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When you donate to CIFAR, your investment goes further than you might realize.

CIFAR’s Neural Computation and Adaptive Perception (NCAP) program illustrates how: Yann LeCun, chair of the program’s advisory committee, recently received a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to study the highly sought-after “learning algorithm of the brain.” He credits CIFAR for the project’s intellectual stimulus.

“The ideas that come up at CIFAR meetings have had a huge impact on the research community at large, and some of that has made its way to decision-makers at U.S. funding agencies,” says Dr. LeCun.

“NCAP was key on several levels,” he continues. “It made us talk to each other, it made us agree on what the important questions are, it helped us define our project, and it convinced the powers-that-be in the U.S. to fund our proposal.”

The financial support from the National Science Foundation is part of a four-year, $2 million project that aims to use computer models for how the visual system learns to recognize objects. This goal is very much in line with the NCAP program, which approaches the question using a unique mixture of mathematical insights, computer simulations and neuroscience experiments.

CIFAR depends on and is grateful to donors who support research programs such as NCAP. As the year comes to a close, we hope you will consider donating to CIFAR. You will be keeping Canada’s knowledge economy strong and helping to build a vibrant intellectual community, which helps train, recruit and retain world leading researchers.

Remember, you must make your donation before December 31st to receive a 2008 tax receipt.

CIFAR news recently reverberated across the Pacific: Several Japanese newspapers reported on Quantum Materials program member Takashi Imai’s work on a new and exciting class of superconducting materials made of iron.

Dr. Imai is an expert on the electronic properties of high-temperature superconductors – materials that have a remarkable ability to conduct electricity without resistance. These materials are used in MRI machines, ultrathin power lines and high-speed levitating trains. The barrier to more ubiquitous and cost-efficient use of high-temperature superconductors, (despite their name), is that they still need to be very cold to function – more than 100 degrees below zero. The Holy Grail of this research field is to create materials that superconduct at room temperature.

For the last two decades, most efforts towards this goal have focused on copper-based superconducing materials. But in early 2008, researchers in Tokyo found superconducting behaviour in iron-based materials as well. This news came as a very pleasant surprise – iron is one of the world’s most abundant metals and it was previously thought to form only magnets, not superconductors. The race to better understand the underlying physics of this mysterious new class of materials began.

Dr. Imai is one of several CIFAR researchers engaged in this race. His recent work created a better understanding of how electrons orient themselves in iron-based materials, and how that orientation affects superconductivity.

“Besides providing a scientific clue about the mechanism of high-temperature superconductivity, this finding may also serve as a guide to designing new superconductors,” says Dr. Imai.

During his time as Prime Minister, Stephen Harper has made two major apologies: one to Chinese Canadians, and the other to Canada’s Aboriginal peoples. The first was for a “Head Tax” levied against Chinese people entering Canada in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The second was for the residential schools – a former government policy of assimilation of Aboriginals through boarding schools. Both of these policies created legacies of pain, anger and alienation.

Researching apologies keeps psychologist and Social Interactions, Identity and Well-Being Advisory Committee Member Kimberly Matheson busy. She collaborates with program member Nyla Branscombe, her Carleton University colleagues Hymie Anisman and Michael Wohl, and an Aboriginal graduate student named Amy Bombay. They are studying the emotional impacts of these apologies.

“These two apologies have very different contexts. While both are examples of collective discrimination and historical injustice, the situations of the Aboriginal community are very different than those of the Chinese immigrant community,” Dr. Matheson explains.

Welcome to the December edition of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research e-News magazine. You will notice a few changes with this edition, starting with the name: We hope the name Scope captures the essence of the publication, which is to provide you with new ways to look at the world.

Scope has been redesigned, and so has our website. If you haven’t already done so, please visit the new cifar.ca to find out about upcoming events, recent discoveries, CIFAR in the news and much more.

Scope is distributed quarterly to members of the CIFAR community to provide ideas, information and issues emerging from the world of advanced research. This edition of Scope focuses on apologies, superconductors, microRNA, and a new Big Word that escaped from a fairy tale to find a home in advanced research.

CIFAR supports innovative programs that enable the brightest and most talented minds across Canada to collaborate with each other and with their international peers on questions of global significance.