Message from the Acting Director

It has truly been an outstanding year at the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies at UBC. As Acting Director, I had the honour and privilege of engaging with, and learning from, some of the brightest and most creative UBC Faculty members and international visiting scholars.

This year’s activities have continued to advance UBC’s engagement in innovative thinking, further contributing to its reputation as a top-40 research university. The Institute’s role in providing a space for scholarly exchange and ideas, a purveyor of cross-disciplinary initiatives and a catalyst for new research discoveries make it a unique place where new connections are forged and fresh perspectives open doors to unexplored areas of knowledge and opportunity.

The Peter Wall Institute’s trademark – to nurture the incubation of research collaboration by multiple disciplines – was highlighted by the spring’s International Research Roundtables. There, music therapists and neurologists came together to reveal the successes and challenges of using music therapy for the treatment of neuro-degenerative disorders, while a group of infectious disease specialists met with physicians, academics, Indigenous leaders, policy-makers and tech specialists to scale up efforts in “mhealth” by using mobile phones for patient engagement.

2014 marked the first year of the International Research Colloquium (IRC), spearheaded by the Institute’s former director, Dr. Janis Sarra. The IRC brought International Visiting Research Scholars and Roundtable Principal Investigators and their colleagues back to UBC, allowing exciting research collaborations to flourish between UBC faculty and their colleagues from abroad.

The second annual IRC held this past spring was as remarkable. Notably, we learned that UBC physicists from the Advanced Materials and Processed Engineering Lab (AMPEL) are probing the mysteries of quantum materials with a new state-of-the-art ultrafast laser, funded by a large US grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. In another project, the results of which were published in Science, Dr. Andrea Damascelli is leading a team of international scientists who have made breakthroughs in high-temperature superconductivity, fundamentally advancing our understanding of quantum materials.

The summer of 2014 brought world-renowned astronomers Sir Roger Penrose and Sir Anthony Leggett to UBC as part of a Colloquium hosted by UBC’s Dr. Philip Stamp and Dr. Brett Finlay, capturing our imaginations about the universe, black holes and Intelligent Life.

We welcomed the first cohort of our new Wall Scholar program in the fall of 2014. Seventeen outstanding scholars engaged in fascinating conversations throughout the year that, in some cases, transformed into new collaborative research projects. A treat for the broader UBC community arrived with the re-opening of the Peter Wall Ideas Lunch and Wine Bar in the fall, which served as a healthy haven and gathering place for UBC staff and faculty on campus. It became the focal point for our weekly Wall Wednesdays Afternoon Series, a new series for the UBC community that showcased the 2014-15 Wall Scholars’ research in areas of sexuality, social media, colonial politics of recognition, drones in modern warfare, microbiota in asthma, the impact of climate change in the Arctic, on animals and vegetation, brain plasticity and so much more.

Also joining us throughout the year were twelve first-rate international research scholars who presented fascinating talks and debates at the Institute and the UBC community on topics as diverse as the cultural and intellectual history of French theory, greenhouse gasses and fossil fuels, technology wearables and society, the future of food, astrophysics and life on other planets. The Institute also had the privilege of hosting award-winning Author-in-Residence, Camilla Gibb, who enchanted us with her amazing stories and deep insights into themes of belonging and identity, weaved into her writings.

The visit by the Dalai Lama to UBC, co-sponsored by the Peter Wall Institute, offered unparalleled opportunities for Peter Wall Faculty Associates such as Kiley Hamlin, who shared her extraordinary research in early childhood development with His Holiness and the sold-out crowd of UBC students and faculty in the Chan Centre.

The fall 2014 Wall Exchange brought Stephen Lewis – Canadian Diplomat and former UNC special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa – to Vancouver, who spoke persuasively and passionately about the many challenges that we continue to confront in the global war against the HIV/AIDS virus. Later in the fall, International Roundtables explored contemporary issues of traditional values of Indigenous people and effective governance through the work of Aboriginal leaders and community members from Canada, U.S., New Zealand and Australia, and on seafood sustainability, which inspired filmmakers and students to create innovative digital art to mobilize audiences to action around this timely issue.

This past spring, 2015, the Institute was honoured to host two Nobel-Prize winning scholars to UBC.  Physicist and Director of the Collège de France, Serge Haroche, visited UBC in late April. His two public lectures included a superb exposition of the principle of quantum theory underlying Shrodinger’s cat and his perspectives on the importance of “blue sky” or curiosity-driven research, which he notes has generated successes that are “among the jewels of our civilized world.”  Richard Schrock, Nobel-prize winning chemist, visited UBC as an International Visiting Research Scholar in May and shared his life’s work and fundamental research that led to the catalytic reaction he discovered in 1955, the reaction that allowed carbon-carbon double bonds to break and form new ones with remarkable ease. Dr. Schrock too stressed the importance of fundamental research, without which future technological progress would not have been possible. 

The spring 2015 Wall Exchange with Bonnie Bassler captivated students, scientists, health practitioners and members of the general public at the Vogue Theatre in downtown Vancouver. Bonnie’s exuberance and passion for bacteria and how they “talk to one another” is contagious (no pun intended). Her outstanding and animated lecture is available to watch online.

Many individuals contributed to this exciting set of activities over the past 18 months. The dedicated and thoughtful Committee members, the Board of Trustees and UBC’s Vice-President, Research and International gave generously of their time and wisdom to support the Institute’s mission. Special thanks goes to the exceptional Wall Scholars this year for their intellectual contributions and engagement, to the Peter Wall Distinguished Professors, Brett Finlay and Derek Gregory for their vision and commitment, and to the former director and UBC Presidential Distinguished Professor, Janis Sarra for her extraordinary leadership.  Among her contributions as director of the Institute, Dr. Sarra advanced PWIAS’s profile at home and on the international stage, building on the strong foundation set by the Institute’s past directors. Finally, I wish to highlight the valuable contributions of the talented and professional staff, whose intelligent ideas and deep understanding of the Institute’s vision helped to guide us through this dazzling year.  

I hope this annual report, in its new online format, will inspire you to become part of these new and ongoing connections and conversations at the Institute. Thank you for your interest in the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies. We hope you will visit us again!

Sincerely,

Nancy Gallini