Advancing Signature Areas

Progress has been made during 2011 to advance the signature areas through major institution-wide initiatives this spring. Examples are highlighted below. Please visit this site for the latest developments as the work on the signature areas evolve.

Aboriginal Peoples: Engagement and Scholarship

Global Relevance

The world's 400 million Indigenous people continue to face unprecedented cultural, economic and social challenges. People the world over need new understandings of the issues, values, identities, and experiences of Aboriginal people. This shared knowledge will help advance Indigenous and non-Indigenous ways of knowing, address social and economic disparities and gaps in health and well-being, and prepare a new generation of Aboriginal youth for the global knowledge economy.

Located within Treaty 6 and embodying the spirit of all the Prairies treaties, the University of Saskatchewan embraces the First Nations and Metis peoples' deeply-rooted sense of place and accepts the challenge of creating respectful relations between Aboriginal people and settler society. In a province where the population may rise to half Aboriginal by mid-century, we seek to lead the way in examining issues such as residential schools and reconciliation, land claims and treaties, protection of heritage and culture, economic development and resource management, health and wellness, and law and governance.

Recent Developments:

  • A fact-finding group of U of S researchers attended the National Research Centre Forum of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada—"Sharing Truth-Creating a National Research Centre on Residential Schools"—March 1-3, 2011 in Vancouver, B.C. Part of the Commission’s mandate is to establish a National Research Centre (NRC) that will exist after the Commission has completed its work in 2014. The main goal of the U of S attendees was to gather information about the emerging vision, processes and timelines for the centre, with a view to building partnerships for a potential bid or for being included in a bid by another university or group of universities.

Agriculture: Food and Bioproducts for a Sustainable Future

Global Relevance

There are currently more than 900 million hungry people around the globe. An expanding population will force even more people to compete for available food supplies. With projections that world food production will need to double in the next 40 years to meet demand, there is an urgent need for new science, technology and policies to help feed a hungry world adequately, safely and sustainably.

The semi-arid grasslands and prairies of North America and Eurasia are among the most productive regions on earth, and produce a significant proportion of the world's food. As one of the world’s most successful food-producing areas, Saskatchewan has a proven track record in agricultural production and research, with more than 100 years of leadership in developing strategies for optimizing food production in semi-arid regions through a holistic "prairie-systems approach" to soil and water conservation, climate adaptation, pest control, crop and livestock development, crop management and other universal challenges.

We have both an opportunity and a responsibility to strengthen Saskatchewan's leadership in research-driven sustainable agriculture and address this unprecedented global challenge.

Recent Developments:

  • The College of Agriculture and Bioresources invited a leading North American agricultural strategist-Robert Thompson-to give the Frontiers in Science Lecture on April 5/2011: "Feeding 9 Billion: The Challenge of Doubling World Food Production." Thompson is a Senior Fellow of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs based in Washington, D.C.
    • To tap into Thompson's wealth of international expertise, experience and perspective in this U of S signature area, the Office of the Vice-President Research organized a strategic "brainstorming" session involving members of the research community from across campus on April 5 to discuss the idea of building a U of S centre of excellence in the area of sustainable food security. The proposed institute would build upon our institutional strengths including investments we have made, our historical strengths, our engaged stakeholders, our expertise, and our sense of place. To hear Thompson and panelists Mary Buhr, Douglas Freeman, Ernie Barber, Peter Phillips and Wilf Keller, click here.

Energy and Mineral Resources: Technology and Public Policy for a Sustainable Environment

Global Relevance

Rapidly growing populations and global economies present major challenges for the 21st century as demand for energy and natural resources rapidly outpaces sustainable supply. Clean energy solutions, sustainable resource development, and sound policy development are paramount to meet future demand, address greenhouse gas challenges, ensure indigenous participation in energy and resource development, and help conserve our ecosystems.

Saskatchewan, with its wealth of bioresources and resources from the earth-coal, oil, gas, uranium and potash, to name a few-is an energy and mineral powerhouse with a role to play in addressing these global challenges. New cutting-edge technologies and public policy to find the right sustainable energy mix and guide community development will be critical to the province's and Canada's future.

Recent Developments:

  • On March 2, 2011, the U of S was awarded $30 million over seven years from the Saskatchewan government to establish a world-class research centre in nuclear research, training and innovation, as well as in probing the environmental and social context of nuclear development. The new institute will build on the university's history as a leader in nuclear medicine and accelerator technology and focus on three key areas: nuclear medicine, nuclear science and engineering and materials science. The institute will:
    • Advance nuclear medicine and knowledge;
    • Develop better materials for widespread applications, including energy, health, environment, manufacturing, transportation, and communication;
    • Improve safety and other engineering of nuclear energy systems; and
    • Understand how to reap the benefits and manage the risks of nuclear technology for society and the environment.

    For more information, click here.

  • Last fall, the Saskatchewan Energy Innovation Alliance was established jointly with the University of Regina. By building on existing areas of strength and establishing strategic partnerships, the Alliance will further U of S efforts to achieve national prominence as a leading centre in energy and mineral resource research, technology development, and policy for sustainable development.
  • A business plan is under development for the creation of a proposed new minerals innovation institute for research and training based at the U of S which will involve researchers in areas such as engineering, science, economic and community development, and environmental stewardship. The institute would be a multi-stakeholder initiative that would provide leadership in capacity-building in the development of new academic programs to help meet the shortage of specialist in the earth, environmental and engineering sciences to support the activities of the uranium exploration and mining industries.

New Research Group Initiatives:

  • On May 25, 2011, the U of S Solar Photovoltaic Research Group, led by chemist Ron Steer, received funding from Western Economic Diversification to purchase equipment for the design, fabrication and testing of organic solar cells, improving the longevity and cost-effectiveness of existing technology and introducing new opportunities for photovoltaic power generation.

Photo: Cameco Corporation

Photo: Saskatchewan Mining Association/Mining Human Resources Council

One Health: Solutions at the Animal-Human-Environment Interface

Global Relevance

To combat many serious health threats of the 21st century, it is critical that we understand the interdependence of animal and human health and how the health of all species is inextricably linked to environmental pressures including population growth, natural disasters, resource depletions and climate change.

Most emerging infectious diseases-such as AIDS, West Nile Virus, SARS, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (the human form of "mad cow disease"), and Avian Influenza-originate in animals. Global travel, urbanization, environmental changes and shifting land use practices that increase proximity between animals and humans hasten the spread of infectious diseases, with devastating consequences for health and economies.

Solutions to global challenges such as emerging diseases, water and food safety, and environmental degradation due to human and animal activity will require scientific, public health and policy approaches that integrate human, animal, and ecosystem health.

Governments in Canada and around the world need improved prevention and detection strategies, treatments, and diagnostic tools, as well as new health and environmental policies to manage the "one health" that unites people, animals and their shared ecosystems.

Recent Developments:

  • The $140-million U of S International Vaccine Centre (InterVac)—part of the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO)—was officially opened by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Premier Brad Wall on Sept. 16, 2011. Click here for more information about the facility and its potential impact.
    • InterVac will be one of the most advanced containment level 3 (CL3) vaccine research and development facilities in the world and one of the largest in North America. It will enhance Canada's capacity to protect human and animal health through developing and improving vaccines, improving food and water safety, and enabling researchers to respond quickly to emerging diseases.
    • InterVac will reshape the international landscape for infectious disease research and vaccine development. It will strengthen VIDO's position as an international leader in vaccine development for diseases such as tuberculosis; swine and avian influenza; hantavirus; HIV/ AIDS; mad cow disease; chronic wasting disease; Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease; SARS; rabies; West Nile virus; and hepatitis C.

On March 4, 2011, $17 million in federal and provincial funding was announced for the Saskatchewan Centre for Innovations in Cyclotron Science, a U of S-operated and managed cyclotron and radiopharmacy complex on campus that will conduct research and produce PET-CT isotopes for use in hospital scanners. This facility will advance research into isotope use and detection technologies for better diagnosis and treatment of disease in humans, animals and plants.


Synchrotron Sciences: Innovation in Health, Environment and Advanced Technologies

Global Relevance

The world needs powerful new imaging and analytical techniques to solve pressing challenges in health, environment, materials science and other areas of global social and economic importance. With Canada's national synchrotron on our campus and the largest number of synchrotron users of any university in Canada, our researchers are establishing leadership roles in cutting-edge research that advances the federal science and technology strategy and our nation's ability to compete globally.

Recent Developments:

  • On May 25, 2011, the Canadian Light Source (CLS) received funds for the construction and commissioning of the Brockhouse X-ray Diffraction and Scattering Sector (Brockhouse), a suite of three beamlines and ancillary facilities which will assist researchers in investigating the structure of materials at the nanometer scale. This expansion at CLS will increase industrial and commercial applications at the facility.
  • The CLS synchrotron is gearing up to begin investigating the production of medical isotopes safely, economically and without using a nuclear reactor or weapons-grade uranium. On Jan. 24, Natural Resources Canada confirmed $10 million for the CLS-led project, one of four it is funding. The Saskatchewan government will contribute an additional $2 million. The project involves installing, licensing and testing a new linear accelerator and equipment to recover isotopes. Collaborators include the CLS, NRC, the U.S.-based NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes, the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, and the University Health Network affiliated with the University of Toronto.

A scientist examines part of the Hard X-Ray Microanalysis (HXMA) beamline endstation at the Canadian Light Source synchrotron. HXMA is a powerful multipurpose tool used in a vast range of fields, from soil chemistry and plant physiology, to advanced electronics materials and nanoparticle research.

Water Security: Stewardship of the World's Freshwater Resources

Global Relevance:

The world is facing unprecedented threats to water security due to climate change, pollution and overuse of freshwater resources. Around the globe, 900 million people lack access to clean drinking water and more than 1.4 billion people live in water-stressed areas. There are increasing concerns in Canada and around the world about long-term water quality and availability, both for public consumption and to support agriculture, energy production, industry, and resource development.

How the world uses and manages water in the face of rising demand and increasing floods and droughts is emerging as one of the most important issues of our time. New interdisciplinary science, technology, and policy are urgently needed to address critical problems facing global and domestic water security.

Recent Developments:

  • On March 17, 2011, University Council approved the Global Institute for Water Security, a Type B U of S research centre. The official launch of the Global Institute for Water Security was announced on World Water Day (March 22) by Howard Wheater, who holds the Canada Excellence Research Chair (CERC) in Water Security. The $30-million CERC is jointly funded by the Government of Canada, Government of Saskatchewan, and the U of S. More information is available at: http://www.usask.ca/water/
  • Candidates from around the world are now being considered for several faculty positions available with the new institute. By 2017, the institute will bring to campus 85 researchers-six new faculty, 20 post-doctoral fellows, and 48 graduate students. This will build on existing talent including five U of S Canada Research Chairs, one NSERC Industrial Research Chair, and more than 70 other faculty. The world-class research and training institute is co-located with Environment Canada's National Hydrology Research Centre at Innovation Place.

Environmental toxicology graduate students collect water samples at a lake in northern Saskatchewan.