Thompson Rivers University

Discovery Grants boost student assistance for TRU researchers

August 29, 2023

From programmable robots and machine learning to old-growth forests and ecosystem reclamation, six Thompson Rivers University (TRU) researchers have received a total of $912,500 through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Discovery Grants Program for students to do more field and lab work.

Dr. Geoff Fink, an assistant professor in the Department of Engineering, has been awarded $155,000 and a $12,500 Discovery Launch supplement to improve the autonomy of quadruped robots using visual-inertial simultaneous localization and mapping. This is a technique used in robotics and computer vision to help a robot understand its surroundings and navigate in an unknown environment. The research is performed by a team of flying and ground-based robots, contributes to new theories and bridges the gap between theory and actual implementation.

“The Discovery Grant funding is instrumental in starting my research lab here at TRU and allows me to hire student researchers,” says Fink.

Dr. Jill Harvey, Canada Research Chair in Fire Ecology and assistant professor in the Department of Natural Resource Science, received $190,000 to study forest-grassland ecotones, areas of steep transitiion between diverse biomes. She uses information from tree-ring data and historical and contemporary perspectives to characterize the resilience of these ecosystems to wildfire and drought. Harvey was also awarded a $12,500 Discovery Launch supplement for her research.

“In my research program, the Discovery Grant will support projects that will advance our understanding of the effects of wildfire and drought on forests in Western Canada,” says Harvey. “These funds will enable me to provide financial support and valuable field and research training to undergraduate and graduate students at TRU.”

Dr. Emad Mohammed, an assistant professor in the Department of Engineering, was awarded $160,000 and a $12,500 Discovery Launch supplement to develop methods to address machine-learning challenges. Mohammed uses these methods as configurable data to build robust machine-learning frameworks for critical applications across industries, including health care.

“The Discovery Grant funding will significantly impact my research by providing the necessary financial resources, expanding my research scope, supporting collaborations, training highly qualified personnel, enabling professional growth and providing stability for my long-term research planning,” says Mohammed.

Dr. Rick Brewster, a professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, received $162,500 to study ways to design efficient algorithms to solve complex problems such as scheduling and routing transit vehicles. The design of the algorithms is completed using mathematical structures intrinsic to the problem.

“The main use of the funds is to support students at the undergraduate and graduate level to train Canada’s next generation of scientists,” says Brewster.

Dr. Lauch Fraser, an NSERC Industrial Research Chair in Ecosystem Reclamation and professor in the Department of Natural Resource Science, has been awarded a $40,000 Discovery Development Grant to test the effects of climate change and disturbance on grassland plant communities.

“Funding will provide a training opportunity for a master of science student in the Environmental Science program while advancing knowledge in climate change research on grasslands in the Southern Interior of British Columbia,” says Fraser.

Dr. Yasin Mamatjan, an assistant professor of Software Engineering in the Department of Engineering, received $155,000 plus a Discovery Launch Supplement of $12,500 to develop techniques using artificial intelligence to guide cancer clinicians in making decisions about patient prognosis, diagnosis and treatment options.

“The NSERC Discovery Grant funding for my research project will have a significant positive impact on this study, including the establishment of my research program, student training, equipment for my lab and publications of research results in reputable journals and conferences,” says Mamatjan. “This funding will enable me to conduct more in-depth investigations on cancer genomics and dedicate my focus to tackling the most complex problem of genomic big data that might not be feasible without financial support.”

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