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Five U of T Scarborough faculty receive funding aimed at supporting cutting-edge research

Assistant Professor Ruby Sullan is one of five U of T Scarborough researchers to receive money from the Canada Foundation for Innovation's (CFI) John R. Evans Leaders Fund. (Photo by Ken Jones)

Ruby Sullan is driven by a desire to better understand the building blocks of biofilms, those groups of cells that stick to each other and to surfaces.

A biophysical chemist, Sullan is mostly interested in bacterial adhesion, that is, what causes bacteria cells to stick together and to other surfaces. It’s important to know how the process works given that biofilms can cover many surfaces including medical instruments in hospitals that put patients at risk of infection. Dental plaque is another example of a biofilm.

“I find it very satisfying to understand something at its most basic level,” says Sullan, an assistant professor in the Department of Physical and Environmental Sciences at U of T Scarborough.

“Before delving into the complex nature of something like biofilms, you need to fully understand how it gets started and that often involves looking at it on the level of a single bacterium or even a single molecule.” 

Now, thanks to new funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), Sullan will have a powerful microscope at her disposal to help answer those fundamental research questions. The equipment, which combines atomic force microscopy with optical microscopy, means it can take snapshots of nanostructures and correlate it with the force of molecular interactions at well-defined and targeted areas. 

“We can correlate the structure, forces and specific targets in a sample, so it’s a very versatile technique,” she adds. 

Sullan is one of five U of T Scarborough researchers this year to receive funding from the CFI’s John R. Evans Leaders Fund. 

“This funding is a tremendous boost to our faculty who are tackling some very important research questions,” says Professor Marc Cadotte, U of T Scarborough’s acting VP of Research.

“It’s inspiring to see colleagues receive recognition for their projects, and I’m really excited to see the fruits of their innovative research in the years to come.”

Established in 1997 by the Government of Canada, The CFI’s leaders fund provides funding for institutions to acquire infrastructure and a portion of the operating and maintenance costs used to undertake cutting edge research. 

Twenty-Seven researchers across U of T won a total of $5.7 million from the fund. The U of T projects were among 220 new infrastructure projects worth more than $52 million at 51 universities announced by the government today at Laurentian University.

The U of T Scarborough researchers who received funding are:

Aston Anderson, of the Department of Computer and Mathematical Sciences, $76,000 for “Computational Social Science Lab.”

Gennady Pekhimenko, of the Department of Computer and Mathematical Sciences, $85,000 for “Heterogeneous systems laboratory.”

Blair Armstrong, of the Department of Psychology, $100,000 for “Advancing neural network accounts of cross-linguistic differences, language learning and ambiguity resolution.”

Brett Ford, of the Department of Psychology, $100,000 for “Affective science and health laboratory: Integrated and dynamic assessment of experience, behaviour and physiology.” 

Ruby May Sullan, of the Department of Physical & Environmental Sciences, $195,294 for “Integrated atomic force microscopy (AFM)-optical microscopy facility for the nanoscale study of microbial biofilms.”



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