2017 Banting Fellows

Meet some of the 2017 recipients of one of Canada’s most prestigious postdoctoral awards, exemplifying world-class research capacity at an internationally competitive level of funding.

Jonathan Salsberg (PhD), Family Medicine

Inter-Organisational Collaboration for Scale-up of Intervention and Policy Programming in an Indigenous Community

Jon Salsberg was founding Associate Director of Participatory Research at McGill University. He has over fifteen years of experience working in community and academic participatory research and integrated knowledge translation. Jon’s research has focused on understanding the theory and practice of participatory health research, an approach where researchers work in equitable partnerships with those affected by the issues being studied, or those who must ultimately use its results. Participatory research increases the relevance of research, the speed of evidence uptake and its impact on health, practice and policy. However, our understanding of this impact and the mechanisms that lead to it are still unfolding. Jon has focused on using social network analysis to demonstrate how participatory strategies shift research control from academic to knowledge-user partners, such as patients, practitioners or community members.

The majority of his work has taken place with Indigenous communities, such as with the Kahnawake Schools Diabetes Prevention Project, winner of CHIR’s 2010 Partnership Award for outstanding academic-knowledge user research partnership. Jon’s postdoctoral work continues the use of social network analysis to look at the way community organisations collaborate to design and implement health policy and interventions within Indigenous communities, with a particular focus on how these impact more marginal or hard to reach community sectors. 

Filip Topic (PhD), Chemistry

Understanding and advanced materials applications of a new molecular recognition motif of steroid sex hormones

Steroids are biologically active molecules whose importance can hardly be overstated: cholesterol is an essential part of animal cell membranes, estradiol and testosterone act as sex hormones, nandrolone is a notorious performance-enhancing drug and dexamethasone is a medicine used for conditions from asthma and brain swelling to severe allergies. Until recently, the ability of steroids to recognize and interact with other molecules was thought to rest solely on strong intermolecular forces, such as hydrogen bonds, involving specific chemical groups attached to an inactive steroid backbone.

Working at the interface of chemistry, and biomedical and materials science, we aim to change this conventional view of steroid activity, by focusing on a recently discovered and still poorly understood mode of recognition between steroid backbone and aromatic molecules, termed the alpha-pi interaction. First, we will establish a fundamental understanding of this interaction through complexation in the solid state between different steroids and aromatic molecules by mechanochemistry, a “green”, rapid and efficient way of synthesis by grinding, which avoids toxic solvents and high temperatures. Next, we will address its behaviour in liquid systems, closer to the biologically relevant environments, and seek to use this interaction as a tool for directing the synthesis of new receptor molecules. Finally, we will use the alpha-pi interaction for recognition of steroids by advanced materials known as microporous metal-organic frameworks, with strong implications for doping control in sports.

By understanding this recently discovered property of steroids, our work might have an impact on some of the major problems in biomedical research, such as understanding endocrine disruption and cancer, and will immediately lead to designs for new functional materials such as steroid-based pharmaceuticals and steroid detection systems for use in research or forensics.

Celia (Luna) Vives Gonzalez (PhD), Centre for Research on Children and Families

Towards Equal Access to Health Services for First Nations Children Living on Reserve: Tracking Jordan's Principle Implementation in Manitoba

In June of 2016, the Federal Government pledged up to $382 million dollars, over a 3-year period, to address the needs of on-reserve First Nations children with disabilities. The announcement came as a partial response to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling that the Federal government is obligated to fully implement Jordan’s Principle – a policy designed to prevent the denial, disruption, and delays of services for First Nations children living on reserve due to government red tape. Jordan’s Principle is designed to address inequities faced by First Nations children across health and social services domains which are contrary to these children’s human, constitutional, and Treaty rights. This project grows out of discussions with the Assembly of First Nations and the First Nations Health and Social Secretariat of Manitoba, and will be developed and implemented in partnership with these organizations.

The project has three main goals. First, I will collect comprehensive information to compare the health care services available to First Nations children living on reserve and to residents of similar non-First Nations communities in Manitoba. Second, I will document creative ways in which specific First Nations communities have attempted to address the gaps in federally funded, on-reserve services and identify the most effective ways to bring much needed services to communities in rural and remote areas. Drawing from an improved understanding of policy constraints and local contexts, this project’s final and major contribution is the development of an assessment tool to track the implementation of Jordan’s Principle, taking into account remoteness or distance from a service hub. This project will support efforts to achieve full and meaningful implementation of Jordan’s Principle across Canada, and help ensure that First Nations children living on reserve have access to the same health services as other Canadian children in comparable situations. 

Reza Maram Qartavol (PhD), Electrical and Computer Engineering

Preventing the computation energy crisis through sustainable optics

Current information and communications technology (ICT), including smartphones, computers, networks account for ~5-10% of the total global electricity consumption. This share is rapidly increasing with serious consequences for the economy and the environment if no changes are made to how we deliver and consume information. The problem is particularly compounded by our desire for high-speed computation since energy consumption significantly increases with speed in present electronic-based signal processors. Therefore the need for low-energy, high-speed computation is not just a technological issue, but one that has real ethical implications of opening access to affordable ICT without accelerating global pollution and climate change. Unless new technologies are found, it is predicted that growth in computational processing power will come to a halt within the next two decades using only present electronics technology. Among other alternative technologies, the use of light has been extensively explored to provide a way to overcome the limitations of computational speed inherent in electronics because processing speeds can be 1000 times faster than electronics. However, many in the optical research community have largely ignored energy consumption of optical processors, typically exploiting a variety of nonlinear optical effects, which typically scales to be at least 1000 times higher than electronics. As it is, proposed solutions to date are much more unsustainable for energy consumption than current electronics.

My research is a novel attempt towards developing a technological solution to the problem of energy consumption in optical processors, particularly, logic gates which are the fundamental building blocks of digital computing devices and at the core of energy consumption problem. The operation of our proposed logic gates looks nothing like any previous logic gate – electronic or optical and it represents a new paradigm shift in gate design. Rather than throwing away the unwanted part of the input energy like other methods, instead, we reuse the energy in the logic gate to build the output signal, similar to how noise-cancelling head-phones use waves from the noise in the room to destroy background noise. The proposed techniques may provide not only ‘orders of magnitude improvements in signal-processing speed’ but ‘with a fraction of the power consumption’ required by present electronic technologies. Such sustainable green solutions to a fundamental problem in computing and engineering, information consumption, will be needed to prevent an impending global data/energy crisis.

Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 International LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 International License.
Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, McGill University.

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