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New U of S Research Chairs Explore Resistant Bacteria, MS, and Better Solar Cells

A $6.6 million federal investment through the Canada Research Chair (CRC) program will fund six University of Saskatchewan researchers.

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MARCH 13, 2012 – A $6.6 million federal investment through the Canada Research Chair (CRC) program will fund six University of Saskatchewan researchers.

The researchers are working to develop efficient solar cells, identify the causes of multiple sclerosis, and help seniors use exercise to prevent disease and live healthier lives. They are also using the Canadian Light Source synchrotron to develop advanced electronic materials, medical imaging techniques, and new strategies to fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

“These Canada Research Chairs recognize the strength and growing preeminence in several of our signature areas of research,” said U of S Vice-President Research Karen Chad. “Their work will help us contribute to solving problems with a profound effect on public health, and will help develop reliable and clean energy for the future.”

The chairs are part of a $124 million investment for 132 newly awarded or renewed CRCs across the country announced today in Ottawa by Gary Goodyear, federal Minister of State for Science and Technology.

“Our Government is staying focused on what matters – creating jobs and economic growth,” Goodyear said. “By supporting innovation, we are not only encouraging cutting-edge research but also helping bring promising ideas to the marketplace to keep our economy strong in the future.”

Two existing U of S CRCs were also renewed in this round, continuing support for researchers working on exercise for older adults and synchrotron-based medical X-ray imaging.

Funds from CRCs are used for researcher salaries and to operate their research programs. Tier 1 chairs receive $200,000 per year for seven years. Tier 2 chairs receive $100,000 per year for five years. The new chairs are:

Mirek Cygler, professor of biochemistry, is the new Canada Research Chair in Molecular Medicine Using Synchrotron Light with Tier 1 funding. Disease-causing bacteria are developing resistance to drugs used against them, giving rise to “super bugs.” Using the Canadian Light Source synchrotron, Cygler is working on a new approach to combatting bacterial resistance: target only the organism’s ability to cause disease rather than killing it outright.

Timothy Kelly, assistant professor of chemistry, receives Tier 2 funding as the Canada Research Chair in Photovoltaics. Photovoltaic devices, also known as solar cells, are the most direct way of producing electricity from sunlight. Current silicon-based devices are too expensive for widespread use, but Kelly is working to overcome this hurdle by using organic materials. Organic photovoltaics are typically less efficient, so Kelly is looking to increase their performance in order to make them a viable power source.

Alexander Moewes, professor of physics and engineering physics, receives Tier 1 funding as the Canada Research Chair in Materials Science using Synchrotron Radiation. Moewes uses the Canadian Light Source to answer key questions regarding the electronic structure of advanced materials, preparing the way for development of materials with novel electronic, optical, magnetic, photochemical and catalytic properties. This knowledge is the foundation for new materials and devices. Moewes previously held a Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in this area.

Bogdan Popescu, assistant professor of anatomy and cell biology, receives Tier 2 funding as the Canada Research Chair in Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Research. MS is a devastating disease that attacks the nervous system by destroying myelin sheaths – the insulation for the “wiring” of the nervous system. MS causes a range of symptoms such as chronic pain, blindness, numbness and debilitating muscle weakness. Using the power of synchrotron light, Popescu is exploring the role of metals in the health of oligodendrocytes – specialized cells that manufacture and maintain myelin.

Two U of S Canada Research Chairs were renewed:

Lawrence Brawley, professor of kinesiology, continues as the Canada Research Chair in Physical Activity in Health Promotion and Disease Prevention at Tier 1.

Dean Chapman, professor of anatomy and cell biology, continues as the Canada Research Chair in X-Ray Imaging at Tier 1.

With this announcement, the U of S currently has 29 Canada Research Chairs. The federal program aims to attract and retain leading researchers from around the world.

In the more than 10 years since the inception of the CRC program, the U of S has received more than $85 million. This includes the chairs themselves, plus investment from the Canada Foundation for Innovation, provincial matching, and operational funding. Canada Research Chair holders typically attract and secure several times these initial amounts in additional grants during their terms. They also provide graduate and doctorate-level training for dozens of highly qualified professionals who go on to contribute their expertise to industry, government, and further research.

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