Innovative research rewarded

Sub-title: 
Connaught Fund announces Innovation Award, Summer Institute winners
Author: 
Jenny Hall

Research excellence in projects as varied as plastic solar cells, “extreme” astronomical devices to detect earth-like planets outside our solar system and the potential of music to promote healing has been recognized by the University of Toronto’s Connaught Fund and its selection committee in its 2011-12 Innovation Award and Summer Institute competitions.

James Graham of the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics received $50,000 for the “Extreme Astronomical Instrumentation Summer Institute,” to be held once. He received the Summer Institute Award, which brings together international graduate students, post-doctoral fellows and other researchers to foster interdisciplinary collaboration and creative new research methods. 

Eleven researchers received Connaught Innovation Awards of between $40,000 and $80,000 each to help with technology development, commercialization and knowledge transfer. They are:

  • Stewart Aitchison of electrical and computer engineering and the Insitute for Optical Sciences for “Development of a portable cytometer for global health”;
  • Timothy Bender of chemical engineering and applied chemistry and the Institute for Optical Sciences for “Precommercialization of novel compositions of matter: multifunctional organic materials for organic solar cells (electronically conductive and light absorbing boron subphthalocyanines)”;
  • Constantin Christopoulos of civil engineering for “Development of cast steel yielding bracing systems for the enhanced seismic protection of infrastructure”;
  • Michael Glogauer of dentistry for “Colourimetric Rinse Test to Screen for Periodontal (Gum) Disease”;
  • Eugenia Kumacheva of chemistry for “A microfluidic method for studies of gas‐liquid Reactions”;
  • Howard Lipshitz of molecular genetics for “Synthetic antibodies against RNA‐binding proteins for research and diagnostics”;
  • Milos Popovic of the Institute for Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering for “System and therapeutic intervention for restoration of voluntary upper limb function in individuals with severe paralysis following stroke or spinal cord injury”;
  • Dwight Seferos of chemistry and the Institute for Optical Sciences for “Synthesis of Materials of Interest for Plastic Solar Cells”;
  • Molly Shoichet of chemical engineering and applied chemistry and the Institute for Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering for “Injectable hydrogel for local delivery to the brain”;
  • Yu Sun of mechanical engineering and the Institute for Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering for “Development of a high‐speed, low‐cost ektacytometer for mechanical characterization of RBCs (red blood cells)”; and
  • Shahrokh Valaee of electrical and computer engineering for “Dynamic RSS radio map learning and generation for location estimation.”

Finally, based on letters of intent, the Connaught committee also invited three researchers to move forward with full applications for the Global Challenge Award. This award of up to $1 million brings together the university’s top researchers with leaders from other sectors. Through its three program elements—the Connaught Distinguished Visiting Scholar, the Connaught International Symposium and the Connaught Research Cluster—the award enhances the university’s contributions to global society.

The leaders of the three projects proceeding to the final around are:

  • Brenda Banwell of pediatrics for “Global migration and human autoimmune disease”;
  • Lee Bartel of music for “Music medicine in aging: exploring foundations, examining means, and establishing applications”; and
  • James Orbinski of public health sciences for “Participatory governance in primary health care for greater equity in global health.”

Founded in 1972, the Connaught Fund was created from the sale of Connaught Laboratories, which first mass-produced insulin, the Nobel award-winning discovery of U of T professors Frederick Banting, Charles Best, James Collip and J.J.R. Mcleod. The university has overseen the fund in the years since, awarding more than $120 million to U of T researchers for work that will have a transformative impact. Today, the fund invests approximately $3 million annually in emerging and established scholars. Awards are chosen by the Connaught committee.

“Congratulations to all the winners,” said Professor Paul Young, U of T’s vice-president (research) and chair of the Connaught committee. “The competition was stiff this year, which reflects the fact that U of T is home to many excellent researchers. These projects have the potential to make an enormous impact in their respective fields of study and in society at large, and we were delighted to support them.”

Young said that the committee plans to announce the New Researcher Award recipients in April and the final Global Challenge winner in June.

Story updated September 11, 2012