New units unite scholars

New units unite scholars McGill University

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McGill Reporter
January 10, 2002 - Volume 34 Number 08
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Home > McGill Reporter > Volume 34: 2001-2002 > January 10, 2002 > New units unite scholars

New units unite scholars

As we continue to find out more about ourselves and about the world we live in, the questions remaining to be answered are becoming tougher to tackle. It seems as if the answers we uncover often only lead towards more complicated mysteries yet to be solved. Mysteries that require more than one line of reasoning.

That's a big part of the reason why the word 'interdisciplinary' has become so hot in academic circles.

If you want to come up with innovative new materials, thoroughly understand their properties and devise useful ways to put them to work, you might want to enlist the expertise of physicists, chemists, and engineers.

If you want to develop a solid understanding of how we master language, you would want to hear from linguists, education experts, neurologists, psychologists and others on the subject.

That's the thinking behind the creation of two new interdisciplinary units. The McGill Institute for Advanced Materials (MIAM) and the Centre for Research on Language, Mind and Brain both recently received the official green light from Senate.

MIAM has been in the planning stages for years. A committee, made up of professors from the Faculties of Science and Engineering and co-chaired by physics professor Peter Grütter and mining, metals and materials engineering professor Robin Drew, hammered out the details for the official proposal that went to Senate last semester.

Drew notes that advanced materials is one of the areas that the University has recently pointed to as one of its strategic areas of growth in its submissions to the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the Canada Research Chairs program.

The University already has well-respected research centres that specialize in this area -- the McGill Metals Processing Centre, the Centre for Physics of Materials and Polymer McGill. So why the need for MIAM?

Because the search for new materials, and the need to understand what makes them tick once they've been found, is becoming ever more complicated. It helps to have specialists on hand who can offer a even broader range of skills.

"There is a lot of materials science research going on at McGill in all kinds of different departments, but because of institutional boundaries, we don't always communicate with each other all that well," says Grütter. "We want to break down those boundaries and facilitate more collaborations, especially on the research front."

Part of MIAM's mission will be to give materials science a higher profile through a new public lecture series. "We'll be looking for the Carl Sagans of the materials science world," jokes Drew.

"This is an important area of research and we want more people to know about it," adds Grütter. "If you can't make silicone properly, you can't make a decent computer. If you can't make a durable type of concrete, your roads will fall apart."

MIAM will design and coordinate new interdisciplinary graduate programs to train budding materials scientists.

Drew suspects that industrial employers, always on the lookout for more-effective materials for everything ranging from artificial body parts to light-based communications systems, will be interested in students who have approached materials science in a broad way. "We think this will make graduates more employable."

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