What does Canada need to become a world science leader?

Science and Innovation

What does Canada need to become a world science leader?

A recent science policy conference discussed how the federal government can support major research facilities and transformative research programs.

By Catarina Chagas, Research Outreach and Events Specialist

November 28, 2023


A panel of five researchers host a discussion.

Dr. Cathleen Crudden shared her experience leading a NFRF-funded project and spoke about the importance of collaboration, interdisciplinarity, and supporting early career researchers.

A federal policy and funding commitment. Long-term planning. Flexibility and agility to adapt to an ever-changing environment. These are some of the recommendations that arose from a panel of research leads gathered to discuss the present and future of major research facilities in Canada during the 15th Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC2023), hosted Nov. 13-15 in Ottawa.

The 2023 conference, themed "Science and Innovation in a Time of Transformation", was attended by leaders in research, industry, and government from across the country and covered topics such as artificial intelligence, biomanufacturing, quantum research, and innovation. Queen’s, through the Vice-Principal (Research) office, was a proud sponsor of CSPC2023.

The panel on major research facilities discussed the Report of the Advisory Panel on the Federal Research Support System, launched by Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada earlier this year. Particularly, the discussion focused on research infrastructure and how to support major research facilities beyond the scope of existing programs.

Professor Emeritus and 2015 Nobel Laureate in Physics Art McDonald (Physics, Engineering Physics, and Astronomy) took part on the panel, joined by Baljit Singh (Vice-President Research, University of Saskatchewan), Marcella Berg (Assistant Professor, University of Regina), Janet E. Halliwell (Principal, J.E. Halliwell Associates, Inc.), and Kevin Fitzgibbons (Board of Directors Member, Neutrons Canada), panel chair. 

"We need a coordinated approach to major research facilities," said Dr. McDonald. "This isn’t just about extra money, but about a change in our approach to these facilities, with more government attention for short- and long-term perspectives. Working on a simple grant structure limits the ability to stay on top of cutting-edge research and maintain our status as world-class facilities – we need to be able to do long-term planning and need continual government involvement to meet our objectives."

Funding is critical to support the ongoing operation and infrastructure needs of major facilities, but panelists suggest that Canada needs to take a step further and make a policy commitment to outline a roadmap for research infrastructure investments led by a national science strategy – one that carefully considers the country’s strengths and needs.

Some of the key aspects of the suggested framework for major facilities are coordinating funding for operations and academic scientific research, training highly qualified personnel, and facilitating international collaborations.

The panel was followed by a discussion with the audience, which included several representatives of major facilities. A summary of the discussion will be shared with government stakeholders.

An audience listens to a panel presentation.

CSPC2023 featured a session on the impact of major research facilities as national assets. Professor Emeritus and Nobel Laureate Arthur McDonald was part of the panel that discussed the importance of a new policy and framework to support critical research infrastructure in Canada.

Supporting transformative research

Other panel sessions at CSPC2023 discussed different ways in which government and research community can work together to advance science in Canada. On a session about the Canada Research Coordinating Committee, Cathleen Crudden (Chemistry) shared her experience applying for and receiving a $24 million funding from Canada’s New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF). Her work on carbon nanocoatings applied to metal surfaces is poised to revolutionize industries from microchip manufacturing to aerospace design and cancer diagnostics and treatment.

"The NFRF program was really transformative for our research because it allowed us to bring together outstanding collaborators from across countries and disciplines," said Dr. Crudden. She highlighted how the NFRF program fostered interdisciplinarity, support to early career researchers, and equity, diversity, and inclusion in research teams.

When discussing which research areas should be prioritized in funding, Dr. Crudden stated that programs should always look at citizens’ interests and needs. "Taxpayer funded research must benefit taxpayers," she said. "There are many ways to do that, from fundamental research to applied sciences, adding research and leadership capacity within Canada, and creating patents that will take our research results to industries worldwide."

Federal funding for major research initiatives

In 2022, the government announced a $628 million investment through the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s (CFI) Major Science Initiatives Fund. The funding will support 19 major facilities across the country over six years, including SNOLAB and the Canadian Cancer Trials Group Operations and Statistics Centre, both affiliated with Queen’s. A new competition is expected to be launched in 2027.

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