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UBC Reports | Vol. 47 | No. 20 | December 13, 2001

Forester, Buddhist scholar among latest CRC chairs

Program funds work of innovative researchers

by Hilary Thomson, staff writer

A wood scientist whose work promotes sustainable forests and an expert in medieval Buddhism are among the UBC faculty recently named as Canada Research Chairs. The announcement brings the total number of UBC chairs to 43 positions valued at $7.2 million.

UBC alumnus Shawn Mansfield, assistant professor in the Faculty of Forestry, analyses variations in trees' biosynthetic pathways or cellular building blocks as well as their chemistry and morphology to maximize the value of the wood fibre and correlate these properties to end-use.

"We want to help scientists choose seedlings and industry select trees that offer the greatest value as a product with the least impact on our forests," says Mansfield, who holds a master's degree in Medical Microbiology but turned his attention to forestry to help contribute to environmental sustainability.

The 32-year-old holds the Canada Research Chair in Wood Fibre Quality Improvement and worked as a research scientist and lecturer in New Zealand at Forest Research and the University of Waikato before joining the faculty last year.

Factors such as genetic makeup and the environment influence how trees develop and affect the requirements to process them.

By studying genetic strengths and chemical characteristics of various tree families, Mansfield will help forest managers design plantings with higher quality and lower environmental impact.

Species with a genetic predisposition to long fibres and lower content of lignin -- the substance in cell walls of plants that makes them rigid and woody -- are ideally suited for pulp and paper manufacturing, he says.

Mansfield has applied for Canada Foundation for Innovation funding that will allow him to set up a wood fibre biotechnology and chemistry lab that will be unique in Canada.

"The greatest challenge in this work is educating the public about forestry," he says. "This is a high-tech industry that is breaking down barriers of traditional forestry to preserve our natural forests."

Jinhua Chen, the Canada Research Chair in East Asian Religions, aims to reconstruct a period of Buddhism in China and Japan during the fifth to seventh centuries.

His research focus is the relationship between the monastic institution and the state.

"All organized religions remain entangled to some degree in secular concerns," says Chen, an assistant professor who joined the Faculty of Arts from the University of Virginia in July this year. "Nowhere is this entanglement more obvious than in the relationship between church and state."

Medieval China rulers of different dynasties promoted Buddhism to unify their multiracial and multicultural country, he says. Also, rulers used the religion as part of their state ideology and to justify seizure of power.

Chen hopes to broaden traditional scholarship in this area by examining the relationship between Buddhist monasteries and the state using sources such as biographies of monks.

"These biographies were strongly informed by sectarian concerns of the writers or their sponsors," he says. He has discovered new material that shows efforts by Buddhist monks and their imperial patrons to establish a Buddhist kingdom in China at the beginning of the 7th century.

Although the political program failed, it left far-reaching and profound legacies in political and religious life in medieval East Asia, says Chen.

In its 2000 budget, the Government of Canada provided $900 million to support the establishment of 2,000 research appointments in universities across the country by 2005.

Other faculty recently named as Canada Research Chairs include: atmospheric chemist Alan Bertram; brain researcher Max Cynader; astrophysicist Brett Gladman; aquaculture expert Scott McKinley; orthopedic engineer Thomas Oxland; mathematician Edwin Perkins; physicist Steven Plotkin; computer scientist Michiel van de Panne; and physicist Mark Van Raamsdonk.


Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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