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Sharing infrastructure, resources and research findings are priorities for the Ocean Frontier Institute, where collaborations are valued for their potential to create a bigger impact.SUPPLIED

In Labrador, a multi-disciplinary team of researchers is working closely with Inuit communities. Their aim is to translate knowledge about past and current ecosystem indicators – from microbes to fish to plants to humans – into a comprehensive strategy for effectively managing coastal areas that face climate change, fishing challenges and other pressures.

“At the end of the day, we will be judged on whether our research has a demonstrable impact,” says Wendy Watson-Wright, CEO of the Ocean Frontier Institute (OFI), an interdisciplinary and transnational hub for ocean research led by Dalhousie University, Memorial University of Newfoundland and the University of Prince Edward Island. “We have two objectives: to better understand how and why the ocean is changing, and to use research to identify potential solutions.”

Approaches to ocean development need to be sustainable, globally competitive and benefit communities – and these goals can only be achieved through team efforts, says Dr. Watson-Wright. OFI is working with a range of partners from communities, industry and government as well as researchers from Ireland, Norway, Germany, France and the U.S.

More than 500 international research teams work on seabed mapping, ocean observation, weather, climate and polar research, marine biotechnology and marine spatial planning in the Atlantic Ocean. Dr. Watson-Wright sees two important factors that allow Canadian researchers to fully participate – and take leadership roles – in such research efforts: one, existing research infrastructure, and two, a culture of collaboration.

Both components have been advanced through the efforts of the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), which was founded just over 20 years ago to establish state-of-the-art research facilities in universities and colleges across Canada to help curb the “brain drain,” says Roseann O’Reilly Runte, the CFI’s president and CEO.

We have twoobjectives: to betterunderstand howand why the oceanis changing, andto use research toidentify potentialsolutions.

Wendy Watson-Wright CEO, Ocean Frontier Institute

“The remarkable results of these investments have been magnified by collaborations among government, universities, businesses and industry,” says Dr. Runte, who adds that the networks created have significantly shaped Canada’s research and innovation landscape.

“We succeeded in creating many wonderful facilities that help to keep bright minds in Canada and also attract researchers from around the world,” she says. “We are now also looking at amplifying our impact by focusing our outreach on connecting the private sector to these experts and their facilities.”

One key initiative the CFI has launched to facilitate this outreach is the Research Facilities Navigator, an online directory of cutting-edge labs and expertise that was initially comprised of CFI-funded infrastructure but is now being expanded to include a range of other facilities, says Dr. Runte.

Mona Nemer, Canada’s chief science advisor, says the federal government is currently exploring the potential of adding National Research Council labs to the Navigator in order to make the database even more comprehensive.

“The Navigator currently lists the major infrastructure available in academic settings, including universities, teaching hospitals and colleges. We will be adding the major infrastructure that exists in federal labs to that list,” says Dr. Nemer. “This opens the possibility for all researchers to share the equipment that is essentially funded by taxpayers’ money. It also provides small and medium-sized enterprises – and sometimes even large companies – access to the infrastructure and expertise they need for their research and development objectives.”

Expanding the directory can also “enhance the lines of communication between intramural and extramural science,” says Dr. Nemer. “It will allow us to use infrastructure more efficiently. For example, we know what equipment is available in academic labs, but some of the same instruments may also exist in federal labs. So, if one goes down or is oversubscribed, another could be used.

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“This will create additional opportunities for collaboration among researchers in various sectors, including government, the private sector and universities,” she adds.

An example where pooled resources have enhanced collaborations is the Southern Ontario Network for Advanced Manufacturing Innovation (SONAMI), says Marc Nantel, associate vice-president, research and innovation at Niagara College.

“Colleges and institutes across the country are known for their applied research capacity. They play an essential role in helping small and medium-size enterprises, which make up about 95 per cent of the Canadian economy, meet their research and development goals or overcome challenges,” he says. “When companies come to us and explain what they need, [Niagara College] may have the right tools and expertise to find a solution or we may collaborate with another facility.”

The idea behind SONAMI is to give industry access to a complete range of advanced manufacturing tools and expertise available in seven institutions: Niagara College, Sheridan College, Mohawk College, McMaster University, Conestoga College, Fanshawe College and Lambton College.

All seven labs have specialized infrastructure and capabilities, and where one facility can’t succeed alone, another can step in, explains Dr. Nantel. For a project with the Grimo Nut Nursery, for example, Niagara College designed, built and tested a prototype of equipment for cracking a special type of nut, the heartnut, and McMaster University is working on the manufacturability of the unit – all in a bid to enhance the competitiveness of a local family farm.

We succeeded increating manywonderfulfacilities that helpto keep brightminds in Canadaand also attractresearchers fromaround the world.

Roseann O’Reilly Runte President and CEO, Canada Foundation for Innovation

The ability to access a whole suite of facilities in all areas of application across the country serves to strengthen existing links and encourage new ones – and the numbers of connections facilitated through the Navigator speak for themselves, says Dr. Runte. “Over the past six months, we have observed growing engagement from visitors to the Navigator site,” she says. “We have also been highlighting the Navigator in trade delegations around the world.”

The Navigator now consistently sees an average of 2,000 visits to its site per month, with one-fourth to one-third of that traffic originating from international sources, in particular, the U.S., the U.K. and India. For Dr. Runte, this shows that Canadian research infrastructure is a magnet for local, regional, national and international partners alike.

Sharing infrastructure, resources and research findings is essential in areas like ocean research, believes Dr. Watson-Wright. “For example, we are relying on government and private partners to spend time on their vessels, and our international partners have also offered us access to their ships,” she says. “And we are happy to share data from our extensive in-water infrastructure, which includes buoys, floats, wave gliders and profiling gliders.”

Collaborative efforts simply have the potential of achieving a greater impact, says Dr. Watson-Wright. “Together, we are working on solutions that benefit the economy, the environment and ultimately society.”

Produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved in its creation.

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