Waterloo welcomes three Banting Fellowship recipients

Three new postdoctoral scholars receive prestigious awards to fund research projects Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs As the University of Waterloo launches its annual National Postdoc Appreciation Week (NPAW) , we celebrate three Waterloo postdoctoral scholars have been awarded the Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship, as announced on Tuesday, August 29 .

The Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships program provides funding to the very best postdoctoral applicants, both nationally and internationally, who will positively contribute to the country’s economic, social and research-based growth.

Across Canada, 70 researchers will receive $70,000 for two years, with a total of $9.8 million awarded nationally.

"The Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships support transformative research that can advance our understanding of emergent fields and address global challenges," says Dr. Jeff Casello, associate vice-president of graduate studies and postdoctoral affairs. "We are thrilled to welcome these new scholars to our community."

The University of Waterloo attracts world-class postdoctoral scholars who transform and disrupt the status quo and we are always delighted to support them as they continue to pursue personal and professional goals that will have positive impacts on Canadian society’s future.

"We are excited to have these emerging scholars join the Faculty of Science," says Dr. Chris Houser, dean of the Faculty of Science. "Their transformational research pushes the boundaries of knowledge and imagination from microbial reactions to distant galaxies, and I look forward to learning the outcomes of their research."

Meet this year’s Banting Fellowship recipients:

Joshua Foo, Department of Physics and Astronomy

Joshua Foo’s Banting-funded research project is titled "Understanding the quantum physics of spacetime." The twin discoveries of quantum mechanics and Einstein’s theory of general relativity (our best theory of gravity) in the early twentieth century revolutionized the landscape of modern physics, giving us accurate predictions about physical phenomena from the subatomic level all the way to astronomical scales. However, combining the two theories has presented a historically difficult problem for physicists.

Dr. Foo will be working with Professor Robert Mann on a project that focuses on how to describe "quantum-gravitational" effects that are expected to emerge when we treat objects in general relativity (for example: black holes) as possessing quantum-mechanical properties, such as the ability to be in a superposition of two places at once.

"These descriptions, in turn, will allow me to develop experimental tests that can detect the quantum features of gravity," Foo says.

The study of such systems will deepen our fundamental understanding of space and time at the quantum level and bring us closer to constructing a quantum theory of gravity. Foo’s research is well-placed within the broad cultural curiosity surrounding our century-long quest for a "unified theory."

Ian Roberts, Department of Physics and Astronomy

Ian Roberts is working with Professor Michael Hudson on a project titled "Star formation quenching in galaxy clusters." We learn from Roberts’ project that galaxies in the universe inhabit a range of environments. Such environments span from the low densities of isolated galaxies in the "field" through to the extremely high galaxy densities found in galaxy clusters.

Thanks to modern astronomical surveys of millions of nearby galaxies, we now know that galaxies in high-density environments (such as clusters) tend to form far fewer stars than galaxies which are isolated in the field. This reduction in star formation is referred to as "quenching."

Roberts’ research will address the following question: "Which physical processes in clusters are responsible for quenching galaxy star formation?" Specifically, Roberts will explore how the "fuel" for the formation of new stars (cold atomic and molecular hydrogen gas) can be removed from galaxies as they orbit around their host cluster. This removal of the fuel for star formation can in turn quench galaxies in dense environments.

This research project will make important contributions to our understanding of the process of star formation (the "life" of galaxies) and the eventual star formation quenching (the "death" of galaxies) in galaxy clusters.

Saraswati Saraswati, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences

Saraswati will work alongside Professor Philippe Van Cappellen on their research project titled "Will rewetting Canada’s degraded peatlands help mitigate climate warming?" Dr. Saraswati working with Professor Philippe Van Cappellen on the project. Many countries, including Canada, have proposed - and already implemented - the rewetting of drained peatlands as a Nature-based Solution (NbS) to curb climate warming caused by greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. However, whether this NbS is an effective climate change mitigation strategy remains controversial.

Only a small number of field-based GHG flux studies have clearly shown a reduction of carbon dioxide emissions from rewetted peatlands, while at the same time, providing evidence for increasing methane emissions.

"The latter is worrisome because methane has a much higher radiative forcing efficiency than carbon dioxide. Emissions of GHGs from peatlands are intimately linked to the turnover of organic carbon by the resident soil microbial communities," Saraswati says.

This is why a quantitative understanding of the complex, microbially mediated reaction network underlying soil organic matter (SOM) decomposition is central to explaining the response of carbon dioxide and methane emissions from peatlands to rewetting. The functioning of this reaction network depends on the energetics of the various chemical transformation pathways involved, for example, how much energy is consumed or released as a given reaction proceeds.

Saraswati’s research will use microcalorimetry to directly measure the energetic yields of reaction pathways that produce carbon dioxide and methane during SOM decomposition. A key outcome of this research will be microcalorimetric assays to quantitatively assess the degradability of SOM that will be used as input to a novel, bioenergetics-informed reaction network model of SOM decomposition.

The latter will then replace the current oversimplistic SOM reaction module in the Canadian Model for Peatlands, used for Canada’s national greenhouse gas reporting and prediction.

The best and brightest are drawn to Waterloo, as evidenced by three outstanding postdoctoral researchers joining the University to pursue their Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship. Our diverse postdoctoral research community supports each other to develop academically, professionally, and personally within a collaborative environment that prioritizes well-being, growth and achievement.

Institutionally, we are also pleased to present Waterloo-specific