York space researchers gather to meet, share ideas

space group

Above, from left: Ben Quine, Gordon Shepherd, Gillian Wu and Stan Shapson at Space Research Wine & Cheese reception

Members of York’s research community gathered to share ideas for collaborative projects in space research that address 21st-century priorities at a wine and cheese reception in the Schulich Student Common on Friday. The informal meeting brought together faculty from a variety of disciplines to learn more about each other’s work and hear about the future of space research at York.

The reception was organized by the Centre for Research in Earth & Space Science (CRESS), the Office of the Dean of the Faculty of Science & Engineering, the Strategic Research Planning Group for International Studies and the Office of the Vice-President Research & Innovation. Gillian Wu, dean of the Faculty of Science & Engineering, welcomed guests and spoke of the 40 years of research that lay behind the “overnight success” of projects such as the 2007 Phoenix mission to Mars and its York-designed and prepared package of meteorological instruments (see story in the Aug. 6, 2003 issue of YFile).

rightRight: Gillian Wu and Gordon Shepherd

The purpose of the get-together, said Stan Shapson, vice-president research & innovation, was for faculty to meet colleagues and consider how the strong base of space research, that has made York famous in Canada, could be further enhanced through collaborative projects that address tomorrow’s challenges and priorities. Shapson said the gathering was intended to let scientists meet colleagues and let their instinct for discovery lead them to new areas for interdisciplinary research that would assist major initiatives such as manned space flights to Mars.

Shapson also picked up on a theme set by Gordon Shepherd, director of CRESS, who spoke of Canada’s tradition of international cooperation in space research and the role CRESS has played since 1965 in building a body of expertise at York. Shapson said York’s reputation in the field is well known across the country and noted that Marc Garneau, president of the Canadian Space Agency, mentions York more often than any other research centre in the country. “I am very proud to have been at many of those speeches,” he said.

Emcee Ben Quine, professor of physics & astronomy in the Faculty of Science & Engineering, illustrated the importance of bringing together scientists and social scientists/policy experts by sharing a recent exchange between himself, Shepherd and David Dewitt, director of the York Centre for International and Security Studies, about coming government policy initiatives that would require licensing of all satellite images and remote sensing data, a move that could seriously impact research sharing and hamper Canada’s efforts to work with other countries. Quine also alerted fellow faculty members to the existence of his testing facility for space instrumentation. “If you’ve got a space instrument you want to send up there, come and see me and we’ll help make it happen,” he said.

quine-harrisLeft: Ben Quine and Laurence Harris

Laurence Harris, psychology professor and associate director of York’s Centre for Vision Research, explained how his studies of the effects of gravity on human perception would be crucial to future long-duration space flights to Mars. “It’s not just physics,” he told his audience. “We’re also sending people into space.” He also noted that he and his fellow vision researchers have proposed new projects to the Canadian Space Agency that would look at the effects of micro-gravity on astronauts who work for months on the International Space Station.

coverIn making the case for new discussions between researchers, Shapson said interdisciplinary study is crucial to the future of space research at York in terms of attracting both talented new scientists and government funding, which puts a premium on collaborative work aimed at solving practical issues for the near future. As he spoke, researchers around the room were busy trading information about their work and generating new ideas. Noting the conversations already underway, Shapson said the reception was a simple but effective way of helping scientists initiate their own joint projects, a process his office is dedicated to facilitating.

The reception also served as the launch event for the latest brochure, right, put out by the Office of Research & Innovation featuring space research at York. The detailed four-panel publication was mailed to institutions, agencies and government departments across the country.