TRU biology professor awarded Industrial Research Chair

Lauchlan Fraser awarded Industrial Research Chair in Ecosystem Reclamation worth $2.675 million

Fraser received the IRC in TRU’s horticulture gardens on August 22, 2018. The grant is one of the largest in TRU’s history. (Wade Tomko/The Omega)

Since coming to TRU in 2004 as a Canada Research Chair in Community and Ecosystem Ecology, biology professor Lauchlan Fraser’s work has made TRU a recognized leader in ecosystem reclamation.

Last month, Fraser was awarded a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Industrial Research Chair (IRC) in Ecosystem Reclamation, valued at $2.675 million.

“TRU is recognized as a leader in ecosystem reclamation research thanks to the work of Dr. Fraser and his colleagues and students,” said TRU president Alan Shaver in a press release. “This award and the funding that goes with it, will allow Dr. Fraser, in conjunction with students and industry partners, to continue to understand ways in which we can restore our ecosystems.”

Industrial Research Chairs are often awarded with the intention of creating mutually beneficial collaborations between universities and private or public sector partners. These prestigious awards aren’t handed out lightly and Fraser’s IRC in Ecosystem Reclamation was three years in the making.

“This is something that started over three years ago, I was finishing up my Canada Research Chair and Tom Dickinson and I were sitting in his office wondering about the next steps,” Fraser said. “This is when the Industrial Research Chair that NSERC offers was a natural fit.”

Fraser had previously landed funding from Genome BC to investigate genomic solutions for ecosystem reclamation following mine closures, as well as an NSERC Discovery Grant to test the effects of productivity, grazing and drought on grassland plant biodiversity.

As such, applying for NSERC’s IRC was a logical next step. However, the process of getting such a prestigious grant is not without its own challenges. Fraser largely thanks the late vice-president of advancement Chris Seguin for obtaining industry support.

“Chris Seguin just jumped on this, he was my champion. He really pushed for it,” Fraser said. “He really generated that critical industry support. You can have ideas, but if you don’t have cash to go along with those ideas then you’re not going anywhere.”

With the help of Seguin, Fraser began a period of constant back-and-forth talks with industry partners in order to gain support.

“It started with Genome BC, I knew Genome BC had a program that supported charity. It wasn’t well known, but because of my involvement with Genome BC, they came on board first,” Fraser said. “That really helped, it was like a magnet. The New Afton was next. Then things started to pick up.”

By the time Fraser received his IRC, TRU had garnered the support of seven other partners, Metro Vancouver, Teck Highland Valley Copper mine, the Real Estate Foundation of BC, Arrow Transportation, Geoscience BC, Kinder Morgan Canada, and the BC Cattlemen’s Association.

Industry and community pledges for Fraser’s IRC totalled $1.8 million, with the federal government contributing an additional $875,000. The grant is one of the largest in TRU’s history.

With this money, Fraser and his team will be able to study ways to limit the environmental impact of industry. More specifically, the grant will allow TRU to set up a Centre for Ecosystem Reclamation, which will support the development of reclamation technologies, tools and protocols.

Ecosystem reclamation research has already started at the New Afton and Highland Valley Copper mines.

“We have our soil amendment project, several of them,” Fraser said. “One of them is to sample soils across a gradient of time following reclamation at different mine sites. So we extract, take soil samples and do various measurements.”

Though Fraser has a lot of important research ahead of him, he says that perhaps the most critical part of this grant is that it demonstrates that TRU is a true research university.

“The fact that this is a senior NSERC chair that is supported by this university towards a centre for ecosystem reclamation that pulls in UBCO and UNBC, it demonstrates that we do research,” he said.

The grant, which last fives years, will be eligible for renewal at the end of its term.