New chairs provide strong leadership

December 01, 2005, vol. 34, no. 7
By Erica Branda

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2005 was a year of unprecedented growth and change for SFU's faculty of science. With 21 new professors and lecturers, including three Canada Research Chairs, the faculty is bubbling with fresh ideas and talent.

“A number of positions opened up through retirements and other losses, however, most of our new hires were the result of growth. We had increased student enrollment, plus we gained incremental funding through the Canada Research Chairs program,” explains Mike Plischke, dean of science. “These chairs have allowed us to attract strong senior leaders who will mentor and guide younger faculty members toward excellence in research and teaching.”

Patricia Mooney is one of these new chairs. A Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in semiconductor physics who was recruited from IBM's largest research centre in New York, she researches the influence of defects or impurities in semiconductors on the electronic and optical properties of their materials. This fundamental work will enable the fabrication of new information and communications technologies, especially as devices start to incorporate nanoscale structures - those which are approximately 1/80,000 the width of a human hair.

The move was a major change in Mooney's life - she changed coasts, countries and work environments all at the same time. It was the collaborative atmosphere at SFU and the opportunities to join forces with a group of dynamic and complementary researchers in the physics department that attracted her. “There seems to be more of a collaborative atmosphere at SFU than at other universities I've been involved with,” says Mooney. “I see people working together to obtain funding for major new facilities, and they are succeeding at a high rate.”

Bojan Mohar is another Tier 1 Canada Research Chair recruited from afar. He moved from Slovenia in August 2005 with a personal goal of making SFU one of the top two schools in Canada, and one of the top 10 in North America, for studying discrete mathematics. This is math that involves discontinuous, finite or countable sets of information things like how to interconnect individual computers to make a reliable network, how to encode information so that possible intruders will not be able to read it and how to describe all possible ways of putting non-attacking queens on a very large chessboard.

A theoretician specializing in graph theory, Mohar doesn't focus on the application of his research, but others do. Computer scientists, city planners, telecommunications engineers and social scientists are among the many that use graph theory to understand and describe the relationships between objects that are interconnected through networks.

Mohar's research into the mathematical properties of graphs as well as optimization problems and algorithms on graphs will advance the science and lead to new or improved applications in a wide range of areas.

Gwenn Flowers is the faculty's third new Canada Research Chair. A Tier 2 chair in glaciology, her research involves field observations and computer modelling of glaciers in western Canada. She strives to understand how glaciers can be used as indicators of climate change and how they can impact water resources.

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