Grad students win thesis, dissertation prizes

a man holding a trophy

Six York University graduands have been awarded thesis and dissertation prizes by the Faculty of Graduate Studies (FGS) for their outstanding scholarly work.

The prizes are bestowed to celebrate exceptional master’s and doctoral research work from the recent academic calendar year. The value of the awards is $2,000 for doctoral dissertations and $1,000 for master’s theses. From creating the world’s largest dataset on honeybee genomics to demystifying the function of consciousness, these talented scholars are breaking new ground with their research.

Master’s Thesis Prizes

Abdul Basit (MASc, civil engineering) for “Impact of Climate Change on Thermal Behaviour of Pavement Structures in Ontario”

Basit’s cutting-edge study was motivated by rapid alterations to the climate, the particular consequences of which can be seen in the performance of road infrastructure systems. Through his research, Basit developed a critical evaluation for anticipated climate change and how this could potentially cause changes to asphalt binder grades and variations in spring load restriction (SLR) periods across Ontario. His innovative work contributes to the discipline of civil engineering through its useful industrial conclusions, as is attested by Basit’s peers.

“The new generation of civil engineers will be increasingly reliant on a sound academic background in climate change to make appropriate and intelligent engineering decisions,” said Rashid Bashir, Basit’s supervisor. “Mr. Abdul Basit’s graduate training, and specifically his thesis, is a step in the right direction.”

Melodie Lao (MSc, chemistry) for “Developing an Automated Nitrous Acid (HONO) Platform to Detect Emerging Pollutants in a Commercial and Domestic Environment”

Lao’s innovative research focused on the development and application of new methods to measure the important atmospheric component, HONO. This chemical can react with other atmospheric component to form highly toxic products. Only in the last few years has HONO’s importance indoors been considered, but it remains difficult to measure accurately. Lao’s work creates substantial impact in the field by advancing the ability to measure HONO indoors.

Cora Young, Chair of the Examining Committee, commended Lao’s study: “It was clear to the committee that Melodie’s contributions to the field of atmospheric chemistry are significant, greatly exceeding those typical for an MSc degree. Her work has and will continue to make an impact on a national and global stage.”

Anna Waisman (MA, psychology) for “Investigating the Role of Autobiographical Memory in Post-surgical Pain Up To One Year after Major Surgery”

Waisman’s thesis investigated autobiographical memory before and after major surgery in 97 adult patients. The purpose of her study was to see if highly specific autobiographical memory could be a predictor for greater post-surgical pain. Her results showed that recalling higher numbers of pain-related autobiographical memories resulted in lower post-surgical pain.

Waisman’s groundbreaking project was the first study in this area, and her results point to immediate and tangible interventions that physicians can implement to reduce post-surgical pain in their patients. Her research was already published in the prestigious journal Pain.

Doctoral Dissertation Prizes

Kathleen Dogantzis (PhD, biology) for “Understanding the Evolutionary Origin and Ancestral Complexity of Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) Populations”

Through her study, Dogantzis – who was also awarded a Governor General’s Gold Medal – advanced knowledge in the field of bee evolution and population genetics and developed new tools to protect the beekeeping industry from the accidental introduction of the highly invasive Africanized bees. Dogantzis created the world largest dataset on honeybee genomics, which involved sequencing over 200 new honeybee genomes from all over the world. Her sophisticated bioinformatic analysis debunked a recent hypothesis that honeybees originated in Africa by providing evidence that honeybees originated in western Asia.

Chair of the Examining Committee Elizabeth Clare praised Dogantzis’ accomplishment. “Her applied tools are expected to have a massive societal and economic benefit, not just for Canada, but across the world.”

Dylan Ludwig (PhD, philosophy) for “The Functional Contributions of Consciousness”

The substance of Ludwig’s dissertation tackled one of the most difficult problems in the philosophy of the mind: the function of consciousness. Many philosophers maintain that consciousness makes no contribution to the causal powers of the mind. Scientists, on the other hand, tend to assume consciousness must have some overarching, unitary function. Ludwig’s main thesis contrasted with both approaches by arguing that phenomenal consciousness makes varying functional contributions to different cognitive and affective processes. This outstanding study has already led to three publications in prominent peer-reviewed academic journals.

Ludwig’s supervisor, Muhammad Ali Khalidi, contended that his work “has the potential to change the terms of the debate.”

Sara Pishdadian (PhD, psychology) for “Subjective and Objective Spatial Memory and Navigation Abilities in Aging and Amnesia”

Pishdadian’s dissertation investigated subjective and objective spatial navigation. She took a novel approach of integrating cognitive theory with clinical neuropsychology, video-game technology and multivariate statistical methods to systematically investigate this skill in normally aging people and in individuals with medial temporal lobe amnesia.

Her innovative work makes significant contributions to cognitive neuroscience theory as well as to clinical practice. Pishdadian has published in the top international journals in her field, including Neuropsychologia, Cortex, and Learning and Memory.

Next steps

FGS additionally nominated Ludwig and Pishdadian for the dissertation prize presented by the Canadian Association for Graduate Studies (CAGS). The CAGS-ProQuest Distinguished Dissertation Award recognizes Canadian doctoral dissertations that make significant and original contributions to their academic field. Winners will receive a $1,500 cash prize, a certificate of recognition and an invitation to attend the 61st Annual CAGS Conference, to be held in Victoria, B.C., in November 2023.

Science Explorations Summer Camp offers new sustainability programming

Group of kids looking in microscope

This year, York University’s Science Explorations Summer Camp for Grades 3 to 8 will feature curricula with a greater emphasis on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including a new week-long program called Sustainable Science.

In its 17th year, the Science Explorations Summer Day Camp offers week-long camps exploring science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) through hands-on experiments, connected to the Ontario science curriculum, and led by undergraduate and graduate science or engineering students, teacher candidates, Ontario certified teachers and professors.

For this year’s camp sessions, the program team has continued to evolve the curriculum to reflect York’s ongoing commitment to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Among the new additions is Sustainable Science, a Grade 7 to 8 camp, which runs from July 24 to 28 and Aug. 21 to 25. The new program will explore the science behind climate crises, while also empowering campers to use their STEM knowledge to design solutions for a healthier planet.

Sustainable Science may be dedicated to looking at the SDGs, but other programs will address them as well. “All of our curriculum will touch on some aspect of the SDGs,” says Cora Reist, manager of science engagement programs, of the more than a dozen camps being offered this summer. “Some of our programs are pre-existing programs, but we will have activities that lend themselves towards talking and discussing certain UN SDG goals.”

The camp team aims to do so by providing training to instructors on the SDGs and how to utilize the York toolkits on integrating the SDGs into the classroom, and encouraging Instructors to organically adapt camp programs to address them.

The evolving curriculum is not just reflective of the University’s priorities, but those attending the camp. “We see that a lot of kids are pushing for learning more about conservation, biodiversity and how can they become global citizens even at an early age,” Reist says. The evolving programming is meant to provide that, but also something else: hope. “The youth that I speak to sometimes get very sad about the state of things. By integrating ideas of sustainability and becoming a global citizen into our program, I’m hoping to put a positive spin on how we can take action and how there is hope for the future.”

Science Explorations Summer Camp will run weekly from July 4 to Aug. 25 with each camp one week in length, running from Monday to Friday, from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Further information about programming can be found here. Those interested in registering can do so here.

Professor awarded access to NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope

James Webb Telescope (NASA/Chris Gunn)

Associate Professor in astronomy Adam Muzzin‘s successful application to use NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) to explore the depths of the universe was one of 1,600 project proposals submitted. He was also one of only 11 out of 54 applying Canadian principal investigators to receive approval, and his is the second-largest successful Canadian program in terms of time granted – 44 hours – with the telescope.

Adam Muzzin
Adam Muzzin

“We are very excited to receive such a big allocation on the world’s premier telescope,” said Muzzin, who will be collaborating with York graduate students Sunna Withers and Ghassan Sarrouh on the project. “JWST is the most powerful telescope of all time and is already revolutionizing how we study our universe. It was built to find the first stars and galaxies and to help us understand the origins of our universe. Our new program will explore something no one has ever been able to see before.”

Muzzin’s program is entitled “JWST in Technicolor: Finding and Mapping the Most Extreme Star Forming Galaxies in the Epoch of Reionization with Medium and Narrow Bands” and his team will be using JWST to search for very distant dwarf galaxies during the time when star formation was just “turning on” in the universe.  It is thought that much of the star formation in the universe occurred in these dwarf galaxies.

When distant galaxies were forming stars, much of their light came out at one wavelength (so-called “emission lines”), making them very bright in specific medium and narrow bands.  For the first time ever, his team will point the infrared filters of JWST, as well as of the Hubble Space Telescope, at a single piece of sky and capture a “technicolor” dataset.

“By getting pictures in a full suite of these filters, we can identify how many such galaxies are out there and what their contribution was to the star-formation budget of the universe,” said Muzzin.

Muzzin is a member of the Canadian instrument team that built the Near-Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS) on JWST, and he leads one of the working groups on the large Canadian NIRISS Unbiased Cluster Survey project. Since the telescope launched into space in December 2021, he and his team have already used captured data to make exciting discoveries about stars and galaxies from the early universe.

The project includes collaborators from the University of Toronto (Canada), Kyoto University (Japan), University of Ljubljana (Slovenia), University of Copenhagen (Denmark), St. Mary’s University (Canada), Columbia University (USA), Tufts University (USA), Space Telescope Science Institute (USA), and NRC Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics (Canada).

Research discovers air quality monitoring stations collect critical biodiversity data

Flock of birds

An international team of researchers – including York University Assistant Professor Elizabeth Clare – has found that data in the form of environmental DNA (eDNA) is being collected globally by ambient air quality monitoring stations. The discovery is a gamechanger for global efforts to protect and promote biodiversity.

“One of the single biggest issues facing the planet today is the accelerating loss of biodiversity,” says Clare, who was a corresponding author on the paper published in the journal Current Biology under the title “Air-quality networks collect environmental DNA with the potential to measure biodiversity at continental scales.”

“This could be a treasure trove of biodiversity data. What we found by analyzing filters from these monitoring stations is astonishing. In just two locations, we found eDNA evidence for more than 180 different plants and animals.” 

“The potential of this cannot be overstated. It could be an absolute gamechanger for tracking and monitoring biodiversity,” says Joanne Littlefair of Queen Mary University of London, United Kingdom, and first author of the published paper. “Almost every country has some kind of air pollution monitoring system or network, either government owned or private, and in many cases both. This could solve a global problem of how to measure biodiversity at a massive scale.”

Elizabeth Clare

Until now, it was thought that the infrastructure for monitoring biodiversity at national and global scales did not exist. Previously, no one had considered that these air quality monitoring stations could be collecting and storing eDNA data on birds, bees, ticks, fungi, insects, plants and mammals across the globe as a byproduct of their regular function monitoring atmosphere pollutants and dust. But it is exactly what’s needed to monitor biodiversity at a scale that’s never been possible before. 

According to the World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Report, there has been a 69 per cent decline in wildlife populations since 1970. These air quality stations could potentially tap into the decades of historic eDNA biodiversity data on filters squirrelled away for years. 

Governments, scientists and environmental agencies around the world have called for large-scale, standard methods of tracking biodiversity in real time. It has, however, been an impossible task, with no standardized approach and no deployed infrastructure proposed – until now.  

The discovery that these air monitoring stations could be collecting eDNA is even more surprising because they may have been quietly doing this all along.  

It wasn’t until researchers, including Clare and Littlefair, proved it’s possible to determine which species are present using eDNA sampled from air, that scientists at the UK’s National Physical Laboratory (NPL), who operate the national air quality sampling grids, realized the potential of what they already had. James Allerton and Andrew Brown at NPL contacted Littlefair and Clare wondering if the national air quality monitoring network in the U.K. was collecting eDNA during normal operation. Together, the unlikely new collaborators have their first answer: a resounding yes. 

“We were routinely collecting particulate matter looking to measure pollutants in air but when we saw the work of Clare and Littlefair, we realized maybe we were sitting on something much more valuable,” says Allerton. 

The team set up a test at an air quality station in London outside a large urban park, collecting samples for an hour, a day and a week, and compared them to eight-month-old samples from a public station in Scotland. 

At Queen Mary University of London, Littlefair handled the samples, while Clare and graduate student Nina Garrett analyzed the data at York University.  

“We were surprised by the diversity of life we were able to survey with one approach, almost unheard in this field of science. In these two locations, we simultaneously detected the eDNA of 34 bird and 24 mammal species, a wide variety of insects, crops, pathogenic fungus, lovely wildflowers, ornamental garden plants and grasses,” says Clare.  

“We found species of interest, such as hedgehogs, along with badgers, deer, dormice, little owls, smooth newts, songbirds and 80 different kinds of woodland trees and plants – oak, linden, ash, pine – it was all there collected on these tiny filters. It’s unbelievably exciting.” 

It represents a mechanism to measure biodiversity on land in a standardized repeatable way across entire countries, continually, every day, every week at thousands of locations.  

“The beauty of the idea is we are making use of something that already exists,” says Brown, who operates the network at NPL. “If networks of air samplers around the world are all collecting similar material – just as a part of their regular functioning – it’s an incredible resource.”  

The team is now trying to preserve as many samples as possible with eDNA in mind. “We do not yet know the true value of these samples, but as they are collected, they could provide an unprecedented view of our natural world. The scale of repeated samples could give us the elusive biodiversity time series data and the ability to measure terrestrial species dynamics in a high-resolution form never considered for biodiversity monitoring before,” says Clare.  

As Littlefair says: “It will require a global effort to collect and evaluate these samples, but this is an extraordinary opportunity to take advantage of a pre-existing, global infrastructure that has been collecting standardized eDNA data for decades and until now, we simply haven’t realized the resource existed.” 

See more ways York University is making headlines at News @ York.

Students earn Robert Everett Exceptional Leadership in Student Governance Award

3d golden star golden with lighting effect on black background. Template luxury premium award design. Vector illustration

In honour of Robert Everett, a distinguished senior assistant secretary of York University, who made extraordinary contributions supporting University governance for nearly three decades, President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton established in 2018 the Robert Everett Exceptional Leadership in Student Governance Award to recognize and celebrate students and their impact on governance at York University.

The University secretariat has announced that three students are recipients of this award for the 2022-23 academic year.

The students are:

Ana Kraljević, Glendon College/Collège universitaire Glendon, BA, bilingual (Hon.), double major in Canadian studies and études françaises/French studies, was selected for her significant and lasting contributions to York governance. Her contributions have included roles as president of the Glendon College Student Union (GCSU), vice-president academic affairs for the GCSU, member of Glendon’s Faculty Council and student senator.

“Faculty members were struck by your dedication to governance, not only by you actively serving in Faculty and Senate roles but by your truly impressive levels of leadership at Glendon and York University,” reads a letter from University Secretary Pascal Robichaud.

The letter goes on to say a fellow student commended Kraljević for her work in being an advocate for student needs by critically looking at issues from different perspectives and acting as a liaison between students and governing
bodies.

Ariana Mah, Glendon College/Collège universitaire Glendon, BA, bilingual (Hon.), political science (international bachelor of arts), was selected for her contributions to the York University Board of Governors, leadership
roles on the Glendon College Student Union and membership of collegial bodies at departmental and Faculty levels.

A letter informing Mah of the award, from Robichaud, says the award recognizes Mah’s dedication to governance in Faculty roles, but also in fostering active student participation. “(Senior members of the faculty administration) were in high praise of your exceptional dedication to Glendon College, notably with your involvement in changes to the grading system and academic honesty policies through your service work, as well as your collegial leadership.”

Mah was commended for her input, diligence, collegiality and genuine interest in these roles and contributions.

Yashna Manek, Faculty of Science, BA (Hon.), double major in mathematics for education and French studies, was chosen as a recipient for significant contributions to governance in the Faculty of Science, Senate and the University as a whole.

Senior members of the faculty administration noted Manek’s “utter dedication to governance, evidenced by your service as a member of the Science Student Caucus, student senator and member of the Senate Appeals Committee,” according to a letter from Robichaud.

Additionally, the letter outlines Manek’s steadfast support to incoming students and prospective students, and was noted for having a profound impact on fellow students.

More about Robert Everett

Robert Everett
Robert Everett

The award was established in honour of the late Robert Everett, a distinguished senior assistant secretary of the University who made extraordinary contributions supporting University governance for nearly three decades. President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda L. Lenton established the Robert Everett Exceptional Leadership in Student Governance Award in 2018 to recognize and celebrate students and their impact on governance at York University.

To learn more about the Robert Everett Exceptional Leadership Award in Student Governance, visit the Senate of York University award webpage.

Dahdaleh Institute awards annual seed grants

International

Following its fourth annual Workshop on Critical Social Science Perspectives in Global Health Research, York University’s Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research awarded five researchers $5,000 seed grants to further develop grant proposals and research programs to carry out critical global health research.

All winners of the grants this year embody the critical social science perspectives in global health research that is representative of Dahdaleh’s three research themes: planetary health, global health and humanitarianism, as well as global health foresighting.

The recipients – largely representing the School of Global Health – and their projects are:

Syed Imran Ali, research Fellow in global health and humanitarianism, and Stephanie Gora, assistant professor in civil engineering, will explore community-based participatory water quality monitoring for safe water optimization in the Canadian North.

Chloe Clifford Astbury, postdoctoral researcher in the School of Global Health, will pursue mining, health and environmental change by using systems mapping to understand relationships in complex systems.

Godfred Boateng, assistant professor, director of the Global and Environmental Health Lab, and faculty Fellow at the Dahdaleh Institute, is studying Black anxiety with an exploratory and intervention look at Black families with children in and out of the criminal justice system in Canada.

Ahmad Firas Khalid, faculty Fellow in the Faculty of Health, will use experiential simulation-based learning to increase students’ ability to analyze increasingly complex global health challenges through a mixed methods study.

Gerson Luiz Scheidweiler Ferreira, a postdoctoral Fellow at Dahdaleh will examine how to break barriers to sexual and reproductive health by empowering Venezuelan refugee women in Brazil’s resettlement process.

2023 Critical Perspectives in Global Health Research banner

In keeping with the overall mission of Dahdaleh’s Critical Perspectives in Global Health’s (CPGH), these projects will seek to create greater effectiveness, equity and excellence in global health. The recipients of the seed grant share that in common with many of the projects presented at the Global Health Research Workshop earlier this year, which highlighted research looking at a broad range of issues.

Those included:

  • medical waste management practices in Accra, Ghana since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, presented by Jeffrey Squire, faculty member in the Department of Social Science;
  • the role of social media and how negative sentiments or misinformation contributes to vaccine hesitancy, presented by Blessing Ogbuokiri, postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics;
  • health-care inequity in post-slavery societies with a specific focus on Quilombolas populations, presented by Simone Bohn, associate professor in Department of Politics;
  • misoprostol and its use in providing reproductive health care during humanitarian emergencies, presented by Maggie MacDonald, associate professor and graduate program director in the Department of Anthropology; and
  • Indigenous Williche peoples acts of ecological repair and how it contributes to planetary health in the past, present and future, presented by Pablo Aránguiz, associate researcher with Young Lives Research Lab at York.

Watch a full recording of the workshop here.

For more information about CPGH, visit its project page.

York takes academic leadership role at Congress 2023 

Female conference lecture teacher professor

By Ashley Goodfellow Craig, editor, YFile

Upwards of 250 York University faculty members and scholars are among the presenters during the 2023 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, where they take an academic leadership role in sharing their research with colleagues from across the nation. 

The flagship event of the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences – taking place May 27 to June 2 at York University’s Keele Campus – returns to an in-person format this year, following a hiatus in 2020 and the subsequent virtual format in 2021 and 2022. Congress is the largest academic gathering in Canada, with at least 10,000 participants attending this year. The event was last hosted at York University in 2006. 

Congress 2023 provides a platform for critical conversations, including diverse voices and perspectives to create collaborations that help drive the future of post-secondary education. This year’s theme “Reckonings and Re-Imaginings” will guide the direction of discussions and knowledge sharing in presentations, panels, workshops and more.

Andrea Davis
Andrea Davis

“I am excited by this theme because it’s a call to reflection on where we (as scholars, activists, artists and thinkers) are and how we got here,” said York University Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies Professor Andrea Davis, who is serving as academic convenor for Congress 2023, when the theme was announced. “Rather than simply centering the problems, this theme insists that we imagine otherwise – that we consider what a different set of possibilities might look like and that we come together collectively to create the kind of world we want to live in.” 

York faculty and scholars will contribute their humanities and social sciences research and expertise through more than 250 different events scheduled in a variety of programming streams, such as the Big Thinking Lecture Series, Career Corner, Black and racialized programming, Indigenous programming, scholarly presentations and more. 

Contributions come from all 11 York Faculties, three Organized Research Units, two divisions and other units, such as the Teaching Commons and York International. 

“We took the opportunity to apply York’s strengths as an institution that is known for supporting social justice and social responsibility. At Congress 2023, the University is playing an active role in igniting and sustaining positive change through scholarship, creative practice and conversations that generate new perspectives,” said Lisa Philipps, provost and vice-president academic.

Philipps is also a member of the Scholarly Planning Committee for Congress, which is comprised of York faculty, staff, graduate students and senior leadership, who together have helped to guide and shape the themes and programming for this year’s event through broad consultation with the York community. Learn more about the Scholarly Planning Committee here

York programming at Congress 2023 

The School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design will feature work from faculty and graduate students with topics exploring culturally relevant pedagogy, accessible tech for Canadian artists, film screenings and more. 

Diverse programming from the Faculty of Education – which contributes to more than 60 events – includes re-imagining teacher education, book launch events, the risks of queer lives during the pandemic, findings from a Black feminist qualitative study and more from faculty and graduate students. 

Both faculty and graduate students from the Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change will participate and explore topics such as the intersectional feminist approach to gathering and analyzing stories that reconsider risk, and a look at ceremonies of mourning, remembrance and care in the context of violence and more.

Glendon College faculty members will consider the ascent of right-wing populism in Canada, the politics of refusal in the Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette novel Suzanne, and more. 

Research by graduate students will be the focus of contributions from the Faculty of Graduate Studies, with a variety of presentations on diverse topics, including the impact of the pandemic on intimate partner violence in Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa, a focus on mental health and the suicide of Black men, female activists and their relationships with their mothers, and more. 

From the Faculty of Health, faculty members will explore how academic nursing leaders addressed the complexities of sustaining quality nursing education programs during the COVID-19 pandemic, participate in a roundtable on transnational Black communities and overcoming epidemics and a panel on promising practices that support aging with equity. Faculty will also present research on Indian immigrant fatherhood in the perinatal period, the experiences of immigrant Pakistani youths, and Asian Canadian exclusionary experiences in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to research contributions, a graduate program assistant will perform at the Swag Stage.

Lassonde School of Engineering will have contributions from faculty and an undergraduate student that focuses on designing a more equitable science curricula and York’s Cross-Campus Capstone Classroom (C4), which will be presented in partnership with a student from the Schulich School of Business.

Knowledge sharing from the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies will come from undergraduate students, graduate students, teaching and research assistants and faculty, with participation in upwards of 80 different events at Congress. Some of the research will cover racial profiling among Canadian university professors of Chinese descent, re-imagining criminal justice, activism and inclusion, decolonizing transnational human rights engagements and partnerships in Africa, queer rural teacher activists and more. 

Osgoode Hall Law School faculty members and a visiting Fellow will present their research on girls and Young Women before the Cour du bienêtre social of Montréal, conflicting interpretations of women in Canada’s thalidomide tragedy and Indigenous laws and jurisdiction for addressing harm. 

Faculty members representing the Faculty of Science will share their research on geological fantasies, the stark effect, and offer perspectives during a roundtable on overcoming epidemics and the transnational Black communities’ response. 

Find more information about open programming events at Congress here: https://www.federationhss.ca/en/congress2023/york-programming.  

Project with York co-principal investigator receives mpox research grant

Doctor with face mask looking through a microscope

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) awarded a $412,000 grant to a research team, which includes Assistant Professor in Mathematics and Statistics Iain Moyles as co-principal investigator, that will analyze the influence of human behaviour in disease dynamics.

Iain Moyles
Iain Moyles (photo by John Ohle)

Titled “Epidemiological modelling of behavioural impact on Mpox mitigation strategies,” and led by Bouchra Nasri, an assistant professor in the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine at the Université de Montréal’s School of Public Health, the project is part of an investment of $6.35M from the Government of Canada to support 13 teams across Canada that will carry out national and global health research projects on mpox and other zoonotic threats.

“Canada is not immune to future transmissions of mpox or other zoonotic diseases which is why investing in research that will strengthen our response is so important. Through this funding, researchers in Canada are taking the lead in understanding transmission, mitigation, and prevention to help Canada and countries around the world be better prepared for future zoonotic threats,” says Jean-Yves Duclos, minister of health.

The goal of Moyles and his collaborator’s project is to build upon limited knowledge around on mpox dynamics and the impact of behavioural changes on the virus and outbreak. Behaviour plays a critical role in how infectious diseases are spread, as well as the willingness of an individual to seek preventative health measures.

Driven by data from scientific literature and near real-time behavioural information from social media on prevailing attitudes towards mpox, the team will look to create a centralised repository of behavioural information in the context of infectious diseases that can provide reliable and updated knowledge for decision-makers and researchers.

The project will place a particular emphasis on the gay, bisexual and other men-who-have-sex-with-men (gbMSM) community, which has been disproportionately impacted by the mpox outbreak.

It will work closely with the gbMSM community, creating a community advisory board that includes experts and members of the gbMSM community in order to develop culturally sensitive and adequate strategies and ensure timely knowledge translation of our results to a broad audience, such as open-access publications and best-practice documentation.

The $412,000 grant from CIHR will fund two years of the project, with the result at the end of that period being translating findings into actionable information.

York mathematician receives funding to advance mpox research

mpox virus

A York University mathematician has received nearly half a million dollars from the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) to better predict and assess future outbreaks of mpox and other zoonotic threats (infectious diseases that jump from animals to humans).

Woldegebriel Assefa Woldegerima
Woldegebriel Assefa Woldegerima

Woldegebriel Assefa Woldegerima, an assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics in the Faculty of Science, will use epidemiological and geospatial models including mathematical and artificial intelligence-based models to study epidemiology, transmission dynamics and immunology and intervention strategies to forecast the effectiveness of prevention and control strategies for mpox and other zoonotic diseases in Canada and around the world.

“We are not safe from emerging or re-emerging diseases including animal-to-human spillovers,” said Woldegerima. “Our research will provide valuable insights for preventive public health strategies and help governments be better prepared to manage and respond to an epidemic or pandemic threat in the future.”

Mpox, more commonly known as monkeypox, is a virus spread through close contact including sexual interactions and is typically found in parts of central and western Africa. The 2022 outbreak was reported in early May that year. A total of 87,479 cases, including 140 deaths, have been confirmed in 111 countries as of May 2023, according to the World Health Organization. 

Woldegerima and his research team will conduct risk-map assessments, geospatial analysis and machine learning to identify hotspots for potential outbreaks around the world. In addition, their research will use biobehavioural data and results of a survey by the Centre for Disease Control that involved men who have sex with men – a population considered at higher risk for infection – to examine control measures, risk factors and the impact mpox has had on sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections.

These various data sources will allow the researchers to extend their mathematical models for the first time to account for how the virus has disproportionately affected people living with HIV, who make up almost half of the global cases, and to better understand how HIV stigma and discrimination may impede public health interventions.  

The work will provide new training opportunities for postdoctoral researchers and undergraduate students in the Faculty of Science and builds on York University’s expertise in the mathematical modelling of infectious diseases. York is among the top institutions in Canada for publications on COVID-19 modelling.  

Woldegerima’s team for the CIHR research project includes Professors Jianhong Wu, James Orbinski, Sarah Flicker, Ali Asgary, Jude Kong, Nicola L. Bragazzi and Nickolas Ogden. The project is supported by two Organized Research Units at York, Y-EMERGE and Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research, which will provide in-kind support in the form of office space and administrative support.

Woldegerima’s project, “Modelling, predicting and risk assessment of mpox and other (re)emerging zoonotic threats to inform decision-making and public health actions,” received $480,000.

Risk and Insurance Studies Centre receives $11M grant

Wildfire in the forest

Contributed by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Alliance (NSERC), the funding will go towards developing better ways of managing risk and protecting Canadians from increasing threats, such as pandemics, climate catastrophes and financial crises.

Professor Edward Furman of the Faculty of Science at York University leads the team at the Risk and Insurance Studies Centre (RISC) that will use the grant over five years for a new program called New Order of Risk Management (NORM): Theory and Applications in the Era of Systemic Risk. NORM looks to address an acute need for a fundamental transformation in how people think about and manage that risk. 

Edward Furman

“Risk management is key to promoting economic growth and improving welfare in Canada and in other Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OCED) countries by taming conventional risks, but it has not had the desired results in today’s increasingly interconnected world. In fact, some call it a failure,” says Furman. “We hope to lead a paradigm shift around what constitutes best practices and regulation for systemic risk, one that has a broader view of what risk entails and that encompasses the complexity of its systemic nature.” 

Given recent socioeconomic, demographic, technological and environmental changes, the researchers say change is overdue. 

Systemic risks, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the global financial crisis which started in 2007, often spill across socioeconomic boundaries, disproportionately impacting vulnerable populations and magnifying social inequities. The pandemic has already driven Canada’s annual deficit to $348 billion and its national debt is on target to hit $1.2 trillion, while the global financial crisis resulted in a severe recession with sharp declines in national gross domestic product. 

Climate change is creating multiple systemic risks as sea levels rise, wildfire season becomes longer with a greater potential for catastrophic fires and extreme weather events increase, such as flash flooding and storm surges, which can result in widespread devastation to coastal and inland communities in Canada and globally.  

A better understanding of systemic risk is needed, says the NORM team, which includes York Professors Jingyi Cao of the Faculty of Science, Ida Ferrara of the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, Dirk Matten of the Schulich School of Business and Shayna Rosenbaum of the Faculty of Health, as well as professors from University of British, University of Toronto, University of Waterloo and Western University. 

With their industrial collaborators, the NORM team will develop novel theories, operational tools and regulatory mechanisms to address the increasing systemic nature of risks, while also accounting for unequal susceptibility to systemic risk, pursuing equity and building resilience.  

“NORM’s impacts mean not only an academic breakthrough in how we conceptualize systemic risk, but also fundamental transformations in how we manage and govern this new type of risk more effectively through strategies that reflect and consider equity and vulnerability,” says Furman.

Systemic risk is a global threat. NORM brings exceptional depth and breadth of relevant scholarly expertise from actuarial mathematics, business, economics, psychology and statistics together with industry collaborators, including Sun Life Financial, Canada Life, CANNEX Financial Exchanges, Aviva Canada and Wawanesa Insurance, to tackles the issues. 

Learn more at News @ York.