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What’s the next big question in research?

The Canadian Institute for Advanced Research is on a cross-country tour to discuss the Next Big Questions facing our world.


The Canadian Institute for Advanced Research is one of those rare privately funded, independent research institutes in Canada not directly attached to a university — and what they manage to accomplish on their $16 million annual budget is astounding.

With that money, CIFAR (pronounced “see far,” get it?) funds 12 interdisciplinary programs ranging from “Cosmology and Gravity” to “Social Interactions, Identity and Well-Being.” It supports, as of January 2009, a total of 317 distinguished Canadian and international researchers. Since the institute’s inception, 14 Nobel Laureates have been associated with it, including six currently.

I bring all this up because CIFAR is on a cross-Canada promotional road trip over the next several weeks, starting in Halifax today. The institute is hosting the Next Big Question, a series of events at which three researchers from different CIFAR programs will make a case for why their topic of exploration represents the Next Big Question facing our world.

Following each series of presentations, the audience will choose one presentation deemed the most important. The successful researcher behind that evening’s winning Next Big Question will also be featured online on the Globe and Mail‘s website a few days later to answer reader questions about their Big Question and discuss how it might change the world.

The Big Questions being discussed today in Halifax, and their discussants, are:

Tickets are $30, although I have no idea if there are any left for today’s event, which is being held at Pier 21 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. local time.

The rest of the schedule is as follows:

April 27: Ottawa

May 10: Vancouver

May 12: Edmonton

May 13: Calgary

May 25: Montreal

June 10: Toronto

You can even vote online for which question you think is truly the Next Big One. It’s a great series of events to raise awareness of the importance of research in our daily lives. Why not give it a look? C’mon, indulge your inner geek.

UPDATE, Apr. 22:

This from CIFAR:

We have our first winner! After intense debate, the champion of Next Big Question Halifax is Allan MacDonald with “Can we create superconductors that work at room temperature?” Join Allan today at noon on the Globe and Mail online for a live chat. He will take your questions about medical scanners, green energy and the fascinating world of  superconductors. Listen to a clip (2.5 minutes) from the presentation that won Allan Next Big Question Halifax.

Léo Charbonneau

Léo Charbonneau has been the deputy editor of University Affairs since 2003. He started the Margin Notes blog in 2009 and it has gone on to win several awards, including Best Blog at the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.

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