The Ontario government recently announced that three Carleton researchers will each receive $140,000 Early Researcher Awards (ERA) for their research. The funding will support projects including protecting endangered turtle populations, prostate cancer imaging, and managing on-peak energy demands.

The ERA, administered by the Ontario government, helps promising, recently appointed Ontario researchers build their research teams of graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, and research associates.

This year’s ERA recipients are:

Christina Davy

Department of Biology

“I aim to identify and mitigate threats to endangered wildlife and the ecosystem services they provide to Ontario, build research capacity through researcher training and youth outreach, and collaborate with conservation practitioners and policymakers to improve environment protection and policy.”

Human impacts on the environment are causing rapid extinctions, including the loss of species that provide critical ecosystem services to humans. With over 200 endangered and threatened species listed under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act, the current biodiversity crisis is threatening Ontarian’s health and well-being.

With new ERA funding, Christina Davy aims to build on her existing endangered wildlife research with a project quantifying invisible threats to endangered species, which can limit the addition of new individuals to the population. The project will focus primarily on turtles as they are long-lived and particularly affected by rapid environmental change, serving as a “canary in the coal mine”, says Davy.

“Protecting Ontario’s natural resources and the services they provide us is an urgent matter,” says Davy, “and ensuring a healthy environment for future generations requires a clear understanding of key threats to endangered species and our shared environment.”

Along with the Davy Lab team, Davy will explore three potential “invisible” threats to recruitment (pathogens, energy development, and exposure to agricultural pesticides), using field surveys, genetic analyses, and behavioural experiments.

Davy’s project will eventually inform environmental protection and policy for Ontario’s human and wildlife population going forward.

Burak Gunay

Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

“The focus of my research is to develop a software platform to reduce Ontario’s coincident peak demand and need for reserve-capacity natural gas power plants.”

Ontario often experiences peak demand for electricity, primarily driven by space cooling in buildings on hot summer days. To match these peak demands and avoid power outages, utility companies invest in new energy infrastructure and use expensive and polluting reserve capacity.

Burak Gunay is investigating an alternative, sustainable solution by creating software that can improve a building’s electricity response during peak demand—a solution which can strengthen Ontario’s building sector both economically and environmentally.

Currently, Ontario power plants must recoup expenses due to matching peak demands by applying financial penalties to commercial buildings for electricity use during peak hours. However, this solution causes occupant complaints, does not reduce on-peak electricity demand, and can only be implemented manually.

“This new ERA funding will support my research to develop a software algorithm that can assess a building’s energy efficiency, along with its response when it is in peak electricity demand”, says Gunay. “The goal is to demonstrate a software platform integrating these methods in a real-world case study”.

The new software has the potential to reduce the amount of excess electricity reserved by power plants and the burden of on-peak electricity demands on Ontario’s communities.

Carlos Rossa

Department of Systems and Computer Engineering

“My research proposes a paradigm shift in contemporary cancer imaging, which is enabled by a new technology where needles are converted into imaging tools to deliver a tomographic image of the tumour directly from within it.”

Carlos Rossa is investigating new technologies to treat prostate cancer—the most common cancer amongst men in Ontario and the third leading cause of cancer deaths. Every day, about 4 to 5 Ontarians die from prostate cancer.

Current treatments, involve using ultrasound imaging to insert needles into the prostate to deliver radiation that kills the cancerous cells. A major limitation of the procedure is that cancerous tissue is often indistinguishable from healthy tissue under ultrasound. As a result, the entire prostate is irradiated even though the cancer may be localized.

“There is an urgent need for new imaging methods to outline tumours and make prostate cancer treatment more efficient while eliminating side effects”, says Rossa.

With the ERA funding, Rossa is exploring innovative new multiphysics instrumentation methods that convert surgical needles into imaging tools. When inserted the needles can deliver an image of the tumour directly from within it, accurately detecting where the cancer is located.

Rossa’s project can save lives through improved prostate cancer detection and treatment as well as contribute to further establishing Ontario as a global leader in biomedical innovation.

See past Early Researcher Awards recipients.

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