NSERC awards $40M to research support non-profit

KINGSTON, Ont. — The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) has awarded $40 million in funding to CMC Microsystems Corp. over five years, helping the 26-year-old  non-profit organization continue its work of supporting academic research and linking university and industry.

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CMC, headquartered in a Queen’s University innovation park here, provides resources, such as design tools and test equipment, to about 720 faculty members and many graduate students, post-doctoral fellows and research assistants at 45 post-secondary institutions across Canada. CMC also has about 40 supplier partners in industry, who provide the tools and technologies CMC makes available to researchers.

In announcing the new funding round, Minister of State for Science and Technology Gary Goodyear called CMC “a unique facility that provides an excellent return on federal government investment by supporting Canada’s top researchers.”
Dr. Suzanne Fortier, president of NSERC, says the research CMC supports is important to many industries, from telecommunications to the auto sector. “What they do is crucial for many of these industries, and [they] are helping these industries stay at the leading edge,” Fortier said.
The new round of federal money is actually slightly less than CMC received from NSERC over the past five years, according to Dr. Ian McWalter, CMC’s president and chief executive, but McWalter told ComputerWorld Canada that with matching cash and in-kind contributions from industry, and additional Canada Foundation for Innovation grants through Queen’s University, he expects CMC to have increased resources over all.
Originally founded as the Canadian Microelectronics Corp. in 1984, CMC rebranded itself as CMC Microsystems to reflect a broadening of its mandate.
Information and communications technology accounted for 40 to 60 per cent of the research CMC supported for its first 20 years, McWalter said in a recent interview, and it is still the largest category, but there is a growing emphasis on biomedical and pharmaceutical technologies.
The projects CMC supports today include the work of Dr. John Yeow at University of Waterloo, who is working on ways of using micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) for less invasive medical diagnostics in cases that previously involved cutting out tissue for analysis.
In another project, Ukalla Engineering Corp. is developing technology to help mobile phone carriers build more reliable networks that will reduce dropped calls. Five graduate students and a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Alberta founded the startup.
In the microelectronics field, McWalter said, one of the most interesting research areas is three-dimensional chip designs, which may offer a way for chipmakers to keep up continued performance improvements promised by Moore’s Law in spite of the problems that come with continually increasing density.
McWalter said he hopes Canada will see a renaissance in technology manufacturing in the next few years. It’s hard for a country to maintain leadership in technology design without a good manufacturing base, he argues, because the design process requires manufacturing knowledge. But there is hope. “If we invest correctly in the knowledge applications, it’ll lead directly to doing our own manufacturing,” he said.
Goodyear said the investment in CMC is part of a $10.7-billion federal budget for science and technology research this year, which he said is a record for the Canadian government.

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