$2 million gift helps seed new ideas at SFU Science

November 03, 2022

An exceptional $2 million gift from SFU professors emeriti Claire and William Cupples will help empower researchers in the Faculty of Science at Simon Fraser University. The Cupples’ generous commitment will support the creation of the Life Science Innovation Fund, which will provide an annual award to help researchers initiate proof-of-concept research projects. They will donate $500,000 over the next five years, and leave the balance in their wills.

The Cupples hope that their gift to the Faculty of Science will help to make SFU researchers more competitive, providing the seed funding that will enable them to secure larger grants. “We’re trying to level the playing field,” Will says.

That seed funding can make a huge difference when applying for grants, Claire explains. “If you can show that the university believes in you and is investing in your research, you’re more likely to have success.”

“Providing this generous gift specifically for seed funds for new projects is very strategic,” says Angela Brooks-Wilson, Dean of Science. “I expect this gift to catalyze many new research directions for our life sciences researchers.” Michael Silverman, Associate Dean, Research agrees. “We’re very thankful for this support. This money is going to create opportunities for new ideas in Science and give us the resources to pursue those ideas.”

The Cupples worked in the Faculty of Science from 2010 to 2018, Claire as Dean of Science and professor of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, and Will as a professor in Biomedical Physiology and Kinesiology. “We found [the Faculty of Science] great,” Claire says. “The students, faculty and staff in Science were really good and I think the things we were doing for teaching and research were inspiring.”

Claire is proud of the many things she helped achieve to support research, teaching and learning as Dean of Science, including the creation of Math West, the Centre for High-Throughput Chemical Biology, the Trottier Studio and Observatory, the expansion of the Faculty of Science’s public outreach programming, and purchasing Earth Science’s big red bus.

The Cupples’ gift is nearly a decade in the making. They began to consider giving back to the Faculty of Science only a few years after starting work at SFU. As they commuted up the hill to work each day, they would think aloud about what the faculty most needed and where a donation could have the most impact.

They had each seen first-hand the challenges that researchers in comprehensive universities face in accessing the funds and equipment to support their work, and in their respective roles they were able to see the problem from both sides of the coin.

Through his work as a reviewer on grant committees for major funding agencies, Will had noticed that institutions like SFU are often at a disadvantage because they have less access than medical-doctoral universities to discretionary funds to pay for pilot studies. These studies help strengthen researchers’ applications by showing their concepts are feasible, and this makes their projects more attractive to funders.

From the faculty side, “one is always looking for pots of money to tap into for medium-sized pieces of equipment,” Claire says. “They allow people to do research and train students. It makes people competitive for grants because they can say they have access to this state-of-the-art equipment.”

The Cupples have chosen to make a similar gift to the University of Victoria, where they both met as undergraduate students, and worked from 2003 to 2010.

To anyone considering making a gift in their will towards research, Will says “go for it,” adding that they hope that others will contribute towards this endowment. They are excited that their gift will leave a legacy that will support new innovations in life sciences for many years to come.

If you would like to learn more about making a gift to the Faculty of Science, please contact Greg Weinrauch, Director of Advancement at greg_weinrauch@sfu.ca.