Often, researchers could produce impactful results much faster if they had access to more funding. There are key moments in a researcher’s career where a timely boost of funding would allow them to make a significant leap forward, pushing the boundaries of their field and creating environmental, socio-economic and/or health benefits. NSERC Discovery Accelerator Supplements (DAS) serve exactly that purpose – they provide substantial and timely resources to researchers with established, superior research programs that are highly rated in terms of originality and innovation. These additional resources enable researchers to capitalize on a research opportunity or a bold idea, such as a recent research breakthrough, or a new strategy to tackle a scientific problem. In April 2021, three remarkable researchers from the Faculty of Science received DAS awards: Roberto Chica, Ebrahim Karimi and Rajendhran Rajakumar. Below, they provide a glimpse into what they hope to achieve with this additional funding.
Professor Roberto Chica is an internationally recognized leader and innovator who is pushing the boundaries of protein engineering and computational design. His group has established multistate protein design algorithms to model enzymes as structural ensembles that realistically represent the range of conformations they can sample in solution. This is important because enzymes must “move” in order to catalyze chemical reactions with extreme precision and efficiency. The DAS award will allow Prof. Chica and his research team to develop next-generation enzyme design methods and use them to create efficient artificial biocatalysts for the synthesis of valuable chemicals.
Professor Ebrahim Karimi’s research program uses quantum waves to enhance capabilities and open new horizons in quantum communication protocols, simulators, and sensing. The NSERC DAS award will allow Prof. Karimi’s group to design robust yet compact devices to structure electron and optical beams efficiently. These devices provide novel ways to image sensitive objects and increase information transmission security and capacity – the key to establishing the first quantum network across Ottawa. The additional funding that comes with the DAS will be used to create novel scalable quantum technologies that will enable Canadian quantum industries to flourish and compete on a global scale, while helping to educate and prepare a workforce that future Canadian quantum industries need.
The Rajakumar lab integrates approaches in cell biology, molecular biology, sociobiology, genetics, epigenetics, phylogenetics, fieldwork and evolutionary biology, to address fundamental questions at the interface of ecology, evolution and developmental biology (Eco-Evo-Devo). The main theme of Professor Rajendhran Rajakumar’s research is: how do environmental factors act on developmental processes, and how does the variation generated by this interaction lead to the evolution of biodiversity observed in nature? Although unexpected, receiving a DAS award so early on in his independent research career, just as his lab is starting, maximizes the potential for Prof. Rajakumar’s research program to flourish and succeed. This award is a clear indication that his research group has the potential to make a significant and fundamental impact in biology.