Solving Global Challenges Through Research Partnerships and Collaborations
Canadian researchers work across disciplines, sectors and borders to tackle everything from climate change and green energy to food security and environmental sustainability
By Debbie Lawes

The challenges facing humanity today are increasingly global, complex and interconnected. They are also beyond the capacity of any one scientist, institution or even country to solve.

That became abundantly clear during the COVID-19 pandemic when an unprecedented mobilization of thousands of scientists from around the world worked at breakneck speeds to develop a safe and effective vaccine. It took just two months from sequencing the DNA of the SARS-CoV-2 virus to clinical trials - the fastest in the history of vaccine development.

The concerted response to COVID-19 offers renewed hope that collaborating across disciplines, organizations and borders can develop solutions to other global challenges, from climate change and energy transition to food security and environmental sustainability. Canadian scientists and innovators from government, academia, the public sector and industry are key players in all these initiatives.

University Of Alberta

Preparing for the next pandemic

Canada was unprepared when the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March 2020. A dearth of vaccine manufacturing capacity, the exit of major pharma companies, and a lack of highly skilled workers all hindered the country's ability to respond quickly to the largest global health crisis in a century.

Not again. The federal government is investing $570 million to strengthen Canada's pandemic preparedness with the creation of five new research hubs, including one led by the University of Alberta.

The PRAIRIE Hub brings together experts, research facilities and training programs from the University of Alberta, in partnership with universities, government, and industry across Western Canada - all in a coordinated effort to accelerate the development and commercialization of vaccines, antivirals and diagnostics.

"To help Canada prepare for the next pandemic we needed a broad and robust approach, one that identifies our specific regional strengths and coordinates them into a cohesive national response. The hubs play a key role in this response," said Dr. Aminah Robinson Fayek, Vice-President (Research and Innovation) at U of A.

The U of A also houses the Striving for Pandemic Preparedness Research Consortium, which received $55 million from the provincial government to create a made-in-Alberta vaccine and drug development pipeline. These initiatives bring together world-renowned experts in virology, diagnostics and antivirals, including Drs. Lorne Tyrrell, Michael Houghton, David Evans, Matthias Götte, Joanne Lemieux, and Chris Le, as well as researchers in public health and the social impacts of pandemics. Dr. Timothy

Caulfield, for example, is a leader in dispelling COVID-19 misinformation and an important contributor to scientific literacy.

"On the infrastructure side, we also host Canada's largest biosafety Level 3 facilities for cell culture and pre-clinical animal studies, and the Canadian Critical Drug Initiative, a new biomanufacturing facility that will produce critically needed drugs and create hundreds of jobs in the next four years," said Fayek.

Preparing for the next pandemic requires a new perspective - one that acknowledges the human-animal-environment connection in infectious diseases, she added.

"The PRAIRIE Hub has a unique strength in this "One Health" approach, recognizing the importance of these relationships and the need to act collaboratively, at local, national, and global levels, in providing protection from future pandemics."

Ottawa's Biotherapeutics Manufacturing Centre

Bringing life-saving therapies to patients faster

Translating scientific discovery into life-saving therapies can be notoriously slow, often taking 10 to 20 years. The Ottawa Hospital is cutting that time in half with a translational accelerator program that includes a world-class facility that turns biological materials such as genes, cells and viruses into new therapies.

Thanks to the BMC, we launched the first clinical trial of made-in-Canada CAR-T therapy in 2019. That trial has saved more than a dozen lives so far, and we are now expanding it across the country.

Dr. Duncan Stewart
Executive Vice-President of Research, The Ottawa Hospital
"Over the last five years, there has been an unprecedented surge in demand for biomanufacturing to produce innovative treatments for cancer, cardiovascular disease, neurological disease and other conditions," said Dr. Duncan Stewart, a senior scientist in regenerative medicine and Executive Vice-President of Research at The Ottawa Hospital.

The Biotherapeutics Manufacturing Centre (BMC) was launched 16 years ago to help meet that demand. Since then, it has manufactured more than 20 different biotherapies and vaccines for human clinical trials in Canada, the U.S., Europe and Asia. It also produced a promising cellular therapy for COVID-19 within a few months at the height of the pandemic.

"BMC is unique because our biomanufacturing facility is embedded within a research hospital, and because we're the only such facility with a track record of both virus and cell manufacturing," explained Stewart.

For example, the BMC is the only Canadian facility capable of manufacturing clinical-grade viruses that can reprogram a patient's immune cells to recognize and kill their cancer.

"Thanks to BMC, we launched the first clinical trial of made-in-Canada CAR-T therapy in 2019. That trial has saved more than a dozen lives so far, and we are now expanding it across the country," said Stewart.

Collaborations have been key to the BMC's success. Over the past five years, it has partnered with cell manufacturing facilities in Alberta and British Columbia, BioCanRx and the National Research Council. More recently, it played a key role in creating the Canadian Pandemic Preparedness Hub (CP2H), which brings together industry, academia, healthcare, and government to move discoveries into clinical practice - quickly and cost-effectively.

"Our hub is particularly strong in biomanufacturing, which is the biggest gap in this process," said Stewart. "We have an incredible opportunity right now to expand BMC as part of The Ottawa Hospital's new campus and solidify Ottawa's role as a leading destination for health innovation and early-phase clinical trials."

Lakehead University

Decolonizing cancer care

Cancer is among the leading causes of death for First Nations people in Canada.

Traditional healing could help to reverse this worrying trend.

That's the idea driving a five-year, $1.2-million project led by the Indigenous Research Chair in Decolonial Futures at Lakehead University. Dr. Lana Ray and her team, including Dr. Anna Koné, Associate Professor in Lakehead's Department of Health Sciences, have partnered with traditional knowledge holders and Waasegiizhig Nanaandawe'iyewigamig Health Access Centre (WNHAC), an Indigenous health clinic in Kenora, Ont.

The project explores cancer as a symptom of colonialism, and how traditional healing, on its own and/or integrated with Western medicine, can reduce cancer risks.

"The health problems that resulted from colonialism are far reaching, whether from intergenerational trauma, poverty or a western diet. This project is looking at how to reverse some of those risk factors by exploring how traditional healing can protect against the impacts of colonialism for Indigenous people in Kenora," said Dr. Andrew P. Dean, Vice-President, Research and Innovation at Lakehead University.

The project supports one of the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions calls to action: to recognize the value of Indigenous healing practices and use them in the treatment of Indigenous patients in collaboration with Indigenous healers and Elders.

"I don't know of another project like this," said Dean. "It's a new area of study, and an under-researched one."

As a northern university, Lakehead has strong links with local Indigenous communities. For example, last year's launch of the Anishinaabe Kendaasiwin

Institute (AKI) (loosely translated to "Anishnaabe knowledge systems") seeks to privilege Anishinaabe ways of knowing and being in research, to advance research excellence defined by

Anishinaabe peoples and principles, to expand and support Indigenous governed and driven research, and to support community building and mobilization between Indigenous peoples.

Ray is also the Director of AKI. "AKI was founded on the premise that if research is done right, it can play an important role in advancing the visions and needs of Indigenous peoples and lands," she said in a release announcing the new institute. "We at AKI are committed to engaging in research that is relevant to Indigenous peoples and meets Indigenous defined ethical standards."


Raising the bar for global water research

The University of Calgary is rapidly becoming a global centre for water research. On Nov. 16, the federal government awarded UCalgary a distinguished Canada Excellence Research Chair in Indigenous Ways of Climate and Water Sustainability for Planetary Health and Well-being, held by Anishinaabe scholar Dr. Deborah McGregor.

Just one week earlier, UCalgary learned it would lead the world's first United Nations University Hub focused on water. Four research clusters across campus will study essential areas of water studies: understanding changes in aquatic ecosystems, infectious diseases in a changing climate, environmental predictions for water sustainability, and resilience in Indigenous communities.

And in March, news came that UCalgary would host a new UNESCO Chair in Mountain Water Sustainability. Six world-class chairholders, including two from UCalgary, are studying how we forecast the impact of climate warming on water sources, developing new climate change mitigation measures, and increasing the resilience of communities that rely on mountain waters.

"Our university has a critical mass of interdisciplinary expertise and specialized infrastructure that make us a compelling choice for water research," said Dr. William Ghali, Vice-President (Research), UCalgary. "We're also located in a major mountain watershed zone, so the challenges related to water are also local challenges."

Much of this research happens off campus, including at the UCalgary-operated Kluane Lake Research Station in the Yukon. Another research station at Barrier Lake, just west of Calgary, hosts scholars studying issues such as water sustainability, glaciers, and climate change.

Research is increasingly done in partnership with companies, not-for-profits, Indigenous groups and government - those best equipped to translate science into solutions. One of UCalgary's most established partners is the City of Calgary.

In one initiative, UCalgary and the city developed a $36.8-million research facility called ACWA (Advancing Canadian Water Assets) that is integrated into a municipal wastewater treatment plant to study and pilot leading-edge water, stormwater, and wastewater treatment technologies. The facility's 12 naturalized, experimental streams allow scientists to conduct real-world tests without negative impacts to the environment.

"Partnerships with government are particularly important," said Ghali, "as they provide the knowledge governments need to enact policies that protect waterways and enhance water sustainability. The potential for impact is so much greater."


Making Canada more inclusive for immigrants

Canada has set an ambitious target of increasing the number of new permanent residents from 465,000 in 2023 to 500,000 in 2026 to tackle growing labour shortages and to support economic growth.

But integrating these newcomers into Canadian society comes with challenges, including societal polarization, housing crises and leveraging foreign education credentials.

"At the same time, you have technological transformation impacting all of this, from how migration is governed and how permits are processed to how migrants participate in social and political life," said Dr. Anna Triandafyllidou, the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Migration and Integration at Toronto Metropolitan University and Scientific Director of Bridging Divides.

TMU is leading a new seven-year program to understand the socio-economic and technological changes that can help immigrants - as well as all Canadians - improve their health, employment, citizenship and social engagement.

The Migrant Integration in the Mid-21st Century: Bridging Divides program received $98.6 million in April from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund - the single largest grant in TMU's history. The program's 35 research leaders are collaborating with more than 100 scholars from TMU, Concordia University, University of British Columbia and University of Alberta.

"Our university's excellence in this area is predicated on over 30 years of research related to migration and settlement," explained Dr. Steven N. Liss, TMU's Vice-President, Research and Innovation. "We also have a deep pool of faculty cutting across several faculties. It allows us, in collaboration with our partners, to look at the issue of migrant integration from a variety of lenses."

The goal is to produce practical solutions that can be used by governments and not-for-profit groups to modernize immigration policies to build communities that are equitable, resilient and inclusive to migrants. This is a particular challenge in smaller cities with labour shortages and an aging population.

"It comes down to the basic infrastructure and support systems that allow people the freedom to be productive members of society," said Liss. "We don't want to leave any Canadians behind, including new Canadians."

"Compared to many other countries, Canada is doing generally great in terms of migration and migrant integration," added Triandafyllidou. "But it's a bit like a marriage. You have to keep working at it."


Collaborative portal makes innovating easier

If governments want more than 2% of Canadian businesses to invest in research and development, don't make innovation so difficult.

In Ontario alone, there are 56 post-secondary institutions, along with myriad accelerators, funding programs and other innovation supports. Where is a small or medium company with limited time and resources to start?

A new online matchmaking platform is using artificial intelligence to offer a solution.

"With the Ontario Collaborative Innovation Platform (OCIP), we're working with our partners to create 'no wrong door' to the innovation ecosystem," said Robert Luke, CEO, eCampusOntario, a consortium of the province's publicly assisted colleges, universities and Indigenous institutes whose mission is to advance innovation, collaboration and digital by design education.

Officially rolled out in September and funded by the Ontario Ministry of Colleges and Universities, OCIP provides an easy-to-use portal where companies can register and then fill out a form providing an overview of their challenge, and some basic information about their business. The platform then matches them to an expert who provides a confidential assessment on what's needed to go from idea to invoice.

"The system connects with our member institution research offices to ensure faster facilitation of projects and grant applications should the business wish to do this," said Luke.

As of November, more than 80 businesses had registered with OCIP. Over the past two years more than 100 projects have been supported, including with the City of Toronto and in conjunction with the Richmond Hill Small Business Enterprise Centre.

PharmaGuide, for example, needed expert help to advance a new cloud-based pharmacy tool. OCIP matched the Richmond Hill, Ont. company with OCAD University and funding to further develop an inventory management system powered by a machine-learning algorithm. Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has since invested in the startup.

OCIP has also partnered with the Industrial Research Assistance Program to make it easier for Indigenous businesses in rural and remote areas to connect to innovation accelerators in large cities.

"This pilot project is funding the scoping process that can help Indigenous businesses accelerate their innovation journey," said Luke. "These are vital entrepreneurial activities that are helping to support economic reconciliation."


Using AI and 5G to quickly identify structural defects

Canada is facing an estimated $150 billion infrastructure deficit, with extreme weather related to climate change putting thousands of bridges, buildings and other aging structures at even greater risk of catastrophic failure.

Prioritizing which structures are in greatest need of repair or replacement is difficult and time consuming, especially in rural and remote areas.

That's about to change. Rogers Communications is leveraging an established partnership with the University of Waterloo to test a technology that uses 5th generation (5G) cellular networks, artificial intelligence (AI), sensors, robots and augmented and virtual reality to assess in real-time the structural integrity of bridges, cellular and hydro towers, and other civic infrastructure.

"For all those technologies to work, you need a high-speed, low-latency, high-capacity network, which is what Rogers brings to the table with its 5G network," said Neel Dayal, Senior Director, Partnership and Innovation, Rogers Communications.

Rogers wants to transform the technology into a service aimed at government departments, such as transportation and civil engineering companies. Initially, it will likely be used to inspect Roger's national network of over 4,000 cell towers.

"There aren't enough inspectors to visit every site, especially in remote areas. This is a particular challenge with bridges which are supposed to be inspected every two years," said Dr. Chul Min Yeum, Assistant Professor in Waterloo's Civil and Environmental Engineering department, and Rogers' collaborator on the project.

The goal of the Remote Inspection Platform is to develop immersive representations of job sites that provide inspectors with far more information than would be possible with a typical onsite visual inspection. Drones in the air and robots on the ground scan the structure, transferring data from cameras and sensors to a remote server via the Rogers 5G network for processing with AI.

"We want to create a type of industrial virtual space where onsite and remote human engineers and their robotic counterparts work together in an immersive environment in real-time to do inspections," said Yeum.

"As more data is collected over time," added Dayal, "we will be able to develop a comprehensive catalogue that can inform how we design structures to be more resilient to climate change."


Developing a "safety net" for GPS failures

Much of North America's critical infrastructure, from transportation systems and stock markets to electric grids and air-traffic control, rely on GPS for uninterrupted access to satellite positioning, navigation and timing services. But GPS transmissions are vulnerable to disruptions caused by interference, solar flares, cyber attacks and other risks. Without these vital timing capabilities, the Canadian and U.S. economies would come to a standstill.

"We're looking at a resilient solution, called Broadcast Positioning System (BPS), that could provide a GPS safety net for many sectors. It's a solution that is possible through the new television broadcast standard known as ATSC 3.0. This new terrestrial transmission standard offers precision timing capabilities that can help augment potential outages or massive kinds of system failures that might happen," said Orest Sushko, Director of the Broadcast-Broadband Convergence B2C Lab, located at Humber College.

Established in 2022, the B2C Lab is the first-of-its kind front-facing industry research facility in North America. It is equipped with both an ATSC 3.0 broadcast system and multiple 5G core networks, combining the best of global data delivery standards technologies. The ATSC 3.0 next-generation television standard can converge with other networks including 5G, Wi-fi and Bluetooth.

"Convergence allows the formation of a heterogeneous network where IP (internet protocol) data can move across all these systems creating a network of networks," said Sushko.

The B²C Lab was granted Canada's first and only ATSC 3.0 developmental (experimental) broadcast license, with three broadcast transmitter sites covering the Toronto region. A fourth site will soon be co-located atop the CN Tower, expanding coverage to 25% of Canada's marketplace.

"Humber's testbed configuration offers the triangulation necessary to further develop terrestrial Position Navigation and Timing solutions." said Sushko.

Current research on BPS has been presented and demonstrated on Humber's testbed with Avateq Corporation, a Markham, Ont.-based RF equipment manufacturer, New Jersey-based Triveni Digital, a broadcast solutions company, and the U.S. National Association of Broadcasters.

Sushko described the research as "a work in progress", adding that BPS is but one component of B2C Lab research. "We work with a variety of industry stakeholders that are interested in developing both television and non-television applications using the new ATSC standard."


Mimicking a cyberattack to protect victims

Canada experienced nearly 71,000 malicious cyber threats with over $530 million stolen in 2022, according to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

A new partnership between the University of Ottawa and IBM is countering this threat with a unique training and research hub that uses hyper realistic simulations to train students, government bureaucrats and industry professionals on how to identify, respond to, manage, contain, and remediate cyberattacks.

"Panic quickly ensues in organizations when a cyberattack happens. We're trying to mimic that panic in an immersive and interactive simulated environment," said Dr. Sylvain Charbonneau, uOttawa's Vice-President, Research and Innovation.

Panic quickly ensues in organizations when a cyberattack happens. We’re trying to mimic that panic in an immersive and interactive simulated environment, with the uOttawa-IBM Cyber Range.

Dr. Sylvain Charbonneau
Vice-President, Research and Innovation, University of Ottawa
Launched in October, the uOttawa-IBM Cyber Range is IBM's third training hub globally and the only one in an academic institution. IBM pledged more than $21 million in-kind contributions over five years to support the hub, and uOttawa committed nearly $7 million.

Charbonneau said IBM was drawn by the university's strengths in cybersecurity, as well as its proximity to federal government departments, national security agencies, and the country's largest high-tech park. The hub involves academic experts from multiple disciplines, including software engineering, computer science, business management, law, and ethics.

Cyber Range will also train undergraduate and graduate students to help fill a workforce shortage of cybersecurity professionals. New microprograms and micro-credentials, including industry certifications, will also be offered to private and public sector professionals.

To better prepare business professionals in uncovering and investigating a cyberattack, some simulations will require them to scramble to respond to the technical, legal, and public relations demands associated with a data breach.

Researchers can watch this realistic chaos unfold in real-time from observing rooms to better understand the psychology and behaviour of both victim and perpetrator. One project with the Université de Montréal, bringing together experts from the faculties of law, social science and engineering, is examining the gap between legal frameworks and cybersecurity practices to inform more ethical policies and regulations.

Added Charbonneau: "Research and training need to be ongoing because the hackers will always be developing new tools to bypass our defences."


Bringing AI-powered soil maps to farmers

Farmers have a new high-tech tool to measure and map the health of their soil, thanks to a seven-year collaboration between Niagara College and SoilOptix, a soil-mapping company in Southern Ontario.

We help companies develop technology and products, but to commercialize and scale that up they need talent, and that’s why they keep hiring our students.

Dr. Marc Nantel
Vice-President – Research, Innovation & Strategic Enterprises, Niagara College
SoilOptix's top-soil mapping sensor attaches to farm equipment that travels across fields collecting gamma rays emitted from the soil to measure soil nutrients, and minerals such as calcium, magnesium and potassium. The high-definition maps help farmers optimize the performance of their inputs (e.g., fertilizer, seeds, irrigation), strengthen soil health, and produce more food at less cost.

But the process was time-consuming, taking each data analyst about eight hours to map every field.

To help, SoilOptix approached Dr. Mike Duncan, a research chair in computer technologies at Niagara College's Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre. The research team used a mixed bag of technologies, including artificial intelligence and geographic information system (GIS) technology, to automate the process and reduce that time to less than an hour. They are now working to get this down to seconds.

"SoilOptix went from having one analyst map one field per day to 20 fields per day, with the ultimate target of having one analyst able to map a thousand fields per day by 2030," said Dr. Marc Nantel, Vice-President - Research, Innovation & Strategic Enterprises, Niagara College.

As a result of this partnership, SoilOptix has gone from mapping about 110,000 acres in 2019 to 500,000 acres in 2022, with its target this year set at approximately 800,000 acres. The company recently announced plans to expand its service to farmers in 51 European countries, including Ukraine.

Niagara College drew on its expertise in computer science and data programming to advance SoilOptix's technology. The company has since hired several Niagara College students who worked on the project.

"We help companies develop technology and products, but to commercialize and scale that up they need talent, and that's why they keep hiring our students," said Nantel.

"The biggest advantage to working with college applied research is that we don't just give companies a solution at the end," he added. "We try to make sure that they have the in-house capacity to continue to be innovative."


New rapid test could help save citrus industry

Seneca Polytechnic recently partnered with an Ottawa biomanufacturer to develop a new diagnostic that could help save the USD$3-billion citrus industry.

Huanglongbing disease, or citrus greening, is the most serious disease affecting citrus, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The bacterial disease is difficult for farmers to detect as trees can remain asymptomatic for months to years after infection.

Evik Diagnostic Innovations approached Seneca for specialized expertise in developing a rapid test that would allow farmers to quickly identify the disease to prevent the spread. The concept is similar to a do-it-yourself COVID-19 test.

Evik manufactures medical diagnostic components such as assay reagents in the form of freeze-dried pellets. The assay reagents are used in point-of-care disposable tests to detect and analyze medical symptoms and infectious diseases such as COVID-19, HIV and anthrax. Evik approached Seneca for assistance in developing primers - key ingredients in DNA synthesis - that can detect this specific citrus pathogen.

"We have worked with Evik on numerous projects supporting the development of foundational molecular testing technologies and reagents to detect pathogens, including for a bacteria that causes Legionnaires' disease, so we were a logical partner to help in adapting their platform for agricultural applications," said Ben Rogers, Dean, Seneca Applied Research.

The research collaboration succeeded in developing a proof-of-concept, and discussions have begun on refining the technology and developing a more sophisticated lab test that would provide farmers with more detailed information about specific pathogens. Once commercialized, this new application would allow Evik to break into the plant diagnostics market.

Seneca Applied Research works with more than 100 small- and medium-sized companies and community partners in three priority areas: artificial intelligence, health and social innovation, and life sciences.

"Seneca Applied Research provides a single point of contact where partners can leverage our equipment and expertise, and access to funding to solve partner-driven challenges," said Rogers. "Working with our students is one of the biggest benefits, and our research partners frequently hire student research assistants after they graduate."


A plant-based solution to food security

Global food systems account for 20-25% of global CO2 emissions, with a large portion of that coming from animal agriculture and the use of synthetic fertilizers.

Protein Industries Canada believes a global shift to more plant-based protein can significantly reduce the food sector's emissions, while ensuring everyone on the planet has healthy and nutritious food. The organization is working with partners here and abroad to maximize the innovation potential of crops like pulses and canola to build a a $25-billion industry employing 17,000 workers by 2035.

"The development of supply chains over the next number of years requires us to incentivize innovation and ingredient manufacturing so we can be at the forefront of a once-in-a-generation economic opportunity that plant-based foods represent," said Bill Greuel, CEO of Protein Industries Canada, one of Canada's five industry-led Global Innovation Clusters.

Protein Industries Canada recently received $150 million in renewed federal funding to establish the infrastructure, expertise and processing innovation to transition Canada from a commodity supplier of crops to a leading supplier of plant-based ingredients and finished food products.

Building a successful industry depends on developing products that consumers want.

"The biggest innovation gaps in this sector are around taste, texture and price," said Greuel. "If it doesn't taste good and it's too expensive, consumers are not going to eat it."

In one project, Protein Industries Canada collaborated with Toronto-based New School Foods on a proprietary technology that uses a plant-based protein to mimic the whole muscle cuts of meat. "It cuts and flakes just like a real salmon fillet," he said.

Protein Industries Canada also struck a new $20-million partnership with Innovate UK, the UK's national innovation agency, to develop new plant-based ingredients, foods and animal feed. It is working to forge similar partnerships between companies in Canada, Asia, the U.S., and the Netherlands - the world's second-largest exporter of agricultural products.

"The first pillar of our international engagement strategy is creating new markets," said Greuel. "That means having more high-value Canadian ingredients and food products embedded in the supply chains of food manufacturers on a global basis."


Securing a more complex world

Defence and security are growing areas of concern for Canada and its allies. To mitigate potential threats, Canada collaborates with NATO's 30-plus member countries, the Five Eyes intelligence alliance, and other allied nations such as Japan.

We have about 500 scientists but have access to about 4,000 more through our collaborations with our partners internationally and in Canada. Putting all those brains together can amplify and fast-track solutions.

Dr. Jaspinder Komal
Assistant Deputy Minister at DRDC
Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC) is a major player in these collaborations. The S&T organization of the Department of National Defence operates seven research centres across Canada, focusing on a broad range of challenges, from designing better body armour for female soldiers to using artificial intelligence to improve decision making in the field.

"We have about 500 scientists but have access to about 4,000 more through our collaborations with our partners internationally and in Canada. Putting all those brains together can amplify and fast-track solutions," said Dr. Jaspinder Komal, Assistant Deputy Minister at DRDC.

The United States is Canada's largest and longest standing S&T partner when it comes to defence and security. A significant collaboration is a $4.23-billion program for modernizing the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD), which includes initial funding of $266 million for priorities such as hypersonic and advanced cruise missile defence, undersea surveillance, quantum technologies, and enabling defence R&D in the Arctic.

DRDC also collaborates with the Department of Homeland Security S&T Directorate on S&T for critical infrastructure protection and border security. That partnership has since expanded to include law enforcement and a broader range of emergency management threats such as fires, floods, and extreme weather.

"In the early 2000s, we were looking at threats from biological weapons like anthrax," said Komal. "Now we're facing other threats, such as a drone dropping a bomb, a cybersecurity attack, or wildfires and flooding, like we saw across Canada this summer."

DRDC partnered with DHS S&T this summer to test new ground sensors for early detection of wildfires. Sensors were deployed at Canadian Forces Base Valcartier and the municipality of Baie-Comeau to detect airborne levels of particulate matter and volatile organic compounds (e.g., carbon monoxide) from a controlled burn. Early results were promising, with several wildfires identified within 30-60 minutes of starting.

"Early detection of wildfires will allow responders to act earlier and more effectively to save communities," said Komal.


Partnering with the Global South

More than 80% of the estimated 110 million refugees and migrants worldwide are hosted in countries in the Global South. But more than 90% of the science that informs decisions about these forcibly displaced people comes from researchers and funders based in the Global North.

"Grand challenges like climate change, inequality and forced migration are borderless. They require global solutions, but also local context. By working with researchers from those countries you have a better chance of influencing policymakers and turning research into impact," said Julie Delahanty, President and CEO of the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), a Crown corporation established over 50 years ago to help developing countries use science and technology to find practical, long-term solutions to social, economic, and environmental problems.

That's the goal behind the IDRC Research Chairs on Forced Displacement Network, an $8-million program that funds 12 research chairs in Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and the Americas. The program is administered by Carleton University on behalf of IDRC.

Each chair will recruit 15 or more graduate students and post-doctoral fellows to work on various research projects, which Delahanty said helps build a critical mass of local expertise on forced displacement.

IDRC's support of scholars in the Global South is also providing developing countries with the evidence they need to mitigate the effects of climate change. For example, last year's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report included the most comprehensive chapter to date on how a warming climate is impacting the African continent.

The evidence for that chapter came from a team of African researchers funded through the Climate Adaptation and Resilience (CLARE) research program - a joint initiative of IDRC and the United Kingdom's Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).

"There had never been a very strong Africa section to the IPCC report before then," said Delahanty, who describes the $180-million initiative as one of the world's largest climate action research programs. Its first competition recently funded 16 projects across 26 countries in Africa and the Asia Pacific, with the aim of implementing socially inclusive and sustainable solutions.

Debbie Lawes ( is an Ottawa-based writer specializing in science, technology and innovation.