Western to showcase research milestones with heritage plaques

From the ongoing progress in human clinical trials of an HIV vaccine, to the world’s first ethical guidelines for cluster randomized trials, Western will soon showcase some of its top research moments with the creation of digitally linked historical plaques across campus.

“Celebrating significant research-related moments in Western’s history is an opportunity to tout the university’s contribution to the social, financial, medical and cultural fabric across Canada and abroad,” said Vice-President (Research) John Capone.

The campus community is invited to have their say in choosing the first two heritage plaques that will showcase some of Western’s top research moments. Just one sample of the potential plaques includes Helen Battle, who pioneered the use of fertilized fish eggs to study the effects of pollutants on aquatic life and drinking water.

The campus community is invited to have their say in choosing the first two heritage plaques that will showcase some of Western’s top research moments. Just one sample of the potential plaques includes Helen Battle, who pioneered the use of fertilized fish eggs to study the effects of pollutants on aquatic life and drinking water.

Modeled after the Freedom Trail in Boston, but with an enhanced media component, this initiative will encourage people to visit new areas on campus while learning about historical, and ongoing research contributions. The project’s accompanying digital component will allow for continued addition of material, including links to current research in related areas.

“We imagined the heritage plaques as one way we could begin to publicly acknowledge and celebrate our rich history of research excellence across disciplines at Western,” said Capone. “I see them as having great potential for engaging our campus community – and visitors, prospective students and alumni – in this history. There is a lot to be proud of.”

With strengths across disciplines, Western researchers continue to advance policy that informs government strategy, improves education outcomes and drives business practices that make industry more competitive, added Capone.

Other leading scholars in the arts and humanities and social sciences continue to help shape and understand our culture and our communities, through analysis of social and political movements, studies of media trends and through musical performance and creation of visual arts.

“It’s important to note while research and scholarship often take many forms and, as a result, success can look different depending on the discipline, we need to continue to celebrate our colleagues’ contributions,” said Capone.

As an institution, he added, Western hasn’t always done a great job of keeping track of its successes and, by nature, we often tend to be humble when it comes to telling the university’s success stories.

“But there’s no question Western’s researchers have had tremendous impact. We should continue to find ways to celebrate these contributions and make people proud to be associated with the university,” he said.

The heritage plaque initiative will see two initial ‘Western discoveries’ featured this year on bronze plaques, similar to heritage designation plaques, but with space for QR (Quick Response) code technology. This enhanced media would allow visitors use their smartphones to access websites with additional information such as collaborators, stories, videos, models or artifacts.

The campus community is being asked to help choose which two discoveries to feature on the first plaques by picking one from a traditional Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) discipline and one from a social sciences, arts and humanities-based discipline.

“Research tends to be incremental, building upon a broad history of work,” said Capone. “By linking these plaques to a digital platform, using QR codes, we have a unique opportunity to introduce people not only to historical successes, diagrams and other media, but to tie them to ongoing work in the field at Western.”

With a campus community of more than 40,000, more than 300,000 alumni and countless visitors each year, Capone added we should be proud of, and inspired by, contributions Western’s researchers have made to improve our lives over the years.

“I would also hope this project leaves a positive impression with prospective students, postdoctoral fellows and faculty members who may be considering pursuing their academic careers here,” he said.

HAVE YOUR SAY

As part of the university’s Canada 150 activities, Research Western is creating a series of digitally linked heritage plaques to celebrate a history of research excellence across campus. Two bronze plaques will be cast annually: one from a STEM discipline and one from a social sciences, arts and humanities-based discipline.

Each plaque will be affixed to a relevant building on campus and include a QR code linking to additional online media, which ties the work to current research efforts in that area at Western.

To help choose which Western discovery you’d like to see recognized first, visit uwo.ca/research/heritage.html to cast your vote. Voting closes Apr. 7 and the first two plaques will be unveiled this fall.