|October 29, 1999||Volume 7, Number 5|
U of S Could Lose Out if Criteria for New Research Chairs Doesnt Change
By Kathryn Warden
The Chretien government is to be commended for its recently announced plan to help stem the outflow of Canadas top researchers by creating 1,200 new research positions at Canadian universities over the next three years.
The 21st Century Chairs for Research Excellence program is a big investment $180 million a year over the next three years. Moreover, in a few years the number of chairs is expected to rise to 2,000 and the annual cost to $300 million. This would increase the number of federally sponsored chairs at Canadian universities 12-fold, from 169 at present.
This move has the potential to be an enormous boost to Canadas research and development. It should help keep the countrys best and brightest here and attract top researchers over the next decade as a generation of highly skilled faculty retire.
Though details are still sketchy, its been reported that younger researchers will get about $100,000 a year and more established researchers will get $200,000 a year. These sums include both a salary component and a research component, marking one of the first times the government has recognized the need to defray the total cost of the research it sponsors.
Unlike most federal research support programs, no matching money is required. The chairs are selected through a competitive peer review process administered by the granting councils. Theyre funded for five to seven years and are renewable through a competitive process.
Combined with other recent initiatives such as the creation of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and renewed funding for the research granting councils, this announcement sends a clear signal that Canada is serious about fostering a healthy research community and building a knowledge-based economy.
But the flaw in the program is the proposed way of allocating the chairs. The current proposal is that the proportion of chairs a university will get will approximate its share of national research funding.
This will, of course, be music to the ears of presidents at universities where coffers are flush with dollars from the three federal granting councils. But its not going to serve universities like our own very well. Since our share of the tri-council funding is about one per cent, wed come away with only about 12 of the new chairs.
This plan will simply reinforce the status quo for research funding across Canada. It will accentuate the differences between the most research-intensive universities and the rest. "It benefits those institutions with well-established track records and makes it difficult for those that are trying to get started or have ebb and flow in their research effort," says Murray Fulton, co-chair of the U of S Research Committee of Council.
Since research excellence and project merit are already covered off through the peer review process, tying the chair allocation to a universitys relative share of council funding will put a double hurdle in the way of universities like our own that are still trying to build a vigorous research community. Meanwhile, the richest universities will get richer.
Universities that already have a strong track record with the granting councils will be able to build more clusters of researchers in leading-edge areas, while less-endowed universities wont be able to attract the level of graduate students and post-doctoral researchers that creates exponential long-term benefits for research and development in a province. As President Peter MacKinnon succinctly puts its, "If you lose now, you will lose for a very long time."
Saskatchewan would fare better if chairs were distributed on the basis of population. But if federal research money is to be the yardstick, then CFI funding should be added in, including grants for national facilities such as the $56.4 million award for the U of S-owned synchrotron.
Fortunately, the issue may be revisited. Over the next few months, the government will set up a working group to advise on all implementation details.
"Were going to be vigorous in making our case in Ottawa on this," MacKinnon stresses.
Lets hope this group listens to concerns about the need to more equitably strengthen research and innovation in all parts of the country.BACK TO TOP
Martz Co-develops TOPAZ Software to Make Mapping and Measuring Watersheds Easier
By Karen Smith
Understanding watersheds areas that supply water to rivers and streams helps scientists predict flood conditions, design irrigation projects, address pollution and estimate soil erosion.
Traditionally, geographers and hydrologists have relied on topographic maps, aerial photographs, land survey data and hours of legwork to determine watershed characteristics and to predict where water will flow.
But now University of Saskatchewan Geography professor Lawrence Martz and his American colleague, U.S. Department of Agriculture scientist Jurgen Garbrecht, have developed a computer program that may eliminate the many hours of work involved in mapping and measuring watersheds.
With funding from a $14,000 yearly NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council) grant and in-kind support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Martz and Garbrecht have created a software package called TOPAZ (TOpographical PArameteriZation) that can be used by geologists, hydrologists, geographers, environmentalists and agrologists.
"Just as a seasoned map user can look at a topographic map, take all those contour lines and actually visualize what the surface looks like, TOPAZ can do the same sort of thing with digital elevation data but in a more systematic and quantitative fashion," says Martz.
Now in its third generation, TOPAZ works with grid-like digital elevation models to generate files that contain drainage information such as the location of stream channels or the direction water will flow. Other information includes the length and steepness of stream channels, area, elevation, and orientation of the watershed with respect to the sun.
These files can be imported into most commercial geographical information systems to obtain a pictorial or three-dimensional view of the lands surface.
"Determining where water comes from is important for a lot of water management issues," explains Martz. "For example, any time you study water in Canada, youre going to begin with snow. If you want to know how high water flow is going to be in a given year, you need to estimate how much snow is going to fall on sun-facing and shaded slopes, how quickly it will melt and where the meltwater will go.
TOPAZ is an interactive program that allows users to select how they want their calculations done.
"We let the machines do all the hard work because computers dont mind tedium," says Martz. "They dont get bored and become less effective after staring at maps and data for hours."
TOPAZ is used both nationally and internationally. Researchers studying the extensive Mackenzie River Basin use the program. As well, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service, irrigation engineers in Turkey and educators in Europe all rely on TOPAZ.
Martz collaborates on the international Global Energy and Water Cycle Experiment (GEWEX) with other scientists involved in Canadas Mackenzie GEWEX Study. The researchers use TOPAZ to study the impact of global climate change on water resources and cold region water systems.
"TOPAZ is able to provide virtually all the information needed by various hydrologic models," says Martz. "Right now, were hoping to increase linkages with a number of hydrologic programs so that TOPAZ can become a global standard for water and landscape analysis."
To see if TOPAZ might be the right tool for your project, visit its website, at:
For further information, visit the web site or contact firstname.lastname@example.org
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