James Randi
James Randi demonstrates the effectiveness of a so-called "bomb-sniffing" device at a recent Trottier Symposium.

Shifting science outreach into high gear

Science forms the very basis of our society and underpins our country’s future, yet few Canadians are familiar with even the most basic scientific principles.

High-tech entrepreneur Lorne M. Trottier, BEng’70, MEng’73, DSc’06, hopes to change that. Co-founder of the video-graphics company Matrox, Trottier’s lifelong passion for everything from data to video games also extends to science and public policy.

He and his family have committed a visionary gift of $15 million to the Faculties of Science and Engineering that not only bolsters their capacity to undertake groundbreaking research, but also helps communicate the fruits of that work to the public.

The donation has endowed the Trottier Institute for Science and Public Policy, which is tasked with furthering science-based policies and enhancing scientific literacy in the public at large. Through fellowships, undergraduate research awards and a host of activities, including public forums, publications and outreach initiatives, the Institute will provide a unique nexus for discussion, training and advocacy, with the aim of having a positive impact on many of the important societal issues facing our country and our world.

The Institute will complement the Lorne Trottier Public Science Symposium Series and Mini-Science Series, which he endowed in 2011 through a $5.5-million gift. The annual symposia aim to stimulate scientific inquiry by the public of important issues. A recent event, for instance, analyzed the health claims of foods and vitamins.

“I am dismayed by the dangerous science illiteracy that pervades much of our society on issues such as climate change or the safety of vaccines,” says Trottier. “I believe that universities such as McGill have a crucial role to play not only in educating the next generation of scientists and engineers, but as centres of enlightenment for the broader society.”

“Universities have a role to play in raising the public level of understanding of science and technology and also in connecting science to public policy issues,” agrees Dean of Science Martin Grant. “The study of science at McGill owes a lot to the generosity of Lorne Trottier. In fact, I cannot imagine the Faculty of Science without him.”