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The Country's Powerful Magnets Will Be Closed Soon

The world's strongest magnetic force on solid, and the strongest magnet in the whole of the country, in Ottawa. But it will soon be closed, because the federal government refused to fund the project.

In an announcement on Nov. 21, the National Ultrahigh-field NMR Facility for Solids, a highly specialized research institution that specializes in magnets, magnetic resonance imaging and how it can be applied to the very atomic structure of solids.

“It is with regret that we announce the closure and decommissioning of the Canadian National Ultrahigh-Field NMR Facility for Solids (the 900) in Ottawa,” the organization wrote in a notice to staff. “With no feasible options to apply for funding for proper operations and maintenance on the horizon, the Steering Committee reluctantly concedes that the continued operations of the facility are not currently sustainable.”

The outrage online was quick to muster.

Canada to lose one of the world's leading facilities in materials science research due to budget cut-backs

— Linda Cornelisse (@CornelisseJ) November 24, 2014

La Presse spoke to David Bryce, the director of the program, who noted that hundreds of scientists across Canada will be affected by the loss of the $11 million magnet.

“There are hundreds of researchers from more than 20 universities in Canada who use it,” he said in French. “Several research programs will have to be abandoned and the advantage Canada has gained in this field will be lost.”

The scientific community on Reddit also began looking for solutions. Bryce told one poster on Reddit that the amount needed to keep the program is relatively small by federal government standards.

“Going forward, we need at least $160k for operations plus $100k to pay the lease at NRC,” he wrote.

But that money is not coming from the federal government or the University of Ottawa, which helps operate the research lab.

“I would like to make it clear that the Facility Steering Committee as well as the University of Ottawa have put in significant efforts over the past two years to alert the funding agencies to the impending disaster,” Bryce wrote in his memo. “We have not taken the current decision lightly and we are extremely frustrated.”

Without a last minute injection of funds, the shut down of the magnet will begin on Dec. 15. By Spring 2015, it will be dismantled.

Funding for the facility was originally arranged by the Canada Foundation for Innovation, Ontario Innovation Trust, Recherche Québec, Bruker Canada and the National Research Council. The NRC provided the site for the facility and much of its ongoing support. It’s that support that is now gone and threatens the whole program.

The magnet has been in operation since 2005 and, according to Jean-Philippe Demers, one researcher who benefited from the research facility and has spoken out on Reddit, has “contributed to the publication of 193 scientific research articles.“

The closure of the facility is the direct result of the moratorium on funding to support scientific research infrastructure in Canada (the Major Resources Support Program of the NSERC),” Demers said.

That moratorium was part of the 2012 federal budget and the NMR magnet is not the only project to suffer from that hit.

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