Acadia celebrates $1.1 million in NSERC grant research funding

From fish to footwork to fruit, Acadia’s experts are primed to pursue scientific breakthroughs that benefit Canadians

On June 14, 2024, the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) officially announced the recipients from this year’s funding competition. Six members of Acadia University’s faculty received NSERC Discovery Grants, Discovery Development Grants, and / or Discovery Launch Supplements, with the total funding exceeding $1.1 million, marking one of Acadia's most successful NSERC funding competition rounds in recent history.

“The NSERC Discovery Grant programs are critically important for supporting broad-based research across disciplines in the natural sciences and engineering,” says Dr. Suzie Currie, Interim Associate Vice-President Research, Innovation, and Graduate Studies at Acadia University.

“With over a million dollars of funding, Acadia is poised to make significant strides in advancing critical research on the environment, climate, and health. We are delighted to celebrate our Acadia researchers for being awarded this competitive and significant NSERC funding.”

Here’s a look at the research that the NSERC grants are helping to make a reality:

Suzie Currie

Researcher: Dr. Suzie Currie (Biology)
Awarded: Discovery Grant for $325,000
Project: A five-year study entitled, “Interactions between social behaviour and temperature in fishes.”
Why this research at Acadia matters: With climate change, temperatures are getting warmer and more variable. These fluctuations in temperature are becoming increasingly dramatic and unpredictable in coastal and freshwater, making it difficult for fish to adapt. This research program will help us better understand how temperature variation impact how fish behave and how well they cope. Ultimately, we hope to identify factors that influence the capacity of fish to respond to warming temperatures and how we can support fish populations in an increasingly warming world. 

Nelson Driscoll

Researcher: Dr. Nelson O’Driscoll (Earth & Environmental Science)
Awarded: Discovery Grant of $215,000
Project: A five-year study entitled, “Quantifying the effects of suspended particulate matter (SPM) on mercury retention and bioaccumulation in estuarine and coastal ecosystems.
Why this research at Acadia matters: Mercury is a global pollutant that can be harmful to wildlife and humans. While researchers have learned a lot about how mercury moves in freshwaters, there is still much to be learned about coastal areas, such as estuaries. Estuaries are complex, ecologically important zones where freshwater from rivers mixes with ocean water. We are seeking to better understand the role of particles in the movement of mercury in estuaries and how this alters mercury accumulation in organisms from the Bay of Fundy. The findings will help Canada to better protect these important and sensitive ecosystems.

Deanne van Rooyen

Researcher: Dr. Deanne van Rooyen (Earth & Environmental Science)
Awarded: Discovery Grant for $180,000
Project: A five-year study entitled, “The center of a supercontinent: interactions between cratonic margins and northern Appalachian accreted terranes during the assembly of Pangea.
Why this research at Acadia matters: By exploring the rocks that were part of the Appalachian Mountains when the mountains were just beginning to form, we can better understand how mountains are made and how supercontinents are put together. Studying these rocks can give scientific and academic communities improved insights into the Earth’s history, going back billions of years, and help to close our collective knowledge gaps.

Daniel Blustein

Researcher: Dr. Daniel Blustein (Psychology)
Awarded: Discovery Grant for $165,000; Dr. Blustein was also awarded $12,500 in funding from the Discovery Launch Supplement program for this project.
Project: A five-year study entitled, “A unifying framework of embodied motor control: self-perception and motor learning synergies in humans.
Why this research at Acadia matters: By conducting movement-based experiments using virtual reality (VR), we can discover how the mind and body work together under controllable yet realistic conditions. These insights have broad applications. For example, training programs could be tailored to enhance athletic performance, while similar data could be used to inform the design of human-controlled robots, such as surgical assistants. Knowing how movements decline when people experience fatigue, for example, could also help to set better worker safety practices. Additionally, our research will develop new tools to measure embodiment in VR, helping to create more immersive experiences for gaming, training, and rehabilitation.

Zoe Migicovsky

Researcher: Dr. Zoë Migicovsky (Biology)
Awarded: Discovery Grant for $155,000; Dr. Migicovsky was also awarded $12,500 in funding from the Discovery Launch Supplement program for this project.
Project: A five-year project entitled, “Improving apples and strawberries using genomics.”
Why this research at Acadia matters: This work will identify genetic markers associated with desirable fruit qualities – such as colour, shape, aroma, and nutrition – which can be used to select for plants which possess these traits, making breeding of new varieties of apples and strawberries more efficient. This work will not only deepen our biological understanding of these plants, but also lead to healthier and more appealing fruits. Ideally this work will support greater, sustainable fruit production of new varieties in Canada, as well as increased fruit consumption among Canadians, who will reap the health benefits of that habit. 

Matthew McSweeney

Researcher: Dr. Matthew McSweeney (Nutrition & Dietetics)
Awarded: Discovery Development Grant of $40,000
Project: A two-year study entitled, “Cross-modal relationship between chemical irritants and salt perception.
Why this research at Acadia matters: With obesity and related illnesses on the rise, one way the food industry has attempted to address this is by creating low-salt foods. There's a known link between the spicy component in chili peppers and the perception of saltiness: adding chili peppers to a food can led the eater to perceive more saltiness. But not all people like chili peppers. Our research will test similar alternatives (like black pepper and horseradish) to find more universally palatable ways to make foods taste saltier without adding more salt. Our hope is this knowledge can provide better lower-salt options for Canadian food makers and potentially be a factor in improving peoples’ health.

“These grants underscore Acadia’s commitment to top-tier research and the exceptional caliber our researchers,” says Dr. Currie. “These meritorious grants recognize the creativity and innovation of our Acadia faculty, allowing them to pursue the most promising avenues of research as they emerge.”

Did you know?

At Acadia, our undergrad students are given ample opportunities to get hands-on experiences with research that matters – like these exciting studies! And what’s more? Students who are selected to conduct more intensive roles in research often get paid by Acadia for their time. If you’re interested in taking part in the work, select the professor’s name to learn more about them and the courses they teach at Acadia.

Stay tuned!
Over the next few months and years, we’ll be checking in with our researchers to see how their projects are coming along and learning about the positive impacts their findings can have in our community.

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