Iwaniuk named a Tier II Canada Research Chair

Leading neuroscientist Dr. Andrew Iwaniuk, one of the University of Lethbridge’s emerging young researchers, has been awarded a Tier II Canada Research Chair for a research program aiming to understand how the brain evolves into different sizes and forms in different species.

One of the U of L's emerging young researchers, Dr. Andrew Iwaniuk's research program aims to understand how the brain evolves into different sizes and forms in different species

The Canada Research Chairs program announced a total of 137 new and renewed research Chairs at 34 post-secondary institutions Thursday, committing $118 million to the program, with an additional $7.9 million in infrastructure support provided by the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI). The Canada Research Chair program awards $500,000 over five years for Tier II awards.

“Since coming to the University of Lethbridge, Dr. Iwaniuk has consistently advanced his research program, all the while providing exceptional training for undergraduate and graduate students as well as post-doctoral fellows,” says Dr. Lesley Brown, the U of L’s Interim Vice-President (Research). “His program is an excellent example of the interdisciplinary work conducted on campus and encouraged between faculty members because he combines methods of diverse disciplines, specifically evolutionary biology, behavioural ecology and neuroscience.”

Over the past five years, Iwaniuk, now a Canada Research Chair in Comparative Neuroanatomy, has secured over $1.2 million in funding through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), the Alberta Ingenuity Fund, CFI and matching funds.

Toronto born, Iwaniuk grew up in Edmonton, Alta. and completed his undergraduate studies at Monash University in Australia. He made his way back to Alberta to study under Drs. Sergio Pellis and Ian Whishaw at the U of L, completing a master’s degree in psychology, before earning his doctorate upon return to Monash. He then worked as a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Alberta and Smithsonian Institution before joining the University of Lethbridge as a faculty member in 2008.

Through his research work, Iwaniuk has received international recognition as an expert in evolutionary neurobiology. At over 500 specimens representing 160 species, he boasts the largest comparative brain collection in Canada and the largest collection of bird brains in the world. One of his more recent studies found that a single brain region that processes visual motion is greatly enlarged in hummingbirds, thus allowing them to maintain a stationary position while feeding. This was the first evidence that hummingbird flight involves neural adaptation.

He says that despite decades of intense neuroscience research, how the brain evolves into different sizes and forms in different species remains a mystery.

“My research aims to resolve this mystery by specifically examining how the brain evolves and why, using a series of cutting edge technologies and analytical methods,” says Iwaniuk. “The results of these studies will yield new information on how the brain evolves, what evolutionary changes in brain anatomy have occurred and why these changes are necessary, all of which are fundamental to understanding brain function in all animals, including humans.”

By better understanding how the brain evolves, Iwaniuk will be able to provide new insights into what makes the human brain unique and why.

Faculty members at the University of Lethbridge consistently demonstrate that they are among the very best researchers in Canada. Iwaniuk’s appointment as a Canada Research Chair in Comparative Neuroanatomy brings to 33 the number of research Chair appointments at the University. More information on U of L researchers is available on the U of L research website.