Harper announces science initiatives from Waterloo

Speaking before a capacity crowd at Waterloo’s Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced two major government-supported science initiatives.

The Banting postdoctoral fellowship program is a $45 million, five-year commitment offering 70 grants to researchers in all fields of the sciences each year. The grants, which will provide successful applicants with $70,000 per year, are targeted at Canadian scientists as well as in an effort to draw international talent to research in Canada.

“We want to attract, retain and, frankly, train the best minds on the planet,” said Gary Goodyear, minister of state for science and technology in Harper’s cabinet and member of parliament for Cambridge. Goodyear was on hand for the announcement and addressed the crowd along with renowned British physicist Stephen Hawking, who currently holds a research chair at Perimeter.

Goodyear emphasized that the Banting program is meant to draw international experts in the sciences, while also supporting homegrown talent and providing related benefits to the Canadian institutions producing that talent.

Along with making Canada an attractive location for researchers from abroad, Goodyear said, “[the fellowship program] is also designed to create an advantage for those who are already in Canada to do their research here and stay here.”

The second initiative Harper announced was a $20 million contribution from Canada to the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS), specifically the institute’s “next Einstein initiative” which aims to foster development of African expertise in science through the creation of fifteen educational institutions across the continent in the next decade.

AIMS is the creation of Perimeter Institute director Neil Turok, who founded the South African institute in 2003 in order to encourage excellence in science, technology and math to emerge from Africa.

Kitchener-Waterloo MP Peter Braid was also in attendance, having worked directly with Turok to bring the “next Einstein initiative” to the attention of the Prime Minister.

Canada joins private companies including Research in Motion, Google and Nokia in support of AIMS operations. “The government of Canada is a significant partner in this public-private partnership,” Braid said. “Hopefully that will inspire other G8 countries to also provide support.”

“[Neil Turok] approached me as we were approaching the G8 and G20 summits,” Braid said. The timing was important, he explained, “The aims and the opportunities of this particular initiative would be something the government of Canada should support as a G8 initiative.”

Braid also noted the potential for collaborations between the education centres AIMS will create in African nations and Canadian institutions including the Perimeter Institute along with Canadian universities, some of which are already involved.

“It is an extremely innovative approach to international development,” Braid concluded, “clearly science and technology drives economic advancement, we’ve seen that here in Waterloo, we see it in our country.”

“The same model needs to be applied on the African continent.”

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