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The researchers and administrators had come from across the province; they buzzed about the second floor of the Lorne M. Trottier Building, enjoying a catered lunch on Friday, February 11. The focus of the buzz: the launch of SYTACom, the Centre for Advanced Systems and Technologies in Communications, and its inaugural round of research seminars, which had taken place that morning. So, between research seminar presentations, participants gained sustenance for the afternoon's intellectual activities.
"Welcome to our watering hole," David Plant, James McGill Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and SYTACom's centre director and principal researcher, had declared at the opening ceremonies earlier in the day. And he wasn't referring to the buffet. SYTACom will serve as an intellectual watering hole, drawing together and nourishing researchers working on the same range of problems by creating an infrastructure that helps to pool knowledge and resources and to build networks across universities and industry.
"SYTACom is the result of the energy, vision, tenacity and leadership of David Plant and [scientific director] Tho Le Ngoc," said Dean of Engineering, John Gruzleski, who hosted the opening ceremonies. Welcoming speeches by Provost Luc Vinet, Sylvie Dillard, president-director general of Fonds québécois de la recherche sur la nature et les technologies (FQRNT), Mo-hamed Chaker, director of the Institut national de la recherche scientifique-…nergie, matériaux et télécommunications (INRS-EMT), Michel Desgagné, senior director of InterDigital, and Jacques Hurtubise, McGill's vice-principal (research), also praised the timeliness and vision of the initiative. The centre is a network of 38 university researchers; while it is housed at McGill, which has 22 members from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the School of Computer Science, other researchers are based at Concordia, Laval, Sherbrooke and INRS-EMT. SYTACom received $1.5 million over six years from FQRNT as part of the "regroupements stratégiques" program, dedicated to establishing research networks in the province. Most of the money will go toward developing a infrastructure such as hiring technicians to maintain equipment, supporting graduate students and funding initiatives like the research seminars on "transmission and signal processing" and "networks, services and applications" that followed the opening ceremonies.
"We plan to have regular activities like roundtables and seminars," says Le Ngoc. "We're creating an environment so that academia and industry can connect not only on research projects, but also on student internships and other activities. The underlying philosophy is not to unify academic and industrial research activities but to create a forum so that many things can be done more effectively."
The opening ceremonies stressed the constant theme of collaboration between researchers, universities and industry. As InterDigital's Desgagné noted, "Dynamic university research is an important catalyst for new investments in Quebec's communications sector." InterDigital, an American-owned research and development company, opened its Montreal branch in 2001 to take advantage of the city's thriving high-tech culture. "SYTACom will create a valuable zone for exchange between industrial and academic research partners," he stressed.
SYTACom's research emphases can be divided into four themes: advanced networks, communications software, intelligent signal processing and broadband transmission. Says Le Ngoc, "In the university community, we can help bring people and technical resources together to work on fundamental problems. And we can let industry people know what university researchers are working on, so industry and university groups that have common interests can get together on targeted research."
"The government expects us to create interactions between industry and researchers that can lead to new products and services," says Plant. "Hopefully, our activities will also translate into jobs and economic strength. If we are successful, we will have created an environment that fosters and accelerates creativity," he adds. "People will be able to bring their ideas to fruition more quickly, and their ability to be original will be enhanced because they'll have the tools they need."