ITQ will be liveblogging the Prime Minister tonight as he makes an appearance at the Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council Excellence Awards, so check back at around
5:45 p.m.6:00 p.m. for whatever the research science equivalent of the red carpet pre-show turns out to be.
Colleague Wells has helpfully assembled all the background links you need to cheer on whatever researchers you feel are most deserving of recognition.
Attention, attention! Quick scheduling update: Apparently, the Prime Minister will not be arriving until 6:30 p.m. – a half hour later than the official PMO media advisory had led us to believe. I’ll spare you the realtime play by play of the bombsniffing adventures of the very cute Labrador retriever currently bounding around the room and sign off for the interim, but check back in at 6pm for the pre-show. (Note: If anything actually happens between now and then, rest assured that ITQ will leap into instant updating action.)
Not to overuse my go-to Spike quote, but this is just … neat. The room – the Chateau Laurier’s Drawing Room, to be precise, in case that means anything to any readers out there – is filling up rapidly, not just with scientists and researchers, but academics, PCO officials, ministerial staff — and media, much to the delight of Colleague Wells, who is here as well. I haven’t spotted any ball gowns or tuxedos, but there are chicken bits on sticks and a sumptuous cheese platter, which means it’s perilously close to breaking the gala threshold. I hope the PM has been warned.
Not many MPs, of course, since the House isn’t sitting at the moment, but a good turnout nevertheless.
The only question now is whether the PM will actually show up at 6:30, or if this is going to be one of those nights where we spend twenty minutes or so glaring at our watches and Dimitri, not necessarily in that order.
Hey, where is Dimitri? I haven’t seen him or his ties in days.
Okay, we just got the two minute warning, but it’s not clear if that’s based on inside information or the undaunted optimism of the organizers. Here’s hoping it’s the former.
And — he’s here! Making a rather understated entrance, flanked by the president of NSERC, the PM is currently standing to the left of the stage chatting with Gary Goodyear, who is staring fixedly ahead as though he’s trying desperately not to forget his speech. The PM, meanwhile, is standing uncharacteristically upright and looks entirely satisfied with what he sees.
Meanwhile, the hostess delivers a fairly laudatory introduction to Goodyear – apparently, working with him has been sheer delight – who gets right down to business, announcing the finalists for the various prizes up for grabs tonight. Oh, with a brief informercial for the Prime Minister and his Action Plan, which includes substantial investments in science and technology.
After an uncharacteristically short statement from Goodyear, the PM takes the stage and thanks him for the “kind introduction” – yes, way to go not screaming at all and sundry for their perceived ingratitude, minister – and reminds Canadians of our proud tradition in science and technology. Go, us!
Apparently, quantum physics and neurocognitive research aren’t typical topics around the dinner table, according to the PM. Not his dinner table, at least, although he notes that may not be the case at the dinner tables of the assembled scientists and researchers, which produces somewhat genial laughter from the crowd.
Another bit of budget cheerleading by the PM – $5 billion for research! Hurray! – and a Fredrick Banting quote about science being the future, and he then reads the list of nominees, whose names I won’t even try to get right without a release – and congratulates one and all.
And – that’s it for the Prime Minister, everyone. See, he really doesn’t hate scientists! He’s willing to spend eleven whole minutes of his night exhorting their praises. Longer, even, because he’s still on stage — I think he may be preparing to present the medals, or statues or plaques or small, tasteful oversized cheques that the winners will receive.
Meanwhile, the hostess describes the various Steacie Fellows that will be announced tonight – I could probably sidle over to the other side of the room and just type up the names from the certificates, which are currently on easels, lined up against the wall, but that would ruin the surprise, right?
Eek. I just realized that the pod of curiously attentive guests that I’ve been using as a blind so I don’t distract anyone with my mad tapping may actually be made up of nominees, which is going to make me feel very exposed when and if they troop up to the stage en masse to receive their respective awards. Also, I don’t think the PM has been stuck standing on a dias for this long without being the guy at the microphone in ages.
Also, the award-winning projects seem very, very interesting, just as Colleague Wells promised. Brown dwarfs, gene therapy, speech cognition, formation of memory and the modeling of teeny, tiny cell structures.
I was right! There goes my entire human shield! At least all eyes are on them, and the stage, and the PM, who is handing out little red-wapepd boxes and smiling as the cameras snap.
And now, the Gerhard Herzberg Medal, which is, the hostess tells us, the most prestigious award that NSERC hands out. The PM is still on stage, presumably to congratulate the winner and runners-up, who include … Gilles Brazeau – spelling approximate, and my apologies in advance – the quantum mechanic, who – like all the other honourees is wearing a red rose in his lapel, and a similarly red glow on his face as he takes the stage.
Next up: Brenda Milner, one of the pioneers of cognitive neuroscience, and who is renowned for her work with a patient who could still learn new skills even though he could no longer create new memories. She turns out to be a tiny but clearly vibrant woman in violet velvet, with adorably sensitive shoes and a radiant smile. She barely comes halfway up the PM’s chest, but it doesn’t seem to bother her in the least.
And now, the winner: Paul Corkum, an Ottawa U post-grad student who does — something involving the shortest laser pulses ever created, a completely new technology that has allowed him to take a photograph of an atom. Cool. I wonder if he’ll get to speak?
He does! Which means the PM – who hung the gold medal around Corkum’s neck without any mishap, and applauded the winner – gets to leave the stage; he’s currently rocking back and forth on his heels as Corcoran thanks his colleagues, students and fellow — well, fellows — for working with him, debating with him and making it possible for him to be here today. The work that brought him here, he notes, was initially funded by the National Research Council, which had the foresight to investigate in the technology way back before anyone knew how important it would be. Aw, I love it when science lives happily ever after.
A few brief closing remarks from the Honourable James Edwards, who – is he a former MP? Or just an honourary honourable? I feel like I should know the answer to that.
Anyway, he goes out of his way to thank the government for its support over the last two budgets. “Prime Minister, we may not be putting shovels in the ground,” he notes, but they’re – damnit, I didn’t catch that, and I think it was witty; maybe something about building shovels that dig without operators through the magic of nanotechnology? Wait, that wouldn’t be a good thing at all, would it? I mean, aside from the lack of investment in labour, what if they ran amok?
With that, I am being herded out by one of the more relentless PMO organizers, so I shall bid you all goodnight — and sorry about the commenting blockade, by the way. I’m sure it’ll be fixed by the time morning rolls around.
Looking for more?
Get the best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.