Spotlight on Natural Resources Canada, (Part 1)

Institutional Feature, September 2010 (Page 1 of 3)

Research Scientist Dr. Kourosh Zanganeh (left) the Honourable Christian Paradis, Minister of Natural Resources...

An examination of Essential Science IndicatorsSM data from Thomson Reuters shows that Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) and its science sectors, which include the Canadian Forest Service (CFS) and the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC), are in the top 1% among institutions in the fields of Plant & Animal Science, Environment & Ecology, Engineering, and Geosciences.

All together, NRCan's record in the database includes 4,122 papers cited a total of 43,196 times between January 1, 2000 and April 30, 2010.

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This month, in the first of a two-part series, Editor Jennifer Minnick takes a closer look at NRCan and its wide variety of projects by talking with several of the scientists and administrators responsible for the organization's citation achievements.


NRCan's roots actually pre-date the Confederation of Canada—the Geological Survey of Canada, which would one day become NRCan, was founded in 1842, a full 25 years before the Confederation. Under the aegis of GSC, Canada began to realize its mission to manage the land's vast natural resources, developing the backbone for the various sectors that still exist today and including such activities as: geology, forestry, minerals and metals, mine safety and energy efficiency, and topographical mapping.

NRCan in its present incarnation was formed in 1995 by the amalgamation of the GSC, the CFS, and the Departments of Energy and Mines and Resources. What had been put in place by the GSC back in the 19th century is still evident in the organization of NRCan today. There are four main science sectors: Energy, Forests, Minerals and Metals, and Earth Sciences.

The official vision of NRCan is "improving the quality of life of Canadians by creating a sustainable resource advantage." This vision is evident in each of the sectors, which are all doing truly innovative work that both benefits Canada and garners NRCan citation attention.

Geoff Munro, the Chief Scientist and Assistant Deputy Minister of the Innovation and Energy Technology Sector, explains the success of NRCan's science and technology efforts as a "Mission of Excellence," consisting of three pillars:

Photo 1:
CDKs and the cell cycle. Schematic representation of some of the mammalian CDKs involved in progression throughout the different phases of the cell cycle. Some of these kinases are required for DNA replication (S-phase) whereas other participate in the preparation for chromosome segregation during mitosis. Their therapeutic validation, however, requires proper analysis of this basic version of the cell cycle in different cell types and under different oncogenic backgrounds in vivo.
"Gas hydrate flare from the Mallik 2008 gas hydrate test well...."

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"The first pillar is being relevant—staying aligned with government priorities, working on things that are important. I don't mean 'important' strictly in terms of the political priorities of the day, although obviously they include those, but government is there to serve its citizens, it's there to look at the competitiveness of the industries in the country, it's there to ensure a strong, healthy environment for citizens and to respond to its social values, all in a sustainable fashion.

"The second pillar is doing our jobs in a way that we can ensure we're going to have an impact. We can do very relevant research and end up with peer-reviewed publications that disappear into the libraries of the world but don't have any impact either on our clients, on the policies of government, our collaborations with our provinces, industries, etc.

"The third pillar is quality. We strive to always be working on the leading edge. We don't want to repeat work that's already been done somewhere in the world; we want to maintain an international high caliber of research capacity within the organization."


One of Munro's roles as Chief Scientist is to link to other science-based government departments for coordination and integration. He also seeks these links externally. As he puts it, "I'm looking for those opportunities to increase in an appropriate way our collaboration with both the academic and the science and technology capacity in the country as well as industrial institutes, individual companies that are either doing research or investing in research appropriate to the NRCan responsibilities."

Collaboration and partnerships are as important to the organization as they are to the individual scientist. "Science is so international in scope," Munro continues, "if you go talk to an individual scientist in any discipline, and ask, 'OK, where's your network?' you're going to find it's both domestic and international, but it isn't focused by the fact that the scientist is in Canada or Europe or the Far East or wherever. It's more geared to the discipline.

"So that draws us out into a very international, global context for the science that we do, and going back to my three pillars, if you're going to be excellent, you're going to have to function and work in an international scientific community. There's no value in trying to build walls around your scientific capacity at home; you won't stay current, or at the leading edge."

There are a number of different ways NRCan is pulled into the global arena, according to Munro. Sometimes it happens inadvertently, such as scientifically based challenges in international trade agreements. But other times, it's the result of very formal, structured agreements between organizations or nations.

An example of this latter case is the Clean Energy Dialogue between Canada and the US. Under this agreement, the two countries are working together on such aspects of clean energy as carbon capture and storage, research and development to support a clean energy agenda, and working on ways to bring renewable energy sources into the North American electricity grid. "The Clean Energy Dialogue," Munro remarks, "is a very formal nation-to-nation relationship that has science as its underpinning."

NRCan is also an active partner in the International Energy Agency and the UN Environmental Program, as well as many other nation-to-nation and organization-to-organization memoranda of understanding, varying by scale.

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"Aerial view of the award-winning Drake Landing Solar Community in Okotoks, Alberta."

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"If you take what we've just been saying about collaborations and the business of being measured by relevance, impact, and quality, and you take it horizontally across a matrix, and think the same way for forestry, for energy, for minerals and metals, and earth sciences, it adds up to a fascinating matrix of activities; we are quite involved in, literally, coast to coast to coast," Munro concludes.

It's a dizzying picture, especially when you consider the fact that NRCan is only one of several organizations in the Canadian government doing this sort of work.


CanmetENERGY is part of the NRCan sector responsible for clean energy research. Comprising of three laboratories employing over 400 people and with a combined annual budget on the order of $65 million, CanmetENERGY deals with buildings and communities, industrial processes, transportation, clean fossil fuels, bioenergy, renewables, and oil sands.

In the past year, CanmetENERGY completed the "road map" for electric vehicles and wind power in Canada. They're currently working on marine energy. They also work with codes and standards to improve energy efficiency in appliances and homes.

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Unique CO2 Technology Facility Officially Opens

Introduction Photo: Unique CO2 Technology Facility Officially Opens

Research Scientist Dr. Kourosh Zanganeh (left) the Honourable Christian Paradis, Minister of Natural Resources around the CanmetENERGY CO2 Research Facility at its official opening on April 19, 2010. This integrated and efficient pilot-scale carbon dioxide (CO2) capture facility simultaneously removes pollutants while purifying and compressing CO2 for transport, storage or use. The CanCO2 is located at the Natural Resources Canada Ottawa Research Centre in Bells Corners.

Credit: © Department of Natural Resources Canada. All rights reserved.

Mallik 2008 Gas Hydrate Test Well

Photo 1: Mallik 2008 Gas Hydrate Test Well

Gas hydrate flare from the Mallik 2008 gas hydrate test well which was  first continuous pressure draw down production test in the world. (Shehtah Drilling Ltd. Rig 7E at Mallik 2L-38 drill site, Mackenzie Delta, NWT.).

Reproduced with the permission of Natural Resources Canada 2010, courtesy of the Geological Survey of Canada.

Drake Landing Photo  (Housing Community Project)

Photo 2: Drake Landing Photo  (Housing Community Project)

Aerial view of the award-winning Drake Landing Solar Community in Okotoks, Alberta.

Credit: © Department of Natural Resources Canada. All rights reserved.


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