UBC a partner on four new initiatives funded by the Canada First Research Excellence Fund

28 April, 2023

The Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, announced an investment in support of 11 large-scale research initiatives through the Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF).

The funded initiatives will foster community, provincial, national and international partnerships across academic, private and not-for-profit sectors to deliver high-impact research leading to social and economic benefits for Canadians.

UBC is an institutional partner on four of the projects. Through these partnerships, UBC researchers will collaborate on projects addressing artificial intelligence-driven materials discovery, improving immigrant integration in Canada, genomics-based RNA therapeutics, and climate solutions derived from community-engaged research on energy systems.

CFREF initiatives on which UBC is an Institutional partner

Accelerating Community Energy Transformation (ACET)

Lead institution: University of Victoria
Partner institutions: Royal Roads University; The University of British Columbia; Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières; Yukon University

Accelerating Community Energy Transformation is a collaborative initiative led by the University of Victoria that will bring together diverse partners, including Indigenous, rural and remote communities, to create innovative place-based solutions for energy system transformation. The initiative will help transform regional economies, inform inclusive national policies, and integrate breakthrough renewable energy technologies that will position Canada as a world leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and achieving net zero goals.


UBC researchers will contribute in multiple ways to ACET’s community-led approach to working with B.C. communities to identify their needs and challenges relating to low-energy transitions.

Dr. Naoko Ellis is a co-lead of ACET and will lead a team of UBC researchers that includes Drs. Derek Gladwin and Maggie Low. The team will contribute to the community-level interventions of scaling solutions to address the complex adaptive challenges of energy transitions by co-creating opportunities for wellbeing with communities through holistic understanding and education. Projects will leverage UBC Clean Energy Research Centre (CERC), where researchers engage in research, development and demonstration of low-carbon clean energy technologies and carbon capture, storage and utilization technologies. CERC researchers not only conduct clean energy research and ways of communicating about this publicly, but also proactively collaborate with industrial partners to evaluate and promote promising technologies to benefit society environmentally and economically.

UBC hosts an entire ecosystem for the demonstration and deployment of low-carbon energy technologies under its “Campus as a Living Laboratory” initiative. For example, the Smart Hydrogen Energy District (SHED: led and developed by Dr. Walter Mérida at MéridaLabs) can become an effective platform to test and deploy integrated sustainable energy solutions to facilitate community-scale energy transitions. The boundaries between transportation systems, energy assets, civil infrastructure and digital networks are becoming porous and transparent as urban technologies become smart and interconnected. The SHED will test novel technologies related to hydrogen production, renewable energy storage and 5G networks to enable community adoption, and fuel switching across key economic sectors. Socioeconomic and public barriers to the adoption and deployment of alternative energy paradigms will be addressed to promote clean growth in a low-carbon economy.


Acceleration Consortium: Self-Driving Laboratories for Molecular and Materials Discovery

Lead institution: University of Toronto
Partner institutions: The University of British Columbia

New material development is critical to securing a future for Canadians that is healthy, sustainable and resilient. To revolutionize scientific discovery, the University of Toronto’s Acceleration Consortium and its partners will develop self-driving labs that combine AI and automation to create a wide range of new materials and molecules for a fraction of the usual time and cost—from life-saving medications and biodegradable plastics to low-carbon cement and renewable energy.


UBC brings both a depth and breadth of interdisciplinary expertise to Self-Driving Laboratories (SDL). The SDL at UBC, known as Project Ada, will focus on synthetic scale up, bridging the gap between early phase discovery and late-stage manufacturing to address a monumental barrier for widespread utilization and value creation for any new chemical entity.

Project Ada has catalyzed initiatives around the world committed to expanding the applications and capacity of self-driving labs. As part of the consortium, it represents a unique, nationally leading facility to accelerate the discovery and optimization of advanced clean energy materials by developing self-driving laboratories that combine flexible automation with machine learning and computational screening.

UBC researchers leading UBC’s involvement in the project are Drs. Jason Hein (Chemistry) and Curtis Berlinguette (Chemistry / Chemical and Biological Engineering) who are pioneers and national leaders in the emerging field of accelerated materials discovery and Dr. Margo Seltzer (Computer Science) who is a Canada 150 chair in Computer Systems and has expanded UBC’s research focus to include cyber-physical security and remote access of these advanced robotic platforms. The program will expand over its seven year course to include many researchers from Chemistry, IRES, Computer Sciences, and Mechanical Engineering.

Migrant Integration in the mid-21st Century: Bridging Divides

Lead institution:  Toronto Metropolitan University
Partner institutions: Concordia University; The University of British Columbia; University of Alberta

The Bridging Divides research program is dedicated to building a new understanding of the challenges and opportunities that migrant integration poses for Canada (and all countries) at a time when technological transformations are rapidly changing the way we work, live and connect with one another locally and across borders. The intersectoral and interdisciplinary consortium will generate insights and knowledge in four thematic areas: 1) Health and Well-Being, 2) Employment and Lifelong Learning, 3) Place and Infrastructure and 4) Citizenship and Participation.


UBC researchers will be focusing on data, governance, healthy communities, inclusive societies, inequality and technological solutions in supporting the goals of the project across its four core themes. UBC’s involvement will be supported by the UBC Centre for Migration Studies and led by seven core researchers:

Citizenship & Participation 
Considering how civic and political participation and citizenship are fundamental to the success of resilient, inclusive and sustainable communities.

Place & Infrastructure
Exploring how smart city technologies can reinforce social infrastructure to optimize the resilience of urban communities.

Employment & Lifelong Learning 
Examining whether and how advanced digital technologies can be strategically applied to improve immigrants’ economic integration.

  • Drs. Suzanne Huot (Occupational Science & Occupational Therapy) and Vince Hopkins (Political Science as of July 2023 - currently at the University of Saskatchewan)

Immigrant Health & Well-Being 
Employing innovative social and technological strategies and tools to engage immigrant communities in prioritizing needs and co-creating solutions to reduce health disparities.

  • Drs. Margaret Moss (Nursing / First Nations House of Learning) and Elizabeth Saewyc (Nursing / Stigma and Resilience Among Vulnerable Youth Centre)

DNA to RNA: An Inclusive Canadian Approach to Genomic-based RNA Therapeutics (D2R)

Lead institution:  McGill University
Partner institutions: McMaster University; The University of British Columbia; Université de Sherbrooke; University of Ottawa

D2R is a unique interdisciplinary program that will deliver novel, genomic, medicine-based RNA therapies to benefit the health of people afflicted by infectious diseases or by rare and neglected diseases, or who are suffering from cancer. Building on a revolution in medicine created by a convergence of scientific breakthroughs in genomics and RNA, D2R will make Canada a world leader in RNA-based medicine development and social and regulatory health policy implementation.


UBC researchers and research facilities will play a key role in the D2R project, which provides opportunities to expand on existing collaborations throughout the course of the project.

Key UBC collaborators include:

Dr. Pieter Cullis (Biochemistry and Molecular Biology). Dr. Cullis has pioneered the generation of appropriately engineered lipid nanoparticle (LNP) systems to deliver conventional and genetic drugs. In particular, the Nanomedicine Research Group under Prof. Cullis has world-class expertise in LNP drug delivery systems and operates the Nano Core, a research facility that develops high-quality, state-of-the-art lipid nanoparticles encapsulating nucleic acid, small molecule, or peptide drugs that enable proof-of-concept (POC) animal studies. The Nano Core will be an essential platform in D2R and will contribute to development and production of lipid nanoparticles for POC and preclinical testing. Professor Cullis is a core team member of D2R and is the designated lead on Delivery System.

Prof. Larry Lynd (Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences) will contribute internationally recognized expertize in outcomes research, namely both cost-effectiveness and therapeutic risk benefit analyses. His specialization in these analyses – especially at early stages of product development – will strategically support the program’s valorization efforts and significantly contribute to its potential to generate social and economic benefits to Canadians.


In addition to these institutional partnerships, UBC’s Drs. Rajeev Jaiman and Jasmin Jelovica (Mechanical Engineering) are participating in the Qanittaq Clean Arctic Shipping Initiative, co-led and co-developed by Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) Canada to address and respond to concerns about Arctic shipping and related environmental impacts affecting Northern communities. It will develop robust and innovative ship design and operation technologies, as well as surrounding policy and governance to position Canada and Inuit as world leaders in Arctic shipping.