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New funding for B.C. universities supports advances in health care and more

June 3, 2024 at 11:06 am  BC, News, Politics, Provincial

New funding for one of Canada’s most powerful supercomputers, and the largest research cloud in the country, is supporting cutting-edge research projects in health care, clean energy, neuroscience and climate modelling that will improve people’s lives.

“Our government is investing in B.C. universities to support a range of research bringing about advancements in health care like new heart monitoring technology and artificial intelligence for individually personalized cancer treatments, as well as research that will accelerate decarbonization pathways and grow B.C.’s hydrogen sector for a cleaner future,” said Brenda Bailey, B.C. Minister of Jobs, Economic Development and Innovation. “Through the B.C. Knowledge Development Fund (BCKDF), we continue to invest in the research tools needed to secure our province’s place as a global leader in innovation, and to make life better for people.”

The BCKDF, the Government of B.C.’s primary source for capital investment in research infrastructure, is providing more than $30 million to enhance the high-performance computing infrastructure, also known as supercomputers, at two post-secondary institutions: Simon Fraser University (SFU) and the University of Victoria (UVic). B.C. has two of Canada’s five national supercomputer sites.

“Advanced research computing is a vital tool in the Digital Research Infrastructure Strategy,” said Francois-Philippe Champagne, federal Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry. “Today’s announcement will help ensure the researchers are better equipped to optimize research data to generate cutting-edge knowledge and ideas. Expanding the capacity of Canadian supercomputing power ensure that Canada maintains its science and research excellence and remain globally competitive.”  

This includes more than $24 million to renew the infrastructure of SFU’s Cedar system, one of the most powerful academic supercomputers in Canada. Cedar provides advanced computing power and storage to fuel research innovation and industry, government and academic collaboration across the country. This funding will support SFU, one of Canada’s five national host sites, to build a new system to replace the existing system, which is nearing end of life. The replacement will match or exceed current storage capacity and compute performance to the benefit of tens of thousands of users across Canada. The Digital Research Alliance of Canada is contributing nearly $41 million to SFU’s Cedar supercomputer.

Cedar is helping SFU engineering science professor Mirza Faisal Beg to capture images of the human body and organ measurements much faster than traditional methods, which could help redefine cancer treatment. With each patient’s unique body composition, a personalized treatment plan responsive to both disease and individual traits can lead to improved health outcomes, while minimizing adverse side effects.

UVic, also one of Canada’s five national host sites, has been awarded up to more than $6.1 million through the BCKDF to renew community cloud infrastructure of the Arbutus system, the largest research cloud in the country. Arbutus has revolutionized how scientists across Canada process, share and store massive data sets. Featuring processing speeds thousands of times faster than a desktop computer, it serves as the cornerstone for more than 1,000 research teams across Canada. The Digital Research Alliance of Canada is contributing more than $10 million to UVic’s Arbutus supercomputer.

Arbutus’s use of artificial intelligence and machine learning to analyze and visualize advanced 3D imaging of the brain is helping determine what causes the brain’s immune cells to change drastically and how this affects cognitive function. UVic’s Marie-Ève Tremblay’s globally recognized research is providing a better understanding about learning, memory, behaviour and cognition.

High-performance computers are capable of processing large quantities of data, using artificial intelligence and modelling of complex systems in almost any technology-related sector. The use of these supercomputers helps the economy by driving innovation and supports start-up companies, which leads to potential commercial enterprises. By investing in the Cedar and Arbutus high-performance computers, the Province is ensuring that B.C. continues to attract and retain top academics, researchers, and students.

The BCKDF helps grow the economy by improving B.C.’s productivity and competitiveness, which is a key objective of Clean and Competitive: A Blueprint for B.C.’s Industrial Future. Other benefits include potential commercialization, spinoffs, patents, improved environmental management and discoveries that directly affect the health and well-being of people in B.C.

Quotes:

Lisa Beare, B.C. Minister of Post-Secondary Education and Future Skills

“This is a significant investment in British Columbia’s universities, students, and the workers of the future. The current and future applications of this technology in critical areas like health care and climate change are limited only by the bright minds conducting cutting-edge research in the province. The collaborative integration of artificial intelligence and science will facilitate interdisciplinary studies among academia, industry and government resulting in a better, stronger and even more economically sustainable B.C. for British Columbians.”

Katrina Chen, MLA for Burnaby-Lougheed –

“SFU is one of the province’s top schools equipping students in B.C. with the knowledge, skills and experiences that will prepare them to fill the jobs of today and the future. This investment into Cedar will continue to help our province be a leader in the Lower Mainland, throughout the province and globally.”

George Ross, chief executive officer, Digital Research Alliance of Canada —

“Data is an essential national asset, foundational to our country’s knowledge creation, economic growth and social impact. We are pleased to join forces with the Government of British Columbia and the world-class research computing teams at Simon Fraser University and the University of Victoria to empower researchers Canada-wide. This significant investment in our national compute infrastructure demonstrates the Government of Canada’s commitment to scientific excellence and to bolstering Canada’s position as a leader in the global knowledge economy.”

Joy Johnson, president and vice-chancellor, SFU —

“For years, SFU’s Supercomputer Cedar has empowered Canadian researchers to tackle problems in sectors ranging from personalized medicine for better patient care to green technologies to help fight climate change. These generous investments from the Digital Research Alliance of Canada and the Province of British Columbia will allow us to continue making a difference for B.C., Canada and the world through the use of advanced computing power. I cannot wait to see the incredible innovations and discoveries that are ahead of us.”

Lisa Kalynchuk, vice-president, research and innovation, UVic —

“Cloud computing accelerates the speed of research and streamlines collaboration across countries and continents. UVic’s Arbutus Cloud supports more than 1,000 research teams across Canada in their quest for new knowledge that impacts our everyday lives. We’re very grateful for this investment, which will support both fundamental science and applied research discoveries that improve our health, our homes, and our understanding of the universe – from unlocking secrets of the brain, to understanding the cosmos, to modelling solutions for a healthier, more sustainable future.”

Quick Facts

  • Cedar is Canada’s largest HPC site, providing 37% of the national compute capacity.
  • Arbutus Cloud is Canada’s largest research cloud computing site, providing 80% of the national capacity, and is one of the largest non-commercial cloud offerings in Canada.
  • The BCKDF, established in 1998, is the B.C. government’s primary investment in research infrastructure in the province.

Learn More:

To learn more about the B.C. Knowledge Development Fund, visit: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/governments/technology-innovation/bckdf

To learn more about the Digital Research Alliance of Canada, visit:
Home Page | Digital Research Alliance of Canada (alliancecan.ca)

To learn more about the work of SFU engineering science professor Mirza Faisal Beg to advance cancer treatment, visit:

https://www.sfu.ca/sfunews/stories/2023/08/empowering-personalized-care–cancer-treatment-to-benefit-from-a.html (can01.safelinks.protection.outlook.com)

To learn more about UVic medical science professor Marie-Eve Tremblay’s work on learning, memory, behaviour and cognition, visit: https://www.uvic.ca/news/topics/2021+knowledge-stress-testing-brain+news

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