Grants help fuel Western as ‘engine’ of change

Paul Mayne/Western News

Paul Wiegert, Graduate Program Director at Western’s renowned Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration celebrates discovery research grants by NSERC.

Researchers at Western will share $23.9 million in fundamental research grants and scholarships from the federal government – with grant-supported projects across the country seeing a 20 per cent increase over last year’s funding.

More than 90 projects at Western will benefit from this funding, said Kate Young, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Science and Sport, who was on campus Thursday for the announcement.

They encompass a wide range of research – including designer cells, cognitive development,  mercury in northern lakes, the Internet of Things, star formation and new ways of converting waste into energy.

She said Western is “at the head of the class in scientific research in Canada,” and this support will go a long way towards bolstering the nation’s economy.

“When researchers are given tools to push the boundaries of knowledge, amazing things happen. And we have seen that, first-hand, at Western. These discoveries lead to innovations that will grow the economy and help ensure Canada has a workforce capable of taking on the challenges of today and tomorrow,” Young said.

“Supporting these projects will help attract more students to Western, which will support more jobs, more lab technicians and more support staff. We must make sure (constituents) understand how important Western is to the economy of London and Canada.”

The $23.9 million Western researchers and students will receive comes from more than $558 million in discovery research funding, announced earlier this week by Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science and Sport. The investment is part of the federal government’s plan to attract global talent, promote diversity and provide about 4,300 researchers and students with the means to pursue world-leading discovery work. It is the largest investment in research from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) this year and it includes $70 million in new funding announced in Budget 2018.

The federal government believes in the importance of fundamental research and understands there is “an inherent tie between fundamental research and economic growth,” noted Peter Fragiskatos, Member of Parliament for London North Centre.

“It’s not always easy to make the case or connection between fundamental research, economic growth and social prosperity – but we have to make that case,” he said.

“Fundamental research is ultimately about living in a society that cherishes the values of research in terms of discovery and learning, but also what it means for people’s lives. Each and every one of you is carrying out work that benefits people’s lives and makes people’s lives better,” he told Western researchers at Thursday’s event.

In today’s competitive funding environment, having the kind of success Western is seeing is remarkable, said John Capone, Western’s Vice-President (Research). The support extended to Western researchers “sustains research at a critical moment and has an impact on short- and long-term social and economic prosperity.”

“A university is the engine of that and Western is in an excellent position to lead that charge,” he said.

“These investments are catalysts for ideas and discoveries, helping scholars push the boundaries of how we understand technology, industry, health and the environment – and, as importantly, how we can apply these findings to benefit Canada and Canadians.”

Physics and Astronomy professor Paul Wiegert, whose research is among the funded projects, noted the support from NSERC allows researchers to make world-changing discoveries.

“Funding enables us to discover new worlds – literally,” he noted, mentioning Western discoveries of asteroids and exoplanets. “Basic research funding allows us to open doors to infinite possibilities.”

This year, NSERC is providing more than $5 million in additional supplements for early-career researchers, ensuring the next generation of scientists, engineers and researchers will have the tools they need to flourish. The investment at Western will support projects in areas ranging from Physics to Chemistry to Computer Engineering.

WESTERN NSERC FUNDING:

Total: $23.9M

  • $18M will go towards Discovery Grants;
  • $3.4M will go towards scholarships;
  • $1M will go towards Research Tools Instruments and Infrastructure; and
  • $0.9M will go towards Discovery Accelerator Supplements.