McGill researchers will receive $3 million from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), which hopes to support practical application of multidisciplinary research. This investment is a part of NSERC’s $55-million investment to university research teams across Canada announced on January 20.
According to an NSERC press release, “The goal of the program is to increase research and training in areas that could strongly influence Canada’s economy, society or environment in the next ten years.” The grants support research led by at least one researcher and in collaboration with a supporting organization.
This year’s grant will target environmental science and technologies, information and communication technologies, manufacturing, and natural resources and energy.
According to a McGill press release, the seven teams awarded funds will collaborate with government and industry partners. McGill VP Research and International Relations Rose Goldstein attributed the focus on collaboration to an attempt to apply basic research to real-world problems.
“I think there is a growing realization that as good as our basic research is…it must be supported we want to see it translated into real life applications,” said Goldstein. “I think there is a growing, hopefully openness on the part of universities to work better with other partners, including industry.”
“These awards are the result of a competitive, peer reviewed process managed by the NSERC,” wrote Michel Cimpaye of Industry Canada, in an email to The Daily.
The funding is invested through NSERC’s Strategic Project Program. NSERC reports to Parliament through the Minister of Industry.
Civil Engineering and Applied Mechanics professor Ghyslaine McClure and her team received $522,450 for three years. McClure’s project aims to develop a seismic risk assessment method for schools and hospitals in Eastern Canada. McClure’s partners are the Ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport du Québec, l’Agence de la santé et de services sociaux de Montréal. McClure also has an industry partner: the office partitions company Rampart Partitions Inc.
“The success of a proposal resides not only in the originality of the research approach and the strategic importance of the research for Canada, but also the quality…of the research team and the support of partners,” said McClure in an email to The Daily.
She described the selection criteria as “very strict.”
NSERC’s funding processes will be reviewed by a Research and Development Review Panel formed by the federal government in October 2010. The panel is composed of six Canadians from the academic, business and government sectors and operates independently from the federal government.
It “will offer analysis and recommendations to improve our system of support to enhance business innovation,” according to an October 14 speech by the Gary Goodyear, the Minister of State (Science and Technology) to the panel.
Goldstein explained that the review panel will look at how policies and programs can be improved in order to encourage the applicability of fundamental research and to enhance innovation.
David Robinson, associate executive director for the Canadian Association of University Teachers, voiced concerns about the review panel, including the lack of academics on the panel.
He noted that similar review boards have in the past recommended the commercialization of research. He also described the relationship between university researchers and business as a “clash of cultures.”
“Corporate research is more secretive,” said Robinson. “University research is more collaborative.”
“I know that there is this fear, this is not new to me. I don’t think there is any evidence that that’s really happening,” said Goldstein referring to Robinson’s concerns. “I think there is a general understanding that…it’s really a question of supporting [fundamental and basic] research to make it more applicable.”