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Trevor Pitcher and David JohnstonTrevor Pitcher, left, shakes hands with Governor General David Johnston after receiving his team's Synergy Award in Ottawa Monday night.

Synergy award distinguishes university's environmental research

Winning a top national research award is an outstanding way for the University of Windsor to distinguish itself in the field of environmental research, according to two people who were in Ottawa Monday night to collect it.

“It demonstrates that research in Windsor is on par with any other university in Canada, and in some cases, even better,” said Trevor Pitcher, who along with Daniel Heath and Dennis Higgs, were part of a team of scientists that won a Synergy Award for their partnership with the Vancouver Island based Yellow Island Aquaculture Ltd.

Accompanied by vice-president, research Michael Siu and science dean Marlys Koschinsky, the team dined with Governor General David Johnston at Rideau Hall, where the formal ceremony to announce this year’s Synergy winners was held.

“The ceremony itself was as impressive as anything I’ve ever been to in my life and likely ever will be,” said Dr. Pitcher. “It was so spectacular it was overwhelming. (David Johnston) used to be the president of the University of Waterloo, and he’s a huge supporter of university research. And he was very gracious and genuine and generous with his time.”

Synergy Awards for Innovation recognize partnerships between universities and Canadian industry. The awards come with a $200,000 and a $90,000 grant for the principal investigator and the industrial partner to hire an industrial R&D fellow for two years.

Along with Dr. Heath, director of the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research and biology department head Dr. Higgs, Pitcher and his colleagues work with the B.C. fish farm, using advanced genetic techniques to mimic selective breeding practices Chinook salmon use in the wild, in order to create a better type of fish. The partnership has resulted in tremendous economic benefits for the company.

Dr. Koschinsky said she was struck by the number of people at the ceremony who told her they’re hearing “great things coming out of Windsor.”

“These are extremely competitive awards and to receive one demonstrates that we have tremendous strengths in the field of environmental research,” she said. “These are exactly the kinds of things we need to bolster our reputation as a truly competitive research university.”

This was not the first Synergy Award for Windsor. In 2010, engineering professor Ahmet Alpas won one for his work with General Motors for research on ways to increase energy efficiency in vehicles by developing lightweight materials for automotive products and manufacturing systems.

In 2003, former chemistry professor Doug Stephan won the award for his work with NOVA Chemicals Coproration, and in 1998 the university shared the award with Chrsyler Canada Ltd. for their work at the Automotive Research and Development Centre.

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