Trick tapped for interdisciplinary honour

Special to Western News

Western Biology professor Charles Trick will be honoured next week with the Faculty of Science’s inaugural Fallona Interdisciplinary Science Award, which recognizes innovative interdisciplinary research that positively impacts the planet.

Charles Trick had only one question on his young mind: ‘What would it be like to live under the sea?’

Assigned an annual English composition from Grade 5 through Grade 9, Trick never strayed from that single notion, although he also never repeated himself.

“The twist was I took a different perspective each year – what are the design and technical problems? Where do I get my food and air?” the Western Biology professor explained of his earliest exposure to interdisciplinary thinking. “I was a bit obsessed. It wasn’t a plan – just the way my brain worked (much to the worry of my parents no doubt). But in retrospect, I embraced many approaches.”

Next week, Trick’s career interest in those “many approaches” will be honoured with the Faculty of Science’s inaugural Fallona Interdisciplinary Science Award, which recognizes innovative interdisciplinary research that positively impacts the planet. As part of the celebration, Trick will deliver a public lecture on Dec. 2 at the Western Science Interdisciplinary Showcase.

“Obviously, no one ever chooses their research path to accumulate an award,” he continued. “But when one works on interdisciplinary projects, there is a concern the evaluators might not appreciate the breadth of your work and passion and, thus, look poorly on your choices. It is a joy the interdisciplinary aspect of work is recognized as a positive contribution to the Faculty of Science.”

Alumni siblings James Philip Fallona, BSc’58, MSc’62, and Mary Catherine Fallona, BSc’61, MSc’65, sponsored the award in the name of their family. Starting with their father, Philip, who graduated with degrees in Math and Physics in 1927, the Fallona family now boasts nine members who hold a total of 14 Western degrees. (Among the family connections to the university, James worked in the same lab under the same professor, Physics professor R.L. Allen, as his father, only three decades later.)

The idea for this award sparked out of a Homecoming 2011 encounter with current Science dean Charmaine Dean. There, James and Mary Catherine laid out their passion for interdisciplinary work and desire to recognize it broadly.

“We have always been interested in the interconnections that occur in all the different branches of science,” James Fallona said last week. “When you are doing research, it’s very easy to concentrate on one narrow field. That’s understandable. But having a mechanism for researchers, from all sorts of disciplines, to get together and exchange ideas is so important. Ideas come from all different fields.

“As we have gone along in our careers, in teaching and in research, we have lived the value of keeping in touch with more than just our own particular field. It should be that; people should have a broader opportunity to experience ideas from many fields.”

Trick’s selection recognizes a lifetime of work crossing borders. His training and primary research area is in oceanography. However, with a focus on the physical aquatic world, he has crossed numerous disciplines. Chemical, biological, physical and geological approaches have shaped his background and continue

“One cannot solve a problem within one sub-discipline,” he said. “It requires multiple perspectives.”

Prior to Western, Trick was a student and academic in microbiology, botany, marine sciences, biochemistry, environmental studies and environmental engineering. Once at Western, he has been a member of Biology (and its predecessor, Plant Sciences), as well as Microbiology & Immunology and Pathology, spanning both the Faculty of Science and Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry. He is also a member of interdisciplinary programs such as the Centre for the Environment and Sustainability and Masters of Public Health.

“No wonder my brain is twisted,” he said.

Today, Trick finds himself in his career’s “most rewarding” combination of disciplines – teaching in the Masters of Public Health program.

“At the foundation of the program is the diversity of exceptional individuals (students and colleagues) who are always sharing their perspective – and pushing me a bit to learn more, actually, pushing me a lot,” he said.