Interview with Canada Excellence Research Chair Younès Messaddeq

Interview conducted at Université Laval in October 2011 with Younès Messaddeq, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Enabling Photonic Innovations for Information and Communication

In an article by François Bourque, a journalist with Le Soleil, you say, “A researcher is a dreamer.” What do you mean exactly?
I don’t think you can do research without being a bit of a dreamer—in a good sense, that is, as in someone who thinks about a discovery that could contribute to the well-being of society, whether it be in the field of health, the environment, telecommunications or energy. All of those fields present major scientific challenges, and that’s probably why, every time I had the chance, I’ve conducted my research in countries and cities where the best research centres are located. Before coming to Canada, I went abroad to the United States, Japan, France and Sweden and Germany. After taking any new step, the researcher is bound to think about what comes next, what will enable him to take his research still farther. My experience in Brazil, for example, was enriching in terms of training staff. But to continue moving forward, I had to do something different.

Why did you choose Canada as a place to carry on your research career?
I had long dreamed of coming to Canada to conduct my research. In fact, from the time I started my PhD studies, Canada was already in my thoughts, for several reasons. It’s a country recognized for its education system, where staff training is at a very high level. And I wanted to be part of a stimulating research environment. Another important factor for a researcher is availability of high-quality facilities, and Canada offers this advantage. If the opportunity had arisen earlier, I would have come here earlier. The fact that Canada is a peaceful country with a good quality of life also carried weight when I was making up my mind.

Université Laval has some very impressive facilities ...
That’s right. And that’s what struck me most when I first visited here in November 2008. After a tour of the university’s Centre for Optics, Photonics and Lasers (built in 2007), my mind was made up: I would come to Quebec. Nowhere else in the world had I ever seen the same high-tech equipment; and that is aside from the quality of the engineers and technicians here, and the administrative support provided. All these conditions create an environment conducive to performing advanced research.

I suppose a factor supporting your decision was the funding provided for a Canada Excellence Research Chair: $10 million over seven years.
Naturally that amount of funding is a very big incentive because it allows the researcher to focus on research. When I was in Brazil, I had to spend a lot of time preparing funding applications, and that is often the case for researchers in Canada as well, according to some of my colleagues. So yes, the prospect of funding for seven years is a big draw. Among other things, it allows me to consider new challenges. In addition, the $10 million enabled us to attract funding from other sources—different federal and provincial government partners as well as the private sector. Ultimately, I find that I have access to over $28 million. In a way, the seven-year funding will be a springboard for many other projects.

Your work will have significant impact, especially in the fields of communications and health. Where are you heading in with your research?
Right from the first year, we opted for a partnership approach, and we are going to continue with it. For example, we worked with the firm CorActive to develop low loss fibres. We are also examining the possibility of working with the Centre de recherche Université Laval Robert-Giffard on neurology and Parkinson’s disease. We are thinking of partnering with researchers at McMaster University on biophotonics research. More recently, we’ve started looking internationally for partners who want to set up business in Quebec because they too see the great potential for research here.

What do you hope to have achieved by the end of your Canada Excellence Research Chair tenure?
The day I was awarded the Chair, I started dreaming about the possibility of setting up an institute for glass research. To my mind, glass is the material of the future. I think that having a glass research institute in Canada would be good for industry and the economy. It would promote job creation and training opportunities. The entire country would benefit. I really hope that I’ll be able to achieve this dream.