For the chemists and engineers that work at Canada’s National Research Council — or in collaboration with it — the last two years have been a period of significant change. Under the leadership of President John R. McDougall, the nearly 100-year-old institution has refocused itself on helping to grow Canadian industry by providing the scientific research and development infrastructure and expertise that many companies seem to lack. Today, the NRC announced that it is officially “open for business.” In this post, I’d like to invite our members and readers to respond.
The events at NRC touch on the age-old (some would say false) debate between funding fundamental, ‘blue-sky’ research versus translational research, i.e. that which is done with a specific application in mind. Most agree that both are needed: the question is how to divide up the responsibility for delivering them between government, academia and industry. In the pages of our magazine, this issue has been addressed by many prominent members of Canada’s chemical community: Howard Alper, chair of Canada’s Science, Technology and Innovation Council (Q and A, Feb 2012 issue); senator Kelvin Ogilvie, chair of the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology (sidebar to Q and A, April 2012 issue) and Nobel laureate John C. Polanyi (guest column, October 2011 issue.) Their comments have ranged from strong support for NRC’s new mandate (Ogilvie) to a sense that public policy may be ‘encroaching’ on the freedom scientists need to do their jobs (Polanyi.)
We will continue to explore this issue with columns and letters to the editor in future issues, but in the meantime I’m sure that many of our readers will have something to say. I invite them to present their views on the latest development in the comments section below.
Update 2013-05-14: CSC president Cathleen Crudden has been quoted in an article in Chemistry World about the changes at the NRC. While she says that “the government should get credit” for trying to solve the problem of the so-called innovation gap, she also says that the move oversimplifies the picture when it comes to basic versus applied research. “Many researchers at NRC and in universities are already involved in industrial partnerships carrying out applied work,” she says. “We need to make sure that both ends of the spectrum are funded as much as possible in order for Canada to continue to be a leader in science and engineering.” Read her full comments here and be sure to add yours below.