Dozen projects earn funding backing

It’s the personal mission of Civil and Environmental Engineering professor Martha Dagnew to see the Great Lakes turn blue again, instead of turning green with algae every summer.

“I’d like to see a clear future, not just for us but for our kids,” she said, while describing her research with municipal, agricultural and industrial partners to ensure clean wastewater and reduce harmful runoff into streams.

Dagnew’s lab has received a $200,000 investment – part of $2.2 million newly awarded to 12 Western projects – through the Ontario Research Fund-Research and the Early Researcher Awards program announced Friday at the Amit Chakma Engineering Building.

Some of Dagnew’s work has already been put into service to reduce the phosphorus load that feeds the growth of algae in rivers and the Great Lakes. High algae levels reduce oxygen available for aquatic life, diminish eco-diversity in and around lakes, and make water undrinkable, unfishable and unswimmable.

Ontario Environment Minister MPP Jeff Yurek, Ontario Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks, said Dagnew’s research demonstrates provincial commitment to the environment and clean industry. “A healthy environment and a healthy economy are linked,” he said.

Ontario Labour Minister Monte McNaughton added that the 12 projects in research areas as diverse as astronomy, science and engineering demonstrate that Ontario encourages innovation.

A commitment to Early Researcher Awards are particularly key, added Sarah Prichard, Western’s Acting Vice-President (Research). “It is really important that we invest in the next generation and that we have a strong way of going forward to advance our research agenda.”

Funding for Dagnew’s team establishes a biofilm engineering and resource laboratory that will develop new processes and technologies to treat stormwater run-off and municipal wastewater more effectively and efficiently before it enters streams and lakes.

Her lab tests the effectiveness of an anaerobic membrane bioreactor, which is uses bacteria to treat sludge in wastewater treatment centres; the methane byproduct can then be used as a biogas to generate electricity.

Another test project is taking place in Medway Creek to use electrodes and lava rock – which is high in iron, aluminum, magnesium and calcium ­- to capture phosphorus.

Working with the City of London, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture and industrial partners helps fast-track the technology and processes from the lab to the environment, Dagnew said.

At the same announcement, the province announced Fanshawe College is receiving $966,000 to create an Applied Agri-food Innovation Accelerator that will help local agri-food businesses develop new products and grow their existing businesses through innovation.

Other Western recipients of ORF funding include:

Early Research Awards

Ilka Heinemann

Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry


Heinemann’s work focuses on the connection between oncogenic kinases, proteins known to be the driving force in many cancers and key targets in chemotherapy, and a small RNA, let-7a, in cancer development.

Shih-Han (Susan) Huang


Medicine & Medical Biophysics

Thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP) is a rare and life-threatening disease that can occur in young patients and cause clots clots that block blood flow to the brain. This study is the first to apply advanced imaging and functional tests to help understand TTP on young people’s brains.

Naveen Poonai


Paediatrics/Lawson, Division of Paediatric Emergency Medicine

Children often rate IV placement as one of the most painful in-hospital experiences. This study aims to show that intranasal administration of a sedative is as effective in pain treatment and better for recovery than the traditional intravenous approach during realignment of bone fractures.

Ryan Willing


Mechanical and Materials Engineering

Despite decades of study, ligament reconstructions still fail to restore the natural biomechanics of the intact knee, and often lead later to arthritis and total knee replacement. This study aims to understand better how knee ligaments contribute to joint biomechanics and improve reconstruction techniques.

Research Infrastructure funding

Brian Allman


Anatomy and Cell Biology

Ultimately, this research will help develop novel therapies for suppressing noise-induced tinnitus. Using a state-of-the-art brain imaging system and complex behavioural testing in genetically modified mice, this lab will help uncover the cellular mechanisms that cause altered sensory perception following loud noise exposure and hearing loss.

Peter Brown


Physics and Astronomy

A modern, high-power solid-state radar transmitter for the Canadian Meteor Orbit Radar (CMOR) will help detect interstellar meteoroids in addition to increasing CMOR’s sensitivity to weaker meteor showers and slower meteoroids. This will be of use in protecting spacecraft and lead to better models of planet formation.

Tim Bussey


Physiology & Pharmacology/Robarts Research Institute

A suite of mouse touchscreen testing chambers will help tap into many areas of cognition by helping understand how specific brain cells and circuits relate in testing memory, attention and motivation. The aim of this research is to improve treatments and outcomes for Ontarians with neurodegenerative and neuropsychiatric disease.

Ali Khan


Medical Biophysics/Robarts

Funding will provide high-performance computing infrastructure that can localize precisely different regions of the brain to determine who will benefit from neurosurgery. This can lead to new imaging technologies for patients undergoing neurosurgery, less invasive investigations and improved patient outcomes.

Gord Osinski


Earth Sciences

Portable instrumentation allows gathering of chemical and mineralogical data in both the field and laboratory. This will help researchers understand how rocks are melted during impact cratering events, how impact-generated hydrothermal systems form and how ore deposits form at impact craters. This helps us understand meteorite impact events and their beneficial economic effects in mineral prospecting and exploration in the Sudbury region.

Rithwik Ramachanrdan


Physiology and Pharmacology

The funding support will purchase a suite of equipment that will enable us to monitor a family of G-protein coupled receptor (GPCR) signaling in cells, tissue and live animals. These receptors could become targets for a new generation of drugs for the treatment of patients at risk of heart disease, stroke, colitis, arthritis and cancer.

Ryan Stevenson

Social Science


A lab with portable, cutting-edge and fully integrated EEG, source localization and eye-tracking technologies will be used to help understand neurocognitive mechanisms and sensory perception at work in children with autism. This research has broad potential to improve academic and employment outcomes, and well as increase the quality of life for the 70,000 children in Ontario with ASD and their families.

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