Other Question #44

S. Warne, a 32 year old female from the Internet asks on August 7, 1999,

What are some recent Canadian contributions to research and development? I was challenged by someone to name anything in R&D that Canada is world-renowned for - some field in which the rest of the world looks to Canada as a leader.

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The answer

Barry Shell answered on August 7, 1999

First off, you can go to www.science.ca and notice all the Nobel prize winners. (Or check out the book Great Canadian Scientists.)

Michael Smith won the 1993 Nobel prize for site-directed mutagenesis. This is the chemical technique whereby a mutation at a particular spot on a particular piece of DNA can be made. This is now used everywhere in the world of bioengineering. Smith himself became a millionaire by mutating a kind of yeast to produce insulin, which was a lot cheaper than the previous method of extracting it from cow pancreas. There are many other examples.

How about Jet Skis? That's a Canadian invention, as are snowmobiles. These were invented by Armand Bombardier. His company is now one of the biggest in the country.

Then we come to aerospace. You've heard of the Avro Arrow, the first supersonic fighter jet. That was invented in Canada. When this technology was killed in the late 1950s, all the scientists that had worked on it went to Europe and the USA. They ended up creating the Concord and half a dozen supersonic fighters for the US airforce.

Interestingly, Ralph Nader, an American, wrote a book called Canada Firsts that lists hundreds of things for which Canada was first in the world. Some of these are: basketball, time zones, Superman, the wire photo and the telephone -- all Canadian inventions. You can find more on the science.ca website in our list of Canadian Firsts.  

Telecommunications is field a in which Canada leads the world. In the 1990s most of the world's pager systems and telephone switching systems and long distance satellite and fibre-optic communications systems were Canadian, invented and marketed by Canadian companies. Even today, if you buy a telephone that says GE or Siemens or Alcatel on it, chances are the technology was invented in Canada and licensed to those companies. Most airphones, the telephones in airplane seats, are Canadian, developed by BC Tel's research arm in Vancouver.

In physics and astronomy, Canada led the world in the search for Neutrinos (experiments are conducted in a salt mine in Ontario) and in detecting the background radiation of space. Canadian scientists are at NASA working on a satellite that might clarify once and for all what happened at the Big Bang.

In Chemistry, it was a Canadian, who first worked out the stereochemistry of sugar and then many other characteristics of blood and blood proteins. We Canadians may be humble, but we are also great!

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