University of Calgary

Two Science researchers get Accelerator grants for clean energy, cell signalling projects

UToday HomeMay 27, 2013

By Marie-Helene Thibeault

Professors Greg Moorhead and Warren Piers have been awarded prestigious NSERC Discovery Grant Accelerator Supplements to move forward on promising research.Professors Greg Moorhead and Warren Piers have been awarded prestigious NSERC Discovery Grant Accelerator Supplements to move forward on promising research. Photo by Marie-Helene ThibeaultTwo researchers from the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Science have been awarded coveted Discovery Grant Accelerator Supplements from the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) – a total value of $240,000 spread over a period of three years.

Accelerator supplements, which serve as an add-on to Discovery Grants, are awarded to a select group of researchers for projects with high discovery potential.

Warren Piers, professor and S. Robert Blair Chair in the Department of Chemistry, leads research on the discovery and development of new molecular catalysts that speed up chemical reactions — and make them more selective for a desired product.

Traditionally, these catalysts have been developed for facilitating chemical transformations of hydrocarbons into useful petrochemical products. Looking forward, these catalysts are being directed towards reactions important in alternative energy processes, such as converting water into hydrogen and oxygen, or towards environmental challenges such as carbon dioxide utilization.

“My group studies these reactions in molecular detail with a view towards the discovery of novel catalysts and optimization of their performance,” says professor Piers. “The accelerator funding will allow me to maintain our activity and competitiveness in this area for the next three years,” he adds.

Greg Moorhead, professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, will further his group’s research on the biochemistry of ancient enzymes known as protein phosphatases which are responsible for the removal of attached phosphate from proteins. One protein phosphatase represents a completely novel target for malarial drug development and potentially for agricultural biotechnology.

“One of the phosphatases we are working on is not found in humans, but is present in all plants, several bacteria, fungi and protists, including the malaria parasite Plasmodium,” explains Professor Moorhead.

“The accelerator funding associated with this NSERC grant will allow me to recruit a post-doctoral researcher to lead this work,” adds professor Moorhead. “The approaches (quantitative proteomics and bioinformatics) are sophisticated and require the knowledge and skills of an experienced researcher to make rapid progress.”

This announcement comes as the University of Calgary saw a 40 per cent increase in the value of the total amount for this year’s NSERC Discovery Grants compared to last year. In total, 89 researchers at the University of Calgary will be receiving a total of about $15.3 million. This represents a significant step forward as the university strives to achieve its Eyes Highvision of becoming one of the top five research institutions in Canada.


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