Pinto's goal to strengthen research profile

September 09, 2004, vol. 31, no. 6
By Stuart Colcleugh

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Mario Pinto has numerous ideas for strengthening SFU's research profile, but he says they all come down to one simple goal: “To justify the statement on our website that we are Canada's most research-intensive comprehensive university.”

“We're not there yet and we need to take some decisive steps to make that a reality,” says the university's new VP-research, who replaces Bruce Clayman in September following five years as chair of the chemistry department.

Pinto, a nationally renowned scientist and Royal Society of Canada fellow, says his first step will be to help establish a strategic research plan for the university. A plan that includes safeguards for individual research while capitalizing on the increasing trend toward multi-institutional, multi-researcher grants awarded to provincial, national and/or international consortia.

This consortium approach will require tremendous facilitation and administrative assistance from his office just to acquire large grants, he says, and then a whole other infrastructure for managing them. Details such as intellectual property rights would have to be negotiated, and ethics and animal care approval would have to be ensured as well.

But in the end it will enable SFU researchers to ask “the very big questions. You may not have the expertise in one sub-area, but with your collaborators you can collectively address issues of substance.”

The plan must also address the university's need to specify its key research strengths, he adds, and clarify what it means by the term comprehensive university. “To me, that entails looking at the effects of science and technology on society and vice versa. Do we want to cover everything or have certain themes that will define our comprehensive nature?”

Pinto comes well equipped for the top research job. He joined SFU in 1983 following a PhD from Queens University and post-doctoral studies with Sir Derek Barton, winner of the 1969 Nobel Prize in chemistry.

His pioneering work in medicinal chemistry and drug design has since earned him numerous prestigious awards, large research grants, contracts with pharmaceutical companies and venture capital investment. He also has served on a variety of grant selection panels and government councils, garnering an intimate knowledge of the country's research culture.

In his free time, Pinto plans to continue being “a very bad guitarist” and walking the Stanley Park seawall on weekends. And of course there is his life's work: “I will not sacrifice my research output. Things are going too well right now, and the years of investment are yielding substantial returns. This is part of my soul.”

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