November 7, 2003
CFI awards $1 million to U of A researchers
But will the province match federal funds?
University of Alberta researchers have taken a lead role in what is being touted as the next major telecommunications breakthrough. With a grant announced from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), Dr. Xiaodai Dong and her team in electrical and computer engineering will explore the new frontier of "ultra-wideband" wireless communications, a technology capable of transmitting large amounts of information.
The technology is still in its early stages, but will eventually be used over short distances mainly for wireless personal area networks and home electronics. It also has the potential to save the lives of police officers, military personnel and firefighters, because it can be embedded in tracking devices.
The big advantage, says Dong, is that the technology is expected to be cheap because an ultra-wideband signal is low power and can piggyback on radio spectrums already in use, such as the licensed spectrum for mobile celluar systems.
"Because the power is so low, it's only like background noise to other operations. That's why you don't pay for the spectrum," said Dong.
Dong and her colleagues, including Dr. Chintha Tellambura, will set up a new lab to measure the channels on which ultra-wideband signals are transmitted. Understanding those channels will allow them to design transmitters and receivers for communications devices, which may see the light of day in about five years, she says.
The ultra-wideband project is part of the iCORE Wireless Communications Laboratory (iWCL) led by Dr. Norman Beaulieu. It is one of six to be funded by CFI's New Opportunities program, which is handing out $24.1 million to 37 institutions across the country. Other U of A projects include cardiac research ($173,000), nano-scale work on semiconductor surfaces ($310,000), refining proteomics tools for plant research ($84,000), using chemical biology and protein engineering for live cell imaging ($132,000) and research on superfluidity. Total grants for the U of A in this competition amount to about $1.1 million.
However, while the funding announcement came as welcome news, the money will remain in a trust account until the university comes up with matching funds - a condition CFI places on all grants. In the past, the provincial government matched the federal funds, but hasn't done so in more than a year, says U of A Vice-President (Research) Gary Kachanoski.
"We realize the government is working on a solution, but the tension is certainly rising," he said. "We simply do not have the money to match these grants." If the funds aren't matched, the university could be forced to "return the money and shut down further applications," a move he said "would be disastrous.
"We can't keep winning these awards without some indication they're going to be matched. If you look at the projects that have been funded, they're directly related to the key strategic areas identified by the province," he added. "If these grants are matched.everybody wins."
The New Opportunities Fund was established by CFI to enable universities to provide infrastructure for newly recruited faculty members.