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New chairs program nets prize researchers from abroad

All 19 chair holders held positions outside Canada prior to being named – a big brain gain for this country.

BY MARK CARDWELL | JUN 08 2010

University of California professor Ian Gardner has earned worldwide recognition for his research on the health of fish stocks. Now he’s making headlines as a prize catch for a small Canadian university with ocean-size ambitions. “I’m very excited,” Dr. Gardner said about joining the University of Prince Edward Island’s Atlantic Veterinary College – a leader in fish-health and animal-population research – as holder of the Canada Excellence Research Chair, or CERC, in Aquatic Epidemiology. “This is a new frontier of science that can make a real difference in people’s lives.”

Dr. Gardner was one of 19 academic stars from abroad who were netted in a Canadian fishing expedition around the globe. The bait was $190 million in federal funding – or $10 million per chair – that will be given to the 13 universities where the researchers will be working over the next seven years.

Leading with the most CERCs was the University of Alberta, with four. University of Waterloo, University of Toronto and Université Laval each received two.

“This is a huge victory – not only for us but the whole Quebec City region,” said Denis Brière, rector of Université Laval. He added that the arrival of ocean specialist Marcel Babin from France and optics expert Younès Messaddeq from Brazil will make already well-established programs world renowned. “These [CERCs] are the proverbial cherry on the sundae of the many years – even decades – we have spent building up our expertise in these fields.”

The president of UPEI agreed. “This plays to our strength,” said Wade MacLauchlan about the efforts to convince the Australian-born Dr. Gardner to come to Charlottetown. “When we created the program at UPEI, our goal was to become one of the top fish-vet schools in the world, and we did that. But [with Dr. Gardner] we are now the top school in a field that is working to provide a protein-hungry world with a healthy supply of food.”

For his part, Dr. Gardner said he is happy about being named, although he admitted his decision has left some friends in California scratching their heads. “They said I was nuts,” he told University Affairs from the U.S. West Coast a few days after returning from P.E.I. for the official CERC announcement. “P.E.I. is relatively isolated – it takes me longer to fly there from here than to London.”

He added, however, that both the island and school are perfectly placed for his research on aquaculture and marine ecosystems. “I’m not going there to save the cod stocks,” said Dr. Gardner. “But we will need to produce tangible results with our research to show that all this money’s been well spent.”

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