Thank you, Mr. Chair, for this invitation to appear before the committee.
I would like to begin by introducing myself and the person accompanying me. As some may know, I am a mathematician and professor at the Université Laval. I am also the Special Advisor of the scientific director of Mitacs. I identify myself as a researcher, educator and communicator.
I will now introduce Dr. Robert Annan, Chief Research Officer at Mitacs.
Rob has provided leadership at Mitacs in various roles for the last five years and he's a passionate advocate for the role training and innovation must play in Canada's economic success.
I will provide an opening statement and Rob will be available to assist in answering questions, particularly those related to Mitacs' philosophy and activities.
First, here's a short explanation of what Mitacs is and what it does. Mitacs is a national not-for-profit organization that delivers research and training programs in Canada. Representing over 60 universities, it works with thousands of companies and both federal and provincial governments to build partnerships that support industrial and social innovation in Canada. We do this through research internships and skills training programs. We do this because these internships and other forms of experiential learning can integrate academic strengths with public and private sector innovation needs. They also give graduate students and post-doctoral fellows the opportunity to gain essential professional skills and non-academic experience.
Disruptive technologies are having a huge and positive impact on our Canadian economy. I'd be surprised if anyone you speak to over the course of this study would disagree with that statement. However, I'd like to use my time today to focus on two specific ideas that I see as critical to this discussion. First, I believe the vast majority of disruptive technologies are driven by advances made in fundamental research. Second, in order to maximize the impact that disruptive technologies can have on our society and our quality of life, we must also focus on the concept of disruptive learning.
First, we are surrounded by countless examples of applied science in our lives. There's no doubt that applied research and development is essential to the creation of disruptive technologies. Unfortunately, we sometimes forget that many of these had their origins in fundamental research. One such example is the way we exchange confidential information and communicate data. For this we need modern cryptography techniques.
It turns out that one of the most powerful encryption methods, which ensures in particular that important financial transactions are totally secured, was created in 1977 by three young mathematicians from MIT. Their research was in the field of number theory, an area of mathematics with results that are, for the most part, of theoretical interest. Today, this most secure data encryption system, which has fundamentally changed our lives in the way business is done online, exists because mathematicians indulged in pure mathematics without being concerned about the applications it might have in our daily lives.
The second idea I would like to touch on is what I call disruptive learning. Some of you may have heard of Sir Ken Robinson. He is an English author who argues that education systems should foster curiosity through creative thinking. He sees education as an organic system, not a mechanical one. He even claims that our current education system is archaic and outdated.
While we don't necessarily endorse all of Ken Robinson's ideas, we are challenged by them. Given that we all live in a technology-driven world, one that would have been unfathomable even a generation ago, doesn't it make sense to reconsider or at least re-examine how people are being educated? I would suggest that it's at least worth asking the question: can we do more to provide broader and more relevant training experiences and opportunities for our children and students?
This idea of embracing a new disruptive education paradigm is likely beyond the scope of this committee, but it's an important concept nonetheless. What is relevant, however, given the ongoing changes in technology and how it is used, is the question of how we invest in talent and in Canada's greatest resource, its people, in order to take full advantage of the disruptive technologies that exist today and that will exist in the future. We need to reconsider how we train and teach our students to function optimally in a world full of disruptive technologies.
Mitacs gets this. By delivering programs that look at research and experiential learning in a different way, they are demonstrating that they get how innovation really works.
I understand that in previous meetings you discussed the importance of investing in disruptive technologies, and that is clearly important. The question of which ones are worthy of such investment is far harder to answer. However, we at Mitacs believe that even more important is investment in talent and the training of our next generation of innovation leaders. With support from the federal and provincial governments, Mitacs delivered more than 3,000 internships across the country last year, and with the commitment in the recent federal budget we are on track to double this number by 2020.
Let me take one minute to tell you about one recent Mitacs funding recipient, Andre Bezanson. While impressive, Andre is by no means a unique case as Canada is full of young, ambitious researchers like him. Andre is a Ph.D. student in the school of biomedical engineering at Dalhousie University. His research focuses on developing technology to miniaturize ultrasonic probes to about the size of a pencil eraser so that they can be used for endoscopic imaging applications.
During his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering, Andre discovered a passion for the engineering design process and for being able to see a project evolve from an idea to a tangible product. As part of his Mitacs-funded internship, Andre worked with Daxsonics Ultrasound Incorporated to develop high-frequency ultrasonic transducers and electronics for use in medical imaging. This new technology was adopted by Daxsonics and Andre was offered a key position in the company as a result of the success of this work. Upon completion of his degree he hopes to turn his new technology into a commercial product, opening up benefits of ultrasonic imaging to new clinical applications.
Andre's story is an example of how internships can have a profound impact on students and their success by expanding the way they learn. By investing in new models of experiential learning, we indirectly promote the creation and development of disruptive technologies.
I believe that the integration of experiential learning in graduate studies can change the landscape of research and innovation in Canada in three main ways. First, it builds collaborative research projects to leverage academic strengths and boost the innovation activities of the partner organization. Second, it expands the scope of research and development opportunities on Canadian university campuses. Third, and perhaps most important, it supplements traditional scholarships and training with experiential opportunities designed to expand creativity and innovation.
At Mitacs we use experiential learning to address complex issues and research challenges. At the same time, we provide Canadian students in post-docs, just like Andre, with opportunities that will broaden their skills and research experience.
We applaud the efforts of this committee in tackling such a challenging and complex issue. It will only be through such collaborative and cross-sectoral efforts that we can take full advantage of disruptive technologies here in Canada.
Indeed, there is a role for all of us to play if we truly hope to harness the power of disruptive technologies, and properly prepare our young Canadians to use them to their full potential and to develop the disruptive technologies of tomorrow.
Thank you for your attention.