Two rising stars honoured for research

early career researcher of the year award
Awards and recognition

By University of Ottawa

Office of the Vice-President, Research and Innovation, OVPRI

Jude Mary Cénat and Benoît Lessard
Professors Jude Mary Cénat and Benoît Lessard
Professors Jude Mary Cénat, a leader in research on the mental health of Canada’s Black communities, and Benoît Lessard, Canada Research Chair in Advanced Polymer Materials and Organic Electronics, have received Early Career Researcher of the Year Awards from the Office of the Vice-President, Research and Innovation.

“We’re very happy to offer this award to two outstanding researchers whose careers have enjoyed a meteoric rise,” said Sylvain Charbonneau, vice-president, research and innovation. “Through the efforts they have invested in their research, these professors have made a significant contribution to advancing knowledge in health care and public health policy, as well as in new generations of flexible, printed electronics. We congratulate them for their tremendous work and wish them much success going forward with their projects.”

Mental health and social service disparities seen among members of Black communities are a real public health issue. For Professor Jude Mary Cénat, director of the Interdisciplinary Centre for Black Health and the Vulnerability, Trauma, Resilience & Culture (V-TRaC) Research Laboratory, they are a key focus of his research.

Recently elected to the College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists of the Royal Society of Canada, Cénat is helping to develop anti-racist public policy. He plays a leadership role nationally in advising different levels of government seeking to reduce, and indeed, eliminate, racial inequality in health care.

“My greatest motivation is seeing that my research meets people’s real needs,” says Cénat. “It doesn’t only contribute to developing mental health care for people, but also reduces racial, social and economic disparities, while building resilient communities.”

To reach these goals, Cénat has developed innovative mental health prevention and intervention tools and training, which he offers to partners, students, and health-care and education professionals.

A group of researchers
Professor Jude Mary Cénat and members of his research team in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

But Cénat’s research doesn’t stop there. He is also studying the consequences of natural disasters on mental health, as well as new forms of trauma, such as cyberbullying, along with their risk factors and effects on adolescents. He is also developing projects in partnership with communities in low- and middle-income countries, including on the impact of infectious diseases on people’s mental health in Africa and on gender-based violence in the Caribbean.

Catherine McKenna and Benoît Lessard
Benoit Lessard meets then-minister Catherine McKenna in 2016 as Canada Research Chair in Advanced Polymer Materials and Organic Electronics.

Imagine a tablet device as thin and flexible as a piece of paper that you could easily fold up and put in your pocket. While they have yet to reach their full potential, flexible and printed electronics (the technologies at the root of this futuristic tablet) are already changing our everyday devices.

Professor Benoît Lessard and his team are working closely with businesses to manufacture new consumer products that use these technologies. Their leading-edge research deals with the development of new carbon-based materials and their integration in electronic and photonic thin film prototypes for emerging applications.

“Thin film electronics open the door to innovative, promising applications, from magazine covers that light up to roll-up, portable solar panels, and biosensors integrated in clothing that detect disease markers in our sweat,” says Lessard. “Our research on treatment and characterization of thin film electronics and their integration in prototypes makes these applications possible.”

Lessard has worked with OTI Lumionics, an Ontario company, to develop carbon molecules used in manufacturing organic light-emitting diode (OLED) screens for cellphones and televisions and in ultra-thin, flexible lighting panels for business cards and magazine covers. More resistant than the silicon modules typically used in electronics, carbon molecules could be heated to a higher temperature, which would accelerate production of organic light-emitting diodes, thus reducing the manufacturing cost of these emerging applications.

The Early Career Researcher of the Year Award, offered by the Office of the Vice-President, Research and Innovation, highlights research excellence in the humanities, social sciences, fine arts and literature, as well as in pure and applied science. It comes with a $10,000 research scholarship to cover the salary of a supervised graduate student.