LUIL: a unique model for managing shared access to state-of-the-art R&D

Chances are good that if you’re in a science or engineering-based program at Lakehead, then you’re already familiar with LUIL, the Lakehead University Instrumentation Laboratory. For the uninitiated, LUIL is a multi-purpose, centralized analytical service and training facility in the basement of the Centennial Building, and one of many labs that make up the university’s comprehensive research infrastructure.

What sets LUIL apart for its users is the more than $2 million of specialized research equipment it houses, including nuclear magnetic spectrometers and a scanning electron microscope—much of it unique to Northwestern Ontario, and all of it under one umbrella. Offering more than 20 different sophisticated analytical services ranging from bulk material elemental characterization to microstructural mapping, LUIL is an ideal example of generating the biggest bang from every research dollar.

“Shared use of first-class equipment is the essential philosophy behind our strategy for LUIL,” says Dr. Francis Appoh, Director of Analytical Testing Services at Lakehead. “From the beginning, the university set out to maximize the value of providing first-class equipment for teaching and research by centralizing single versions of high-quality instrumentation and making it available to everyone.”

With operating support from the federal Research Support Fund, LUIL is staffed by a team of five highly trained technicians, who play a key role in student training. LUIL is also accessible to faculty and students 24 hours a day, which translates to near-constant use of the equipment housed in the facility. “We greatly appreciate the support of the LUIL staff, not only for their daily operation and maintenance of the facility, but for the excellent training they provide to our undergraduate and graduate students, postdocs, research associates and even visiting scholars,” adds Dr. Aicheng Chen, Canada Research Chair in Materials and Environmental Chemistry at Lakehead, and one of LUIL’s most frequent users. 

LUIL’s success as a model for efficiently supporting advanced research and hands-on training for both faculty and students has received national attention. In fact, the LUIL model has been replicated at other universities as a bestpractice for managing complex scientific instrumentation. 

The Research Support Fund is a federal funding program for post-secondary institutions in Canada to support some of the costs associated with managing research funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. In 2015/16, Lakehead University received $1.9 million from the Research Support Fund to support the indirect costs associated with federal research funding, including the Lakehead University Instrumentation Laboratory.