Category Archives: science funding

A Russia-China high technology investment fund announced

My Sept. 12, 2014 posting mentioned a proposed joint China-Russia nanotechnology investment fund which has now been realized (and changed somewhat). From a Jan. 19, 2016 news item on sputniknews.com,

Russia’s Rusnano nanotechnology company has established a $500-million joint investment fund with the Chinese Zhongrong International Trust, Rusnano CEO Anatoly Chubais said Tuesday.

The agreement between the companies was signed by Chubais and Zhongrong International Trust Chairman Fang Tao, the statement by Rusnano confirmed.

“Zhongrong is one of the largest financial institutes in the Asia-Pacific region that specializes in private equity and financing of large-scale innovative projects… Our partnership is aimed at the creation of new competitive products with the prospect of their launch both in Russia and China, as well as worldwide,” Chubais said, as quoted by Rusnano’s press center.

A Jan. 19, 2016 RUSNANO press release, which originated the news item, provides more details abut the deal and about RUSNANO (Note: A link has been removed),

At the first stage, the RUSNANO Zhongrong United Investment Fund will have $500 mln of capital under management. The Partners of the Fund, RUSNANO Group and Zhongrong Trust International Co., LTD. (Zhongrong), will provide their equity investments in equal portions and establish a joint management company.

The Fund’s investment focus will be concentrated on projects in the growth stage aimed at application, development, and transfer of high technologies (related to electric power industry (including RES), oil and gas industry, as well as microelectronics and biotechnologies) to Russia. It is envisaged that investments into the projects and project companies will be effected on the territory of Russia (not less than 70 %), China, and other countries.

RUSNANO was founded as an open joint stock company in March 2011, through reorganization of state corporation Russian Corporation of Nanotechnologies. RUSNANO is instrumental in realizing government policies for nanoindustry growth, investing in financially effective high-technology projects that guarantee the development of new manufacturing within the Russian Federation. The company invests in nanotechnology companies directly and through investment funds. Its primary investment focus is in electronics, optoelectronics and telecommunications, healthcare and biotechnology, metallurgy and metalwork, energy, mechanical engineering and instrument making, construction and industrial materials, and chemicals and petrochemicals. The Government of the Russian Federation owns 100 percent of the shares in RUSNANO.

Work to establish nanotechnology infrastructure and carry out educational programs is fulfilled by RUSNANO’s Fund for Infrastructure and Educational Programs, which was also established during the reorganization of the Russian Corporation of Nanotechnologies.

Management of the investment assets of RUSNANO are carried out by a limited liability company established in December 2013, RUSNANO Asset Management. Anatoly Chubais is chairman of its Executive Board.

Presumably, the amount is in US dollars (USD). In 2014 when I first stumbled across an English language media announcement about this fund, China was considering ways to make its own currency (Renmibis) an international standard (mentioned in the Sept. 12, 2014 posting). Of course, China’s recent stock market collapse (a Jan. 18, 2016 CNN news article by Andrew Stevens with
Jessie Jiang and Shen Lu provides more details and insight into the collapse) must have been a setback for those currency plans but it’s interesting to see China has pushed ahead with this investment fund.

#BCTECH: funding and strategy

Yesterday, Jan. 18, 2016, British Columbia’s premier, Christy Clark ,announced the second and third pillars of the #BCTECH strategy:  talent and markets [ETA Jan. 21, 2016: the announcement was made at the #BCTECH Summit, Jan. 18 – 19, 2016]. It was one of a series of announcements about the province’s interest and investment in technology under the #BCTECH banner. The first announcement (first pillar) was the $100M BC Tech Fund in December 2015. Before moving on to pillars two and three, here’s a BC Technology Industry Association (BCTIA) Dec. 8, 2015 news release about the fund,

The Province of British Columbia is creating a $100-million venture capital fund as it builds the foundation for a comprehensive technology strategy aimed at stimulating growth in the fast-moving sector, creating jobs and strengthening a diverse economy.

Premier Christy Clark today announced the new BC Tech Fund as part of the first of three economy-building pillars in the B.C. government’s multi-year #BCTECH Strategy that will drive growth and job creation in the multi-billion dollar tech sector.

“B.C.’s technology sector is consistently growing faster than the overall economy making this the perfect time to catch the wave and help smaller companies join in the ranks of economy builders,” said Premier Clark. “With this fund we’re creating a stronger foundation for B.C.’s technology sector, which is a major employer in communities across the province, to shine on the global stage while creating well-paying jobs back at home for British Columbians.”

The BC Tech Fund will help promising tech companies in B.C.’s tech sector by creating an avenue for capital funding, enabling them to take the next step towards joining the ranks of other job-creating tech companies.

The new fund will also help develop a sustainable venture capital system in the province, building on the success of the B.C. Renaissance Capital Fund (BCRCF), the province’s well developed Angel investment community, and responding to current funding needs.

Capital is one of three pillars in the forthcoming #BCTECH Strategy. This first pillar, announced today, also includes continuing to support B.C.’s competitive tax system and research environment.

The remaining two pillars, talent and markets, include actions to deepen the B.C. technology talent pool by developing and attracting the highest quality talent, and actions to make it easier to access new markets. The complete #BCTECH Strategy will be announced in January.

The BC Tech Fund will be in operation in 2016 following an open procurement process to secure a private sector fund manager to administer it. [emphasis mine] The process for identifying a fund manager begins today with a posting for a Negotiated Request for Proposal (NRFP).

B.C.’s technology sector, a key pillar of the BC Jobs Plan, is consistently growing faster than the economy overall. Its continued growth is integral to diversifying the Province’s economy, strengthening B.C.’s business landscape, and creating jobs in B.C. communities. The BC Jobs Plan builds on the strengths of B.C.’s key sectors and its educated and skilled workforce, keeping the province diverse, strong and growing.

In partnership with the BC Innovation Council, the province is hosting B.C.’s first #BCTECH Summit, Jan. 18-19, 2016, where the #BCTECH Strategy will be released in full. The summit will showcase our tech industry and offer opportunities to connect to this growing sector. To register or learn more, go to: http://bctechsummit.ca/

Quotes:

Amrik Virk, Minister of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services –

“We’ve seen phenomenal growth in the technology sector in recent years. The B.C. Tech Strategy will further increase that growth by giving early-stage companies greater access to the venture capital they need to start off their business on the right footing. The access to capital is the boost entrepreneurs need to build their companies, commercialize and create high-paying, skilled jobs.”

Teresa Wat, Minister of International Trade and Minister Responsible for Asia Pacific Strategy and Multiculturalism –

“Venture capital is a critical building block to stimulating innovative ideas in the marketplace and this new fund reflects our commitment to creating an investment environment that stimulates new economic growth.”

Shirley Bond, Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training and Responsible for Labour –

“The technology sector is one of eight key sectors identified in the BC Jobs Plan and it is a crucial job creator, supporting innovation and productivity across all industries. All British Columbians stand to benefit from the sector fulfilling its potential.”

Greg Peet, chair, Premier’s Technology Council –

“Government gained a better understanding of what was needed to support growth of the technology sector by speaking with its leaders and influencers. Putting those needs into action has resulted in a strategy that provides promising tech companies with access to the capital they need, and reaffirms government’s commitment to help researchers and innovators succeed in building world class new businesses that create high paying jobs in B.C.”

Bill Tam, president and CEO of the BC Technology Industry Association –

“B.C. is already home to an amazing technology sector, and today’s announcement provides needed support for business development and growth. Government’s venture capital investment is a great start in terms of helping companies expand, and will solidify what many already know: B.C. is the best place to grow a tech company.”

Igor Faletski, chief executive officer, co-founder, Mobify –

“Increasing access to venture capital in British Columbia will be a major boost to many growing technology companies here. At Mobify we know from personal experience how useful early stage programs like the BC Venture Acceleration Program are to startups. The $100 million investment by the B.C. government into the BC Tech Fund will help our companies grow and achieve global leadership even faster.”

Mike Woollatt, chief executive officer, Canadian Venture Capital and Private Equity Association –

“Like B.C., governments around the world recognize that being a strong partner of the venture community reaps rewards for the economy and productivity. This new venture capital fund will be a source of innovations and jobs.”

Paris Gaudet, executive director, Innovation Island –

“Working closely with tech startups delivering the Venture Acceleration Program, I know how venture capital significantly increases a company’s chance of success. That is why I’m thrilled about this announcement as it will propel growth, increase jobs in the tech sector, and expand the number of opportunities available to entrepreneurs.”

Yesterday’s (Jan. 18, 2016) announcement focused largely on the other two pillars of the #BCTECH Strategy, although remarkably few details about any of these pillars have been shared.

Technical briefing or stonewalling?

Four BC government officials were answering questions at the technical briefing but not of them wanted (or was allowed?) to be identified as a specific source for information (i.e., quoted). Since they didn’t have much information to give, it wasn’t much of a problem. Here are the names of the four BC government officials: Bobbi Plecas, Associate Deputy Minister, Corporate Inititiatives; John Jacobson, Deputy Minister, Technology, Innovation, and Citizens’ Services; Shannon Baskerville, Deputy Minister, Deputy Minister’s Office; and Bindi Sawchuk, Executive Director, Investment Capital (job titles are from the BC Government online directory as of Jan. 18, 2016).

Let’s start with the money.  Apparently, the $100M fund will be ‘evergreen’ (somehow the money that goes out will be replenished) but no real details were offered as to how that might be achieved. Perhaps they’re hoping for a ‘return on investment’? They weren’t clear. Also, this fund will be in existence for 15 years. No reason was given for the fund’s end date. The government did consult with industry and the $100M amount was considered the optimal size for the fund, not big enough to scare away private investment but enough to ensure adequate government capitalization. Apparently, the plan is to start disbursing funds in 2016 (?) but they have yet to “secure a private sector fund manager to administer it.”

The second pillar is talent. The BC government is trying to make it easier for companies to bring talent from elsewhere (immigrants) while training more people here. No mention was made of the Syrian refugees currently settling here (other jurisdictions such as the UK and Germany, in their distinctive ways, are extending a special welcome to Syrian scientists as I noted in a Dec. 22, 2015 posting). [ETA Jan. 21, 2016: Arizona State University (US) has established an education fund for Syrian refugee students who want to complete their undergraduate or graduate programmes as per a Dec. 31, 2015 posting on the 2020 Science blog.]

Back to talent and training here, the government wants to embed  computer coding into the education system for K-12 (kindergarten to grade 12). One determined reporter (Canadian Press if memory serves) attempted to find out how much this would cost. No answer was forthcoming although there were many words expended. Whether this failure was due to ignorance (disturbing!) or a reluctance to share (also disturbing!) was impossible to tell. Another reporter (Georgia Straight) asked about equipment (coding can be taught with pen and paper but hardware is better). It seems the BC school system is beginning to resemble school systems in the US where districts with parents who can afford to fundraise have an advantage over other districts. Getting back to the reporter’s question, no answer was forthcoming although the speaker was loquacious.

Another reporter asked if the government had found any jurisdictions doing anything similar regarding computer coding. It seems they did consider other jurisdictions although it was claimed that BC is the first to strike out in this direction. Oddly, no one mentioned Estonia, known in some circles as E-stonia, where the entire school system was online by the late 1990s in an initiative known as the ‘Tiger Leap Foundation’ which also supported computer coding classes in secondary school (there’s more in Tim Mansel’s May 16, 2013 article about Estonia’s then latest initiative to embed computer coding into grade school.) There was a review of various countries’ efforts in a March 31, 2012 article for the Guardian; notice what they had to say about South Korea and there’s a more recent and brief mention of the international situation in an Aug. 31, 2015 article on CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) news online.

Returning yet again to the #BCTECH Strategy, there was a question about BC teachers being able to teach coding (I think it was Canadian Press again). It doesn’t seem the government has thought that aspect through. The speaker who answered most of these questions talked about the coding camps (another initiative with trainers who have specific skill sets [?]) and also noted there would be professional days to help BC teachers figure how to teach coding in the regular classes. No details were given as to how much training and support the teachers would receive. By contrast, the Estonians trained 60 teachers before implementing the initiative.

Hopefully, BC will take notice and adopt the policy although it is  currently embroiled in a dispute with teachers which has reached Canada’s Supreme Court, from a Jan. 14, 2016 article by Ian Bailey for the Globe and Mail,

Canada’s highest court has agreed to hear an appeal in a dispute that has fuelled the volatile relationship between British Columbia teachers and the provincial government in a case that could affect labour relations across the country.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark was education minister [14 years ago] when the province first stripped the teachers’ contract.

This week’s developments come after a bitter, months-long teachers’ strike in 2014 that ended with a six-year contract that included a 7.25-per-cent raise and a $400-million fund to hire bargaining unit members to address class size and composition issues.

Despite past battles, both Mr. Iker [Jim Iker, president of the BC Teachers’ Federation] and Mr. Bernier [current B.C. Education Minister Mike Bernier] insisted there was a good relationship between teachers and the government.

Mr. Iker said teachers are working well with the Liberals on revisions to curriculum, but it was up to teachers to advocate for more funding to address student needs.

Now, the third pillar of the #BCTECH strategy, new markets. The BC government has decided it is one of the best markets for new technology. I am intrigued but not convinced that the average government bureaucrat is going to make any decisions about adopting new technologies as that requires confidence and risk-taking abilities. Looking at those four bureaucrats none of whom was to be quoted in any story about the #BCTECH Strategy that they are charged with implementing, it seems unlikely that any one of those four (or others of their ilk) would make that kind of decision. To be fair, there are reasons why you don’t want bureaucrats to jump on every new idea as these people are the guardians of public welfare and public monies. The question then becomes, how do you get bureaucrats to take some risks without going overboard? As well, bureaucratic systems are not designed for risk-taking. So the next question is, how do you redesign your bureaucratic system to encourage some risk-taking? It’s not fair to ask people to do this sort of thing if you’re not going to support them. On the plus side, they are eliminating some of the red tape. For projects under $250K, requests for proposals are just two pages.

Disappointingly, the emphasis was largely on data and computer coding. There was some talk about life sciences but no larger vision of science and culture was offered. Creativity was mentioned, which seems odd since the presentations were markedly lacking in that quality. (The presentations at the opening were well done and, at times, even I was stirred [mildly] but no creative ground was broken or even hinted at.) The #BCTECH strategy 2016 document does mention creativity (sort of) on page 25 of the print document,

Promote creative thinking as a core competency across the entire curriculum including technical and business education

As part of this move to embed computer coding classes and creativity into the curriculum, they are introducing (from page 25),

New Applied Design, Skills and Technologies education: an experiential, hands-on learning through design and creation that includes skills and concepts from Information Technology Education

The applied design is being offered from K-9 (from page 25),

Students will have the opportunity to specialize in Information Technology, Technology Education or emerging disciplines.

Interestingly, Emily Carr University of Art + Design was not present at the Tech Summit (no presentation, no keynote address, no booth, no mention in the documents). It should be noted that the Council of Canadian Academies included visual and performing arts in its State of Science and Technology in Canada, 2012 (link to full PDF report).

Hole in the strategy and final comments

Don Mattrick is well known locally as a BC technology success story and he was the Industry Chair for this summit. He is one of the province’s pioneers in the field of video games and, according to Premier Clark, he’d achieved enough financial success that by grade 11 (he was probably 16), he went out to buy a Ferrari for which he had the funds.  He was unsuccessful in his quest to purchase a Ferrari or his next quest to get a loan from the bank. Despite these setbacks, he did found one of the first video games companies in BC, which he later sold to Electronic Arts, a US games and entertainment giant.

In the early 1980s when Mattrick started out, he had very little support there wasn’t a video game industry n Canada. (Hard to believe now but games were leading/bleeding edge.) That lack of support for new, emerging fields can be seen even with this new #BCTECH strategy where Premier Clark announced very clearly that education in the new technology sectors had to be tied to jobs. Sensible but problematic. A ‘Don Mattrick’ type wouldn’t have had a job since the industry wasn’t yet established.

The truly groundbreaking, new technologies are highly disruptive and risky which Clark acknowledged and dismissed (she exhorted people not to give up) in her speech.

With an international race to ‘innovate’, all governments face the issues of disruption and risk taking. Bureaucracies are not designed to engage in those activities. To a large extent, they’ve been designed to control and minimize disruption and risk taking.

I’m sympathetic to the problem, I just wish the BC government had been more forthcoming about the issues and about the details of how they are going to implement this new strategy.

I’m also curious as to whether the government is interested in changing the ‘found a start-up company and sell to a corporate giant’ culture which reigns here in BC. That’s what Don Mattrick and a century or more’s worth of innovative BC entrepreneurs have done.

Finally, I gather Clark wants to commercialize our data further. She talked about opportunities to do that although no details were forthcoming nor was there any mention of privacy issues.

We have a national science and technology museum in Canada, don’t we? A national public consultation

Before dashing off to participate in the consultation, here’s a little background information. At this moment in time, Canada’s national museum for science and technology is a truck, ‘Museum on the go‘. There was a museum building but that was closed in Sept. 2014 due to health and safety issues. (Btw, the ‘Museum on the go’ truck is a regular summer programme which staff are presenting in difficult circumstances.)

For those unfamiliar with the setup, Canada has three interlinked science and technology museum institutions (a) Canada Aviation and Space Museum (b) Canada Agriculture and Food Museum and (c) Canada Science and Technology Museum. The other two institutions are still open.

If memory serves, 2008 was when I first heard there was a problem with the Canada Science and Technology Museum. The details escape me but it had something to do with an unsuccessful attempt to get a new building or move to a new building. Presumably they were having health and safety problems dating from 2008 at least. That’s a long to time to wait for a solution but after closing in Sept. 2014, the federal government announced funds to repair and upgrade the current museum building. From a Nov. 17, 2014 announcement on the Canada Science and Technology Museum (CSTM) website,

The Government of Canada announced today an $80.5 million investment to repair and upgrade the Canada Science and Technology Museum. The work will be completed during the next two years and the Museum will re-open in 2017.

This funding is essential to address the health and safety issues that are of immediate concern, and to support the Museum’s work promoting Canada’s long history of scientific and technological achievement.

Specifically, the funds announced today will go toward:

  • Removing the mould and replacing the Museum’s roof, which will stop leaks. A new roof will ensure that artifacts and exhibitions are no longer in danger of damage;
  • Retrofitting and upgrading the Museum’s exhibition spaces and floor space;
  • Upgrading the building’s fire-suppression systems and its seismic structural strength; and,
  • Bringing the Museum’s exterior façade up to date to match the new, modern interior. …

$80M is not a lot of money for the repairs and there is no mention of any upgrades for technology used to display exhibits e.g., VR (or virtual reality is becoming popular) or ICT (information and communications technology such as mobile applications and perhaps even webcasting facilities so people living outside the Ottawa region might have chance to attend virtually).

It seems ironic that while the Canadian federal government wants to promote science culture and innovation, it refuses to adequately fund our national showcase. Where culture is concerned, the federal government can commission a report on science culture (my Dec. 31, 2014 post: Science Culture: Where Canada Stands; an expert assessment, Part 1 of 3: Canadians are doing pretty well) but it’s not inclined to support culture as can be seen in an April 17, 2015 article by Jeff Lee for the Vancouver Sun concerning the funding for arts museums,

There is also no indication that the Stephen Harper government would be willing to contribute such a large amount for cultural projects, given that it hasn’t done so elsewhere in Canada, with only two exceptions.

Both of those fulfilled commitments made by the previous federal Liberal government. One is the now federally owned Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg, to which Ottawa contributed $100 million and then took over as the cost soared to $351 million. The other is the Royal Alberta Museum in Edmonton, first envisioned in 2003 at a cost of $200 million and now under construction at a new estimate of $340 million.

The feds, under Paul Martin, pledged $122 million — and the Harper government tried to back out of the deal. Last year [2014] it agreed to pay the remaining $92 million.

If the federal government is contributing to museum and art gallery projects, it is doing so in smaller amounts, such as $13 million for Saskatoon’s Remai Modern, once estimated to cost $55 million and now approaching $100 million. Or the $13 million for the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts’ $33-million conversion of the Erskine and American Church into the Claire and Marc Bourgie Pavilion of Quebec and Canadian Art, incorporating a concert hall.

The interest in culture seems grudging. Even for an aspect of culture, science and technology, for which the federal government has expressed some enthusiasm. They are very interested in promoting innovation (code for commercializing science research) but, although they want science culture so all those young’uns will study science, engineering, technology, and mathematics, they aren’t willing to dedicate enough money so the museum has some chance of delivering on its mandate.

So please, do participate in the public consultation. Yes, it’s very Ottawa-centric and also Ontario- and Québec-centric, which is understandable. They are dependent on the people who are most likely to visit multiple time but it’s still irritating to those of us (me) who live outside those regions to be lumped into a category of ‘everybody else’.

As to why the consultation has such a depressive quality, the drawings are gray and faded and the written descriptions are somewhat flat, I can’t tell if that’s a problem with time, depressed staff, something I have failed to imagine, or some combination.

I know that sounds uninviting but let them know you care and you want to see a dynamic Science and Technology Museum that reaches out nationally.

Finally, here’s a June 4, 2015 CSTM announcement (with a link to the consultation),

Want to learn more about plans for a renewed
Canada Science and Technology Museum? 

As a friend of the Museum, this is your chance to get a sneak peek and provide feedback on the proposed concept plan.

Renewal of the Museum is underway, with many new exhibits, programs, and a striking redesigned façade on tap for its reopening in 2017. Staff, architects, and consultants have been hard at work on a new master plan for the interior — which, we are happy to confirm, will include the Museum’s ever-popular locomotives and Crazy Kitchen.

Here’s how you can participate:

Fill out the online survey below to see early sketches and concepts, and offer your thoughts on these potential new offerings. You can participate in this national survey until June 20.

Survey link: http://cstmc-smstc.fluidsurveys.com/s/CSTM_MSTC_2017/  

Visit the Museum team at a series of Open House events
  • St. Laurent Shopping Centre in Ottawa, June 6 from 9:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and June 7 from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
  •  Canada Agriculture and Food Museum on June 13, and Canada Aviation and Space Museum on June 14 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

As the renewal project unfolds, additional opportunities for feedback on exhibitions will be shared via the Museum’s website. Stay tuned for updates!

I have filled it out and, as far as I can tell, you have to complete the survey in one session and the questions require open-ended answers (no multiple choice) .

2015 Canadian federal budget and science

Think of this post as a digest of responses to and analyses of the ‘science component’ of the Canadian federal government’s 2015 budget announcement made on April 21, 2015 by Minister of Finance, Joe Oliver. First off the mark, the Canadian Science Policy Centre (CSPC) has featured some opinions about the budget and its impact on Canadian science in an April 27, 2015 posting,

Jim Woodgett
Director, Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute of Sinai Health System

Where’s the Science Beef in Canadian Budget 2015?

Andrew Casey
President and CEO, BIOTECanada

Budget 2015: With the fiscal balance restored where to next?

Russ Roberts
Senior Vice President – Tax & Finance, CATA Alliance

Opinion on 2015 Federal Budget

Ron Freeman
CEO of Innovation Atlas Inc. and Research Infosource Inc. formerly co-publisher of RE$EARCH MONEY and co-founder of The Impact Group

Workman-Like Budget Preserves Key National Programs

Paul Davidson
President, Universities Canada

A Reality Check on Budget 2015

Dr. Kamiel Gabriel
Associate Provost of Research and Graduate Programs at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT), Science Adviser and Assistant Deputy Minister (ADM) of Research at the Ontario Ministry of Research & Innovation

The 2015 Federal Budget Targets Key Segments of Voters

I suggest starting with Woodgett’s piece as he points out something none of the others who chose to comment on the amount of money dedicated to the tricouncil funding agencies (Canadian Institutes of Health Research [CIHR], Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council [NSERC], and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council [SSHRC]) seemed to have noticed or deemed important,

The primary source of science operating funds are provided by the tricouncils, CIHR/NSERC and SSHRC, which, when indirect costs and other flow through dollars (e.g. CRCs) are included, accounts for about $2.5 billion in annual funding. There are no new dollars added to the tricouncil budgets this year (2015/16) but there is a modest $46 million to be added in 2016/17 – $15 million to CIHR and NSERC, $7.5 million to SSHRC and the rest in indirects. [emphases mine] This new money, though, is largely ear-marked for new initiatives, such as the CIHR Strategy on Patient Oriented Research ($13 million) and an anti-microbial resistant infection program ($2 million). Likewise for NSERC and SSHRC although NSERC enjoys around $16 million relief in not needing to support industrial postgraduate scholarships as this responsibility moves to MITACS with no funding loss at NSERC. Alex Usher of Higher Education Strategy Associates, estimates that, taking inflation into account, tricouncil funding will be down 9% since 2008. [emphasis mine] It is hardly surprising that funding applications to these agencies are under enormous competitive pressure. At CIHR, the last open operating grant competition yielded unprecedented low success rates of ~14% along with across-the-board budget cuts of grants that were funded of 26%. This agency is in year 1 of major program reforms and has very little wiggle-room with its frozen budget.

To be fair, there are sources other than the tricouncil for science funding although their mandate is for ‘basic’ science, more or less. Over the last few years, there’s been a greater emphasis on tricouncil funding that produces economic results and this is in line international trends.

Getting back to the CSPC’s opinions, Davidson’s piece, notes some of that additional funding,

With $1.33 billion earmarked for the Canada Foundation for Innovation [CFI], Budget 2015 marks the largest single announcement of Canadian research infrastructure funding. This is something the community prioritized, given the need for state-of-the-art equipment, labs, digital tools and high-speed technology to conduct, partner and share research results. This renewed commitment to CFI builds on the globally competitive research infrastructure that Canadians have built over the last 15 years and enables our researchers to collaborate with the very best in the world. Its benefits will be seen in universities across the country and across disciplines. Key research infrastructure investments – from digital to major science infrastructure – support the broad spectrum of university research, from theoretical and discovery to pre-competitive and applied.

The $45 million announced for TRIUMF will support the laboratory’s role in accelerating science in Canada, an important investment in discovery research.

While the news about the CFI seems to have delighted a number of observers, it should be noted (as per Woodgett’s piece) that the $1.3B is to be paid out over six years ($220M per year, more or less) and the money won’t be disbursed until the 2017/18 fiscal year. As for the $45M designated for TRIUMF (Canada’s National Laboratory for Particle and Nuclear Physics), this is exciting news for the lab which seems to have bypassed the usual channels, as it has before, to receive its funding directly from the federal government.

Another agency which seems to have received its funding directly from the federal government is the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA), From an April 22, 2015 news release,

The Council of Canadian Academies welcomes the federal government’s announcement of new funding for in-depth, authoritative, evidence-based assessments. Economic Action Plan 2015 allocated $15 million over five years [$3M per year] for the Council of Canadian Academies.

“This is welcome news for the Council and we would like to thank the Government for this commitment. Over the past 10 years the Council has worked diligently to produce high quality reports that support policy and decision-making in numerous areas,” said Janet Bax, Interim President. “We appreciate the support from Minister Holder and his predecessors, Minsters Goodyear and Rickford, for ensuring meaningful questions have been referred to the Council for assessment.” [For anyone unfamiliar with the Canadian science minister scene, Ed Holder, current Minister of State for Science and Technology, and previous Conservative government ministers, Greg Rickford and Gary Goodyear]

As of March 31st, 2015 the Council has published 31 reports on topics as diverse as business innovation, the future of Canadian policing models, and improving medicines for children. The Council has worked with over 800 expert volunteers from across Canada and abroad. These individuals have given generously of their time and as a result more than $16 million has been leveraged in volunteer support. The Council’s work has been used in many ways and had an impact on national policy agendas and strategies, research programs, and supported stakeholders and industry groups with forward looking action plans.

“On behalf of the Board of Governors I would like to extend our thanks to the Government,” said Margaret Bloodworth, Chair of the Board of Governors.  “The Board is now well positioned to consider future strategic directions for the organization and how best to further expand on the Council’s client base.”

The CCA news is one of the few item about social science funding, most observers such as Ivan Semeniuk in an April 27, 2015 article for the Globe and Mail, are largely focused on the other sciences,

Last year [2014], that funding [for the tricouncil agencies] amounted to about$2.7-billion, and this year’s budget maintains that. Because of inflation and increasing competition, that is actually a tightening of resources for rank-and-file scientists at Canada’s universities and hospitals. At the same time, those institutions are vying for a share of a $1.5-billion pot of money called the Canada First Research Excellence Fund, which the government unveiled last year and is aimed at helping push selected projects to a globally competitive level.

“This is all about creating an environment where our research community can grow,” Ed Holder, Minister of State for Science and Technology, told The Globe and Mail.

One extra bonus for science in this year’s budget is a $243.5-million commitment to secure Canada’s partnership in the Thirty Meter Telescope, a huge international observatory that is slated for construction on a Hawaiian mountain top. Given its high price-tag, many thought it unlikely that the Harper government would go for the project. In the end, the telescope likely benefited from the fact that had the Canada committed less money, most of the economic returns associated with building it would flow elsewhere.

The budget also reflects the Harper government’s preference for tying funding to partnerships with industry. A promised increase of $46-million for the granting councils next year will be largely for spurring collaborations between academic researchers and industrial partners rather than for basic research.

Whether or not science becomes an issue in the upcoming election campaign, some research advocates say the budget shows that the government’s approach to science is still too narrow. While it renews necessary commitments to research infrastructure, they fear not enough money will be left for people doing the kind of work that expands knowledge but does not always produce an immediate economic return.

An independent analysis of the 2015 budget prepared by Higher Education Strategy Associates, a Toronto based consulting firm, shows that when inflation is factored in, the money available for researchers through the granting councils has been in decline since 2009.

Canadian scientists are the not only ones feeling a pinch. Neal V. Patel’s April 27, 2015 article (originally published on Wired) on the Slate website discusses US government funding in an attempt to contextualize science research crowdfunding (Note: A link has been removed),

In the U.S., most scientific funding comes from the government, distributed in grants awarded by an assortment of federal science, health, and defense agencies. So it’s a bit disconcerting that some scientists find it necessary to fund their research the same way dudebros raise money for a potato salad. Does that migration suggest the current grant system is broken? If it is, how can we ensure that funding goes to legitimate science working toward meaningful discoveries?

On its own, the fact that scientists are seeking new sources of funding isn’t so weird. In the view of David Kaiser, a science historian at MIT, crowdfunding is simply the latest “pendulum swing” in how scientists and research institutions fund their work. Once upon a time, research at MIT and other universities was funded primarily by student tuition and private philanthropists. In 1919, however, with philanthropic investment drying up, MIT launched an ambitious plan that allowed local companies to sponsor specific labs and projects.

Critics complained the university had allowed corporate interests to dig their claws into scientific endeavors and befoul intellectual autonomy. (Sound familiar?) But once WWII began, the U.S. government became a force for funding, giving huge wartime grants to research groups nationwide. Federal patronage continued expanding in the decades after the war.

Seventy years later, that trend has reversed: As the federal budget shrinks, government investment in scientific research has reached new lows. The conventional models for federal grants, explains University of Iowa immunologist Gail Bishop, “were designed to work such that 25 to 30 percent of studies were funded. Now it’s around 10 percent.”

I’m not sure how to interpret the Canadian situation in light of other jurisdictions. It seems clear that within the Canadian context for government science funding that research funding is on a downward trend and has been going down for a few years (my June 2, 2014 posting). That said, we have another problem and that’s industrial research and development funding (my Oct. 30, 2013 posting about the 2013 OECD scorecard for science and technology; Note: the scorecard is biannual and should be issued again in 2015). Businesses don’t pay for research in Canada and it appears the Conservative and previous governments have not been successful in reversing that situation even marginally.

Canada’s federal scientists bargain for the right to present scientific results without government interference

I believe this latest bargaining round (h/t Dec. 3, 2014 news item on phys.org) between the Canadian federal government (Treasury Board) and the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC; a multi-disciplinary professional union representing 60,000 members employed by the Canadian federal government) is extraordinary. To my knowledge, no other union in this country has ever bargained for the right to present information without political interference or, more briefly, integrity. (Should you know otherwise, please let me know.)

Kathryn May in a Dec. 2, 2014 article for the Ottawa Citizen seems to have broken the news,

The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, which represents more than 15,000 scientists, researchers and engineers, is tabling a negotiating position for managing science in the “public interest” with a list of demands for Treasury Board negotiators that dramatically push the boundaries of traditional collective bargaining in the public service.

The 7,000 members of PIPSC’s large applied science and patent examination group are the first at the table with Treasury Board this week, followed by 2,300 members of the research group next week.

A document obtained by the Citizen shows the union is looking for changes to deal with the ongoing spending cuts in science and “interference” in the integrity of scientific work.

The integrity policies will ensure science is done in the public interest; information and data is shared; scientists can collaborate, seek peer review and be protected from political meddling, “intimidation,” “coercion” or pressure to alter data.

It’s hard to tell how much of this is political grandstanding but it should be noted that there has been international notice of the situation in Canada (from the news article),

About a month ago [late October or early November 2014], hundreds of scientists from around the world signed an open letter appealing to Prime Minister Stephen Harper to end the “burdensome restrictions” Canada’s scientists face in talking about their work and collaborating with international colleagues.

The letter, signed by 800 scientists from 32 countries, was drafted by the Union of Concerned Scientists, which represents U.S. scientists.

May’s article goes on to note,

The union has extensively surveyed federal scientists in recent years and issued two major reports that found scientists don’t feel they can freely speak and that spending cuts are affecting Canadians’ health, safety and environment.

A quarter of scientists surveyed said they have been asked to exclude or alter information. That request, whether explicit or implicit, came from the department, ministers’ offices or the Prime Minister’s Office. At the same time, nearly three-quarters of scientists believe policy is being compromised by political interference.

Specifically, PIPSC wants a scientific integrity policy for Treasury Board and the 40 science-based departments and agencies. The union would be consulted in the drafting and the final policy would be part of the collective agreements and made public.

The policy would touch on a range of issues and existing policies, but the key proposal is the “right to speak.” The union wants a clause guaranteeing scientists the right to express their personal views while making clear they don’t speak for government.

The other big demand is professional development, allowing scientists to attend meetings, conferences and courses to maintain their professional standards.

Do please read May’s article in its entirety (assuming the news paper continues to make it freely available) as it is riveting for anyone interested in this topic.

A Dec. 3, 2014 PIPSC news release provides more details about specific negotiating points,

The proposal being tabled would see enforceable policies negotiated that, among other things, ensure:

  • federal scientists have the right to speak;
  • reinvestment in research programs;
  • adequate national and international collaboration among scientists;
  • preservation of government science knowledge and libraries, and;
  • a guaranteed role in informing evidence-based public policy.

“It’s sad, frankly, that it’s come to this,” added Daviau [Debi Daviau, PIPSC president]. “But negotiating provisions in our collective agreements seems to be the only way to get this government’s attention and adopt meaningful, enforceable scientific integrity standards. At least this way our members would have the chance to grieve violations of standards they argue are essential to maintaining adequate public science services.”

The negotiating point (4th bullet) about libraries seems to have arisen from a specific cost-cutting exercise involving the Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans libraries mentioned in my Jan. 30,  2014 posting. (The disbursement of some priceless volumes along with standard texts appeared to have been done with all the grace and thoughtfulness one would expect from a mindless mob.)

On a related note, I attended a four-day international congress in August 2014 and was surprised by the lack of Canadian scientists at this meeting. Perhaps this is not an area (alternatives to animal testing) where we have invested much research money but it was surprising and somehow shocking that so few Canadian scientists were giving presentations; there was one scientific presentation from a group at the University of British Columbia.

The issues around scientific integrity are complex and I’m not comfortable with the notion of including the principles in a union contract. My experience is that unions can be just as repressive and reductive as any government agency. That said, I think the practice of scientific integrity in Canada needs to be addressed in some fashion and if the only means we have is a union contract then, so be it.

It may be a few weeks before I get back to the topic of scientific integrity and the right to speak as I’m still catching up from all that teaching but I hope to have a more thoughtful and complex piece on these issues written before the year’s end.

ETA Dec. 4, 2014 1245 hours (PDT), coincidentally or not the Canadian federal government announced today * a $1.5 billlion fund (over 10 years) for research (from a Dec. 4, 2014 University of British Columbia [UBC) news release),

The University of British Columbia [UBC] welcomes today’s announcement of the $1.5-billion Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF), designed to significantly enhance the capabilities and competitiveness of Canada’s post-secondary institutions, says President Arvind Gupta.

“Thanks to this investment by the Government of Canada, our universities have an extraordinary opportunity to foster globally significant research on issues that have the capacity to change people’s lives and shape our future,” said Gupta. “Excellence in research makes our reputation, and enables us to attract the best faculty, students and staff from around the world.”

UBC will be among Canada’s top universities competing for up to tens of millions of dollars annually in CFREF funding over the course of the 10-year program. These new funds could support UBC’s emerging research and innovation strategy, designed to put students at the cutting edge of knowledge, providing access to the latest discoveries and revelations, noted Gupta.

UBC is internationally recognized for research excellence in such areas as: Quantum materials; translational genomics and precision oncology; economics; neurosciences; biodiversity; bio-economics; and microbial diversity, among others.

You can read the full UBC news release here. There were a few details more to be had in a U15 Group of Canadian Research Universities Dec. 4, 2014 news release,

The U15 Group of Canadian Research Universities applauds the official launch of the Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF). Prime Minister Stephen Harper launched the Fund today, accompanied by Ed Holder, minister of state for science and technology, at an event attended by representatives from the post-secondary education sector and industry.

“Since its announcement in Budget 2014, The U15 has been looking forward to the official launch of CFREF as a significant commitment by Canada to support globally competitive research excellence,” said Dr. Feridun Hamdullahpur, chair of The U15 and president and vice-chancellor of the University of Waterloo. “This Fund will allow successful institutions to better compete on the international stage in established areas of research strength as well as new and emerging areas that will support Canada’s scientific standing and long-term economic advantage.”

Interesting timing, non?

* ‘of’ removed from sentence on Dec. 4, 2014.

Webcast of US NSF workshop for a future nanotechnology infrastructure support program

The US National Science Foundation (NSF) will be webcasting some of the Workshop for a Future Nanotechnology Infrastructure Support Program (Aug. 18 – 19, 2014) sessions live. From the NSF workshop notice (Note: Some links have been removed),

August 18, 2014 8:00 AM  to
August 18, 2014 12:00 PM
Arlington

August 19, 2014 8:00 AM  to
August 19, 2014 12:00 PM
Arlington

To broaden engagement, portions of the Workshop for a Future Nanotechnology Infrastructure Support Program will be webcast. (The approximate webcast times shown above are Eastern Daylight Time.)

The workshop will convene a panel of experts from academe, industry, and government to:

develop a vision of how a future nanotechnology infrastructure support program could be structured, and
determine the key needs for the broad user communities over the coming decade.

The workshop is a next step in NSF’s preparation for developing a program to succeed the National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network (NNIN), after having received community input in response to a recent Dear Colleague Letter (DCL 14-068).

The workshop is co-chaired by Dr. Thomas Theis (IBM Research, on assignment to the Semiconductor Research Corporation) and Dr. Mark Tuominen (University of Massachusetts, Amherst).

The final agenda will be available on this page soon. Morning sessions of the workshop will be broadcast via WebEx; afternoon breakout sessions will not be broadcast.

If you have never used WebEx before or if you want to test your computer’s compatibility with WebEx, please go to http://www.webex.com/lp/jointest/, enter the session information and click “Join”. Please feel free to contact WebEx Support if you are having trouble joining the test meeting.

Session number: 643 345 106
Session password: This session does not require a password.

The notice goes on to offer specific instructions for joining the session online or by phone.

You can view the NSF’s Dear Colleague letter here and/or go here to find the previous infrastructure program (National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network [NNIN]), which ended Feb. 28, 2014.

Alberta’s summer of 2014 nano funding and the US nano community’s talks with the House of Representatives

I have two items concerning nanotechnology and funding. The first item features Michelle Rempel, Canada’s Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification (WD) who made two funding announcements this summer (2014) affecting the Canadian nanotechnology sector and, more specifically, the province of Alberta.

A June 20, 2014 WD Canada news release announced a $1.1M award to the University of Alberta,

Today, the Honourable Michelle Rempel, Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification, announced $1.1 million to help advance leading-edge atomic computing technologies.

Federal funds will support the University of Alberta with the purchase of an ultra-high resolution scanning tunneling microscope, which will enable researchers and scientists in western Canada and abroad to analyze electron dynamics and nanostructures at an atomic level. The first of its kind in North America, the microscope has the potential to significantly transform the semiconductor industry, as research findings aid in the prototype development and technology commercialization of new ultra low-power and low-temperature computing devices and industrial applications.

This initiative is expected to further strengthen Canada’s competitive position throughout the electronics value chain, such as microelectronics, information and communications technology, and the aerospace and defence sectors. The project will also equip graduate students with a solid foundation of knowledge and hands-on experience to become highly qualified, skilled individuals in today’s workforce.

One month later, a July 21, 2014 WD news release (hosted on the Alberta Centre for Advanced Micro and Nano Products [ACAMP]) announces this award,

Today, the Honourable Michelle Rempel, Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification, announced an investment of $3.3 million toward the purchase and installation of specialized advanced manufacturing and product development equipment at the Alberta Centre for Advanced Micro Nano Technology Products (ACAMP), as well as training on the use of this new equipment for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

This support, combined with an investment of $800,000 from Alberta Innovates Technology Futures, will enable ACAMP to expand their services and provide businesses with affordable access to prototype manufacturing that is currently unavailable in western Canada. By helping SMEs accelerate the development and commercialization of innovative products, this project will help strengthen the global competitiveness of western Canadian technology companies.

Approximately 80 Alberta SMEs will benefit from this initiative, which is expected to result in the development of new product prototypes, the creation of new jobs in the field, as well as connections between SMEs and multi-national companies. This equipment will also assist ACAMP’s outreach activities across the western Canadian provinces.

I’m not entirely clear as to whether or not the June 2014 $1.1M award is considered part of the $3.3M award or if these are two different announcements. I am still waiting for answers to a June 20, 2014 query sent to Emily Goucher, Director of Communications to the Hon. Michelle Rempel,

Hi Emily!

Thank you for both the news release and the information about the embargo … happily not an issue at this point …

I noticed Robert Wolkow’s name in the release (I last posted about his work in a March 3, 2011 piece about his and his team’s entry into the Guinness Book of Records for the world’s smallest electron microscope tip (http://www.frogheart.ca/?tag=robert-wolkow) [Note: Wolkow was included in a list of quotees not included here in this July 29, 2014 posting]

I am assuming that the new microscope at the University of Alberta is specific to a different type of work than the one at UVic, which has a subatomic microscope (http://www.frogheart.ca/?p=10426)

Do I understand correctly that an STM is being purchased or is this an announcement of the funds and their intended use with no details about the STM available yet? After reading the news release closely, it looks to me like they do have a specific STM in mind but perhaps they don’t feel ready to make a purchase announcement yet?

If there is information about the STM that will be purchased I would deeply appreciate receiving it.

Thank you for your time.

As I wait, there’s more news from  the US as members of that country’s nanotechnology community testify at a second hearing before the House of Representatives. The first (a May 20, 2014 ‘National Nanotechnology Initiative’ hearing held before the Science, Space, and Technology
Subcommittee on Research and Technology) was mentioned in an May 23, 2014 posting  where I speculated about the community’s response to a smaller budget allocation (down to $1.5B in 2015 from $1.7B in 2014).

This second hearing is being held before the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade and features an appearance by James Tour from Rice University according to a July 28, 2014 news item on Azonano,

At the hearing, titled “Nanotechnology: Understanding How Small Solutions Drive Big Innovation,” Tour will discuss and provide written testimony on the future of nanotechnology and its impact on U.S. manufacturing and jobs. Tour is one of the most cited chemists in the country, and his Tour Group is a leader in patenting and bringing to market nanotechnology-based methods and materials.

Who: James Tour, Rice’s T.T. and W.F. Chao Chair in Chemistry and professor of materials science and nanoengineering and of computer science.

What: Exploring breakthrough nanotechnology opportunities.

When: 10:15 a.m. EDT Tuesday, July 29.

Where: Room 2322, Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C.

The hearing will explore the current state of nanotechnology and the direction it is headed so that members can gain a better understanding of the policy changes that may be necessary to keep up with advancements. Ultimately, the subcommittee hopes to better understand what issues will confront regulators and how to assess the challenges and opportunities of nanotechnology.

You can find a notice for this July 2014 hearing and a list of witnesses along with their statements here. As for what a second hearing might mean within the context of the US National Nanotechnology Initiative, I cannot say with any certainty. But, this is the first time in six years of writing this blog where there have been two hearings post-budget but as a passive collector of this kind of information this may be a reflection of my information collection strategies rather than a response to a smaller budget allocation. Still, it’s interesting.

Canadian government spending on science and technology is down for the fourth year in a row

It seems there a steady downward trajectory where Canadian science and technology spending is concerned. Stephen Hui in a May 28, 2014 article for the Georgia Straight, breaks the latest news from Statistics Canada (Note: A link has been removed),

The Canadian government is expected to spend less money on science and technology in 2014-15 compared to the previous fiscal year, continuing a trend that began in 2011-12. [emphasis mine]

According to Statistics Canada, federal departments and agencies are projected to record $10.3 billion (all figures in current dollars) in science and tech expenditures in 2014-15, a decrease of 5.4 percent from 2013-14.

Federal science and tech spending peaked at $12 billion in 2010-11 and has declined every year since then.

In fact, an earlier July 30, 2013 news item in Huffington Post noted a decrease in the 2013-14 budget,

The federal agency says spending for the 2013-14 fiscal year is expected to decrease 3.3 per cent from the previous period, to $10.5 billion.

It adds research and development is expected to account for two-thirds of anticipated science and technology spending.

The finding is contained in Statistics Canada’s annual survey of all federal government departments and agencies believed to be performing or funding science and technology activities.

The survey, released Tuesday [July 2013], covers the period from Sept. 10, 2012 to Jan. 11, 2013.

Statistics Canada says spending on science and technology has been steadily decreasing since 2009-10. [emphasis mine]

According to Hui’s source, the Statistics Canada’s The Daily, May 28,2014: Federal government spending on science and technology, 2014/2015, the trend started in 2011/12. I’m not sure which specific Statistics Canada publication was the source for the Huffington Post’s start date for the decline.

Interestingly, the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) Science, Technology and Industry Scoreboard 2013 dates the decline to 2001. From my Oct. 30, 2013 posting (excerpted from the scorecard),

Canada is among the few OECD countries where R&D expenditure declined between 2000 and 2011 (Figure 1). This decline was mainly due to reduced business spending on R&D. It occurred despite relatively generous public support for business R&D, primarily through tax incentives. In 2011, Canada was amongst the OECD countries with the most generous tax support for R&D and the country with the largest share of government funding for business R&D being accounted for by tax credits (Figure 2). …

If I understand this rightly, Canadian business spending on R&D has been steadily declining for more than a decade and, since 2010 or so, Canadian government spending is also steadily declining. Does anyone else see this as a problem?

The contrast with Brazil is startling. From a June 2, 2014 Institute of Physics news release (also on EurekAlert but dated as June 1, 2014),

As Brazil gets set to host the 2014 FIFA World Cup this month amid concerns about the amount of public money being used to stage the world’s largest sporting event, Physics World‘s editorial team reveals in a new special report how physicists are taking full advantage of the four-fold increase in science funding that the government has invested over the past 10 years.

Since this news comes from the physics community, the news release focuses on physics-related developments,

Negotiations are currently under way to make Brazil an associate member of the CERN particle-physics lab in Geneva, while the country is also taking a leading role in the Pierre Auger Observatory – an international project based in Argentina designed to study ultrahigh-energy cosmic rays. [emphasis mine]

Building is also under way to create a world-leading synchrotron source, Sirius and Brazil is poised to become the first non-European member of the European Southern Observatory.

Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, a physicist at the University of Campinas and scientific director at FAPESP – one of Brazil’s most important funding agencies – told Physics World that the expectation is for Brazilian scientists to take a leadership role in such large research projects “and not just watch as mere participants”.

Considering the first graduate programmes in physics did not emerge in Brazilian universities until 1960, the rise to becoming one of the leading participants in international collaborations has been a rapid one.

The reputation of Brazilian physics has grown in line with a massive increase in science funding, which rose from R$12bn (about £3bn) in 2000 to R$50bn (around £13bn) in 2011.

Brazil’s spending on R&D now accounts for 1.2% of the gross domestic product and 40% of the total funding comes from companies.

The Brazilian Physical Society has around 6000 members comprising almost all research physicists in the country, who wrote around 25 000 research articles in international science journals between 2007 and 2010.

A lack of funding in the past had forced Brazilian scientists to focus on cheaper, theoretical research, but this has now changed and there is an almost even split between theory and experiment at universities.

Yet Brazil still suffers from several long-standing problems, the most significant being the poor standard of science education in high schools. A combination of low pay and lack of recognition makes physics teaching an unpopular choice of occupation despite attempts to tackle the problem.

Even those students who do see physics as a career option end up struggling and under-prepared for the rigours of an undergraduate physics course. Vitor de Souza, an astrophysicist at the Physics Institute at São Carlos, which is part of the University of São Paulo, told Physics World that of the 120 students who start a four-year physics degree at his university, only 10-20 actually graduate.

Another problem in Brazil is a fundamental disconnect between academic research and industrial development, with universities not sure how to handle spin-off firms and companies suspicious of universities.

More broadly, physicists feel that Brazilian society does not recognize the value of science, and that this can only be overcome when the physics community becomes more ambitious and more audacious.

You can find the special issue of Physics World here (it is open access).

As I noted in this May 30, 2014 posting (and elsewhere) featuring the new Agency of Science Communication, Technology and Innovation of Argentina (ACCTINA),,

The PCST [13th International Public Communication of Science and Technology Conference] international conference takes place every two years. The 2014 PCST conference took place in Salvador, Brazil. Conferences like this would seem to confirm the comments I made in a May 20, 2014 posting,

Returning to 2014, the [World Cup {soccer}] kickoff in Brazil (if successful) symbolizes more than an international athletic competition or a technical/medical achievement, this kick-off symbolizes a technological future for Brazil and its place on the world stage (despite the protests and social unrest) .

While the science and technology community in Brazil has its concerns, I imagine most Canadian scientists would thrill to being the recipients of the funding bonanza of 1.2%  of the gross domestic product. According to the Conference Board of Canada, research and development spending in Canada was 0.8% of GDP for 2011 (from the Conference Board of Canada’s Public R&D spending webpage),

[downloaded from http://www.conferenceboard.ca/hcp/details/innovation/publicrandd.aspx]

[downloaded from http://www.conferenceboard.ca/hcp/details/innovation/publicrandd.aspx]

Did you notice, Canada the in 2011 was on the edge of getting a C grade along with the US? Meanwhile, if Brazil was listed, it would get top marks.

The question as to how much money is not enough for research and development (R&D) spending is complex and I don’t think it’s easily answered but it would be nice to see some discussion.

Competition, collaboration, and a smaller budget: the US nano community responds

Before getting to the competition, collaboration, and budget mentioned in the head for this posting, I’m supplying some background information.

Within the context of a May 20, 2014 ‘National Nanotechnology Initiative’ hearing before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Research and Technology, Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, the US General Accountability Office (GAO) presented a 22 pp. précis (PDF; titled: NANOMANUFACTURING AND U.S. COMPETITIVENESS; Challenges and Opportunities) of its 125 pp. (PDF version report titled: Nanomanufacturing: Emergence and Implications for U.S. Competitiveness, the Environment, and Human Health).

Having already commented on the full report itself in a Feb. 10, 2014 posting, I’m pointing you to Dexter Johnson’s May 21, 2014 post on his Nanoclast blog (on the IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers] website) where he discusses the précis from the perspective of someone who was consulted by the US GAO when they were writing the full report (Note: Links have been removed),

I was interviewed extensively by two GAO economists for the accompanying [full] report “Nanomanufacturing: Emergence and Implications for U.S. Competitiveness, the Environment, and Human Health,” where I shared background information on research I helped compile and write on global government funding of nanotechnology.

While I acknowledge that the experts who were consulted for this report are more likely the source for its views than I am, I was pleased to see the report reflect many of my own opinions. Most notable among these is bridging the funding gap in the middle stages of the manufacturing-innovation process, which is placed at the top of the report’s list of challenges.

While I am in agreement with much of the report’s findings, it suffers from a fundamental misconception in seeing nanotechnology’s development as a kind of race between countries. [emphases mine]

(I encourage you to read the full text of Dexter’s comments as he offers more than a simple comment about competition.)

Carrying on from this notion of a ‘nanotechnology race’, at least one publication focused on that aspect. From the May 20, 2014 article by Ryan Abbott for CourthouseNews.com,

Nanotech Could Keep U.S. Ahead of China

WASHINGTON (CN) – Four of the nation’s leading nanotechnology scientists told a U.S. House of Representatives panel Tuesday that a little tweaking could go a long way in keeping the United States ahead of China and others in the industry.

The hearing focused on the status of the National Nanotechnology Initiative, a federal program launched in 2001 for the advancement of nanotechnology.

As I noted earlier, the hearing was focused on the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) and all of its efforts. It’s quite intriguing to see what gets emphasized in media reports and, in this case, the dearth of media reports.

I have one more tidbit, the testimony from Lloyd Whitman, Interim Director of the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office and Deputy Director of the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology, National Institute of Standards and Technology. The testimony is in a May 21, 2014 news item on insurancenewsnet.com,

Testimony by Lloyd Whitman, Interim Director of the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office and Deputy Director of the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology, National Institute of Standards and Technology

Chairman Bucshon, Ranking Member Lipinski, and Members of the Committee, it is my distinct privilege to be here with you today to discuss nanotechnology and the role of the National Nanotechnology Initiative in promoting its development for the benefit of the United States.

Highlights of the National Nanotechnology Initiative

Our current Federal research and development program in nanotechnology is strong. The NNI agencies continue to further the NNI’s goals of (1) advancing nanotechnology R&D, (2) fostering nanotechnology commercialization, (3) developing and maintaining the U.S. workforce and infrastructure, and (4) supporting the responsible and safe development of nanotechnology. …

,,,

The sustained, strategic Federal investment in nanotechnology R&D combined with strong private sector investments in the commercialization of nanotechnology-enabled products has made the United States the global leader in nanotechnology. The most recent (2012) NNAP report analyzed a wide variety of sources and metrics and concluded that “… in large part as a result of the NNI the United States is today… the global leader in this exciting and economically promising field of research and technological development.” n10 A recent report on nanomanufacturing by Congress’s own Government Accountability Office (GAO) arrived at a similar conclusion, again drawing on a wide variety of sources and stakeholder inputs. n11 As discussed in the GAO report, nanomanufacturing and commercialization are key to capturing the value of Federal R&D investments for the benefit of the U.S. economy. The United States leads the world by one important measure of commercial activity in nanotechnology: According to one estimate, n12 U.S. companies invested $4.1 billion in nanotechnology R&D in 2012, far more than investments by companies in any other country.  …

There’s cognitive dissonance at work here as Dexter notes in his own way,

… somewhat ironically, the [GAO] report suggests that one of the ways forward is more international cooperation, at least in the development of international standards. And in fact, one of the report’s key sources of information, Mihail Roco, has made it clear that international cooperation in nanotechnology research is the way forward.

It seems to me that much of the testimony and at least some of the anxiety about being left behind can be traced to a decreased 2015 budget allotment for nanotechnology (mentioned here in a March 31, 2014 posting [US National Nanotechnology Initiative’s 2015 budget request shows a decrease of $200M]).

One can also infer a certain anxiety from a recent presentation by Barbara Herr Harthorn, head of UCSB’s [University of California at Santa Barbara) Center for Nanotechnology in Society (CNS). She was at a February 2014 meeting of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (mentioned in parts one and two [the more substantive description of the meeting which also features a Canadian academic from the genomics community] of my recent series on “Brains, prostheses, nanotechnology, and human enhancement”). II noted in part five of the series what seems to be a shift towards brain research as a likely beneficiary of the public engagement work accomplished under NNI auspices and, in the case of the Canadian academic, the genomics effort.

The Americans are not the only ones feeling competitive as this tweet from Richard Jones, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation at Sheffield University (UK), physicist, and author of Soft Machines, suggests,

May 18

The UK has fewer than 1% of world patents on graphene, despite it being discovered here, according to the FT –

I recall reading a report a few years back which noted that experts in China were concerned about falling behind internationally in their research efforts. These anxieties are not new, CP Snow’s book and lecture The Two Cultures (1959) also referenced concerns in the UK about scientific progress and being left behind.

Competition/collaboration is an age-old conundrum and about as ancient as anxieties of being left behind. The question now is how are we all going to resolve these issues this time?

ETA May 28, 2014: The American Institute of Physics (AIP) has produced a summary of the May 20, 2014 hearing as part of their FYI: The AIP Bulletin of Science Policy News, May 27, 2014 (no. 93).

ETA Sept. 12, 2014: My first posting about the diminished budget allocation for the US NNI was this March 31, 2014 posting.

CREATE ISOSIM (isotopes for science and medicine) and NanoMat (nanomaterials) program at the University of British Columbia (Canada)

It seems the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC; one of Canada’s ‘big three’ science national funding agencies) has a new funding program, CREATE (Collaborative Research and Training Experience) and two local (Vancouver, Canada) institutions, the University of British Columbia (UBC) and TRIUMF (Canada’s National Laboratory for Particle and Nuclear Physics) are beneficiaries to the tune of $3.3M.

Before getting the happy news, here’s a little information about this new NSERC program (from the CREATE page),

The Collaborative Research and Training Experience (CREATE) Program supports the training of teams of highly qualified students and postdoctoral fellows from Canada and abroad through the development of innovative training programs that:

  • encourage collaborative and integrative approaches, and address significant scientific challenges associated with Canada’s research priorities; and
  • facilitate the transition of new researchers from trainees to productive employees in the Canadian workforce.

These innovative programs must include the acquisition and development of important professional skills among students and postdoctoral fellows that complement their qualifications and technical skills.

In addition, these programs should encourage the following as appropriate:

  • student mobility, nationally or internationally, between individual universities and between universities and other sectors;
  • interdisciplinary research within the natural sciences and engineering (NSE), or at the interface between the NSE and health, or the social sciences and humanities. However, the main focus of the training must still lie within the NSE;
  • increased collaboration between industry and academia; and
  • for the industrial stream, an additional objective is to support improved job-readiness within the industrial sector by exposing participants to the specific challenges of this sector and training people with the skills identified by industry.

I wonder what they mean by “professional skills?” They use the phrase again in the Description,

The CREATE Program is designed to improve the mentoring and training environment for the Canadian researchers of tomorrow by improving areas such as professional skills, communication and collaboration, as well as providing experience relevant to both academic and non-academic research environments.

This program is intended for graduate students and has two streams, Industrial and International Collaboration. At this point, they have two international collaboration partners, one each in Germany and in Brazil.

There’s a subsection on the CREATE page titled Merit of the proposed training program (in my world that’s ‘criteria for assessment’),

Applicable to all applications:

  • the extent to which the program is associated with a research area of high priority to Canada and will provide a higher quality of training;
  • how the research area proposed relates to the current scientific or technical developments in the field, with references to the current literature;
  • the extent to which the research training program will facilitate the transition of the trainees to the Canadian workforce and will promote interaction of the trainees with non-academic sectors, such as private companies, industry associations, not-for-profit organizations, government departments, etc., as appropriate;
  • the description of the potential employers and a qualitative assessment of the job prospects for trainees;
  • the extent to which the program will provide opportunities for the trainees to develop professional skills;
  • the extent to which the program uses novel and interesting approaches to graduate student training in an integrated manner to provide an enriched experience for all participants;
  • the research training program’s focus and clarity of objectives, both short- and long-term; and
  • the added value that trainees will receive through their participation.

Clearly, this program is about training tomorrow’s workers and I expect CREATE is welcome in many corners. We (in Canada and elsewhere internationally) have a plethora of PhDs and nowhere for them to go. I have, of course, two provisos. First, I hope this program is not a precursor to a wholesale change in funding to a indulge a form of short-term thinking. Not every single course of study has to lead to a clearly defined job as defined by industry. Sometimes, industry doesn’t know what it needs until there’s a shortage. Second, I hope the administrators for this program support it. You (the government) can formulate all sorts of great policies but it’s the civil service that will implement your policies and if they don’t support them, you (the government) are likely to experience failure.

Here’s the CREATE funding announcement in a May 19, 2014 news item on Azonano,

Researchers studying nanomaterials and isotopes at the University of British Columbia received a $3.3 million boost in funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

Two UBC teams, led respectively by Chemistry Prof. Mark MacLachlan and Physics Prof. Reiner Kruecken, received $1.65 million each from NSERC’s Collaborative Research and Training Experience (CREATE) grants. The funding extends over a six-year period. The investment will help MacLachlan and Kruecken mentor and train graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.

A May 16, 2014 UBC news release, which originated the news item, provides more information including some background for the two project leaders,

Mark MacLachlan, Professor, UBC Department of Chemistry
NanoMAT: NSERC CREATE Training Program in Nanomaterials Science & Technology

Nanomaterials have dimensions about 1/1000th the width of a human hair. Though invisible to our eyes, these materials are already used for diagnosing and treating diseases, environmental remediation, developing solar cells and batteries, as well as other applications. Nanomaterials form a multi-billion dollar industry that is expanding rapidly. To address the growing need for highly qualified trainees in Canada, UBC researchers have spearheaded the NanoMat program. Through a unique interdisciplinary training program, science and engineering students will undertake innovative research projects, receive hands-on training, and undertake internships at companies in Canada and across the world.

Reiner Kruecken, Professor, UBC Department of Physics and Astronomy
ISOSIM, ISOtopes for Science and Medicine

The ISOSIM program is designed to provide students with enriched training experiences in the production and preparation of nuclear isotopes for innovative applications that range from medical research and environmental science to investigations of the foundations of the universe. This will prepare students for positions in a number of Canadian industrial sectors including medical diagnostics and treatment, pharmaceutical sciences, development of next-generation electronic devices, environmental sciences, and isotope production. This project builds on the existing cooperation between UBC and TRIUMF, Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear phsyics, [sic] on isotopes science.

Not mentioned in the UBC news release is that ISOSIM is a program that is jointly run with TRIUMF, Canada’s National Laboratory for Particle and Nuclear Physics. Here’s how TRIUMF views their CREATE grant, from a May 16, 2014 TRIUMF news release,

The ISOSIM program will train undergraduate students, graduate students, and postdoctoral researchers at UBC and TRIUMF from fields associated with isotope sciences in an individually tailored, interdisciplinary curriculum that will build on and complement the education in their specialty field. Unique in Canada, this program offers a combination of interdisciplinary isotope-related training ranging from pure to applied sciences, industrial internships, and mobility with German research institutions with unique large-scale equipment and scientific infrastructures.

It seems this particular grant was awarded as part of the international collaboration stream. (I wonder if TRIUMF or TRIUMF-friendly individuals had a role in developing that particular aspect of the CREATE program. Following on that thought, is there a large Canadian science organization with ties to Brazil?)

Getting back to TRIUMF’s current CREATE grant, the news release emphasizes an industrial focus,

“ISOSIM represents a timely and nationally important training initiative and is built on a world-class collaborative research environment,” says Dr. Reiner Kruecken, TRIUMF’s Science Division Head and Professor at UBC Department of Physics and Astronomy. Kruecken is leading the ISOSIM initiative and is joined by over twenty collaborators from UBC, TRIUMF, and several research institutes in Germany.

ISOSIM is poised to create the next generation of leaders for isotope-related industries and markets, including commercial, public health, environmental, and governmental sectors, as well as academia. The combination of research institutions like UBC, TRIUMF, and the BC Cancer Agency with Canadian companies like Nordion Inc., and Advanced Cyclotron Solutions Inc., have transformed Vancouver into a hub for isotope-related research and industries, emerging as “Isotope Valley”.

The inspiration for the ISOSIM program came from an interdisciplinary TRIUMF-led team who, in response to the isotope crisis, demonstrated non-reactor methods for producing the critical medical isotope Tc-99m. This required a coordinated approach of physicists, chemists, biologists, and engineers.

Similar interdisciplinary efforts are needed for expanding the use and application of isotopes in key areas. While their medical use is widely known, isotopes enjoy growing importance in many fields. Isotopes are used as tracers to examine the trace flow of nutrients and pollutants in the environment. Isotopes are also used to characterize newly designed materials and the behaviour of nanostructured materials that play a key role in modern electronics devices. The production and investigation of very short-lived radioactive isotopes, also known as rare-isotopes, is a central approach in nuclear physics research to understand the nuclear force and how the chemical elements heavier than iron were formed in stars and stellar explosions.

I really wish they (marketing/communications and/or business people) would stop trying to reference ‘silicon valley’ as per this news release’s ‘isotope valley’. Why not ‘isotope galaxy’? It fits better with the isotope and star theme.

Getting back to the “professional skills” mentioned in the CREATE grant description, I don’t see any mention of etiquette, good manners, listening skills, or the quality of humility, all of which are handy in the workplace and having had my share of experience dealing with fresh out-of-graduate-school employees, I’d say they’re sorely needed.

Regardless, I wish both MacLachlan and Krueken the best as they and their students pioneer what I believe is a new NSERC program.