Tag Archives: NRC

Gary Goodyear rouses passions: more on Canada’s National Research Council and its new commitment to business

Gary Goodyear’s, Minister of State (Science and Technology), office in attempting to set the record straight has, inadvertently, roused even more passion in Phil Plait’s (Slate.com blogger) bosom and inspired me to examine more commentary about the situation regarding the NRC and its ‘new’ commitment to business.

Phil Plait in a May 22, 2013 followup to one 0f his recent postings (I have the details about Plait’s and other commentaries in my May 13, 2013 posting about the NRC’s recent declarations) responds to an email from Michele-Jamali Paquette, the director of communication for Goodyear (Note: A link has been removed),

I read the transcripts, and assuming they are accurate, let me be very clear: Yes, the literal word-for-word quotation I used was incorrect, and one point I made was technically and superficially in error. But the overall point—that this is a terrible move by the NRC and the conservative Canadian government, short-changing real science—still stands. And, in my opinion, Goodyear’s office is simply trying to spin what has become a PR problem.

I’ll note that in her email to me, Paquette quoted my own statement:

John MacDougal [sic], President of the NRC, literally said, “Scientific discovery is not valuable unless it has commercial value”

Paquette took exception to my use of the word “literally,” emphasizing it in her email. (The link, in both her email and my original post, goes to the Toronto Sun story with the garbled quotation.) Apparently MacDougal did not literally say that. But the objection strikes me as political spin since the meaning of what MacDougal said at the press conference is just as I said it was in my original post.

As I pointed out in my first post: Science can and should be done for its own sake. It pays off in the end, but that’s not why we do it. To wit …

Paquette’s choice of what issues (the 2nd issue was Plait’s original description of the NRC as a funding agency) to dispute seem odd and picayune as they don’t have an impact on Plait’s main argument,

Unfortunately, despite these errors, the overall meaning remains the same: The NRC is moving away from basic science to support business better, and the statements by both Goodyear and MacDougal [sic] are cause for concern.

Plait goes on to restate his argument and provide a roundup of commentaries. It’s well worth reading for the roundup alone.  (One picayune comment from me, I wish Plait would notice that the head of Canada’s National Research Council’s name is spelled this way, John McDougall.)

Happily, Nassif Ghoussoub has also chimed in with a May 22, 2013 posting (on his Piece of Mind blog) regarding the online discussion (Note: Links have been removed),

The Canadian twitter world has been split in the last couple of days. … But then, you have the story of the Tories’ problem with science, be it defunding, muzzling, disbelieving, doubting, preventing, delegitimizing etc. The latter must have restarted with the incredible announcement about the National Research Council (NRC), presented as “Canada sells out science” in Slate, and as “Failure doesn’t come cheap” in Maclean’s. What went unnoticed was the fact that the restructuring turned out to be totally orthogonal to the recommendations of the Jenkins report about the NRC. Then came the latest Science, Technology and Innovation Council (STIC) report, which showed that Canada’s expenditure on research and development has fallen from 16th out of 41 comparable countries in the year Stephen Harper became prime minister, to 23rd in 2011. Paul Wells seems to be racking up hits on his Maclean’s article,  “Stephen Harper and the knowledge economy: perfect strangers.”  But the story of the last 48 hours has been John Dupuis’s chronology of what he calls, “The Canadian war on science” and much more.

Yes, it’s another roundup but it’s complementary (albeit with one or two repetitions) since Plait does not seem all that familiar with the Canadian scene (I find it’s always valuable to have an outside perspective) and Nassif is a longtime insider.

John Dupuis’ May 20, 2013 posting (on his Confessions of a Science Librarian blog), mentioned by both Nassif and Plait, provides an extraordinary listing of stories ranging from 2006 through to 2013 whose headlines alone paint a very bleak picture of the practice of science in Canada,

As is occasionally my habit, I have pulled together a chronology of sorts. It is a chronology of all the various cuts, insults, muzzlings and cancellations that I’ve been able to dig up. Each of them represents a single shot in the Canadian Conservative war on science. It should be noted that not every item in this chronology, if taken in isolation, is necessarily the end of the world. It’s the accumulated evidence that is so damning.

As I’ve noted before, I am no friend of Stephen Harper and his Conservative government and many of their actions have been reprehensible and, at times, seem childishly spiteful but they do occasionally get something right. There was a serious infrastructure problem in Canada. Buildings dedicated to the pursuit of science were sadly aged and no longer appropriate for the use to which they were being put. Harper and his government have poured money into rebuilding infrastructure and for that they should be acknowledged.

As for what the Conservatives are attempting with this shift in direction for the National Research Council (NRC), which has been ongoing for at least two years as I noted in my May 13, 2013 posting, I believe they are attempting to rebalance the Canadian research enterprise.  It’s generally agreed that Canada historically has very poor levels of industrial research and development (R&D) and high levels of industrial R&D are considered, internationally, as key to a successful economy. (Richard Jones, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation at the University of Sheffield, UK, discusses how a falling percentage of industrial R&D, taking place over decades,  is affecting the UK economy in a May 10, 2013 commentary on the University of  Sheffield SPERI [Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute] website.)

This NRC redirection when taken in conjunction with the recent StartUp visa programme (my May 20, 2013 posting discusses Minister of Immigration Jason Kenney’s recent recruitment tour in San Francisco [Silicon Valley]),  is designed to take Canada and Canadians into uncharted territory—the much desired place where we develop a viable industrial R&D sector and an innovative economy in action.

In having reviewed at least some of the commentary, there are a couple of questions left unasked about this international obsession with industrial R&D,

  • is a country’s economic health truly tied to industrial R&D or is this ‘received’ wisdom?
  • if industrial R&D is the key to economic health, what would be the best balance between it and the practice of basic science?

As for the Canadian situation, what might be some of the unintended consequences? It occurs to me that if scientists are rewarded for turning their research into commercially viable products they might be inclined to constrain access to materials. Understandable if the enterprise is purely private but the NRC redirection is aimed at bringing together academics and private enterprise in a scheme that seems a weird amalgam of both.

For example, cellulose nanocrystals (CNC) are not easily accessed if you’re a run-of-the-mill entrepreneur. I’ve had more than one back-channel request about how to purchase the material and it would seem that access is tightly controlled by the academics and publicly funded enterprise, in this case, a private business, who produce the material. (I’m speaking of the FPInnovations and Domtar comingling in CelluForce, a CNC production facility and much more. It would make a fascinating case study on how public monies are used to help finance private enterprises and their R&D efforts; the relationship between nongovernmental agencies (FPInnovations, which I believe was an NRC spinoff), various federal public funding agencies, and Domtar, a private enterprise; and the power dynamics between all the players including the lowly entrepreneur.

What kind of science do we want? A few thoughts on the National Research Council of Canada and its new dedication to business

Last week in its May 7, 2013 news release, the National Research Council of Canada flung open the doors of its closet and declared itself ‘open for business’,

The National Research Council of Canada (NRC) has transformed into an industry-focused research and technology organization. The refocused NRC will work with Canadian industries to bridge technology gaps, helping build a more innovative Canadian economy.

“NRC plays a pivotal role at the heart of Canada’s innovation system,” said the Honourable Gary Goodyear, Minister of State (Science and Technology). “The refocused NRC will provide Canadian industries with access to strategic research and development, technical services and specialized scientific infrastructure they need to succeed.”

“The Government’s top priority is jobs, growth and long-term prosperity for all Canadians,” said the Honourable Claude Carignan, Deputy Leader of the Government at the Senate. “By refocusing the NRC into a research and technology organization, our Government is ensuring that Canadian firms have the instruments and tools they need to become even more successful on the global stage.”

The refocused NRC will support Canadian industries by investing in large-scale research projects that are directed by and for Canadian business. It will also develop international networks to ensure timely access to primary research and will open the doors to world class scientific infrastructure, technical expertise and people.

“We are very excited about this change. Our organization is now easier for business to understand and access,” said John R. McDougall, President of the National Research Council. “We are committed to being a strong partner for innovation, and focused on achieving the concrete outcomes that will contribute to a stronger and more prosperous Canada. We will measure our success by the success of our clients.”

Research and technology organizations are mission-oriented providers of innovation services to firms and governments, dedicated to building economic competitiveness and, in doing so, improving quality of life. The refocused NRC will strengthen Canadian industry by encouraging more business investment to develop innovative products and services.

Response has ranged from mild interest to apoplexy and heartbreak.

Phil Plait, a US astronomer and creator of the Bad Astronomy blog/book/website, has opined in a May 13, 2013 posting at Slate.com (Note: A link has been removed),

This is not a joke. I wish it were.

John MacDougal [sic], President of the NRC, literally said, “Scientific discovery is not valuable unless it has commercial value”. Gary Goodyear, the Canadian Minister of State for Science and Technology, also stated “There is [sic] only two reasons why we do science and technology. First is to create knowledge … second is to use that knowledge for social and economic benefit. Unfortunately, all too often the knowledge gained is opportunity lost.”

This is monumentally backwards thinking. That is not the reason we do science. Economic benefits are results of doing research, but should not be the reason we do it. Basic scientific research is a vast endeavor, and some of it will pay off economically, and some won’t. In almost every case, you cannot know in advance which will do which.

… If proposed and immediate economic benefits are the prime factors in choosing what science to fund, then the freedom of this human endeavor will be critically curtailed. It’s draining the passion and heart out of one of the best things we humans do.

This intensity suggests that Plait is unaware that the changeover has been taking place over a number of years. Hannah Hoag in an April 19, 2011 piece for Nature magazine noted this about the changeover which was even then taking place,

Canada’s largest research entity has a new focus — and some disaffected scientists. On 1 April [2011], the National Research Council (NRC), made up of more than 20 institutes and programmes with a total annual budget larger than Can$1 billion (US$1 billion), switched to a funding strategy that downplays basic research in favour of programmes designed to attract industry partners and generate revenue. [emphasis mine] Some researchers suggest that the shift is politically driven, because it brings the agency into philosophical alignment with the governing Conservative Party of Canada, which is in the middle of an election campaign.

The change was announced in a memo from NRC president John McDougall on 2 March [2011], and involves the transfer of authority over 20% of the agency’s research funds and the entire Can$60-million budget for large equipment and building costs to the NRC’s senior executive committee, which will direct it towards research with a focus on economic development, rather than pure science. Until now, individual institutes have had authority over research spending. McDougall wrote that in future, 80% of the research budget will be centralized, with “curiosity and exploratory activities” to be funded by the remaining 20%.

In Canada, most funding for academic researchers flows through agencies other than the NRC. [emphasis mine] However, with 4,700 scientists, guest researchers, technologists and support staff pursuing specialities from astrophysics to plant biotechnology at its institutes, the NRC plays a vital part in the nation’s scientific community, as a generator of original research and a service provider to government and industry.

While I’m no friend of the current Canadian government or John McDougall for that matter, this is an attempt to dealt with a longstanding issue, Canada’s failure with industrial research. From the Feb. 27, 2013 article, which prefigures the current discussion by a little over two months, by Tom Spears  in the Ottawa Citizen,

In October [2012], members of the House of Commons Industry Committee challenged McDougall to justify the changes.

Now McDougall has responded that Canada’s economy can’t wait for slow advances.

As science investment has grown in Canada, “our productivity and competitiveness, as measured by various organizations in the world, has been going in exactly the opposite direction,” he said in an interview.

“The primary reason for that is entirely speculative … But it would appear that Canada’s balance is quite different from other countries.”

That means we’re good at academic research, he says. We’re not so good at putting new knowledge to work.

“We’re not doing the things that take technology and ‘productize’ it.” (He makes exceptions to that: We’re strong in informational technology and in space-related industries such as robotics and building satellites.)

And he argues the answer lies in involving industry with the research from the start “rather than shoving it down their throat and hoping they’ll take it.”

For example, one new “flagship program” at NRC is to develop wheat that will resist cold and drought better than today’s, require less fertilizer, and produce greater yields.

“The timeline for this kind of thing is in the order of seven or eight years, which left to normal — I’ll call it traditional approaches — would typically be 20,” he said.

A similar ‘Canada is poor at commercializing research’ theme is mentioned in a May 7, 2013 article by Barrie McKenna and Ivan Semeniuk for the Globe and Mail,

The National Research Council, which gave the country canola and the atomic clock, will now be taking its scientific cues from Canadian industry as part of a makeover of the country’s flagship research labs.

The overhaul, quietly begun two years ago and formally unveiled Tuesday, means the 97-year-old NRC will focus on a clutch of large-scale, business-driven research projects at the expense of the basic science that was once at its core. The Conservative government says it wants to leverage the NRC’s world-class resources – everything from wind tunnels and ice tanks to high-powered microscopes – to help reverse the country’s chronically lagging innovation performance.

“Our businesses are not doing the research that they need to do,” Gary Goodyear, the minister of state for science and technology, told reporters in Ottawa. “So something had to be done.”

The move is in keeping with the Conservative government’s emphasis on a business model for public policy, such as tying foreign aid to economic development. It is also another significant foray into the science file, with critics saying the new approach is shortsighted and may shut the door on vast areas of promising fundamental research.

Mr. Goodyear insisted the government isn’t abandoning basic science, just shifting its focus to commercializing discoveries. “The day is past when a researcher could hit a home run simply by publishing a paper on some new discovery,” he said. “The home run is when somebody utilizes the knowledge that was discovered for social or economic gain.”

As part of the overhaul, the NRC is consolidating its disparate operations into a dozen business units and will focus on just five core areas of research: health costs, manufacturing, community infrastructure, security, and natural resources and the environment. Companies, or industries, will be able to tap the NRC’s expertise and labs, while sharing the cost of projects – as well as the intellectual property that results.

“Our job is to change innovation performance,” NRC president John McDougall explained in an interview. “So we have to do the things that will make that happen. Discovery science is necessary, but it’s not sufficient.”

Kennedy Stewart, the NDP (New Democratic Party; the official opposition) Member of Parliament expresses his opinion in his May 7, 2013 news release,

“Conservative incompetence meets Conservative narrow-mindedness,” said NDP Science and Technology critic Kennedy Stewart (Burnaby–Douglas). “They don’t want research driven by researchers themselves or public funding for science going towards actual scientific advancement. Their short-sighted approach will in fact hurt economic growth in the long run because it shuts the door on the long-view fundamental research that truly leads to scientific breakthroughs.”

Widespread dissatisfaction among the over 4,000 NRC employees and the change of focus away from basic research, patents and publications will increase the drain of Canada’s best and brightest minds to other OECD countries that are investing in scientific research heavily. Under the Conservatives, Canada just can’t compete.

“The government has been handing pink slips to scores of NRC scientists and researchers, lowering the organization’s research capacity and devastating internal morale,” said Stewart.  “It is hard to see how business will get scientific advice from the NRC if they fire all the scientists. Who they keep will spend their time trying to get off this runaway train.”

As best as I can unravel, there are several issues in the material I have excerpted:

  • what is the right mix of science, basic to applied/industrial?
  • it’s widely acknowledged that Canadians have done more poorly in the area of industrial science than colleagues in other OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries
  • how do we address the issue?

The solution that the current Canadian government has arrived *at is impossible to assess at this point (although I have a guess as to the outcome) and something needed to be done with the National Research Council of Canada as noted in an April 7, 2010 posting on the Don’t leave Canada behind; Researcher Forum blog (I believe the writer was Rob Annan),

The NRC is a mess.

And the mess of the NRC neatly encapsulates much that’s wrong with Canadian science policy. No direction, no cohesion, multiple conflicting purposes.

Rob goes on to discuss the NRC’s mandate (Note: A link has been removed),

Well, the NRC is mandated, by the original NRC Act of 1916, “to undertaking, assisting or promoting scientific and industrial research in different fields of importance to Canada”. It did this very successfully into the 1960s, at which point, its greatest successes were carved out and handed to new organizations.

So what’s left? Well the NRC Act has a few specific mandates that the NRC fulfills: standards of measurement, manage observatories, investigate and standardize industrial materials, perform agricultural research, and maintain a national science library (which is under major financial stress, but let’s save that for another time). But the general mandate to “undertake, assist, or promote” scientific and industrial research is open to interpretation, and is a source of conflict.

I’m not sure if the NRC Act has been amended since 2010 to allow for these latest changes but Rob goes on to make, what is for me, a more interesting point (Note: A link has been removed),

But since the 1980s, the NRC has been without a strong sense of self. Is it a basic research organization or an applied research organization? Does it exist to perform independent, government-sponsored research, or does it provide research services in support of the private sector? Does it perform early-stage research and then partner with industry, or is it a fee-for-service research organization? The answer is yes.

The NRC is being pulled in too many directions.

What does our Minister of Industry [at the time, Tony Clement] have to say about the NRC?

NRC‘s aim is to bring timely solutions to market in areas of national importance: clean energy, health and wellness, and the environment. NRC will continue to partner with Canadian firms to deliver tangible, market-oriented results in high-impact and emerging industry sectors, such as the automotive sector.

But the NRC isn’t designed to do this – this is a different mandate than what is laid out in the Act. Which would be fine – maybe it’s time for a change – except that the NRC institutes have been, not surprisingly, built according to the mandate outlined in the NRC Act – as research laboratories, not product development laboratories or partnership incubators. And the people recruited to run these labs are scientists, not business-people. They want to do science, not chase down industrial partnerships in the automotive sector or take their clean energy products to market. They’ve been recruited for their scientific abilities; it’s a bit of a stretch to expect them also to be market innovators.

Furthermore, because the government does not fund the full cost of research at the institutes, these labs are dependent on research funding from external sources. If the funding was coming from Canadian business, then the vision of our Industry minister would be fulfilled. Unfortunately, Canadian business is notoriously averse to investing in academic or government research. So these labs are dependent on CIHR, NSERC, or private funding – mostly basic science funding. So, the government builds a system of research laboratories, forces them into dependence on basic science funding, and then complains that there isn’t enough market-driven research going on? [all emphases mine]

I realize that CIHR and NSERC funding programs have changed but the issue with Canadian business paying for research has not. It is, as I have noted in other pieces, a cultural issue with the key question being, How do you inculcate a business culture that innovates? What we have now is a ‘start-up’ culture where people found businesses based on exciting research and plan on growing those businesses to a point where they can be sold to larger companies from the US or Britain or elsewhere. Based on these comments, my guess is that the current changes to the NRC will not result in the ‘innovation’ the government has repeatedly stated is its primary goal since our basic business culture will remain untouched. One last thing, I think people are going to figure out how to game this new NRC.

*at added on May 22, 2013

Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada awards national prizes to winners

I last wrote about Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada and its awards in my Feb. 20, 2013 posting on the occasion of the organization’s 20th anniversary in Canada. Today, Apr. 9, 2013, there’s an annoucement that the 2013 Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada prizes were awarded today in Ottawa,

Cutting edge research into an experimental therapy that deploys nano-particles of gold to kill cancer cells earned an Alberta high school student, 16, top national honours today in the 2013 “Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada” (SBCC).

India-born Arjun Nair, 16, a Grade 11 student at Webber Academy, Calgary, was awarded the top prize of $5,000 by a panel of eminent Canadian scientists assembled at the Ottawa headquarters of the National Research Council of Canada (NRC).

His research project, mentored at the University of Calgary, advances an experimental cancer “photothermal therapy” which involves injecting a patient with gold nanoparticles.  The particles accumulate in tumours, forming so-called “nano-bullets” that can be heated to kill cancer cells.

Arjun showed how an antibiotic may overcome defences cancer deploys against the therapy and make the promising treatment more effective.  Arjun’s research, which a panel of expert judges led by Dr. Luis Barreto called “world class Masters or PhD-level quality,” also won a special $1,000 prize awarded to the project with the greatest commercial potential.

There were other winners too,

Eleven brilliant students from nine Canadian regions, all just 16 to 18 years old, took part in the national finals.  They had placed 1st at earlier regional SBCC competitions, conducted between March 21 and April 4.

Celebrating 20 years of inspiring young scientists in Canada, this year’s SBCC involved a total of 208 high school and CEGEP students collaborating on 123 projects, all mentored in professional labs over several months and submitted via the regional competitions.  Since its beginning in Toronto in 1994, some 4,500 young Canadians have competed in the SBCC, an event that has inspired sister BioGENEius competitions in the USA and Australia.

2nd place, $4,000 — British Columbia: Selin Jessa, 17, Grade 12, Dr. Charles Best Secondary School, Coquitlam, won the $4,000 2nd place prize with research into how genetic mutations naturally help some HIV patients escape symptoms.

Arjun and Selin will compete for Canada April 22-23 at the International BioGENEius Challenge, conducted at the annual BIO conference, this year in Chicago.

3rd place, $3,000 — Quebec: Eunice Linh You, 17, Grade 11, Laval Liberty High School, Laval, who investigated how to tailor stem cell treatments for Parkinson’s disease

4th place, $2,000 — Greater Toronto: Lauren Chan, 17, Grade 12, University of Toronto Schools, who described a potential new therapy to reduce the severity of diabetes

5th place, $1,000 — Manitoba: Daniel Huang, 16, Grade 11, St. John’s Ravenscourt School, Winnipeg, who discovered a potential new tactic to fight the world’s deadliest brain cancer

Honorable mention, $500:

Newfoundland, Jared Trask, 18, Kaitlyn Stockley, 17, Grade 12, Holy Spirit High School, Conception Bay West, who, for the second consecutive year, won the Atlantic region competition by proving novel ideas for creating biofuels;

Eastern Ontario, Adamo Young, 16, Grade 11, Lisgar Collegiate Institute, Ottawa, who found that altering its nitrogen supply appears to tame a toxic fungus that ruins billions worth of grain worldwide;

Southwestern Ontario, Melanie Grondin, 17, Shawn Liu, 18, Vincent Massey Secondary School, Windsor, who found a marker in medicine’s quest for the holy grail of leukaemia treatments: limitless supplies of healthy stem cells.

Saskatchewan, Saruul Uuganbayar, 17, Grade 12, Centennial Collegiate, Saskatoon, who invented a molecular therapy for mutated cells with the dream of curing cancer.

Given my interest in nanotechnology, Nair’s project is particularly intriguing,

Aiming to create an effective cancer-killing nano-bullet made of gold

Helping science develop a nano-bullet to defeat cancer is the futuristic vision of Arjun Nair, a 16-year-old Calgary high school student.

These “bullets” are formed by gold nanoparticles that, when injected into a patient, accumulate in cancerous tumours. Using light, the gold nanoparticles rapidly heat up in the tumours, killing only the cancer cells. Known as photothermal therapy (PTT), the idea has shown promise but isn’t that effective because cancer cells fight back, producing heat-shock proteins to protect themselves.

Arjun looked into the use of an antibiotic (17-AAG) to defeat cancer’s defence.

Nanoparticles are less than millionth of the size of grain of sand, making them pretty difficult to make and work with, says Arjun. He spent the last two years working on his idea, including the past year between Simon Trudel’s and David Cramb’s Nanoscience Labs at the University of Calgary [see my interview with Dr. Cramb in my Mar. 8, 2010 posting and he is mentioned here in other postings should you care to search his name].

It’s rare for a high-tech lab to allow a high school student to work with its expensive equipment but Dr. Cramb, Dr. Simon Trudel and Lab Manager, Amy Tekrony provided access and all important mentorship, he says.

“Proof-of-concepts were developed and tested in order to demonstrate the viability of PTT,” says Arjun.  “Moreover, after analyzing the literature a mathematical model was developed to evaluate a theoretical synergetic treatment.”

“I’ve entered science competitions since Grade 5. I really enjoy taking my ideas and making them happen in real life,” says Arjun, who also enjoys debating, sports and volunteer work.

He dreams of doing science in university, perhaps pursuing a career in medical research. One of the best parts of the competition was the great friendships Arjun has made. “I’m part of community of students who love sharing ideas and talking science.”

They make quite a big deal of these awards,

Following the presentation ceremony at the NRC, the students were received by Governor-General David Johnston at Rideau Hall, a distinguished educator prior to his vice-regal appointment.

Dr. Kellie Leitch, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources Skills Development, keynote speaker at the awards ceremony, said: “It is so important that we have all of our skills and talent at work in Canada and the SBCC offers students a fantastic opportunity to experience science and technology in new ways, hopefully encouraging them toward exciting careers. I want to congratulate the winners, and all of the participants, of this year’s competition and I thank the organizers for all of the work that they have done in supporting young people in science.”

Sanofi Canada President and CEO Jon Fairest, who presented the top national prize, said: “The Sanofi Group is very proud to be founding sponsors of the Sanofi BioGENEIus Challenge Canada (SBCC) and participate in this milestone competition. With its 20-year heritage, the SBCC shows how critical partnerships are to advance science and talent in Canada. From the mentoring provided by dedicated academics, to the support of government and the private sector, the SBCC truly stands out as a model for collaboration. The SBCC and the incredible students who participate inspire us to all think differently about our future and ensure we have a strong foundation in place to create a sustainable healthcare system in Canada.”

The SBCC gives young scientists access to professional labs and academic mentors, encouraging the pursuit of future studies and careers in the country’s fast-growing biotechnology sector.

Each of the students worked for months conducting research and collaborating with university mentors.

It’s not just public officials and Sanofi officials who are paying attention,

The nine final national projects were presented at NRC headquarters Monday April 8 to a panel of eminent Canadian scientists:

  • Dr. Luis Barreto, MD, Chief Judge, Bioscience Education Canada
  • Dr. Roman Szumski, Vice President Research, National Research Council Canada
  • Dr. Paul Lasko, Scientific Director, Institute of Genetics, Canadian Institutes of Health Research
  • Dr. Robert Tsushima, Associate Dean of Research, Faculty of Science, York University
  • Dr. Pierre Meulien, President, Genome Canada
  • Dr. Ron Pearlman, Associate Scientific Director, Gairdner Foundation
  • Dr. Jerome Konecsni, President, Innovation Saskatchewan

On the panel as well: Ms. Janelle Tam, 18, of Waterloo, Ontario, SBCC’s national first-place winner in 2012.

National Awards Presenters, National Research Council Canada, April 9, 2013:

Commercialization Award – Dr. Ron Pearlman, Associate Scientific Director, Gairdner Foundation

5th Place – Dr. Alison Symington, VP, Corporate Development, Ontario Genomics Institute / Genome Canada

4th Place — Dr. Spriros Pagiatakis, Associate Dean, Research & Partnerships, York University

3rd Place – Dr. Alain Beaudet, President, Canadian Institutes of Health Research

2nd Place – John McDougall, President, National Research Council of Canada

1st Place – Jon Fairest, President and CEO, Sanofi Canada

The Canadian competition does not stand alone,

The Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada (SBCC) is a national, biotechnology research competition that encourages high school and CEGEP students to pursue future studies and careers in the exciting field of biotechnology. The initiative is sponsored by Sanofi Pasteur Limited, Sanofi Canada, the National Research Council Canada/ Conseil national de recherches Canada (NRC-CNRC), Canadian Institutes of Health Research/Instituts de recherche en santé du Canada (CIHR-IRSC), York University, Genome Canada and the Government of Canada’s Youth Awareness Program. Canada’s respected Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada has inspired counterpart competitions in the USA and Australia.

For more information, please see Wikipedia (http://bit.ly/11MtXX9), visit sanofibiogeneiuschallenge.ca, and follow us on Facebook or Twitter @BioscienceEdCan

About Sanofi

Sanofi, a global and diversified healthcare leader, discovers, develops and distributes therapeutic solutions focused on patients’ needs. Sanofi has core strengths in the field of healthcare with seven growth platforms: diabetes solutions, human vaccines, innovative drugs, rare diseases, consumer healthcare, emerging markets and animal health. Sanofi is listed in Paris (EURONEXT: SAN) and in New York (NYSE: SNY).

Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccines division of Sanofi, provides more than 1 billion doses of vaccine each year, making it possible to immunize more than 500 million people across the globe. A world leader in the vaccine industry, Sanofi Pasteur offers the broadest range of vaccines protecting against 20 infectious diseases. The company’s heritage, to create vaccines that protect life, dates back more than a century. Sanofi Pasteur is the largest company entirely dedicated to vaccines. Every day, the company invests more than EUR 1 million in research and development. For more information, please visit: www.sanofipasteur.com  or www.sanofipasteur.us

Good luck to Arjun Nair and Selin Jessa when they compete for Canada April 22-23, 2013 at the International BioGENEius Challenge, conducted at the annual BIO conference, in Chicago, Illinois.

Pretty decent directory of Cdn. nanotech companies, organizations, and education programmes

The folks at the Nanowerk website have dug into their database of nanotechnology companies, education programmes, and more to create an overview of the Canadian nanotechnology scene, from the Jan. 29, 2013 news item (Note: A link has been removed),

Canada offers world-class R&D infrastructure, a highly skilled and educated workforce, a wide array of government funding programs in support of nanotechnologies, a growing number of companies involved in nanotechnologies, and government commitment to the responsible development and application of nanotechnologies.

In 2001, the National Institute for Nanotechnology (NINT) was established as Canada’s flagship nanotechnology institute; it is operated as a partnership between the National Research Council and the University of Alberta.

Currently, there are 90 companies in Canada involved in nanotechnology-related business activities.

In addition, there are 64 nanotechnology and nanoscience-related research and community organizations in Canada.

There are 15 academic nanotechnology degree programs in Canada.

The item proceeds to list a number of companies according to these classifications,

Nanomaterial Suppliers
Nanobiotechnology and Nanomedicine Companies
Nanotechnology Products, Applications & Instruments Companies
Nanotechnology Services & Intermediaries

Based on my information (and memory), this listing is in pretty good shape given that it’ s not managed, i.e., people submit information voluntarily and may or may not remember to update it. For example, the company now known as Vive Crop is listed as Vive Nano.  In the listing for ‘initiatives and networks in Canada with a nanotechnology focus’, the defunct NanoTech BC is listed but the currently active Nano Ontario is not.  Also, anyone who wants to locate a business or service in their province will have difficulty as the listings are alphabetical and the short description of the organization does not include location information.

All things considered, they’ve done a remarkably good job of gathering and presenting this information. Thank you to the folks at Nanowerk for this resource.

Speaking of resources, the item does mention Canada’s National Institute of Nanotechnology (NINT) which has undergone some big changes in the last few months. Their previous website  as part of the larger National Research Council (NRC) website has been archived and the new NINT website suggests a serious downsizing effort of some sort has occurred.  The ‘lean and mean’ NRC NINT website contrasts strongly with the more informative and alternative NINT website located on the larger University of Alberta website. As both NINTs boast the same executive director, Dr. Marie D’Iorio, it would seem to be the same organization albeit with two different sites that are not linked to each other. Perhaps this is a new version of Canada’s two solitudes, this time starring the University of Alberta and the National Research Council of Canada. On second thought, the situation may more closely echo that old song title, Torn between two lovers.

A new standard (in Canada) for occupational exposure to engineered nanomaterials

The Oct. 31, 2012 announcement from the CSA (Canadian Standards Association?) Group (H/T to the Canadian Safety Reporter) is a bit skimpy on details but here goes,

CSA Group, a leading standards development, testing and certification organization officially announces Canada’s first adopted International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standard on nanotechnologies. CSA Z12885, Nanotechnologies – Exposure control program for engineered nanomaterials in occupational settings provides guidance for the safe use of nanomaterials in the workplace.

“The development of standards is crucial for effective and responsible commercialization of nanotechnologies,” said Brian Haydon, Senior Project Manager, Standards, CSA Group. “CSA Z12885 is the first in a series of standards on nanotechnologies being adopted in Canada, resulting from international and Canadian contributions to the continued activity of ISO/TC 229, the ISO Technical Committee on nanotechnologies.”

CSA Z12885, Nanotechnologies – Exposure control program for engineered nanomaterials in occupational settings provides guidance to establish and implement a comprehensive managed program to control exposure to nanomaterials in the workplace. This follows recognized approaches to risk management with a focus on information and issues specific to nanotechnologies including hazard identification, risk assessment procedures, training requirements and worker engagement. CSA Z12885 contains revisions to ISO/TR 12885 and additional guidance to reflect Canadian practices and safety considerations.

It’s interesting to note which agencies offered financial support to develop this CSA Z12885 standard,

This standard was announced to industry and research stakeholders at the recent Nano Ontario 2012 Conference in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. The development of this Standard was made possible, in part, by the financial support of Alberta Innovates Technology Futures – nanoAlberta, Health Canada, MDEIE (Developpement economique, Innovation et Exportation – Gouvernement du Quebec) and the National Research Council Canada – Industrial Research Assistance Program.

I first mentioned this standard in my June 12, 2012 posting about the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) and Canada’s report regarding its nanotechnology initiatives,

4. Information on any Developments Related to Good Practice Documents.

A. The Canadian Standards Association (CSA) Technical Committee on Nanotechnologies – Occupational Health and Safety has completed a draft national standard (CSA Z12885) to provide guidance for workers, entitled “Nanotechnologies — Exposure control program for engineered nanomaterials in occupational settings” This document is largely based on the published international ISO Technical Report, ISO/TR 12885:2008 entitled “Health & Safety Practices in Occupational Settings relevant to Nanotechnologies”. The CSA Z12885 standard has completed the public review process and is proceeding to ballot, with completion anticipated in mid-2012.

B. Government, industry, research, user, and consumer interests are participating as designated experts from Canada on international standards development through the Canadian Advisory Committee to International Organization for Standardization/Technical Committee 229 (ISO/TC229) Nanotechnologies, facilitated by CSA Standards. This includes active participation on terminology, nomenclature, measurement, characterization, material specification and health, safety, environmental aspects of nanotechnologies standards under development.

They’ve been working on this standard for at least two years as I first mentioned it in a Sept. 24, 2012 posting about earlier OECD report on Canada’s nanotechnology initiatives.

DRUPA and 3-D printing

The world’s biggest trade fair for the printing industry, DRUPA; International Trade Fair for prepress, premedia, printing, book binding, print finishing and paper converting,  is being held May 3 – 16th, 2012 in Düsseldorf, Germany. This year’s presentations include one about paper loudspeakers (from the May 2, 2012 news item on Nanowerk),

At drupa print media fair, … , the Institute for Print and Media Technology of Chemnitz University of Technology (pmTUC) presents new research results, which truly make you prick up your ears: Loudspeakers that have been printed with flexography on standard paper. The R&D group of Prof. Dr. Arved Hübler, head of pmTUC, is co-exhibitor of press manufacturer Windmöller & Hölscher KG (Lengerich) …

I’m always curious as to just how practical these things might be and, oddly, they don’t offer an audio file or video file demonstrating the loudspeaker’s effectiveness although there is this video about pmTUC’s participation in DRUPA 2012,

Here’s what they have to say about the paper loudspeakers (from the news item),

The printed paper loudspeaker is connected to an audio amplifier like a conventional loudspeaker. “Frequency response and hence sound quality are very good and the paper is surprisingly loud. Just the bass of the paper-based loudspeaker is a bit weak”, explains Dr. Georg Schmidt, senior researcher at pmTUC. The thin loudspeakers, which are printed in the laboratories of pmTUC, contain several layers of a conductive organic polymer and a piezoactive layer. According to project assistant Maxi Bellmann the loudspeakers are astonishingly robust and can be produced in a very cheap way as mass printing methods are used. The bottom side of the paper loudspeaker provides unused space on which coloured messages can be printed.

Prof. Hübler expects a broad range of new applications: The paper loudspeakers could, for instance, be integrated into common print products. As such, they offer an enormous potential for the advertising segment. “In addition, sound wallpapers and purely technical applications, e.g., distance sensors, are possible, because the papers are also active in the ultrasound range”, says Hübler and adds: “As printing allows for different formats and forms, there is the possibility to influence the generated sound waves.”

As I understand it, Hübler is predicting that the graphic arts/printing industry is going to change from adding ink to paper to something entirely different, printed electronics. There’s more about that in the May 2, 2012 news item.

This reminded me that in 2008, Xerox announced a major investment in Canada’s National Institute of Nanotechnology (NINT). Details were pretty fuzzy (from the Xerox June [?] 2008  press release),

In Canada’s first major public-private nanotechnology research partnership, the Xerox Research Centre of Canada (XRCC), NRC National Institute for Nanotechnology (NINT) and Government of Alberta will provide approximately $4.5 million for research and development of materials-based nanotechnology over the next three years.

The three partners will invest funds, human resources, and available infrastructures to create a research program and teams focused on developing commercially successful nanotechnology-based discoveries. Personnel from NINT and XRCC will collaborate on research projects at NINT in Edmonton, Alberta, and at XRCC in Mississauga, Ontario.

The funds will contribute to the hiring of eight to 10 scientists who will investigate materials-based nanotechnologies, including document- and display-related technologies. The research program, co-managed by XRCC and NINT, will allow access to Xerox’s experience in successfully commercializing technology to facilitate the market application of resulting inventions.

“This level of public and private sector partnership helps fuel the type of innovation that will keep Alberta, and Canada as a whole, strong and competitive in an increasingly global, knowledge-based economy,” said Doug Horner, minister for Advanced Education and Technology, Government of Alberta. “The investments from the Government of Alberta, Xerox and NINT will build a world-class nanotechnology research program that embraces the spirit of innovation, but also that of commercialization.”

XRCC was established in 1974 to develop the materials used by Xerox Corp. globally, and began nanotechnology-enabled research efforts several years ago. It has already developed successfully commercial materials, including ‘EA Toner’, a unique technology for making more cost-effective and environmentally efficient toner for printers. XRCC will now be able to expand its nanotechnology efforts.

While  a toner is mentioned, it’s not clear what inventions and materials they are trying to create either in the Xerox press release or Canada’s National Research Council (NINT is an NRC institute) June 8, 2018 news release. In any event, I cannot find any other announcements about this Xexox/NINT research project, which has now ended.

Report on Review of Federal Support to R&D

It (Innovation Canada: A Call to Action) [ETA Oct. 25, 2011: Title corrected] is not a light read (it weighs in at 148 pp.) as one might expect when a comprehensive review of government programmes is made and given the pace that major reports are being released these days I’ve not had a chance to even skim through the report itself. However, there are some major recommendations being made, notably this one about the National Research Council (from the Review of Federal Support to R&D home page),

  • Transform the institutes of the National Research Council [NRC] into a series of large-scale, collaborative centres involving business, universities and the provinces.
  • The NRC was created during World War I to kick-start Canada’s research capacity. It has a long and storied history of discoveries and innovation, including numerous commercial spin-offs. While the NRC continues to do good work, research and commercialization activity in Canada has grown immensely.  In this new context, the NRC can play a unique role, linking its large-scale, long-term research activity with the academic and business communities. The panel recommends evolving NRC institutes, consistent with the current strategic direction, into not-for-profit centres run with stakeholders, and incorporating its public policy research into other departments.

The panel also suggests cutting down on the number of funding agencies and creating a portal or ‘concierge’ to help businesses find the right funding solution for their needs,

  • The creation of an Industrial Research and Innovation Council (IRIC) to deliver the federal government’s business innovation programs.
    • There are currently more than 60 programs across 17 different government departments. The creation of an arm’s-length funding and delivery agency – the Industrial Research and Innovation Council – would begin to streamline the process as the development of a common application portal and service to help businesses find the right programs for their needs (a “concierge”).

This next one seems more like a ‘buy Canada’ recommendation than anything else,

  • Make business innovation one of the core objectives of procurement.
    • The federal government spends billions of dollars every year but it ranks low internationally when it comes to using that purchasing power to encourage Canadian innovation. The encouragement of home-grown innovation a part of government procurement is commonsense.

I like this idea,

  • Help high-growth innovative firms access the risk capital they need through the Business Development Bank of Canada
    • Innovative Canadian companies face real challenges in getting start-up funding and late stage risk capital financing. In many cases, the gap is filled by foreign investors, which means that too many commercial benefits and intellectual property end up leaving the country. Directing the BDC to work with angel investor groups and develop late-stage risk capital/growth equity funds will pay dividends.

Simplifying certainly seems reasonable,

 ·Simplification of the tax credit system used to support small and medium-sized businesses.

  • The current Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED) program is unnecessarily complicated: many small businesses hire consultants just to submit an application. This discourages eligible businesses from applying and may cost successful small SR&ED recipients a good portion of the credit received. By basing the SR&ED credit  solely on labour costs, the panel believes SR&ED will be more effective.

This one seems like one of those recommendations that are impossible to implement,

·Establish a clear federal voice for innovation and work with the provinces to improve coordination.

  • Currently, there is a lack of government-wide clarity when it comes to innovation. Responsibility is spread across a number of cabinet portfolios. The Prime Minister should assign responsibility for innovation to a single minister, supported by a whole-of-government Innovation Advisory Committee, evolved from the current Science Technology and Innovation Council (STIC), composed of external stakeholders, who would then work with the provincial and territorial governments to initiate a collaborative dialogue to improve coordination and impact.

I base my comment about the last recommendation on my experience with the gnashing of teeth I’ve observed when someone is going to lose an area of responsibility that is associated with power and other good things. Who do you imagine will want to give up innovation and what will they want in return?  Another question which springs to mind is this one: How are they going to develop a single voice for discussion of innovation across several federal bureaucracies with thousands of people and miles between them when even a small office of 20 people experiences difficulty doing this (again, this is based on my personal experience).

As for the suggested changes to the NRC? Well, those should provide some fodder for lively discussion. I’m sure the other items will provide conversational fodder too but it seems to me that the two I’ve highlighted in these comments are likely to be the among the most contentious.

Hannah Hoag in her Oct. 14, 2011 posting on the Nature news blog notes this,

  In an effort to address Canada’s problem with innovation, an independent panel has recommended a radical overhaul that includes the creation of a new funding council and transforms the country’s largest research entity, the billion dollar National Research Council (NRC).

Study after study has shown that Canada’s businesses invest less on R&D, relative to the country’s gross domestic product, than those of many other OECD countries and, unlike others, has actually decreased its spending over the last decade. Many of these business investments include government support in the form tax credits, training programs, or grants. [emphasis mine]

In an effort to make the best use of the government’s investments the six-member expertpanel developed six broad recommendations include appointing a Minister of Innovation and creating the Industrial Research and Innovation Council (IRIC).

Laura Payton writes in her Oct. 17, 2011 article for CBC news,

Canada’s research and development funding system is too complicated and confusing, a government-appointed panel [for the Review of Federal Support to R&D] said Monday.

Creating a new arm’s-length funding agency and putting a single cabinet minister in charge of innovation would streamline the application process and give the government a clear voice on the issue, Tom Jenkins, the panel’s chair said.

The idea is to cut red tape and make it easier for companies to get access to cash and increase collaboration.

“Going forward, more of the world’s innovations may well happen elsewhere, outside of Canada,” warned Jenkins, executive chairman and chief strategy officer of Waterloo, Ont.-based Open Text Corp.

“Governments in Canada spend more on supporting business R&D per capita than most countries in the industrialized world. And yet, we’re increasingly near the bottom of the pack when it comes to investing in business innovation. So if it’s not a lack of government investment, then why has our business R&D momentum been stalled for almost a decade?”

Gary Goodyear, minister of state for science and technology, said business investment and R&D help create high-paying, high-value jobs and maintain Canada’s standard of living.

Of course, none of the recommendations in the report from the expert panel address the core problem of Canadian businesses not investing in themselves. It simply wasn’t part of the brief and the title seems a little grandiose. Perhaps Government funding for innovation in Canada: A Call to Action might have been a better title.

While I think this review was an excellent exercise I am dismayed that one of the core problems (business investment) with innovation in Canada has not been addressed.

  • Help high-growth innovative firms access the risk capital they need through the Business Development Bank of Canada
    • Innovative Canadian companies face real challenges in getting start-up funding and late stage risk capital financing. In many cases, the gap is filled by foreign investors, which means that too many commercial benefits and intellectual property end up leaving the country. Directing the BDC to work with angel investor groups and develop late-stage risk capital/growth equity funds will pay dividends.

Innovation = more $$$ for business schools?

I’m trying to calm down but really!!!! Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto gave the Globe & Mail an interview last week where he opined that Canadian business schools are not getting enough money which is, in turn, affecting innovation. I hope the interview is a form of performance art rather than a reflection of Martin’s thought processes.

(Please accept my apologies but I’m having trouble with my links today so I will have to give you the URLs.) From the March 16, 2011 article Canada will shrivel under business-school neglect, dean says (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/managing/business-education/canada-will-shrivel-under-business-school-neglect-dean-says/article1942997/page1/) by Gordon Pitts,

What makes a country prosperous is not investment in science and technology. [emphasis mine] It is businesses producing high paying jobs by having unique products and processes that a customer needs. Yet we have an economic development policy that focuses incredibly tightly on a very narrow part of the economy with no demonstration or proof that it is particularly helpful. Meanwhile, we complain about our companies not being innovative enough or globally competitive enough, and we send them off to battle with much less education than their competitors.

We hear people say, ‘Well, what we need are scientists and engineers running these companies because these are tech companies.’ But if we in Canada would like to have companies like Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Microsoft, Apple, Cisco and Intel, find out how many of their CEOs have science and tech degrees. The answer is there are a lot more MBAs than science and technology degrees.

All of the companies cited were founded by people with science and technology degrees as Nassif Ghoussoub in A business dean’s rant: Ignorance of the facts or pure “Chutzpah”? (http://ghoussoub.wordpress.com/2011/03/20/a-business-dean%E2%80%99s-rant-willful-ignorance-or-pure-%E2%80%9Cchutzpah%E2%80%9D/#more-3241), and James Colliander, Rotman Dean to Government: Give the Basic Research Funding to Business Schools not Scientists (http://blog.math.toronto.edu/colliand/2011/03/17/rotman-dean-wants-the-money-targeted-for-science-research-2/) note.

Martin never does explain how more business education money will actually translate into more innovation in Canada. In fact, he never explains how it has worked anywhere else. Strangely, he does not mention the latest economic meltdown due to business practices. If more education and research benefited business and the economy so much then why the meltdown that our US neighbours to the south have experienced so strongly? By Martin’s reckoning the US economy should be in much better condition than it is what with all that money going to support business students.

I was a little curious as to Martin’s own background and found this in an Aug. 1, 2006 article by Robert Berner for Bloomberg Business Week (from http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/05_31/b3945417.htm_),

A Canadian native and graduate of Harvard Business School, the 48-year-old Martin left a position as co-head of a consulting firm to take the Rotman post. He’s working with Patrick Whitney, director of the Institute of Design, and David Kelley, co-founder of design consultancy IDEO and head of the new Stanford Design School, to create a new design-based curriculum that can be used in business schools. Martin practices what he preaches: He advises Procter & Gamble Co. (PG ) chief A.G. Lafley, among other chief executives.

So let me get this. The dean of a business school whose own educational background appears to be largely business (according to the Wikipedia essay about him [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roger_Martin], he has a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from Harvard College in addition to his MBA from Harvard Business School) and who worked as a management consultant prior to becoming a dean thinks that Canadians need more business education. What’s that old saying? If you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

As for the statistics he offers about the amount of research money going to business (from the Pitts article),

For example, of federal research money from the three major funding councils, business gets 1.7 per cent of the funding but it gets 17 per cent of the students. Health Sciences have 36 per cent of funding and 11.2 per cent of students – and that’s understandable with all that expensive R&D. Natural sciences and engineering have 39 per cent of funding and 28 per cent of students.

In all the social sciences and humanities, except business, there are 44 per cent of students and 24 per cent of research funding. So the social sciences get hit, but their hit is less than 2 to 1. In business – which is all about making our country competitive – it’s a 10 to one cut.

It does seem a pretty pitiful amount of research money is going to business research (Note: I would like to know how Martin has derived his statistics). Mind you a fair amount of the material produced by Statistics Canada is used for business research purposes while a lot of the quantitative social science research has to be gathered by the social scientists themselves. And, Nassif points out that a big chunk of the 2009 budget research money going for  social sciences and humanities research was in fact intended for business studies.

… we should not forget that, as recently as 2009, business schools got a preferential treatment from the federal government. Indeed, after having cut the Tri-council by 5%, the 2009 stimulus federal budget proceeded to earmark the $17.5-million assigned to SSHRC for graduate scholarships towards students in business and finance.

Business is making inroads in many areas not just in social sciences and humanities funding. A March 20, 2011 article by Tom Spears for the Ottawa Citizen indicates that business and economic interests will be driving research in this country in a way that should warm Martin’s heart (from http://www.ottawacitizen.com/business/boss+orders+scientists+focus+market+drivers/4472949/story.html),

There’s radical change at the National Research Council, Canada’s biggest science institute, as the new president orders all staff to direct research toward boosting economic development and technology, with less time for pure science.

Starting this spring, 20 per cent of research money, and all the capital funds that buy expensive lab equipment, will be removed from existing budgets and directed where the president and vice-presidents choose.

Eventually, 80 per cent of research funds will be redirected this way.

NRC president John McDougall has announced to all staff that he wants research that is “successfully deployed and used to benefit our customers and partners in industry and government.”

His memo, dated March 2, warns that “history is an anchor that ties us to the past rather than a sail that catches the wind to power us forward.” [emphasis mine]

The new system, with most funding awarded by top management, will put existing staff in a position of having to apply to their employer to keep doing their own work. So far, they aren’t faring well: McDougall notes that his scientists have suggested more than 70 research areas. But most of these have no clear “market driver” or “purposeful direction,” he writes.

If business education is in as much trouble as Martin suggests, I’d like to see data that supports his thesis rather than a lot of numbers being thrown about and what amounts to performance art for the Globe and Mail.

By the way, Tom Jenkins, the head of the expert panel that convened the public consultation on innovation (it’s correct title is: A Review of Federal Support to Research and Development), is the Executive Chairman and Chief Strategy Officer for Open Text. From the Open Text webpage about the Board of Directors (http://www.opentext.com/2/global/company/company-directors.htm),

Mr. Jenkins is Executive Chairman and Chief Strategy Officer for OpenText. From 1994 to 2005, Mr.Jenkins was President, then Chief Executive Officer and then from 2005 to present, Chief Strategy Officer of OpenText. Mr. Jenkins has served as a Director of OpenText since 1994 and as its Chairman since 1998. In addition to his OpenText responsibilities, Mr.Jenkins is the Chair of the federal centre of excellence Canadian Digital Media Network (CDMN). He is also an appointed member of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), past appointed member of the Government of Canada’s Competition Policy Review Panel and past appointed member of the Province of Ontario’s Ontario Commercialization Network Review Committee (OCN). Mr.Jenkins is also a member of the board of BMC Software, Inc. a software corporation based in Houston, Texas. He is also a member of the University of Waterloo Engineering Dean’s Advisory Council, GRAND, the federal research centre of excellence for digital media, a director of the C.D. Howe Institute, a director of the Canadian International Council (CIC) and a director of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE). Mr.Jenkins received an M.B.A. in entrepreneurship & technology management from Schulich School of Business at York University, an M.A.Sc. in electrical engineering from the University of Toronto and a B.Eng.& Mgt. in Engineering Physics and Commerce from McMaster University. [emphases mine]

I gather Mr. Jenkins decided on an education that spans both engineering and business.  Perhaps innovation is better served by multidisciplinary interests over the single-minded pursuit of more money for the Rotman School of Management.

ETA April 20, 2011: Nature has weighed in about John McDougall and his National Research Council directives (from the April 19, 2011 news article by Hannah Hoag),

Canada’s largest research entity has a new focus — and some disaffected scientists. On 1 April, the National Research Council (NRC), made up of more than 20 institutes and programmes with a total annual budget larger than Can$1 billion (US$1 billion), switched to a funding strategy that downplays basic research in favour of programmes designed to attract industry partners and generate revenue. Some researchers suggest that the shift is politically driven, because it brings the agency into philosophical alignment with the governing Conservative Party of Canada, which is in the middle of an election campaign.

Tom Brzustowski, who studies commercialization of innovation at the University of Ottawa, says that the adjustment to the NRC’s focus will support areas that have been weak. “By focusing on the flagship programmes there is still room to do the whole spectrum of research. It’s a good strategic move,” he says.

But the news has rekindled anxiety over how Canada’s government has been directing science funding — criticisms that have grown sharper as the federal election on 2 May [2011] approaches.

Tony Clement announces Canadian government nano investment in two Alberta firms

Tony Clement, Canada’s Minister of Industry, announced investments totaling over $500,000 to two Alberta-based firms associated with nanotechnology. From the news release on Marketwire [ETA Aug.18.10: there's also this link to the item on Nanowerk],

The Honourable Tony Clement, Minister of Industry, today announced contributions of $285,268 to Sonoro Energy Limited and $257,000 to IntelligentNano Incorporated from the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP). The funding supports innovative research and development projects that will assist both firms in developing high-tech solutions for global markets.

“Our government is investing in science and technology to create good jobs, strengthen the economy and improve the quality of life of Canadians,” said Minister Clement. “This government is supporting Canadian firms that successfully develop and apply innovative technologies. Canada’s Economic Action Plan is bolstering scientific research and commercialization, while creating good jobs and economic growth.”

Edmonton boasts Canada’s largest and most technologically advanced nanotechnology research infrastructure, centred around the National Institute of Nanotechnology (NINT). NINT is a joint initiative between the National Research Council of Canada, the University of Alberta, and the Government of Alberta.

So there you have it, the follow up to yesterday’s news flash. If you’re curious about the two companies, Sonoro is using the money to,

[support] a project that will seek to accelerate the commercial upgrading of heavy oil into synthetic crude, by small and medium- sized producers in remote areas. As the technology is both scalable and repeatable, Sonoro is actively pursuing heavy oil resource opportunities, particularly in remote global regions where there is heavy oil that could benefit from low-cost upgrading technology. Sonoro Energy has developed and patented a proprietary sonic reactor technology platform that transfers sonic energy on an industrial scale to physical, chemical or biological processes.

IntelligentNano will apply its funds towards,

further development of the “Sonacell,” a device for amplifying and accelerating the growth of therapeutic stem cells. Stem cells have an ability to self-renew and the potential to replace diseased and damaged tissues in the body, without the risk of rejection and side effects. Adults have a very small number of such cells; IntelligentNano has developed the “Sonacell,” which will make it possible to harvest and grow a sufficient quantity of a patient’s own stem cells for use in medical therapies. The “Sonacell” opens the door to the possibility of treatments for diseases like diabetes, arthritis, Parkinson’s and spinal cord injuries.

What happened to Canada’s National Insitute of Nanotechnology?

It’s been a while since I’ve visited Canada’s National Institute of Nanotechnology’s (NINT) website and since it’ s pretty slow on the news front these days I figured I’d check out their news releases. It wasn’t there! It’s  been absorbed into the National Research Council’s (NRC) site.

These things usually portend some sort of political shenanigans, which can range from internal NRC politics to federal policy mandates to funding issues, or some combination of them all. In NINT’s case, you can also include the provincial government (Alberta) as they were (and possibly still are) funding a significant portion of the institute’s budget.

The NINT information now available has been ‘branded’ by the NRC. It looks slick and seems a bit better organized than it was in some respects. One exception is in the area of media information. NINT media releases are now grouped with all of the NRC releases making NINT information harder to find. As well, it’s harder to find contact details for the NINT media relations/communications folks.

Taking into account the loss of the NanoBusiness Alliance in Toronto, Nanotech BC’s imperiled future, and NINT’s loss of its ‘brand’, the nanotechnology future is not looking so bright in Canada.

And on something completely unrelated, Vancouver’s (Canada) Jazz Festival is taking place right now and tonight (July 2, 2009) local jazz songstress, Laura Werth will be at:

Capone’s restaurant
1141 Hamilton St.
Vancouver, Canada
604.684.7900

7:30 pm – 11:30 pm
Weaver & Werth Music Group
Laura Werth — Vocals
Ingrid Stitt — Sax
Rick Kilburn — Bass
Rob Weaver — Piano
Nino Di Pasquale — Drums

If you want to preview the music, Laura has a few tracks for listening here.