NOVEMBER 12, 1981
And Now the Good News
AN ADDRESS BY Dr. Larkin Kerwin, PRESIDENT,
NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
CHAIRMAN The President,
BGen. S.F. Andrunyk, O.M.M., C. D.
Distinguished guests, members and friends of The Empire Club of Canada: In the past year there have been encouraging signs of a national awareness that a strong and aggressive research and development program is vital to Canada's future industrial growth and economic well-being. One example of this awareness was the announcement by the Minister of State for Science and Technology in January of this year of a five-year plan to raise the total research and development spending to 1.5 per cent of the gross national product from the present level of less than one per cent. Federal spending on science and technology in 1981 will be $2.6 billion.
Our guest speaker today, Dr. Larkin Kerwin, has a direct and personal interest in the government's new policy for he is the head of the National Research Council--Canada's most diversified and largest research and development organization.
I do not have the time to recite all of Dr. Kerwin's professional qualifications and achievements, his scientific and professional associations and the honours and awards he has received, for it takes five pages to list them. Suffice it to say that he is a brilliant scholar and a nuclear physicist of international stature. His book on atomic and molecular physics has been published in English, French and Spanish. His other writings include chapters for many scientific manuals. He has written dozens of articles on science and education. He has been honoured with doctorates from universities across Canada, and he is a Companion in the Order of Canada.
Dr. Kerwin, a former rector of Laval University, and Vice-President of the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council until his present appointment in 1980, is an ardent spokesman for the research and development community. He believes that a national commitment to significant improvement in the production of high-technology companies would help to reduce inflation, would boost employment and would reduce Canada's trade deficit. An exciting example of this is the design development and production by Spar Aerospace Limited, with assistance and funding from the National Research Council, of the remote manipulator system commonly referred to as Canadarm which will receive its baptism in space in the flight of US. Space Shuttle Columbia. I am happy to report that Columbia was launched successfully at 1010 hours this morning.
We share Dr. Kerwin's pride in the National Research Council's reputation as a highly respected research organization which has done remarkably well despite its limited funding. I am confident that it will do even better under his enthusiastic and capable leadership.
Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming to The Empire Club of Canada Dr. Larkin Kerwin, President of the National Research Council and a "bearer of good news."
Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen: Today I bring you good news because I am not going to discuss the problems of my country. For one thing, it is unnecessary. Many other messengers have borne the bad news of unparallelled interest rates, of the hard-pressed manufacturing sector, of declining social ethics, of the growing public debt. I too can see that to those who use such problems to predict catastrophe, our future must indeed seem bleak.
I have a better reason than redundancy, however, for not reiterating woeful prophecies. It is that I don't believe them. I do not deny the problems; I do deny that they mean ruin for Canada. You see, I already know how many of these problems will be solved. That is the good news that I bring today.
I believe that Canada's future lies in a certain kind of beauty. Are aesthetics a response to economics? Am I being unrealistic? Not at all.
Human beings do many things that brute selfpreservation cannot explain. No animal paints pictures, writes music, constructs explanatory hypotheses or forges tools. All these depend on beauty. And the best paintings, theories, tools or symphonies, the most effective inventions are also the loveliest. "Beauty is truth, truth beauty," wrote Keats. It is all we know and all we need to know. There is an irreducible elegance which links Mozart and Modigliani, Botticelli and Bach, and do not imagine that I speak here of mere decoration. Rou's works, his depiction of humanity's struggle against debasement, are intentionally disturbing. Few documents continue to unsettle the deepest thinkers as much as Einsteins' paper on special relativity. These works remain profoundly challenging; they are no less beautiful because of that.
To me, anything original and well made belongs in this category. All such great works endure, for their very greatness has raised them out of time. Shakespeare, Chopin, Archimedes, and Moliere will always be the heritage of every age.
What of those of us, by far the majority, who cannot hope to emulate their high achievement? For us, the very attempt is a glorious and productive thing. For as W. B. Yeats put it, hidden in our hearts we have the flame, the impelling towards spiritual and intellectual experience. It is not necessary for us to be Alex Colville to have the flame and to know something of the joys and instructive sorrows of the artist, nor must every scientist be Siegbhan. Genius itself is but the peak of great communal enterprise. Newton said that he had seen so far only by standing on the shoulders of giants. Without the prior accumulation of data by ordinary but accurate observers, no brilliant theoretician could bridge the gulf between facts. The glowing tones of the Renaissance masters came only after the technological development of oil-based paints.
If art shares cause with science, and technology underpins art, then science and technology must also be considered a natural pair. Thought about the universe remained speculation until the architects of Stonehenge and La Venta gave thinkers great tools for the measurement of time. Now, tens of centuries later, our search for the constituents of matter requires other immense artifacts which we call accelerators. Man the creator, man the visionary, man the toolmaker, are one. I do not suggest there is no such thing as "pure science"--only that all human inventiveness is pure, whether of eye, head or hand.
Science is thus worth pursuing solely as an artistic process, that like our great artists progressively reveals to us the endless marvels in a truly marvellous world. Our culture needs scientists and technicians as it does cellists, poets and sculptors, because in every case the thing done is both intrinsically worth doing and a unique embodiment of truth. It is good for a sculptor to sculpt and good for us to see his sculpture. It is good for an engineer to plan and good for us to use the fruits of his planning. It is in beautiful activities that we are truly human.
This, then, is the first part of my good news: that there exist increasingly activities that fill the hearts of actor and audience and show why, in the teeth of
world-wide food and energy problems, it is never- theless worth while to be alive.
At the National Research Council, we have been privileged to foster much of such beautiful and stimulating work. I will give four examples, out of hundreds.
Through our Industrial Research Assistance Program, NRC funds work which is probing how a person's blood cells reflect light in the presence of cancer. A group of our hydraulics engineers is now demonstrating an entirely new modelling concept using the tides of the Bay of Fundy. A Canadian industrial team co-ordinated by NRC is just now confirming the world's biggest single advance in space robotics. A biochemist at our laboratories in Ottawa has used stock chemicals to manufacture human genes.
This splendid work--and we have much else along this line--fills me with a special pride in the National Research Council of Canada. I could extol these accomplishments for their beauty alone, as I would other works of art. But these artifacts of intellect are more than beautiful; they are economically useful as well. That is the second part of my good news today.
Let me review these four masterpieces in greater I detail.
The first might be compared to a painting. World-wide work on cell fluorescence, a key part of which is being carried out in London, Ontario with NRC funding, may soon pave the way for a machine that diagnoses cancer, anywhere in the body, as soon as it appears. A carcinoma now reveals itself only when it grows large enough to be palpable or visible, or when it hinders some natural function. This deadly process may take years, and is often detected too late to arrest. Soon after the appearance of even a tiny group of malignant cells, however, a chemical reaction modifies the way that red blood corpuscles appear under certain kinds of illumination. A machine that would apply this eerily beautiful effect could reveal the existence of a tumour when its age was days, not years, permitting therapy to begin when it had a much greater chance of success. As well, Dr. James Whitfield of NRc has recently identified what could be the basis of another powerful diagnostic technique--a protein which occurs only in cancer cells.
I do not want to raise undue hopes--science must be cautious, for the world is rarely structured entirely as we wish. But it is possible that tests based on the properties of blood fluorescence or the presence of the protein "oncomodulin" could one day be used in every hospital, tirelessly hunting down the enemy of organized life. We are working towards that goal.
The second work might be compared to sculpture. At the National Research Council's Division of Mechanical Engineering, a team under the direction of Mr. Joe Ploeg has completed a "hybrid model," partly of concrete and partly of electronics, of the Bay of Fundy. Again, their work is more than elegant: it is immensely practical. What helps make Fundy tides among the highest in the world is the bay's proportions--tides resonate within it much as water sloshes in a tub. Consequently, the high tidal currents that form in Fundy's arms bear huge amounts of energy.
As the cost of other energy rises, it seems certain we shall somehow have to tame this power of the Fundy tides, perhaps by spanning some segment of the basin with a structure housing turbines. We have the technology to build this now, at least in the sense of being able to put up a structure that will not fall down. But how big should we make it? Where should we put it? Are conventional turbines suitable? What turbine design is best? We must determine the intricate details of how water behaves here before we start to pour concrete. We already suspect that the site of a Fundy powerhouse will itself influence the power it generates, by augmenting or diminishing the size of the harnessed tides.
At the same time sound research will allow us to be gentle to the environment. There are dangers in building too precipitously. One group has calculated that a Fundy power station could raise the tides along the coast as far as Boston. To build boldly, therefore, we must plan carefully; reap the benefits yet take away the risks. To begin this process we first need accurate, basic information at minimum cost. Mr. Ploeg's work will meet these demands. He and his colleagues can simulate tidal processes using the controlled variables of a laboratory model. As a rule, the larger the model the more accurate the results; yet we cannot afford to build a model of the entire Bay of Fundy and Gulf of Maine ten kilometres to a side. We can afford mathematical models, stored and processed in digital computers, which simulate the motions of the tides but take up little physical space. Yet if not continually correlated with the real world, these computer models can grow increasingly untrue.
So, the NRC hydraulics group's approach combines the speed and compactness of a fast and specialized computer with the accuracy of a physical scale model. This novel "hybrid model" will help us understand the beautiful complexities of tidal estuaries. Furthermore, the newly acquired knowledge can be transferred readily to schools and industries in the Maritimes, where it may be applied to the development of a fully acceptable tidal power scheme. This is good science, good ecology, and good engineering. It has both beauty and practicality.
The third masterpiece may be likened to theatre.
As I speak the U.S. Space Shuttle Columbia has carried into orbit what is one of the most advanced robots in existence. I speak of Canadarm, the remote manipulator system for the shuttle.
Canadarm marks a new approach to space: we humans come there no longer as wary explorers, but to stay and build. This progression to the commercialization of space demands new ways of doing things. A space-walking astronaut could conceivably handle small payloads alone. He--or she--can no longer do this when the ferried payload is the size and mass of a loaded city bus. Canadarm, hinged as its name implies like a human arm, can reach into the Shuttle's cargo bay to grasp and deploy what is secured there. Although the size of two telephone poles laid end to end, it remains completely responsive to simple controls inside the shuttle's cabin. Canadarm permits an astronaut to perform work in space from the comfort of the crew compartment.
To do this, Canadarm reconciles properties that everyday experience tells us should be irreconcilable. It can handle loads of more than thirty metric tons with electric motors the size of desk telephones, bring these loads to rest within a distance of sixty centimetres, and keep them in position to within five centimetres. Yet even with its on-board controls, Canadarm's mass in orbit is less than two per cent of what it can manipulate.
In the next fifteen years NRC's prime contractor on this project, Spar Aerospace Ltd., will sell more Canadian manipulators to the United States to outfit the balance of the shuttle fleet. As well, Spar is looking at ways to apply this new technology in any environment hostile to man, whether it is retubing and operating nuclear reactors or serving pipelines beneath the sea. Whatever the application, Canada can be proud of its world leadership in this branch of robotics. We have witnessed the formation of a completely new industry, a Canadian first, which is an achievement quite as beautiful as any other work of art.
The fourth masterpiece might be likened to music. Scientists at NRC are steadily learning more about the exquisite filing system which holds the information to make living things from humans to hummingbirds--the genetic code. A "gene" is the template for one or more organic substances. Single genes transmit a creature's simple properties: colour of eyes, or size of teeth. Many genes together define or influence such subtle traits as shape of face, intelligence, or athletic ability. A gene is a succession of fairly simple chemicals strung along the spine of deoxyribonucleic acid--the famous double strand of DNA.
It may be argued that a molecule of DNA is the smallest possible bit of living matter--the quantum of life. But at these scales, that way of looking at things may be misleading. The four organic bases whose sequence encodes every aspect of life, are themselves as dead as sawdust. Commercial laboratories sell them off the shelf.
NBC's Dr. Saran Narang ranks among the world leaders in literally assembling functioning human genes from these stock chemicals. Using the precise techniques of a new biochemistry, Dr. Narang's colleagues at Cornell University then suture these "designer genes" into living bacteria. The cells adopt the living bits of information as their own; and when a modified bacterium divides, both daughter cells bear exact replicas of the artificial gene. Quantities of these modified bacteria can thus become a biological factory, capable of producing any substance for which we can create a gene. There is no reason why this method cannot give us human insulin or interferon as easily as other bio-processes give us cheese and beer. Once more, this whole activity does more than manifest transcendent beauty. It is also of the utmost usefulness. Practical businessmen have already suggested that this fledgling technology will generate thousands of jobs in Canada within the next ten years.
There is also a humanitarian aspect to this work. In the Third World, for example, meat is not commonplace. There are few beef farms, few slaughter houses and hence no source of the animal pancreases whose insulin keeps the diabetic alive. Cheap insulin from genetic engineering will be a godsend everywhere.
I have indicated how these four masterpieces--the cancer work, the Fundy model, the Canadarm and the insulin protogenes--progressed from aesthetics to utility. It is but a brief further step to economics. A safe way of supplying half a province with endless energy, or a radical improvement in industrial robotics, or production of complex pharmaceuticals by simple fermentation, or a machine for instant cancer detection--all these promise an immense new wealth. To workers who seek well-paid and fascinating jobs; to entrepreneurs seeking unexploited inventions; to governments seeking tax and export dollars from a robust and expanding industrial base--these aspects of the human search for beauty are pleasing in more than aesthetic ways. I am convinced that our adoption of such new technologies as I have described will assure Canada's economic future. We began our history trapping animals; progressed to cutting wood; and now ship iron ore. But we are not yet fully out of a colonial economy. We sell raw materials which other nations then process and sell back to us increased in value.
The manufacturing we do possess is often controlled by non-Canadians; and while their control may be benign, it is inarguably out of our hands. We are a careful people. But paradoxically this timidity, this reluctance to make our own goods in our own factories, has become the path of recklessness. The riskiest thing we can do now is to balk at gambling on the new opportunities that science and technology have put into our hands.
A steady national pursuit of research and development will repay us not only in ways we can imagine, but also in other ways which we cannot. Analyses have shown that increased sales and profits resulting from the development of high-technology products cause an increase of many income-tax dollars for every one spent by NRC in its industrial R & D programs. For example, in the three-year period 19741977 NRC spent ninety million dollars on over four hundred projects with over two hundred Canadian companies. The analysis of the years 1977-1980 showed that the increased sales and profits directly attributable to this work were $1.8 billion--a return of twenty to one, and the two hundred companies sent in increased corporate taxes to Ottawa of $350 million. It was even a good investment for the federal government.
Canada can greatly increase its real income by such activities. This is a solid promise which I make you, not an insubstantial dream.
I could list many countries whose technically advanced products have generated an apparently insatiable demand. Yet in none of these is there basic research more intrinsically beautiful, nor any more promising of wealth, than in these Canadian projects I have told you about today. We are a nation rich in ideas. That Japan does so much with so little, and we so little with so much, is a question of national will. If we fail to exploit these current technological opportunities, or fail to develop new ones continually, we may still survive as woodcutters. But we must then be content with a woodcutter's wage.
The National Research Council has developed a multi-option long range plan, recently approved in principle by the government. This offers several paths to help our country foster and exploit inventiveness, and shift its base from resources to high technology. To be sure, in a "technologized" Canada, natural resources would still loom large. But they would be detected, developed, managed, and replaced scientifically. Most importantly, they would be made into finished products here.
Our preferred option in the long range plan would more than triple NBC's annual budget in constant dollars, within five years. Most of this increase would go towards industrial support. NRC will still strive after knowledge for its beauty; this not only underpins tomorrow's industry, it is also a fundamental part of being human. But the bulk of the funds we now request will directly bolster the industry and commerce of Canada. NRC will expand its current programs to underwrite a firm's costs in hiring researchers and technologists, to implement new products and processes, and to minimize the time it takes for knowledge to move from the lab to the assembly line. All this we do already to the best of our resources; but on an entirely inadequate scale. A proper national effort requires a proper national investment.
An investment it will be--not a cost to Canada, not a drain on wealth, but the wisest possible capital outlay. It is much more than just a desirable purchase, or a wise market speculation. It is imperative. That is why we have called our long range plan "the urgent investment."
If Canada implements something like this plan it will still have problems in the years ahead. But these will be the problems of excellence; the worries of the rich. They will probably include a scarcity of workers rather than unemployment; a surplus of affordable energy, much of it in renewables; so strong a dollar and so low a national debt that we may be pressured as Japan is now to limit our exports. These are genuine difficulties and I do not minimize them but I would rather deal with them than with the stagnancy we face today.
Though we strain at the seams, we at the National Research Council can only make a partial contribution to take Canada into a new millennium. However well funded, no one department ever can. The renewal of our economy by science and technology is, as I have said, a matter of national will. It must involve a whole series of other reforms and programs, of which even our vastly expanded R & D effort is but one part. The government has set one and a half per cent of gross national product as a planning framework for annual expenditure on research and development. I do not agree with this figure. I think it is too low. But since we currently spend less than any industrialized country on new research, I think this intermediate target is an excellent start. It would entail, however, far more than the effective establishment of three and a half new MRCS. Private industry must also vastly increase its research commitment for economic survival.
Given a suitable economic climate, Canadian-owned companies will take the lead. But Canadian subsidiaries cannot remain content to leave industrial research and development to head offices in other countries. And Canadian shareholders, as well as executives and workers, must press continually for R & D to be done here. Even to reach our interim of 1.5 per cent Of GNP, the amount of R & D that Canadian business undertakes must more than double by 1985.
If we do this, if we mobilize for what already seems a global economic war, then we shall prosper. That is not my opinion, but a demonstrable truth. The alternative is to make Canada a technological backwater. I know that, faced with so clear a choice, we will select the proper course. We shall take the path that leads us to both beauty and prosperity; we shall not let these opportunities go by. We have in fact, already begun. To me, that is the best news of all.
Now if we propose solutions to social problems it is because we believe that they will work. And so we, all of us, must hold that someday the problems will be solved. Someday there will be no war, no famine, no illness, no crime, no exploitation, no alienation. And then what? Will that be the end of our need for research and development? No, for we shall still have the flame hidden in our hearts. There will still be painting and chemistry, sculpture and physics, music and mathematics and ultimately in Utopia that is what NRC will be all about.
The thanks of the club were expressed to Dr. Kerwin by Walter Pitman, a Director of The Empire Club of Canada.