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Big science receives $328-million boost from Ottawa

The research icebreaker Amundsen will received $18.2 million over the next five years to help maintain it's Arctic research program. The grant is part of a $328 million funding top up for major science facilities from the Canada Foundation for Innovation.

Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

Some of Canada's largest and most unique science labs and initiatives will share a $328-million top-up, federal Science Minister Kirsty Duncan announced on Monday.

The funding, awarded through the Canada Foundation for Innovation, is intended to help keep the lights on at 17 key national facilities that cover a broad range of research disciplines.

Major recipients include the Canadian Light Source ($48-million), a powerful X-ray beam based at the University of Saskatchewan that allows researchers to discern structures and processes at molecular scales; Ocean Networks Canada ($46.6-million), a University of Victoria-run series of sea-floor observatories that conduct ocean monitoring; and Canada's Genomics Enterprise ($32-million), a three-institution collaboration based in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver that sequences thousands of genomes a year.

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The largest single award, nearly $70-million in total, will go to Compute Canada to improve access to high-speed computing – a pressing need for scientists across many fields. Last year, Compute Canada said it was having an increasingly difficult time providing the computer muscle needed to help Canadian scientists keep up with international competitors.

A smaller but equally urgent portion of the funding has been allocated to research icebreaker the Amundsen. The ship, which will now receive an additional $18.2-million from the foundation, conducts an extensive scientific program in the Canadian Arctic, including health surveys of Northern communities. It faces a crucial turning point a year from now when its main funding organization, ArcticNet, reaches the end of its mandated 14-year life cycle. An alternate long-term funding mechanism has yet to be worked out.

Louis Fortier, a marine biologist at Laval University and director of ArcticNet, called the new funding "pivotal," adding that without it there would only be enough funding to mount Arctic research expeditions every second year.

Forty-one projects initially applied for the funding, which was made available in the 2015 budget under the previous Conservative government.

As with all funding channelled through the innovation fund, the federal government provides 40 per cent of each grant, with the remainder made up from provincial and other sources. In the past, scientists have argued this system is not well suited to supporting unique research facilities that are pan-Canadian in impact and that may be beyond the interest or resources of individual provinces or universities to help support.

The issue is one of several that is expected to be addressed in a federal science report due in the coming weeks.

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