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  • President's Message

Change and renewal

by Alan Bernstein
May 3 / 19

A CIFAR fellow once described CIFAR as a “playground for the mind”.

I’ve thought about that statement recently, as we look ahead to the official launch of our most recent program portfolio and contemplate exciting new partnerships. While it can be challenging to list the many ways in which CIFAR benefits research and advances knowledge, one aspect of our model is universally appreciated: the intellectual freedom that comes with unencumbered inquiry. At CIFAR, we provide researchers with the time and space needed to explore, discuss and test their best ideas, creating an intellectual playground in the truest and best sense of that word. And like all good playgrounds (to push the metaphor), we encourage risk taking and pushing the boundaries.

On May 22, the CIFAR community will come together in Toronto to celebrate the success of our second Global Call for Ideas, and our new portfolio of 13 research programs. It is certainly a milestone worth celebrating. The Global Call process resulted in a major renewal of our programs, which will guide CIFAR’s direction for the next five years and beyond.

We invite you to join us as we welcome the directors and co-directors of our new, renewed and existing programs, as well as a broad cross-section of supporters and stakeholders. The evening will be hosted by Jay Ingram, the long-time science broadcaster and writer.

Notably, we have invited three CIFAR fellows to talk about their own research, and about their CIFAR programs. The speakers are: Dr. Irene Bloemraad, a political sociologist at the University of California, Berkeley, and co-director of our new Boundaries, Membership & Belonging program; Dr. David Poulin, a physicist at the Université de Sherbrooke and co-director of our Quantum Information Science program; and Dr. Barbara Sherwood Lollar, a geochemist at the University of Toronto and co-director of CIFAR’s new Earth 4D: Subsurface Science & Exploration program.

Outstanding fellows like these – and the research programs to which they contribute – are at the heart of what makes CIFAR special. CIFAR provides sustained, long-term commitment to their progress by providing a structure around program meetings and catalyst funding to accelerate their progress on exciting directions of inquiry. This environment fosters deep collaboration and trust between our fellows.

In this issue, we highlight the 13 programs that are set to address many of the world’s most challenging and complex global questions. Distributed across four theme areas -- Life & Health, Information & Matter, Earth & Space, and Individuals & Society -- they have been selected to explore a broad range of current concerns.

Elsewhere in our newsletter you’ll read about the upcoming Generation AI workshop, which will explore how artificial intelligence (AI) can be used to enhance digital inclusion for children. The workshop is part of CIFAR’s AI & Society program, which brings together interdisciplinary research teams to explore the fundamental social and ethical dimensions of AI.

In related news, this month we announced a second stream of AI & Society workshops, to be held in partnership with the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). We are thrilled to partner with France and the UK to address societal implications of AI.

Across all of our research, knowledge mobilization and other engagement activities, CIFAR benefits tremendously from the wisdom and expertise of some of the world’s great research leaders. We continue to approach the future with optimism and a bold vision. Our fellows prove what is possible when the world’s extraordinary minds come together, over the long-term, to address science and humanity’s most important questions.