The federal government will invest more than $740,000 in five University of Guelph research projects, ranging from improving precision agriculture to understanding permafrost melt to creating super-strong materials made from biomass.

The Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) will fund the projects through its John R. Evans Leaders Fund (JELF), which helps universities retain leading faculty and provides researchers with foundational infrastructure required to become leaders in their fields.

“This critical CFI investment will provide world-class University of Guelph researchers with the tools they need to catalyse transformational discoveries and fuel positively impactful innovations, ensuring that our researchers remain in the vanguard of their disciplines, creating game-changing knowledge that improves life,” said Malcolm Campbell, vice-president (research). 

These U of G awards are part of $96 million in CFI funding to support 377 new research infrastructure projects at 55 institutions across Canada.

“Every year, the University of Guelph drives the leading edge of research into improving life,” said Lloyd Longfield, MP for Guelph. “This year’s successful applicants provide further examples of how the University of Guelph keeps Canada at the forefront of global research, with the help of JELF federal research funding.”

Prof. Asim Biswas, School of Environmental Sciences, will receive nearly $210,000 to improve digital soil sensing and mapping technology used to manage land resources optimally.

Biswas is helping to develop a state-of-the art mobile research unit that will integrate various technologies to characterize and quantify soil properties. He aims to make agri-food production systems more productive and resilient so that they reflect local conditions, are environmentally sustainable and account for a changing climate and production methods.

Prof. John Dutcher, Department of Physics, will receive nearly $125,000 to study organization and function of all-natural nanomaterials — specifically, starch and phytoglycogen in sweet corn. These tiny natural materials may be used to make healthier foods and to safely deliver nutrients or medicines.

By learning more about how the structure of these biopolymers affects their digestibility and ability to deliver drugs and other bioactive compounds, Dutcher hopes to help develop novel health foods as well as sustainable materials for biomedical and personal care applications.

Prof. Jackie Goordial, School of Environmental Sciences, will receive $90,000 to study microbial processes that regulate biogeochemical cycling in coastal marine and terrestrial environments undergoing rapid change — particularly in permafrost regions.

She will look at amounts and fate of greenhouse gases released from thawing permafrost soils, and the microbial and environmental drivers of this release. By refining time scales involved in processing of permafrost carbon on land and in nearshore environments, Goordial aims to understand how greenhouse gas emissions affected climate change in the past and predict their future effects.

Prof. Amar Mohanty, Department of Plant Agriculture (cross-appointed in the School of Engineering), and Prof. Manjusri Misra, School of Engineering (cross-appointed in Plant Agriculture), will receive more than $214,000 to develop and engineer new industrial materials from sustainable resources. They seek to make graphitic materials similar to graphene, using plant material from biomass residues and biomass waste to create bio-based sustainable composites for industrial-scale applications.

Prof. Ryan Prosser, School of Environmental Sciences, will receive $102,000 to analyze stressors on threatened freshwater mussels, which provide important ecosystem services such as nutrient cycling, biofiltration and generating habitat for other species.

Current methods of monitoring mussel populations are labour-intensive and can be slow to identify the effect of stressors on populations. He will develop metabolomic and proteomic tools to analyze the effects of environmental stressors and to help conserve and recover these organisms.