Funding basic science research crucial: donor

Geologist and mining explorer Stewart Blusson's $50 million gift to UBC last fall carried only one condition -- that it be used to support basic scientific research.

"Basic science can be the hardest to fund because there's no immediate pay-off," says Blusson, who was on campus recently to get a first-hand look at some of UBC's research facilities. "You don't know where it's going to lead -- it's a little bit crazy."

On visits to the Biotechnology Laboratory, Advanced Materials and Process Engineering Lab and the Centre for Integrated and Computer Systems Research, Blusson said the enthusiasm, motivation and scientific discipline of researchers and students impressed him.

When research funding gets cut back, says Blusson, researchers tend to pursue less risky investigations that stand a better chance of funding because positive results are more predictable.

"That goes against the grain of basic science," he says. "Taking risks is the only way to get breakthroughs."

A substantial portion of Blusson's gift will be used to attract federal Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) funding that helps universities upgrade their research infrastructure.

That hit the right note, he says, because he wanted the donation to be used for new tools and not be consumed by administrative or building costs.

Blusson's own research took place in cramped huts on UBC's campus where he completed his undergraduate Science degree in the '60s.

Austere conditions prevailed while he was working for the Geological Survey of Canada, he says. The only piece of equipment provided in some cases was a helicopter. Some projects had no food budget so researchers snared rabbits for their meals.

Blusson says he chose UBC to receive his donation because of its excellence and highly integrated research activities.

"As far as I'm concerned this is the best university in Canada," he says.