Faculty of Science & Engineering celebrates research excellence

picture of four men with faculty awards

The work of three researchers from the Faculty of Science & Engineering (FSE) was honoured during the FSE Honours & Awards night on Wednesday, Nov. 16.

 From left, Faculty of Science & Engineering Dean Janusz Kozinski; Patrick Hall, professor of physics and astronomy; Suraj Unniappan, professor of biology; and Laurence Packer, professor of biologyRight: From left, Faculty of Science & Engineering Dean Janusz Kozinski; Patrick Hall, professor of physics and astronomy; Suraj Unniappan, professor of biology; and Laurence Packer, professor of biology

The evening saw the presentation of the Faculty’s annual internal research awards to biology Professor Suraj Unniappan, recipient of the 2011 Early Researcher Award; physics and astronomy Professor Patrick Hall, recipient of the 2011 Established Researcher Award; and biology Professor Laurence Packer, the recipient of the 2011 Excellence in Graduate Mentoring Award.

“These awards were created to honour and celebrate the outstanding dedication of our Faculty to research and graduate student mentoring. This year’s recipients are examples of the excellent talent we have at FSE and we are proud to support our researchers in their fundamental, groundbreaking and innovative research endeavours,” said Janusz Kozinski, dean of the Faculty of Science & Engineering.

Described as a rising star in the area of obesity, diabetes and hormone regulation research, Unniappan has established an impressive research team and attracted large external funding from the Natural Science & Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Canadian Institutes of Health Studies, the Canadian Foundation for Innovation and the Ontario Ministry of Research & Innovation Early Researcher Awards.

Unniappan’s research follows an integrative approach, employing an array of cutting-edge research tools for the functional characterization of regulatory peptides in vertebrates. His current activity focuses on nesfatin-1, a novel hormone involved in appetite suppression and weight loss. Unniappan’s research team recently discovered that nesfatin-1 stimulates insulin secretion, regulates glucose levels, increases fat usage and promotes physical activity. These findings have great importance in understanding the hormonal basis of obesity and diabetes. This research is expected to help develop hormone-based strategies for the prediction, prevention and/or the treatment of metabolic diseases. His research using fish broadens current understanding of hormone function and mechanisms of action, and has potential applications in fisheries and aquaculture.

The recipient of the Established Researcher Award, Hall is interested in improving our ability to infer the physical properties of quasars – black holes at the centres of galaxies like our own – from the details of the light they produce. He is also interested in gravitational lensing, which can take a small, faint galaxy and stretch it out into a long, luminous arc. Hall is investigating how well the gas surrounding random galaxies can be characterized when it is seen silhouetted against the light of a luminous arc, as a possible project for the next generation of ground-based telescopes, which will have mirrors 30 metres in diameter.

The outflows of absorbing gas from quasars form winds can be quite influential in the formation of galaxies. Hall’s primary research quest is to understand the nature of quasar winds and their effect on galaxies. Recently he published a paper on a quasar which, within a span of 14 years, has gone from having heavy absorption to almost no absorption at all. He spent his recent sabbatical researching these winds and discovered a number of quasars where the wind appears to be falling back towards the black hole; his next task is to determine what these “failed winds” can tell us about quasars that were created billions of years ago.

Packer is a melittologist – a specialist in the study of bees – who travels the world tracking many of the 19,500 described species of wild bees. His research is responsible for York having the largest bee collection in Canada, where more than 60 per cent of the world’s bee genera are represented. He is also the author of Keeping the Bees: Why All Bees Are at Risk and What We Can Do to Save Them (2010, Harper Collins). All proceeds from his book are being directed to bee conservation research. He is the co-chair of the Arthropods Specialist Subcommittee (with Paul Catling) of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. He also runs the bee barcoding campaign of the Canadian Barcode of Life Network.

Students who have collaborated with him on research publications, also recently made national news headlines by documenting 19 new bee species. He allows the students that work with him the intellectual freedom to study the many facets of biodiversity, but they gain considerable knowledge and field experience as they study bees.

For more information on the awards and other activities, visit the Faculty of Science & Engineering website.