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Federal funding announced for U of R researchers to improve health and safety of Canadians

By University Advancement and Communications Posted: August 21, 2020 6:00 a.m.

Dr. Wu Peng, assistant professor in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, and Dr. Nicole Hansmeier, biology assistant professor at Luther College and the Faculty of Science, awarded more than $400,000 from the federal government’s Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) John R. Evans Leaders Fund.
Dr. Wu Peng, assistant professor in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, and Dr. Nicole Hansmeier, biology assistant professor at Luther College and the Faculty of Science, awarded more than $400,000 from the federal government’s Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) John R. Evans Leaders Fund. Photo: U of R Photography

Two University of Regina researchers have been awarded a total of $408,000 through the federal government’s Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) John R. Evans Leaders Fund (JELF). This fund supports scholars with research infrastructure required for them to conduct leading-edge research.

Dr. Nicole Hansmeier, assistant professor of biology at Luther College and the Faculty of Science at the University of Regina, was awarded $315,000 for much-needed equipment for cannabis research. The requested instruments will be integrated into the CFI-funded Institute of Environmental Change and Society (IECS) at the University of Regina and will boost research in the Prairies.

Dr. Wu Peng, assistant professor in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, received $93,000 to develop solutions for infrastructure impacted by ice, snow, and cold weather.

CANNABIS

While the legalization of cannabis in Canada has provided many opportunities, it has also come with significant challenges and uncertainties. Hansmeier’s CFI-supported research program aims to help ensure that policies and regulations around cannabis are fair and meaningful, by developing tools that will accurately and objectively investigate the impacts of cannabis and its use on public health and safety.

As cannabis consumption is becoming more commonplace, fair and just evaluation of its impacts on drivers and in the workplace remains a significant challenge. Currently, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive component of cannabis, is measured in blood, saliva or urine as a means to test cannabis consumption. However, these tests only indicate if THC is present, which is not a good indicator of impairment as THC can reside in the body longer than the duration of its biological effects. Part of Hansmeier’s project will be to create a tool to detect and objectively quantify the degree of cannabis-related impairment.

Together with the IECS associate director Dr. Björn Wissel and the head of the Cellular Impacts Facility Dr. Tzu-Chiao Chao, Hansmeier’s team will develop a chemical fingerprinting method to allow for the identification of illicit cannabis products, and determine their potency and harmful contaminants. This will help consumers in making informed decisions about their consumption, vastly improve the ability to detect real impairment, and, in the long run, improve road and work safety.

This precision tool will minimize legal uncertainties regarding cannabis use and provides policy makers and regulators with tools to balance legal use of cannabis products with public safety requirements, which will also reduce the burden on the courts by avoiding unjustified charges and convictions which arise from problems with false positive detections using traditional THC testing methods.

Another major aim of this research will include establishing a new method to identify unlicensed cannabis products through testing the composition of cannabis plants and cannabis products. This will help consumers to make informed decisions about their cannabis use, while also helping producers to fine-tune their products and detect unintended loss or transformation of cannabinoids during food processing. In addition to increased product safety, the testing will also have the ability to identify illicit products, which would help disrupt the black market and benefit the legal cannabis sellers.

Finally, Hansmeier’s research will also include quantifying long-term health effects of cannabis use.

CLIMATE CHANGE, PUBLIC SAFETY, AND INFRASTRUCTURE

The formation and release of ice jams on Canadian waterways, and the associated midwinter jamming and spring flooding, are very sensitive to climatic changes and extreme weather events, which are expected to intensify. This is a significant issue since ice-jam flooding is a particularly catastrophic natural hazard that can result in human casualties and property and infrastructure damage.

For example, the thawing and freezing of ice has major negative effects on hydropower generation, winter transportation, and ecology. It can also cause flooding and ice runs that damage infrastructure, creating a risk to public safety.

Wu’s CFI-funded research will help him to establish the Cold Region Erosion and Flooding Research Laboratory which aims to make significant advances in the fields of cold-region engineering, ultimately improving public safety and infrastructure.

For example, considerable amounts of sediment can be moved around hydraulic structures during flood events, which, in turn, influences how and where water flows. High runoff and sediment that’s relocated during a flood can result in extensive damage and cause unexpected expenses, such as bridge repair or reconstruction.

Research conducted in Wu’s lab will provide a more accurate description of sediment movement and erosion compared to what is currently available. His research will provide a better understanding of the interaction between ice, sediment, and hydraulic structures in cold regions, while also enabling reliable and efficient collection of first-hand data on the impacts of different ice conditions on sediment movement around hydraulic structures. The lab will also provide graduate students and trainees with hands-on, high-demand skills that will prepare them for future careers.

Ultimately, Wu’s work will serve as a useful tool for modeling and management of Canadian water resources.

This CFI funding covers approximately 40 per cent of the more than $1 million in costs of these two projects. The remaining 60 per cent is being secured in partnership with other organizations.

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