On September 1st, Dr. Nimal Rajapakse officially became Carleton University’s new Vice-President (Research and International).
Arriving from Simon Fraser University, he brings with him a wealth of knowledge gleaned in his two decades as an academic administrator at a number of different universities.
His extensive experience in strengthening research and innovation enterprises, promoting industry, business and community engagement, and developing flagship international initiatives will serve Carleton well, particularly as it begins to ramp up its international presence, strengthen its partnerships and increase its support for new initiatives.
We asked Dr. Rajapakse, who did his postdoc here at Carleton, a few questions prior to his arrival in order to give readers a bit of an introduction.
Q – Having recently moved from British Columbia, what are you most excited about with respect to your move to Ottawa?
A – I am excited to return to Carleton for a number of reasons. First, Carleton is where I started my research in Canada as a postdoctoral fellow. I am excited by the opportunity to shape and drive the research enterprise of a comprehensive research university with excellent faculty and students. I also see an excellent executive team led by President Runte.
I am excited by the excellent research environment of Carleton and opportunities provided by Ottawa for external engagement at different levels. The opportunities offered by the tech sector, embassies, governments and NGOs are unique and we should fully exploit these.
Having lived in Winnipeg for over 16 years, I am also excited to enjoy lots of snow!
Q – Coming from Simon Fraser University, what are your initial impressions of your return to Carleton, and what major differences do you see between the two institutions?
A – I see Carleton as a very inclusive and collegial university similar to SFU. There is considerable interest in interdisciplinary research that bridges arts and social sciences with natural and applied sciences. This is also true at SFU. Neither university has a medical school. In terms of major differences, Carleton has a larger engineering/technology program while SFU is stronger on health research. Overall, SFU is little bigger than Carleton, and over the past 10 years, SFU has put considerable focus on innovation and knowledge mobilization. This is something I will continue to emphasize at Carleton.
Q – Can you describe your initial aspirations for new initiatives and future directions for the Office of the Vice-President (Research and International), and for research at Carleton in general?
A – The research enterprise is driven by faculty members and students. I am therefore very committed to creating a very strong and supportive environment for them. We will ensure that researchers have excellent infrastructure, and administrative support and opportunities for internal and external networking.
I want to engage the external community (industry, business, NGOs and community organizations) to shape and drive Carleton’s research while strongly supporting discovery-based research that is key to future innovation.
We will also develop flagship international initiatives to further strengthen Carleton’s position as a global research university. International engagement is a key priority for me to provide unique opportunities to faculty and students. I also think Carleton could be the Canadian university leader in international engagement because of our location and access to embassies, international organizations and government agencies.
I believe we could be a leader in social and technological innovation. This is a direction that governments are strongly interested in and our location provides unique opportunities to lead from the front.
I would like to see Carleton expand its footprint in health research. For example, global health and health systems research are areas that cut across social and technological innovation where Carleton could establish itself as a world leader.
I plan to meet with all academic units at Carleton to get first-hand knowledge of those who drive our research enterprise. These meetings will help me to better understand the needs and aspirations of Carleton’s research community. I will use this input to shape my research vision for Carleton.
Q – Can you tell us, in layman’s terms, what the nature of your own research is?
A – My research is concerned with the modelling of the mechanical responses of materials in certain situations, such as earthquakes or extreme temperatures.
I have studied materials that are relevant to civil, mechanical and electrical engineering, such as soils and rocks, composites, and piezoelectric sensors, to name a few.
I use computer modelling to simulate how materials behave and predict their failure under circumstances that involve high pressure or temperature, or extreme strain or force, for example. This work is often validated against physical experiments.
My move to Carleton is very exciting from the research point of view because I have a number of excellent colleagues here with whom I plan to further collaborate.