The latest round of funding dispersed by the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) reflects how the nature of research has changed as the federal organization gets closer to its 20th anniversary in 2017.
Through the CFI, the Government of Canada announced more than $10 million in research infrastructure funding as part of latest Cyberinfrastructure Initiative competition as well as an additional $3 million through the Infrastructure Operating Fund. This funding will support seven “data-rich research” projects at six universities across the country.
The announcement was made at McGill University, which is receiving more than $1.1 million for CBRAIN, one of the world’s most advanced computing platforms for brain research. This field is critically important to help find cures for brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, stroke and Multiple Sclerosis and to better manage mental disorders.
The funding will help CBRAIN combine huge amounts of data from genetics, brain imaging and psychological interviews with the help of massive computing resources. CFI president and CEO Dr. Gilles Patry said many of today’s researchers need powerful computational tools and access to digital networks to rapidly process large amounts of data and quickly share results with collaborators across the country and around the world.
The projects getting money in this latest round of CFI funding are part of the organization’s Cyberinfrastructure Initiative, which was established to encourage Canada’s researchers to work with each other and with data scientists, data analysts and software developers using virtual networks, portals and the like to explore new solutions to interpret and analyze increasingly complex data sets.
Created in 1997, the genesis of the CFI came following a period of drought for research funding in general, said Patry, and particularly research infrastructure funding, which was only available on an ad hoc basis. As dean of engineering at the University of Ottawa in 1993, he had to oversee cuts to research budgets and salaries, but after a few tough years, government revenues were rising and the CFI was established to rectify the inadequate infrastructure funding.
“The CFI exists on the premise that you can’t do world class research without access to state-of-the art facilities,” said Patry. “Researchers are very mobile. They will go wherever people are funding their ideas.” He estimates the organization has directed funded roughly $6.7 billion in research infrastructure to date, and since the CFI only covers 40 per cent of the infrastructure funding requested, it means the CFI has been responsible for as much as $17 billions being invested overall.
One shift the CFI is seeing is toward investments to support the operations and maintenance of research facilities – 30 cents per every dollar spent on infrastructure, said Patry. From a policy perspective, the CFI is encouraging institutions to collaborate more so that pieces of equipment are shared across projects and researchers. “That is working out very well.”
He said the Cyberinfrastructure Initiative was established a couple of years ago to support infrastructure needs of computationally- and data-intensive research, including high performance computer hardware and the development of databases. Like the equipment that is getting funded, Patry said the goal is to get researchers sharing more of the data that has been collected over the years, not only within Canada, but around the world. “This is an experiment in many ways.”