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Science Is Alive and Thriving at Simon Fraser University

By November 28, 2017No Comments

I was recently talking with someone who should have known better, and was taken aback when they said to me, “There’s science at SFU?”

Stifling the urge to say something snide like, “You’re kidding, right?,” I took a deep breath and replied that, yes, there is indeed science at Simon Fraser University.

Of the eight faculties at SFU, four have the word “science” in their name: Arts and Social Science, Applied Science, Health Sciences and (drum roll, please …) Science. A cursory overview of websites will tell the casual observer that social science includes the likes of Psychology and Criminology, both of which are academic departments in the Faculty of Arts and Social Science. Applied Science includes engineering, computing and their offspring, mechatronics. The Faculty of Health Sciences focuses on population and public health. Alsothe Faculty of the Environment has Forensic Science in the Archeology Department, Physical Geography in the Geography Department, fisheries and wildlife research, and so much more.

The Faculty of Science focuses on … science. Science encompassing all its aspects and all its glory: Biology, Biomedical Physiology and Kinesiology, Chemistry, Earth Science, Math, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, Physics, Statistics and Actuarial Science. These are the eight academic departments within the Faculty of Science at SFU.

Simon Fraser University has it all, soup to nuts, alpha to omega.

The SFU Faculty of Science academic programs teach to about 2,200 undergraduate majors and 600 post-baccalaureate grad students each year. Beyond those, however, the numbers of students in science classes jump to almost 4,000 because all the degree programs at SFU have at least a required course or two in the sciences.

A university education is incomplete without at least a superficial knowledge of the world around us and within us, and how to make sense of the vast amount of information with which we are inundated every day.

Universities do far more than teach. Research is also a huge component of what goes on at SFU.

In the Faculty of Science, research takes place both in the laboratories that are overseen by faculty members and in teaching labs. In both cases, students contribute a critical mass of human resources. Without students, the research enterprise at universities around the world would falter.

Research not only feeds knowledge, but it also provides an experiential learning opportunity for students, whose studies might otherwise be restricted largely to the didactic experience of the classroom.

Research also generates revenue. Of the over $65 million in funding to support research brought by SFU, over $25 million (about 40 per cent) went to the Faculty of Science.

Science research at SFU spans the full spectrum of the universe, from studies of the fundamental particles of nature to the expansive reaches of the cosmos. And everything in between.

While much of the work that goes on in SFU’s research labs is of a fundamental nature, like exploring the forces that hold atoms together, there is also applied research, such as how to make more efficient and powerful batteries. And while some say SFU is unencumbered by a Faculty of Medicine, that doesn’t mean there isn’t medical research.

Patients’ heart cells beat in dishes where treatments for common and rare but fatal heart disease can be sought. Small molecules, isolated from marine microorganisms, are screened as potential therapies for Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. The genetics of cancer were discovered, supporting efforts to design personalized treatments.

There is a researcher, fondly called “Dr. Mosquito,” whose research aims to stop the spread of insect-borne diseases. Another found the pheromones to lure and eventually eliminate bed bugs. The list goes on and on.

Last, but certainly not least, SFU outreach programs attract the next generations of scientists and science-savvy citizens. The Science-in-Action program at SFU reaches into the classrooms of Lower Mainland schools and touches the lives of more than 6,000 students each year.

Other programs aim to make physics more relevant for girls, introduce Indigenous people to the elegance of math, and open the skies to everyone through SFU’s Trottier observatory.

Undergrad students at SFU can bolster their education by practical experience through the co-op program by working in their field of study. Last year, over 500 science students added practical experience to their degree training through co-op, and put their education to work in paid jobs across the Lower Mainland and beyond.

SFU doesn’t just have a science program. It has a thriving science program that educates, discovers, informs and generates revenue. So, the next time somebody says to you, “there’s science at SFU?” — the answer is, “you better believe it.”