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IN MY OPINION

The unifying force of research

Research today is about partnerships and networks to share data and ideas, and to answer the big questions that confront us.

By ROSEANN O’REILLY RUNTE | DEC 07 2017

Flying across the Prairies, only recently enveloped in a mantle of white soon to be shared across our country, my breath was taken away by a veil of northern lights that swept past and disappeared in the inky darkness of the wintry night. I was reminded of the northern-ness that unites Canadians and the mysteries of the universe that bring the entire world together.

We are keenly aware of time as our days grow shorter with the approach of the equinox. We have only to witness the passing of seasons, to see the aging of our children, the growth of the saplings we planted, or to look in the mirror. And, since time immemorial, we have sought to possess the secrets of eternity, to extend our own mortality. In the 16th century, Ponce de Leon hacked his way across the Everglades in search of the fountain of youth. Today, that search occurs in labs across Canada where cures for cancer, infectious diseases and ways to restore the life of cells injured in accidents are pursued.

As imperfect beings, it is rather extraordinary that we can imagine perfection. We live in a world of wonders, from northern lights to rainbows and parhelia (sun dogs). Benjamin Franklin demonstrated in the 18th century that lightning is electricity. A century later, we lit our cities with its power and today we harness its energy to combat melanoma, propel vehicles and power spacecraft.

We know that Canada, like every one of us, is not quite perfect. But the striving for improvement is not only a powerful, motivating force, it is the source of passion and happiness.

When I visit labs or libraries, remote data collection sites or central analytic hubs, I see young researchers, their faces lit with the joy of possible discovery and the realization that they can do something important for Canada – whether it is discovering why matter and anti-matter are seemingly not balanced or understanding how to use complex equipment to be ready to work in industry and contribute to the economy. If they solve a mathematical equation, a moral issue or give expression to hope and humanity, they bring beauty and meaning to our lives.

When we speak of meaningful lives and employment, I think of these young researchers and know that the future of Canada is secure and bolstered by this culture of research and discovery.

Research today is about partnerships and networks to share data and ideas.  Our researchers collaborate across disciplines, campuses, among universities in Canada and around the world. Big questions and big problems require international efforts. As researchers come together, they are closing in on ever more important pieces of the puzzle that will answer the questions we ask about our universe, our existence and the future of our planet.

This collaborative effort illustrates a less-touted role for research. It brings not only scientists but the population of the world together. We are unified in our search for solutions to mortality and for meaning, and collaborative research networks constitute the basis for international understanding.

When we think of what makes us proud to be Canadian, many people immediately state our role as peacekeepers. Today, the world needs more than peacekeeping, it needs peacebuilding. Canadians can take on this role, too. They can be the builders of international peace and understanding by supporting our researchers and investing in a language, a global dialogue that transcends geographical boundaries and will exist in a time beyond our days.

We can create and if, by dint of brilliant thought and hard work, we discover just a part of the secrets of our universe, then our ideas will make a lasting impact and Canada will be known as an enlightened country, a leader in contributing to a better world where peace is truly possible.

Roseann O’Reilly Runte is president and CEO of the Canada Foundation for Innovation.

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