The research possibilities are limitless when they’re backed by core facilities

The Cell Biology and Image Acquisition (CBIA) Core Facility, run by the Faculty of Medicine, is one of 26 core facilities overseen by the Office of the Vice-President, Research and Innovation.

“The core facilities program at uOttawa — a unique model that is the first of its kind among the U15 — has essentially democratized access to cutting-edge equipment and reliable high-quality research services and expertise,” says Mohamad Nasser-Eddine, associate vice-president, research support and infrastructure, at the University of Ottawa. “Twelve years of investing in our core facilities have really paid off. It’s enabled the University to attract and retain top researchers, train the next generation and foster invaluable collaborations with the academic, private, public and non-profit sectors.”

Core facilities are self-contained labs within the University stocked with state-of-the-art research equipment and run by highly trained experts. They provide access to world-class services and technology for those interested in conducting advanced research.

The University of Ottawa currently has 26 core facilities across the faculties of Engineering, Medicine, Science and Social Sciences. Led by the Office of the Vice-President, Research and Innovation (OVPRI), since 2011, the core facilities program is recognized as a national leader and is currently the longest running program of its kind in the country.

“The development of an oversight framework to support and sustain our cores required a paradigm shift, a cultural change in terms of accessing and sharing essential research infrastructure,” says Nasser-Eddine. “And that’s mission critical, because it has to benefit a broad range of researchers.”

The accelerator mass spectrometer at the AEL-AMS laboratory
The André E. Lalonde Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Laboratory is the national centre for environmental radioisotope analysis and research that addresses issues in the earth and environmental sciences, nuclear energy and health sciences.

Cores offer a cost-effective solution to many of the equipment and infrastructure challenges that researchers face, particularly early career researchers. They allow government, industry and not-for-profits to conduct research without having to purchase specialized equipment or hire highly qualified staff.

“Core facilities open the door to fruitful collaborations and partnerships that are bidirectional, because we end up learning from others as much as they learn from us,” says Katey Rayner, assistant dean of research and special projects at the Faculty of Medicine, who is also a strong ambassador for the OVPRI’s core facilities program. “It’s not a coincidence that the top-ranking research universities are also the ones that invest heavily in their core facilities. Research moves at a fast pace, and the approaches we use to conduct it are constantly evolving. That’s why core facilities are critical to the research enterprise.”

On core facility managers: ‘They really get things done’

Core facilities are run by PhD scientists with high-level expertise. It’s their job to find the latest technologies and the most advanced methods to conduct research. “It really is an exciting career because you genuinely get to be at the absolute cutting edge of technology,” says Rayner. “As a researcher, when I approach a core facility manager with my research question, they’ll say, ‘Ok, I’ve got three ways we can answer that. Not only that, but I also know how to execute them, and I’ll teach you and your team how to do it.’ They really get things done. And they’ll get it done ten times faster than if I had to do it all on my own.”

Providing analytical services and advising users on their research projects is central to a core facility’s value proposition, says Nasser-Eddine. “Attracting and retaining high-performing core managers and technicians is vital to the success of core facilities and our research mission at uOttawa.”

Learn more about uOttawa’s core facilities, including how to establish your own.