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Source: University of Waterloo

Young faculty receive provincial awards to build research teams

November 8, 2006

WATERLOO, Ont. (Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2006) -- Fourteen young faculty members at the University of Waterloo have received Ontario's early researcher awards aimed at helping them build their research teams.

They will be investigating such diverse areas as better ways to rehabilitate stroke victims, design crash-free software and develop efficient drinking water treatment.

The awards will help the new professors recruit graduate students, post-doctoral fellows and research associates. The recipients will get up to $100,000 from the Ontario government and $50,000 from their university. UW's share of the provincial money, including overhead costs, totals $1.9 million.

The awards were announced Tuesday in London, Ont., by John Wilkinson, parliamentary assistant to the minister of research and innovation, Premier Dalton McGuinty. "Our government is doing its part to make it easier for outstanding researchers to stay in Ontario," Wilkinson said.

"The awards make it easier for the university to recruit promising young researchers for our research teams," said Alan George, UW's vice-president, university research. "Their discoveries will ensure that Ontario can compete in the marketplace of ideas."

At UW, faculty members receiving the early researcher awards are as follows:

  • James Danckert, professor of psychology. Project title: Rediscovering the Left: Examining Deficits of Temporal and Spatial Processes in Patients with Neglect.

    Injury to the right half of the brain from a stroke often causes a disorder known as neglect, where patients fail to acknowledge their left side. They behave as though one half of their world has ceased to exist, not eating food on the left side of a plate and ignoring events in the left side of space.

    Current treatment for the debilitating condition includes the use of prisms, which shift the patient's perception to the neglected space. Danckert and his research team will use behavioural and brain imaging techniques to explore time and space perception after the use of prisms. The work seeks to develop more efficient forms of rehabilitation.

  • Mohamed Oussama Damen, professor of electrical and computer engineering. Project title: Enhanced Sequential Decoding in MIMO Links.

    Reliable communication over wireless channels is vital in today's world. Multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) technology, a mathematical model for communication systems with antenna arrays, will be the primary focus of Damen's work.

    Damen and his research team will explore how to enhance the quality and quantity of data and voice communications over wireless channels, employing MIMO technology with enhanced decoders to make better use of precious bandwidth.

  • Ladan Tahvildari, professor of electrical and computer engineering. Project title: A Self-healing Framework to Enable Adaptive Software Systems.

    Anyone using a computer knows about software crashes. Most software operates in an environment that is not always well defined or predictable.

    By incorporating self-healing capabilities into software systems, Tahvildari and her research team will attempt to make them capable of handling unexpected changes. The project develops and designs a self-healing framework that can detect improper operations of applications and then correct problems without service disruptions.

  • John Yeow, professor of systems design engineering. Project title: Microelectromechanical Systems and Nanotechnology-based Devices for Biomedical Applications.

    Developing new diagnostic and therapeutic methods has fuelled global research into novel clinical techniques and biomedical instruments. The keen interest stems from the pursuit to find cures for terminal diseases and invent instruments to enhance the quality of life through early and effective detections.

    Yeow's project focuses on microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) and nanotechnology, the technology of the extremely small. His research team will apply MEMS and nanotechnology to fundamentally improve biomedical devices for clinical diagnosis and treatment.

  • Richard Staines, professor of kinesiology. Project title: Human Motor Control: Implications for Stroke Recovery.

    With strokes affecting more than 50,000 Canadians and costing more than $2.7 billion in health-care expenditures each year, there is an urgent need for innovative approaches to reduce disability and prevent subsequent strokes.

    Staines and his research team will study how central nervous system networks adapt after brain injuries. The data will be used to develop new treatments and training devices aimed at improving the sensorimotor control of patients. Sensorimotor control is a key part of such daily activities as washing, dressing and meal preparation.

  • Gregor Weihs, professor of physics and astronomy. Project title: Quantum Communication.

    Weihs will study what is widely considered the future of information technology, quantum communication. Quantum computers will be able to solve problems that are intractable on conventional computers, while providing data security.

    The research team will focus on a central element of quantum communication technology, sources of single photons and photon pairs. The work could be the building blocks of future quantum communication networks.

  • Leonard Tsuji, professor of environment and resource studies. Project title: The Implementation of a Culturally Appropriate Web-based Tool to Assess Food Intake and Physical Activity Behaviour in First Nation Schoolchildren, as Related to Obesity and Diabetes.

    The rising prevalence of obesity and Type 2 diabetes has been linked to poor diet and lack of physical activity. The problem is acutely serious among First Nations youth living in isolated communities, who generally don't have access to relevant information on good food choices and physical activity programs.

    Tsuji and his research team will implement a culturally appropriate survey of diet and physical activity that will provide key information for remote communities.

  • Monica Emelko, professor of civil and environmental engineering. Project title: Safe Drinking Water Technology Development and Optimization for Pathogen Removal.

    Public drinking water supplies are often treated with multiple specialized processes, ensuring that numerous disease-causing pathogens are eliminated. These treatments can be costly, especially for small communities and developing countries where water is a precious commodity.

    Emelko heads a research team seeking to develop conventional and emerging technologies to produce safe drinking water. The work will result in more cost-effective methods of water treatment and encourage new environmental technologies.

  • Michael Balogh, professor of physics and astronomy. Project title: The Cosmic Cradle: A Study of Small, Distant Galaxies.

    Scientists continue to explore the origins and the size of the universe, but some small, faraway galaxies have been too faint for observation, even with the world's largest telescopes.

    Balogh and his international team will observe what he calls "the Cosmic Cradle" and study the early stages of galaxy formation. Using new techniques and the latest telescopes, the research measures the rate of star formation in the faintest galaxies ever detected. The work will ensure accurate measurements of the growth of stellar mass in different environments.

  • Eric Fillion, professor of chemistry. Project title: Expedient and Modular Entries into Bioactive Natural Products and Analogues.

    With an aging population and rapidly spreading contagious diseases such as SARS, the demand for new drugs continues to grow exponentially.

    Fillion will develop new technologies, including domino processes, to hasten drug discovery. Fillion and his research team will reduce the number of steps required to allow speedy access to medically important compounds and biologically active natural products needed to develop new or improved medicines.

  • Daniel Brown, professor of computer science. Project title: Information Discovery in Biological sequences.

    Genetic research offers tremendous hope for people suffering from a wide variety of diseases and ailments. While genomic sequencing projects create a huge wealth of raw data, the technology needed to understand the data has not kept pace.

    Brown and his research team will develop new ideas and software to understand DNA and protein sequences. The project focuses on finding genes, interpreting the structure of membrane proteins and identifying evolutionary sequences. The new tools will be used to better understand genetic diseases and develop treatments.

  • Jan Kycia, professor of physics and astronomy. Project title: Studying and Applying Quantum Effects in Superconducting Devices.

    Superconducting quantum interference devices (SQUIDs) are the most sensitive sensors of magnetic fields. For example, a SQUID can detect a change in magnetic field as little as 100 billion times weaker than the earth's magnetic field, which is responsible for moving compass needles.

    Kycia leads a research team that will improve the devices by studying their intrinsic noise, a significant obstacle for use in quantum computing. The work will produce new measurement techniques that could be used in everything from medical scans to mineral exploration.

  • Kate Larson, professor of computer science. Project title: Multi-agent Negotiation Mechanisms for Resource-bounded Environments.

    With the move to open computing systems, such as the Internet, users of these systems have diverging information and interests. In particular, users are self-interested and will act to further their own goals, irrespective of the desires of others.

    Using artificial intelligence, game theory and microeconomics, Larson and her research team will design protocols that are robust when faced with users' self-interest and are applicable in computational settings. A driving application of the research is the design of electronic marketplaces.

  • Ashwin Nayak, professor of combinatorics and optimization. Project title: Efficient Quantum Algorithms and Protocols.

    Experimental prototypes of the quantum mechanical computer have already been built and eventually they will process billions of calculations simultaneously. While this tremendous increase in computing power will be beneficial, quantum computers could be used to crack the most sophisticated data encryption schemes.

    Nayak and his research team will devise new procedures to use the power of quantum computing to solve a variety of problems, such those found in statistical physics. The team will also devise protocols for cryptography that ensure the strongest possible security.

    The Ontario government is investing $51 million over five years in the early researcher award program. This second round of the awards will support 104 leading early career researchers working at 22 institutions, including UW, in 10 communities across the province.

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