By Nicole Findlay
Photos by Luther Caverly

The prestigious Canada Research Chairs program is a national initiative to make Canada one of the world’s top countries in research and development. It provides researchers with opportunities for funding, visibility and support for, and beyond, 10 years. Carleton University professors Mark Forbes and Alain Bellerive have recently concluded their two terms and have set their sights on new research horizons.

New insights into the world of parasites

During his tenure as a Canada Research Chair (CRC) from 2001-2011 in Ecological Parasitology/ Wildlife Health, Mark Forbes delved into the complex relationships between parasites and their hosts.

Dr. Forbes had been examining both insect and vertebrate hosts to determine the factors that affect resistance or susceptibility to parasites. He also investigated the causes of higher susceptibility to parasites for males than females – studies that grew out of known differences in appearance between genders of many species.

“Parasites had for too long been ignored as a component of natural and sexual selection,” said Dr. Forbes.

Dr. Forbes’ research led to some surprising findings in the parasite-host association such as worms in free-ranging birds that sequester heavy metal contaminants from their hosts. His team also discovered a mud-shrimp parasite that turns genetic males into functioning females.

The prestigious Canada Research Chairs program is a national initiative to make Canada one of the world’s top countries in research and development

Damselfly with parasites

Damselfly with parasites (photo by Lindsay Ralph)

“Over the CRC term, I had changed my thinking about the ways in which parasite species interact with their hosts,” said Dr. Forbes. “We are finding many examples of host defenses not being overcome by parasites, which are presumed to have much stronger evolutionary potential than their hosts because of their many offspring, and shorter generation times.”  Moreover, all parasites need hosts to complete their life cycle.

The research insights gleaned during the past decade are now applied to practical problems including the protection of wildlife species from diseases and parasites.

In 2011 Dr. Forbes was appointed Associate Vice-President (Research) at Carleton University. He draws on his CRC experience to help other Carleton researchers resolve time, space and fund-allocation issues.

“At the same time, I am learning to appreciate how research is communicated and translated so that it can be of use to society.”

Over the CRC term, I had changed my thinking about the ways in which parasite species interact with their hosts

From SNO to the Big Bang

ATLAS Project at CERN (Copyright CERN)

ATLAS Project at CERN (Copyright CERN)

At the LHC each proton-proton collision is like a mini Big Bang

Alain Bellerive

Alain Bellerive, Former Canada Research Chair

When Alain Bellerive was awarded the Canada Research Chair in Experimental Particle Physics he embarked upon a trajectory that would eventually lead back to his first love.

Bellerive was 17 years old when he read a Science et Vie article about a particle collider at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN).  “I told myself, ‘one day I’d like to do that stuff’.”

In 1991, Dr. Bellerive participated as an undergraduate research student at CERN in the USRA NSERC program. However it was his CRC as one of the principal investigators of the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO) that would eventually bring him back to the ATLAS project at CERN.

“The bulk of my research is concerned with advanced statistical data analysis,” said Dr. Bellerive. After the collection and analysis portion of SNO concluded, he turned to the massive amount of data generated by the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

“At the LHC each proton-proton collision is like a mini Big Bang.”

Dr. Bellerive’s primary role is to use physics events as diagnostics of the calorimeter – a sub-detector that measures the energy of particles created in collisions between protons and the resulting shower of particles referred to as jets.

In recreating the conditions that led to the beginning of the universe, Dr. Bellerive and his colleagues study the fundamental forces of nature.

The lynchpin of the ATLAS project is the study of the Higgs boson, which was  initially theorized in the 1960s. The ATLAS results indicate that the new particle recently discovered is indeed the Higgs boson with a mass between 125 and 127 GeV,” explained Dr. Bellerive. “The Higgs boson explains the origin of the masses of point-like subatomic particles.” The data Dr. Bellerive collects from the LHC contributes to this endeavour.

The Carleton team is also leading a Canadian multi-million dollar project to build a system that will contribute to the upgrade of the ATLAS detector.

Drs. Bellerive and Forbes are both enriched by their experience as Canada Research Chairs and continue the research they love with new insights.

Thursday, June 13, 2013 in
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