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Strategic Research Plan 2016-2022

Strategic Research Plan

Simon Fraser University's 2016-2022* Strategic Research Plan builds on its strengths and successes, and positions the university to continue to grow its capacity in research and knowledge mobilization.

*In October 2020 the Strategic Research Plan (SRP) was updated with editorial changes and extended until 2022. The extension enabled the SRP to carry forward until the Vice-President, Research and International role was filled in a continuing capacity. The progress report will be shared with the SFU community and help inform the development of the next SRP, along with community consultations and surveys for feedback.

See our plan

Progress report

To help inform the progress report, the Office of the Vice-President, Research and International conducted an online survey and hosted a series of consultations with the SFU research community in early 2021.

The progress report will be shared with the SFU community in early 2022.

virtual consultations

Consultations were hosted in late January and early February 2021 by Dugan O’Neil, Vice-President, Research and International pro tem (VPRI) and Angela Brooks-Wilson, Associate Vice-President, Research pro tem (AVPR). A video recording of each consultation is available for those who were unable to attend (SFU login required): 

Jan 25, 2021 recording
Jan 27, 2021 recording
Feb 2, 2021 recording


The Strategic Research Plan identifies six priority research challenges that are designed to push the limits of discovery and knowledge mobilization and deliver impactful breakthroughs. Success in tackling these challenges rests on the ability to draw from fundamental research—the backbone of SFU's research endeavours—and applied research.

Across the globe, we face several intensifying concerns including climate change, diminishing resources, exacerbated conflicts and natural disasters. Humanity is continually challenged to adapt to the world it inhabits and shapes. Addressing pressing environmental problems and creating a sustainable future rests on our ability to understand root causes and provide real mechanisms and solutions for change. It is at the intersection of the natural, applied, and social sciences that we can best assess the social, political, economic and environmental trade-offs of strategic interventions. Our aim in addressing this challenge is to focus on understanding perceptions, advancing strategies and developing interventions to improve our collective welfare and ensure a sustainable future.

Global environmental issues are among the most important challenges of the 21st century and SFU researchers have a long history of pursuing research related to environmental sustainability. These research programs focus on alternative energy development and transportation, fisheries and oceans, biodiversity, resource management, policymaking, climate change modelling, migration, educating about sustainability and helping communities and businesses respond to these challenges. There are opportunities to integrate sustainability concepts at all levels of the research enterprise. Indeed, solutions for climate change mitigation and adaptation are a key part of harnessing change and improving outcomes. Addressing the far-reaching effects of climate change will require collaboration with local and international communities to help ensure that research informs decision-making and enables actions that improve the global welfare of people and the planet.

Understanding our origins calls on us to ask fundamental questions about the universe, our planet and societies. Insights that arise from this important work change the way we think about the universe and our place in it. SFU researchers measure and predict natural phenomena on multiple scales, including the subatomic, the cellular and the cosmic. Yet, natural phenomena only explain part of our beginnings, and a fuller picture emerges when we examine the development and progression of our languages, cultures and knowledge systems. With more thorough insights into our complex origins—both natural and human—we are better equipped to look forward, pushing the boundaries of discovery into new critical frontiers.

As a world-class research university, SFU has built considerable capacity in fields that address questions about the origin and evolution of the universe, about human life and organisms, and about human culture. Using advanced infrastructure and traditional methods of scholarly inquiry, SFU researchers are making important contributions to fundamental questions that are central to research in the sciences, education and the humanities. This research challenge encompasses questions being addressed in diverse areas, such as theoretical physics, archaeology, pure mathematics, biochemistry, evolution, language and behaviour, and cultural heritage through the study of literature, philosophy, anthropology and history. Promoting and supporting multiple modes of inquiry while fostering collaboration across disciplines will deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world we inhabit.

Globally, we are looking for ways to support the health and wellness of young and aging populations, manage pandemics, and develop treatments, interventions and preventative approaches for seemingly intractable diseases. Addressing this challenge requires approaches that span the spectrum from modelling organisms to understanding human society.

SFU researchers are investigating the causes and consequences of disease, including chronic and infectious diseases, mental illness and cancer. They investigate injury and have expertise in treatment, rehabilitation and recovery. Social, biological, environmental and behavioural determinants of health are investigated to support the wellness of individuals across the lifespan. At the same time, research on systems, infrastructure, and reforms within environments like the workplace, schools and socioeconomic services are helping shape health outcomes in important ways. Combining diverse disciplinary expertise will lead to cutting-edge interventions, models and policies that improve diagnosis, healthcare delivery and outcomes, and ultimately, the quality of life

Globalization, natural resource use and distribution, economic uncertainty, population migration and changing patterns of convergence and conflict challenge the structures of societies and shape the ways we interact with each other. Researchers at SFU are considering questions of equity and justice in relation to environmental, educational, health, economic and governmental systems. Matters of social inclusion, identity, diversity and belonging are key drivers behind how individuals and groups perceive and connect with society at large. Considerations related to justice, equity and social responsibility also shape the ways we engage with communities and value their contributions. Fostering community participation in research is both a vehicle for social change and a critical source of scholarship.

Combining new tools and traditional methodologies, SFU researchers are mobilizing knowledge to understand the complexity of the social, economic and political forces that challenge global communities. Linking key questions to action drives change and builds critical capacities across sectors including education, business, government and the wider community. 

Technology impacts every aspect of our lives, at multiple scales, from nanotechnology to satellite communication. At SFU, we design and develop technologies that improve how we interact with each other, with computers and mobile devices, texts and images; how we learn, play, and perform; how we connect, integrate and adapt through space and time; how we access, store and transmit information; how we take care of ourselves and others; and how we age. The use of technology reframes old problems while providing solutions at new scales of magnitude. It can redefine innovation and create breakthrough discoveries both within organizations and the broader society.

As technology enables collaborative networks with a high order of complexity, SFU researchers can lead or participate in Big Science projects across the research spectrum and attract complementary expertise in key growth areas. Working in coordination with industry, SFU researchers cover a wide range of cutting-edge research and training programs, seamlessly integrating new research questions with technological outcomes. From discovery to applications in the real world, we leverage technology and data-intensive approaches to transform society and deliver tomorrow’s solutions. 

We are inundated with new information through various outlets, from interactions with our peers, to the limitless Internet, to our everyday experiences. Yet, how we acquire, retain, participate in, and synthesize this knowledge varies. Central to fostering human development and growth is teaching and learning, where art- and science-based approaches combine to inspire innovation and transformation.

Strengthening the connection between teaching and learning has become a critical focus of scholarship. With a responsibility to develop and disseminate knowledge, researchers continually question their approaches to teaching and learning. Reimagining the teaching-learning nexus serves as a catalyst for new practices, modes of inquiry, connection and interventions at the individual and systemic levels. Embracing novel technologies and opportunities amplifies this research to understand both the short- and long-term effects of teaching on experiential learning, alternative learning and imaginative education. Deepening our understanding of the linkages between knowledge, experience and engagement supports the development of lifelong learners and lays the foundation for conceptual and practical innovations in teaching and learning.


  1. Strengthen areas of research excellence.
  2. Seamlessly connect our research to our partners.
  3. Increase our impact on the national and international stage.

Research clusters

We have developed particular strengths that have led to the establishment of four strong research clusters. These clusters provide platforms that enable researchers to tackle large crosscutting challenges, while creating and capitalizing on distinct advantages for global leadership. 



Big data

The acceleration of data-intensive applications in fields as diverse as medicine and the humanities makes big data a top priority in the research arena, and SFU is well positioned to capitalize on this demand.


Health and technology solutions

Understanding the full context of human health and wellness—influenced by areas such as development and aging; mental health, brain health and disease; personalized medicine and drug development; demography, policy, economics, and management; the life sciences; computation and design; nanotechnology; robotics; and innovation—enables us to create technology-driven solutions to advance healthcare.


New materials and technology for sustainability

As a society we must urgently reduce greenhouse gas emissions while at the same time respond to the growing demand for energy. Facilities like 4D LABS have helped position SFU as a globally recognized leader in the development of emerging renewable, clean and energy efficient technologies, particularly in the fuel cell science and technology fields.


Community-engaged research

Community-engaged research builds on SFU’s strong tradition of engagement. It promotes principles of participation, cooperation, empowerment and knowledge translation to lift up and strengthen the capacity of SFU’s researchers and students to engage respectfully and ethically with community members.