University of Saskatchewan

September 19, 2014   

U of S “Firsts”

The dynamic environment for research, scholarly and artistic work at the University of Saskatchewan has fostered discovery and innovation in many fields. A few of our faculty achievements include:


2000 to present:

    Canadian Light Source at the U of S Canadian Light Source at the U of S
  • In a first for radars, the Canadian designed and built “VHF Meteor” to measure winds and temperatures, was installed at the most northerly site possible: 80 degrees north in the Canadian Arctic at the new PEARL laboratory of the Canadian Network for the Detection of Atmospheric Change (2006).
  • The first fertilization technique for bioremediation of metal and radionuclide contaminants in uranium mine pit lakes (2005).
  • First comprehensive method to measure phosphate – an important limiting nutrient - at picomolar concentrations in aquatic ecosystems (2005).
  • Formal development and testing of the first fertilization technique for bioremediation of metal and radionuclide contaminants in uranium mine pit lakes (2005).
  • PolarDARN, the first “HF Coherent Multi-Beam” radar to be built on the northern hemisphere’s polar cap, was develop and installed. It is the latest addition to the unique international SuperDARN system, which provides a view of solar particles being directly injected into the earth’s atmosphere (2005). See “Then and Now: Atmospheric Research” on “Searching the Living Skies” Century of Innovation page.
  • The first synchrotron in Canada. The Canadian Light Source is among the most advanced in the world (2004).
  • Canada Research Chairs Louis Delbaere, Soledad Pedras and other research teams are revealing more about the structure and function of proteins and phyto-chemicals, possibly leading to advances such as designer drugs for plants and improved diagnosis and treatment of bacterial and viral infections and cancer. (2000s)
  • Soledade PedrasLouis Delbaere Soledade Pedras                                                                  Louis Delbaere

  • Physicist Akira Hirose achieves first controlled synthesis of carbon nanotubes and diamond nanostructures in plasma CVD reactors, with implications for the manufacture of biomedical devices and a host of other applications (2004).
  • First application of fuzzy logic in plasma position control in nuclear fusion experiments (2004).
  • Gregg Adams, Angela Baerwald,
and Roger Pierson Gregg Adams, Angela Baerwald, and Roger Pierson
  • The first evidence suggesting that the traditionally accepted model of the human menstrual cycle is wrong, a discovery that could have implications for infertility treatment and lead to the design of new, safer and more effective contraception (2003). See “U of S Firsts: Human Fertility” on “Healthy Horizons” Century of Innovation page.
  • The first aboriginal person awarded a PhD in solar terrestrial science, from the Institute of Space and Atmospheric Studies in the department of physics and engineering physics (Donald Danskin, Class of 2003).
  • Discovery and description of the oldest predator-prey interaction on earth – 0.6 billion years ago, when the first shells appear in the fossil record.
  • The first climate change record developed from bat guano (2003).
  • The first robotic microsampling devices to digitize samples and growth structures using laser range finders coupled with gray-scale algorithms. Used for finely detailed studies of past climate and environments.
  • Reuban Mapletoft has devised techniques that induce cows to ovulate at the same time, allowing producers to plan ahead for artificial insemination, and developed a drug that causes cows to super-ovulate, allowing production of several fertilized embryos in each cow.
  • The first evidence that changes in ultraviolet radiation and high energy visible light are affecting long term trends in water chemistry, specifically, dissolved organic compounds. Ultraviolet light changes are linked to the atmospheric ozone layer (2003).
  • First three-dimensional observation of the ozone hole from space, courtesy the OSIRIS instrument on the Odin satellite (2002).
  • First recognition of tsunami deposits in ancient marine strata 1.5 billion years old and 0.5 billion years old. (2001 and 2002).
  • First tomographic observation of the Earth’s atmosphere, via the OSIRIS instrument on the Odin satellite (2001).
  • First nationally-accredited software engineering honours specialization in Canada, offered through the College of Arts and Science. The program continues its popularity with both students and employers(2001).
  •  The first to reconstruct daily temperature records from the past using mollusks.
  • The first group to microsample fish otoliths (earstones) to derive information on climate, environment and behavior.
  • The first to generate records of fish migration and hatchery discrimination from isotope values.
  • The first numerical model of carbon cycling in modern and ancient inland seas with implications for the interpretation of atmospheric CO2 concentrations through time.
  • World’s first herbicide tolerant lentil varieties registered (non-GMO)(2004).
  • Canada’s first herbicide tolerant wheat variety, CDC Imagine, registered (non-GMO).         
  • World's first variety of Canario (canary seed for human consumption) registered. Canary seed is high in both protein and oil, and high in healthy unsaturated fats.
  • Canada’s first fenugreek and coriander varieties. Fenugreek is a legume used as a spice, for forage, and to enhance soil fertility through its nitrogen-fixing capabilities. Coriander yields both spice (seeds) and a green leaf herb (cilantro).
  • Development of a DNA test for the gene for the hormone leptin in cattle. Leptin is associated with marbling in beef and hence the tenderness of the meat.
  • First application of the stable isotopes of hydrogen and oxygen in deep subsurface brines as a fingerprinting tool in support of petroleum exploration and production.
  • The first high precision measurements of stable isotope variations of chromium in nature, for application in the study of past oceans and atmosphere.
  • The first high precision measurements of stable isotope variations of calcium in nature, allowing novel investigations of calcium cycling in the modern and ancient environment.
  • The first measurement of the three isotopes of oxygen, applied to tracing the temperature history of ancient oceans.
  • The first multi-isotope approach to reconstruction of salinity profiles in past marginal marine environments, shedding light on past environments and the evolution of organisms.
  • The first demonstration that tooth-like microfossils (conodonts) found in ancient marine sediments are unreliable recorders of the strontium isotope composition of ancient seawater, with implications for reconstruction ancient marine environments.


  • The first radar in the world to operate for two full solar cycles (22 years), providing continuous soundings, every five minutes, of the winds of the upper atmosphere (60-110 km).
  • Space Shuttle Space Shuttle
  • Protein crystallographer Louis Delbaere produces the first Canadian-led space-shuttle experiments on Space shuttle discovery in 1990. Another of Delbaere’s experiments flies in 1992 on the Mir space station. See “U of S Firsts: Experiments in Space” on “Searching the Living Skies” Century of Innovation page.
  • A first in geology: the standard model for how gold is deposited in the Earth’s crust – by fluid circulation among ancient mountain belts where tectonic plates once collided.
  • The first cross-platform, interdisciplinary laboratory for multiple-isotope studies of past climate and environment – the Saskatchewan Isotope Laboratory.
  • The first conversion of an antibody into an enzyme, a discovery made by Biochemist Jeremy S. Lee which could lead to better drugs and drug therapies (1998).
  • Five “world firsts” in animal vaccine research (
    • the world’s first vaccine created through recombinant DNA technology licensed for use in animals. Pneumo-Star protects against Pasteurella infection in cattle, part of bovine respiratory disease (BRD) complex;
    •  the first vaccine (Somnu-Star) against pasteurellosis and haemophilosis, again, part of BRD;
    • the first vaccine (Vicogen) for prevention of  calf scours, a disease in cattle that is a major contributor to livestock losses;
    • first vaccine (Hevlan TC) to prevent enteritis (inflammation of the gut) in turkeys;
    • the first vaccine (Pleuro-Star 4) which protects pigs from pleuropneumonia. Together, these diseases cost producers about $1.5 billion annually.
    • James Miller James Miller
  • The first comprehensive study of the history of native residential schooling in Canada produced by historian James Miller (1996).
  • First tangential compact torus injection into a tokamak fusion reactor, a breakthrough in terms of how to effectively add fuel to such reactors (1995).
  • The first discovery of a half-billion-year-old trilobite egg fossil (1994).
  • Canola Council of Canada Canola Council of Canada
  • First new-generation radar of the international Super Dual Auroral Radar Network (SuperDARN) program for space weather studies, at the U of  S Kernen Farm. The global network now includes 17 radars.
  • Canada’s first transgenic crop variety registered (a variety of canola) (1990s).
  • Registration of Canada’s first chickpea varieties (1990s).
  • First patent issued for the use of ion exchange membranes in a soil testing application. The membranes are used to mimic root uptake of nutrients and thus provide an assessment of nutrient availability in soils (1990s).
  • Development of a genetic test for the polled (lack of horns) trait in cattle (1990s).
  • The first commercially available genetically engineered vaccine for animals (1990s).
  • The first ultrasound of an egg release from the human ovary (1990) by Dr. Roger Pierson, showing that ultrasonography could be a powerful new tool for non-invasive study of the dramatic changes that occur in the structures of the ovary just before and during ovulation (1990). This and other related U of S discoveries have made it possible to assess the ovulation potential of individual follicles in infertile women, thereby potentially paving the way for safer and more effective fertility therapies.
  • First high confinement (Ohmic H) mode in a tokamak in nuclear fusion research (1990).


  • First alternating current tokamak operation in nuclear fusion research (1987).
  • First microwave full-polarization radar sensing of crops and fallow land, as background for the Canadian RADARSAT program (1987-90)
  • The first to report on the 45-million-year-old mummified fossil forests of Axel Heiberg Island produced by James F. Basinger, providing a unique insight into the ancient vegetation of the High Arctic (1986).  Fossil titanothere teeth from large rhinoceros-like mammals were discovered in the fossil forest, representing the northernmost record of fossil mammals in the world.
  • The first and only toxicology centre in Western Canada (1986). See “U of S Firsts: Environmental toxicology” on “New Natural Resources” Century of Innovation page.
  • The first use of epilepsy-prone poultry for human health research (1980s).
  • Established the value of canola meal as an animal feed. Fractionation technologies promise high-protein products for aquaculture, and land-based livestock. (1990s)
  • Dairy Cows
  • Development of a genetic test for infertility in cattle due to a Robertsonian translocation, a type of abnormality in the chromosomes (1980s).
  • First Canadian experiment aboard the space shuttle. OGLOW measured the reddish glow that develops around the shuttle during missions, to determine if and how much it interferes with other experiments and their instruments (1984). A secondary objective was to gather data on the southern aurora (aurora australis), air glow at night time and the bioluminescence of oceans.
  • The first to develop high-gravity fermentation (VHGF), which produces much higher levels of alcohol. Now the standard procedure for brewers around the world for the efficiencies it delivers, it is also embraced by the ethanol fuel industry (1980s)
  • The world’s most successful malting barley variety – Harrington. Introduced in the 1980s and still specified by many world brewers, it covered more than half the barley acreage in Western Canada and up to 40 per cent in the U.S. – by far the most of any variety. Harrington held top spot until 2002, when it was supplanted by AC Metcalfe.
  • The first geophysics program in Canada to offer a field school.
  • The first Canadian experimental tokamak reactor for research into fusion power production (Akira Hirose, 1980s).
  • North America’s first “pulse stretcher” ring, EROS (Electron Ring of Saskatchewan). Used for nuclear physics research, EROS was a “mini-synchrotron” which fostered the gathering of expertise that led to the Canadian Light Source synchrotron (1980s).
  • The first nationally accredited software engineering honours specialization (Arts and Science).
  • The first interdisciplinary graduate program in toxicology in Canada (1980).


    Canola Council of Canada
  • Canada’s first lentil varieties registered. These were the foundation of a two-million acre lentil industry in the province and made Saskatchewan the world’s largest exporter of lentils (1970s).
  • The first weigh-in-motion scale technology for measuring weight of passing vehicles on highways (1970s). International Road Dynamics:
  • The first energy-efficient house in Canada, built as the Saskatchewan Conservation House in Regina (1977). The work contributed to the federal government’s R2000 program.
  • Nobel Laureate Gerhard Herzberg Photo: U of S Archives Nobel Laureate Gerhard Herzberg Photo: U of S Archives
  • Patented the first plant-based milk replacer for calves.
  • The first low-cost, plastic air-to-air heat exchanger for use in houses or livestock operations to increase energy efficiency. Several companies across Canada, including two in Saskatchewan, were founded on this technology, now sold around the world (1970s).
  • The first native law centre in Canada established by Dean Roger Carter in 1973. See “Then and Now: Aboriginal Research” on “Of Life and Learning” Century of Innovation page.
  • ITEP, the Indian Teacher Education Program, the first to develop teachers of First Nations ancestry (1973).
  • The first Canadian Nobel Prize in chemistry or physics – Gerhard Herzberg (1971).
  • The first university in Canada to provide courses in the psychology of exceptional children.


  • Discovery of the Kac-Moody algebras, independently and simultaneously by mathematicians Robert Moody (Canada) and Victor Kac (Russia). The Kac-Moody algebras, and their offspring, the Virasoro algebras, lie at the root of superstring theory and have many other applications (1960s).
  • The world’s most advanced pipeline technology, now used to transport many materials both as liquid or slurry that would otherwise be transported by truck at much greater expense. Development continues at the Saskatchewan Research Council Pipe Flow Technology Centre in Saskatoon (1960s).

  • Northern Lights
  • The first successful kidney re-transplant in Canada (1964).
  • The first integrated internship as a part of a teacher education program (1963)
  • First high-energy electron linear accelerator in Canada (1960s).




  • The first-in-Canada betatron, a particle accelerator used to produce brilliant X-rays for cancer treatment (1948).
  • Thorbergur Thorvaldson  Photo: U of S Archives Thorbergur Thorvaldson Photo: U of S Archives
  • The first drama department in Canada and the Commonwealth (1946) and the first University in Western Canada with a fine arts degree program. See “Of Life and Learning” Century of Innovation Page.
  • The first Canadian Literature course in Canada and the world, offered by Dr. Carlyle King (1944).
  • Canada’s first graduate degree in Education (1927).
  • Development of the first sulfate-resistant cement by chemistry professor Thorbergur Thorvaldson, allowing durable concrete structures in high-alkali soils, such as those commonly found on the Canadian Prairies (1919).
  • The first school of accounting and first accounting degree in Canada (1914).
  • First Political Studies department in Canada (1910).