Successes and Future Challenges for Canadian Research and Development
by Arthur Carty
Monday, May 16, 2005 | Québec City, Canada
Arthur Carty, National Science Advisor to the Prime Minister of Canada, delivered the Society’s plenary address. Prior to being appointed to his present post, Dr. Carty was President of the National Research Council of Canada (NRC), following a distinguished academic career at Memorial University and at the University of Waterloo. Dr. Carty maintains an active research group at NRC in the field of synthetic chemistry and metal clusters. In his introduction, ECS 3rd Vice-President Barry MacDougall spoke about the days when he and Dr. Carty were colleagues at the NRC, and shared a love for good science and good wine. Dr. Carty began his plenary talk by noting that the government advisory position in science and technology was created only recently, in April 2004. He listed the priorities of the advisory position in terms of mapping a long term vision for Canadian science and technology: fostering international collaborations and identifying challenges for the developing world; establishing horizontal collaborations between research institutions, universities, and industry; and balancing excellence in science and technology with societal benefits and economical growth.
Dr. Carty noted the need to invigorate R&D in government laboratories in Canada and to push research outcomes from the laboratories to the commercial realm. Government outlays in R&D, as a percentage of GDP, have increased in Canada and have lagged behind only very few countries such as Finland, Australia, and Japan. He pointed out that Canada had lost less ground than many countries during the dot-com bubble burst in the 1990s. In 2004-05, Canadian R&D outlay was about 25 billion dollars and had increased by about 13 billion dollars from 1997-98 to 2003-04. Interestingly ca. 70% of this increase occurred over the last four-year time span. He then went on to point out the positive impact of these recent investments by the government.
As many as 21 National Centres of Excellence and 52 community research alliances have been established, particularly in the areas of genomics and proteomics. The Canada Research Chairs Program has been a resounding success and has been instrumental in retaining talented academic researchers and in aiding the recruitment of “stars” from other universities worldwide. In a 2004 report in Nature by D. A. King on the scientific impact of nations, Canada ranked a creditable 6th in the world from among 31 countries including G-8 and EU nations. In spite of these impressive advances, Carty noted that industrial innovation was still lacking in the country.
The lecture then focused on the development of national strategies in emerging areas including nanotechnology, quantum information technology, biotech, and sustainable energy. He pointed out the many joint initiatives recently established in these disciplines, including NSERC, NINT, Nano Quebec, CERION, and the Canadian Light Source (synchrotron beam facility). He also briefly described the activities in many NRC institutes including the Steacie Institute for Molecular Sciences and the Institute for Chemical Process and Environmental Technology.
The final part of the lecture dealt with specific examples drawn from recent advances in Canada in the area of nanocoatings designed for erosion damage control. Modification of the standard titanium nitride coating with a proprietary TiXN composition brought about a diminution in the erosion rate to one-seventh of the benchmark level. Nanocatalysis for fuel cell applications and computational materials design were identified as other active areas of technological import. Dr. Carty concluded his very informative talk with a clear message that a strong R&D base was crucial to the economic well-being of any nation (with Canada being no exception) and the key to this was collaboration at all stages of the science, technology, and the innovation spectrum.