Algoma University’s Dr. Isabel Molina named Canada Research Chair

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Dr. Molina addressing the crowd.

Algoma University has proudly announced that Dr. Isabel Molina has been appointed Tier II Canada Research chair in Plant Lipid Metabolism and has been rewarded $500,000 in funding from the Government of Canada through their Canada Research Chairs Program (CRCP).

Dr. Molina, originally from Argentina, is an Associate Professor in the Department of Biology and Environmental Science at Algoma. In 2011, she was appointed as Research Chair in Natural Products Biochemistry, funded by the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation. She has been awarded prestigious scholarships from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the National Science Foundation of the United States (NSF), among others.

Dr. Molina earned her Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry from the National University of La Plata, Argentina, and her Ph.D. in Plant Biology from Michigan State University.

The (CRCP) aims to position Canada as one of the world’s top countries in research and innovation. The program invests $265 million annually to attract and retain the world’s best researchers. Canadian Research Chairs strive to achieve research excellence in engineering and the natural sciences, health sciences, humanities, and social sciences.

Today, Algoma U staff, students, and faculty, as well as Terry Sheehan (on behalf of Minister of Science, Kirsty Duncan), celebrated Dr. Molina’s success and contributions to the field.

As explained by President Asima Vezina, President and Vice-Chancellor of Algoma U, “It is one of the highest honours in our country for an emerging research in academia, and we are immensely proud of her.”

She continued, “Dr. Molina is one of many talented faculty at Algoma U who are committed to research excellence and innovation, key components of our undergraduate programming. This funding will provide tremendous opportunity for Dr. Molina, our students, our community and our University.”

Sheehan expressed his pride in our local university, “I am incredibly proud of the world class research being achieved at Algoma University here in Sault Ste. Marie.”

In a press release, Sheehan stated, “The Government of Canada values the role that scientists play in contributing to the discoveries and innovations that lead to a strong economy, sustainable environment and vibrant middle class. By investing in science, we create opportunities for business innovations, economic development and good jobs.”

The research for which Dr. Molina has received this award and funding is on the structure and biosynthesis of waxy barriers that protect plants against environmental stressors.

She has been working specifically on these studies since 2004, when she started her PhD at Michigan State University.

She moved to the Sault in 2008, and began working part-time at Algoma, and eventually as faculty.

She has been promoted from assistant professor to associate professor, but her field of investigation has not changed.

Due to the very real issue of climate change, many of the plants that constitute the world’s food sources, and produce renewable fuels, chemicals, and other materials, are at risk.

Her research is helping to develop strategies to improve plants’ resistance to biotic and climate stresses. Her research will also allow the development of plants and microorganisms that produce biopolymers or their precursors as sources of energy and bio-based materials.

“It gives them the chance to do science at a level that in larger universities they wouldn’t have the chance to,” Dr. Molina told SaultOnline.

She explained that this type of experiential, hands-on learning gives Algoma students a competitive edge for when they go on to complete graduate studies.

The $500,000 funding will enable Dr. Molina to dedicate more time for conducting research and publishing results, leading to increased productivity.

This funding will also provide stability, allowing her to strengthen her research team from within and outside of the university, leading to a better quality of research.

In addition to these dollars, Dr. Molina has also secured $59,281 from the CFI, which will be used to purchase new research equipment to add to the infrastructure funded by CFI and Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council NSERC in 2013.

Algoma U currently has two faculty members working as Canada Research Chairs, asDr. Pedro Antunes received one in Invasive Species biology, and a third one will be nominated in Truth and Reconciliation.

Dr. Antunes explained from his experience how significant the prestige from awards like this are for improving the quality of education and educational services at the university.

He stated, “Chair holders have more time to spend applying for grants, publish results, which improves the university’s capacity to generate and apply knowledge. This will help us to gain more stable funding for labs, which will give our students access to stronger training.”

He also expressed how it leads to broader partnerships, allowing local students and professors to reach a wider audience.

Vezina believes that the nomination in Truth and Reconciliation will make Algoma U a national leader in that field.

She also told SaultOnline that “Sometimes people wonder if they will get the same quality of education at a small university, as you would at a large one. I say it gives you a better education. What students are telling me when they graduate is that they can’t get over the individual attention they get and the access to world class researchers…. They actually get to do the research with their professors. I think that sets us on a world stage.”

For more information on Dr. Molina’s research, please visit her website. For more information on research being conducted at the University, please visit the Office of Research.

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