Postdoctoral fellow leaves trail of success at York as he takes on new faculty position

After a string of high-profile publications and awards during his postdoctoral fellowship in the Faculty of Science at York University, Heath MacMillan has now been appointed as a faculty member at Carleton University.

Heath MacMillian

MacMillan has been working in Biology Professor Andrew Donini’s lab, as well as in collaboration with Professors Jean-Paul Paluzzi and Scott Kelly, to study how insects tolerate temperature changes and extremes. In 2015, he received a prestigious Banting Fellowship to support his research at York, which integrated observations at the subcellular, cellular, tissue, organ and whole animal levels to explain the critical differences in physiology that can mean life or death for insects in the cold.

“Why can one species survive a Canadian winter while another cannot?” says MacMillan. “If we aim to predict the impacts of global climate change on animal distribution and abundance, we first need to understand what sets the limits to thermal tolerance.”

During his postdoc at York, MacMillan published a series of high-profile research studies, including two papers in Nature’s Scientific Reports which reported that the key to insects’ cold weather survival is in keeping their salt balance in check and that insects drastically alter their gene expression and metabolism to respond to temperature changes in their environment. The latter paper received excellent media coverage by The Star and CTV News, among other outlets.

Just last month, he also received the Presidents’ Medal for the best research paper presented orally by a postdoc at the Canadian Society of Zoologists Annual Meeting. The research he presented for this award explored how low temperature causes the insect gut to get leaky, leading to injury and death. While a postdoc at York, MacMillan was also recognized at the York U Research Leaders celebration.

MacMillan has passed on the torch to other young researchers at York University before he moves on to the next chapter of his academic research career. A Master’s student that he has been supervising, Gil Yerushalmi, who also published his honours thesis with MacMillan, received a Vernon Stong Scholarship earlier this year, is supported by a prestigious NSERC postgraduate scholarship, and is currently finalizing the first manuscript from his MSc thesis.

“Congratulations to Heath on his multiple successes,” says Dean of Science Ray Jayawardhana. “We appreciate the impact he has had at York through his exciting research and active engagement, and wish him the very best.”