Props for profs 

By Russ Cooper

On June 10, the university community will be honouring a few faculty members who've set themselves apart with their research. Four 2009 University Research Award (URA) winners and two Petro-Canada Young Innovator award recipients will be celebrated with a casual 5 à 7 in the CJ Building atrium.

Recognized as exceptional researchers for their overall outstanding work in their distinct fields, this year's inductees are Psychology Professor Jennifer McGrath and Geography Professor Damon Matthews (see Journal Jan. 25, 2007) in the Emerging category, and Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Professor George Vatistas and Psychology Professor Peter Shizgal in the Established category.

The two recipients of the 2008-09 Petro-Canada Young Innovator awards are Andrew Ryder of the Department of Psychology and Hoi Dick Ng of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering. (See Journal May 7, 2009.)

Psychology Professor Peter Shizgal Magnifying glass

Psychology Professor Peter Shizgal

Shizgal, here since 1975, works in the Center for Studies in Behavioral Science (CSBN). His research focuses on the neural basis of motivation and reward in how animals evaluate competing goals that address their biological needs. In other words, why and how we make the choices we do in regards to maximizing our self-interest and intrinsic requirements.

During the past 14 years, he has helped found the emerging discipline of neuroeconomics. He has been involved in building and testing quantitative models of how animals evaluate the options available to them and choose the one offering the best balance of benefit, risk and cost.

"The work I do is highly interdisciplinary; biology, psychology, economics and behavioral neuroscience all play a role," Shizgal says, stating the collaborative environment he and his CSBN colleagues have created has contributed greatly to their diverse research.

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"The real pleasure is in the academic interchange and the places it'll lead you. I never imagined 20 years ago I'd be studying economics questions, but it's the twists and turns in meeting people and doing research that I love about academic life. Concordia has been a great place to do that," he says.

At Concordia since August 2004, McGrath's research focuses primarily on pediatric cardiovascular behavioral medicine.

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Matthews' work is aimed at better understanding interactions between human activities, natural ecosystems and future climate change. He's been a Concordian since January 2007.

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Vatistas, who's been here since 1994, recently made waves by physically validating a 125-year-old theory of Nobel Prize winner J.J. Thompson on the stability of vortex rings. The discovery was featured in the May 2, 2008, issue of Physical Review Letters and chosen as one of the top ten discoveries of 2008 by the prestigious magazine Québec Science.

Now in its 11th year, the URAs were created to recognize and promote excellence in research and creative activity. Each awardee will receive a $5 000 research grant and the privilege of holding the title of Concordia University Research Fellow for one year.

For Shizgal, who will return from vacation in the U.K. in a week's time, the decision about what exactly to do with the money presents a bit of a conundrum. "It's ironic, but many people who study decision-making don't enjoy making decisions. I haven't really decided what to do with the money yet, but I'll figure it out."


Concordia University