York research projects receive over $3.1M in provincial funding

innovation image

Eighteen York University researchers have received more than $3 million in combined funding from the government of Ontario in support of their innovative research projects designed to bring new products, ideas and technologies to the market.

The funding for York, totaling $3,166,842, comes from the Ontario Research Fund and the Early Researcher Awards. The funds are intended to help institutions attract and retain top research talent and to help grow Ontario’s innovation sector.

“York University makes innovation its tradition and we are grateful to the provincial government’s support of the ingenuity of our pioneering researchers,” said Amir Asif, vice-president research and innovation. “Their projects hold the promise to stimulate growth, ignite creativity and fuel invention across a variety of industries in Ontario.” 

Some of the York projects to receive funding include the creation of a new class of micro-mobility vehicles ($995,881), led by mechanical engineer Andrew Maxwell; the opening of a research apiary on campus to conduct cutting-edge studies on the genetics of bees ($212,990), led by biologist Amro Zayed; and the development of a new research field called global legal epidemiology to improve the equity and effectiveness of international law and to better prepare Ontario for global health threats ($200,000), led by health scientist and legal epidemiologist Steven Hoffman.

The York projects were among 406 projects to receive the new funding at universities, colleges, research institutes and research hospitals across Ontario.  

“By investing in cutting-edge research, we are safeguarding Ontario’s position at the forefront of innovation that continues to be competitive on a global scale and has the ability to attract the best and brightest talent to our province,” said Jill Dunlop, minister of colleges and universities. “This will help ensure the social and economic opportunities that result from discoveries made in Ontario benefit Ontarians and the Ontario economy.”  

The York projects to receive funding include:

Ontario Research Fund – Research Excellence

Andrew Maxwell, associate professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Lassonde School of Engineering
Creating a new category of micro-mobility electric vehicles for local and last mile fleet applications

Ontario Research Fund – Research Infrastructure

Jennifer Pybus, assistant professor, Department of Politics, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies
The Centre for Public AI (CPAI)

Claire David, assistant professor, Department of Physics & Astronomy, Faculty of Science
Next generation of neutrino detector for the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment

Shital Desai, assistant professor, Department of Computational Arts, School of the Arts, Performance, Media & Design
Social and Technological Systems (SaTS) lab

Ozzy Mermut, associate professor, Department of Physics & Astronomy, Faculty of Science
Biophotonics Diagnosis, Treatment and Dosimetry in Age-Related Disorders and Human Diseases

Matthew Keough, associate professor, Department of Psychology, Faculty of Health
Centre for Research on Addiction Vulnerability in Early Life (CRAVE Lab)

Taylor Cleworth, assistant professor, School of Kinesiology & Health Science, Faculty of Health
Neuromechanics of Balance Deficits during Dynamic Stance

Andrea Josse, assistant professor, School of Kinesiology & Health Science, Faculty of Health
Novel Targets of Whole-food Dairy Products for Human Muscoloskeletal and Cardiometabolic Health

Steven Hoffman, professor, School of Health Policy & Management, Faculty of Health and Osgoode Hall Law School, Dahdaleh Distinguished Chair in Global Governance & Legal Epidemiology
Building infostructure for quasi-experimental analysis in global legal epidemiology

Amro Zayed, Department of Biology, Faculty of Science
Research apiary to study honey bee behaviour, genetics and health

Thomas Cooper, associate professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Lassonde School of Engineering
Multifunctional aerogel innovation platform

Jaclyn Hurley, assistant professor, School of Kinesiology & Health Science, Faculty of Health
Exploring Variability in Musculoskeletal Anatomy and Biomechanics Related to Shoulder Movement and Health

Andrée-Ann Cyr, associate professor, Department of Psychology, Glendon College
Effects of aging and curiosity-states on learning and memory

Shayna Rosenbaum, professor, Department of Psychology, Faculty of Health
REIL: Realistic Environment Interaction Logistics

Ali Abdul Sater, associate professor, School of Kinesiology & Health Science, Faculty of Health
Targeting TRAF1 to devise novel therapies for inflammatory arthritis

Arash Habibi Lashkari, associate professor, School of Information Technology, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies
Behaviour-Centric Cybersecurity Research Lab

Reza Rizvi, assistant professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Lassonde School of Engineering
Raman Microscopy Facility for Nanomaterials Characterization in Clean Energy and Environmental Research

Early Researcher Awards

Hossein Kassiri, associate professor, Department of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science, Lassonde School of Engineering
Next Generation Wireless and Battery-Less mm-Scale Implantable Optogenetic Neurostimulators

For further information, read the government’s full announcement.

YSpace receives funding to support northern York Region entrepreneurs

presentation given on colorful board BANNER

The YSpace Northern York Region Hub, an entrepreneurial support centre for small businesses in the towns of Georgina and East Gwillimbury, Ont., has received $150,000 in funding from the government of Ontario’s Rural Economic Development (RED) program.

The initiative – a partnership between YSpace, an entrepreneurship and innovation hub, and the two towns – was launched in 2021 to provide entrepreneurial resources to the local business community. Those resources include mentorship, access to networks and co-working space for collaboration – many of them tailored to address needs specific to the area.

A chief aim of the initiative is to remove barriers to accessing entrepreneurship and business acceleration for rural communities , whether those involved are startups or existing enterprises. A dedicated space has offered virtual and in-person opportunities as well as access to computers, internet, video conferencing solutions, photography tools for e-commerce and online content creation, collaboration spaces, programming support and business community resources.

At the time of the launch York’s Vice-President of Research and Innovation Amir Asif, said, “We look forward to further strengthening this partnership and witnessing the ideas that participating entrepreneurs bring to life – contributing to the region’s knowledge-based economy and creating positive change in their communities and beyond.”

David Kwok
David Kwok

David Kwok, director of entrepreneurship and innovation at YSpace, says in the past few years, they’ve made great progress towards that mission. “Since opening our doors in 2021, we have supported over 700 individuals in Georgina and East Gwillimbury through educational workshops and specialized programming focusing on pivotal areas such as business plan development and digital marketing.”

Now, with the new funding from RED, it can continue to do so.

The RED program looks to support projects that diversify rural economies, retain skilled workers and create jobs in local communities. It also aspires to help better position rural communities to attract or retain investment, and enhance economic growth, while diversifying local economies.  

With that in mind, YSpace plans to further enhance its entrepreneurial support service. “This new funding will enable us to continue our work and launch a new mentorship program that is customized to the unique needs of local business owners,” says Kwok. The program will see an expansion of one-on-one mentorship opportunities for aspiring and established entrepreneurs in the region.

The hub will pursue recruiting experienced mentors from diverse industries and backgrounds, ensuring that entrepreneurs receive tailored guidance and expertise relevant to their specific business needs. Through those personalized mentorship relationships, the goal is to empower entrepreneurs to overcome obstacles, make informed decisions and achieve their business goals, ultimately contributing to the economic development and prosperity of the community.

In that way, YSpace continues to live up to what Rhonda Lenton, president and vice-chancellor of the University, said when the Northern York Region Hub was announced: “York University is committed to leveraging the success of YSpace’s entrepreneurship programs and make available customized resources to support economic growth and prosperity for the Towns of Georgina and East Gwillimbury. We look forward to continuing this relationship, and building greater access to entrepreneurship for all businesses in the region.”

York’s Institute for Technoscience & Society looks to shape public debate, policy

Institute for Technoscience & Society web page graphic cropped
Credit: Zoran Svilar

York University’s Institute for Technoscience & Society (ITS), established in 2022 as an Associated Research Centre of the new Connected Minds: Neural and Machine Systems for a Healthy, Just Society initiative, is on a mission to build a global hub focused on the complex relationship between technoscience – the scientific study of how humans interact with technology – and society. In particular, the institute is committed to unravelling the configuration of social power that underpins science, medicine, technology and innovation.

According to Professor Kean Birch, the inaugural director of ITS, the institute was established to cement York’s international standing and reputation in disciplines such as science and technology studies, communication and media studies, design, critical data studies, the history and philosophy of science, and other related fields in which York is a global leader. Aligned with the University’s Strategic Research Plan, especially when it comes to the topics of digital cultures and disruptive technologies, its members are actively engaged in research on the social, political, and economic implications of artificial intelligence (AI) and neuroscience.

Kean Birch
Kean Birch

Birch is enthusiastic about the future of research in this area: “We’re seeing a lot of interest in these topics,” he says, “especially in the societal implications of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and other digital technologies.”

He insists, however, the institute’s depth in expertise is not limited to those areas, extending into topics such as the history of science through games design, the global governance of biotechnology and pharmaceutical innovation.

To support this diversity of knowledge, ITS is organized into the following four research clusters to help create synergies and support collaboration:

  • Technoscientific Injustices, which deals with the implications of emerging technoscience, its impacts on different social groups, and how to create just and inclusive science and technologies;
  • Technoscientific Economies, which deals with the entanglement of science and with different economies, what kinds of innovation get promoted by which kinds of economy, and how to support responsible and inclusive innovation;
  • Technoscientific Pasts & Futures, which deals with how the future of science and technology is bound up with our pasts and how the past helps us to build hopeful visions of and policies for the future; and
  • Technoscientific Bodies & Minds, which deals with the societal implications of prevailing understandings of health risks, diseases, and health-care delivery, as well as how prevailing understandings reinforce social injustices, inequities and divisions.

The institute is making its impact known in Canadian debates about the role of science and technology in society. Recently, Birch was interviewed by the CBC about the U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit against Apple Inc. for antitrust violations; and his recent opinion pieces about personal data as a collective asset and the social costs of generative AI were published in the Globe and Mail.

ITS plans to continue on this trajectory through regular events and policy briefing papers, as well as interventions in public and policy debates.

“York is incredibly well-placed to make an important social, political, and economic impact when it comes to these issues,” explains Birch, “because of the institutional strength and expertise of faculty and early career researchers here.”

Connected Minds awards inaugural seed grants

connected minds banner

As part of its mission to further socially conscious emerging technologies, Connected Minds: Neural and Machine Systems for a Healthy, Just Society has issued its inaugural round of seed grants to projects overseen by professors at York University and partner Queen’s University.

In an era where artificial intelligence (AI) and technology profoundly shape society, guiding these advancements towards a healthier, more equitable future is crucial.

In that spirit, Connected Minds has now funded six projects spanning diverse research areas, goals and themes, to foster innovative research for societal good. 

The seed funding is part of the $105.7 million York University, in partnership with Queen’s University, received from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund, and it looks to further collaborative, transdisciplinary and exploratory research.

Connected Minds is especially committed to inclusivity, equity and community-centred research, reserving at least 20 per cent of its funding awards for Indigenous-led or community-guided projects – something that is reflected in its inaugural round of seed funding.

The York University recipients, and their projects, are:

Rebecca Caines, professor, School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design

Rebecca Caines
Rebecca Caines

Caines’ project ­– titled “Towards Socially-Responsible ‘Transfer Learning’: Connecting Artists, Engineers, Neuroscientists and their Partners through Interdisciplinary Knowledge Mobilization” – will look at interdisciplinary collaboration. The project will build on Caines’ existing work, which often investigates the role of art and technology in social justice. It will consider how diverse knowledge bases – across disciplines – can help address societal changes through an emphasis on co-creation, ethical learning transfer and global collaboration. The research aims especially to foster inclusivity and collaboration with equity-deserving groups, particularly Indigenous communities.

Joseph DeSouza, professor, Faculty of Health

Joseph Desouza
Joseph DeSouza

DeSouza’s funded project, “The Intergenerational Healing Power of nêhiyawêwin (the Cree language),” will integrate Indigenous knowledge with neuroscience. Partnering with the organization the nêhiyawak language experience, it will explore what positive impact on holistic health can be observed in individuals who re/learn the Cree language on holistic health. In the process, the research aims to revitalize nêhiyawêwin, restore treaty obligations and foster healing within the nêhiyawak nation.

Michael Kalu, professor, Faculty of Health

Michael Kalu
Michael Kalu

Titled “Bridging Mobility Gaps: Co-designing Culturally Appropriate Mobility AI-Powered Wearable (CAMAiW) Tool for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) Older Adults,” Kalu’s initiative aims to advance inclusive wearable devices. The project’s goal is to integrate speed, distance, location tracking and other health/social monitoring features within a single tool. With a commitment to inclusivity and socially ethical technologies, the project will iteratively work with BIPOC communities to co-create and test the device.

Terry Sachlos, professor, Lassonde School of Engineering

Terry Sachlos
Terry Sachlos

Sachlos’s inclusive initiative is titled “Increasing African, Caribbean, and Black Donor Representation in the Canadian Bone Marrow Stem Cell Registry through Community Engagement and Co-creation of Tissue Engineered Bone Marrow to Mitigate Critical Stem Cell Transplant Shortages.” It aims to engage with relevant community organizations and implement innovative biotechnology strategies to help dismantle barriers to health-care access and foster inclusivity towards a more equitable health-care system with a more representative bone marrow stem cell registry.

The Queen’s University recipients, and their projects, are:

Matthew Pan, professor, Faculty of Engineering & Applied Science at Queen’s University

Matthew Pan
Matthew Pan

Pan’s project, “Meta-Physical Theatre: Designing ‘Physical’ Interactions in ‘Virtual’ Reality Live Performances,” looks to enhance virtual reality experiences by integrating physical touch interactions through robotics and smart textiles, aiming to amplify immersivity.

Committed to equity and diversity, the team collaborates with arts organizations focused on racialization to foster inclusivity and develop best practices for cross-cultural sensitivity in virtual interactions.

Qingguo Li, professor, Faculty of Engineering & Applied Science at Queen’s University

Qingguo Li
Qingguo Li

Targeting health-care staff, Li’s project – “Exo-Sensory Augmentation to Reduce Musculoskeletal Injury Risk in Clinical Settings” – aims to mitigate injury risks, enhancing sensory awareness to improve task performance and prevent injuries. With inclusivity as a priority, the project endeavours to develop accessible wearable technology for clinicians of all backgrounds.

The announcement of Connected Minds’ inaugural seed funding marks the latest instance of the project’s ongoing progress throughout its first year – and beyond – which has included onboarding 14 research-enhanced hires, conferences and events, and new leadership with Pina D’Agostino.

Faculty of Science responds to industry needs in the chemical and bioeconomy sectors

Science student in a lab

By Elaine Smith

To meet the changing needs of the chemical and bioeconomy sectors, the Faculty of Science is offering several new educational opportunities to ensure people working in science-related positions have the best possible education to meet evolving industry demands.

The Faculty has recently introduced two new biotechnology programs at the Markham Campus – the Master’s in Biotechnology Management and the Graduate Diploma in Biotechnology – as well as a new micro-credential in Vaccine Production and Quality Control that is aligned with these programs. 

The Faculty also introduced its first micro-credential, NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance) Spectroscopy for Industry at the Keele Campus. NMR spectroscopy is an advanced characterization technique used to determine the molecular structure of a sample at the atomic level. 

“We want to offer our students programs and courses that lead to career success,” said Hovig Kouyoumdjian, associate dean of curriculum and pedagogy for the Faculty.  

Luz Adriana Puentes Jácome
Luz Adriana Puentes Jácome

Slated to launch in Fall 2024, the Graduate Diploma in Biotechnology and the Master’s in Biotechnology Management are the culmination of research and planning done over the past few years. Professor Mark Bayfield and associate deans Kouyoumdjian and Michael Scheid led the program design and development. Now, Jade Atallah and Luz Adriana Puentes Jácome, assistant professors of biology, teaching stream, have taken the reins and will oversee the two programs. 

“Both programs are rooted in industry needs,” Atallah said. “Our colleagues did extensive research to ensure industry alignment; an evidence-based approach is driving them.”  

The Toronto Business Development Centre, for example, notes that “Canada has experienced a 77.2 per cent growth in biotech companies in the past two decades, with hundreds of small startups working to bring scientific discoveries to market.” 

The two programs will share biotechnology courses for the first year, but the master’s students will also take management courses through the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies that will allow them to graduate with the degree and diploma in under two years. The integrative program also includes a capstone course and a paid internship component with industry. The diploma program requires only two semesters of coursework.  

“They are both full-time programs but are designed to accommodate mature, working students in terms of scheduling,” said Atallah.  

The master’s program aims to meld scientific knowledge with business skills. 

“The interdisciplinary approach better reflects the workplace reality and maximizes understanding of the overall product lifecycle from conception to commercialization,” said Atallah. “It’s a marriage of two Faculties and will provide well-rounded knowledge and skills in both areas. It will increase the students’ competitiveness while benefiting the biotech economy.” 

Puentes Jácome agreed, noting, “We want these students to be very versatile. They need the professional biotechnology knowledge, but the business background will be very useful in the startup economy, while in established companies, it will give them the skills to move around.” 

The two programs have a joint lab component, and students in both programs will benefit from industry guest speakers and networking opportunities. 

“We want our students to have hands-on insights and experiential opportunities,” Atallah said. 

The lab component of the course will give students a condensed experience in biotechnology laboratory techniques.  

“It is not a cookbook lab,” said Atallah, referring to the usual step-by-step instructions students receive for lab experiments. “Students will be able to make decisions on the best protocol to use, and there’s room for mistakes, so they can troubleshoot and adjust. It will mimic a real-life scenario.” 

The master’s degree internships, arranged in collaboration with the experiential education office at the Markham Campus, will last between eight and 12 months. Students will have the opportunity to put their theory to the test. The capstone course, which is project-based, will also provide a real-world opportunity. 

Alongside these programs, the Faculty of Science at Markham Campus will also introduce a micro-credential on Vaccine Production and Quality Control. This specialized course aims to provide participants with the essential skills required to use biotechnological tools for the development of vaccines. 

The introduction of the micro-credential in NMR is spurred by the government of Ontario’s push for and support of post-secondary education rapid training programs designed to help people retrain or upgrade their skills to meet the needs of employers.   

Now, the Faculty of Science is dipping its toes in those waters, inaugurating the NMR Spectroscopy for Industry micro-credential during the Winter 2024 term and developing the micro-credential addressing Vaccine Production and Quality Control. 

“We’re very excited about this,” said Kouyoumdjian. “We looked at the demands of the job market, as well as the gaps in training, and gauged the need for these skills.” 

The NMR micro-credential course is taught by York University instructor Howard Hunter. Students will learn the basic theory behind NMR spectroscopy, as well as its practical applications. They will learn to successfully process and analyze raw NMR data to understand a sample’s composition or chemical structure, a skill applicable to employees in both chemical and biotechnological fields.   

The course is held in the evening, so people employed in related fields can fit it into their schedules. The hybrid course is pass/fail, with a lab component included.  

“For us, as scientists, the hands-on aspect is important,” Kouyoumdjian said. “It’s the nature of our field. We design our micro-credentials to contain in-person experiential components and avoid the fully asynchronous online model as much as possible.” 

Those who pass will receive both a certificate of completion and an electronic credential badge to affix to a resume or a LinkedIn profile. Kouyoumdjian will approve the badges based on course results; they are authenticated and traceable. 

Much like the students are learning new skills, Kouyoumdjian and his team did, too. Throughout the process, they had to learn how to create a micro-credential offering, from proposal to approval to creating contracts, hiring an instructor and promoting the program online. This accumulated knowledge will be used for introducing the aforementioned Vaccine Production and Quality Control micro-credential course. 

“As biotechnology continues reshaping how health care works, professionals with such expertise play an important role in progressing this field, especially with the urgent global need for effective disease prevention.” Kouyoumdjian said. “We are looking forward to offering the new micro-credentials, as well as the two new graduate programs.” 

Kouyoumdjian applauds the Faculty for making these new offerings possible. 

“Like any new initiative, it takes a team to bring these programs to fruition,” he said. “We are looking forward to expanding the knowledge of many students and observing their subsequent career accomplishments.” 

Faculty of Science innovates with assist from AIF

Concept of idea and innovation with paper ball

By Elaine Smith

Making chemistry courses and labs more engaging and accessing science lab spaces – regardless of physical ability – are becoming easier to accomplish, thanks to Faculty of Science initiatives sponsored by Academic Innovation Fund (AIF) grants.

In the Department of Chemistry, Tihana Mirkovic, an assistant professor, and Hovig Kouyoumdjian, an associate professor who is also the associate dean of curriculum and pedagogy, are developing modules using e-learning tool Adobe Captivate to improve students’ learning experiences. Meanwhile, biology professors Tamara Kelly and Paula Wilson and their colleagues – project manager Jessi Nelson, accessibility expert Ainsley Latour and educational development specialist Ashley Nahornick – are identifying and supporting improvements that make labs more accessible.

Kouyoumdjian first identified the potential of Adobe Captivate as a tool for the generation of an interactive learning environment in chemistry classes. Together with Mirkovic, the pair recognized that the laboratory experience through pre-laboratory activities in undergraduate classes could be substantially improved by leveraging the multimedia learning process that could be incorporated into modules generated in Adobe Captivate.

“Our goal is to allow students to integrate their conceptual and procedural understanding of their labs through active learning opportunities. We hope that the newly developed modules, featuring slides, videos, hotspots, 360-degree navigation, software simulations and knowledge check assessments, will provide a learning environment that motivates our students and maximizes their learning potential,” Mirkovic said.

“We aim for students to stay engaged, even when the material is presented virtually,” said Kouyoumdjian. “Now, we possess an e-learning tool with an interactive component that complements the static elements of the course. It is applicable for both blended and online courses.”

The pair also collaborated with an instructional designer to craft customizable templates to help with the process of repurposing and reusing the modules across various courses.”

Tihana Mirkovic
Tihana Mirkovic

The professors have has initiated a pilot in the courses CHEM 2020 (Introductory Organic Chemistry I) and CHEM 3001 (Experimental Chemistry II) this term. “We hope to gather valuable information from the initial student experience and feedback collected from Adobe Captivate activities and linked self-reflection surveys,” Mirkovic said. During the summer, they will reflect on the pilot’s successes and explore the reusability of the created templates.

They are optimistic that the new software will contribute to student engagement, leading to increased student motivation and greater retention.

Meanwhile, the accessibility team is moving forward with its own initiative to improve – in a different way – the accessibility of biology, chemistry and physics labs for students in the Faculty.

Paula Wilson
Paula Wilson

“Paula and I have directed labs, and something we come up against regularly is accommodation,” said Kelly, the project lead and the Pedagogical Innovation Chair, Science Education. “Student Accessibility Services typically addresses lectures, but has limited expertise to support providing clear accommodations for labs.”

Added Wilson: “Students with accessibility issues have the burden of negotiating with their professors for every lab, and it’s exhausting. Also, even if professors are eager to assist, they aren’t experts in accommodation.

“In addition, by the time faculty members get a letter about accommodating a student, it may be the second or third week of the term, which leaves no time for finding and arranging creative solutions.”

Ainsley Latour
Ainsley Latour

The group plans to survey Faculty of Science students and faculty to learn more about needs and accommodations that work. Latour and Nelson developed a checklist of barriers to accessibility in labs and then, with Nahornick, toured first-year science laboratories with the technicians who run the labs. They looked for barriers and what was missing to make accommodation easier.

“There were a lot of things that were quick fixes, so Ashley emailed the lab managers to suggest changes to make before the start of the term,” said Kelly. “These included the readability of signage, repairs to broken automatic doors, among other things.”

Ashley Nahornick
Ashley Nahornick

The team also brought in Pamela Millett, an audiologist from the Faculty of Education, to determine what the sound issues might be for those with hearing concerns.

“There is a lot of ambient sound in labs, from fans and other equipment, that make it hard for students to hear instructions,” said Nahornick. “Repairing or using their microphones is an easy fix.”

The next step will be to create professional development support for instructors, technicians and teaching assistants, so they understand how to best support accessibility in labs.

Wilson said they would also like to prepare a series of recommendations for the Faculty. “Some issues may require infrastructure changes that will require additional funding. We want to take away the pressure on instructors to handle this on their own by making changes where we can and sharing best practices,” she explained. “Our aim is to make it easier for all students to have valuable lab experiences that meet course outcomes.”

Kelly added, “If we have a clear understanding in advance about what is needed, that’s a big step. Some things must be personalized, but there are some general things we can implement for our students. Students with disabilities are often driven away from science in high school because of barriers, and we don’t want to be part of that cycle. We want to enable people.

“For a lot of students, their first experience in a lab turns them onto science. We’ll lose talent if they don’t feel as if they can function in this setting.”

York researchers appointed new, renewed Canada Research Chairs

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The Government of Canada has issued a new Canada Research Chair (CRC) appointment to York University Professor Godfred Boateng in global health and humanitarianism, as well as renewed the Chairs of three other faculty members – Ethel Tungohan (Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies), Isaac Smith (Lassonde School of Engineering) and Steven Connor (Faculty of Science).

The CRC program facilitates world-class research at Canadian universities, boosting their global competitiveness, while also providing training opportunities for the next generation of highly skilled personnel through research, teaching and learning.

“From global health to migration policy to planetary science to neurophysiology, York University faculty are at the forefront of research excellence in their respective fields,” said Amir Asif, vice-president research and innovation. “I extend my sincere congratulations to our four new and renewed Canada Research Chairs whose impactful work benefits the lives of both Canadians and people around the world.”

Learn more about the new and renewed chairholders at York:

Godfred Boateng
Godfred Boateng

Godfred Boateng, Canada Research Chair in Global Health and Humanitarianism
Boateng is an assistant professor in the School of Global Health, director of the Global & Environmental Health Lab and a faculty fellow at the Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research. He is also the principal investigator on a new project called “Retooling Black Anxiety” in the Greater Toronto Area.

As a CRC, Boateng will address global health priorities by focusing on anticipatory, instead of reactionary, approaches. Notably, he will look to further understand the synergistic epidemics of food, water, energy, and housing insecurity and their compounding effects, as well as the impact of environmental degradation and changes in climatic conditions on the health of older adults in sub-Saharan Africa and Canada.

Ethel Tungohan
Ethel Tungohan

Ethel Tungohan, Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Canadian Migration Policy, Impacts and Activism
With her CRC renewal, Tungohan, an associate professor in the Department of Politics in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, will build on her work assessing the interconnections between policies, everyday lived experiences and social movement organizing.

She will continue to look at the impact on migrant workers, Canadian discourse, and policies on immigration, labour, and occupational health and safety in the pre-pandemic, pandemic and post-pandemic era.

Isaac Smith
Isaac Smith

Isaac Smith, Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Planetary Science
Smith, an assistant professor in the Department of Earth & Space Science & Engineering in the Lassonde School of Engineering, will use his CRC renewal to investigate aspects of ice and climate on Mars and other parts of the solar system, including Pluto and Triton, Neptune’s moon.

The research is unique to York University and aims to advance knowledge of Mars’ climate and ice-related processes, in addition to performing glaciological modelling on icy worlds in the outer solar system.

Steven Connor
Steven Connor

Steven Connor, Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in the Synaptic Basis of Neurodevelopmental Disorders
Connor, an assistant professor in the Department of Biology in the Faculty of Science, will use his CRC renewal to focus on investigating how specific brain proteins facilitate the transmission of information between brain cells. The research aims to further understand how those proteins influence neural circuit function and activity, and how they can result in autism-like behaviour when compromised. Connor and his research team will also explore the restorative effects of reversing molecular changes linked to the loss of certain brain cells.  

The future of disease diagnostics explored at Lassonde

A modern research hub at York University’s Lassonde School of Engineering is focusing on scientific innovation to transform the future of disease diagnostics.

Picture state-of-the-art technologies, busy researchers wearing white lab coats and futuristic, artificial intelligence-powered tools with capabilities beyond imagination. That is the Laboratory of Advanced Biotechnologies for Health Assessment (LAB-HA).

“LAB-HA’s mission is to develop wearable biomedical devices for early detection of burdensome diseases,” says Razieh (Neda) Salahandish, director of LAB-HA and assistant professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science.

Early detection of diseases plays a key role in improving patient outcomes and care. Unfortunately, many diseases are diagnosed through complex and invasive processes requiring expensive equipment and facilities. LAB-HA is committed to changing this reality by creating cost-effective, non-invasive and convenient solutions.

It does so through a wide-ranging approach. “Our work applies all kinds of scientific methods in a multidisciplinary approach to disease diagnostics,” says Salahandish. “There are many different scientific disciplines required to support our research. We have chemists and computer scientists working alongside electrical, software, computer and mechanical engineers.”

Professor Neda Salahandish and student researchers working in LAB-HA
Professor Neda Salahandish and student researchers working in LAB-HA

Researchers at LAB-HA include both undergraduate and graduate students who help lead and support complex research projects and activities, enhancing their academic experiences and technical skills.

Many of LAB-HA’s projects are also conducted in collaboration with leaders in the health science industry, including the University Health Network and St. Michael’s Hospital, as well as startup companies, elevating research impact and capabilities.

Among LAB-HA’s initiatives is a smart contact lenses project. With support by the Lassonde Innovation Fund, the lab is working with the Department of Mechanical Engineering to fabricate smart contact lenses – wearable devices that can non-invasively collect patients’ tears and examine the presence of biomarkers – to support the early detection of various eye diseases and improve patient outcomes.

In another project under review by the Alzheimer Society of Canada, LAB-HA is developing smart goggles that can help diagnose and monitor the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

Though there is currently no gold-standard technique for clinical and non-invasive detection and monitoring of Alzheimer’s disease, electrical activity in the brain, which can be measured using an electroencephalogram (EEG) test, has been associated with the presence of the disease. Less-explored indicators of the disease include various representations of eye and iris movements, which can be examined using eye movement tracker cameras.

The clinical relevance of these eye movements, EEG signals and iris responses in Alzheimer’s disease will be determined in a first-of-its-kind biomarker discovery initiative establishing a correlation between Alzheimer’s disease and these features.

LAB-HA will use this knowledge to develop smart goggles with embedded cameras for eye tracking and iris response measurements as well as extended electrodes for scalp EEG acquisition. Results will be analyzed using machine learning methods and retrieved on a portable device like a mobile phone.

Another research initiative at LAB-HA, currently in its early stages, focuses on the development of wearable devices that detect inflammatory biomarkers associated with cancers and chronic inflammatory conditions. This work, funded by a Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council of Canada Discovery Grant, has the potential to expedite chronic inflammation diagnoses, which are the root cause of many diseases. These research efforts can also help reduce the need for time-consuming investigational procedures.

Learn more about LAB-HA on the lab website.

York University’s Centre for AI & Society is pioneering research for a connected future

Graphic of artificial intelligence and society

In a bid to spearhead socially conscious artificial intelligence (AI) initiatives, the Centre for AI & Society (CAIS) aims to bridge the gap between technological advancements and societal needs.

“CAIS is one of the founding organized research units of Connected Minds, which unites research on neuroscience, AI and technology to foster a healthy and just society,” says Professor James Elder, the York Research Chair in Human and Computer Vision, who co-heads CAIS. “It is particularly important in generating novel and beneficial technologies that will improve quality of life in Canada and elsewhere, but also in understanding how these disruptive technologies can best be integrated into society in order to minimize risk and maximize benefit for all.”

The centre combines various disciplines, including behavioural and neuroscience studies, computational modelling, statistical analysis and computer vision design. The objective is to not only advance fundamental perception science and AI but also hold implications for urban mobility, social robotics and sports analytics.

The origins of CAIS sprung from York University’s strategic vision, outlined in its 2018–2023 Strategic Research Plan, which identified AI integration into society as a crucial area for development. To make that happen, Elder collaborated with Osgoode Hall Law School Professor Pina D’Agostino to form and lead a task force to evaluate York’s AI landscape and chart a course for future research development.

Their findings, published in the report “Fostering the Future of Artificial Intelligence,” laid the groundwork for CAIS, which officially launched in July 2022, uniting faculty members from diverse backgrounds and Faculties.

Guided by Elder and D’Agostino, CAIS’s mission extends beyond academic discourse. The centre aims to foster a sense of community among researchers engaged in AI and society studies while promoting dialogue through lectures and conferences on critical issues such as technology and democracy, and disability considerations in AI. Most recently, it co-organized the latest iteration of the Bracing for Impact conference, in addition to the latest entry of its monthly CAIS talk series.

Looking ahead, CAIS recently announced its inaugural advisory board and intends to expand its seminar series while hosting additional conferences, and involving more trainees, including graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.

These efforts and more align with York University’s broader institutional goals under the interdisciplinary, $318.4-million Connected Minds initiative, which is currently investigating how emerging technologies, such as AI, are impacting and transforming society.

As AI continues to evolve at a rapid pace, CAIS remains committed to driving innovation while ensuring responsible AI deployment. By fostering collaboration, dialogue and cutting-edge research, the centre aims to shape a future where AI serves as a force for positive societal change.

Adds Elder, “Our systems approach places emphasis on how AI technologies operate when embedded in real-world contexts, interacting with humans and other technologies. Our research focuses on AI systems that address societal priorities in health care, smart cities and sustainability, and that are fair, explainable, reliable and trusted.”

York academics counted among world’s top two per cent of researchers

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An annually updated list, compiled by a team at Stanford University, has identified over 90 York University scientists as being among the world’s top two per cent most cited researchers.

The impact of a researcher’s work isn’t measured solely by its findings, but by how it inspires – and advances – the work of others.

Since 2019, statistician John Ioannidis at Stanford University has attempted to quantify that impact with a list that provides standardized information on how often a scientist or academic’s published research has been the basis of – and citied within – the work of others.

Each year the list is updated to highlight the top two per cent most-cited researchers worldwide. Since the list’s inception, York University’s research leadership has been well represented by its community members. Over the past four years, the number of York researchers on the list has increased by over 50 per cent.

Among the over 90 York researchers represented in this year’s list were:

  • Ellen Bialystok, a Distinguished Research Professor of Psychology and founder of the Lifespan Cognition and Development Lab;
  • Rui Wang, dean of the Faculty of Science;
  • Jeffrey Schall, program director of the Visual Neurophysiology Centre;
  • Caroline Davis, a professor emeritus in the School of Kinesiology & Health Science;
  • Jianhong Wu, a University Distinguished Research Professor and York Research Chair in Industrial and Applied Mathematics; and
  • Sherry L. Grace, a Faculty of Health professor who recently received the 2022 Kite Innovation and Impact Award recognizing her global impact.

Previously, York’s Vice-President Research and Innovation Amir Asif has noted the significance of the list to the University’s reputation. “This high-profile American study from Stanford acknowledges that York University’s researchers are trailblazers in their fields … We have an enduring commitment to critical inquiry and the pursuit of new knowledge, and this study illustrates this leadership,” he told YFile in 2021.

The complete list of researchers can be accessed by publicly available spreadsheets.