Five York faculty receive Early Researcher Awards

York University professors Rolando Ceddia, Patrick Brian Hall, Jane Heffernan, Rebecca Pillai Riddell and Suraj Unniappan have each received $100,000 in funds through the Ontario government’s Early Researcher Awards program.

York University’s research investment of $50,000 will match the funds for each award, in a wide range of disciplines including psychology, mathematics, kinesiology, physics and biology. Through Ontario’s Early Researcher Awards program, a total of $11.5 million is invested to support 82 leading researchers while improving Ontario’s ability to attract and retain the brightest research talent from around the world.

“Today we are investing in the bright ideas and bright future of 338 up-and-coming researchers across Ontario,” John Milloy, minister of research and innovation, announced last week. “The McGuinty government understands that when we invest in our research talent, we are investing in the future of our health care, our environment, and our economy.” 

Hon. John MilloyLeft: John Milloy     

Rolando Ceddia, professor of kinesiology & health science in the Faculty of Health, is studying metabolism and its impact on energy in the human body. Ceddia’s research will provide the foundation for the development of alternative therapeutic approaches to treat obesity that are safer and more efficient than available methods of studying the regulation of energy through diet and exercise. The goal of his research is to reverse or prevent obesity, a major metabolic disorder on the increase worldwide and affecting the health of many Canadians. 

Patrick Hall, professor of physics in the Faculty of Science & Engineering, is comparing the properties of thousands of quasars with wind model predictions that can affect the evolution of massive galaxies. Matter spiraling into a super-massive black hole heats up and gives off the light physicists call a quasar. Researchers understand only vaguely how observable quasar properties are determined by basic parameters like orientation, mass accretion rate, black hole mass and spin. Hall’s research will provide observations of the areas of parameter space which will guide theoretical models and improve our understanding of quasars and their role in galaxy evolution.

Jane Heffernan, professor of mathematics in the Faculty of Science & Engineering, is proposing new mathematical models to capture the in-host viral evolution of influenza, contracted by and infecting thousands of Ontarians each year, sometimes with fatal consequences. Her research will improve vaccines by increasing the accuracy in predictions of the dominant strain of the influenza virus.

Rebecca Pillai Riddell, professor of psychology in the Faculty of Health, is researching the impact of parents’ and caregivers’ management on infant pain, given that infants do not have the ability to report on or manage their pain. Her research of infant pain within this framework of parent-infant interaction ultimately will contribute to the reduction of infant suffering while providing evidence-based research to better manage infant pain. 

Suraj Unniappan, professor of biology in the Faculty of Science & Engineering, is identifying novel metabolic hormones in vertebrates to reveal their biological actions. Unniappan’s research will provide insights into mechanisms by which hormones regulate energy balance in fish and rodents. The results of his research could be harnessed to develop new therapies for metabolic diseases including obesity and diabetes and also to induce growth and body weight of cultured fish.

“The cutting-edge research undertaken by these five researchers at York is making a significant impact on science and society,” said Stan Shapson, vice-president, research & innovation at York University. “The Early Researcher Awards program recognizes this scholarly excellence and is a testament to Ontario’s commitment to globally competitive research.”

The Early Researcher Awards program (ERA) helps promising, recently-appointed Ontario researchers build their research teams of graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, research assistants and associates. The goal of the program is to improve Ontario’s ability to attract and retain the best and brightest research talent.