That isn’t a wish list for the future. It has been under way for 25 years, thanks to the thousands of innovators supported by the Networks of Centres of Excellence (NCE) suite of programs. In communities across Canada, they are demonstrating how networking and collaboration can generate the evidence needed to address the complex challenges of today’s society.
It’s smart science at work. And it’s producing results.
In 1989, Canada embarked on what many at the time considered a “radical” experiment: virtual teams of academics working with government, industry and communities to solve problems that mattered most to Canadians.
Led by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the NCE pooled resources and clusters of expertise from every region to accomplish what no single group could do alone.
That pioneering model now includes four national programs: the Networks of Centres of Excellence (NCE) program (which includes the Knowledge Mobilization NCEs [NCE-KM] and Canada-India Research Centres of Excellence [CIRCE] initiatives), the Business-Led NCE program (BL-NCE), the Centres of Excellence for Commercialization and Research (CECR) program, and the Industrial Research and Development Internship (IRDI) program. These have become the gold standards for scientific collaboration, networking, student training and knowledge translation. Canadian research and innovation will never be the same.
I often used a phrase … ‘excellence has no fixed address’ … It’s part of the way in which Canada works in education, health care and social programs that these kinds of collaborations in scientific research are natural, and the NCE program is the glue that binds it together. Dr. Arthur May, Past President, NSERC
Partner contributions across all NCE programs grew to more than $245 million in 2012-13. These investments were leveraged by expenditures from NCE grants of about $150 million.
Contributions from CECR partners include $4 million from Merck Canada for an initiative to identify, develop and commercialize healthcare technologies in collaboration with the Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer – Commercialization, MaRS Innovation and the Centre for Drug Research and Development.
University of Alberta engineering student Stephen Dwyer worked with BMI Technologies to improve and automate technology for monitoring large vehicle fleets, through one of 814 IRDI internships awarded in 2012-13. IRDI interns helped tackle R&D issues at 412 Canadian companies.
The 2,841 scientific peer reviewed articles published in 2012-13 by NCE-supported researchers included a paper by Peter Zandstra about a technology that promises to rapidly and cost-effectively expand the number of stem cells given to patients undergoing transplants. The Stem Cell Network recognized Dr. Zandstra’s work as the most influential stem cell research paper authored by a Canadian in the past year.
Precision Molecular Design Corporation’s breakthrough metal deposition technology will enable “greener” production of smaller and faster microchips for the semiconductor industry. The Toronto-based company is GreenCentre Canada’s third spinoff company, and one of 398 new companies launched in 2012-13 by NCEs and CECRs.
The Canadian Arthritis Patient Alliance (CAPA) is one of 2,077 NCE partner organizations, which include 772 from industry. CAPA is a key element of the Canadian Arthritis Network’s policy to integrate end users of research in setting research priorities, guiding projects and working on the front-lines to put results into practice.
The major players in Canada’s aviation supply chain – from aircraft manufacturers and engine makers to component suppliers and commercial airlines – are among the 51 BL-NCE industry partners and 34 universities collaborating with Business-Led NCEs. They help the Green Aviation Research and Development Network target challenges in the innovation supply chain through prototyping, testing and demonstration of industrial research conducted by industries, universities and research institutes.
Canadian Tire is one of 469 organizations partnering with CECRs. Based at the Communitech incubator, one of the Canadian Digital Media Network’s 28 hubs across the country, the retailing giant receives support for its aggressive customer engagement strategy, using digital media to keep it on the leading edge of new applications for its online presence and retail locations.