Board approves revisions to CIFAR’s portfolio of research programs

Announcement 03.03.2017

At its February meeting, CIFAR’s Board of Directors approved changes to the Institute’s research portfolio, including a renewal and new direction for one program, two program extensions and the closure of two programs. The changes are the result of a vigorous review process that CIFAR undertakes regularly in its mission to address research questions of importance to the world.

“CIFAR’s programs are leading the world in identifying and addressing complex questions and global challenges,” says CIFAR Board Chair Barbara Stymiest. “These modifications to CIFAR’s research portfolio involved a thorough internal review and a review by an international expert panel. The contributions of all who participated will help to ensure Canada remains at the forefront of developing knowledge with the potential to transform our world.”

The program in Cosmology & Gravity was renewed and renamed Gravity & the Extreme Universe, as part of a new vision for research under the leadership of McGill University astrophysicist Victoria Kaspi. The refocused program will address profound questions about the nature of extreme gravity and other fundamental physics and astrophysics, using revolutionary new methods in gravitational wave detection, together with advanced electromagnetic and particle experiments and observations.

Two programs will be extended for two additional years – Successful Societies, and Genetic Networks.

The Successful Societies program will complete its current interdisciplinary inquiry into inequality, with the goal of producing a substantial academic publication and capstone conference. During the extension, Peter Hall (Harvard University) will be stepping down as Program Co-Director, and the program will be led by Michèle Lamont (Harvard University) and Paul Pierson (University of California, Berkeley).

The other program to receive an extension is Genetic Networks, which deciphers how genes influence one another through networks of genetic and molecular interactions. Led by Program Co-Directors Frederick Roth and Charles Boone (both University of Toronto), this program will increase its focus on research into human genetics with the potential to influence the future of personalized medicine.

After many years of ground-breaking research and extraordinary scholarship, two CIFAR programs will be closed – Integrated Microbial Biodiversity and Social Interactions, Identity & Well-being.

Led by University of British Columbia microbiologist Patrick Keeling, the Integrated Microbial Biodiversity program explores the diverse and largely unknown microbial world that permeates all corners of life. It examines novel forms of life, identifies mechanisms of biological innovation and connects community structure, ecology and global change. CIFAR fellows in this program have made advances in our understanding of microbial life in the oceans, with important implications for ocean health and climate change, as well as fundamental insights into microbial interactions.

The Social Interactions, Identity and Well-being program is co-led by Nobel Laureate George Akerlof (Georgetown University), economist John Helliwell (University of British Columbia and editor of the World Happiness Report), social psychologist Alexander Haslam (University of Queensland) and behavioral economist Philip Oreopoulos (University of Toronto). This program has played a central role in shifting traditional paradigms in economics and in psychology to explore how social groups and identities shape and influence subjective well-being. Fellows within the program have developed novel approaches to social programs and policies on a wide range of topics, for example reducing bullying in school, improving well-being and connectedness after retirement, and increasing belonging and integration for new immigrants.

“We are very appreciative of the extensive effort made on the part of so many distinguished individuals who participated in this review of CIFAR research programs,” says CIFAR President & CEO Dr. Alan Bernstein. “I’d especially like to acknowledge the outstanding accomplishments and intellectual leadership of the Program Directors and Fellows of our Integrated Microbial Biodiversity and Social Interactions, Identity and Well-being programs.”

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