Mario Pinto vice-president, research

Mario Pinto says research is part of his soul — there’s no way he could ever give it up. So who better to be VP-research at a time when SFU faces extraordinary challenges and opportunities in a rapidly changing funding environment? The former chair of the chemistry department sees his new role as a facilitator, providing the positive atmosphere and the support that will bring together the sciences, social sciences, humanities, and applied sciences in unique multidisciplinary and multi-institutional projects. At the same time, he is determined to facilitate worthy individual research efforts. He also sees himself as an advocate for policy changes within the government and granting councils to ensure better support for physical and information infrastructure and research personnel.

“It’s clear that advances in science and technology are leaping ahead, while the study of the societal and policy impacts of these advances are lagging behind,” he explains. “One of the things that will make SFU competitive in the future is our ability to address these issues; we are not fettered by tradition, so we can break down some of the artificial boundaries and propose ambitious initiatives that cross disciplines and faculties.”

Pinto’s vision sees research in the human sciences informing research in science and technology, and vice versa. He brings a strong background from both the sciences and the arts to his thinking. His father’s family were scientists: his grandfather was the founder of a pharmaceutical company in Goa, and his father (a third-generation chemist) was a forensic chemist in Sri Lanka and later studied immunology at Cambridge. In his mother’s family were many writers, editors, actors, poets, and musicians. Pinto himself dabbled in both the arts and sciences before making the difficult decision to study chemistry at Queen’s.

He is clear that major advances in research will result from collaborative and team efforts. “This cannot be top-down. We need a strategic research plan, but I shouldn’t be defining what that plan should be,” Pinto says. “My role is determining what grant money is available, what’s being planned on a large scale, and informing people about what is possible. Then it is up to faculty to decide where and how to channel their energies.”

As one of his first priorities, Pinto will establish a task force made up of representatives of various interests across campus and ask them to define a strategy that will make SFU a truly comprehensive research institution. “We have to be players in the federal government’s innovation strategy that mandates that Canada rank among the top five countries in R&D performance in the world by 2010,” he concludes. “How can we champion various initiatives and recruit key individuals to ensure that we have a real competitive edge in getting the funding necessary to advance knowledge and to ensure that SFU achieves and maintains a prominent research presence on the national and international scene? That’s the question.”

Pinto replaces former VP-research Bruce Clayman, who has taken up a new position as president of Great Northern Way campus, a consortium of SFU, UBC, BCIT, and the Emily Carr Institute. Clayman will also direct SFU’s centre for policy research on science and technology (CPROST).

Photo by Greg Ehlers