Bridger, Dr. William

2005 Alberta Science and Technology Community, Recipient

Putting Alberta's Research Sector on the Map

When Dr. William Bridger arrived in Alberta in 1967, his recruitment was part of a strategy to put the University of Alberta’s Department of Biochemistry on the world map. Today he is known as a key strategist in assuring Alberta’s place as an international leader in science and technology research.

Dr. Bridger had a tough act to follow when he took over the reins as Chair of the Biochemistry Department in 1987. His predecessor, Dr. John Colter, had built the department into one of the most outstanding in North America through a strategy of recruiting only the very best. That included enticing Dr. Bridger, a highly regarded biochemist, to accept the position of Assistant Professor in 1967.

Overcoming Adversity

Under Dr. Bridger’s leadership, the department continued to strengthen, even in the face of extreme budget restraints. He grew the department from 17 to 31 members by targeting only those who met the highest standards internationally. His strategy paid off as each secured an independent source of salary support. Meanwhile, the number of graduate students in the department doubled to almost 70, and post-doctoral fellows to nearly 50. Many are now among the leaders of Alberta’s biomedical research community.

Alberta won him back in 2001 to become founding President and CEO of the new Alberta Heritage Foundation for Science and Engineering Research, known as the Alberta Ingenuity Fund.

In 1993, Dr. Bridger moved to the university’s administration office to work with the Vice-President of Research as Associate Vice-President. During two years in this role he was responsible for a number of initiatives including the strengthening of the Technology Transfer Office, which then became the Industry Liaison Office, and the creation of the Network of Centres of Excellence in Sustainable Forest Management.

Founding the Alberta Ingenuity Fund

The University of Western Ontario lured Dr. Bridger away in 1995 to serve as Vice-President, Research. Alberta won him back in 2001 to become founding President and CEO of the new Alberta Heritage Foundation for Science and Engineering Research, known as the Alberta Ingenuity Fund. The foundation was established to expand Alberta’s capacity for science and engineering research by recruiting and retaining top researchers.

Dr. Bridger set up a number of programs to achieve this goal, in keeping with Alberta Ingenuity’s motto, Relentlessly First Class, before he retired in 2004 for health reasons.

Further Accomplishments

Recently, working as a consultant to the Alberta government, Dr. Bridger developed a proposal for an Alberta Initiative for Prion Science, leading to a commitment of $35 million for an institute for basic and applied science related to BSE and other prion diseases. Dr. Bridger has served on the boards of Genome Prairie and Genome Canada, among many other governance positions. He is also active in promoting scientific literacy in the general public and recently established a series of annual conferences on Science and Public Policy.