Creation of BIRS
BIRS was the fulfillment of a remarkable effort led by the Pacific Institute of the Mathematical Sciences (PIMS) on the Canadian side and the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (Berkeley, CA) on the American side, along with the help and participation of the Mathematics of Information Technology and Complex Systems Network of Centres of Excellence (MITACS).
The inspiration came from a station nestled in the small German village of Oberwolfach in the Black Forest, the Mathematisches Forschungsinstitut (MFO) which holds weekly workshops year-round that attract the finest mathematical scientists in the world. France followed suit in the eighties by establishing a similar center at Luminy in southern France. Oberwolfach and Luminy are international treasures, but it is not hard to see that it is the European mathematical community that is the main beneficiary. It has long been a dream to have a North American counterpart, worthy of the enormous strengths of the mathematical sciences on this continent.
This is what the Banff Station was conceived to be in January 2000, by the then PIMS Director, Nassif Ghoussoub (see Directors' Notes):
"BIRS is to be a center for scientific interaction, a place where promising ideas develop, where lines of thought that appear unrelated converge. The sources of inspiration should come from many sorts of mathematics (Pure, Applied, Computational and Conceptual), different motivations (Intellectually driven or industrially motivated). People interested in similar problems will unite their potentials and join their efforts in order to work on common research projects."
Soon after in December 2000, he was to be joined by David Eisenbud, Director of MSRI, who wrote (see Directors' Notes):
"The formation of the Banff International Research Station will give many more North American mathematical scientists the opportunity to meet with peers from the US, Canada, and abroad, in a beautiful setting for intense exchange and work. All kinds of mathematics will be at home there, and I think that the Station will be a source of many new collaborations and intense partnerships, crossing national boundaries and disciplines."
The support of MSRI gave BIRS a huge boost within the American scientific community, and when Robert V. Moody accepted in 2001 to cancel his plans for an early retirement, and be the first scientific director of the Station, the successful launch of BIRS was only a matter of time.
This happened on September 24, 2001, in joint international ceremonies held simultaneously in Washington, D.C. and at the Banff Centre. Funding for BIRS was announced by Tom Brzustowski, the President of the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), Rita Colwell, the Director of the US National Science Foundation (NSF) and by Robert Church, the Chairman of the Board of the Alberta Science Research Authority (ASRA).
BIRS opened its doors to the world scientific community in March 2003 with a memorable opening ceremony attended by over 200 dignitaries including Tom Brzustowski (President, NSERC), Isabelle Blain (Director General, NSERC), Arthur Carty (President, NRC), Bob Church (Chair, ASRA), William Rundell (Director, NSF), the Hon. Victor Doerksen (Minister of Innovation and Science, Government of Alberta), Nassif Ghoussoub (Director, PIMS), David Eisenbud (Director, MSRI), Robert Moody (Scientific Director, BIRS), Arvind Gupta (Scientific Director, MITACS), David Elton (Chair, Max Bell Foundation), Jacques Hurtubise (Director, CRM), Barry McBride (Provost, UBC), Gary Kachanoski (VP Research, U. Alberta), Luc Vinet (Provost, McGill), Alan George (Dean of Mathematics, U. Waterloo), Peter Sutherland (Dean of Science, McMaster U.), Pekka Sinervo (Dean of Arts and Science, U. Toronto).
In 2006, BIRS expanded its program to 44 weeks and is now aiming for a 48 weeks program every year beginning in 2007. The decision to expand the BIRS opportunities is a result of a thorough joint multi- national review of the station held in March 2005 by NSERC, NSF, ASRA in collaboration with the new BIRS sponsor, Mexico's National Council for Science and Technology (CONACYT).