From COVID-19 modelling to strengthening voices of marginalized communities, numerous University of Guelph research projects will receive $8 million in multi-year federal funding under new national investments from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) announced today.

In all, 62 U of G researchers and scholars from across campus will receive funding from both agencies.

Worth a total of more than $6 million, the NSERC multi-year funding will support researchers in six colleges and dozens of departments and covers Discovery Launch Supplements for early-career researchers and Discovery Grants as well as one Subatomic Physics Discovery Grant and a single Discovery Grant Northern Research Supplement.

Nineteen scholars in the College of Arts, the College of Social and Applied Human Sciences and the Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics will receive $1.9 million in SSHRC funding.

The funding is part of more than $635 million announced by Francois-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, to support more than 3,400 projects across Canada through NSERC and more than 1,315 projects through SSHRC.

“The diversity and range of funding announced today gives an excellent example of the range of research being conducted at the University of Guelph to improve life through curiosity and exploration,” said Guelph MP Lloyd Longfield. “We know this will not only enhance our understanding of the world around us but provide critical employment opportunities for researchers in their labs and in the broader community.”

Today’s announcement also includes funding for 156 new and renewed Canada Research Chairs at 36 institutions across the country.

The funding supports pandemic-focused projects as well as emerging and ongoing research in areas ranging from Indigenous reconciliation, precision medicine and women’s health to particle physics, social justice and chronic pain.

“I’m delighted that so many distinguished researchers at the University of Guelph will receive this generous federal support to elevate and accelerate their research and its impact,” said Dr. Malcolm Campbell, vice-president (research). “This funding will enable U of G researchers to continue pushing the bounds of our knowledge and understanding and will lead to real-world benefits that improve life for us all.”

Dr. Siavash Vahidi

Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology

Dr. Siavash Vahidi, Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology

Dr. Siavash Vahidi will use his NSERC funding to study biomolecular machines fundamental to human health and disease.

That molecular machinery includes AAA+ proteins that govern critical activities throughout the body’s cells, including preventing clumping and misfolding of proteins that may otherwise cause disease.

Vahidi uses sophisticated bioanalytical equipment to look at this molecular machinery and biological processes in human cells and in pathogens.

Referring to therapeutic potential of AAA+ motors involved in disease or normal states, he added, “If we understand how the mechanistic details of how these machines work, we might be able to find a way to stop them from working, or get them to work harder than they should.”

Dr. Anna Lawniczak

Department of Mathematics and Statistics

Traffic systems and epidemics such as COVID-19 operate through complex interactions among agents, whether they are vehicles travelling on a highway or people spreading pathogens.

Dr. Anna Lawniczak, a professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics

Understanding how these systems work is the aim of NSERC-funded research by Dr. Anna Lawniczak, a professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics.

She runs simulations based on many variables – household size, commuting patterns, interactions with others — to better model disease spread, from earlier flu epidemics to the COVID-19 pandemic.

She also simulates highway traffic to help predict and manage the ultimate integration of autonomous vehicles onto our roads.

“Because these systems are non-linear and interact at the local level, there’s a butterfly effect, where some small changes can cause global changes at the macro level,” said Lawniczak.

SSHRC funding announced today includes Insight Development Grants for 11 faculty members, Insight Grants for seven researchers and a single Partnership Development Grant (PDG).

Dr. Carla Rice

Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition

Dr. Carla Rice, director of U of G’s Re-Vision: The Centre for Art and Social Justice

The federal agency will provide a $200,000 PDG to Dr. Carla Rice, a professor in the Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition and director of U of G’s Re-Vision: The Centre for Art and Social Justice.

The centre uses digital storytelling to help members of equity-seeking groups share their experiences, foster community and advocate for policy change.

Under a project called “Stretching Our Stories: Digital World-Making in Troubled Times,” this new funding will help to continue that work in online formats following the pandemic.

Rice and her team will work with several groups, including the Lenape people originally based in the northeastern United States and Canada, people with intellectual disabilities and trans people in rural Alberta.

She is also looking at using digital fiction to improve accessibility for people with disabilities, an issue that Rice says requires a societal leap of imagination.

“How we imagine accessibility now is on a case-by-case basis,” she said. “Can we think of accessibility beyond a checklist or compliance approach to think about collective responsibility to enact accessibility?”