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News from the Faculty of Science

Understanding Environmental Adaptation Via The “Elite Athletes” of The Natural World

Yellow-billed pintail duck is one species that Scott and his team are studying in the Andes.Animals that live at high altitudes are among the most resilient in the natural world. Graham Scott, Biology, has spent much of his career trying to understand what it is that makes high altitude animals able to not just survive, but thrive in harsh conditions. In many ways, these animals are the “elite” athletes of the natural world.

As global temperatures and carbon dioxide levels continue to rise, his research can help predict how species that live at both high and low altitudes might fare in the face of climate change. He and his team have been studying deer mice in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and duck species native to the Peruvian Andes to learn more about how the unique physiology of high altitude animals helps them withstand their challenging environments. Understanding more about their adaptions to extreme environments may have important implications – for both human and environmental health as our climate shifts.

Scott, a Canada Research Chair in Comparative and Environmental Physiology, believes that the research can also shed light on high altitude diseases suffered by people around the world. “By trying to understand how animals overcome or avoid suffering these diseases, we’re gaining insight into these conditions,” he says.

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2018 MacData Graduate Fellows Named

Six graduate students, four from the Faculty of Science, have been awarded fellowships from McMaster’s MacData Institute. The Fellows will be working with McMaster faculty on projects that apply data analysis, collection and curation methodologies to a number of areas of research. Projects range from harnessing data to inform earlier diagnosis of brain tumours to analyzing data to better understand infectious disease epidemics.

Paul McNicholas, Mathematics & Statistics and Director of the MacData Institute, explains the program is designed to bring together talented graduate students with expertise in data science and McMaster faculty from a range of disciplines. The program provides funding for fellows to work on a multidisciplinary project involving two or more Faculties. The work will lead to new insights or innovations in a number of research areas, says McNicholas. It also gives students practical experience, and promotes knowledge exchange related to data science across Faculties.

MacData is also looking for new members. The Institute circulated a call for new members in December. Open to all faculty and librarians, it remains open until the end of February. Interested faculty and librarians can join here.  

Burgess wins second Buchalter Cosmology Prize

Cliff Burgess, Physics & Astronomy, has won a second Buchalter Cosmology Prize, placing third for the second time in two years. Working with Physics & Astronomy Ph.D. candidate, Peter Hayman, and collaborators from the University of Illinois, CERN, and the Niels Bohr Institute, the group was recognized for their paper, “Magnon Inflation: Slow Roll With Deep Potentials”. Burgess and Hayman are also both associated with the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo.

The judging committee recognized the 2017 work as “an insightful and systematic treatment of the effective field theory of multiple scalar fields leading to inflationary dynamics dominated by terms with a single time derivative, breaking Lorentz invariance and revealing novel ways to satisfy the relevant slow roll condition.”

Established in 2014, the Buchalter Cosmology Prize recognizes “new ideas or discoveries that have the potential to produce a breakthrough advance in our understanding of the origin, structure, and evolution of the universe”. Burgess won third prize for his paper, “EFT Beyond the Horizon: Stochastic Inflation and How Primordial Quantum Fluctuations Go Classical” in 2016.

Global Water Futures funding for study of forest ecosystems and climate change

Altaf Arain, School of Geography & Earth Sciences recently received $500,000 from Global Water Futures to investigate how forest ecosystems in southeastern Canada function and respond to climate change and extreme weather conditions such as droughts. Arain, who is also the Director of the McMaster Centre for Climate Change, explains that extensive land use changes, agricultural activities and forest harvesting in the Great Lakes region are putting pressure on water resources. More frequent extreme weather events and climate change will add to this pressure.

The project will help guide municipalities and conservation authorities in developing watershed management strategies to account the effects of shifts in land use and climate change. The work will also help improve how Canadian models forecast the effects of climate.

Global Water Futures, the largest university-led water research program in the world, aims to make Canada a global leader in water science for the world’s cold regions. It is funded in part by a $77.8 million grant from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund, and is dedicated to finding solutions to risks posed by the effects of climate change.


Why Canada must stand up for Science

In December, Toby Brown, Post Doctorate Fellow, Physics & Astronomy, wrote about Canada’s ability and obligation to support scientific endeavours. His article, “Canada must make science great again,” appeared on The Conversation and in The National Post.

Brown argues for the importance of science and the need to support research as it is key to a healthy and prosperous society. As he says: “It is hard to exaggerate the benefits that growth in the knowledge economy has on a society. Education and research are key drivers of innovation and prosperity while simultaneously making economies more efficient and mobile. The result is that, despite President Trump’s assertions, the societies who invest in science are the ones with the highest living standards, the best environmental protection and the strongest economy.”

Biology student Stephanie Jones receives graduate research award

Discovering completely new mechanism of bacterial growth, development and communication netted Stephanie Jones, Biology, the 2017 top Graduate Research Prize from the Canadian Council of University Biology Chairs (CCUBC). Jones is a Vanier Scholar and senior PhD student in the lab of Marie Elliot, Biology. The award is given yearly in recognition of publishing the best and most innovative refereed journal article based on graduate research in Canada.

Jones’ eLife paper, “Streptomyces exploration is triggered by fungal interactions and volatile signals” impressed scholars in the field of microbial development with its report of new mechanisms. Her findings were all the more remarkable as the bacterium she studies (Streptomyces), has been the subject of developmental investigations for more than 70 years. The work received extensive attention, including being highlighted in the journals Nature and Nature Reviews Microbiology. Jones received the honour during the CCUBC’s annual meeting held earlier in November.

McMaster University - Faculty of Science

Mailing Address

Office of the Dean of Science
McMaster University
Burke Science Building (BSB), Room 102
1280 Main Street West
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
L8S 4K1

Contact Information

Business Hours:
8:30AM - 12:00PM + 1:00PM - 4:30PM
Telephone Inquiries:
+1 (905) 525-9140 ext.22616
Fax:
(905) 546-9995
Student Inquiries:
science@mcmaster.ca

McMaster University - Faculty of Science

Mailing Address

Office of the Dean of Science
McMaster University
Burke Science Building (BSB), Room 102
1280 Main Street West
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
L8S 4K1

Contact Information

Business Hours:
8:30AM - 12:00PM + 1:00PM - 4:30PM
Telephone Inquiries:
+1 (905) 525-9140 ext.22616
Fax:
(905) 546-9995
Student Inquiries:
science@mcmaster.ca