Seed Grants

Western Space Seed Grant Program

One of the primary goals of the Institute for Earth and Space Exploration (Western Space) is to support and promote interdisciplinary collaboration among our various departments and researchers to enable them to conduct innovative interdisciplinary research projects that align well with the Institute's Research Themes, Goals, Vision, and Objectives. We are pleased to offer Seed Grants of up to $15,000 per year for two years to initiate innovative, high-impact collaborative projects between Institute faculty members. These grants are intended for projects where external funding would be difficult to obtain due to the early-stage nature of the research. The goal is that these funds will be used to generate the preliminary results needed to obtain further funding for the work through other external grant programs.

The 2020 Recipients of the Western Seed Grant Program are:

Project: Automation of Western’s first robotic astronomical observatory

Dr. Metchev, from the Department of Physics & Astronomy, has commissioned a novel array of telescopes designed for rapid astronomical imaging at Western University’s Elginfield Observatory.  The Colibri Telescope Array includes three 50 cm telescopes, each capable of imaging continuously at 40 images per second.  As Colibri is among the first experiment of its kind in the world, there are still several engineering issues to resolve. Of highest priority is the reliable automation of Colibri.  To this end Dr. Metchev is teaming up with Western Space colleague Dr. Kermani from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.  Together, they will design a computer dashboard system that will monitor the status of all telescope components and environmental factors, and that will autonomously make decisions about the operation and safety of the telescope array. Drs. Metchev and Kermani will involve two graduate or upper-level undergraduate students from Astronomy, Planetary Science, or Engineering over one year.  The students will design, test, and implement the automation of Colibri, and will create the dashboard interface.


Project: Health Ethics in Space: Toward a Research Agenda for Space Bioethics

Protecting and promoting health, including via the delivery of health care, raises profound ethical questions and issues—issues that have for decades been studied and addressed by the field of bioethics. Yet, bioethics has yet to systematically engage with the ethical questions and issues associated with health and the delivery of health care in space. This is problematic because health and the delivery of health care in space raise a number of significant ethical questions and challenges. Moreover, it is hitherto unclear whether the decades of research in terrestrial bioethics can or should directly translate or apply to ethical issues and dilemmas raised in the unique context of space. To address this gap, this project will involve a systematic literature review and stakeholder consultation to identify ethical questions and issues regarding health and health care delivery in space, with the aim of establishing a first-of-its-kind research agenda for space bioethics.


Project: International Environmental Law and Space Resource Extraction Policy: Toward Coherence

The depletion of Earth’s non-renewable natural resources has brought increased attention to the potential of exploiting resources in space for use on Earth. Additionally, spacefaring countries and companies are proposing to extract resources in space to support their in-space activities. Both types of extraction are poorly regulated under international law, raising a key question: while terrestrial international environmental law (IEL) is comprised of requirements governing responsible, sustainable mining, do these laws apply equally in space? The answer should inform international agreements governing resource extraction in space, yet this does not appear to be happening. This project will: 1) examine IEL developed for application to extraction on Earth, jointly with outer space law, to identify state and corporate obligations for space activities; 2) draw conclusions and formulate recommendations for how international space law on resource extraction can be understood in light of IEL; and 3) formulate Canadian-specific policy adaptations.


Project: Characterizing the Intrinsic Anharmonic Spectra of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will soon be launched to revolutionize many research fields in astrophysics, including research on polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) –arguably the most important carbonaceous compounds in the Universe. Indeed, the best observations to date of astronomical PAH sources yield spectra averaged over regions with vastly different properties, thus greatly confusing their interpretation. JWST’s incredible spatial resolution and sensitivity will disentangle these regions and allow us unprecedented views on PAH characteristics on small spatial scales –important for our understanding of star and planet formation and galaxy evolution. Recently, methods have been described that enable us to calculate the most realistic (“anharmonic”) theoretical spectra of individual PAHs, and such models will be critical to the JWST data analysis. We propose to develop a unique expertise at Western and Canada by using these methods to create a database of anharmonic PAH emission spectra for use in astrophysics research.