Black holes and green chemistry are the areas of focus of two early-career researchers receiving prominent academic awards totaling nearly $300,000.
Dr. Robie Hennigar is recipient of a 2018 Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship, valued at $70,000 a year for two years.
Dr. Hennigar joins the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, Faculty of Science, in September. The Banting program provides funding to top-tier postdoctoral researchers, both nationally and internationally, who will positively contribute to Canada’s economic, social and research-based growth.
Launched in 2008, the Vanier program aims to strengthen Canada’s ability to attract and retain world-class doctoral students and establish Canada as a global centre of excellence in research and higher learning.
“Through our Strategic Research Intensity Plan, Memorial is committed to attracting and retaining the highest-calibre graduate students and post-doctoral fellows from our province, Canada and around the world,” said Dr. Neil Bose, vice-president (research).
“The Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship Program and Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship Program allow Memorial to recruit young inquisitive researchers who are poised to become the research leaders of tomorrow. These prestigious awards ensure Dr. Hennigar and Ms. Andrea will have the financial support needed to grow their research activities.”
Dr. Aimée Surprenant, dean, School of Graduate Studies, says the Vanier and Banting honours are the most significant recognition given to PhD and post-doctoral fellows in Canada.
“The programs aim to recognize world-class doctoral students and post-docs by supporting individuals who demonstrate both outstanding leadership skills and a high standard of scholarly achievement,” said Dr. Surprenant.
“We are pleased and proud that our scholars have been successful in such an extremely competitive program. The funding will help these young scholars continue to contribute the highest-quality research while at the same time engaging with and contributing to the community in very important ways.”
Dr. Hennigar, a theoretical physicist originally from Chester Grant, N.S., recently completed his PhD at the University of Waterloo. He will be mentored by Drs. Ivan Booth and Hari Kunduri.
“I spend my time playing with equations rather than measuring things in a lab,” Dr. Hennigar explained to the Gazette. “My research interests are quite broad but the unifying theme is black holes.”
“Because of the Banting, I will be able to continue to direct intense focus on my research.”
As part of his research, he is studying the thermodynamic properties of black holes.
“I am interested in studying the interplay between gravity, quantum field theory and quantum information theory in a way such that we can deepen our understanding in all three areas,” he added. “It turns out that black holes are incredibly important tools in such an endeavour.”
He says receiving the highly competitive Banting Fellowship validates the hard work he put into his PhD studies and that the fellowship will open doors for his research activities.
“Because of the Banting, I will be able to continue to direct intense focus on my research and it will provide plenty of funding to present my results at conferences, while also allowing me to maintain existing – and forge new – collaborations,” Dr. Hennigar noted.
“This will be essential, both to hone my research program, but also to serve as a launching pad for a scientific career. Most importantly, it will allow me to keep doing what I enjoy most – physics.”
Ms. Andrea, originally from North Sydney, N.S., began her PhD studies at Memorial two years ago under the supervision of Dr. Fran Kerton, Department of Chemistry.
“The goal of my research is to produce plastics using carbon dioxide (C02) as a cheap, abundant building block, and ultimately design plastics that can degrade and not pollute our oceans,” Ms. Andrea told the Gazette. She says each year more than eight million tons of plastic enter the ocean and only five per cent of the plastic manufactured is recycled.
“This will allow me to focus 100 per cent on what I love – my research.”
She is studying a metal-free catalyst that is commercially available and capable of performing better than traditionally used metal catalysts.
“My project will involve further modifying this catalyst to improve its ability to control the type of polymers – plastics – being produced, and eliminate the possibility of metal contamination in the products,” she explained.
“Our hope is that we will provide society with a means of continuing to use plastics essential to our lifestyles without the adverse effects on our environment.”
Ms. Andrea says she’s grateful to the Government of Canada for providing funding to young, emerging leaders in the sciences.
“This will allow me to focus 100 per cent on what I love – my research – without the financial burden of pursuing a higher education,” she noted. “I will have the funds to travel and present my research internationally, allowing for further collaborations and contributions to the wider scientific community.”
Memorial also has ties to another newly announced Vanier Scholar. Maegwin Bonar recently completed her master’s in biology under the supervision of Dr. Eric Vander Wal. She is currently completing a PhD at Trent University in Ontario. She continues the incredible winning streak of the Vander Wal Wildlife Evolutionary Ecology Lab. Fellow graduate students Christina Prokopenko and Quinn Webber received the prestigious scholarship in 2017 and 2016, respectively.