A Generation of Excellence: A History of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research.


352 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 978-0-8020-9232-8
DDC 001.406'071





Reviewed by Alex Curran

Alex Curran is a former member of both the National Advisory Board on
Science and Technology and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research
Council. He was chair of the Telecommunications Sectoral Advisory
Committee on Free Trade and the first recipien


The decade of the 1980s was critical for the scientific community in Canada. For years the community had struggled with funding that was both inadequate and unstable. There was no senior politician interested enough to become the champion of and spokesperson for the community. That changed in the early 1980s when governments accepted that science and technology were fundamental to success in the knowledge-based economy. What was needed was a demonstration that Canadian scientists could be trusted to perform, that they could work in multi-disciplined groups, and that the groups could be networked. One of the demonstrations was the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIAR), the subject of this book.


The concept grew from discussions and reports, primarily hosted by the University of Toronto, between 1978 and 1981. It was concluded that the Institute’s program must be based on subjects where Canada has a high level of expertise and a core of world-class researchers. Given that and sufficient money to cover interaction activities the study group felt that recognized experts from outside Canada could be attracted and would ensure that quality was maintained. That faith has been tested many times over the past 20 years. CIAR has passed the tests.


However oversight of such an institute is not for the faint of heart. During the first five years, the president, Dr. Fraser Mustard, lived the life of a salesperson with an interesting idea, which might be demonstrated if he had access to money but which could not attract money until the demonstration was available. For Dr. Mustard and his successors financial concerns were never-ending; in fact, in the third-five year cycle he was forced to consider closing CIAR. Only in the fourth cycle did the financial aspects stabilize.


A Generation of Excellence is a detailed history of the first 25 years of the life of CIAR. The book should be read by anyone who has an itch to persuade universities to alter their descriptions of established disciplines, or to have meaningful cross fertilization with networked academic and industrial partners. CIAR has pioneered, perhaps others will benefit from its experience.


Brown, Craig., “A Generation of Excellence: A History of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 23, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/27423.