Welcome to McMaster’s Canada 150 Research Chair

The Faculty is pleased to welcome Jonathan Pruitt, McMaster’s Canada 150 Research Chair in Biological Dystopias. Pruitt, an internationally recognized evolutionary ecologist, will be joining McMaster University on July 1 as a member of the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour. He comes to McMaster from the University of California, Santa Barbara. 

Jonathan Pruitt photo

The Canada 150 Research Chair program is designed to help Canadian universities attract the world’s top researchers and scholars to Canada. In total, 24 Canada 150 Research Chairs were appointed across Canada. Pruitt’s appointment was announced by the Minister of Science and Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, Kirsty Duncan at a ceremony in Ottawa in March. 

His research program focuses on how the collective traits of different animal societies – including those of ants, wasps and spiders – affect their survival. “My research explores what it takes for animal societies to succeed and why it is that so many societies wither and die,” says Pruitt who creates experimental social groups made up of contrasting organizations, compositions, architectures and collective attributes, and then subjects them to a range of ecological challenges.

He monitors their performance to observe what traits enable some societies to proliferate and take over a landscape, and what doesn’t. Working with McMaster researchers, he plans to expand his studies of societal collapse in invertebrates to studies on vertebrate social groups, including humans.

Maureen MacDonald, Dean of the Faculty of Science, says Pruitt’s work will have a significant impact in the field of animal behaviour and will build on the Faculty’s already defined strengths in this area.

“Jonathan is recognized as an international leader in his field and his work complements so much of the leading-edge work coming out of the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour,” she said. “We’re excited for him to bring his robust research program to McMaster, develop interdisciplinary research initiatives with colleagues across the Faculty and University, and expand the scope of our animal and human behaviour research.”


Chemistry & Chemical Biology Professor Recognized For His Contribution to Macromolecular Science

Adronov ChemAlex Adronov, Chemistry & Chemical Biology, is this year’s winner of the Chemical Institute of Canada’s Macromolecular Science and Engineering Award. The award is presented annually to a researcher who has made a distinguished contribution to macromolecular science or engineering. His recognition continues Chemistry & Chemical Biology's winning streak in this category, making it the third win in a row for the Department. Other McMaster professors who received the award include Harald Stöver (2016) and Michael Brook (2017).

Adronov received the award for his work involving the synthesis of complex polymers with controlled architectures and well-defined reactivity, as well as for his investigations of the interactions between conjugated polymers and single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWNTs). Over the course of his career, he has established himself as a national leader in the multi-step preparation of novel polymers and their applications toward the development of SWNT-based nanostructures. SWNTs are hollow, narrow tubes formed from one-atom-thick sheets of carbon; they are one hundred thousand times smaller than a human hair. They also have different properties depending on their radius and the way in which carbon atoms are arranged within their walls. Applications for SWNTs can be found in nano-scale electronics, flexible transparent electrodes, sensors and optics. Because of their exceptional mechanical strength, they are also used in various sporting equipment, ranging from golf clubs to the frames of high-end racing bikes.

The ability to control and manipulate such small structures is critical to the realization and development of new applications for SWNTs. Adronov’s team studies the interactions of conjugated polymers with the surface of SWNTs to find new methods to purify them and to introduce previously unrealized reactivity. Similar to painting a surface, Adronov decorates nanotubes with polymers that modify their properties and allow them to be incorporated in various materials that are otherwise incompatible. This work has been described as novel, creative and extremely important in allowing the processing of SWNTs without affecting their conductivity and structural properties. His efforts are providing insight into better manufacturing practices, which may lead to increased use and commercialization of these hybrid structures. His current goal is to develop highly sensitive chemo-resistive sensors for a wide variety of targets, ranging from trace explosives to illicit drugs.

In addition to his highly successful research program, Adronov is an active member of the polymer and materials communities. He has organized and chaired many symposia at the annual CSC conferences, as well as international meetings (ACS, Gordon Conferences, etc.), and has served as Treasurer of the Materials Science and Engineering Division (MSED). As an active faculty member, he focused on the quality of graduate education while Associate Chair of Graduate Studies; his current focus is on enhancing the research profile of the Department as Associate Chair of Research. For his efforts, he has been awarded the Polanyi Prize (2002), the Premier’s Research Excellence Award (2003), the Lash Miller Award in 2007, an NSERC Discovery Accelerator Grant in 2012, and the Award for Research Excellence in Materials Chemistry in 2013, which is also a national award given by the Chemical Institute of Canada. His devotion to teaching and mentorship has been recognized with the 2017 McMaster Student Union (MSU) Award for Excellence in Teaching, as well as a nomination for the President’s Award for Excellence in Graduate Supervision (2015).

A McMaster University professor since 2001, Adronov received his B.Sc. from McMaster in 1996 and his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley in 2001. Over his career, he has worked with a team of 24 graduate students, 8 postdoctoral fellows, and 25 undergraduates, and has published over 105 peer-reviewed publications.

He will officially receive his award on May 30 at the Canadian Society for Chemistry Conference in Edmonton, where he will deliver an award lecture on his research.

Stephen A. Jarislowsky Chair Receives International Environmental Award

KarenKiddKaren Kidd, Biology and Geography & Earth Sciences, has received the 2017 International Environmental Award from Stockholm-based organization, Recipharm, for her ground-breaking research on the impact of pharmaceuticals and other contaminants on the health of aquatic ecosystems.

Kidd joined the Faculty in July 2017 as the Stephen A. Jarislowsky Chair in Environment and Health. She is being honoured for a decade-long, whole-lake experiment conducted in Northern Ontario’s IISD Experimental Lakes Area. That work found that when the synthetic estrogen, such as that used in birth control pills, was added to the lake water, male fathead minnows became feminized – in some cases, even developing eggs. This led to an inability to reproduce, resulting in the near collapse of the minnow population, and creating a fall-out affect that ultimately affected the entire food web.

This research has been instrumental in generating public awareness of the environmental impacts of pharmaceuticals in wastewaters, and has raised important questions about how wastewater treatment can be improved to reduce the presence of these compounds in the effluent from treatment plants that ends up in rivers and streams.


McMaster Researchers Win Prize For Exploring Origins of Life on Earth

Ralph Pudritz, Physics & Astronomy, and M.Sc. student at the time, Ben K.D. Pearce, have received the prestigious Cozzarelli Prize from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) for their ground-breaking paper, “Origin of the RNA world: The fate of nucleobases in warm little ponds.”  Working with researchers from Germany, the paper explored meteorites and their role in delivering the essential biomolecules necessary for the start of life on Earth.

The team results suggests that the molecules making up first life appeared 4.2 billion years ago when meteorites splashed down and leached molecules, called nucleobases, into warm little ponds. The ponds were almost ideal locations for chemical reactions to occur, creating the conditions needed to form RNA polymers, the first genetic material and found in all life today.

Though the concept of “warm little ponds” as an environment for first life is not new, Pearce and Pudritz, along with co-authors Dmitry A. Semenov and Thomas K. Henning, are the first to show its plausibility through calculations based on exhaustive research that drew on data from a number of scientific disciplines. Their calculations suggest that wet and dry cycles bonded basic molecular building blocks in the ponds’ nutrient-rich broth into self-replicating RNA molecules that constituted the first genetic code for life on the planet.

“Having our paper selected for the Cozzarelli Prize feels amazing – it’s been such a humbling experience and is very unexpected,” says Pearce.

“This is still sinking in,” says Pudritz. “The NAS [National Academy of Science] is one of the most prestigious scientific bodies in the world and it’s a great honour to receive this prize and to be recognized by one’s peers. Also, I’m particularly pleased that Ben has been recognized in this way so early in his career.” Both are also members of the Origins Institute.


Go Back
McMaster University | Faculty of Science