Fonds de recherche du Québec highlights three stunning students as government slashes budget

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Announcement of the February winners of the Étudiants-chercheurs étoiles Award

Montreal, February 4, 2013 – Québec’s Chief Scientist, Rémi Quirion, is pleased to announce the February winners of the Étudiants-chercheurs étoiles Award, a competition spearheaded by the three Fonds de recherche du Québec.

Award winner, Fonds Nature et Technologies

Michel Lavoie, PhD student in in environmental studies at INRS

Award-winning publication: Influence of Essential Elements on Cadmium Uptake and Toxicity in a Unicellular Green Alga: the Protective Effect of trace Zinc and cobalt concentrations. Published in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 31(7):1445-52, July 2012.

Award winner, Fonds Santé

Jean-Baptiste Pingault, Postdoctoral student at Université de Montréal’s Department of Social and Preventive Medicine.

Award-winning publication: Childhood trajectories of inattention, hyperactivity and oppositional behaviors and prediction of substance abuse/dependence: a 15-year longitudinal population-based study. Published in Molecular Psychiatry, 06-2012.

Award winner, Fonds Société et Culture

Leslie Tomory, Postdoctoral student in history at McGill University.

Award-winning publication: Progressive Enlightenment: The Origins of the Gaslight Industry,1780–1820. Published by Cambridge: MIT Press, mars 2012.

In addition to promoting careers in research, the competition aims to recognize the exceptional research contributions of college and university students, postdoctoral fellows and members of professional bodies who are enrolled in advanced research training programs in the areas covered by the three Fonds de recherche du Québec.

Every month, each Fund will award $1000 to a student researcher. An overview of the recipient’s project and a photo of the recipient will be featured on the Web site

Dr. Quirion sends his congratulations to the winners.

Abandoned Mine Tunnels Might Ferry Geothermal Energy from Deep Underground

Underground mining is a sweaty job, and not just because of the hard work it takes to haul ore: Mining tunnels fill with heat naturally emitted from the surrounding rock. A group of researchers from McGill University has taken a systematic look at how such heat might be put to use once mines are closed. They calculate that each kilometer of a typical deep underground mine could produce 150 kW of heat, enough to warm 5 to 10 Canadian households during off-peak times.

A number of communities in Canada and Europe already use geothermal energy from abandoned mines. Noting these successful, site-specific applications, the McGill research team strove to develop a general model that could be used by engineers to predict the geothermal energy potential of other underground mines.

In a paper accepted for publication in the American Institute of Physics’ Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy, the researchers analyze the heat flow through mine tunnels flooded with water. In such situations, hot water from within the mine can be pumped to the surface, the heat extracted, and the cool water returned to the ground. For the system to be sustainable, heat must not be removed more quickly than it can be replenished by the surrounding rock. The team’s model can be used to analyze the thermal behavior of a mine under different heat extraction scenarios.

"Abandoned mines demand costly perpetual monitoring and remediating. Geothermal use of the mine will offset these costs and help the mining industry to become more sustainable," says Seyed Ali Ghoreishi Madiseh, lead author on the paper. The team estimates that up to one million Canadians could benefit from mine geothermal energy, with an even greater potential benefit for more densely populated countries such as Great Britain.

The authors acknowledge support from Vale Company and the Mitacs Accelerate program.

Photo: ”Coal Miners - Drivers, West Virginia,” 1908 photograph by the American photographer Lewis W. Hine. Courtesy of Yale University, New Haven, Conn.

Planning the conservation of Quebec’s northern ecosystems

The International Science Symposium: Planning the conservation of Quebec’s northern ecosystems: The challenge of a decade, to be held from April 26-27 in Montreal, will be a unique opportunity for scientists and other experts to establish a common understanding of the major conservation issues for the implementation of the government commitment to protect 50% of the territory of the Plan Nord.

The expected outcome of the symposium will be a series of questions and concrete recommendations adapted to the Québec context that will assist the government in achieving its commitment. They will identify the winning conditions for the conservation of biodiversity over large areas and the implementation of ecological planning.

The symposium will bring together international and Quebec scientists, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal experts in community and land use planning, and natural resource conservation and management. Symposium sessions on April 26 will be open to the public (registration required), and the workshops for scientists and experts on April 27 will be by invitation only. The Symposium will be held at the Montréal Botanical Garden and the Université de Montréal Biodiversity Centre.

Symposium sponsors are the Government of Québec, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Canadian Boreal Initiative, and The Prince Albert II Foundation of Monaco. The symposium is presented in partnership with Ducks Unlimited Canada, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, First Nations of Labrador and Quebec Sustainable Development Institute, Université de Montréal Biodiversity Centre, and the Montréal Botanical Gardens.

For more information, see


Suzanne Fraser, Canadian Boreal Initiative

© Valérie Courtois

Feeding the world without destroying the planet: What we can learn from the agricultural areas around Montreal

Agricultural landscapes can provide many different ecosystem services, including food, high quality freshwater, opportunities for recreation, and flood control. Yet we often focus narrowly on the production of food, which can unintentionally undermine provision of other key services. The idea of managing for ecosystem services compels us to consider more than one service and obliges us to consider the interactions and relationships among ecosystem services on the landscape. Yet we don’t know very much about these interactions. Thus, a key goal for science in the coming decade is to improve our understanding of how multiple services are provided across agricultural landscapes. What affects the relative proportions of services? Can trade-offs be reduced or synergies strengthened?

"We are working with local communities in the Vallée-du-Richelieu Municipalité Régionale de Comté, a 750 km2 regional governance body involving 13 towns southeast of Montréal to build models that they can use to objectively quantify the effect of today’s resource and land management decisions on the current and future provision of multiple ecosystem services," says Elena Bennett of McGill’s School of Environment.

She’ll be discussing her research with the public at McGill’s Redpath Museum on December 8 at 6pm. Admission is free.



Estimated prevalence of tuberculosis per 100,000 people in 2007, per country. Source: Wikimedia Commons.


Going up against business interests to defend public health isn’t always easy even when you’re dealing with just one developed nation, but Dr. Madhukar…

Genetic reading for better tree breeding

Updated - Canadian researchers are going to be sequencing the entire genetic code of spruce trees, with the idea of using according the information to better select saplings at planting time, according to an interesting Université Laval press release. They’ll be searching for genes related to wood density, growth rate, and insect resistant. According to projet leader Prof. John Mackay, at Laval’s Department of Woods and Forestry, the genetic code of spruce tree genes is actually six times longer than that of humans, which has dissuaded researchers from looking at it. Apparently, if genetic selection was applied to 20% of Canada’s saplings, wood production could increase by 1.5 million cubic metres per annum. The work will take them about three years.

There’s actually a lot of interesting research being done in the field of forestry in Quebec as the industry and the government look for ways to cope with difficulties related to pulp and paper production (not least of which is the fact that recycled paper costs less to produce than new paper) and wider problems related to the primary sector in Canada (export costs, etc). To give you another example, Dr. van de Ven at McGill’s Pulp and Paper Research Centre is looking for entirely new products that could be made from trees, such as super water-resistant films and antibacterial textiles.

In interesting coincidence, Dr. Alain Fréchette (UQAM) and Dr. Nathalie Lewis (UQAR) of the University of Quebec network published a study today that evaluates how institutional culture affects the provincial government’s ability to manage our forestry resources. In short, they find that the constitutional decision to give the Government of Quebec exclusive authority over forests hinders innovative approaches. That may be true when it comes to the political side of things, but in terms of science, it seems like there’s plenty of surprising and dynamic activities taking place.

Image: The genetic code of a spruce tree is six times longer than yours. This photo is called “Tree with Face,” and it was taken by Mark, at the “Parc Rapides du Cheval Blanc, Roxboro-Pierrefonds, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.” I found it on Wikipedia. Creepy, huh? (and before you write in to tell me this image has no scientific merit - I KNOW!)

Is Quebec’s shale shyness preventing a ponzi?

The media in Quebec today was quite excited by a report from the Fraser Institute that showed that la Belle Province is not necessarily the most favourable place to invest in shale gas (gaz de schiste) projects - in fact, we’re apparently amongst the worst in the world. However, an interesting run down of various expert opinions that appeared in La Presse yesterday puts things all into perspective. Dr. Philippe Faucher from uMontreal’s Dept. of Political Science said:

The petroleum and gas industries are risk-analysis specialists, and that includes political risk. The Fraser Institute survey covers fiscal, regulatory and security obstacles that influence investment decisions… Quebec loses points due to uncertainty surrounding environmental protection, taxation, regulation and its associated costs, workforce availability and labour laws, and the delays due governmental diligence.

Meanwhile, the debate regarding the economics of shale gas also seems to be warming up south of the border, with The New York Time’s Ian Urbina reporting that some industry players are now using the word “ponzi” to describe the situation. Here’s the NY Times article, and here’s a rebuttal by Michael Levi at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Image: Shale gas in Quebec. Copyright The Globe and Mail, March 9, 2011.

McGill & Govt scientists: Great Lakes ecosystem at risk

Researchers affiliated with McGill University, the University of Windsor and Fisheries & Oceans Canada have determined that current regulations do not protect the Great Lakes sufficiently from the dangers presented by international ships. Specifically, the team looked at the risk of damage to local ecosystems that could be caused by “biological invasions” released from the ballast water held in these vessels.

"The four lines of evidence resulting from this analysis indicate that the Great Lakes ballast water management program provides robust, but not complete, protection against ship-mediated biological invasions," the scientists noted. However, they go on to say that the "analysis also indicates that corresponding inspection and enforcement efforts should be undertaken to ensure that environmental policies translate into increased environmental protection."

Read on: Bailey, Sarah et al., Evaluating Efficacy of an Environmental Policy to Prevent Biological Invasions, Environmental Science and Technology. 2011, 45, 2554–2561 .

Image: Le Griffon was the first full-sized sailing ship on the upper Great Lakes of North America and she led the way to modern commercial shipping in that part of the world.French explorer René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, sought a Northwest Passage to China and Japan to extend France’s trade. Creating a fur trade monopoly with the Native Americans would finance his quest and building Le Griffon was an “essential link in the scheme”.

Le Griffon was constructed and launched at or near Cayuga Creek on the Niagara River as a seven-cannon, 45-ton barque. La Salle and Father Louis Hennepin set out on the Le Griffon’s maiden voyage on August 7, 1679 with a crew of 32, sailing across Lake Erie, Lake Huron and Lake Michigan through uncharted waters that only canoes had previously explored. La Salle disembarked and on September 18 sent the ship back toward Niagara. On its return trip from Green Bay, Wisconsin, it vanished with all six crew members and a load of furs. From Wikipedia.