• Print:
  • Share:
Image of a crowd of people moving in two directions

CIFAR truly is Canada’s intellectual venture capitalist.

David Dodge
CIFAR Immediate Past Chair


CIFAR identifies globally important questions and assembles research leaders from around the world to answer them.

The Institute conducts a number of exploratory workshops that blur the boundaries between diverse disciplines.

Here are some highlights:

  1. Astrobiology
  2. Cellular Decision-Making
  3. Ultra-cold Matter
  4. Human-Environment Interactions
  5. Humanities Initiative
  6. Oceans


Astrobiology seeks to answer one of the most fundamental human questions: Are we alone? Proposing that this question can best be addressed via scientific inquiry into the evolution of planetary systems and of life, CIFAR workshops are bringing together leading researchers in relevant sub-disciplines of earth science, planetary science, and molecular biology and biochemistry. Key research questions are: What is the range of environments in which life may have arisen? What evidence of activity does biology leave behind, and can we use information gleaned from Earth to search for life on other planets? What is considered to be a habitable environment?

Cellular Decision Making

Life can be thought of as a system that can independently replicate the information it contains. Cells are the simplest living systems. A growing number of researchers are pursuing fundamental questions about exactly how cells make decisions that govern their fate. Research in this area has far-reaching implications, from basic biological discovery to cell re-engineering for medical and environmental purposes. CIFAR has assembled a diverse group of leading Canadian and international researchers to explore state-of-the-art techniques for both the measurement and modeling of cellular decision processes.

Ultra-cold Matter

Ultra-cold matter comprises groups of atoms or molecules cooled to the lowest temperatures in the universe (some billionths of one degree above absolute zero). Research on the physics of ultra-cold atoms has opened the door to new, previously inaccessible states of matter. The CIFAR workshops in this area are closely aligned with CIFAR’s programs in Quantum Materials, Quantum Information Science and the former CIFAR program in Nanoelectronics. CIFAR supports annual cold atoms workshops to build synergies between the small Canadian ultra-cold atoms research community and their international peers.

Human-Environment Interactions

Understanding the past effects of climate and environment on humans will help societies to better cope today and in the future. CIFAR has begun consultations with several Canadian research groups about a potential international exploration into the effects of climate on human development, from both anthropological and cultural perspectives. Representing fields such as Earth, atmospheric, ocean and environmental sciences, anthropology and archeology, CIFAR has conducted workshops in this area with over twenty researchers from five countries.

Humanities Inititative

CIFAR is organizing an effort, known as the Humanities Initiative, to identify questions of importance that would be pursued by eminent scholars in the humanities in Canada and abroad. Humanities research gives us greater understanding of our own place and time, and provides the philosophical and ethical underpinnings of the key institutions that support and animate our lives. Although research in the humanities has a tradition that is based on the work of individual scholars, there are many instances where progress in humanities research has advanced through collective activities of several scholars, in many cases interacting intensively over an extended period of time.

The Institute is pursuing two projects, Belonging Differently and Beyond Human, as pilot projects that will bring humanities scholars together for extended discursive engagement.

A Steering Committee is advising the Institute on how best to pursue these efforts as it learns from the results of the first pilot projects. Please contact Pekka Sinervo, Senior Vice-President, Research for more information.


Bringing together international groups of researchers with expertise in areas such as oxygen minimum zones, climate and weather modeling, microbiology, atmospheric chemistry, land use and coastal systems and nitrogen isotopes, CIFAR has held several workshops in this area. Participants have developed plans for a vision paper to provide the scientific community with an integrated assessment of recent findings and a clear picture of key questions about the nitrogen cycle that should be targeted for further exploration.
  • Share:
  • Print: