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UNBC researchers awarded nearly $2 million in funding grants

Eleven UNBC researchers, including seven who are in the early stages of their careers, received funding through the NSERC Discovery Grant program.
Ecosystem Science and Management Assistant Prof. Samuel Bartels received a Discovery Grant to study how land use and climate change are impacting forest biodiversity.

University of Northern British Columbia researchers will explore local solutions that could have global impacts with $2 million in funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). 

“UNBC researchers draw upon the unique strengths of northern British Columbia, including the natural landscapes and the University’s deep community ties to lead studies that address both local and global challenges,” says UNBC president Geoff Payne. “This funding enables UNBC to continue to leverage its distinctive northern perspective to generate impactful, world-class research.” 

Eleven UNBC researchers, including seven in the early stages of their careers, received funding through the NSERC Discovery Grant program. The grants, worth a combined total of nearly $2 million over five years will support research activities and provide funding for undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral researchers at UNBC. 

Among the UNBC projects to receive funding is research led by Ecosystem Science and Management Prof. Chris Johnson into the development of a new concept for studying how animals in B.C. adapt in a changing climate. 

“This research will provide a new framework for understanding the range of effects and tolerance of wildlife species to climate change,” says Johnson. “Insights will have direct application to the management of habitat for moose, caribou, and black bear across rapidly changing landscapes.”  

To better understand the long-term impacts, Johnson says it’s crucial to discover more precisely how individual species tolerate changes and variation in local weather. The project received $235,000 in funding over five years and will support one master’s student and three doctoral researchers. 

“The NSERC Discovery Grants provide scholars with the resources they need to pursue groundbreaking research, foster a culture of curiosity and create knowledge through community-driven research,” says UNBC vice-president research and innovation Paula Wood-Adams. “The grants also provide opportunities for students at all levels to gain hands-on learning experiences working with expert researchers.”  

Engineering assistant Prof. Chinchu Cherian is exploring new materials and technologies to make stronger, more durable and eco-friendly roads in cold climates. Through detailed laboratory tests and consultations with local officials and outside experts, Cherian will seek to understand how special additives and recycled products can be integrated into road construction. The project received $135,000 in funding over five years and will include two master’s students and one PhD student.  

“Through collaboration with industry partners, local communities and government agencies, my research aims to pave the way for safer, more resilient roads in northern British Columbia and beyond,” Cherian says. “By blending traditional wisdom with innovative solutions, we're not just building infrastructure – we're forging pathways to stronger, more connected communities, ensuring a brighter future for all.”

Other projects receiving funding include:

  • Chemistry Prof. Chow Lee is using a variety of tools, including genome mining, synthetic biology and chemistry methods, to better understand how certain mushroom species make biologically interesting compounds including those that have antiproliferative, anti-inflammatory and immuno-stimulatory activities that are relevant for the treatment of cancer. Funding: $170,000  
  • Ecosystem Science and Management Prof. Oscar Venter's project is titled Assessing ecosystem intactness and biodiversity impacts across space and time. Funding: $325,000
  • Ecosystem Science and Management assistant Prof. Samuel Bartels is examining how land use and climate change are impacting forest biodiversity, including forest understory shrub and herbaceous species, fungi, mosses and lichens, with the aim of developing conservation approaches that create resistance and resilience. Funding: $145,000  
  • Environmental Science Prof. Phil Owens is studying the impact of wildfires on water flow and soil erosion in British Columbia. By understanding how different landscapes respond to wildfires, this research will help communities protect important water resources and aquatic ecosystems following wildfires. Funding: $180,000 
  • Psychology assistant Prof. Nick Reid is building a computational model that draws on psychological theories to predict and simulate human behavior as he seeks to understand the interaction between the system in the brain that processes general knowledge and the system that processes life events. Funding: $145,000. 
  • Mathematics assistant Prof. Stanley Xiao is uncovering basic properties of objects relevant to number theory, including elliptic curves, prime numbers and polynomials. Number theory has important applications in cryptography, complexity theory and decision problems. Funding: $115,000 
  • Engineering assistant Prof. Mohammad Kamali is quantifying and comparing the sustainability performance of civil infrastructure by demonstrating the impacts of the use of environmentally friendly materials and components, energy efficient technologies and industrialized methods of construction on life cycle sustainability. Funding: $135,000. 
  • Ecosystem Science and Management assistant Prof. Jonathan Cale is helping to manage future beetle populations by clarifying the role of fungal communities in beetle outbreaks. His research will explore the activities of fungi carried by beetles and in forest soils, aiming to determine their function in outbreak processes for beetle species of concern. Funding: $165,000. 
  • Environmental Science assistant Prof. Teresa Adesanya's project is titled Characterizing nutrient and contaminant fate and dynamics under freeze-thaw cycles. Funding: $130,000  

“NSERC’s ongoing investments in UNBC researchers points to meaningful outcomes and impacts for Canadians," says research project officer Jacqueline Dockray. "UNBC research continues to make a difference!”