National Research Council of Canada

The National Research Council of Canada, federal Crown Corporation responsible to Parliament through the minister of industry. The NRC was formed in 1916 as the Honorary Advisory Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. It immediately funded research committees for special needs, offered science fellowships at Canadian universities, and carried out a research inventory (the first statistical review of the Canadian scientific work force and budgets). Early plans to found an NRC national laboratory at Ottawa were not authorized until 1928. During the presidency of H.M. Tory (1923-35), laboratory staff reached 153, including 54 scientists and research engineers, all but one of whom were employed in industrial or applied research.

Tory's successor, General A.G.L. McNaughton, enlarged the staff to 300 and prepared the NRC laboratories for their central role in war research (from medicine and food packaging to weapons and synthetic fuels). Under C.J. Mackenzie, president from 1939 to 1952, NRC staff reached 2000 and was reorganized to provide a stronger foundation in basic (pure) science. President E.W.R. Steacie (1952-62) established the principle that NRC extramural budgets for university grants and fellowships should rise to match the intramural budget ($21.5 million in 1962-63) and initiated the Industrial Research Assistance Program for extramural grants to private industry (see Industrial Research and Development).

Many of the NRC's functions have been spun off to separate bodies. For example, the council was the government's general adviser on science policy from 1916 until the Science Secretariat was created in 1964. Activities initiated by the NRC and delegated to separate bodies include military research (to the Defence Research Board, 1947), atomic research (to Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd, 1952), medical research grants (to the Medical Research Council, 1966), university grants and scholarships (to the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, 1978) and the astronaut program (Canadian Space Agency, 1989).

Structure and Functions

In the 1995-96 fiscal year the NRC had a staff of 3072 (including 1092 scientists and research engineers) and a total budget of $408 million. NRC is organized into 2 sectors: Research, and Technology and Industry Support. Under Research, there are 17 NRC institutes grouped into 5 technology areas: construction; infrastructure; manufacturing; information and telecommunications; and biotechnology. There are also several Technology Centres that work for industry on a cost-recovery basis. The other major sector, Technology and Industry Support, includes the Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information, NRC Research Press (formerly Research Journals) and the Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP).

Extramural Activities

Since about 1920, continuing extramural activities have included dozens of associate committees on special problems from tuberculosis to railways, and from tribology (the science of lubrication and friction) to the National Fire Code. NRC represents Canada in several international bodies and supports multilateral special projects such as the Canada-France-Hawaii astronomical observatory, the Tri-University Meson Facility in Vancouver and the Gemini Telescope Project in Hawaii and Chile. The NRC library, founded in 1924, became the National Science Library in 1957 and, in 1974, was renamed the Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information.

CISTI provides information in the fields of science, technology, engineering and medicine. CISTI services include literature searches by information specialists; copies of articles, reports and other published information; and electronic information tools. There are over 25 different products and services in all, and in addition to the main library in Ottawa, reference and document delivery services are also available through NRC Information Centres in 7 other cities across Canada. NRC founded the Canadian Journal of Research in 1929. The publishing program of NRC Research Press now includes 14 scientific journals plus monographs, conference proceedings and an increasing number of electronic products.

Since 1945, the NRC has also maintained a technical information service for industry, which was integrated with the activities of the Industrial Research Assistance Program in 1981. IRAP provides technical assistance through a range of services to small- and medium-sized Canadian firms.