From mate-mutilating insects to the power of big data

December 20, 2017 | Arts & Culture, Business, Science, Society

Federal funding generates new knowledge in diverse fields of study

In 2017, MacEwan faculty members received federal funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) for innovative research and projects in a variety of fields—from biology and business to sociology and statistics.

Here are some of the topics our faculty members are exploring.

IMAGE_Story_NSERC_SSHRC_bugsMate-mutilating insects could uncover the evolutionary implications of our environmental actions

Dr. Kevin Judge, assistant professor, Biological Sciences, is using some fierce female insects to study how our environmental actions could impact species over the long term.

After copulation, female hump-winged grigs cause permanent damage to their mates by chewing on their hind wings. Those marked males (and a 2017 NSERC Individual Discovery Grant) are allowing Kevin to study whether human changes to the environment—deforestation, pine beetle infestations and fires—could be linked to important evolutionary factors, like mate selection and cross breeding between species.

New tools could help save endangered languages

Anthropology Assistant Professor Dr. Sarah Shulist is mobilizing a team of young people to monitor success of efforts to revitalize endangered Indigenous languages in their home communities. The high school students (many of them soon-to-be graduates) will learn to use qualitative techniques to gather information about how certain initiatives, including teaching Indigenous languages in schools, are affecting the way people use those languages with their friends and families, and in their homes and schools.

Traditional tools for tracking endangered languages (collecting numbers and ages of native speakers) tend to only capture changes over long periods of time. This new approach, being developed in partnership with a researcher from the University of Lethbridge and with help from a SSHRC Insight Development Grant, will allow the researchers to see how language revitalization—a key part of reconciliation efforts—is working in the short term.


IMAGE_Story_NSERC_SSHRC_longfMajoring in curiosity

If you think research isn't for you, then you'll probably be surprised to find out that you're probably already doing it. Check out these stories that show how research can boost your education, no matter what you study.


IMAGE_Story_NSERC_SSHRC_dataStatistics can help unlock the power of big data

“Big data”—the seemingly endless amount of digital information constantly being collected and stored —has the potential to answer researchers’ questions about everything from cancer detection to human behaviour.

But digging through the almost inconceivable amount of data requires particularly robust tools. So Dr. Brian Franczak, assistant professor, Statistics, is using his 2017 NSERC Individuals Discovery Grant to develop new statistical algorithms that are up to the challenge. His algorithms will mine big data sets in search of similarities that can provide mathematical descriptions of key relationships between pieces of information. And those relationships can be used to build rules that will help researchers from all fields find exactly the information they’re looking for.

What makes entrepreneurs choose social responsibility?

Whether it’s creating a product with the environment in mind or building a business around eradicating poverty, many entrepreneurs have more on their agenda than dollars and cents.

Dr. Etayankara (Murli) Muralidharan, associate professor in the School of Business, wants to know exactly what influences entrepreneurs to choose a path toward sustainability. Does the level of support for sustainability in the society where entrepreneurs operate make a difference? Does leadership style have a role to play? With the help of a SSHRC Insight Development Grant, Murli is collaborating with a researcher from Kansas State University to find out.

Over the next two years, the researchers will mentor a group of MacEwan students who will help them comb through huge datasets in the search for answers.

IMAGE_Story_NSERC_SSHRC_hiphopHip-hop cultural workers are at a crossroads

Dr. Michael B. MacDonald is partnering with researchers at McGill University to look at how hiphoppas (practitioners of hip-hop culture) fill the role of culture workers—people who work at the crossroads of art, social work, education and community development.

A 2016/17 SSHRC Connection Grant allowed the researchers to bring hip-hop culture workers from across Canada to Montreal’s Under Pressure urban arts festival in August 2017, where they shared their experiences in the sector. A book is in the works, and Michael, who is an assistant professor in the Department of Music, is also continuing his efforts to use ethnographic film—documentaries that tell the stories of people—to capture cultural innovations in hip hop.

IMAGE_Story_NSERC_SSHRC_convResearch and theory need to address university rape culture

The issue of sexual violence on (and off) post-secondary campuses has increasingly been in the spotlight, but research and theory in Canada has yet to keep pace say Dr. Joanne Minaker, associate professor, and Dr. Amanda Nelund, assistant professor in Sociology.

So the two researchers partnered with colleagues at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax to help change that. With funding from a 2016/17 SSHRC Connection Grant, they organized a two-day, academic conference in June 2017. The national meetings—the first of their kind—brought activists, practitioners, students, scholars, policy makers and administrators together to focus on cutting-edge research related to sexual violence and rape culture on university campuses, and to engage in a public discussion.

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