Advancing Excellence,
Increasing Impact

Natalie Bau presents at a donor event

How do your donations create transformative knowledge for a better world?

Research Programs

CIFAR fellows take on tough questions that span disciplines. The answers they require can only be reached by international, interdisciplinary teams working together over a sustained period of time. Our portfolio of research programs tackles questions across four broad goals:

  •   Improving human health through research into the root causes of mental and physical health, developmental disorders and disordered consciousness, the human microbiome, and the interactions between our genes and our cells.


  •   Creating successful societies by cutting to the core of what makes nation states successful, prosperous, and stable so that all nations can use that information to improve their economic and governance structures.


  •   Using technology to make life better by exploring the possibilities for quantum materials and information systems, as well as the potential for artificial intelligence, to improve the ways we work, live, and play.


  •   Sustaining life on Earth by diving deep into our oceans and travelling far into space to understand how the world evolved and what the future holds.



Global Call for Ideas

For more than three decades, CIFAR’s global research programs have connected many of the world’s best minds – across borders and disciplines – to shape new perspectives and spark groundbreaking ideas. Our commitment to sustained research interactions and engagement through interdisciplinary research networks offers researchers the rarest of commodities: freedom to take intellectual risks that are essential for creating truly transformative knowledge.

Every few years, CIFAR invites the global research community to submit proposals for new programs that address complex, fundamental questions of importance to the world. Ideas must be novel, bold, and potentially transformative to warrant the creation of a sustained, interdisciplinary, and collaborative research program.

Submissions must address global, complex questions and identify an interdisciplinary research approach. Proposals will be accepted from all areas of research.

CIFAR has short-listed 12 proposals representing 81 researchers from 14 countries and a wide range of disciplines in the current Global Call for Ideas. The teams of finalists will now conduct workshops and prepare final proposals.

CIFAR will make its selections by Spring 2019, based on reviews and recommendations from the International Review Body, the International Assessment Panel and the CIFAR Research Council.


CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholars

The CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholars program funds and supports researchers from all over the world within five years of their first academic appointment, helping them build research networks and develop leadership skills. Representing 8 countries, the Scholars are tackling everything from solar cell technology; to understanding the norms that govern cooperation; to machine learning; to black holes and identifying the biological imprint of stress across generations.

“One of CIFAR’s highest priorities is to nurture the careers of the next generation of emerging research leaders,” said CIFAR President and CEO Dr. Alan Bernstein. “The future of research depends on young people, and their energy and innovative thinking is key to developing new approaches for the challenges facing our world today. We are thrilled to provide opportunities for these emerging research leaders.”

The CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholars program is enabled by the generous support of the Azrieli Foundation, and the Love Family Leadership Development Fund.


Knowledge Mobilization

CIFAR believes that research excellence is enhanced and impact accelerated when active communities of innovative thought leaders in the public, non-profit, and private sectors are engaged with our research programs in a sustained manner. We call this knowledge mobilization.

Since its inception in 1982, CIFAR has actively worked to connect the novel research-driven insights and ideas emerging from its research programs with influential thought leaders in the policy, health, business and international sectors. Today, we create opportunities for respectful dialogue on topics that advance knowledge and understanding – driving innovation in policy and practice.

By 2022, CIFAR will demonstrate innovations in practice, policy, programs, and products stemming from our knowledge mobilization activities. To achieve this, we have identified key sectors, including the health sector, to focus knowledge mobilization activities around. Over the next five years, CIFAR is committed to establishing a community of innovative knowledge users in the health sector and will create sustained engagements with researchers in a way that supports excellence and impact.

CIFAR accomplishes this vision through in-person engagements and publications designed to bring the new knowledge being created in our research programs to bear in practice.


Summer & Winter Schools

Each year, CIFAR invites distinguished researchers to lecture on cutting-edge topics not yet covered in regular university curricula at summer or winter schools for trainees. Global Scholars and graduate level trainees often lead the planning and organization efforts, imparting leadership and communication skills.

Each year, at least three Schools of Advanced Study take place in relation to one of CIFAR’s research programs. For example, in August 2016, the Learning in Machines & Brains program held its annual summer school in Montreal, attracting 235 graduate students, industrial engineers, and researchers. These events provide the opportunity for the next generation of research leaders to engage with CIFAR and to learn from the preeminent thinkers in their fields.


Catalyst Funds

Established in 2015/16, the Catalyst Fund program provides time-limited seed funding for new and exciting projects inspired by ideas and collaborations between CIFAR fellows. The funds help get new research projects off the ground and allow fellows to try out new ideas and launch potentially revolutionary projects that may not have been funded through other sources. Catalyst projects must emphasize an interdisciplinary and collaborative approach to tackling a research problem, but are otherwise unlimited in scope and potential.

We believe that support for high-risk, high-reward research can enable innovative scientific breakthroughs. Catalyst projects initiated to date are already leading to revolutionary and transformative ways of thinking, new techniques for sampling and testing, and previously unexplored areas of research.


AI & Society

Artificial Intelligence (AI) promises to usher in fundamental change in our society, affecting such areas as business, government, personal life and the workplace in general. As increasingly sophisticated AI systems are created and deployed more widely, the effects on society are unclear. CIFAR’s AI & Society program aims to examine the questions AI will pose for society involving diverse topics, including the economy, ethics, policy making, philosophy and the law.

The rapid increase in both the range of and accuracy of the tasks AI systems can perform has led to both excitement and concern. Effects on labour markets and employment are popular areas of public debate, but the potential societal effects of AI extend more broadly. To help advance discussions around these and other issues, CIFAR will build inclusive, international collaborations and engagements that bring together research perspectives from any discipline, including those in the social sciences, humanities, law, engineering, and the arts with policy makers and innovators.