Investment in fundamental research benefits us all

Published in the Winnipeg Free Press, Thursday, March 1, 2018          

Annette Trimbee

Annette Trimbee

By Annette Trimbee

This week, the federal government announced a major investment in fundamental research that is being enthusiastically welcomed throughout the nation’s research community. Budget 2018 includes a commitment of $3.8 billion over the next five years which will be provided via the country’s three research granting councils, as well as the Canada Foundation for Innovation. The commitment aligns with recommendations from the Fundamental Science Review Panel Report, which was released last spring.

In the big picture, this is an important step towards reclaiming Canada’s place as a global leader of research and innovation. But it also moves the needle by increasing opportunities for talented young researchers from diverse backgrounds.  That’s a big deal because their discoveries impact our society.  We see this regularly at the University of Winnipeg, where bright minds comes together to find solutions to complex issues.

Melissa Anderson is a fourth-year physics student, and mother of three who moved to Winnipeg from the Fox Lake Cree Nation when she was only 16 years old. In 2016, Anderson worked with UWinnipeg physics professor Dr. Jeff Martin on an ongoing experiment at TRIUMF, a world-class particle accelerator located in Vancouver. Martin and his team are chilling neutrons to an ultra-cold and more measurable state, as part of a larger goal to answer why our universe is composed of matter and not antimatter. Anderson didn’t just assist the project — she helped define it. Using a technique borrowed from one of Martin’s colleagues, she designed an electromagnet that is able to create the uniform and stable magnetic field required for the experiment’s next steps. Anderson’s design is now being prototyped, and she is pursuing more research in astrophysics, as well as graduate studies.

Sheena Gurm, a graduate of UWinnipeg’s Master of Science in Bioscience, Technology and Public Policy program, was honoured just last week by the Bioscience Association of Manitoba for her research into human endogenous retroviruses. Gurm is working with UWinnipeg biology professor Dr. Renée Douville to uncover the effects of these viruses, which are typically dormant parts of our DNA, but have an increased presence in the brains of patients suffering from ALS and schizophrenia. The results could have significant impact on the way we treat neurodegenerative and neuropsychiatric diseases.

2018 will mark the second year for UWinnipeg’s Indigenous Summer Scholar Program, which has enabled outstanding Indigenous undergraduate students to work on research projects ranging from clean water on First Nations to using art and digital media to create new dialogues in Canada. Each student is paired with a faculty member involved in Indigenous research and has a paid position to assist while learning new academic skills.  The program strengthens pathways for Indigenous students to move into advanced study and, ultimately, into leadership in the academy and in all sectors of society. Eight students took part last summer — including Francine Laurin, who assisted Dr. Ian Mauro, investigating opportunities to engage Indigenous communities and contribute to the Prairie Climate Atlas.

These are just a few stories that exemplify the importance of the Canadian government’s support for fundamental research. Not only do these initiatives impact our communities, they also position the next generation of learners for a bright and fulfilling future.

Dr. Annette Trimbee is President and Vice-Chancellor of The University of Winnipeg.

Related: Universities Canada applauds research investment



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