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Funding new scientific frontiers

New Frontiers in Research Fund fuels Queen’s research in topics ranging from Lyme disease to climate change.

Early-career researchers are the backbone of Canada’s research infrastructure. Recognizing this area of research strength and its potential, the Government of Canada has launched the New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF) to support early-career researchers as they pursue the next great discovery in their fields.

[Minister Kirsty Duncan]
Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science and Sport

Seven Queen’s University projects earned a $1.72 million portion of the $38 million in NFRF funding announced by the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science and Sport, earlier this week. The successful Queen’s researchers are: Chantelle Capicciotti (Chemistry) and Mark Ormiston (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences), Robert Colautti (Biology), Samuel Dahan (Law), Lindsay Morcom (Education), Jessica Selinger (Kinesiology and Health Science), Kevin Stamplecoskie (Chemistry), and Laura Thomson (Geography and Planning).

“I am pleased today to celebrate the very first researchers to benefit from the New Frontiers in Research Fund. Our government’s vision is for our researchers to take risks and be innovative,” says Minister Duncan. “We want our scientists and students to have access to state-of-the-art laboratories and equipment, and we want the halls of academia to better reflect the diversity of Canada itself. This new fund will help us achieve that vision.”

Drs. Capicciotti and Ormiston are studying how cancer cells change the sugars that they express on their surface to avoid detection by the immune system. The researchers will work to develop technology to screen hundreds of sugar structures, with the ultimate goal of creating new cancer therapies that function by boosting an individual’s immune response.

As a member of the Canadian Lyme Disease Research Network (CLyDRN) based at Queen’s, Dr. Colautti is leading a diverse and multidisciplinary group of researchers to disrupt the way that tick-borne diseases are identified and managed in Canada. Their approach includes the use of handheld DNA sequencers and cloud computing for rapid detection of known or potential tick-borne pathogens, summarizing this information into a risk assessment framework for medical practitioners, public health officials, and the general populace.

Professor Dahan, in collaboration with Xiaodan Zhu (Electrical and Computer Engineering) and a team of 25 data scientists, Artificial Intelligence researchers, and law students, is working on an open source AI-tribunal for small claims in Ontario. This digital dispute-resolution platform will provide predictive legal services and negotiation support for self-represented plaintiffs. The NFRF funding will help develop the first stage of the product, focusing on severance pay and termination negotiation.

Using the skills of an interdisciplinary team of Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars and visual and digital media artists, Dr. Morcom and her team will work to create a network of virtual reality spaces across the country. The newly-created spaces will be used to stage cross-cultural, interdisciplinary, and cross-generational encounters.

Dr. Selinger has formed an interdisciplinary team that combines expertise in fundamental human biomechanics, clinical rehabilitative medicine, and applied robotic control. The research has the potential to revolutionize the next generation of rehabilitation strategies by focusing on how people re-learn to walk after a stroke.

Focusing on a new area of research, Dr. Stamplecoskie and partner Guojun Liu (Chemistry), are researching new electrochemical devices, capable of capturing the tremendous amount of energy available in rainfall, waves, and evaporating water. The research is working to create new devices capable to meeting global energy demands.

Dr. Thomson has amassed an interdisciplinary team that will integrate modern glacier research practices and inter-generational perspectives on climate, to improve environmental monitoring in Canada’s high-Arctic. This initiative will provide open-access, real-time climate data for the first time in this part of the Arctic, and provide public access to rare historic data.

All of the Queen’s projects are funded under the Exploration stream of the NFRF program. The second stream is the Transformation stream that provides large-scale support for Canada to build strength and leadership in interdisciplinary and transformative research. The third stream, International, will come online later, according to Minister Duncan.

“Through the NFRF program, early-career researchers at Queen’s are bringing new ideas and methodologies to critical issues from Lyme disease to climate change,” say Kimberly Woodhouse, Interim Vice-Principal (Research). “Importantly, they are increasing the potential impact and application of their work by collaborating across disciplinary boundaries.”

For more information, visit the NFRF website.

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