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Early researcher awardees tackling the worlds we don’t see

Five ERAs recognized at provincial funding announcement.
Early researcher awardees tackling the worlds we don’t see

Early Research Award winner Jonathan Schertzer

Danelle D’Alvise, Research Communications

June 8, 2015

Through microscopes and telescopes, five up-and-coming McMaster scientists are forging research programs that have attracted the province’s prestigious Early Researcher Award (ERA).

They’re a diverse group whose research ranges from the unknown reaches of the universe and ‘dark matter’ to the practical and sustainable use of nanocellulose, and from developing new micro and nano surfaces for sensors and tissue engineering applications to modelling future climate change.

At the provincial announcement awarding McMaster almost $15M through the Ontario Research Fund and the Early Researcher program, assistant professor of biochemistry and biomedical sciences, Jonathan Schertzer took to the podium on behalf of his fellow Early Researcher Award recipients to thank the Ontario government.

Schertzer described his own research on ‘bugs and drugs’ – the bacteria inside us and drugs such as statins that have been linked to an increased risk of diabetes.   

“We are now learning that the bugs that live on us change based on the choices you make every day – such as the food you eat— and this can change how our hormones work, and plays a role in chronic diseases such as diabetes,” Schertzer explains.

“My research team is trying to discover how bugs send a signal that can promote diabetes. When we looked at this, we realized that some common medical drugs – that many of us take –actually send the same signal. We hope to find ways to design better drugs and promote an environment in Ontario that has less diabetes.”

The Early Researcher Awards program provides funding ($100,000 from the government matched by $50,000 for McMaster) to new researchers who have started their academic research career no more than 5 years ago, or are within 10 years of completing their PhD.

Fiona McNeill, associate vice-president, research, noted that the ERA program was established to attract and retain the best and brightest researchers and innovators to help them build their research teams.

“The five researchers recognized today with an ERA have garnered this award because of their promise and potential. They’re at a point in their careers where expanding their research team will provide them with the momentum they need to move to the next level of their groundbreaking research.”

Below are the five ERA recipients and a brief description of their projects:

  • Chemical engineer Emily Cranston  works with nanometer-sized particles of cellulose, called cellulose nanocrystals (CNCs), which are at the heart of her ERA research project Surface Engineering of Sustainable Composites Based on Nanocellulose. CNCs are a new source of raw material that is sustainable and renewable, with a wide, largely unexplored range of applications. Cranston’s research program aims to design high performance materials with nanocellulose that can be developed into new products. 
  • Sang-Tae Kim, assistant professor, School of Geography & Earth Sciences will be expanding his research team for the project Developing geochemical proxies for climate changes and biosignatures using stable isotopes. Kim’s team will investigate the geochemical properties of carbonate minerals to develop an innovative technique that identifies the environmental conditions and the signatures of biological activities that were present when they formed. This research will enable us to confidently model future climate variability, allowing Ontario to efficiently prepare relevant government initiatives while providing cutting-edge research opportunities for highly qualified personnel.
  • Chemist Jose Moran-Mirabal and his team will aim at developing simple, rapid and inexpensive ways to fabricate structured surfaces with features tuneable in the micro- to nanoscale, and demonstrate their use in biosensing, flexible electronics and cell culture applications. Moran-Mirabal’s project: Simple and Inexpensive Fabrication of Micro and Nanostructured Surfaces for Sensors, Flexible Electronics, and Tissue Engineering Applications will develop approaches that will enable the creation of inexpensive sensors, diagnostic and biomedical devices. 
  • Jonathan Schertzer assistant professor biochemistry and biomedical sciences, will focus on solving How do the bacteria in our gut link obesity, diabetes and fighting infections? Obesity causes inflammation and is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes, and we know very little about the potential triggers of inflammation during obesity. Schertzer’s research group discovered that pre-diabetes is linked to a specific group of immune sensors that cause inflammation in response to bacteria and certain drugs and he will continue to research how to prevent bugs and drugs from causing prediabetes by understanding where immunology and metabolism connect.
  • Itay Yavin is searching for an answer to How dark is Dark Matter? Looking for ways to interact with 80% of the matter in the Universe.  The assistant professor, physics and astronomy, is pursuing a research project that will pursue the compelling possibility of a new form of matter that might be some new fundamental particle. Yavin’s team will find new ways to search for the interactions of dark matter with normal matter in several large experimental frontiers: underground labs (e.g. SNOLAB), particle colliders (e.g. the LHC), and modern astrophysical observatories (e.g. IceCube).