Ottawa creates new fund for big science

Big science projects in Canada—such as the VENUS and NEPTUNE Canada ocean observatories—now have a clear pathway to stable, predictable and long-term operating funding.

Last month, Industry Canada announced the creation of a new Major Science Initiatives (MSI) program within the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI). The $185-million fund will provide up to five years of operating funding support to a select number of big science facilities across the country.

The new program is recognition by the federal government that large-scale research facilities provide a platform for researchers across Canada and around the world to work with the most advanced technology and equipment.

Other big science facilities in Canada include the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory in Ontario, the Amundsen research icebreaker, and two facilities at the University of Saskatchewan—the Canadian Light Source synchrotron and the International Vaccine Centre.

Creation of the new MSI program is in large part due to the efforts of University of Saskatchewan President Peter MacKinnon and University of Victoria President David Turpin, who persistently made the case in Ottawa that long-term funding for big science is essential for Canada to achieve its national and international science and technology objectives.

"This new program is a very important step in providing stable, long-term funding for projects that are so vitally important to the advancement of science, training of the next generation of scientists and Canada's global competitiveness," says MacKinnon. "We look forward to working with CFI on the further development of this program in the coming months."

"We're delighted with this decision," says Turpin. "By providing ongoing support for the operation of major science initiatives in which our country has invested, Ottawa is demonstrating a commitment to sustaining Canada's world leadership in specialized areas of science and technology.

"While the details of the program haven't yet been released, we believe that NEPTUNE and VENUS should fit the criteria and be highly competitive for funds," adds Turpin.

As is customary for CFI, funding support will provide, on average, 40 per cent of the total operating costs of qualifying facilities. Additional support will come from other governments and organizations involved with the facilities.

CFI will consult with stakeholders over the next few months before announcing a formal funding competition in 2011.

The world-leading VENUS and NEPTUNE Canada ocean observatories, developed and managed by Ocean Networks Canada for the University of Victoria, use innovative engineering, data communication and sensor technologies to gather continuous real-time data and images from the ocean depths.

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