McMaster scores big with es­teemed re­search prizes

Awards could dou­ble their time avail­able for their projects

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - CARMELA FRAGOMENI

Two dis­tin­guished McMaster pro­fes­sors — one a leader in astron­omy and the other a pre-em­i­nent med­i­cal doc­tor — are among six na­tion­wide re­cip­i­ents of a pres­ti­gious Cana­dian re­search fel­low­ship.

Physics pro­fes­sor Chris­tine Wilson’s re­search aims to un­der­stand how stars are formed — a chal­lenge she also hopes will lead to un­der­stand­ing the ori­gins of our uni­verse, plan­ets and gal­ax­ies.

Dr. Deb­o­rah Cook’s re­search will be part of a re­search con­sor­tium work­ing to un­der­stand how to po­ten­tially mod­ify micro­organ­isms inside of us that are dis­turbed by crit­i­cal ill­nesses.

The re­search will fo­cus on how pro­bi­otics — the equiv­a­lent of two con­tain­ers yo­gurts a day — might mod­ify them to get peo­ple well again.

Wilson, the Canada Re­search Chair in Ex­tra­galac­tic Star For­ma­tion, and Cook, the Canada Re­search Chair in Re­search Trans­fer in In­ten­sive Care, are two of six schol­ars re­ceiv­ing the Kil­lam Re­search Fel­low­ships ad­min­is­tered by the Canada Coun­cil for the Arts.

The fel­low­ships al­low the re­cip­i­ents to fo­cus on their re­search full­time for two years by pro­vid­ing $70,000 per re­cip­i­ent per year so they can pur­sue their re­search.

“It’s very ex­cit­ing,” said Wilson. “The re­ally nice thing about this Kil­lam fel­low­ship is that it re­leases me from my teach­ing so I can fo­cus very in­tensely on a re­search project.”

In her case, now is a good time to fo­cus on the project, de­spite her love of teach­ing. That’s be­cause she’ll be able to use data from the ALMA tele­scope — data that is rel­a­tively new, she said.

“The data has been growing and now we have enough to do what we call data min­ing,” Wilson said, adding it will be great hav­ing “a large block of un­in­ter­rupted time” to hope­fully make a lot of progress on her project.

Cook’s fel­low­ship will help ac­cel­er­ate re­search into how the micro­organ­isms inside us are af­fected by crit­i­cal ill­ness and whether pro­bi­otics re­duce, for ex­am­ple, the risk of pneu­mo­nia and C. dif­fi­cile, and should be part of in­fec­tion con­trol and health care pol­icy.

Cook, on staff at St. Joseph’s Health­care, will work with the re­search con­sor­tium she helped found in 1989.

Rob Baker, McMaster Univer­sity’s vice-pres­i­dent of re­search, said the Kil­lam fel­low­ships are awarded to out­stand­ing peo­ple whose re­search is very im­por­tant.

“Only the best of the best get these things,” he said. “You’re dou­bling or more, the time they can spend on re­search.”

With­out the fel­low­ships, the re­cip­i­ents can only spend about 40 per cent of their time on re­search, he said.

Chris­tine Wilson: eyes on the stars

Deb­o­rah Cook: un­der­stand­ing micro­organ­isms

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