From mathematics to metaphysics: 2021 Canada Research Chairs awarded to A&S faculty

June 15, 2021 by A&S News - Sean McNeely and Chris Sasaki

Five researchers from the Faculty of Arts & Science are among the 27 University of Toronto scholars being awarded 2021 Canada Research Chairs (CRCs). The five include one new and four renewed, and come from the departments of Chemistry, Computer Science, Mathematics, Philosophy and Psychology.

“The range of research being supported is a wonderful reflection of the rich diversity of scholarship within Arts & Science, from mathematics to metaphysics,” says Melanie Woodin, dean of the Faculty. “The awards are also a confirmation of the excellence and value of each recipient’s work. Congratulations to them all.”

The Canada Research Chairs program is an initiative of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). It is the centrepiece of the federal government's national strategy to make the country a global leader in engineering and the natural sciences, health sciences, humanities, and social sciences.

New Arts & Science Canada Research Chair is:

Robert McCann  — professor, Department of Mathematics, Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Mathematics, Economics and Physics

Robert McCann.Robert McCann’s research aims to develop new mathematical tools from optimal transportation and variational calculus, to analyze key models from physics, geometry and economics. It’s goals include: understanding the structure or absence of singularities in optimal maps between given pairs of mass distributions, including those on spaces of unequal dimension; the analysis of pattern formation in non-linear, non-local models for various physical, biological and economic processes; and recasting Einstein’s theory of gravity into a non-smooth framework, which facilitates studying the limiting geometry of sequences of spacetimes and provides a new setting for exploring possible singularities among other phenomena. 

Renewed Arts & Science Canada Research Chairs are:

Aleksandar Nikolov  — assistant professor, Department of Computer Science, Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Algorithms and Private Data Analysis 

Aleksander Nikolov.The goal of Aleksandar Nikolov’s research program into the geometry of data analysis is to apply techniques from high-dimensional convex geometry and probability to fundamental problems in data analysis. One such application is private data analysis, where the goal is to develop a theory of optimal differentially private algorithms for optimization and learning. Another is near-neighbour search in high dimensions, where the goal is to develop algorithms optimal in natural restricted models of computation. The research also involves the use of geometric techniques to resolve algorithmic problems in discrepancy theory.

Elizabeth Page-Gould  — associate professor, Department of Psychology, Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Social Psychophysiology

Elizabeth Page Gould.Page-Gould's research goal has been to identify the pathways to individual and community thriving in diverse societies. Her research examines how behaviour, physiological responses and subjective experiences during social interaction — measured in both the lab and the field — intersect to shape perceptions of the social world. For her second CRC term, she will focus on understanding the factors that affect subjective perceptions of social interactions and how experiences in specific intergroup interactions accumulate in the direction of more or less prejudice, further developing her award-winning theory of intergroup contact.

Sophie Rousseaux — assistant professor, Department of Chemistry, Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Organic Chemistry

Sophie Rousseaux.Over the last century, impressive developments in transition metal-catalysis have enabled the production of molecules in our everyday lives, including medicines, plastics, and food. Our needs are now shifting towards the development of more efficient processes for their preparation, from both an environmental and economic point of view. Rousseaux’s research focuses on using earth-abundant and inexpensive nickel catalysts to efficiently prepare value-added products from abundant feedstocks. The proposed research program focus on the synthesis of pharmaceutically-relevant molecules.

Nick Stang, associate professor — Department of Philosophy, Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Metaphysics and its History 

Nicholas Stang.Metaphysics studies the most general questions about the nature of reality, but the nature of metaphysics itself has long been controversial. Eighteenth century German philosopher Immanuel Kant argued that it should be reinterpreted as the study of our experience of the world, not about the world ‘in itself.’ Through his research, Stang intends to apply these Kantian arguments to contemporary metaphysics to better understand the nature of metaphysical questions and how to answer them.