May 4, 2018

Meet this year's Canada Research Chairs

Some of the brightest minds at UCalgary receive prestigious research award
Clockwise from top left: Jennifer Adams, Amir Sanati-Nehzad, Aaron Goodarzi, Ashley Harris, Wesley Willett, and Chris Cully.

Jennifer Adams, Amir Sanati-Nehzad, Aaron Goodarzi, Ashley Harris, Wesley Willett, and Chris Cully.

University of Calgary; Clockwise from top left

The University of Calgary has been awarded six new Canada Research Chairs by the Government of Canada. The awards support exceptional research in engineering and the natural sciences, health sciences, humanities, and social sciences, and stand at the centre of a national strategy to make Canada one of the world's top countries in research and development.

“This group of Canada Research Chairs exemplifies the vision of our recently renewed Research Plan, that focuses on matching strengths with opportunities, increasing research capacity, and driving innovation, combined with a commitment to nurturing campus culture,” says Ed McCauley, vice-president (research) at the University of Calgary. “I am thrilled to see such a diverse and talented group represent our institution among Canada’s most celebrated researchers.”

New Canada Research Chairs at the University of Calgary:

  • Integrating creativity into science, technology, engineering and mathematics: Jennifer Adams, Faculty of Science, Canada Research Chair in Creativity in Post-Secondary STEM Education 

An associate professor in chemistry and in the Werklund School of Education, Adams was awarded a Canada Research Chair in Creativity in Post-Secondary STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) Education. As a leader in informal science education research, she will be partnering with the Faculty of Science and Werklund School of Education to lead a program that will spark a deeper understanding of the relationship between creativity, creative practices and STEM learning. Adams will use her research results to inform pedagogical and theoretical perspectives in STEM teaching and learning at UCalgary and in the larger field of secondary science education.

The foundation of Adams’ research lies in critical and decolonizing stances towards science teaching and learning. She currently serves as a lead editor for the Cultural Studies of Science Education journal, is on the membership committee for the International Society of the Learning Sciences, and has served as a research and evaluation consultant for several informal science organizations including the American Museum of Natural History, the National Parks Service at Gateway National Recreational Area, the New York Hall of Science and the Queens Botanical Garden.

  • Innovating new approaches to brain imaging: Ashley Harris, Cumming School of Medicine, Canada Research Chair in Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy in Brain Injury

Providing a novel approach to understand the causes and potential recovery strategies for brain injury, Harris will develop and apply magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) to measure glutamate and GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid).

Harris has received multiple awards placing her in the top of her field. She has held a Julie Payette Research Scholarship and an NSERC CGS scholarship during her PhD and a Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship. Her postdoctoral work at Cardiff University was also supported by a Wellcome Trust Value in People Award. Harris has published 50 peer-reviewed publications in high-impact imaging journals, and she regularly presents at international meetings such as the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine, and the International Symposium on GABA-MRS. 

Harris is an assistant professor in the Department of Radiology in the Cumming School of Medicine and is a member of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute, and the Child and Adolescent Imaging Research Program as well as the Hotchkiss Brain Institute. 

  • Transforming how we use data: Wesley Willett, Faculty of Science, Canada Research Chair in Visual Analytics

As a young researcher, Wesley Willett has already established a strong presence in the Visual Analytics, Human-Computer Interaction, and Information Visualization communities. His research focuses on advancing the science of data analysis by designing, building, and evaluating the next generation of accessible visual analytics tools that will make data more useful in everyday life. In particular, his research emphasizes the development of new virtual, physical, and augmented-reality systems that enable data collection, analysis, and decision making. This work promises to help democratize data analysis, allowing new classes of people understand and benefit from their data.

Throughout his early career, Willett has collaborated with top visualization researchers at UC Berkeley, Stanford University, and Inria, and worked with scientists at top-tier research laboratories including Intel Labs and Google Research. He has engaged in a variety of projects involving outside communities, as well as stakeholders and domain experts from outside of computer science. For example, with researchers at Intel Labs, he worked with grassroots community organizations to deploy citizen-sensing tools for air quality monitoring in low-income communities.

Willett is an assistant professor of Computer Science in the Faculty of Science and a member of the Computational Media Design program. He leads the Data Experience Lab, which explores new visual tools, interactions, and experiences that allow analysts, enthusiasts, and communities to visualize, share, and live with data. 

  • Revolutionizing tissue engineering: Amir Sanati-Nehzad, Schulich School of Engineering, Canada Research Chair in Bio-electromechanical Systems (BioMEMS)

Amir Sanati-Nehzad’s research centres on the development of tissue models based on biomedical microelectromechanical systems (BioMEMS), microfluidics and tissue engineering. His focus will be on engineering microscale models of skin, liver and vasculature tissues with integrated sensors for use in toxicity assessment of chemicals. His research program is multidisciplinary and collaborative across faculties of engineering, biological sciences, and medicine.

In 2013, Sanati-Nezhad was awarded the Governor General’s Gold Medal for his PhD thesis at Concordia University, focusing on cell biomechanics. During his postdoctoral training at McGill University and Harvard Medical School, he established new technologies for cell studies and tissue modeling and expanded his background in microfluidics, sensors, surface chemistry, tissue engineering, and cell biology. He was awarded the Douglas R. Colton Medal for Research Excellence for his research work on lab-on-chip and developing bioengineering systems for molecular, cellular, and tissue characterization.

The innovative nature of Dr. Sanati-Nezhad’s research has made him a valuable collaborator with researchers in both schools of medicine and engineering at UCalgary. He is currently an assistant professor of mechanical and manufacturing engineering in the Schulich School of Engineering and Centre for Bioengineering Research & Education (CBRE). He is a current member of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute of AlbertaHotchkiss Brain Institute, and Arnie Charbonneau Cancer Institute. Dr. Sanati-Nezhad’s research program contributes to the campus-wide strategic research priority, Engineering Solutions for Health: Biomedical Engineering. 


Canada Research Chair renewals at the University of Calgary: 

  • Leading DNA research for cancer prevention: Aaron Goodarzi, Cumming School of Medicine, Canada Research Chair in Radiation Exposure Disease

Aaron Goodarzi’s research aims at understanding disease caused by radiation-induced DNA damage and how knowledge of differences in DNA damage exposure and DNA repair between individuals can lead to new cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment strategies. He also explores how radiation from radon gas induces cancer and is exploring new strategies for reducing radon exposure for everyone in Canada.

Since Goodarzi stared his first term as Canada Research Chair in 2012, he was appointed director of education and microscopy at the Arnie Charbonneau Cancer Institute and established the Charbonneau Microscopy Facility. In 2014, he won the Leon Browder Rising Star Award for outstanding achievement at the rank of assistant professor in biochemistry and molecular biology; was selected as one of Avenue Magazine’s 2015 Top 40 Under 40; and won UCalgary’s Peak Scholar Award for his efforts in knowledge engagement in the area of the health impact of radon gas inhalation in 2016. In 2018, he was selected to give a TEDx YYC talk (on June 22, 2018) on his work leading the Evict Radon ( lung cancer prevention campaign, which is a multidisciplinary program comprised of biologists, geologists, psychologists, architects, epidemiologists, statisticians and health economists.

Goodarzi is an assistant professor in the Cumming School of Medicine’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and Department of Oncology. 

  • Launching ideas into space: Chris Cully, Faculty of Science, Canada Research Chair in Space Physics

Chris Cully’s goal during his time as a Canada Research Chair has been to grow a new experimental program to monitor and better understand the physics of near-Earth space.

Above our atmosphere is a swirling sea of high-energy particles: the Van Allen radiation belts. Trapped by Earth’s magnetic field, these particles are usually confined to near-Earth space, but are sometimes forced into our atmosphere. They periodically rain down in two bands centered on the magnetic poles; most of Canada lies under the northern band. This release of particles into the atmosphere affects the space environment, the satellites travelling through it and Earth’s atmosphere. Cully’s research involves using satellite and ground-based systems to explore and understand the space environment, the radiation belts and their loss into the atmosphere.

As principal investigator for high-altitude flight projects and major ground-based research projects, Cully leads UCalgary in delivering on its New Earth Space Technologies (NEST) strategic research priority. In 2017, he launched EPEx, a Canadian Space Agency-sponsored stratospheric balloon mission. Cully is currently involved in several NASA mission proposals, including proposals to provide flight hardware.

Cully is an assistant professor of physics and astronomy, and the principal investigator for ABOVE (the Array for Broadband Observations of VLF/ELF Emissions)