Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for your warm welcome. Thank you, members of the committee, for your invitation to speak here today.
I am very pleased to be here to present information in support of the committee’s recently launched study on the state of disruptive technologies in Canada. This is certainly an important subject worthy of serious study.
In the time I have been allotted I wish to talk more about how NSERC perceives and defines disruptive technologies. I would also like to discuss the role NSERC plays as Canada’s largest investor in discovery research and as an enabler of partnerships with industry that ultimately contribute to the development of enabling disruptive technologies.
When it comes to defining disruptive technologies I think the committee received an excellent primer earlier this week with the presentation by Industry Canada, and my colleague, Danial, of course, has also done a good job of that.
I had the opportunity to review this material prior to my appearance before you today and, as was pointed out, a single, standard definition of disruptive technology is lacking. Whether it’s McKinsey, the World Economic Forum, MIT or others, there was no consensus on those technologies that would be the most disruptive.
But, looking at the list, I did see several common areas that, because of the breadth of research that NSERC invests in, we are very familiar with.
For example, we support the technologies that relate to how we access, manipulate, and represent information, such as secure computing; technologies that relate to how we power the world, such as new battery technologies, and new renewable sources of energy, for example solar cells that are capable of capturing the full spectrum and energy of sunlight; and technologies that relate to how we build the world, such as advanced materials, including nanomaterials which, again, you've heard about earlier today, additive manufacturing, and 3-D printing.
At NSERC we view disruptive technologies more as the application of the discoveries that have a transformative impact, and less on making guesses about which technology will trade or how the business is done.
NSERC has a major role to play in this process. To begin with, disruptive technologies start from a foundation of discovery research. By discovery research I’m referring to research generally taking place in a non-industry setting and focused on a question or problem that has interest from a purely scientific perspective. It is discovery because the knowledge created is literally a world first
What makes the findings from this work disruptive is when someone else looks at this information in the context of a problem they are trying to solve with a possible application in mind. Context is everything and suddenly there is a new and potentially better way of doing something.
If we think about 3-D printing, this came out of fundamental work on photocurable liquid polymers. In other words, being able to use light to harden plastics. The innovation was to develop a better way to apply computer control to draw 3-D parts, layer by layer. One of the key reasons we see so much attention to 3-D printing at the present time is that the basic patents have expired, meaning that we are seeing lots of lower-cost competitors entering the market.
To get back to NSERC, our vision is to help make Canada a country of discoverers and innovators for the benefit of all Canadians.
NSERC funding fuels 11,300 professors working across numerous fields. This is an incredibly productive, inventive and world-class workforce that consistently delivers discoveries. Our president, Dr. Mario Pinto, calls this Canada’s brain trust.
If we look back to some of the areas labelled as disruptive, such as new manufacturing technologies, discovery investments by NSERC are clearly in the picture.
For example, if we examine data from our discovery funding program for the past 10 years, the program that supports purely curiosity-driven research, we invested in approximately $425 million in manufacturing-related nanotechnology research programs by Canadian researchers.
We invest in programs to drive innovation. We are helping industry to use these world firsts in knowledge to drive R and D and to create new firsts in the marketplace. By doing this, NSERC plays a key role in adding value to knowledge and reducing the overall risks of innovation. It’s a very client-driven approach that has led to over 3,000 partnerships between industry and the research sector annually. With these partnerships, we are creating the time and space to establish the context that I mentioned earlier.
If the catchphrase for discovery is “eureka” then perhaps a corresponding name for invention is “I hadn’t thought of that before.”
As I conclude my remarks, let me say thank you again to the committee for the opportunity to present this information. I look forward to your questions.