The CNRS has inaugurated its first IRC in Canada with the Université de Sherbrooke

A new partnership reinforcing scientific cooperation between France and Quebec h
A new partnership reinforcing scientific cooperation between France and Quebec has been set up - the International Research Centre (IRC) ’Innovation for a Sustainable Planet’. © Université de Sherbrooke
The new international research centre ’Innovation for a Sustainable Planet’ founded by the CNRS and the Université de Sherbrooke (Quebec) was officially announced during the meeting of France and Quebec’s prime ministers on April 11th and 12th. This sixth centre will be the first to be entirely dedicated to innovation.

A new partnership reinforcing scientific cooperation between France and Quebec was announced during the official visit by the French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal to meet his counterpart from the Belle Province on April 12th. The ’Innovation for a Sustainable Planet’ international research centre (IRC) is the proof of the ambitious new links between the CNRS and the Université de Sherbrooke (UdeS). This is the CNRS’s sixth IRC in less than three years and the first the organisation has set up in Canada.

Professor Pierre Cossette, the rector of the UdeS, expressed his enthusiasm about the new IRC in Montreal, speaking alongside Antoine Petit, the CNRS Chairman and CEO: "The creation of the ’Innovation for a Sustainable Planet’ international research centre testifies to the dynamism and excellence of the collaborations between the UdeS and the CNRS. The IRC will stimulate new collaborative projects at the heart of a creative and innovative environment. These will combine basic and applied research driving the emergence of new technologies and social innovations that can be transferred to society while also training a new generation of specialists".

Antoine Petit agrees with his counterpart from Quebec: "This IRC with the Université de Sherbrooke is the natural continuation of the fruitful cooperation between our two institutions that has been ongoing for several years now. It is based on our respective research and innovation capacities and also reflects how cooperation between the CNRS and Canada has accelerated and intensified since the CNRS Office in Ottawa opened at the start of 2022 . Canada is ranked fourth outside the European Union for the volume of co-publications which represents over 2400 scientific articles per year and makes the country a key partner for the CNRS worldwide. We are delighted to be collaborating with the UdeS via this new channel".

In the space of two years, setting up a CNRS Office in the land of the maple leaf has led to better monitoring, promotion and structuring of what is an ever-increasing number of collaboration projects between the CNRS and its Canadian partners. As well as the opening of this Office in January 2022, the year also saw the launch of two international research laboratories 1 (IRL) in Quebec - the International Laboratory on Learning Systems 2 in Montreal and the Quantum Frontiers Laboratory run with the UdeS in Sherbrooke. Following this, January 1st 2023 saw the launch of the CAFQA International Research Network (IRN) 3 which covers Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific and is based on the CNRS’s historical links with Sherbrooke.

UdeS is at the cutting edge of innovation in Canada

The Université de Sherbrooke is located in the Estrie region on the border with the United States, over a hundred kilometres south-east of Montreal. The UdeS occupies a unique position in this booming national research context and has stepped up its international cooperation since 2008, particularly with the CNRS. Jan Matas, the director of the CNRS’s Canadian Office, explains that "the CNRS has developed a strong partnership with the UdeS in the field of nanosciences and nanotechnologies over the past fifteen years which includes a joint laboratory run with ST Microelectronics. The partnership also covers quantum sciences and, more recently, other fields like acoustics and bioengineering".

Two IRLs, ’Nanotechnologies et Nanosystèmes’ (LN2) 4 (launched in 2012) and LFQ form the cornerstone for this partnership which also includes three international research projects. Jan Matas points out that all’of these Franco-Canadian collaboration initiatives can rely on "a Sherbrooke research ecosystem with close links to the industrial sector". Similarly, in 2021 the UdeS’s Accelerator for the Creation of Technological Businesses (ACET) signed an agreement with CNRS Innovation, the CNRS’s national technology transfer and development structure. The aim of this agreement is to drive the development of quantum science start-ups by offering ACET’s services to French start-ups, particularly its market intelligence service. Such companies will also have easier access to the research infrastructure of the UdeS’s Institut interdisciplinaire d’innovation technologique and its Institut quantique. In return, CNRS Innovation makes its own services available to start-ups from Quebec, particularly the RISE programme. Since the launch of the partnership, CNRS Innovation has already organised three master classes for Quebec start-ups aiming to diversify into France. As well as the two IRLs, the UdeS is also a co-founder of three IRPs with the CNRS.

The UdeS is renowned for its pro-innovation policy and in 2011 launched the ACET, an incubator for start-ups that focuses on student entrepreneurship and receives support from by the Quebec business sphere. Sherbrooke is something of a pioneer in North America, having also set up an integrated innovation chain made up of the Institut Quantique, the Institut interdisciplinaire d’innovation technologique and the MiQro Innovation Collaborative Centre which drives links between basic research and technology transfers to industry. The UdeS receives substantial support from the provincial government to complement its own resources and Jan Matas notes that "the provincial government in Quebec proactively supports research and innovation. In this context, the UdeS has benefited from the creation of the first two Quebec innovation zones in areas in line with the work of the IRC". These innovation zones were launched and co-founded by the UdeS in 2022 with funding of C$690 million and focus on two of the IRC’s three components. This first, DistriQ , is located in Sherbrooke itself and works on quantum sciences and their technological applications. The second, Technum Québec , is located in 80 km west of Sherbrooke on the university’s Bromont campus and focuses on digital technologies.

The CNRS and UdeS are innovating in favour of a sustainable planet

For these reasons, the CNRS and UdeS have decided to construct a new IRC that is resolutely focused on ’Innovation for a Sustainable Planet’. The new IRC will work on three main areas - quantum sciences and technologies , micro-nano-technologies and eco-materials, systems and processes. There will also be a trans-disciplinary focus on responsible innovation. Sébastien Tanzili, the deputy scientific director (DAS) at CNRS Physics and co-director of the Quantum PEPR , is delighted to see "France-Quebec cooperation move up a level because of the IRC which will enhance the international mobility of research personnel from PhD students to researchers and ensure continuity in this area, from fundamental research to innovative technologies". The IRC will particularly base its work on DistriQ innovation zone’s resources and network.

Lionel Buchaillot, the director of CNRS Engineering, views the new centre as the forerunner for a future network of IRCs. This network could be founded on LN2 which he sees as "a major stakeholder in the fields of nanotechnologies and their application to environmental issues. A strong link has already been created with the France - Arizona Institute for Global Grand Challenges IRC in the field of photovoltaics . A similar connection could also potentially be made with the IRC in São Paolo on the subject of major environmental challenges".

Pascal Breuilles, the DAS in charge of industrial and international partnerships at CNRS Chemistry, highlights the importance of the industrial ecosystem the IRC will work in. He considers that this will encourage chemistry research and development around "eco-responsible materials, systems and processes with a low carbon impact. This area of work will particularly concern innovative, bio-sourced materials and eco-concretes along with approaches linked to the sector’s industrial fabric".

All of these working areas will be clarified and further developed at the first workshop in Sherbrooke scheduled for June 4th and 5th 2024.

    1 IRLs are international research facilities working on shared scientific themes. They provide structure for a significant presence in a given location of scientists from a limited number of research institutions from France and another country for a five year duration.

    2 CNRS / McGill University / École de technologie supérieure de Montréal / Institut québécois d’intelligence artificielle / Université Paris-Saclay / CentraleSupélec.

    3 The aim of an IRN is to structure an international scientific community to work together on a shared theme or research infrastructure. It promotes the organisation of international workshops, seminars or thematic schools organised by the network’s partners in France and other countries. For its five year duration, it brings together researchers from one or more French laboratories (including at least one CNRS laboratory) and several partner laboratories in other countries.

210 technologies managed by its technology transfer company TransferTech Sherbrooke with a 57% commercialisation rate in 2022-2023.

1 billion euros of investments, 60% of which came from the private sector, attracted by the UdeS’s integrated innovation chain since 2012.

En sus de l’inauguration de l’IRC entre le CNRS et l’UdeS, la 21e rencontre alternée des premiers ministres français et québécois a mis à l’honneur le projet de recherche international RESPIVIR, co-porté, côté français, par le CNRS, l’École normale supérieure de Lyon, l’Inserm et l’Université Lyon-I Claude-Bernard, et côté québécois par l’Université de Laval. La rencontre diplomatique aura permis de formaliser, en présence de représentants des différents parties, l’entente de partenariat entre toutes ces tutelles, avec le soutien du ministère des Relations internationales et de la Francophonie du Québec et du ministère français de la Recherche, de l’Enseignement supérieur et de l’Innovation.

Cet IRP se concentre sur les domaines de la relation hôte-pathogène, de l’immunologie, de l’inflammation, de la pharmacologie, de l’ingénierie et des technologies pour la santé, ainsi que de l’imagerie biomédicale. L’objectif est de mieux se préparer face aux virus respiratoires émergents et ré-émergents, en intégrant la recherche fondamentale, translationnelle et clinique.

Initiée en 2010, cette collaboration internationale compte à son palmarès 16 publications scientifiques, 5 brevets internationaux, 2 essais cliniques de phase 2 et la création des startups Signia Therapeutics et Vaxxel.