McMaster hosts Symposium on Education & Cognition August 13–15

Cognitive scientists and educators will convene at McMaster University on August 13–15 for the 2nd annual Symposium on Education & Cognition. Scholars at the symposium will explore how cognitive principles can inform instructional design and critical issues in education to bridge the gap between the lab and the classroom. Notable speakers will include Dan Schacter (Harvard), Daniel Ansari (WesternU), and 3M award winner Pippa Lock.

For more information, please visit the event website!

Mac partnership close to solving alternate energy puzzle

A new Hamilton company is on the verge of solving one of the biggest problems in the drive to use heat from the earth as a new form of energy.

The company, Capture Technologies Corp., is being formed out of a joint project between a Toronto-based engineering firm and McMaster University.

Jake Windsor, the company’s 24-year-old chief executive officer, said efforts to use geothermal energy to reduce the use of fossil fuels to drive heating and ventilation equipment have always been hampered by the fact the quality of energy taken from the earth deteriorates with time.

Capture’s contribution is a way of using solar energy to recharge what’s taken from the earth.

“This alternative energy industry has been damaged in the past because the heat taken from the earth doesn’t hold the same temperature and has to be reheated,” he explains. “The energy you need to do that makes the whole process expensive.”

Efforts to reduce the use of fossil fuels with solar energy to reheat what’s taken from the ground have foundered in the past because of physical limitations and heavy maintenance costs.

Capture will replace solar energy systems that rely on heated liquid with a photovoltaic system that uses semiconductors to convert the sun’s rays into direct current electricity to be used to recharge the energy from the ground.

The matchmaker for that marriage is Toronto-based engineer Ladislav Rak, of the firm McClymont and Rak. He sketched out the basic idea and then went looking for a research partner to help prove the technology.

“We first met with people at the University of Toronto,” Windsor explained. “That just resulted in a lot of lunches.”

Then they connected with McMaster’s faculty of engineering and Dean Mo Elbestawi.

“Once we got to Hamilton we were just astounded at the help we received,” he said. “That’s why we’re going to launch a new company that will be born and raised in Hamilton.”

Leading the effort to prove Rak’s idea is McMaster post-doctoral fellow Hazem Mazhar, Capture’s chief technology officer.

To prove the solar-geothermal team can work, he has sunk a 200-metre deep bore hold beside a school in Caledon. From there he taps the heat of the Earth’s core, warms it up with solar energy and then pumps it into the building.

“This requires a radical design change in alternative energy systems,” he explained. “Right now the use of geothermal energy in Canada is almost nothing, but we’re going to change that.”

Early tests on the demonstration site in Caledon look promising, Mazhar said. A second live demonstration system will be installed in McMaster’s new experiential learning ExCEL building. As with many new technical advances, Windsor said early adopters of the technology will pay a premium for using it, but that will change with time.

“Right now the photovoltaic system is a little pricey, but that’s going to change,” Windsor said. “We’re the first company in Canada to try to marry solar photovoltaic and geothermal energy.”

The new company’s goal, he said, is for an initial 10 year payback on the system.

Developing Capture’s business has so far absorbed about $500,000 and Windsor estimates another $1.1 million will be needed to get a workable system on the market. To raise that the company is looking to government alternative energy programs and angel investors.

As a return for the welcome they received from Hamilton Windsor said the plan is to buy as much of the new system’s pieces and parts locally as possible, all part of the city’s effort to switch from a manufacturing centre to a clean energy hub.

“We have made more progress towards our development here in Hamilton then we ever made back in Toronto,” Windsor added. “Not only has this city fostered our development, the city has welcomed and supported us through this entire process.”

See the full article at the Hamilton Spectator

Starinse: one of the latest inventions out of McMaster Innovation Park

Joon Kim wanted to keep his one-year-old son Talen’s teeth healthy.

He couldn’t find a cavity-fighting product that didn’t come with a “do not swallow” warning — and found mouth cleansers on the market without fluoride didn’t actually prevent tooth decay.

Creator Joon Kim said Starinse is on some natural food store shelves now, but he hopes to get it in front of more consumers.

So, he made one himself. Starinse is the product of McMaster Innovation Park, a partnership with Dennis Cvitkovitch, member of the University of Toronto Faculty of Dentistry, and six months of Kim working out of Williams Coffee in Hamilton.

Kim, CEO of Apollonia Health, isn’t an anti-fluoride activist, but acknowledges that a fierce debate about it exists. In Hamilton, the debate about fluoridated water is as old as the practice itself, which started here in the 1960s.

Fluoridated water is a cost-effective public health policy, but Kim doesn’t see why people shouldn’t have options.

He does not tell people not to use fluoride. But he does want people to have alternatives — ones that work.

“There are other things in natural food stores that do not have fluoride in the product, but they don’t necessarily have a Health Canada approved therapeutic claim,” he said. “We are the only one right now with that. It is a non-fluoride anti-cavity product.

“Our focus is science. Natural is great, but we want to validate it and make it more effective using natural products. That’s what our drive is.”

Peer-reviewed medical journal The Lancet recently reclassified fluoride as a neurotoxin, and when consumed in raised quantities it can harm children’s IQ levels. It joins the ranks of arsenic, lead and mercury.

‘People want choices’

Regardless of where people stand on that debate, Kim does see a reason to get Starinse on shelves, and has been pounding the pavement relentlessly to get it there.

It is currently available in seven natural food stores around Mississauga, Milton, Toronto and Oakville, and is available for purchase at the product website. It retails for $9.99.

Starinse’s main active ingredient is xylitol, a natural sweetener used for people with diabetes, but that also has been shown to prevent tooth decay.

“Fluoride had its place — and it’s cheap. Fluoridation of water may be the cheapest way to prevent cavities to a wide, general, population, but we will continuously have this debate,” Kim said.

Starinse tastes sweet, but unlike many children’s toothpastes, which taste like bubble gum or strawberry candy, it is safe to swallow without a warning on the package — while also having an anti-cavity Health Canada designation.

“Just because something is cheap, we have been doing it for a while and it does work — it doesn’t mean we have to continuously use fluoride as the only agent. People want choices, but it’s going to be a long road,” Kim said.

Proving that other ingredients may be as safe and effective as fluoride will take a long time, Kim says, but that doesn’t mean no one should try.

“Let’s start thinking outside just, ‘Fluoride, fluoride,’” he said.

See the full article at CBC News

Meet Canada’s most influential scientist

McMaster cardiologist Salim Yusuf is being celebrated in national media as “Canada’s most influential scientist” based on citations.

Yusuf, director of the University’s Population Health Research Institute, has had nine of his studies among the world’s most cited in recent years.

The Globe and Mail newspaper broke down the numbers contained in a new report which tries to estimate who’s making the biggest impact in science worldwide.

The report, compiled by data and media company Thomson Reuters, not only indicates Yusuf’s influence, but that of others at McMaster.

“Dr. Yusuf is not an isolated success but merely the tallest spire within a cluster of the world’s most highly cited clinical researchers at McMaster,” reports the Globe. “Among Canada’s top 10 scientists across all fields, four are based there.”

Earlier this year, Yusuf was named recipient of the prestigious Canada Gairdner Wightman Award, given to outstanding leaders in Canadian medicine.

In April, he was inducted into Canada’s Medical Hall of Fame.

“To me, he represents McMaster, period,” John Kelton, dean and vice-president, health sciences, told the Globe and Mail. “We’re an upstart medical school, 40 years old, but we have always been considered, to our knowledge, one of the most innovative.”

Read the full Globe and Mail story here.


Examining Canada’s Scientific Footprint

Science is serious business. Governments, companies and charities invest hundreds of billions to fuel research efforts worldwide. The results, they hope, will increase knowledge, drive economic growth, improve lives and create new possibilities for people in the future.

But which science matters most and who’s doing it? Those are the questions underlying a new list of the world’s top researchers compiled by the data and media company Thomson Reuters.

Roughly 3,200 names appear on the list, which represents the company’s best estimate of who is making the biggest impact in science worldwide.

The effort is driven by a growing interest among universities to assess their faculty and prospective hires and among funding agencies to compare and quantify the impact of the science they support.

Yet hidden within the global list lies a fascinating and unvarnished glimpse at Canada’s role in the scientific enterprise. It highlights where public investments are making the biggest impact and raises questions about how Canada’s modest resources can best be used to foster scientific excellence.

“Much of science occurs at the expense of taxpayers,” says Basil Moftah, president of Thomson Reuters’ intellectual property and science division. “We think it’s important that people know how well that money is being spent and how much result it’s creating for society.”

Experts are quick to point out that numbers aren’t everything, especially when it comes to assessing the quality of an individual scientist or of a country’s overall contribution. But numbers do have meaning, and they can play a role in shaping national science policy.

With this in mind, The Globe and Mail has taken a deep dive into the Thomson Reuters data to see what it says about Canada’s scientific footprint.

Top performers

Salim Yusuf, a cardiologist and director of McMaster University’s Population Health Research Institute, is Canada’s most influential scientist, based on citations. In recent years, nine of his studies, which involve large-scale clinical trials across countries and population groups, have been among the research world’s top 0.1 per cent.

Dr. Yusuf is well known as a pioneer in his field and his efforts this year earned him a Gairdner Award, generally regarded as Canada’s most prestigious prize in biomedical science.

“To me he represents McMaster, period,” says John Kelton, vice-president of the university’s faculty of health sciences. “We’re an upstart medical school, 40 years old, but we have always been considered, to our knowledge, one of the most innovative.”

The numbers seems to bear this out. Dr. Yusuf is not an isolated success but merely the tallest spire within a cluster of the world’s most highly cited clinical researchers at McMaster. Among Canada’s top 10 scientists across all fields, four are based there.

The country’s second-most cited scientist, Marco Marra, who is director of the Genome Sciences Centre and a professor of medical genetics at the University of British Columbia, sits at the core of a similarly high-performing cluster.

He and a colleague, bioinformaticist Steven Jones, both make Canada’s top-10 list. Two others, Joseph Connors and Randy Gascoyne, are in the top 20.

The group has lately become known for its groundbreaking work applying the tools of genomics to study tumour cells. The work involves “a heavy element of discovery,” Dr. Marra says.

“We’re learning a huge amount about the genes that drive the cancers.”

Despite the cutting-edge nature of his science, Dr. Marra adds, the groundwork that ultimately brought him and Dr. Jones to UBC was laid two decades ago, when others saw the need and value of creating a centre for genomics research in cancer.

“This is a really key, important point,” Dr. Marra says. “It’s not that I’m working harder than other folks, it’s that I’ve had the benefit of this previous investment.”

See the full article at the Globe and Mail

NSERC earmarks $13.6M for discovery research at McMaster

The Government of Canada and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) are investing more than $13.6 million in research at McMaster.

The funding will support 79 McMaster research initiatives over terms ranging from one to five years. These awards comprise the competition results for two major award categories — Discovery Grants and Discovery Accelerator Supplements (DAS).

One of five recipients of both awards is engineering physicist Rafael Kleiman, whose research is in the intensely competitive field of developing lower cost, high-efficiency solar cells.

The ability to harness the sun’s energy inexpensively and efficiently in the most common type of solar cell is a fine balance between the performance and cost of the silicon wafers used in the solar cell.

By drastically reducing the thickness of the silicon solar cells — from today’s standard thickness of about 150 microns — to just five microns, the cost and energy to produce the silicon is dramatically reduced. Because silicon is a weak absorber of light, when you make it thinner, it also absorbs less light.

“Those are the scientific challenges. First, how do you make the silicon thinner? Then, once you have made it thinner, what’s the best way to trap light to increase the absorption of light in the silicon solar cell?” said Kleiman, director of the Centre for Emerging Device Technologies. “Texturing the silicon allows the capture of more light, yielding higher efficiency solar cells.”

The additional resource of the Discovery Accelerator Supplement will allow Kleiman to expand his research group by one more postdoctoral fellow.

“In a field where there are new developments every day, adding another member to my team will speed things up in my research and allow me to try more things in parallel,” he said.

The other four McMaster researchers receiving funding from both programs have also been recognized for their well-established research programs, and their strong potential to become international leaders in their respective areas of research.

The researchers are: Shahin Sirouspour, associate professor, Electrical & Computer Engineering; Grant McClelland, associate professor, Biology; Giuseppe Melacini, associate professor, Chemistry & Chemical Biology; and Gregory Slater, associate professor, School of Geography and Earth Sciences.

“These Discovery programs provide our researchers with the support they need to continue to make important breakthroughs across every field in natural sciences and engineering,” said Mo Elbestawi, vice-president, Research & International Affairs. “Researchers such as Rafael Kleiman – whose work to advance solar cell performance –  exemplify the kind of research we do here at McMaster that will have a tangible impact on areas that are of vital importance to global society.”

“By supporting over 3,500 researchers and students in Canada, our government is providing the right kind of help to push the frontiers of knowledge in science and engineering and ensure Canada’s leadership for years to come. In so doing, we are developing, attracting and retaining the world’s most talented researchers who carry out the scientific research that creates jobs and prosperity and improves the quality of life of Canadians,” said the Honourable Ed Holder, Minister of State (Science and Technology).

The financial breakdown is as follows: 

McMaster has been funded for 73 research projects totalling $12.475 million, and received more than $500,000 for six researchers for equipment and tools. The Discovery Grants Program funds ongoing programs of research in every scientific and engineering discipline. The Discovery Accelerator Supplements — awarded to accelerate progress and maximize the impact of superior research programs — are valued at $120,000 over three years and provide the researcher with additional resources to compete with the best in the world.

A complete list of the research grants awarded to McMaster in this competition can be found here.

McMaster ‘well-positioned’ to become a world leader in water monitoring

We’re surrounded by three oceans, five Great Lakes and Southern Ontario’s largest natural wetland system. When it comes to studying water, McMaster researchers have the perfect home base.

On July 7, the University’s MacWater research team will host a conference at McMaster Innovation Park, with an overall focus on challenges in water monitoring.

The interdisciplinary group of scientists and academics, led by McMaster biology professor Herb Schellhorn, believes that the key to solving some of the planet’s most pressing water-related issues involves uniting experts from a variety of disciplines.

“Developing solutions for water quality issues in Canada requires effective communication among scientists, engineers and water quality decision-makers,” said Schellhorn. “Identifying effective interactions is a goal of our meeting for the purposes of focusing effort and for identifying resources such as government grants and municipal and industrial funding to support research.

“McMaster is currently well-positioned to support research in this area because water research has been identified as a strategic area for future direction, and because of the University’s proximity to the Great Lakes, major population centres, industry and agricultural regions.”

The morning half of the event will feature presentations from a number of MacWater researchers, who will cover a wide variety of topics, including: chemical sensing in water; software infrastructure for water quality monitoring; and the use of DNA markers and signature sequences.

After lunch, a panel discussion will tackle some of the challenges in facilitating translational research in both academic and industrial settings.

Panelists for the afternoon session include: Benson Honig, professor, DeGroote School of Business and the Teresa Cascioli Chair in Entrepreneurial Leadership; Lotfi Belkhir, associate professor, Faculty of Engineering, and Class of 1962 Mechanical Engineering Endowed Chair in Eco-entrepreneurship; and Paul Grunthal, McMaster Industry Liaison Office.

View the full agenda

Dustin Garrick, assistant professor in the Faculties of Social Sciences and Engineering and Philomathia Chair of Water Policy, will deliver a talk entitled McMaster Water Network: Connecting Science, Technology and Policy to Deliver Local and Global Impacts.

In April, Garrick helped coordinate the Philomathia Water Forum at McMaster Innovation Park, which attracted some of the country’s top scientific minds for a series of panel discussions. He’s regarded as one of the world’s leading experts on water policy, and aims to close the gap between science and policy to solve the planet’s most dire water challenges.

“The MacWater diagnostic research initiative is a cutting edge example of this interface between technological breakthrough, science discovery and decision-making to manage threats to water quality,” said Garrick.

Other invited speakers for the July 7 event include: Michelle Palmer, Ministry of the Environment; Trevor Charles, associate chair of graduate studies at the University of Waterloo; Brenda Lucas of the Southern Ontario Water Consortium; and Joanna Wilson, a McMaster biology professor.

The final portion of Tuesday’s event will feature a discussion of the most pressing water-related issues affecting China. Members of the MacWater initiative, Chang-Qing Xu and Qing Fang, recently concluded an agreement with Delin Environmental to develop a research program in McMaster Innovation Park to address these concerns.

“China has enormous water problems, including usage, pollution, jurisdictional issues and monitoring considerations,” said Schellhorn.

“The Institute of Microelectronics (Chinese Academy of Sciences) is developing new water sensor technology and, as part of a long-standing signed agreement with McMaster, has provided funding for students to attend McMaster to work with MacWater researchers.”

Members of the media are welcome to attend Monday’s event. Click here to read more about ongoing MacWater research initiatives.

McMaster University’s state of the art project centre promises groundbreaking advances in manufacturing of cell therapies and diagnostics

The cell therapy industry, while still emerging, holds enormous potential for advances in the delivery of health care, according to experts in the field.

McMaster immunologist, Jonathan Bramson, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Translational Cancer Immunology, is one of those experts. He’s also McMaster’s inaugural scientific director of BEAM – the Biomedical Engineering and Advanced Manufacturing Project Centre.

BEAM, the first facility of its kind in Canada, will make its home at the McMaster Innovation Park in Hamilton, Ontario, and add to the Park’s dynamic portfolio of research and development facilities. The unique, multi-disciplinary facility will engage both industrial and academic researchers.

Already a global leader in life sciences and advanced manufacturing, McMaster researchers have bridged these two areas of expertise to develop a new strategic area of manufacturing instrumentation for cell therapies and point of care diagnostics.

Together with German-based Fraunhofer IZI, McMaster is developing a multi-year research partnership that will focus on automation of scalable processes for GMP manufacturing of cell therapies, development of next-generation cell therapies and point-of-care diagnostics.

“We’re working to design instruments and software that are user-friendly, ready to be installed in clinical centres that lack sophisticated expertise in cell therapy,” says Bramson, noting the industry is very new and the methods and rules for manufacturing are still being defined.

While the science behind cell therapies is moving rapidly, the technology to accommodate mass manufacturing is lagging. That’s what has attracted the attention of a number partners and investors in BEAM, including Fraunhofer IZI, the Province of Ontario and City of Hamilton.

After two years of ongoing discussions and visits, leaders at Fraunhofer-IZI decided on McMaster as a natural partner for the lab.

“Having visited McMaster University twice, learning firsthand about their research capabilities, and seeing some of their world-class facilities, we know this is an institute with which we have much in common,” says Frank Emmrich, director of Fraunhofer-IZI.

See the full article at Biotechnology Focus

McMaster’s fight against ‘public enemy number one’ makes global headlines

“There’s a war going on, and most of us can’t even see it.”

That’s how TIME magazine’s Alice Park began her coverage of McMaster’s groundbreaking discovery of a fungus that can disarm drug-resistant pathogens.

The June 25 announcement, made by Gerry Wright, director of McMaster’s Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research, has made headlines across the country and around the world.

fungus 2

A team of researchers led by McMaster has discovered a fungus-derived molecule, known as AMA, which is able to disarm one of the most dangerous antibiotic-resistance genes:  NDM-1.

News of Wright’s discovery has been reported by The Wall Street Journal, Globe and MailNational PostCBCToronto StarGlobal and Australian national newspaper The Australian.

The attention comes for good reason: a molecule derived from the fungus is able to disarm one of the most dangerous antibiotic-resistant genes, known as NDM-1.

NDM-1 has been identified by the World Health Organization as a global public health threat. Wright calls it “public enemy number one.”

“It came out of nowhere, it has spread everywhere and has basically killed our last resource of antibiotics, the last pill on the shelf, used to treat serious infections,” he says.

Discovering the properties of the fungus-derived molecule is critical becaue it can provide a means to target and rapidly block the drug-resistant pathogens that render carbapenem antibiotics – a class of drugs similar to penicillin – ineffective.

“Simply put, the molecule knocks out NDM-1 so the antibiotics can do their job,” says Wright.

See the full article at McMaster Daily News