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Researchers at NU earn grants

Dr. April James, Canada Research Chair
Dr. April James, Canada Research Chair in Watershed Analysis
 and Modeling and associate professor, Geography

A trio of researchers at Nipissing University have earned $265,000 in grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada (NSERC) for work that provides a better understanding of our watersheds, creates new commercially useful chemical compounds more efficiently, and furthers scientific knowledge through the exploration of dimension theory.

  • Dr. April James, Canada Research Chair in Watershed Analysis and Modeling and associate professor, Geography, received $110,000 ($22,000 per year for five years) for her research project, titled Stable Water Isotope Study of a Mesoscale Precambrian Shield Basin for Improved Model Predictions of Water Quantity and Quality.
  • Dr. Mukund Jha, associate professor, Chemistry, received $100,000 ($20,000 per year for five years), for his project, titled Synthesis of Novel Indole-Based Heterocycles.
  • Dr. Alexandre Karassev, professor, Computer Science and Mathematics, received $55,000 ($11,000 per year for 5 years), for his work, titled Homogeneous spaces and dimension theory.

“Thank you to NSERC and the Federal government for this investment in Nipissing University and our researchers,” said Dr. Harley d’Entremont, Nipissing’s provost and vice-president, academic and research. “These are important grants and there is a great deal of competition for them. The success of Nipissing’s faculty members is a testament to the quality of their research and the potential impact it has to improve the lives of all Canadians.”

Researchers across Canada will be sharing more than $340 million from NSERC’s flagship Discovery Grants Program. These grants—based on recommendations from peer review committees containing world experts in each of 12 science and engineering fields—typically last for five years. They provide the core funding and freedom so Canada’s best researchers can pursue their most promising ideas and breakthrough discoveries—world‑firsts in knowledge.


Dr. April James: Stable Water Isotope Study of a Mesoscale Precambrian Shield Basin for Improved Model Predictions of Water Quantity and Quality

The study of the cycling of water through our watersheds is critical to improve our ability to predict the impact of human activities on freshwater resources. Regionally, Precambrian shield lakes are showing an increasing number of harmful algae blooms with nutrient inputs (like phosphorus) and climate conditions likely contributing factors. Computer models are primary tools that help predict future impacts on water resources, but their use comes with large uncertainties. Water cycling studies can generate important insights into how water is stored and released to our waterways, improving these models. Recent technology has reduced the cost and improved the ability to analyze isotopes of oxygen and hydrogen of the water molecule. Ratios of naturally occurring water isotopes can distinguish the mixture of water sources in streamflow and the influence of evaporation, which provides new evidence of important hydrological processes at scales relevant to watershed management and decision making.

Lake Nipissing and the French River are part of an important headwater tributary that flows into Georgian Bay. The lake, and its 13,000 km2 watershed is the source of water to local municipalities and First Nation communities, home to a First Nations fishery and 5% of Ontario’s recreational angling, and contributes an estimated $100 million/year to Ontario’s economy. Based at Nipissing University’s Watershed Analysis Centre, this research program will apply water isotope technology to improve understanding of water movement in the Sturgeon River-Lake Nipissing-French River (SNF) basin. It will specifically evaluate contributions of snowmelt, groundwater and surface water (e.g. lakes, wetlands, reservoirs) to seasonal streamflow during high and low flows and over several years, capturing inter- and intra-year variability in inputs. The influence of landscape characteristics (geology, soils, topography, natural and human-induced landcover and use) on streamflow generation will be assessed. Findings from the SNF basin will provide new insights into water cycling for Precambrian shield basins with significant human-based activities and will advance research approaches in assessing impacts on water cycling that can be used for improved predictions of the future of our freshwater resources on a broad scale.

Dr. Mukund Jha: Synthesis of Novel Indole-Based Heterocycles

Creative organic synthesis is a cornerstone for feeding the demands of numerous research areas − such as pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals, material sciences, catalysis, photochemistry, fragrances and pigments − where novel molecular frameworks with interesting properties and topology are constantly sought. It is crucial for synthetic chemists to develop and fine-tune reaction methodologies that enable efficient and green synthesis of the desired skeletons. The indole core is a prevalent substructure in many natural products and biologically active compounds. Due to its biological importance, indole based compounds attract special attention as a building block for the development of therapeutic agents by medicinal chemists. A plethora of bioactivities surrounding the indole-core continue to be a driving force in the development of new methodology to find useful compounds and increase the heterocyle diversity. Thus, the need for development of efficient and practical syntheses of indoles bearing a variety of substitution patterns is of great significance. The objective of Dr. Jha’s research program is to explore and develop novel and efficient synthetic methodology of indole heterocycles bearing a variety of substitution patterns. The long-term goal is to use the developed methodology to enrich the heterocycle diversity around indole nucleus to find commercially useful chemicals.

The proposed research program will lead to novel indole-based molecular architectures with interesting biological properties and 3-D topology. These molecules could also serve as building blocks for synthesizing compounds of desired frameworks. Particular attention will be given to incorporating green properties (such as, clean and quantitative conversion, mild conditions, catalyst recycling, atom economy, one-pot cascade reactions, and low waste production) to methodologies developed in my laboratory in order to advance their practical and commercial importance. Approximately 25 students will be trained over the tenure of the grant. The training received will better prepare them to contribute to research activities in industry, government, and university laboratories across Canada.

Dr. Alexandre Karassev: : Homogeneous spaces and dimension theory

Homogeneity is a very natural concept, existing in various areas of science. In topology, a space is called homogeneous if for every two of its points there exists a homeomorphism that sends one of these points to the other. Intuitively, it means that the space looks the same around each of its points. Many topological spaces, that model real-life phenomena, are homogeneous. Many of these spaces also exhibit a fractal-like behaviour. However, not all fractals are homogeneous. Despite the importance of the concept, topological homogeneity is still not well-understood. One of the goals of Dr. Karassev’s program is the study of homogeneous spaces. In particular, he is interested in the structure of “nice” homogeneous spaces, those which are absolute neighborhood retracts (ANRs). Note that all manifolds and, more generally, polyhedra are ANRs. However, there are many exotic examples of ANRs that differ substantially from manifolds. One of the central problems Dr. Karassev would like to work on is the Bing-Borsuk conjecture: is every finite-dimensional homogeneous ANR-compactum a manifold? Jakobsche showed in 1980 that the Bing-Borsuk conjecture implies the famous Poincare conjecture, recently proved by Grigori Perelman. Another objective is to develop a unified approach to construction of homogeneous spaces.

The second part of Dr. Karassev’s program is concerned with infinite-dimensional topology. Infinite-dimensional spaces play an important role in various areas of mathematics and its applications in physics. There are different types of infinite-dimensional spaces. His goal is to find characterizing properties of some of these types and improve our understanding of differences between these types. The third part of the proposal is devoted to asymptotic dimension. While the classical approach in topology is to study spaces, their properties, and invariants on the “small scale”, asymptotic topology analyzes “large scale” structure of spaces. There are several analogs of dimension-like invariants that are designed to work in the large scale category. Some of these invariants are related to Property A, introduced by Guoliang Yu in 2000. Dr. Karassev wishes to better understand some of these connections and to generalize certain theorems and constructions from usual dimension theory on the case of asymptotic dimension.

Research in topology, and in particular in dimension theory, helps to advance fundamental scientific knowledge. It also has applications in physics, data analysis, economics, visualization, and other areas

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