Innovative facilities of the (very near) future

Innovative facilities of the (very near) future

The new year brings with it grand openings for Canada’s latest research centres
December 20, 2012

To carry out top-notch research and make groundbreaking advances, academics need world-class tools and facilities. Since its inception in 1997, the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) has funded more than 7,000 research projects across the country, including everything from a world-class synchrotron to an internationally renowned photonics cluster. In preparation for the new year, we thought we would highlight six CFI-funded centres that are set to open in 2013, which will further enhance Canada’s research landscape.

Deep sea without the diving

Memorial University of Newfoundland’s Ocean Sciences Centre (OSC) is a unique, internationally recognized facility that enables scientists to study cold ocean organisms and processes, something that is possible in few other places in the world. In early 2013, it will celebrate the opening of the Cold-ocean and Deep-sea Research Facility (CDRF) — a collection of state-of-the-art facilities and equipment which will further enhance the OSC’s research and build on existing infrastructure. The purpose of the facility is to enable research in three key areas: the study of deep sea organisms, diseases of aquatic organisms and invasive species.

Having a source of deep-seawater will provide consistent, low temperature seawater in which to contain and study marine organisms, including pressure tanks to study deep-ocean organisms under simulated natural pressures. A containment facility will also enable work on aquatic infectious diseases that affect organisms such as salmon and cod, and invasive species such as tunicates which can smother and destroy mussels and oysters. “Invasive species can have all sorts of impacts on ecosystems like the green crab spreading in Newfoundland,” says Ian Fleming, ecologist at the OSC. “Our ability to track and deal with these invasive species depends on our ability to research and understand them.”

The centre’s unique location, at the southeast tip of Newfoundland where sub-arctic and arctic marine organisms co-exist, and within close proximity to North Atlantic deep-sea ecosystems offers a rare opportunity to understand the sea, its organisms and how they are affected by climate change. “The sea is one of those unexplored frontiers,” says Fleming. “We know very little about what’s going on in the deep sea and we want to understand how it operates as an ecosystem.”

Photo credit: Ryan J. Murphy –

All under one roof

The Hospital for Sick Children at the University of Toronto, or Sickkids, has an outstanding reputation and it has, once again, raised the bar with the Sickkids Centre for Research and Learning, scheduled to open in 2013. The centre’s 21 storeys (of which the top 17 are funded by the CFI) will bring together 260 principal investigators and almost 2,000 staff under one roof to encourage innovative collaboration and breakthroughs in child health care.

The new 750,000-square-foot facility will be a hub where Sickkids researchers — currently working in six separate locations — can work together, and where the public can learn about current research projects. “We’ve built neighbourhoods of different research areas into the centre to allow collaboration,” says Janet Rossant, Sickkids’ Chief of Research. When completed, the centre will be the heart of child health care research in Toronto’s Discovery District, and a shining example of the benefits of research collaboration.

Photo credit: Diamond Schmitt Architects / Cicada Design

Putting paper to the test

Developing and optimizing biologically modified surfaces, or biointerfaces, for devices such as biosensors like pregnancy test kits and implants is a slow and painstaking process. Samples have to be tested one at a time. Bioanalytical chemist John Brennan and his team at McMaster University who study biointerfaces and materials, wanted to speed up the process. To do so, they needed cutting-edge equipment and facilities to perform simultaneous tests on multiple surfaces and materials.

The Biointerfaces Institute, set to open in April 2013, will facilitate the study of a large number of interfaces and materials faster and less expensively. This cutting-edge, 10,000-square-foot facility will enable the rapid development of new biomaterials for a variety of products. Brennan already has at least five companies from different sectors pursuing licensing agreements for a rapid water test strip he developed that indicates the presence of E. coli. “The facility isn’t even operational and we already have this interest in our technology and four more potential partnerships in the works,” says Brennan. This is an indication of the facility’s potential to produce innovative research and to act as a catalyst for industry partnerships and commercialization in biointerface research.

Photo credit: McMaster University

Storm's a comin’

Imagine simulating the destructive force of an F3 tornado on power lines or monitoring how a school building withstands wind gusts from a hurricane — all within the safe confines of a research facility. Western University’s Wind Engineering, Energy and Environment Dome (WindEEE) will allow researchers to do just that. The WindEEE Dome will be the world’s first three-dimensional testing chamber, representing a technological breakthrough in the study of wind-related events. It will have the ability to mimic an array of high intensity wind systems, including tornados and downbursts which cannot be created in any existing wind tunnels due to their limited one-way wind direction capabilities.

Horia Hangan, the dome’s lead researcher, says what makes WindEEE unique is its 100 fans capable of generating winds with speeds up to 100 kilometres an hour in multiple directions. WindEEE Dome researchers will look at a variety of scientific, economic and social challenges related to wind such as renovating existing structures and building new ones to harness energy from wind power and reduce wind damage to decrease property loss and high insurance costs.

When the dome opens in 2013, it will boost Western’s leading reputation in wind research and will bolster a world-class wind research cluster in Ontario.

Photo credit: Western University

Through the looking glass

Materials science is, put simply, the study of matter. Chris Wiebe and his team at the University of Winnipeg study magnetic matter used to store large amounts of data in small devices such as cell phones and laptops. Wiebe manipulates magnetic material to increase storage capacity without increasing material size. He has established the Prairie Research Institute for Materials and Energy (PRIME), a crystal growth and materials characterization facility set to be in full operation by mid-January, which will be housed in the new Richardson College for the Environment and Science complex.

The easiest way to study a material is in its purest crystal form. Using PRIME’s CFI-funded high-temperature image furnace, Wiebe and his team can grow large, single crystals of different materials for energy storage devices, new superconductors and other technological spin-offs. “There are only about a half dozen image furnaces in Canada and ours is the only one in the Prairie provinces,” he says.

Wiebe says these furnaces are critical for materials science. They allow scientists to watch crystal growth without being blinded by its light. In an image furnace, the area of extreme heat is so small, it allows for safe, close observation. “It’s revolutionized how we process and make new materials,” says Wiebe. He is excited about what he will be able to do with the furnace. The best crystals in the world are grown in Canada. “This country is very well known for its strength in materials,” he says. “Now we’re able to grow crystals in our lab along with only a handful of labs in Canada.”

Photo credit: University of Winnipeg

No more needles

Researchers at the University of Alberta are on the verge of a major breakthrough in diabetes treatment that could free diabetics from insulin injections. Led by renowned researcher Gregory Korbutt, they have pioneered transplants of insulin-producing cells from pig stem cells and want to begin the first clinical trials in humans. To do so, the Cell and Tissue Innovation Research Centre (CTIRC) is being built, the first platform for cell and tissue production for clinical transplantation in Western Canada.

Slated to open in the fall of 2013, the CTIRC will be a state-of-the-art facility that will produce live cells and tissues for new regenerative medicine treatments. It will be housed at the Alberta Diabetes Institute in Edmonton. The centre will conduct research for lung repair, skin regeneration, cardiac repair and cartilage regeneration, and will provide core facilities to isolate and store umbilical cord blood cells and bone marrow derived stem cells. It will play a vital role in transitioning basic research to a clinical setting. Korbutt says the centre will provide a much-needed technology platform in Alberta to increase support for cell and tissue based clinical trials in Canada. “It will really put Alberta on the map and encourage commercialization in the province.”

Photo credit: Alberta Diabetes Institute