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From the principal: On investing in research

From the principal: On investing in research

[campus image]
[Art McDonald and Daniel Woolf]
Dr. Art McDonald and Principal Woolf before the Nobel Prize cermony in Stockholm. (Photo by Michael Fergusson)

2015 was a remarkable year for Queen’s, with a lot of good news, particularly in the last few months.

  • In early October we received Stephen J.R. Smith’s transformative gift to our business school
  • In November we received Alfred and ­Isabel Bader’s remarkable donation of a well-known Rembrandt masterpiece.
  • And, of course, we saw the excellence of Queen’s research ­recognized through Dr. Art McDonald’s Nobel and Breakthrough Prizes.

Art McDonald is the first person to give credit to others, from his many collaborators in the SNO project to all the students and staff with whom he has worked over the years. It’s important to ­understand that recognition such as the Nobel is generated over years, even decades, of persistent and difficult work. This work is highly dependent on funding from the university, from the federal and provincial governments and the granting councils, and from philanthropy. Supporting this type of work requires vision and an appetite for intellectual and sometimes financial risk.

The late Principal David Smith helped bring about a ­Nobel Prize he did not live to see by providing some seed funding, in the 1980s, to Queen’s physicists George Ewan and Bill McLatchie at the dawn of the SNO experiment.

Gordon and ­Patricia Gray showed similar confidence and ­vision when they established the Gray Chair in Particle Astrophysics in 2006. This chair allows Queen’s to provide focused support for innovative researchers at SNOLAB. Dr. McDonald was the inaugural holder of the Gray Chair. He was succeeded, in 2014, by his colleague Mark Chen, who leads the SNO+ project.

In December, I had the privilege and pleasure of joining Professors McDonald and Ewan (and many of their Canadian and international collaborators) in Stockholm for Nobel Week. It was a fantastic few days in a beautiful city; events ­included the Nobel lectures by the various ­laureates, the ceremony itself, and the four-hour banquet in Stockholm City Hall.

It was a great week for Canadian science, and a great ­moment for Queen’s. Canada’s new Minister of Science, the Hon. Kirsty Duncan, herself a former scientist, was in attendance at the ceremony and ­banquet (and was back at Queen’s barely four weeks later to announce a $4-million grant to one of our leaders in research, Gregory Jerkiewicz, of the Department of Chemistry.)

Queen’s is famous for its student learning ­experience and strong spirit. We are also one of Canada’s leading research-intensive universities, and despite our relatively small size (among ­members of the U15 group of Canadian research universities) and modest faculty complement, we ‘punch above our weight’ on many indicators.

Research, whether in the sciences or the arts, comes at a cost, and the federal granting environment has been increasingly challenging in recent years. We have some work to do to ensure that our researchers (faculty, students and post-doctoral ­fellows or research associates) have the support they need. Our Initiative Campaign has included a great deal of support, overwhelmingly from alumni like you, for advanced research at Queen’s across all our disciplines.

As we enter our 175th year in 2016, please keep up that support. Let’s aim to ­increase the number of major international awards for Queen’s faculty. Who knows – we might get to send another Queen’s professor to Stockholm before we hit 200.

[cover graphic of Queen's Alumni Review, issue 1-2016]