Deputy prime minister meets with university leaders, researchers, grad students at U of T's Acceleration Consortium

'An investment in our young researchers is an investment in economic growth and productivity'

Alán Aspuru-Guzik (right), director of the Acceleration Consortium, shows Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland (left) 'the world's brightest molecule' during a visit to the University of Toronto's St. George campus (photo by Johnny Guatto)

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland toured a University of Toronto lab Friday – just days after announcing a transformative investment in the next generation of research leaders who will propel Canada to the forefront of global innovation. 

Freeland’s visit to the Acceleration Consortium’s Matter Lab showcased the cutting-edge research and training at the lab, which received a landmark $200-million investment last year from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF).  

The 2024 budget, which features substantial investments in Canada’s research ecosystem over the next five years, earmarks $825 million in support for graduate students and post-doctoral fellows – a pivotal investment in strengthening the research talent pipeline that will fuel the growth of Canada’s knowledge and innovation economy. 

Freeland characterized the investment in graduate students and postdoctoral fellows as a “virtuous circle,” whereby the young researchers of today become the industry leaders of tomorrow. 

"Making an investment in our young researchers is an investment in economic growth and productivity,” she said. “Some of Canada’s leading entrepreneurs and innovators started their journeys in a lab just like this one – many of them are entrepreneurs and researchers at the same time – and that is one of the reasons this investment is so important.” 

This federal commitment significantly increases the value and number of scholarships and fellowships, starting in 2024-2025, building up to benefit about 1,720 more graduate students or fellows each year. 

Lab Tour
Melanie Woodin, dean of the Faculty of Arts & Science, welcomed the federal government's investment in improved supports for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows (photo by Johnny Guatto)

Melanie Woodin, dean of the Faculty of Arts & Science, welcomed the supports as “reinvesting in Canada’s proud tradition of excellence in the global knowledge economy,” nurturing the young minds who are poised to devise homegrown solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges, from addressing climate change to unlocking the potential of AI. 

“The federal government's investment in Canada’s research ecosystem – and the trainees who are the lifeblood of this ecosystem – recognizes the critical role of this sector in the productivity and flourishing of our country.” 

Frédéric Bouchard, chair of the Advisory Panel on the Federal Research Support System, commended the federal government for implementing many of the recommendations outlined in the panel’s 2023 report, including the budget’s measures to bring the world’s best and brightest to Canada. 

“There is a global race for talent, and we were at risk for brain drain,” said Bouchard, dean of Université de Montréal’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences. “There is a chase for the best ideas, and we need a way to create them here and leverage them here.” 

Chrystia Freeland Lab Tour
Alán Aspuru-Guzik gives Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland a tour of the Acceleration Consortium's Matter Lab (photo by Johnny Guatto)

The budget also allocates $2.4 billion in previously announced funding to elevate Canada’s AI advantage – an effort where U of T researchers are leading the charge. 

Among them is Alán Aspuru-Guzik, director of the Acceleration Consortium, which harnesses artificial intelligence, robotics and advanced computing to fast-track the discovery of new materials. 

A professor in the departments of chemistry and computer science in the Faculty of Arts & Science at U of T, Aspuru-Guzik said Canada’s latest investments in bolstering its research ecosystem have reaffirmed his decision to move to the country in 2018. 

“With a combination of targeted research funding … and now the competitive update to the pay of our most important resource, students and postdocs, Canada has the ability to compete globally at the highest level,” Aspuru-Guzik said.  

“We want Canada to be the leader of AI for materials. For that, we need the best people. To get the best people we need to pay them well. This new announcement bridges this gap.” 

Chrystia Freeland Lab Tour
The Acceleration Consortium harnesses artificial intelligence, robotics and advanced computing to fast-track the discovery of new materials (photo by Johnny Guatto)

Freeland, who met with U of T President Meric Gertler before visiting the lab, was also joined by Chad Gaffield, chief executive officer of the U15 group of universities, Gabriel Miller, president and chief executive officer of Universities Canada, and Kaitlin Kharas, the co-president of Support our Science. 

Kharas, a PhD candidate in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine’s department of laboratory medicine and pathobiology, said the supports for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows will not only make Canada’s research ecosystem more inclusive and diverse, but will ease financial pressures so scholars can focus on what’s important.  

“This enhanced support will ensure the next generation of Canadian scientists, innovators and entrepreneurs can focus on their research and the essential work of creating solutions to Canada's largest problems,” she said. 

“Make no mistake – by ensuring graduate students and postdoctoral scholars are supported, budget 2024 has ushered in a new era of Canadian research excellence.”