Researchers awarded grants

Fourteen Wilfrid Laurier University researchers in sciences and mathematics have been awarded $340,000 in research funding through the 2010 Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Discovery Grant competition.

According to chemistry professor Ken Maly, this funding, which will be granted over a five-year period, will allow faculty members to hire students for lab assistance and to purchase materials.

“Without [this] funding … I wouldn’t be able to proceed as I am, it is of critical importance,” said Maly.

For the university to receive this number of awards – 14 of the 29 faculty that applied received grants – was not out of the ordinary, according to biology professor Matthew Smith. Smith was the recipient of the largest amount of funding from NSERC, earning a $220,000 Discovery Grant and an additional $120,000 supplement.

A Laurier graduate, Smith’s research focuses on chloroplasts in plant cells and how cells manage to distribute proteins internally.

“We’re interested in it from a pure, basic biological perspective,” said Smith.

NSERC grants are typically provided for fundamental scientific research rather than the potential “real world” applications of the findings, echoed Maly. His research in chemistry involves liquid crystalline molecules that exist between solid and liquid states of matter.

What make the grants Laurier researchers have received notable are the criteria weighed by NSERC in its decision, as well as recent changes in how these criteria are evaluated.

“It is becoming more competitive and more challenging to receive these grants, especially in smaller institutions,” said Maly.

“If you’re at a smaller school, chances are you have fewer resources, you are hiring fewer students, publishing a little less – all of which makes it challenging.”

Maly believes that a strong research component lends credibility to the university, is important for hands-on involvement for students (such as those hired using NSERC funds) and affects what students can expect from their instructors in the classroom.

“My research has value because I’m excited about what I do,” Maly explained. “It shows students how a concept they may learn in class can be applied in a research setting, even if it’s not yet the ‘real world.’”

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