Research equipment and facilities: essential drivers of innovation

A recently released report to the Government of Canada by a blue-chip committee of scientists and research administrators highlighted the need to support research excellence and mobilize disciplines, institutions and sectors to undertake bold research missions that will translate into tangible benefits for Canadians.  

The challenge is to determine how best to mobilize knowledge, spur innovation and commercialization and unleash the talented minds of a new generation. Having access to state-of-the-art equipment and facilities is essential for researchers in Canada to respond to emerging challenges and be world leaders in their fields. The Canada Foundation for Innovation’s (CFI) investments in research equipment and facilities are essential drivers of discovery and innovation and our commitment to excellence will determine success both nationally and internationally.

Already 75 percent of the research infrastructure projects we have funded involve international partners. This means that we attract and encourage the best researchers to remain here. Excellence and international collaborations are key factors in a world where local challenges are global and where quality will determine success in every field.

Investments in research infrastructure are essential for a country like Canada. Our entire population is approximately equal to that of Mumbai, a single city in India. We are relatively small, but with strategic investments in outstanding research facilities, Canada can shine on the global stage.

It is often said that the next important discoveries lie on the borderline between disciplines. We need only think back to the pandemic to recall that epidemiologists, geneticists, biochemists, engineers, physicists and psychologists all collaborated to unlock the secrets of the virus, create vaccines and develop public health strategies. Investments in research spaces and facilities bridge users in all sectors and across all disciplines. This is where ideas move from discovery to development and commercialization.

At the CFI we believe basic and applied research are both important and note that in 2022 alone 276 patents were granted, and 30 new companies were established through projects we funded. At the same time, we have also supported the extraordinary successes of individuals like recent Nobel laureate Donna Strickland.

Canada is a resource-rich nation. Our economy has grown by exporting energy, minerals, forest and agricultural products. However, we must rely not only on sales, but we must also develop the science and technology to process these resources and provide employment. It is, moreover, essential to support research to preserve the environment, to promote the health of our population and to create vibrant communities in which all can flourish as we refine and export our material goods.

Moving to the future, we look across all fields and to the needs of the new generation of researchers, innovators and entrepreneurs as they start their journey toward global leadership. In research labs they realize their ideas, meet their mentors, and learn skills that are highly valued by every sector. Businesses seek out students who are trained with the latest technologies. Their expertise helps companies develop and commercialize new products and technologies to compete and succeed globally. The new generation is our most important resource.

The future is in our hands and success lies within our grasp. We must seek knowledge and drive innovation through research in resource development, with people, their talents and ideas at the heart. Canada’s population is small on the global scale, but it is educated, dedicated and inspired to achieve results that will have a positive impact on future generations. Our researchers lead the world in many fields and their solutions to the challenges we face provide the reason for hope. We must now, more than ever, continue to support and enable science.

Roseann O’Reilly Runte is President and CEO of the Canada Foundation for Innovation, a non-profit corporation that invests in research infrastructure at Canadian universities, colleges, research hospitals and non-profit research institutions.