A prominent neuroscientist has withdrawn herself from the selection committee of the Canadian Science and Engineering Hall of Fame because the nomination process has produced no female candidates.
Judy Illes, a professor of neurology and Canada Research Chair in Neuroethics at the University of British Columbia, confirmed her departure from the committee that annually selects three inductees to the hall of fame.
Prof. Illes had asked that the committee reopen its nomination process after this year's nominees were all male. Her request was declined by the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa, which curates the hall of fame and oversees the nomination and induction process.
"We were aware of Professor Illes's concern about the lack of women being nominated and inducted into the hall of fame and we are certainly looking into ways of remedying this in the future," said Olivier Bouffard, a spokesman for the museum.
However, he added, the museum felt it would be unfair to alter the nomination process in midstream during the current round.
Established in 1991, the Canadian Science and Engineering Hall of Fame recognizes researchers in Canada who have made "exceptional contributions to the fields of science or engineering."
Currently, 11 of the hall of fame's 60 inductees are women, an imbalance that reflects the relatively low numbers of female scientists and engineers working in Canada until recent decades. But the nominations of female candidates have not been keeping up with the growing contributions of Canadian women in science and technology.
None of the current inductees were born after 1952. They include physicist Sylvia Fedoruk, a physicist and former lieutenant-governor of Saskatchewan who helped to develop radiation therapy for cancer, and Helen Sawyer Hogg, a noted astronomer at the University of Toronto who was initially not allowed access to the telescope at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory without her husband acting as her chaperone.
This year, only four men were nominated and no women.
"We all have to do better," Prof. Illes told The Globe and Mail.
Her departure comes at a challenging time for the museum, which was forced to shut its doors last fall due to a mould infestation. The museum, including the science and engineering hall of fame, is not set to reopen until 2017.
Mr. Bouffard said the museum now has an opportunity to reassess its approach to the hall of fame. Nominations are currently open for the 2016 round of inductees.
Cristina Amon, dean of the University of Toronto's school of engineering, says this year's lack of nominations should not be regarded as a sign that there are few women in Canadian science and engineering who deserve recognition.
"The reality is that those successful accomplished women are there," she said.
Dr. Amon, who also chairs the awards committee for the American Society for Mechanical Engineers, added that persistent effort is required to build both recognition and participation for women in science and engineering. This year, the University of Toronto's first-year engineering class was 30.6-per-cent female, nearly double the national average, which she attributed to a concerted outreach effort by the school.