SFU professor Nathalie Sinclair has been named a member of the Royal Society of Canada College, while professors John Harriss (l) and Nick Blomley are the latest (2017) RSC Fellows.

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SFU faculty trio named to Royal Society of Canada Fellowship, College

September 12, 2017
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By Marianne Meadahl

Two SFU faculty members are among the class of 2017 Royal Society of Canada (RSC) Fellows, while another has been named to the RSC College.

Professors Nick Blomley and John Harriss—both researchers who have made a profound impact on how we view the world around us—are among the society’s latest class of fellows. Education professor Nathalie Sinclair joins the prestigious college.

The RSC fellowship is Canada’s highest academic honour in the arts, humanities and sciences. It is bestowed on Canadian scholars, artists and scientists who have been peer-elected as being among the best in their fields. 

The college is Canada’s first national system of multidisciplinary recognition for the emerging generation of intellectual leadership. Members are Canadians who, at an early age in their careers, have demonstrated a high level of achievement.

The trio will be recognized at official ceremonies in November.

“Professors Blomley and Harriss have been ahead of their time, anticipating new areas of inquiry that have improved our understanding of the complex relations that underlie pressing social issues,” says Joy Johnson, SFU vice-president, Research and International.

"Nathalie works across several fields, and actively communicates with diverse groups to ensure that research findings and learning tools are fully explored and applied. Her creativity and leadership will be a valuable asset to the Royal Society community."

“These researchers embody SFU’s spirit of innovative thinking to support positive change at home and abroad. We will celebrate as they take their rightful place among Canada’s intellectual leaders this fall.”

NICK BLOMLEY

Blomley, a geography professor whose career spans more than 30 years, is among founders of the interdisciplinary field of legal geography. His research has transformed how we conceive of law as it relates to property—those places and spaces in which we live. 

“As a social scientist, I’ve always been attracted to how we are shaped by places around us,” says Blomley, who settled in Vancouver as a young researcher and has focused much of his attention on the city and region. 

“Land is a fundamental resource, essential to life, identity, culture and freedom, and is regulated through property—a set of state-enforced relations between people in regards to land.

"Such relations rest on and enforce systems of power, shaping the ways in which we occupy and create place, including in cities such as Vancouver."

Blomley says among Vancouver's biggest challenges are the private rental housing market and issues surrounding unceded land. “The land we occupy, use, share and defend, and the property relations we organize to govern land, are of crucial importance to Canada’s very existence as a settler state.

 “The challenges Canadians face, such as homelessness, or gentrification, require an attention to property, land and power.”

VIDEO: https://youtu.be/aXCebv6nzhQ

JOHN HARRISS

Harriss, a professor of international studies, is a leading authority on the politics of development and has spent much of the past 40 years focusing on India.

As a young researcher and traveler, he was fascinated by what changes in agriculture meant both economically and politically for India. 

“Initially I was driven by concerns about agricultural productivity and food supply and about persistent poverty, and these led me into the study of class relations and politics,” says Harriss. “I've wanted to contribute to progressive social change, or to what Amartya Sen refers to as 'development as freedom,' and I’ve tried to do this in working with Indian scholars and activists.”

Harriss’s more recent research has focused on exploring the relationships of the political elite and the business elite. He has been invited to speak before select committees of the House of Commons to share his wealth of knowledge on India’s economy, society and politics.

“It’s important to Canada to have a deep understanding of India, a country that has become a very important player in international economy and politics,” he says.

Harriss’s research has not only led to a better understanding of contemporary India, but explains in a larger context how social relationships and politics influence economic development.

Blomley and Harriss join a growing roster of more than 2,000 RSC Fellows—including 32 distinguished SFU faculty members who have previously been inducted into the RSC Fellowship.

VIDEO: https://youtu.be/ix5xY58rxYA

NATHALIE SINCLAIR

Sinclair, who holds a Canada Research Chair in Tangible Mathematics Learning, is transforming how teachers and learners approach mathematics.

Fascinated by the potential of technology to bring mathematics to “vibrant life,” Sinclair has developed several classroom tools, including TouchCounts, a free app that engages children in exploring mathematical concepts through touch, sight and sound.

The app has been downloaded more than 80,000 times across 10 countries, and is being translated into six languages, including two First Nations languages.

Sinclair has a passion for how digital technologies, and dynamic geometry software in particular, change the way people “think, move and feel” mathematically. 

“Developing high-quality mathematics learning applications that are available to all young learners and their teachers, in English and French, can play a key role in enhancing mathematical understanding in young Canadians,” she says.

“My hope is that we get more kids thinking and feeling more confident about mathematics,” says Sinclair, who earlier this year was named Canada’s 2017 Mathematics Ambassador by Partners in Research (PiR). The award recognizes her longstanding contributions to, and promotion of, mathematics.

“Canada is committed to becoming a leader in science and technology, and mathematical understanding is critical to scientific and technological understanding,” says Sinclair.

Sinclair’s own experience with technology’s role in mathematics learning helped shape her research direction. After undergoing brain surgery a decade ago Sinclair was unable to interpret letters. Critical to her recovery was the use of tactile gestures and tracing shapes, which led her to co-develop TouchCounts with Nicholas Jackiw. Her research shows the app can play a role in developing young children’s fluency in counting and adding.

Sinclair’s research has also sparked collaborations in the U.S., the U.K., Israel, Australia and Italy, where she has been named a visiting professor at La Sapienza University in Rome. She is also the founding editor of the new journal Digital Experiences in Mathematics Education.

VIDEO: https://youtu.be/BRJ7IeU914k