• Announcement

CIFAR moves to MaRS and an exciting new era begins

by Alan Bernstein Aug 20 / 18
A few unpacked boxes still lie here and there, and wires dangle from an unfinished light fixture or two.

alan-staffbio_R2And my boxes of paper are still largely unpacked. Nevertheless, we’re settling into our beautiful new offices at the MaRS Centre in Toronto. The move was an appropriate step in CIFAR’s continuing growth and development.

After 19 years in our old offices at 180 Dundas St., we had outgrown the space, not just in size but in our aspirations and vision. And as we searched for a new home, we knew that we wanted one that both symbolized the new CIFAR and would help us achieve our vision. Like CIFAR, it had to be open and transparent, conducive to collaboration and teamwork, ooze innovation, and provide a space that would be exciting for all of us who work here while at the same be cost effective. I think we have been able to accomplish all of the above.

The move itself was a great example of teamwork ­– including the great design (iN STUDIO) and construction (Urban Outline Building Group Ltd.) teams we worked with, the Move Champions Committee led by Jenna Scott, Kevin Cash when he was our interim CFO, and now Jamie Hall as our new CFAO (welcome Jamie!).

CIFAR moved into its first offices in 1981, in an old Ontario government building on University Avenue. It housed a few people whose initial job was to scrape together funding, and recruit members for a Board of Directors, a Research Council, and the first research programs.

Thanks to the hard work of Fraser Mustard and those other early visionaries, CIFAR today is an international organization with 14 programs and almost 400 fellows in 18 countries. Our fellows have helped pioneer the field of population health and launched the deep learning artificial intelligence revolution. The work of our fellows could lead to cheap and plentiful clean energy, new diagnoses and treatments for disease, and an understanding of the basic forces behind the structure of the universe.

MarsMoveDay1_R2As the world around us has changed and the problems that science can address have become more complex, so has our mission. To be relevant today, an organization like CIFAR has to not only be open to change, we have to lead change. We have to be prepared to take risks, innovate, and collaborate. CIFAR has embraced this need for change, and in response we have started a number of new and exciting programs.

Three years ago we launched our first ever Global Call for Ideas, an international open call for new research programs that asked important questions and required interdisciplinary collaborations to answer. The Global Call resulted in our four newest programs – the Azrieli Program in Brain, Mind & Consciousness; Humans & the Microbiome; Molecular Architecture of Life; and Bio-Inspired Solar Energy.

Shortly after that, we launched the CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholars Program, a new program aimed at supporting the careers of some of the world’s next generation of top scientists and scholars within the first five years of their academic appointments.


Last year we conducted the CIFAR Forum on the Well-Being of the World’s Children. It was a new effort for CIFAR, and one that is paying off already in building long-term relationships.

Today, we’ve launched a new program for workshops that will explore key questions of global importance that can best be addressed through interdisciplinary, international teams. These are intended to be short-term, time-limited interactions of 10 to 20 people. It’s an opportunity for us to bring together researchers exploring questions that don’t necessarily require the resources or time of a full CIFAR program, but that still benefit from our experience as a convener of interdisciplinary experts. We’re also open to the possibility that these workshops could form the basis for a new program proposal during our next Global Call.

We’re also in the second round of applications for our CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholars program, adding more scholars from around the world to the 18 amazing young people who were appointed in the first round.

And finally, we’re continuing to expand our suite of knowledge outreach efforts, bringing the knowledge our fellows generate to a wider community of businesses and professionals who can use it. In May, for instance, we will sponsor with the Ontario Science Centre a full-day program called Untangling the Cosmos. It will draw on experts from our Cosmology & Gravity program to explain recent breakthroughs and important questions in our understanding of the universe.

Over the past five years, we have embarked on an ambitious and wide-ranging process of change that is designed to position us as a key instrument in the global landscape of research organizations. In that regard, our move to MaRS is designed to change how we think about ourselves, how we work together and how others see us. I think I speak for all our staff when I say that our new space just feels right. We will have an open house shortly, after I get my boxes unpacked. I hope everyone will take the opportunity to drop by then, if not earlier, and see the new CIFAR.