CIFAR Catalyst Fund
CONVENING EXTRAORDINARY MINDS
We spark high-risk, high-reward research.
Our Catalyst Funds are time-limited grants for fellows, advisors, and CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholars that facilitate and support high-risk ideas and projects within and across CIFAR’s portfolio of research programs. The grants provide flexibility for early-stage projects, encourage interdisciplinary collaborations, and address emerging and exploratory themes within or between research programs.
Our model enables innovative scientific advances.
CIFAR's Catalyst Funds often support multi-year collaborations. Several of these interdisciplinary projects had significant impacts realized recently.
Brainstem Arousal Systems: Effects on Consciousness and Cognition
In February 2020, David Menon’s lab published a study in the journal Human Brain Mapping showing how the brain uses different connection patterns to perform the wide range of tasks we need it to.44 This builds on work supported through a 2017 Catalyst Fund project with Koerner Fellow Adrian Owen, which investigates how the brain’s network reacts to sleep and sedation.
Brain, Mind & Consciousness — David Menon (Cambridge University) & Adrian Owen (Western University)
Pandemics & Expanded Personal Space
A 2016 Catalyst Grant brought Graham Taylor, Joel Levine, and Takao Hensch together to study animal social behaviour using AI image recognition. Building on this fruitful collaboration, they planned a cross-programmatic Collective Intelligence workshop for June 2020 to examine the many ways intelligence manifests in group behaviour, which was adapted to become the virtual Pandemics & Expanded Personal Space workshop in light of COVID-19.
Learning in Machines & Brains, Child & Brain Development — Graham Taylor (Canada CIFAR AI Chair, Learning in Machines & Brains, University of Guelph), Joel Levine (Child & Brain Development, University of Toronto Mississauga) & Takao Hensch (Child & Brain Development, Harvard University)
Detecting the Roots of Consciousness in Infants
An interdisciplinary Catalyst Fund project to examine the roots of consciousness in infants led to fruitful collaboration between Janet Werker and Alona Fyshe, who, together with other colleagues, proposed a project about the influence of oral language skills, home language and culture, and digital media on literacy development. The project was awarded a $2.5 million Partnership Grant from Canada’s Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). Werker and Fyshe, two scholars in vastly different academic areas but with a shared interest in language and brain development, met through CIFAR.
Child & Brain Development, Brain, Mind & Consciousness, Learning in Machines & Brains — Janet Werker (Child & Brain Development, University of British Columbia) & Alona Fyshe (CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholar 2016-2018, Brain, Mind & Consciousness, Fellow, Learning in Machines & Brains, Canada CIFAR AI Chair, Amii, University of Alberta)
Projects in progress
The next paradigm shift may be underway.
Catalyst Fund projects often focus on emerging and exploratory themes; below are three examples from recent recipients.
Silicon Telecom Colour Centres For Quantum Information Science
Networking quantum computers can unleash tremendous computational power, but this requires quantum information to be transmitted over large distances. The hardware to make this dream a reality is still in development, but CIFAR Fellow Stephanie Simmons may have recently had a breakthrough working in silicon. To evaluate whether her discovery could enable a quantum internet, she is collaborating with CIFAR Fellow Lilian Childress, who is a world-renowned expert in the nitrogen-vacancy colour centre in diamond.
Quantum Information Science — Stephanie Simmons (Simon Fraser University) & Lilian Childress (McGill University)
Null Detection of Life: Towards a More Refined Understanding of the True Limits of Habitability
Almost everywhere researchers have ever looked on Earth — deep underwater, deep underground, up in the stratosphere — there is life. When life isn’t found, it’s often assumed to be because the instruments used weren’t sensitive enough to detect it. Sometimes that may be the case, but with this project, researchers will search for naturally sterile environments and, combining literature review, labanalysis, and computational modelling, find out exactly what makes them so.
Earth 4D: Subsurface Science & Exploration — Heather Graham (NASA), Bénédicte Ménez (Paris Diderot University) & Magdalena Osburn (Northwestern University)
CIFAR is a registered charitable organization supported by the governments of Canada, Alberta and Quebec, as well as foundations, individuals, corporations and Canadian and international partner organizations.