McGill is prominent in new NCEs

BRONWYN CHESTER | More than 33 McGill researchers will soon benefit from the federal government's creation of three new Networks of Centres of Excellence that was announced last week. Over the next four years, $41 million will be invested in the Canadian Arthritis Network (CAN), the Geomatics for Informed Decisions (GEOD) Network and the Mathematics of Information Technology and Complex Systems Network (MITACS).

Electrical and computer engineering professor Peter Caines, a mathematician, is particularly proud of the fact that the MITACS submission, made a year ago last June when the federal government announced it was looking for submissions for the three new NCEs, reportedly ranked number one among the 11 finalists chosen from the initial 72 letters of intent. He credits C.D. Charalambous, a visiting professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, with initiating the project in partnership with École Polytechnique. That the $14.4 million network went to mathematics, "is a tremendous vote of support from the Centres of Excellence for mathematics in its application as a crucial part of high technology," says Caines.

Nine McGill researchers, including faculty from physiology, engineering and computer science, are involved in the pan-Canadian MITAC network which, like all NCEs, includes members from academia, industry and government.

CAN too, was a joint initiative of McGill's, this time with the University of Toronto. Surgery professor Robin Poole, the director of the Joint Diseases Laboratory at Shriners Hospital and now associate director of CAN, is elated that the network, which will involve 16 clinical research centres across the country, will fly. The project will study and develop interventions for arthritis in its entirety, from the genetic/molecular level to bio-engineering and a variety of therapeutic responses to the disease, to the question of quality of life. "The bottom line is that CAN is bringing together all the individual arthritis research efforts like never before," says Poole.

For the four million Canadians afflicted with one form or another of arthritis, this will be the first time they will "be helped by a whole network of arthritis health care providers," said Poole, who will be joined by 19 other McGill-affiliated researchers in the $14.5 million CAN.

The GEOID Network too is a project combining both technological and human concerns, this time regarding geomatics, a term, coined in Canada, meaning "the acquisition, analysis and management of spatial data from scientific, administrative, legal and technical operations." Among the four McGill researchers involved in the $12 million network are computer science professor Tim Merrett and psychology professor Tony Marley.

Merrett, a data base specialist, will be addressing the problem of rendering useful and accessible the vast quantities of information gathered by such devices as land observation satellites. The GEOID Network "gives us an opportunity to work with the applications. There are industrial partners that have problems and we will help solve them and deepen the understanding of geomatics," he says.

Marley, for his part, is concerned with how people perceive and represent spatial information. "We have a limited understanding of how the brain represents spatial information," he says, adding that such an understanding is "important to make the technology user-friendly and useful."