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Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies

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Title: Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies  
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Subject: Tony J. Pitcher, Arif Dirlik, Peter Wall, Canadian university scientific research organizations, Society of Thoth
Collection: Research Institutes in Canada, University of British Columbia
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Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies

Founded in 1991, the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies is the senior research institute at the University of British Columbia. It supports basic research through collaborative, interdisciplinary initiatives. The Institute brings together scholars from UBC with distinguished researchers and experts from around the world to investigate fundamental research drawing upon and contributing to a wide range of diverse disciplines in the Sciences, Social Sciences, and the Humanities. The Institute has a varied program of colloquia, workshops, UBC scholars in residence, and a distinguished professorship, and major special events. A current strategic direction of the Institute is to create scholarly partnerships among the international network of institutes of advanced study to support research of lasting value and impact. The institute has to date concluded Memoranda of Understanding with the Collège de France, Paris, the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study (STIAS), Stellenbosch, South Africa, and the Institute for Advanced Study, Technical University of Munich.[1]


  • Aims 1
  • History 2
  • Programs 3
  • Notes 4
  • External links 5


The Institute's aims, as detailed on its website, are "to support fundamental, interdisciplinary research and creative activities expected to result in significant advances to knowledge."[2]


The Institute's programs began in 1994, thanks to a CAD$15 million donation of Wall Financial Corporation shares three years earlier from the Vancouver property developer, Peter Wall; at the time, this was the largest private donation the University had ever received.[3] As of March 2007, the market value of the shares stood at CAD$48 million.[4] Also in 1994, the University dedicated a CAD$10 million Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies Endowment Fund to the Institute.

The intent was to create an institute of advanced study modelled largely on the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. Then UBC President, David Strangway, was quoted as saying "This remarkable contribution will allow us to create an institute that will help UBC and the province of British Columbia move to a new level of international significance".[5]

The Institute began "active operations" in 1994 with the appointment of UBC Nobel Laureate in Chemistry Michael Smith (1932–2000) as Peter Wall Distinguished Professor and acquired its own facilities, at the University Centre, in 1999.[6] The Institute's first full-time director was Kenneth MacCrimmon from 1996 to 2002; its current director is Dr. Janis Sarra, a Professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of British Columbia and founding Director of the National Centre for Business Law.[7]


The Institute's programs include:

  • Exploratory Workshops, which bring together researchers from UBC and elsewhere, to "assess basic research and research possibilities with major potential impact in a new way".[8]
  • Major Thematic Grants, of up to CAD$500,000, "to support interdisciplinary, collaborative teams" over a period of several years.[9] Thematic grants have been on topics such as crisis points; chemistry and physics at ultracold temperatures, sensorimotor computation; and HIV-Exposed but uninfected infants.[10]
  • Colloquia
  • Theme Development Workshops.
  • The Peter Wall Distinguished Professorship. The University describes this as "one of UBC's highest honours".[11] The current Peter Wall Distinguished Professors are Brett Finlay, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology and Microbiology & Immunology, and Derek Gregory, Geography. Brett Finlay is a microbiologist and Officer of the Order of Canada.[12] "This is huge," Finlay was quoted as saying upon receiving the professorship. "The Peter Wall Institute is a really special place at the University of British Columbia."[13] Finlay's recent work is on vaccines to combat E. coli[14] and SARS. Derek Gregory is an internationally renowned scholar in both the social sciences and the humanities. His appointment is for a five-year term, effective 1 July 2011.[15]
  • The Distinguished Scholars in Residence program, developed to bring to the Institute for one year senior UBC faculty members with distinguished research records and commitment to interdisciplinarity.
  • The Early Career Scholars program, which program brings together outstanding tenure-track faculty from diverse disciplines at the early stages of their careers at UBC.
  • The Distinguished Visiting Professor program. The Institute's visiting professors to date have been the intellectual historian Arif Dirlik (in 2005), the Nobel prize-winning chemist Roald Hoffman (in 2008), and French neurophysiologist Alain Berthoz (in 2009), computer scientist Barbara Grosz (in 2010), and cognitive neuroscientist, Stanislas Dehaene (2011), and microbiologist, Philippe Sansonetti (2011).[16]
  • The Wall Summer Institute for Research, which has featured public talks by James Orbinski, Jomo Kwame Sundaram,[17] and Immanuel Wallerstein.
  • "The Wall Exchange" Free Downtown Public Lecture Series. The inaugural event took place May 2011 with guest speaker, J. Craig Venter, Leading genomic scientist and sequencer of the human genome, on the construction of the first synthetic cell and the global ocean sampling expedition.[18]
  • The International Visiting Research Scholar program grants up to fifteen partnerships of $10,000 to bring some of the world’s best scholars to UBC. These highly competitive partnership awards are selected based on merit and the calibre of both the proposed scholar and the interdisciplinary research to be conducted jointly with one or more UBC scholar.
  • The UBC Visiting Scholar Abroad Program gives two awards of $25,000 to UBC faculty members who are early or mid-career scholars (pre-tenure or recently tenured) to travel abroad to undertake innovative research that will make a social, ethical, medical, scientific, or other contribution to the country being visited.
  • The International Roundtable Discussion Program hosts up to six international Roundtables per year. This program allows scholars on a local, national and international level to come together in the pursuit of knowledge within an interdisciplinary environment. The roundtable sessions foster novel approaches towards engagement in fundamental research and idea exchange that may prompt advances in the sciences and humanities. The first International Roundtable Discussion, titled, "Rising from the Ashes: Resilience, Arts and Social Transformation," was held in October 2012.[19]
  • The Institute has partnered with Consulate General of France in Vancouver to bring leading French scholars to UBC in a program titled "French Scholars Lecture Series / Cycle de conférenciers français à l'université de Colombie-Britannique", inviting academics from France, from different disciplinary and research backgrounds, to participate in a dialogue with their Canadian counterparts.
  • International Exchanges. Under the memoranda of understanding with our International Partners, the Institute can welcome each year outstanding professors from the Collège de France within the context of its invited Wall Distinguished Visiting Professor program, and in turn, the Collège can invite up to three senior Faculty Associates of the Institute for one month under the rubric of its International Exchanges program. Stellenbosch will welcome senior Faculty Associates of the Institute for fellowships of three months or longer. The Institute and TUM–Institute for Advanced Study will arrange annual brief exchanges of small, interdisciplinary research clusters with interests in a common topic.
  • The Colloquia Abroad are small meetings to which scholars from a range of disciplines, from UBC and abroad, are brought together for a few days to develop and further research agendas on cutting edge topics. Holding the meetings in other parts of the world will enable key researchers to attend who might otherwise not be able to do so.

The Institute's discontinued programs include:

  • Distinguished Junior Scholar, which aimed to provide an opportunity for participants to interact with peers from diverse disciplines and for UBC departments to have an opportunity to develop contacts with exceptional new scholars from around the world. Past awardees have included the biologists Stuart West and Jeremy Marchant Forde and the writer/poet Alison Calder.


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External links

  • Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies website
  • Peter Wall Institute 2007-2008 Annual Report

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