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Professors A.P.S. (Patrick) Selvadurai and Roderick Macdonald live and work in wildly disparate academic worlds. While the latter might spend his day contemplating the relationships between law and society, the former is likely to be tackling problems of nuclear waste disposal. What they share, however, is a reputation for being among the most influential researchers not only at McGill, but in their fields globally. And another thing: they are two of the five recipients of the $100,000 Killam Prizes for 2007.
Professor Selvadurai is William Scott Professor and James McGill Professor in McGill's Department of Civil Engineering and Applied Mechanics. An international leader in the fields of theoretical, applied and computational mechanics, as well as applied mathematics and geomechanics (the discipline dealing with the application of the principles of mathematics, mechanics and physics to the study of earth materials), he has profoundly influenced engineering activities in nuclear waste management, among other areas.
"The world that we leave behind is going to be a lot more challenging for our children than it has been for us," Professor Selvadurai said.
"It's a great honour to be recognized for my small part in mitigating that challenge."
Born in Sri Lanka, Professor Selvadurai moved to Canada in 1975, chaired Carleton University's Department of Civil Engineering from 1982 to 1991 and McGill's Department of Civil Engineering and Applied Mechanics from 1993 to 1997.
As a scholar, Professor Selvadurai has produced more than 400 articles and 15 authored or co-edited books, at least five of which are now standard texts.
He has held visiting professorships at numerous institutions worldwide and received many international honours, including the Humboldt Senior Scientist Award and the Max Planck Research Prize. He was the first civil engineer to receive the Killam Research Fellowship.
Professor Macdonald, the F.R. Scott Professor of Constitutional and Public Law at McGill, is internationally respected as one of the great jurists of his day and among Canada's most influential public intellectuals and theorists.
He has been at the faculty of Law since 1979, and served as Dean from 1984 to 1989. His expertise spans myriad areas of the law, having, in his own words, "taught and written in just about everything in law."
He added, "I couldn't have gotten the award for being a superstar in one particular area. I think my career has been characterized by being eclectic; I am not the expert on anything, I am the second best call on everything."
He may not consider himself a superstar, but Macdonald is revered among past and current students as a brilliant and engaging professor.
He is known for developing an innovative conception of law he calls critical legal pluralism, briefly defined as thinking about law as something that arises in all forms of human interaction, not necessarily tied to the state.
He proposes that we think about law as sets of commitments that people have to different institutions and different circles, making us all members of multiple legal orders at the same time.
People, said Macdonald, "should think about law as what people create, not what others create for them. The process is bottom up, not top down."
The awards were announced this week by the Canada Council for the Arts, which administers the Killam program. This brings to 16 the number of McGill researchers who have received Killams since they were first awarded in 1981, to honour eminent Canadian scholars and scientists actively engaged in research.
The awards will be presented Monday, April 23 in Ottawa.