April 8, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 100  

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Western to big wigs: show us the money

By Lorraine Forster
Gazette Staff

Chris Powe/Gazette
IF THERE’S ANYTHING WESTERN STUDENTS ARE GOOD AT, IT’S MULTI-TASKING. This Western student proves that people who have cellphones attached to their ear can do many things at once.

As many Western students moan and groan about final essays and research papers, there are those in the Western community embarking on research endeavours they are actually motivated to complete — partly because federal grants given to these projects make them a bit more engaging than insignificant papers.

As many students and faculty members can attest, Western’s campus is booming with innovation and ambition; federal government agencies have taken note and are putting many of the great minds of Western to work.

In early March, Western was awarded an investment of more than $34.1 million towards research projects from the Canada Foundation for Innovation, which was created in 1997.

“We fund the research infrastructure, not the research itself, with core funding that comes from the federal government,” said Valerie Poulin, co-ordinator of media relations at CFI.

Research infrastructure consists of state-of-the-art equipment, buildings, laboratories and databases required to conduct research, Poulin explained, adding that CFI’s mandate is to strengthen the ability of institutions — such as Canadian universities and colleges — to carry out world-class research and technology development to benefit Canadians.

On Mar. 8, CFI granted $585.9 million to various Canadian universities; however, all of these schools, Western received the most, Poulin added. “Their projects were exceptional.”

Included in these exceptional projects are research endeavours including:

The Biotron:
— proposed to be a state of the art environmental research facility
— located on Western’s campus
— collaboration between Western and the University of Guelph
— will study areas including infectious disease, management of global warming, insect borne disease, food chain impacts of pesticides and herbicides
— headed by biology professor Norm Huner

The Three Little Pigs Project: Testing Full Scale Houses and Light Frame Buildings to Destruction:
— will permit for the first time anywhere in the world, the application of realistic, simulated and extreme environmental conditions such as wind, snow and rain to full-scale houses
— will provide scientific basis for new building codes and construction practices
— motivated by the property damage caused by natural hazards
— headed by civil environmental engineering professor Michael Bartlett

Shared Hierarchical Academic Research Computing Network (SHARCNET):
— facilitates the sharing of expertise and resources, encourages inter-institutional and multi-disciplinary collaboration and enables research and innovation that would otherwise not be possible for a single institution

Poulin explained that the criteria CFI uses in choosing the recipients and amounts of each grant are stringent. It depends on the quality of research and need for infrastructure, how the research will contribute to strengthening the capacity for innovation and the potential benefits of the research to Canada, she explained.

In order to be funded, a project must meet all three criteria to a degree appropriate to the size and complexity of the project. “It’s basically the institution that lets us know what they need and then we’ll fund 40 per cent — it’s up to the institution to fund the other 60 per cent,” Poulin noted.

While the $34.1 million grant from CFI is a great achievement, this is not the only research funding Western projects have received. Western and its affiliated research institutions will share over $11.1 million from the Canadian Institute of Health Research to be put towards projects focusing on medical research including cancer, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, musculoskeletal health and health policy development.

The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council will also grant Western $2.5 million to lead a major national research project that examines how all levels of government can work together to deal with issues of both local and national importance.

Essentially, aside from all the innovative work students do at Western, there are ground-breaking major research projects at the university that deserve the millions they have received.



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