More than $1M for infrastructure to expand and enhance labs


Dozens of pieces of equipment, new tools and some of the latest technological devices for water, solar cell, brain, automotive, nuclear and diagnostics research will be heading to McMaster because of more than $1M awarded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s (CFI) latest Leadership Opportunity Fund competition.

Leyla Soleymani is looking forward to adapting her existing lab workspace to install new suites of equipment for her Cellular and Molecular Sensing Laboratory.

Soleymani’s lab will be dedicated to developing yet another lab – one that’s portable, can fit in a pocket and used to test and diagnose everything from diseases, infections and drug resistant pathogens.

The assistant professor of engineering physics has been awarded $110,000 for equipment that will help her develop a fully integrated and versatile lab-on-a-chip system that uses molecular sensing via a semiconductor microchip. With components on the nanoscale, the microchip will integrate several devices that can process cells, extract their genetic material, purify the wanted genetic content and detect and determine the number of disease-related genes.

The end result? A handheld unit that can provide point-of-care diagnostics where and when they’re needed – whether that’s in a clinic, a lab, in a doctor’s office or right in the home.

“This infrastructure funding gives me an opportunity to do things I was otherwise unable to do, and provides me with the resources to be successful in my research program,” Soleymani explains. “It also means that I can better train and inspire my students to be successful in their own research pursuits.”

Two of Soleymani’s colleagues from the department of engineering physics were also awarded funding, as were two fellow engineers from civil and mechanical engineering, as well as faculty from science and health sciences.

“These engineers and scientists have been recognized by the CFI for funding because of their promise as research leaders,” said Mo Elbestawi, vice-president, research and international affairs. “Whether they’re in the first few years of establishing labs here at McMaster or expanding their facility’s capabilities, their research programs will provide students with the opportunity to work with the latest technologies and participate in research that will not only lead to improvements in our quality of life, but will also benefit the Canadian economy.”

Below are the other six research successful projects supported by the Leaders Opportunity Fund:

Civil engineer Younggy Kim will be furthering his research in wastewater treatment with funding that will allow him to acquire an essential electrochemical instrument to address some of the major challenges in his field of research. Kim’s research team will be tackling: the high costs for biosolids (sludge)treatment and disposal; risks related to land application of biosolids containing heavy metals; and the removal of nutrient compounds. His $44,334 infrastructure grant for the development of innovative methods for wastewater treatment using bioelectrochemical systems for biosolids minimization and effective removal of nutrients and heavy metals will contribute to a clean and healthy environment in Canada.

Shinya Nagasaki Canada Research Chair in Nuclear Fuel Cycle and Radioactive Waste Management will use his $100,000 award for equipment that will form a central facility for the study of used nuclear fuel disposal – the only such facility available at a Canadian university. His research program will provide unique training opportunities for graduate students, post-graduate personnel and undergraduate summer students – all urgently needed in order to meet the growth and demographic issues in the nuclear industry. Nagasaki’s project Sorption Phenomena of Actinides in Brine/Solid Interface – Development of Sorption Model and Evaluation of Sorption Data will benefit the Canadian nuclear industry by contributing to the understanding of safety and security of used nuclear fuel disposal.

Hao Peng assistant professor, medical physics and applied radiation sciences, will be using his $80,000 grant to purchase a key system for his lab to help him develop three new Positron Emission Tomography (PET) detector technologies. These technologies will enable early disease detection and better assessment of treatment at earlier stages for breast cancer and cardiac disease. His project Infrastructure for developing new imaging technologies to enhance the sensitivity of Positron Emission Tomography (PET) for molecular imaging will reduce disease burden and improve patient outcomes.

Karun Singh, associate professor, biochemistry and biomedical sciences and Deda Gillespie, psychology, neuroscience and behaviour have been funded $400,000 for Infrastructure to study brain development disorders using neural cellular models. Singh and Gillespie will utilize innovative research tools to establish a pioneering brain disease research program at the Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute (SCCRI). Their research program will capitalize on their strengths as neuroscientists and stem cell biologists to address the lack of understanding of brain development disorders such as autism and schizophrenia. Singh and Gillespie will create the first human brain stem cell program focused on brain disorders by studying the genetic factors that cause neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric disorders using patient-derived neural cells. Their brain stem cell program brings together neuroscience, genetics and stem cell biology, exposing young scientists to cutting-edge, multidisciplinary neural cell research.

Brenda Vrkljan, associate professor, school of rehabilitation science, and Robert Fleisig, assistant professor, mechanical engineering, will combine their respective expertise to explore Innovations in automobile design for an aging population. Their $200,000 award will help equip their lab with real-time testing systems and an adjustable vehicle mock-up to develop innovations aimed at the automotive industry. Their research program has a dual approach: to perform ergonomic analysis of the older user-vehicle interface with the focus on understanding the experience of older users and determining how changes in vehicle design, including after-market products, affect performance;  and combining rapid prototyping with user-trials to rigourously assess designs involving older users.

Ayse Turak assistant professor, engineering physics, has been awarded $80,000 for essential equipment for her Organic Photovoltaics Laboratory. Solar photovoltaic energy conversion is recognized as a solution to satisfying energy demands while reducing adverse impacts on the environment. Turak will explore emerging organic technologies to  investigate organic approaches that will decrease the environmental and fiscal manufacturing costs of photovoltaic solar cells. The students in her research team will also have the opportunity to work with third generation photovoltaic technologies, providing them with a chance to enter the competitive field of sustainable energy.

“Our Government’s investments in research infrastructure provide top researchers at Canadian universities with world-class facilities,” said Minister of State Goodyear. “Canadians are seeing the benefits of these investments through growing clusters of industrial activity, innovative spinoff companies and high-quality jobs in the growing knowledge sector.”

“CFI funding provides the vital equipment and labs our enterprising researchers need to push the boundaries of science,” says Gilles G. Patry, president and CEO of the CFI. “Cutting-edge facilities are magnets that attract the best research talent from around the world and act as key training grounds for a new generation of Canadian innovators.”