children grow into obese adults, costing Ontario's health-care system an estimated $4.5 billion in direct and indirect costs. Brian Timmons believes that early childhood is a critical period for the development of active living behaviours, but there's little known about the impact of physical activity for the 3-5 year old age group. Timmons, research director of the Child Health & Exercise Medicine Program and an assistant professor of pediatrics, will provide an answer with his ERA project, Are active preschoolers healthy preschoolers? As the lead investigator in the Health Outcomes and Physical Activity in Preschoolers (HOPP) study, Timmons will test preschoolers (3-5 year olds) once a year over a three year period, assessing fitness, body composition and fat distribution as well as measuring their physical activity. The students recruited to Timmons' research team (two undergraduates, one master's, one PhD and one postdoctoral fellow) will have research opportunities that range from data collection to health-related fitness testing, and from instruction on high tech physical activity measurement equipment to training in pediatric exercise physiology.


Physicist Maikel Rheinstädter will be tackling Lost memories – can we turn back time in Alzheimer's disease? using the novel techniques he has developed using x-ray and neutron scattering to study the properties of artificial and biological membranes. Rheinstädter will create healthy artificial brain membranes, then mimic Alzheimer's disease under controlled lab conditions by varying cholesterol and peptide concentrations the substances that make up the plaque that interferes with the brain's normal function to determine precise risk factors such as high cholesterol level to aid in the early diagnosis and treatment of dementia. In Ontario alone, approximately 200,000 people plus their loved ones cope with the disease, and it is estimated that by 2038 more than one million Canadians will be living with dementia. Rheinstadter's research program will help understand the molecular mechanisms behind Alzheimer's Disease and will train almost a dozen undergraduates, two Master's and two PhD students in the preparation of biological tissue and the use of x-ray scattering in membrane research.


Evolutionary psychologist David Feinberg will continue his world-leading research on voice preferences, focusing on his recent findings that voice pitch influences voting behaviour. He will further study the interplay between physical appearance and political preferences with his Early Researcher Award project How the pitch of a politician’s voice can affect voter behaviour. He will be training seven students (four undergraduate thesis, one Master's, one PhD) plus one postdoctoral researcher, various unique lab skills, including recording, analyzing and manipulating voices. Feinberg will investigate how disease risk, income inequality, and unemployment rates affect how we use politicians' voices to form our voting preferences. The results of this project will illuminate why we vote the way we do, how political messages are received and how we might help shape future political landscapes.

After securing his PhD from Harvard University in 2007, mathematician Chung Pang Mok taught at both the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the University of California, Berkeley before coming to McMaster in 2011. His ERA research program will explore Periods of automorphic representation, studying important problems in his field of algebraic number theory -- the study of whole numbers. Mok is uniquely qualified to make significant contributions in resolving these problems and will train two postdoctoral fellows in research skills at the forefront of number theory.