ARCHIVED - Problem-Solving Know-How and Eureka Moments Lead to 'Greatest Canadian Inventions'

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September 06, 2006— Ottawa, Ontario

Outcomes of NRC research projects are in the running for title as Greatest Canadian Invention
 
 
The Greatest Canadian Invention
 
 

Cast your vote (http://www.cbc.ca/inventions/) before the September 28 deadline to help pick The Greatest Canadian Invention. CBC will announce the top 10 inventions – and feature their inventors - in a two-hour special to be aired on January 3, 2007.

 
 

Across Canada, people are casting votes to pick The Greatest Canadian Invention. CBC Television has posted its list of Canada's Top 50 Inventions, many of which have roots right here at the National Research Council Canada (NRC).

NRC researchers invented, designed and collaborated on 8 of CBC's Top 50 list, including:

Canadarm (Frank Thurston, Garry Lindberg, Lloyd Pinkney, Karl Doetsch, George Klein, Bruce Aikenhead, Art Hunter and others from NRC's aerospace research team)

Cobalt-60 cancer bomb treatment (NRC scientists at Chalk River with doctors in London and Saskatoon).

Computer animation (Nestor Burtnyk and Marceli Wein)

Crash position indicator (Harry Stevinson)

Electric wheelchair (George Klein)

Electronic synthesizer (Hugh Le Caine)

Explosives detector (Lorne Elias)

Heart pacemaker (John Hopps)

The list of nominations also includes other inventions that resulted from research supported by NRC, such as the electron microscope and the anti-gravity suit.

While most organizations on the list had only one or two connections to the Top 50, 8 NRC inventions were nominated. This number stands as a testament to NRC's strong R&D and innovation track record.

Canadians are being invited to vote, on-line, before September 28, for their choice as the greatest invention. Having 8 nominees in the running could mean NRC will have a number of inventions in the final 10.

"It is hard to choose, and, in fact, there are inventions like the birch bark canoe and the insulin treatment without obvious NRC connections that are appealing," says Dick Bourgeois-Doyle, NRC history buff and author of George J. Klein: the Great Inventor. "I personally hope the NRC electric wheelchair gets enough votes to make the short list and compel the CBC to highlight what I think is a really neat and inspiring invention story."

Remember, every vote counts, so share this article with family members, friends and colleagues. Help celebrate Canada's tradition of science and engineering excellence and invention. One look at this top 50 shows the tremendous impact these inventors, including those from NRC listed below, have had on the health and well-being of Canadians, and the growth and prosperity of our nation.


Canadarm
The Canadarm in space.
The Canadarm in space.

In the mid-1970s, a memorandum of understanding with NASA outlined that NRC would undertake the "design, development, manufacture and delivery" of the prototype Canadarm, a robotic arm to help crews launch and recover satellites and other payloads, and also to help with space walks. NRC technical expertise and project management skills were combined with industry manufacturing capability, primarily from Canadian firms' SPAR Aerospace/MD Robotics.

The name "Canadarm" itself was coined by former NRC President Larkin Kerwin and Wally Cherwinski, a longtime NRC employee. The Canada wordmark emblazoned on the arm was drawn into NASA's technical specifications by engineers in NRC's Canadarm Project Office. At one time, the New York Times called the Canadarm the "world's largest flying billboard" and NRC alumnus and Canada's first astronaut in space, Dr. Marc Garneau, remarked that the Canadarm is "arguably the most successful branding effort Canadians have ever been involved in."

Cobalt-60 cancer bomb treatment
Medical-use Cobalt 60.
Medical-use Cobalt 60.

The Cobalt-60 innovation was developed by NRC scientists at Chalk River working with doctors in London and Saskatoon. In 1949, NRC received two Canadian requests for radioactive cobalt to be used in cancer therapies. By the fall of 1951, medical-use Cobalt-60 was successfully produced in the NRX reactor at the Chalk River facility and used to treat patients' cancerous tumours.

When it comes to medical isotopes, Canada is the world's largest producer and a major exporter. Chalk River's facility produces eighty-five percent of the world's Cobalt-60 radiation therapies and two-thirds of the global supply of Technetium-99, a major medical isotope used in patient imaging for cancer, heart disease and other illnesses.

Computer Animation
Nester Burtnyk and Marceli Wein.
Nester Burtnyk and Marceli Wein.

NRC's Nestor Burtnyk and Marceli Wein received an Academy Award in 1997 for their pioneering work in developing software techniques for computer-assisted key-framing for character animation. This "key-frame animation" technique revolutionized the way animators create 3D graphics. Their work paved the way for sophisticated computer animation in blockbuster films.

Crash position indicator
NRC's Harry Stevinson with crash position indicator.
NRC's Harry Stevinson with crash position indicator.

Harry Stevinson, an NRC engineer, found it unacceptable that many airplane crashes usually ended in tragedy due to the inability of rescuers to locate the aircraft. He decided that the solution to finding downed planes would be a radio beacon on each aircraft that could indicate its location. His plan required that this radio beacon survive the impact of a crash, as well as related fires, explosions or exposure to water. Stevinson built a device called the Crash Position Indicator (CPI), which combined a radio transmitter and an antenna that was both light and durable. This invention has improved aviation safety and saved countless lives around the world.

Electric wheelchair (George Klein)
NRC colleagues, George Klein and Robert Owens, working on the prototype electric wheelchair in the early 1950s at NRC in Ottawa.
NRC colleagues, George Klein and Robert Owens, working on the prototype electric wheelchair in the early 1950s at NRC in Ottawa.

NRC's George Klein is credited with dreaming up many of the key features and overall design for the first safe and dependable motorized wheelchair. The chair and its innovative technologies were developed at NRC, in collaboration with Veterans Affairs Canada and the Canadian Paraplegic Association. The influx of disabled World War II veterans drove the need to develop this unique device. Unlike the First World War when 9 out of 10 amputees died from their injuries and related infections, during WWII the availability of penicillin meant that 9 out of every 10 Canadians survived their amputations to return home. This dramatic shift meant that Canadian families and hospitals were welcoming back many para- and quadriplegic veterans who wanted to regain mobility and independence.

Electronic synthesizer (Hugh Le Caine)
Hugh Le Caine, scientist and electronic music pioneer.
Hugh Le Caine, scientist and electronic music pioneer.

Hugh LeCaine, a distinguished NRC physicist, also had great interest in electronic music and sound generation. He established a personal studio in 1945, where he began to work independently on the design of electronic musical instruments such as the Electronic Sackbut, a sophisticated monophonic performance instrument now recognized as the first voltage-controlled electronic synthesizer.

Over the next twenty years he built more than twenty-two different new instruments, and he collaborated in the development of two pioneering electronic music studios at the University of Toronto (opened in 1959) and at McGill University in Montreal (opened in 1964). Le Caine's lab at NRC almost single-handedly equipped these early electronic music studios. This computer music pioneer continues to influence a generation of composers of electroacoustic music throughout the world with his invention.

Explosives Detector
Lorne Elias with an explosives detector.
Lorne Elias with an explosives detector.

When security issues related to global air travel due to hijacking emerged as a real threat in the 1980s, the RCMP approached NRC for help. Long before forensic crime shows and crime-busting technology became popular, NRC chemist Lorne Elias worked to develop the portable bomb sniffer. Dr. Elias designed the advanced Explosives Vapour Detector (EVD-1), a portable device that could "sniff" vapours using gas chromatography. During official visits to Canada by the Pope, Queen Elizabeth II and former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, this new device proved effective and it became a standard part of airport security measures world wide.

Heart Pacemaker
Dr. Hopps testing an early pacemaker prototype.
Dr. Hopps testing an early pacemaker prototype.

Many people are familiar with this medical device called the pacemaker. Since 1950, the heart pacemaker has improved the lives of millions of people around the world. The first "cardiac pacemaker" – a circuit that provided a gentle electric stimulus to the heart muscle duplicating the normal body nerve stimulation, was developed in Canada by NRC's Dr. Jack Hopps and his colleagues at the University of Toronto. For this achievement, Dr. Hopps received the Order of Canada, and more importantly, he directly benefited from his own innovation, when he required a pacemaker in 1984.


Cast your vote online at http://www.cbc.ca/inventions/, before the September 28 deadline, for your choice as the Greatest Canadian Invention.

Share this article with family members, friends and colleagues... every vote counts!

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National Research Council of Canada
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