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CIFAR chooses four programs with the potential to change the world

For more than 30 years, the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research has been connecting visionary researchers from across Canada and around the globe to collaborate on some of the most challenging questions facing humanity. For the first time, CIFAR is expanding its portfolio of research programs through an open call for ideas.

In April, 2013, CIFAR launched the Global Call for Ideas, inviting leading researchers from across Canada and around the world to submit proposals to create research networks to tackle complex questions of global importance. There was a strong response with over 260 Letters of Intent (LOIs) submitted. Through CIFAR’s Global Call for Ideas, researchers from eight countries on five continents submitted LOIs. The proposals included a full spectrum of questions bridging the social sciences, medicine, health, the biological and physical sciences, the humanities, policy and engineering.

Criteria for new research programs include: the research must be foundational in nature and sufficiently bold, ambitious and complex to require sustained collaboration from an outstanding network that is both international and interdisciplinary. Areas of inquiry can draw on expertise from anywhere across the spectrum, from the natural, health and social sciences, to the humanities. Its ultimate aim should be to fuel significant progress and/or a fundamental change in our collective understanding of an important issue.

On August 27, 2013, CIFAR announced seven finalists to move into stage two, which ran from September, 2013 to February, 2014. Final proposals were assessed by an international panel of prominent research leaders, whose recommendations were reviewed by CIFAR’s Research Council.

Four new research programs to enter start-up phase.

At its June, 2014, meeting, CIFAR’s Board of Directors approved four program proposals to move into a start-up phase, with an anticipated launch in 2015. The new programs are the result of an extensive search for new research questions, which began in April, 2013, when CIFAR launched the Global Call for Ideas. Leading researchers from across Canada and around the world were invited to submit proposals to create research networks that would tackle complex questions of global significance.

During the six- to eighteen-month start-up phase, CIFAR will select a program advisory committee, appoint program directors and identify program members. A number of partnerships are already in development and will be announced at a later date. For the first time, CIFAR also has required that during the initial start-up, the new programs begin to articulate their plans for knowledge outreach and engagement with stakeholders. Critical to the start-up phase will be the appointment of fellows from across Canada and the world who best suit the mission of each program. The new programs will move forward on the basis that funding milestones are met over the year ahead.

The four proposals entering start-up phase are:

Biology, Energy, Technology – How can biology guide us in taking a leap forward in developing solutions for sustainable energy? This program aims to develop next-generation solar energy-harvesting science and related technologies for sustainable energy solutions by taking inspiration from the rapidly-advancing fields of quantum biology and photobiology – with the potential for disruptive ideas in sustainable energy innovation.

Leadership: Edward Sargent (University of Toronto)

Brain, Mind & Consciousness – What is the biological basis for human consciousness that sets us apart from other species? A network composed of neuroscientists, philosophers, ethicists and clinicians will attempt to understand the mystery of human consciousness – key to understanding the root of many neurological diseases and disabilities.

Leadership: Adrian Owen (Western University), Melvyn Goodale (Western University)

Molecular Building Blocks of Living Systems – How did life originate from its molecular origins? This program will bring together experts from across the natural sciences to develop a fundamental understanding of how complex living systems emerge from interactions between macro molecules – their discoveries have the potential to revolutionize the field of medicine and human health.

Leadership: R.J. Dwayne Miller (Max Planck Institute and University of Toronto), Paul W. Wiseman (McGill University), Wolfgang Baumeister (Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry), Oliver P. Ernst (University of Toronto)

Microbes & Humans – How can a deeper understanding of the human microbiota improve our understanding of human health, development and evolution? This program explores the role that the microbial organisms that reside within us (microbiota) have in human development and behaviour, and how the microbiota has impacted evolution and the dynamics of society and culture – new thinking in this emerging field will improve our understanding of personal and global health.

Leadership: B. Brett Finlay (University of British Columbia), Janet Rossant (Hospital for Sick Children and University of Toronto).

CIFAR is grateful to the following individuals and organizations for their support of CIFAR’s Global Call for Ideas: Canada Overseas Investments Ltd., Fiera Capital Corporation, Charles Fischer and Joanne Cuthbertson, Fonds de recherche du Québec, Genome British Columbia, Genome Canada, Génome Québec, Jerry and Geraldine Heffernan, Céline and Jacques Lamarre, Stephen Lister and Dr. Molly Rundle, OMERS Worldwide, Ontario Brain Institute, Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies, Barbara Stymiest, Trottier Family Foundation.

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