UBC Vanier Scholars and faculty honoured by NSERC

UBC faculty and graduate students were honoured by NSERC in its celebration of Canada's top science and engineering researchers. UBC researchers received awards recognizing innovation and interdisciplinary research. Read the NSERC announcement.

The UBC winners and their projects are outlined below.

The NSERC Gilles Brassard Doctoral Prize for Interdisciplinary Research

The NSERC Gilles Brassard Doctoral Prize for Interdisciplinary Research is awarded to an outstanding recipient of an NSERC Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship who best exemplifies interdisciplinary research. The award is valued at $10,000 and was established in 2012 by Gilles Brassard, winner of the 2009 Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering.

Kaylee Byers NSERC Profile
Vancouver infestation focus of Canada’s first urban rat study
Department of Interdisciplinary Studies

Rowan Cockett NSERC Profile
Responsible oil recovery starts with better 3D images
Department of Earth, Ocean & Atmospheric Sciences

Synergy Awards for Innovation

The annual Synergy Awards for Innovation recognize examples of college- or university-industry collaboration that stand as a model of effective partnership.

Category 2: Large Companies
Reducing the business and environmental risks of mining
Dr. David Blowes, Dr. Richard Amos, Dr. David Sego, Dr. Leslie Smith, Dr. Gord MacDonald.
University of Waterloo, Carleton University, the University of Alberta, The University of British Columbia, Diavik Diamond Mines (2012) Inc.

The Brockhouse Canada Prize for Interdisciplinary Research in Science and Engineering

The Brockhouse Canada Prize for Interdisciplinary Research in Science and Engineering recognizes outstanding Canadian teams of researchers from different disciplines who came together to engage in research drawing on their combined knowledge and skills, and produced a record of excellent achievements in the natural sciences and engineering in the last six years.
Canadian scientists have developed a technology to address isotope shortages
Dr. Paul Schaffer (TRIUMF), Dr. François Bénard (The University of British Columbia), Dr. Anna Celler (The University of British Columbia), Dr. Michael Kovacs (Western University), Dr. Thomas J. Ruth (TRIUMF), Dr. John Valliant (McMaster University)
Read a UBC Faculty of Medicine story on this project.

Award Details

The NSERC Gilles Brassard Doctoral Prize for Interdisciplinary Research

 

Kaylee Byers

Department of Interdisciplinary Studies
The University of British Columbia

Vancouver infestation focus of Canada’s first urban rat study

Rats have historically been responsible for the spread of certain diseases to humans because of their ability to thrive in cities. The recent outbreak of bubonic plague in Madagascar is a grim reminder that the Black Death of the Middle Ages can emerge again as a threat to public health, particularly in a globalized world experiencing rapid urbanization.

Canada, like many other countries, has no shortage of urban rats. Yet surprisingly, there have been virtually no Canadian studies on the fleas, lice and other ectoparasites that these rats carry and the disease risks to their human neighbours.

Fortunately, Kaylee Byers has a passion for parasites. The evolutionary biologist at the University of British Columbia is one of the youngest members of the Vancouver Rat Project Team at the University of British Columbia which is conducting Canada’s first major study to determine the health risks posed by rat populations.

Rat infestations are particularly problematic in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, where mild climate, high human population density and poverty combine to create an ideal habitat for rats. The area is also bordered by one of the country’s largest international shipping ports, which could serve as an entry point for rats and their hitchhiking parasites from abroad.

Byers’ Ph.D. project is studying which parasites rats carry, and undertaking DNA sequencing to identify rat family trees, which will help reveal how rats’ movement and social structures influence the spread of disease. The holder of both a Vanier and Killam scholarship is also collaborating with pest control professionals and the City of Vancouver to inform pest control strategies that reduce infestations and the spread of disease.

Rowan Cockett

Department of Earth, Ocean & Atmospheric Sciences
The University of British Columbia

Responsible oil recovery starts with better 3D images

Alberta’s oil sands producers use steam injection techniques to maximize yields from reservoirs. A University of British Columbia student is developing new computational tools that are giving companies and regulators a clearer picture of what’s happening underground so they can better manage Canada’s oil resources and protect the environment.

Rowan Cockett is using data from geophysical monitoring to develop numerical models that generate real-time depictions of underground processes. He specializes in the field of hydrogeophysics, which combines hydrology, geology, physics and computer modeling to create accurate 3D images of subsurface activity. Through his research Cockett is designing numerical frameworks that enable scientists from multiple disciplines to communicate and combine their results and expertise.

Cockett’s models and techniques will give Enhanced Oil Recovery and carbon capture and storage operations an early warning system to avert environmental contamination and management oversights. Resource managers and regulators will be able to generate images of fluid movements over time to predict and prevent dangerous scenarios.

The Vanier scholar is also passionate about geoscience education, and has developed a widely used web-based program called Visible Geology. The program introduces students to geological concepts by enabling them to interactively create their own 3D geological models with geological beds, basins and faults.

Synergy Awards for Innovation

Category 2: Large Companies

Dr. David Blowes, Dr. Richard Amos, Dr. David Sego, Dr. Leslie Smith, Dr. Gord MacDonald.

University of Waterloo, Carleton University, the University of Alberta, The University of British Columbia, Diavik Diamond Mines (2012) Inc.

Reducing the business and environmental risks of mining

The Diavik Waste Rock Research Project is an unprecedented research program that is leading to better mine waste management to protect fragile northern environments for centuries to come.

Diamond mining has provided a major economic boost to the Northwest Territories, including Indigenous communities. But the long-term benefits depend on minimizing and preventing acid rock drainage (ARD). Mine wastes often contain sulfide minerals that, when exposed to air and water, form acidic water that can harm fish and aquatic life for hundreds of years, long after the mine has closed.

A 10-year collaboration involving a multidisciplinary team from three Canadian universities and engineers at the Diavik Diamond Mine has determined what causes mining waste and produced methods to predict the effects it will have on the environment.

Led by Dr. David Blowes, an expert in the prediction, remediation and prevention of groundwater contamination from mine wastes at the University of Waterloo, researchers used novel analytical techniques – including synchrotron X-rays – and advanced numerical models to enhance the biological and geochemical processes used for controlling the formation of ARD in waste rock piles.

That independent, peer-reviewed science convinced regulators to reduce the amount of Diavik’s security deposit, a guarantee companies must provide to ensure that the resources to close a mine will be available in the future. For large mines, these deposits can cost over $100 million.

The research team’s techniques are now working their way around the globe, helping mining companies worldwide design more cost-effective mitigation strategies that better protect the environment.

The Brockhouse Canada Prize for Interdisciplinary Research in Science and Engineering

Dr. Paul Schaffer (TRIUMF), Dr. François Bénard (The University of British Columbia), Dr. Anna Celler (The University of British Columbia), Dr. Michael Kovacs (Western University), Dr. Thomas J. Ruth (TRIUMF), Dr. John Valliant (McMaster University)

Canadian scientists have developed a technology to address isotope shortages

Canada’s hospitals are on the verge of having a local supply of isotopes for medical imaging thanks to a new development by an innovative team of researchers focused on preventing future isotope shortages.

The medical radioisotope technetium-99m (Tc-99m) is the world standard for medical imaging to diagnose cancer and heart disease. Every day, 5,000 medical procedures in Canada and 70,000 daily worldwide depend on this isotope. But there is a looming shortage of Tc-99m. The world’s biggest producer – the NRU nuclear reactor at Atomic Energy of Canada’s Chalk River Laboratories – is ceasing isotope production activity in 2016, prompting Canada to find an alternate source.

Enter Dr. Schaffer and his multi-disciplinary team of researchers that boasts expertise in fields including physics, chemistry and nuclear medicine. With funding support from NSERC, CIHR and Natural Resources Canada, this team has developed breakthrough technology that uses medical cyclotrons already installed and operational in major hospitals across Canada. Their solution allows existing cyclotrons to produce enough Tc-99m in just one night to meet the daily needs of most hospitals. Their innovation is safer than current technology because it eliminates the need use weapons-grade radioactive uranium, which is currently shipped across international borders to produce Tc-99m. Hospitals also save money by producing their isotopes locally under a full-cost recovery model.

The project resulted in over a dozen scientific publications, several provisional patents and a training opportunity for more than 175 students.

The research team is working with a Canadian start-up company to license, transfer and sell this technology around the world. This will allow hospitals and companies with cyclotrons to retrofit their existing infrastructure with a made-in-Canada solution to produce this value material in the event of another isotope crisis. Now, the research team is focused on working with the world’s major cyclotron manufacturers to add factory-supported Tc-99m production capability to their existing product lines so the technology will become standard in future machines.

 

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