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Four McMaster Researchers Named Canada Research Chairs

Four Research ChairMcMaster University's newest Canada Research Chairs. Clockwise from top left: Gita Ljubicic, Alemu Gonsamo, Gabriel Xiao and Jennifer Heisz.

Four McMaster University researchers have been awarded Canada Research Chairs by the Government of Canada.

The new Chairholders - all from the Faculty of Science – were announced today by the Honourable Navdeep Bains, Federal Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry.

McMaster’s newest Tier 2 Canada Research Chairs are:

  • Dr. Alemu Gonsamo, an Assistant Professor in the School of Earth, Environment & Society, is the new Canada Research Chair in Remote Sensing of Terrestrial Ecosystems (Tier 2). The global carbon cycle is the exchange of carbon among the atmosphere, oceans and land. The land carbon cycle is less understood than either the atmosphere and ocean carbon cycles, contributing the largest error to the global carbon budget estimates. This is attributed largely to the lack of understanding of the magnitude of carbon dioxide fertilization effect on plant growth and the changing sensitivity of plant growth to warming-induced stress. Dr. Gonsamo’s research program integrates carbon cycle models and emerging satellite technologies that directly measure photosynthesis for improved insight into photosynthetic processes to reduce the land carbon cycle estimation uncertainty.
  • Dr. Jennifer Heisz, an Associate Professor in the Department of Kinesiology, is the new Canada Research Chair in Brain Health and Aging (Tier 2). For the first time in history, older people outnumber younger generations. This has created unique health challenges including dementia, a debilitating disorder that cause severe memory loss with no cure. Dr. Heisz’s research examines how one session of exercise impacts the brain to improve memory, and will then determine how those temporary changes become permanent with regular exercise training and whether they can be enhanced with brain training games that target memory. This research will inform evidence-based guidelines for exercise interventions to keep older Canadians healthier longer.
  • Dr. Gita Ljubicic, an Associate Professor in the School of Earth, Environment & Society, is the new Canada Research Chair in Community-Engaged Research for Northern Sustainability (Tier 2). Research in the Canadian North has a conflicted history, being used as both a tool of exploitation and empowerment. Working with Inuit communities in Nunavut, and learning from Elders and Indigenous leaders across Canada, Dr. Ljubicic explores how community-engaged research can contribute to northern sustainability. Her research will provide unique insights into the interconnections between climate resilience, environmental governance, and Indigenous self-determination in research.
  • Dr. Gabriel (Naiqi) Xiao, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behavior, is the new Canada Research Chair in Perceptual Development (Tier 2). Dr. Xiao was also awarded an additional $210,000 from the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s John R. Evans Leaders Fund, designed to help universities attract and retain the very best researchers by providing them with the foundational equipment and facilities to ensure they become leaders in their fields. Dr. Xiao’s research investigates the early development of perceptual and social capacities in infancy. While most studies examine infants’ prolonged perceptual development over months, Dr. Xiao will explore how neonates and infants can actively change their perception within seconds and how this cognitive capacity is impaired in preterm infants. The finding will contribute to understanding the origins of cognitive deficits by prematurity. Dr. Xiao will also examine how social biases emerge as early as infancy. Identification of the origin of social biases offers an opportunity for mitigating the pervasive social biases in our society.

Dr. Karen Mossman, McMaster’s Vice-President, Research, saluted both the new Chairholders and the federal government. “Congratulations to our new Chairholders whose pioneering work will advance our knowledge and help to solve complex societal issues,” she says. “The Canada Research Chairs program plays an integral role in our ability to attract and retain scholars with diverse backgrounds which is so important to our research enterprise.”

Dr. Gonsamo, Dr. Ljubicic and Dr. Xiao were recruited to the Faculty of Science in 2019 while Dr. Heisz joined in 2013.
“Our Faculty of Science is incredibly proud of Alemu, Jennifer, Gita and Gabriel,” says Dean Maureen MacDonald. “Our colleagues have quickly established themselves as outstanding researchers and the Government of Canada’s investment will further accelerate the impact of their vitally important work.”

Tier 2 Chairs, which are held for five years and renewable once, are for exceptional emerging researchers who have the potential to lead in their field. For each Tier 2 Chair, the University receives $100,000 annually, with an additional $20,000 annual research stipend for first-term Chairs. The McMaster researchers were part of a $195 million investment by the federal government to support 259 new and renewed Chairs announced across the country. McMaster has been allocated 88 Canada Research Chairs, with 19 Chairs in the Faculty of Science.

The Canada Research Chairs Program invests up to $295 million annually to attract and retain some of the world’s most accomplished and promising researchers. The Government of Canada invests in research in health sciences, engineering, natural sciences, social sciences and the humanities through the three federal research granting agencies: the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

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