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Agriculture research team wins Brockhouse Canada Prize

Ottawa, ON – University of Manitoba agricultural engineer Digvir S Jayas, and Noel White, an entomologist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, have won the 2008 Brockhouse Canada Prize for Interdisciplinary Research in Science and Engineering. The prize is awarded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and includes a $250,000 research grant.

Drs Jayas and White have spent more than two decades studying the causes of grain spoilage, from excess heat and moisture in storage bins, to damage caused by insects, fungi and bacteria. In Canada, such losses account for an estimated one percent of the total annual crop, but in some developing countries losses are as high as 50%. By applying engineering, biology and mathematics, they have developed internationally recognized prevention techniques proven to reduce spoilage for a variety of cereals, oilseeds and legumes under a wide range of environmental conditions.

They were the first to show that stored grain can be dried more effectively when air is forced through it horizontally rather than vertically. This information is being used to design a near-ambient air dryer that will be up to 40% more energy efficient than current systems.

They have also developed new strategies for the early detection of insects in grain bulk, using thermal cameras, soft x-rays and DNA fingerprinting. In addition, they have developed alternative methods for controlling insect infestations, including the use of carbon dioxide rather than harmful pesticides to fumigate grain. This practice has already been adopted by several Canadian grain elevators and organic farmers.

Based at the Canadian Wheat Board Centre for Grain Storage Research at the University of Manitoba, Drs Jayas and White are able to reproduce storage conditions from anywhere in the world, and their research findings have been distributed to farmers and grain storage managers internationally.

“This year’s winners epitomize the ingenuity and collaborative spirit essential for solving today’s complex problems,” said Dr Suzanne Fortier, president of NSERC. “Drs Jayas and White have developed practical strategies that are already helping to preserve grain supplies in Canada and around the world. Their solutions are helping to provide food for millions of people.”

Named after Bertram Brockhouse, the Canadian Prairie-born Nobel Laureate, the Prize honours teams of researchers that combine different disciplines to produce achievements of international scientific or engineering significance.