CFI awards more than $1.5M in research infrastructure funding to York University

research graphic
featured image for research stories

Researchers at York University will receive more than $1.5 million in funding from the Government of Canada as part of a $77-million investment to support 332 research infrastructure projects at 50 universities across the country.

Announced on Aug. 11 by Innovation, Science and Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne, the contribution comes from the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s (CFI) John R. Evans Leaders Fund (JELF) program, a tool designed to invest in state-of-the-art labs and equipment researchers need to turn their visions into reality.

At York, Professors Ali Asgary, Marcus Brubaker, Solomon Boakye-Yiadom, Liam Butler, Taylor Cleworth, Claire David, Shital Desai, Matthew Keough, Christine Le, Ozzy Mermut, Arturo Orellana, Enamul Prince, Jennifer Pybus and Emilie Roudier will receive funding totalling more than $1.5 million for their infrastructure projects.

“York is delighted to have 14 academics receive the John R. Evans Leaders Fund,” said Vice-President Research and Innovation Amir Asif. “This vital funding helps ensure we attract and retain the very best researchers who are undertaking truly innovative work. From addiction vulnerability to critical data-literacy research, from age-related impairments to advancements in particle physics – these projects will make positive change for our students, our campuses and our local and global communities.”

The funded projects at York are:

Ali Asgary, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies
DEXR LAB
CFI JELF award: $100,000
Ali Asgary
Ali Asgary

Asgary and DEXR Lab will conduct research and develop extended reality (XR) applications for public safety, public health and disaster-and-emergency management training, education and operations. DEXR Lab will be equipped with the latest XR hardware and software for developing XR applications for areas including structural firefighting, wildfire management, hospital-emergency-and-intensive-care units, first-responders’ collision simulation, virus transmission and spread, train derailment and volcano eruption, among others. DEXR Lab will be supported by York’s Advanced Disaster, Emergency and Rapid Response Simulation (ADERSIM) and will enhance Canada’s share in the XR research and market – putting the country at the forefront of XR applications in the aforementioned areas.

Marcus Brubaker, Lassonde School of Engineering
Generative Modeling for CryoEM, Hyperspectral Imagery and Video
CFI JELF award: $140,000
Marcus Brubaker
Marcus Brubaker

Brubaker will develop novel artificial intelligence (AI) methods focused on applications where labelled-training data is limited or unavailable. The goal of this research is to enable learning from minimal amounts of data – dramatically reducing the amount of labelled data required and democratizing access to the technology. The methods developed could allow small companies, not-for-profit organizations or even individuals to effectively apply state-of-the-art AI methods, rather than only being available to large companies (which have either vast amounts of data already available or the resources to collect it). To reach this goal, Brubaker’s research will explore probabilistic-generative methods with specific applications in hyperspectral image analysis, video analysis and the processing of electron cryomicroscopy data.

Solomon Boakye-Yiadom, Lassonde School of Engineering
Machine Learning and Additive Manufacturing for the Development of Next Generation Materials
CFI JELF award: $140,000
Solomon Boakye-Yiadom
Solomon Boakye-Yiadom

For thousands of years since the advent of bronze, alloy development has involved diluting a single base element with small amounts of other elements. This approach is slow, expensive and requires a lot of effort with minimal increments in required material properties. A new idea where alloys have no single dominant element is gaining traction. These multi-principal element alloys, specifically, High Entropy Alloys (HEA), possess superior properties. Research lead by Boakye-Yiadom, along with Professors Marina Freire-Gormaly and Ruth Urner, will guide in the accelerated discovery and development of advanced HEAs and enhance our ability to detect and minimize defects during metal additive manufacturing. This includes innovative discoveries for advanced materials and process monitoring during manufacturing.

Liam Butler, Lassonde School of Engineering
The Climate-Data-Driven Design (CD3) Facility for Built Infrastructure
CFI JELF award: $140,000
Liam Butler
Liam Butler

The influence of climatic variations on Canada’s vast infrastructure stock, valued at more than $850 billion, is largely ignored in infrastructure design. Variations in temperature, humidity and precipitation, along with increased frequency of extreme events will lead to cyclic factors that influence the behaviour of infrastructure materials. Mitigating these adverse effects starts with being able to reliably measure and to better understand the impact that climate variability has on infrastructure. Butler, along with Professors Usman Khan and Matthew Perras, will establish a unique field laboratory, where robust sensing, advanced AI-based data analytics and innovative infrastructure materials will be developed and validated. The vision is for the CD3 Facility to become Canada’s leading research laboratory in climate-data-driven infrastructure design – providing immediate impact to regulators, asset managers and suppliers, and long-term benefits for all Canadians.

Taylor Cleworth, Faculty of Health
Neuro-mechanics of Balance Deficits During Dynamic Stance
CFI JELF award: $125,000
Taylor Cleworth
Taylor Cleworth

Falls and resulting injuries are a major health and economic concern for older adults, care providers and Canadians at large. Reducing fall rates can be challenging due to the multi-faceted nature of controlling upright stance. Cleworth will study the sensorimotor mechanisms underlying balance control and investigate possible avenues of treatment for balance deficits. The new infrastructure will provide the foundation for an innovative research program aimed at understanding the complex interaction of biomechanical and cortical mechanisms that contribute to human balance and mobility deficits, and to assess and improve the efficacy of balance-related interventions and fall prevention programs.

Claire David, Faculty of Science
Next generation of neutrino detectors for the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE)
CFI JELF award: $125,000
Claire David
Claire David

David, along with Professor Deborah Harris, will build a versatile cryogenic test bench to develop a prototype for the next generation of neutrino detectors. This modular system will have the ability to test two modules of the current state-of-the-art technology in the same cryostat – allowing direct comparison of different alternative readout systems. The modules will be paired with revolutionary electronics for light detection that other Canadian universities are developing. Ultimately, the optimized prototype will serve DUNE, the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment, an international effort hosted by Fermilab in the United States. This will enable David and Harris, also research scientists at Fermilab and part of the DUNE collaboration, to be at the forefront of detector development in experimental particle physics.

Shital Desai, School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design
Social and Technological Systems lab
CFI JELF award: $50,000
Shital Desai

Efforts to develop technologies for older adults is challenged by changing physical and cognitive abilities of older adults. Assistive technologies should adapt to the needs of older adults without them having to adjust settings, change versions or use hacks. Desai’s research will investigate a generation of prompts in emerging technologies for people with dementia. Machine-learning techniques will be employed to learn about the user and make inferences regarding their state while using the technology. The research outcomes will be used to develop adaptive-assistive technology and drive pivotal advancements in the area of interactive design and adaptive technology for older adults. It will lead to development of deployable technologies in non-clinical settings, driving independence and social inclusion in older adults – advancing Canada’s position as a leader in interactive-adaptive technology.

Matthew Keough, Faculty of Health
Center for Research on Addiction Vulnerability in Early Life
CFI JELF award: $50,000
Matthew Keough
Matthew Keough

Millions of Canadians struggle with co-occurring alcohol use and emotional disorders (e.g. anxiety) but very little is known about why alcohol use and emotional disorders co-occur so frequently, resulting in a lack of understanding of how to treat them effectively. Keough’s innovative experimental research aims to uncover the biopsychosocial risk factors for alcohol use-emotional disorder comorbidity in emerging adulthood (ages 18 to 25). Keough will acquire state-of-the-art equipment for his Center for Research on Addiction Vulnerability in Early Life (CRAVE Lab). Using a simulated-bar-lab environment and innovative technology, his research will have the potential to improve treatments for alcohol use-emotional disorder comorbidity and improve the lives of many Canadians and their families.

Christine Le, Faculty of Science
Infrastructure for the Catalytic Synthesis of Medicinally Relevant Organofluorine Compounds
CFI JELF award: $160,000
Christine Le
Christine Le

Le’s research seeks to develop more efficient, cost-effective and greener methods for the synthesis of medicinally relevant fluorine-containing compounds. On average it takes 10 years for a newly discovered drug to reach the market due to the complexity of clinical trials, production and approval by government agencies. The synthetic methods targeted in this research will improve the efficiency of drug discovery and synthesis, allowing critical medicines to reach the market sooner. The research objectives and methodologies align with Canada’s commitment to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, which include the efficient use of natural resources, the reduction of chemical waste and the development of essential medicines.

Ozzy Mermut, Faculty of Science
Biophotonics Diagnosis, Treatment and Dosimetry in Age-related Disorders and Human Diseases
CFI JELF award: $160,000
Ozzy Mermut
Ozzy Mermut

Personalized medicine will improve patient outcomes and limit health-care costs facing aging populations and consequent diseases. Globally, one billion people face vision impairment, with age-related macular degeneration affecting 245 million. Mermut’s research aims to identify tissue-specific biomarkers for early-stage diagnosis of vision disorders and other diseases, advancing the understanding of molecular pathogenesis. Photonic techniques will then be developed for targeted, minimally invasive phototherapy. A tissue model will be engineered, recapitulating natural, diseased tissues to study laser treatments and develop dosimetry that provides molecular information on initiated-cell responses. The ultimate goal is complete eradication of pathogenic cells that lead to debilitating diseases through absolute, precise laser therapy.

Arturo Orellana, Faculty of Science
Organic Synthesis for Development of Therapeutics
CFI JELF award: $107,000
Arturo Orellana

Orellana’s research program will focus on developing enabling technologies for new therapeutics to address the healthcare needs of a large portion of the Canadian population. This program brings together multidisciplinary teams of experts from industry and academia to target difficult challenges in health care including diseases such as Alzheimer’s, ovarian cancer and diabetes. The fundamental-science focus on design, synthesis and characterization of drug-like organic molecules will provide critical know-how to deliver cures for diseases affecting large patient populations, while establishing Canada as a leader in health and science research.

Enamul Prince, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies
Establishment of the Intelligent Visualization Laboratory
CFI JELF award: $114,726
Enamul Prince
Enamul Prince

Prince will establish the Intelligent Visualization Lab with an aim to make analytics more accessible by changing the way we interact with data. A diverse range of people with different levels of skills and backgrounds will perform analysis on large data-sets faster and more effectively through natural and fluid interactions. The lab will significantly improve the ability of professionals – ranging from data scientists to business analysts, to health-care analysts – to analyze data and make complex decisions, with the potential to unlock new markets and direct financial benefits for Canadian industry. The lab will also allow students to train for the high-demand fields of AI, data science and analytics.

Jennifer Pybus, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies
The Centre for Public AI (CPAI)
CFI JELF award: $69,385
Jennifer Pybus
Jennifer Pybus

Pybus will establish the Centre for Public AI (CPAI) – Canada’s preeminent centre for the interdisciplinary application of a more grounded, civically driven explainable approach to AI. It aims to foster an understanding of the diverse infrastructures that gather personal data on applications and platforms through the development of tools and participatory workshops. The research conducted will fill an important gap by contributing to a growing field of critical data-literacy studies to examine algorithmic practices impacting the lives of Canadians. New tools will facilitate academic and policy interventions related to algorithmic accountability from the perspective of non-expert users who experience the outcomes of machine-learning technologies.

Emilie Roudier, Faculty of Health
Microvascular Epigenetics of Physical Activity
CFI JELF award: $80,000 
Emilie Roudier
Emilie Roudier

Roudier’s research aims to address how physical activity induces beneficial changes in the vascular epigenome. She will establish a specialized lab to study the interaction between physical activity and the vascular epigenome. Canadians are at high risk of vascular diseases due to unhealthy behaviours. Most researchers focus on finding and averting adverse epigenetic marks correlated with vascular diseases. This lab will take a counterpoint approach – aiming to define what a healthy vascular epigenome is. The discovery of beneficial epigenetic marks generated by this research will support the discovery of new biomarkers to assess environmental risk to vascular health and test the efficiency of lifestyle or preventive interventions aiming to boost vascular health.

About the Canada Foundation for Innovation

For more than 20 years, the CFI has been giving researchers the tools they need to think big and innovate. Fostering a robust innovation system in Canada translates into jobs and new enterprises, better health, cleaner environments and, ultimately, vibrant communities. By investing in state-of-the-art facilities and equipment in Canada’s universities, colleges, research hospitals and non-profit research institutions, the CFI also helps to attract and retain the world’s top talent, to train the next generation of researchers and to support world-class research that strengthens the economy and improves the quality of life for all Canadians.