Here are just a few examples of research discoveries at the University of Alberta that have had a positive impact on lives around the world.
Science and medicine
In 1917, physics professor Robert Boyle developed sonar by applying his research in acoustics to finding a way to detect submarines underwater.
During just a few weeks between 1921 and 1922, biochemistry professor and alumnus James Collip played a key role in discovering insulin. He refined the crude pancreatic extract obtained by Frederick Banting, Charles Best, and John Macleod so that it could be used in humans. Eighty years later, the Edmonton Protocol islet cell transplant method developed at the U of A made headlines and has improved the lives of many Type 1 diabetics.
Beginning in the early 1950s, the work of chemistry professor and alumnus Raymond Lemieux and his colleagues led to breakthroughs that included discovering how carbohydrates bind to proteins. Lemieux was the first to synthesize sucrose, which paved the way for the creation of new antibiotics and blood reagents, drugs to prevent organ transplant rejection, and improved treatments for leukemia and hemophilia.
In 1956, U of A surgeon John Callaghan achieved several Canadian firsts in heart surgery, including the first successful open-heart surgery and the first successful complete repair of the “blue baby” malformation.
In 1995, in what is thought to be the world’s first commercial medical application of nanotechnology, engineer Robert Burrell developed a stable form of silver that could be made into a bandage for treating burns and other wounds. These dressings are now used all over the world.
In 2008, David Bundle announced a breakthrough in treating E. coli infection. He and medical colleagues Glen Armstrong and Pavel Kitov created a drug that binds the E. coli bacteria to a naturally occurring protein molecule, preventing the toxin from making contact with kidney cells.
As one of the world’s northernmost research universities, the University of Alberta has historic and ongoing links to the North and the world’s boreal regions.
The Canadian Circumpolar Institute supports research conducted by more than 250 students and faculty across campus that addresses social and environmental concerns relevant to the North, from climate change and natural-resource development to preservation of cultural identity.
In 2011, U of A researchers made the link between reproductive ecology of polar bears in Hudson Bay and declining litter sizes and loss of sea ice.
Arts and culture
The U of A is home to one of the world’s most renowned printmaking programs and one of Canada’s most acclaimed drama departments. The university has long been a nurturing ground for prominent Canadian authors and for the study and preservation of Canadian history.
Agricultural research at the U of A has a long and rich history that dates back to 1915, finding its roots in one of the university's oldest faculties and earliest departments. U of A research has been instrumental in the success of Alberta’s diverse agricultural economy, which includes world-famous Alberta beef and new crop varieties. Cattle researcher Roy Berg revolutionized the world's beef industry through his innovative work on crossbreeding. His hybrid breeding programs led to a 30 to 40 per cent increase in production, helping make Alberta a world leader in beef production.
The U of A has many established interdisciplinary teams addressing a host of water challenges that focus on energy, food supply, ecosystem health, and public health. Many of these teams are integrated with the social, economic, legal, and cultural research that exists across the academy. Work done at the U of A in legislation, social structures, and policy development is increasingly directed by U of A innovations and advances in water research. In March 2012, the U of A played host to a landmark panel discussion on the future of water.
Oil discovery, oilsands, and the environment
Alberta is well known for its energy resources, and U of A faculty and alumni have played central roles in discovering and developing Alberta’s “black gold.”
Key contributions include engineering professor Karl Clark’s hot water extraction process for separating bitumen from oilsands in the 1920s and geology professor Charlie Stelck’s idea to search for oil and gas near ancient coral reefs. Stelck’s insight led to the first discovery of oil in Leduc in 1947 and Alberta’s Pembina Oil Field in 1953.
More than 1,000 researchers collaborate at the U of A to study the oilsands and address the environmental impact, looking at everything from carbon-capture sequesterion and deep geothermal energy to tailings-pond reclamation and water quality. Some of that work is done through the U of A’s School of Energy and the Environment, a virtual entity encompassing research, interdisciplinary education, and worldwide discussions on critical issues surrounding environment, energy, and the economy.