Photo: Jaclyn McRae-Sadik.
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On Sept. 6, the federal government announced the 13 Canadian universities to receive a whopping $900 million in funding for research activities—and the University of Ottawa wasn’t on the list.

This financial support hails from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund, instituted by the Harper government, which serves to support post-secondary schools in their research endeavours, ultimately allowing them to compete in a global context.

While the U of O wasn’t recognized for their research projects through this prestigious federal grant, there are so many innovative projects in the works across campus that, according to the Fulcrum, deserve funding.

Not only can these projects have a big impact on students at the U of O, but they also have the potential to improve lives worldwide.

Mental health studies for the next generation

Following a major donation from the U of O to the Royal’s Brain Imaging Centre in June 2016, the U of O Brain and Mind Research Institute (uOBMRI) has received a positron emission tomography functional magnetic resonance imaging (pet-fMRI) machine. This device, the first of its kind in Canada to be used solely for mental health research, will be used to crack several mysteries surrounding mental illnesses and the underlying brain mechanisms involved.

And what better place to begin such research than at a university campus? A study commissioned by the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) notes that in 2011, more than 6.7 million people were living with a mental illness. Of that group, more than one million were children and teenagers aged 9–19, a group which represents the next generation that will be driving our Canadian universities forward. Keeping Canadian youth mentally healthy is an essential part of achieving the very mission set out by the Canada First Research Excellence Fund—competing on the global stage of research.

But the impacts of mental health research aren’t contained to Canadian campuses. The same MHCC study found that mental illness costs Canada at least $50 billion per year, or 2.8 per cent of Canada’s 2011 gross domestic product.

According to the Royal’s president and CEO George Weber, the goal of studies that will use the machine “is to improve diagnosis and move to personalized treatments to help each individual get better faster.”

Given that the number of disorders in the current Diagnostic Statistical Manual is approximately 297, there is a definite need for not only the pet-fMRI machine, but for many research groups to use its findings. More funding for this project means that a greater number of studies can be designed and facilitated, addressing the broad spectrum of mental disorders affecting Canadians today.

Shedding light on the world of photonics

The Centre for Research in Photonics at the U of O is a cutting-edge research facility that has lit the way in Canada’s photonics research—studies surrounding the science of light and its many applications.

The U of O holds one of the three Max Planck Institutes in North America, marking the university as a world leader in photonics.

You might not have heard about photonics, but you definitely use devices that can be radically impacted by it. Its main applications lie in computing, energy generation, and environmental technologies. With the effects of global warming becoming increasingly discernable, and the massive, global shift of communications to online platforms, these applications are pertinent not just to Canada but to nations across the globe.

The Energy Information Administration reported that in 2014 approximately 78 per cent of U.S. global warming emissions were energy-related, involving carbon dioxide. Of this proportion, approximately 42 per cent was from oil and other liquids, 32 per cent from coal, and 27 per cent from natural gas.

Meanwhile, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a special report indicating that non-fossil fuel energy generation technologies—like wind, solar, and geothermal—contributed less than one per cent of the total energy related global warming emissions in that same year.

Clearly, the need for alternative energy generation is stronger now more than ever. Through its many applications, from harvesting solar energy for electrical and thermal power generation, to chemical energy conversion and fuel generation, photonics is a field that offers a plethora of alternate energy opportunities—if only it can be adequately explored.

The U of O, with its state of the art facility and international recognition, is the ideal place to do it.