Research Chairs

The Canada Research Chairs program was created by the federal government in 2000 to attract and retain top researchers. Canada Research Chairs (CRCs) are nationally recognized experts who contribute knowledge, understanding, and solutions to society. Tier 1 and Tier 2 CRCs are nominated by universities, but must also be confirmed by their peers as being exceptional researchers and potential leaders — even world leaders — in their field. There are 10 active Canada Research Chairs at Brock, with more to be announced. Brock University has a total of 14 Canada Research Chair allocations.

Dr. Julia Baird

Earth’s water resources are increasingly threatened by climate change, industry, development and pollution. But the water governance approaches we currently rely on-that is, the political, social, economic and administrative systems that influence how we use and manage water-are proving inadequate to address these threats. An emerging “water resilience” approach to governance is increasingly seen as a solution.

As Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Human Dimensions of Water Resources and Water Resilience, Dr. Julia Baird is studying the human dimensions of water resilience. She and her research team are focusing on decision-making at two interacting levels: the group level (to address governance collaboration and effectiveness) and the individual level (to investigate worldviews, how to shape them, and how doing so could lead to system-level governance changes). Ultimately, Baird and her team hope to find the most effective way forward to collectively navigate future water crises.

Dr. Karen Campbell

Bringing the Aging Brain into Focus

As we grow older, many of us worry about the state of our memory. But several aspects of memory are actually preserved with age. The real issue is our ability to stay focused and tune out distractions. Dr. Karen Campbell, Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience in Aging, believes this is what we should be aiming to improve.

Distracting information can affect our daily functioning in many ways. It throws us off when we drive, slows down our reading, and gets in the way of our ability to remember the things we want to remember. While people of all ages can get distracted, our ability to ignore distracting sights and sounds tends to worsen with age.

Campbell is looking at why this happens. She is examining the neural bases of older adults’ increased distractibility and the implications for memory and other cognitive functions.

Campbell and her research team use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to scan younger and older adults’ brains while they perform a variety of cognitive tasks. Then they compare brain activity among the two groups to determine how the brain networks critical for controlling attention differ with age.

Campbell’s research will not only contribute to our understanding of how age affects the brain and cognition, but may also point the way to new interventions to help us to stay focused as we age.

Dr. Andrea Douceet

Exploring Persistent Puzzles in Gender, Work, Care and Community

There have been dramatic changes in the last 50 years in how North American women and men work and care for their families. For example, there have been significant increases in the number of families in which women are primary breadwinners and men are primary caregivers. In other words, more women are now bringing home the bread and more men are baking bread.

However, enduring gender differences and inequalities persist. Women fill a small minority of executive employment positions and men face scrutiny when they enter parent playgroups. Men continue to earn more than women at paid work, while women continue to be responsible for most unpaid work.

Dr. Andrea Doucet, Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Gender, Work, Care and Community is studying persistent puzzles of gender differences and inequalities in paid and unpaid work. Her research focuses on families that are challenging traditional gender norms around work and care—such as primary caregiving fathers and primary breadwinning mothers—and the lessons that emerge from them.

Doucet is exploring changes in care and work experiences across three generations. She is also shining a spotlight on the challenges faced by men who take up caregiving of infants, children and the elderly.

Doucet’s research will contribute greatly to public and policy debates aimed at increasing gender equalities in paid work and care work. She will also engage a wide public audience through cutting-edge narrative and visual/digital methodologies that capture and convey a rich diversity of stories on changing work and family lives.

Dr. Paula Duarte Guterman

Learning and experience reshape the adult brain throughout its lifetime. In the hippocampus (a region important for learning and memory and the regulation of stress and anxiety), remodelling includes the addition of entirely new neurons. But much is still unknown about how these neurons affect our behaviour as we age.

Dr. Paula Duarte Guterman, Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Behavioural Neuroscience, aims to shed light on the role these new neurons in the hippocampus play in our behaviour. To do this, she and her research team are using a new animal model, the common degu, a small rodent native to Chile. By adopting an approach that uses natural variations in the production of new neurons-due to sex, aging and parental experience-they hope to improve our understanding of how the hippocampus is shaped over a person’s lifetime and how it affects our behaviour.

Dr. Val Fajardo

As Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Tissue Remodelling and Plasticity Throughout the Lifespan, Dr. Val Andrew Fajardo is looking for ways to promote physiological remodelling to help people live better and longer lives. In particular, Fajardo and his research team are focusing on inhibiting glycogen synthase kinase 3 (a protein implicated in several diseases) and promoting the function of a calcium pump in muscle called SERCA. His lab focuses on these targets using genetic and pharmacological approaches with the hopes of influencing adaptive changes in muscle that can be useful in the fight against obesity, aging and disease, as well as for spaceflight.

Dr. Michael Holmes

Musculoskeletal disorders are the single most common reason why people miss work. Even though we have gained a better understanding over the years of how work can contribute to injuries, work-related upper-extremity musculoskeletal disorders are still common. But our ability to understand what causes them is hindered by the complexity of the biomechanical and neural circuitry that underlie human movement.

Dr. Michael Holmes, Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Neuromuscular Mechanics and Ergonomics, is trying to gain insights into these issues. He and his research team are using an interdisciplinary approach to understand how the muscular and nervous systems accomplish workplace demands. Their research will enhance our understanding of how upper-extremity injuries develop. It will also lead to safer work practices.

Dr. Matt Kwan

Despite the health benefits associated with regular physical activity, most young Canadians don’t get enough exercise. Even fewer young people meet the 24-hour movement guidelines, which consider not only physical activity, but also how much we sit and sleep. For a variety of reasons, efforts to intervene have largely failed to get youth moving more.

Dr. Matthew Kwan, Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Youth Mental Health and Performance, aims to understand the factors that lead to increased physical activity and other health-promoting behaviours, and how these behaviours affect youths’ mental health and well-being. Kwan and his research team are integrating new theoretical and methodological approaches and using emerging technologies to better understand how we can increase the activity levels of Canadian youth.

Dr. Yifeng Li

Bioinformatics-where biology and computer science meet-has emerged as a relatively new scientific field that can unlock mysteries at the molecular level about how we analyze and treat health conditions. Bioinformatics seeks to discover within datasets the “hidden” information needed to solve challenges in biological data science.

As Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Machine Learning for Biomedical Data Science, Dr. Yifeng Li is looking to artificial intelligence (AI) to support society’s health and well-being. He and his research team are developing new machine learning approaches that can teach AI to better interpret complex biological data, solve design problems in biotechnology more efficiently, and fill the gaps created by insufficient biological data. By creating new computer models and methods that address data science challenges in a variety of real-life applications, their work will help bioinformatics to improve Canadians’ well-being.

Dr. Danielle Molnar

In today’s world, more and more young people are striving to be “perfect”-and this is putting them under a lot of pressure. As Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Adjustment and Well-Being in Children and Youth, Dr. Danielle Sirianni Molnar is examining the role that perfectionism plays in young people’s stress levels and the effect this stress has on them.

She and her research team are working to better understand the experiences of young perfectionists and their parents. They are examining how perfectionism affects chronic stress and the impact of this stress on young people’s well-being and ability to adjust. They are also determining how parent-adolescent relationships can moderate the links between perfectionism, stress, adjustment and well-being to better understand just how useful perfectionism really is.

Dr. Newman Sze

As people live longer, rates of age-related diseases-such as atherosclerosis, cardiovascular disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, hypertension and Alzheimer’s disease-are steadily increasing. A common feature of these illnesses is damage to the blood vessel lining in body tissues and organs. For years, we haven’t had the right tools to understand this problem. But as Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Mechanisms of Health and Disease, Dr. Newman Sze is trying to change that.

Sze has already invented new ways to investigate how the blood vessel lining degrades over time. Now, he and his research team are testing whether lifestyle and dietary changes can reduce damage to the blood vessel lining and, ultimately, whether drugs that target this damage can prevent many common diseases linked to age.