RESEARCH AND INNOVATION AT THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO
SPRING 2011 · VOL.13, NO.1
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The Power of Partnership
Converging expertise can make a big impact

 

Let me begin with a bold statement: Engineers are the world's stewards. Our profession and our passion incline us to improve things. The environment, the prosperity of the economy and the processes, devices, tools and systems that make life more enjoyable and profitable are our domain. Engineers matter. We innovate and we turn ideas into reality. We offer solutions that have geopolitical and societal impacts.

And we do that best when engineers at learning institutions like the University of Toronto partner with the engines of business, government and industry. Those partners can take innovations from the labs to the boardrooms and ultimately to the marketplace. The best ideas, the ones that change the world, need to endure a double test — first the rigorous questioning of researchers, practical probing and robust investigation. Then, the keen financial and political evaluation of cost, benefit, market readiness and refinement among consumers and citizens.

U of T engineers and their ideas have run that two-part test many times — in collaboration with many partners, as we illustrate in this issue.

At U of T Engineering, we bring not only some of the finest minds to bear on meaningful problems, we also cultivate a diversity of ideas from our global faculty and our wide-ranging academic and research pursuits. This has made us the preeminent engineering institution in Canada and among the very best in the world. We embrace collaboration.

In the process, we have created wealth, technologies, spin-off companies, high-tech jobs and have enhanced the global economy. Those aren't ancillary benefits of good engineering. They are the core benefits from our partnerships. Everyone wins. That is the meaning of stewardship: enabling the finest in those around us, by bringing our best to their success.

 

www.engineering.utoronto.ca

The Faculty of Arts & Science is home to a diversity of researchers who are working with industry, governments and NGOs worldwide to meet social, economic and environmental challenges. Our breadth of expertise across the humanities, social sciences and sciences is a key strength. Our location in a dynamic urban centre means we can leverage collaboration across sectors to bring innovative approaches to society's concerns.

In some cases, the impact of such collaboration is felt immediately, as in the case of new products that improve lives, such as MyVoice, a communications aid developed by computer scientists to help people with speech and language challenges.

In other cases, the "product" is less obvious, but has significant impact: Our humanists and social scientists engage with organizations to foster cross-cultural understanding, help nations put stable governance in place, preserve languages and cultures and stand up for freedom of expression. Political scientist Neil Nevitte, for example, has been involved in 40 elections around the globe providing advice to international organizations and domestic NGOs on the prevention and detection of election fraud and on the conditions for free and fair elections.

Through partnerships, we make a difference in the lives of citizens. The Province of Ontario and City of Toronto looked to our economic geographers to find ways to attract and retain the innovative thinkers who foster a dynamic economy. Geologist Barbara Sherwood Lollar's work with industry and regulators led the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to promote a new technique to combat groundwater contamination, while ideas from experts at our Munk School of Global Affairs, School of Public Policy and Governance and Mowat Centre for Policy Innovation will strengthen global security and revitalize Canadian public policy.

The sharing of ideas across sectors is dynamic, partnerships take many forms and collaboration continues to flourish. It is exciting to be part of this momentum.

www.artsci.utoronto.ca

The strength of any great university is its connection to the greater community — locally, nationally and internationally. For our Faculty of Medicine, those links include partnership with 10 fully-affiliated hospitals and research institutes and 20 community-affiliated hospitals and clinical care sites, integration with aligned institutions such as the Michener Institute of Applied Health Sciences and the Northern Ontario School of Medicine to create the Physician Assistant program, and supportive international initiatives to share our expertise with peer institutions in the developing world.

That link also extends to partnerships with organizations dedicated to delivering health and biomedical innovation to the general public. They turn to the University of Toronto as a source of innovation, energy and integrity to create value for improving health. Within the pages of this issue of Edge, you can read about Professor Tom Chau — a world leading developer of "barrier-free" technologies for disabled children, and his collaboration with MusIQKids to create the Bloorview Virtual Music Instrument. That tool allows children with varying mobility to share the joy of making music.

Nutritional Sciences Professors Stanley Zlotkin and David Jenkins have collaborated with Heinz and Loblaws, respectively, to create healthier food products for families in the developing world and here in Canada. Professor Peter Singer, who directs the McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health at the University Health Network, has positioned himself at the nexus of life sciences, entrepreneurship and emerging economies in a symbiotic, economically beneficial manner.

The Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto is able to contribute uniquely to improving the lives and the health of people all over the world. These opportunities extend our shared sense of social responsibility, making innovative contributions that matter.

 

www.facmed.utoronto.ca

The Partnerships Spectrum

It is impossible to define partnership by a single model. There are many. The reality is that very little research and scholarship is conducted solely by individual researchers from start to finish. Collaboration is at the very heart of university research and can be seen in what is often referred to as the Partnership Spectrum where researchers work with:

  • Other researchers, including graduate students, at their home universities or with those from other institutions
  • Companies in various sectors
  • Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and not-for-profit organizations
  • Other universities where a consortium is formed
  • Government agencies and ministries

Examples of these models can be seen throughout this issue of Edge.

U of T has designed an organizational structure that promotes partnership:

  • U of T is a founding member of the MaRS Discovery District and MaRS Innovation (see essays from Dr. Ilse Treurnicht and Dr. Rafi Hofstein on this page).
  • Our Innovations and Partnerships Office facilitates connections between U of T researchers across the disciplines and companies and organizations primarily in the private sector.
  • The Research Services Office helps U of T researchers to navigate a multitude of funding opportunities, many of which require a partnered approach to cost-sharing, intellectual leadership and the application of results.
  • The Fostering Partnerships program, managed by our Strategic Initiatives team, acts as a mechanism for coordinating partnerships at an institutional level and giving faculty access to organizations or groups they may not otherwise be able to connect with to explore the potential for collaboration.

MaRS Discovery District was created a decade ago. The idea was simple: provide space and expertise to help turn great ideas into new products and services, be it for commercial use or the non-profit sector. The rationale was obvious. Toronto has long been renowned for cutting-edge research in diverse disciplines. The city was lagging, however, in translating that research for maximum social, health and economic impact. The University saw the potential of MaRS immediately and it worked to create the MaRS Discovery District alongside business leaders, philanthropists and policy-makers in the Ontario and Canadian governments.

Three years ago the University again played a catalytic role in brokering the multi-institutional partnership called MaRS Innovation. Funded in part by the federal government, MaRS Innovation is now pioneering a new collaborative model of commercializing the very best research from multiple universities, institutes and hospitals in the Toronto region. For more on MaRS Innovation, please see the essay by my colleague, Dr. Rafi Hofstein, in this section.

Meanwhile, thousands of students, post-docs and faculty now participate in a range of entrepreneurship programs and innovation networks anchored at MaRS. MaRS is working with hundreds of new high-tech companies, including many ventures spun out of the University and its partner hospitals. Social innovators have clustered around MaRS. And new collaborations have been forged with industry, investors and civic partners.

Our collective success is essential to the well-being of the citizens of the Toronto region, Ontario and Canada. Fortunately, all the indicators are very positive. I am confident that our partnership, based on a shared commitment to academic excellence and societal impact, will benefit generations to come.

 

 

 

 

www.marsdd.com

They say that if you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together.

That spirit drives nearly all scientific research these days (a peer-reviewed science paper with only one author is unheard of), and the accelerating extent and dimension of research partnerships is one of the hallmarks of our age.

Indeed, Mark Twain once said: "The greatest inventor of all is accident."

He foretold a tacit assumption driving many research partnerships, which holds that simply having more partnerships, which create more connections, which create more possibilities for ‘accident', is necessarily better than having fewer partnerships.

I disagree. Partnerships for partnerships' sake don't help anyone.

What's needed, in Toronto especially, is the kind of strategic partnerships that include both basic research and strong commercialization in the same partnership. Or at the very least, our burgeoning research community has to not even think twice that commercialization of their discovery is critical to their success and that commercialization partnerships they can work with exist in growing numbers.

Today in Toronto, there are many centres producing extraordinary research that will someday create jobs and companies, boost economic security for our city and country — and in many cases, ease suffering in the world. But there are not many of these centres with the business, financial and intellectual resources to get those discoveries into the marketplace.

There need to be. Especially partnerships like MaRS Innovation, which act as a conduit between the world of academia and the world of money, between the professors and the investors.

There also needs to be commitment from public sector shareholders. For while research partnerships need to expand both widely and deeply, commercialization partnerships also need to be part of the same consideration.

www.marsinnovation.com

 

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Partnerships play a special role in research and scholarship
Professor R. Paul Young

 

r. Paul Young

Since our founding in 1827, the University of Toronto has built a reputation for research excellence that, today, ranks U of T 17th in the world (Times Higher Education rankings, 2010) and has resulted in 10 Nobel Laureates.

U of T's ability to create new knowledge from curiosity-driven research has brought our scientists and scholars global renown.

What is not as well-known, however, is U of T's extraordinary track record in applied research — using the knowledge created in basic research to solve problems. U of T's Banting, Best, Macleod and Collip, for example, won the Nobel Prize for their discovery of insulin, one of the greatest landmarks in basic research in history.

But it took a great deal of further research to turn insulin into a product that could be used by people who have diabetes. Working with a variety of partner organizations over the past 88 years, scientists the world over have refined the use and manufacture of insulin to the point where we have such tremendous innovations as the insulin pump today.

It is in this area of applied research that partnerships take on an extremely valuable role.

In addition to the creation of new knowledge, universities play a vital role in helping global society to solve tough challenges. And there is no better way to address these problems than by the convergence of expertise.

This issue of Edge examines how U of T research leaders are working with government, social agencies, industry and businesses to address problems we all face. We present 12 examples of partnership across the spectrum of partnered research, which totals approximately $70 million a year. This is eight per cent of all funded research activity at U of T.

The impact of partnerships will be clear for you to see in this issue. Just as importantly, please note that all of the work of these partnerships began with the creation of new knowledge through fundamental research. That mix of basic research and applied work accomplished through partnerships is a powerful combination that drives progress throughout society.

 

R. Paul Young, PhD, FRSC
Vice-President, Research

 

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EDGE · SUMMER 2010 · VOL.12, NO.2