When barriers to innovation arise, uOttawa’s International Employment and Immigration team is here to help

Posted on Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Brett Walker, left, mini carbon dating system, right

Brett Walker, left, mini carbon dating system, right

In 2019, when Professor Brett Walker used funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) and the Ontario Research Fund (ORF) to purchase a mini carbon dating system (MICADAS) accelerator mass spectrometer to be housed in the University’s Advanced Research Complex, he had no idea the André E. Lalonde National AMS Facility would suffer a delay in receiving the equipment because of COVID-19.

With the many travel restrictions and health measures in force throughout the pandemic, the installation was postponed to the point that Walker and the André E. Lalonde team were at risk of losing critical lab revenue and enduring lengthy delays in scientific progress.

The late Professor Jack Cornett secured more than $10 million in the 2017 CFI/ORF-Innovation Fund competition. Over $3M of this funding was used to purchase the new mini accelerator mass spectrometer in 2019 from an international vendor, Ionplus AG. The vendor could not deliver the equipment when it was ready in the winter of 2021 since a technical team needed to travel to Canada to install the equipment and train the uOttawa research team. Unfortunately, the crew was unable to enter Canada while the pandemic’s non-essential travel restrictions were in place.

“When the COVID-19 restrictions and strict foreign quarantine policies began to impact our ability to plan for the future scientific development of the National Facility, I immediately thought of the International Employment and Immigration Office as a solution to help break the stalemate,” said Professor Walker, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Accelerator Mass Spectrometry and Marine Biogeochemistry. “After all, the IEI team was critical in helping me with my own application for permanent residency in Canada.”

Between May 18 and September 3, 2021, the IEI team was deeply immersed in research and discussions on strategies to find ways for the crew members to enter Canada. During this time, the 14-day quarantine upon entry to Canada was also an issue because the crew could not stay that long.

“It was very hard to develop a strategy with the immigration rules constantly changing,” says Carolina Almeida, immigration and international employment advisor. “From assessing all the possible travel restriction exemptions to requesting a National Interest Letter, from keeping ourselves updated with the most recent rules on immigration and quarantine to providing support to cross Canadian borders, we were successful in bringing a group of four fully vaccinated international members to Canada on September 8, 2021.”

“The IEI office represents one of the best decisions uOttawa has made,” said a grateful Professor Walker. “Amid COVID-19, their work with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada was indispensable in helping to bring our research to the next level with the installation of this state-of-the-art equipment.”

As part of its responsibilities to support research, creativity and innovation on campus, the Office of the Vice-President, Research endorsed Human Resources’ decision to expand its scope to include immigration as one of its core functions. Under the leadership of Mélanie Miles, the IEI team offers a range of immigration services to employees and visitors.

“As one of the country’s leading research-intensive universities, we are proud to be front-runners in offering this unique and innovative service to our research community,” said Sylvain Charbonneau, uOttawa’s vice-president, research.

The purchase of the mini carbon dating system will support research in many Canadian infrastructure sectors. The equipment will advance knowledge in energy and health and help answer key questions related to environmental health, climate change, and the Arctic carbon cycle.

“The new MICADAS accelerator mass spectrometer will allow us to radiocarbon date much smaller environmental samples at higher precision,” said Walker. “This ability is new to Canada and opens up new realms of scientific inquiry in the Earth system, including being able to quantify Canada’s current and paleo-environmental response in periods of rapid climate change.”

Professor Walker’s Marine Organic Geochemistry group is focused on the biogeochemical cycling of marine carbon and nitrogen on modern to millennial timescales. They use stable isotopic measurements, coupled with high-precision radiocarbon dating and novel analytical chemistry tools, to study the cycling and transformation of the ocean’s major carbon and nitrogen reservoirs. They are particularly interested in understanding how marine microbes transform detrital organic matter, ultimately allowing for atmospheric carbon to be stored in the deep ocean.

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