Two York profs receive Early Researcher Awards

York University professors Denise Henriques and Stephen Wright have been awarded funding under the Ontario government’s Early Researcher Award program for their work in two important fields: the brain’s use of sensory information to control action and genome research related to Canadian plants.

They will each receive up to $100,000 of Ontario government funding under the second round of the program, and the awards will be matched by $50,000 in research investment by York University. The second round of the program was announced Tuesday on behalf of Premier and Minister of Research & Innovation Dalton McGuinty, and will invest $14 million to support 104 leading researchers at 22 institutions in Ontario.

Henriques, a professor in York University’s School of Kinesiology & Health Science and a member of York’s Centre for Vision Research, will study the role of sensory information in shaping and guiding movements.

Left: York researcher Denise Henriques will study two aspects of sensorimotor function in the brain

These sensorimotor processes are central to brain function, and Henriques and her colleagues study two central aspects of sensorimotor function: how the brain represents and processes spatial information at different stages of an action; and how the brain integrates and interprets information from multiple senses to drive motor learning. Understanding these processes would have potentially profound implications for many common and debilitating neurological disorders, and possibly also for robotics, for physical education and for teleoperations such as remote surgery.

Wright, a professor in the Department of Biology at York University, will examine the interaction between demography and genetics in plant evolution, investigating how plant populations evolve and adapt at the molecular level.

Right: How plant populations evolve and adapt at the molecular level is the subject of a study by York researcher Stephen Wright

This genome research could lead to improvements in important Canadian crops such as canola, swede and turnip. It is also expected to produce important tools for the management of endangered species and provide other information for use in agriculture, health and environmental protection.

Under the Early Researcher Award program, the Ontario government has committed to investing $51 million over five years to support outstanding researchers in Ontario and to encourage the recruitment of other talented young researchers.

“The Early Researcher Award program is a critical investment in the globally-competitive research being done at the University,” said York Vice-President Research & Innovation Stan Shapson. “These awards recognize the excellent work being done by researchers early in their careers, and the significant contributions they are making.”