Rewarding interdisciplinary excellence with York’s first Steacie

York University Professor Doug Crawford, Canada Research Chair in Visual Motor Neuroscience, received the Steacie Prize in the Natural Sciences for his outstanding contributions to the field of neuroscience and vision research at a ceremony held at York’s Keele campus yesterday. The presentation of the prize, given to a top scientist up to 40 years old, was held at 2:30pm in Founders College.

Right: Doug Crawford at yesterday’s presentation

In accepting the prize, Crawford spoke eloquently about the influences driving his research. “Human beings are very visual animals. Most of the brain is involved in how we move through the world. Illnesses affecting the brain make up the single greatest cost to the Canadian taxpayer through healthcare costs, loss of work and loss of quality of life,” said Crawford. “York’s Centre for Vision Research is the premier multidisciplinary centre in this area in the world. York University has been fantastic is supporting this kind of interdisciplinary research. I can’t see that I would be as successful as I am today working at any other university in Canada. The award represents the kind of cross-faculty support that is unique here at York University.”

He dedicated the prize to his young son and to his mentor Dr. Tutis Vilis at the University of Western Ontario. Crawford’s son suffers from some of the medical problems studied in his lab at York. Crawford’s mentor, who was recently left partially blind and paralysed following emergency surgery to treat a life-threatening condition, is now coping with the vision and movement challenges studied by Crawford. “They are why we do the kind of research we do in our lab,” he said. “I dedicate this award to them.”

Left: Crawford (centre front) and the student researchers who work in his lab

The Steacie Prize in the Natural Sciences is one of the most prestigious research prizes in Canada. Crawford’s award represents a first for York University. Crawford, a neuroscientist, is a scientist working in the Department of Psychology in the Faculty of Arts. In a unique example of York’s interdisciplinary strength, the nomination of Crawford for the Steacie Prize was developed by Dean Gillian Wu of York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering in conjunction with the Faculty of Arts.

“The Faculty of Science & Engineering is particularly proud to have nominated Professor Crawford for this award,” said Wu. “Professor Crawford studies how the brain transforms what it sees into what it should do, what it wants to do and what it does. He made a fundamental discovery that set down an established theory that was in existence for a long time by the way he designed his experiments.”

Right: From left, Professor Doug Crawford; Professor John Tsotsos, director of York’s Centre for Vision Research; Dean Gillian Wu; Dean Robert Drummond; President & Vice-Chancellor Lorna R. Marsden; Stan Shapson, vice-president Research & Innovation; Dr. Bob McKellar, Steacie Foundation

Crawford, a member of the University’s pioneering Centre for Vision Research, released a groundbreaking study in 2004 aimed at assisting stroke and head injury victims to rehabilitate their sight. For the first time, Crawford and his associates used measurements of eye and head movements, computer simulations and brain recordings to determine how we use vision to guide our movements.

The Steacie Prize is a national award of $15,000 presented once a year to the country’s outstanding young scientist or engineer for outstanding scientific research carried out in Canada. The winner is selected by a distinguished panel appointed annually by the E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fund, a private foundation dedicated to the advancement of science and engineering in Canada.

The Steacie Prize is named to honour the memory of Edgar William Richard Steacie, a physical chemist and former President of the National Research Council of Canada. It is supported from the income of the E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fund, which was established in 1963 through contributions from several hundred friends, associates and former colleagues of Steacie.

In his position as president of the National Research Council of Canada, Steacie did much to encourage young people in whom he had a special interest and for whose research he tried to arrange optimum circumstances.

Left: From left: Bob McKellar, Doug Crawford, Lorna R. Marsden

The Steacie Prize is awarded to a person, 40 years of age or less, who has made notable contributions to research in Canada. Dr. Bob McKellar, secretary of the Steacie Foundation presented the prize to Crawford.

“There is a terrfic excitement in the air,” said Stan Shapson, vice-president research & innovation. “This is a fantastic achievement for Professor Crawford and for York University. What is always apparent is that graduate students have a tremendous presence in Professor Crawford’s lab and their work is displayed on the walls and this is a tremendous accomplishment for them as well.”

Don Black, deputy minister, Ministry of Economic Development and Trade, represented the provincial government at the ceremony. “Professor Crawford’s award represents the type of technology and the quality of work that the province of Ontario is known for,” said Black. “This is where Ontario is at the leading edge on the world stage.”

Crawford will deliver a lecture about his research work at the Steacie Institute for Molecular Sciences in Ottawa. He will make his presentation in Ottawa on Friday June 3, 2005.