Research excellence at York: four get PREAs

Among Ontario’s best and brightest receiving the latest round of Premier’s Research Excellence Awards (PREA) are four York researchers — computer scientist Robert Allison, psychologist James Elder, geomatics engineer Vincent Tao and lake biologist Norman Yan.

They were among 131 winners announced on Wednesday by Jim Flaherty, Minister of Enterprise, Opportunity and Innovation. They receive up to $100,000 from the Ontario government and $50,000 from their universities to further their research.

The awards were created in 1998 to help Ontario’s world-class researchers attract talented people to their research teams and to encourage innovation among the province’s brightest young researchers at universities, colleges, hospitals and research institutes, says the ministry press release. The 10-year, $127.5-million awards program includes an $85-million provincial investment, and an additional $42.5 million from research institutions and private-sector partners. To date, 509 Ontario researchers have received PREAs for projects ranging from health sciences to information and communications technology and new industrial materials.

Computer science Professor Robert Allison (right), Faculty of Pure & Applied Science, is interested in stereoscopic depth perception, eye movements and perceptual issues in human spatial orientation and virtual reality systems. Humans perceive depth by interpreting the differences between images presented to the two eyes. This is called stereopsis. It is only one of a number of depth cues that help us identify the three-dimensional layout of the environment. Allison studies how the visual system resolves situations where these cues conflict. These studies will provide insight into how the brain combines and processes sensory information and will find applications in computer graphics and computer vision.

Psychology Professor James Elder (below left), Faculty of Arts, combines experimental psychology and engineering to understand human visual perception and build artificial visual systems. His interdisciplinary team is focusing on how humans perceive contours and recently filed a patent for its unique attentive panoramic sensing technology. This work will lead to new image database technologies that can be incorporated in geomatics software systems for computer-assisted aircraft navigation and disaster management.

Vincent Tao (below right), Canada Research Chair in Geomatics and professor in the Department of Earth & Atmospheric Science, Faculty of Pure & Applied Science, is an internationally recognized researcher and pioneer in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and remote sensing. He created the first Airborne Laser Imaging Thermal Mapping System for forestry and ecology in Canada. His work on distributed, open GIS has advanced research in spatially enabled Internet computing and resulted in licensable software to industry. His work has also made Canada a recognized leader in the use of GIS technology to manage, track and report on nuclear material with the software system, GeoATOMS, currently licensed to the government nuclear safety agency. He is now working on developing Sensorwebs, a networked smart sensing system that provides quick access and analysis of a vast and varied amount of data. This unique and innovative software will be an indispensable tool for responding to emergencies, managing disasters, protecting the environment, managing traffic and planning urban sustainable development.

Biology Professor Norman Yan (left), Faculty of Pure & Applied Science, is a limnologist, or lake scientist, internationally recognized for his research on the impact of acid rain on Canadian lakes, the threat of foreign invasive species to animal plankton and the combined impact of climate change and acid rain. He is currently focusing on analyzing the multiple stresses on Canadian freshwater zooplankton, which help keep water clear by feeding on algae. An understanding of threats to zooplankton will lead to informed management of aquatic resources.