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Research excellence spans the breadth of Guelph’s campus (8 photos)

In this edition of his Urban Cowboy column, Owen Roberts looks at some of the leading University of Guelph researchers who are improving life for us all

Nearly $150 million is directed to the University of Guelph every year for research. And although support for cutting-edge technology and modern facilities are imperative for helping research advance and excellence, it’s the people – the researchers themselves – who are central to every achievement.

That was the message delivered Friday night by members of the university’s senior administrative team – President Franco Vaccarino, among them – to some of the university’s highest research achievers. They assembled in the Summerlee Science Complex to be recognized for their many contributions to Guelph’s standing as one of Canada’s most research-intensive universities.

Vice-president of research Malcolm Campbell, master of ceremonies for the evening, commented on the honourees’ role.

“We’re honouring University of Guelph researchers whose discoveries, investigations, and innovations have received significant recognition nationally and internationally. These are people whose breakthroughs improve life, near and far,” he said. 

The honourees spanned the breadth of studies at the university’s seven colleges, “from fine art to physics, and everything in between” as Campbell said. Several have achieved the highest recognition possible, including the Governor General’s Award for Innovation (Bonnie Mallard) and members of the Royal Society of Canada, of which the university has more than 20.

Guelph faculty have also been successful with the Canada Research Chairs program, which is designed to build national expertise in very specific areas.  The university has an impressive 27 such chairs, in fields ranging from violence prevention and collaborative digital scholarship to behavioural neuroscience and gender, justice and development.

Campbell noted Guelph stands among the world’s top universities for agri-food and veterinary sciences, reflecting historical strengths across campus that contribute to its standing as Canada’s food university. 

In no small part, that standing is underpinned by the research agreement between the university and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, that was recently renewed for 10 years, to the tune of $713 million. And there’s the $20 million contributed last year by the Arrell family for the Arrell Food Institute, which has its first conference next month. 

But there’s more.

For example, Campbell noted three Guelph faculty members hold prestigious industrial research chairs funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, with additional support from industry groups in the researchers’ respective fields. 

The three – Gisele Lapointe, Beth Parker and Peter Tremaine – are considered international leaders in their respective fields: dairy microbiology, groundwater and surface water in bedrock, and high-temperature aqueous solutions, particularly in nuclear power reactors.

Another world leader outside the food and agriculture realm is Ajay Heble, supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. Heble, a musician and director of Guelph’s International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation, studies how improvisation principles inherent in jazz music can help develop new and unexpected collaborations among people of diverse backgrounds.

To further build research excellence on campus, the university created two new awards in the past year. The first, research excellence awards, are one-time awards for early-career faculty. The second are research leadership awards, three-year awards for established faculty who have demonstrated research excellence.

“Excellence is about the human spirit and what it’s capable of achieving,” says Vaccarino. “These researchers exemplify what it is to truly make a difference.”