Yukon seeks world lead in cold climate research

Necessity is the mother of invention, said famed French author Victor Hugo in 1852. The vacuum cleaner was invented by a janitor, a blind man…

Necessity is the mother of invention, said famed French author Victor Hugo in 1852.

The vacuum cleaner was invented by a janitor, a blind man invented Braille and the British military invented the modern computer to crack German Enigma codes during the Second World War.

Where better to initiate cold climate research than in a frostbitten, wind-blown land stretching as far as the Arctic seas?

That’s the concept behind the new Cold Climate Innovation Fund — a $319,000 fund established by the Yukon government with the aim of initiating commercially viable cold climate research in the territory.

The fund is a major step in the establishment of the Yukon Cold Climate Innovation Centre — a Yukon College-based facility established to position the Yukon as a world leader in all things sub-zero.

The plan is to have the innovation centre offer shared funding to potential researchers, in addition to establishing a steady and accessible network of cold climate experts.

Raising the Yukon’s standing and economic clout is the centre’s primary focus. Cold climate research will allow Yukon companies to operate more efficiently, and may encourage Outside companies to expand to the territory.

“I call it research in the North, for the North and by the North,” said Terry Hayden, chair of the centre’s board.

For example, the territory’s commercial buildings and industrial facilities could be better winterized.

And existing products could be adapted and changed, improving performance in a cold climate.

So, if you’re a mining company wishing to winterize a fleet of bulldozers that freeze up in minus 35, you better think about getting the innovation centre on the phone.

Within 10 years, the Yukon may very well be the Silicon Valley of Cold Climate Research.

The centre is weeks away from selecting its first research partners, but “interest” and “enthusiasm” hasn’t been lacking, said Hayden. Asphalt companies and manufacturers have so far approached the emerging centre with pleas for greater cold-climate efficacy.

“Right now we’re talking with companies that have major investments in the North that want to operate more efficiently and more effectively,” said Hayden.

“And if we can develop … new ideas out of it that we can make some money off of, that’s so much the better.” The idea for a cold climate innovation centre first captured the imaginations of its founders in 2004 when the National Research Council came to Whitehorse to hold a forum to examine the possibility of establishing a research centre in the North.

Yukon government, Yukon College and private sector representatives all seized upon the idea, exploring it “quite feverishly,” said Hayden.

The idea was to select a field of research specific to the Yukon, a focal point from which the territory could gain worldwide notoriety in a unique field of ingenuity.

“We heard over and over again, ‘If you’re going to establish a research centre, it has to have a niche value, it has to have something that nobody else is doing,” said Hayden.

“And it has to be important for companies that are already here, so that we have a reason for being,” he added.

As snow and ice pounded the windows of their offices on a daily basis, the idea for researching cold climate probably came quite naturally to the proponents.

Imbued with such a large diversity of terrain, the Yukon is a natural location for cold climate research.

“We have high altitudes — the highest peak in Canada, we have huge plains, we have very good road-service connections to a majority of the locations in the Yukon; we have a telecommunications network that’s extensive,” said Hayden.

The Yukon is essentially 500,000 square kilometres of cold climate research gold.

Saskatchewan had a similar research epiphany, back in the 1920s.

With wheat as far as the eye can see, the provincial research focused quickly on agriculture — before ultimately leading into other areas of opportunity.

“After 10 to 15 years they began to get into pharmaceuticals and other things began to grow out of that,” said Hayden.

Saskatchewan is now widely regarded as a national leader in agricultural innovation.

Researchers may well be flowing in and out of the Yukon on a daily basis, but with no central hub in which to communicate, the findings of these phantom researchers have failed to “stick” in any commercially viable way.

“What we’re hoping to do is establish enough of a presence here that researchers will come. They will work with us, we have research space for them, we can attach other researchers with them and, in some cases, we can bring some money to the table,” said Hayden.

Contact Tristin Hopper at tristinh@yukon-news.com