Research expands knowledge. Research explores new knowledge. Research solves problems, creates understanding, and provides rich connections between the academic world, the private sector, communities, and governments. Research is in the DNA of the University of Waterloo, both within and across its many Departments, Faculties, Centres, and Institutes.

Waterloo research spans the continuum from fundamental, curiosity-based inquiry to the practical applications of new knowledge. It is conducted in both a discipline-specific manner and by inter-and multidisciplinary teams. A strong spirit of entrepreneurship underpins this research, giving rise not only to the development of new technologies, but their application and commercialization.

Waterloo’s research strengths are deliberately aligned with important global challenges. This is in recognition of the critical role that technology coupled with reflective scholarship will play in meeting these challenges and understanding their human dimensions. Discoveries heralding transformative disruption that benefits society are a hallmark of Waterloo research.

Fundamental thematic areas


Developing technologies for the future

Innovative technologies are transforming the way we work, live and play. Researchers at Waterloo are not only creating these new technologies, they are probing the nature of human interaction with technology, uncovering the benefits it heralds as well as exposing and mitigating the risks it poses.


  • Advancements in big and small manufacturing
  • Autonomous systems for independence
  • Cybersecurity, cryptography and privacy
  • Intelligent systems and attendant paradigm shifts
  • Light and sound for improved vision and imaging
  • Technologies for connectedness
  • The quantum-nano revolution

Pushing the frontiers of knowledge

The very big and the very small shape humanity. Waterloo researchers are seeking to understand how. They are exploring the cosmos, probing the genetic code and the limits of complexity, discovering what shapes the interactions of humans with each other and the planet. They are searching for answers, for theoretical proof, for knowledge.


  • Abstraction, inference and proof
  • Classical and quantum information
  • Foundational principles and their application
  • Genetics and the origins of life
  • Knowledge discovery and representation
  • Limits of complexity and emergent phenomena
  • Origin and composition of the universe
  • The building blocks of matter

Understanding and enhancing human experience

Waterloo researchers are exploring opportunities for social, artistic and cultural innovation in a rapidly changing world and the challenges this poses. They are looking for connection and commonality. They are exploring and promoting scholarship in the area of Indigenous culture. They are analyzing how technology and innovation can help knit humanity, with all its diversity, closer together.


  • Communication, technology and culture
  • Creative and scholarly innovation
  • Design of and experience with interactive media
  • Ethics, governance and politics
  • Human-centered technology
  • Identity: inclusivity, diversity, and equity
  • Risks, crises and conflicts of our time
  • Social impact of science and technology

Accelerating sustainability

Through deliberate alignment of research strengths with global challenges, Waterloo is accelerating the development of technology and novel practices for enhancement of environmental sustainability. This research is guiding the formulation of principles, policies and paradigm shifts in global environmental governance for achieving local and regional sustainability outcomes.


  • Integrated ecosystems approach to managing the natural environment
  • Clean and affordable energy
  • Clean technology and responsible production
  • Climate-resilient and low-carbon society
  • Sustainable cities, buildings and infrastructure
  • Sustainable water management

Advancing health and wellbeing

Waterloo is poised to make major advances at the interface between technology and health. For example, new technologies being developed by Waterloo researchers have the potential to revolutionize the collection and interpretation of health data. This is complemented by innovative research on the social determinants of health, including healthy aging, lifestyles, and substance-use, that is giving rise to new paradigms for population health.


  • Biomedical/social determinants of health
  • Health care delivery
  • Health informatics and health technologies
  • Aging
  • Neuroscience
  • Mental health
  • Population health and health systems for communities
  • Vision science
  • Pharmaceutical science

Advancing research for global impact

To maximize global impact, Waterloo has aligned its thematic research strengths with opportunities for new discoveries that are likely to shape approaches to global challenges. In doing so, the institution continues to build on established strengths in fundamental research, engage in applied research, and take a leadership role in commercializing new technology. That solutions to global challenges will be both technology-based and informed by an increased understanding of their human dimensions has prompted mobilization of complementary research strengths in several fields in the quest to develop and implement these solutions.

Quantum science, nanotechnology, connectivity and telecommunications

Pioneering basic and applied research in: quantum and materials science, quantum computing and quantum simulation for understanding physics and materials, nanotechnology, digital media, and telecommunications, is pushing the frontiers of knowledge and giving rise to new technologies. Waterloo researchers are also examining human interaction with these technologies and their potential for transformative impact on industrial, social, artistic, environmental and cultural landscapes. Developments that are having a transformative impact include:

  • new quantum sensors with enhanced sensitivity
  • smart functional materials
  • advances in quantum security
  • new developments in photonics
  • nano sensors and electronics for lab-on-a-chip
  • advances in network and satellite communication enabling increased connectivity and future expansion of the Internet of Things
  • emerging technologies for social innovation
  • social and ethical impacts of connectivity

Water, energy and climate: sustainability, security, infrastructure

Waterloo research is facilitating the transition to a climate-resilient, low-carbon sustainable society. A cornerstone objective is sustainable use and management of space, land, water, and energy on a global scale. Developments that are having a transformative impact include:

  • nanotechnologies for the delivery of clean water
  • environmental and resource economics and governance and the formulation of sustainable land and water-management policies
  • next generation batteries, fuel cells and smart-grid infrastructure for the provision of clean, affordable, low-carbon energy
  • digital and remote sensing technologies for environmental monitoring of air, land, water and the stratosphere, providing information that will shape pivotal environmental policies
  • new paradigms of architectural and urban design for enhanced sustainability of cities, buildings and infrastructure

Information technology and its impact, including intelligent systems, human-machine interfaces, cybersecurity, privacy and data science

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are enabling Waterloo researchers to develop systems that are ushering in a new era of automated, intelligent transportation. The attendant challenges will test the mettle of human/machine interfaces. Social scientists are studying the impact of these intelligent systems on the transportation industry and on domestic and international job markets. Developments that are having a transformative impact include:

  • autonomous scale cars with novel sensors enabling robust navigation without human inputs
  • smart systems for hybrid and electric vehicles
  • network and operational security for internet-connected systems and data
  • quantum-safe cryptography
  • blockchain technology for secure data storage, financial transactions and asset management
  • societal implications of cyber risk, including cyber terrorism and global security
  • ethical considerations of the applications of artificial intelligence

Robotics and advanced manufacturing

Through innovative research encompassing the use of advanced materials, advanced robotics and mechatronics, Waterloo is developing next-generation additive manufacturing. Robotics research at Waterloo is both fundamental and applied in nature and runs the gamut from designing robots for the service industry to those able to defuse land mines or perform surgery. New developments that are having a transformative impact include:

  • human-robot interaction including its impact on cognitive function and development
  • robot-assisted full cycle manufacturing in a factory setting
  • custom-product development using next-generation additive manufacturing
  • autonomous robots for detecting structural defects in bridges
  • human-centered robotics and machine learning

Health technologies

New technologies with the potential to reshape aspects of medicine are being developed at Waterloo. Research on the social determinants of health including healthy aging, tobacco control and substance use is having population-scale impacts. Development and deployment of digital health systems for improving population health are enhancing health - care outcomes. Enhanced understanding of human response to technical and policy interventions is helping to stem viral spreads and mitigate their impact on the most vulnerable. New developments that are having a transformative impact include:

  • wearable devices for monitoring indices of health
  • next generation contact lenses with drug-delivery potential
  • soft-robotics for ocular treatment and surgery
  • nanoparticles for targeted drug delivery
  • high resolution imaging technology

Research enhancement goals


The Office of Research has identified the following as key research priorities, as articulated in the University’s Strategic Plan. These priorities emerged through the many consultations that were held for the development of the University’s Strategic Plan. There were also additional, extensive consultations held simultaneously within the Office of Research. These additional consultations, involving researchers and leaders from across the Waterloo community including, Deans, Associate Deans Research, Executive Directors of Centres and Institutes, Department Chairs, Research Chairs, students, the Innovation Ecosystem Council, the Research Equity Diversity and Inclusion Council, research staff across campus, external stakeholders, and others, enabled a detailed focus on identification of drivers of research excellence at the institution.  

The following tangible goals with their specific objectives will serve to enhance disciplinary and interdisciplinary research strengths and marshal these strengths to solve increasingly complex real-world problems. These goals will serve to support the University’s Strategic Plan, as well as the Research Strategic Plan. 

The Office of Research is committed to supporting activities related to these goals and objectives as they are pursued within the Faculties and other organizational units across the institution, including in the Office of Research itself. 


Enhance research excellence


Accelerate the research enterprise

  • Attract and retain high-quality faculty
  • Foster interdisciplinary collaboration through meaningful interactions and exchange of ideas across disciplinary boundaries
  • Seize opportunities to lead in new and emerging research areas
  • Develop sustainable support for the acquisition, maintenance and operation of state-of-the-art major equipment and shared facilities
  • Explore opportunities to create cross-Faculty interdisciplinary research teams
  • Incentivize strategic joint cross-Faculty appointments
  • Address barriers to pursuing interdisciplinary research including funding constraints, narrow definitions of merit, and lack of space for co-locating researchers from different Faculties in cross-disciplinary communities

Adapt academic programming

  • Increase opportunities for diversified research experiences and participation in interdisciplinary research teams for graduate and undergraduate students
  • Develop more flexible graduate programs including interdisciplinary and team Masters degrees

Fully implement equity, diversity and inclusivity across the research enterprise


Support the culture

  • Promote and support a culture of equity, diversity and inclusivity to ensure a dynamic research environment with different perspectives, fresh ideas and new approaches
  • Ensure the research environment is equitable, welcoming and one in which everyone can flourish
  • Promote and support Indigenous approaches to research including Indigenous ways of knowing
  • Work with the Equity Office, Faculties and Departments to ensure broad awareness and implementation of the principles of equity, diversity and inclusion
  • Foster a research and innovation ecosystem that attracts and retains outstanding, diverse faculty members who will enable Waterloo to thrive in a global setting

Educate for change

  • Revise and expand unconscious bias, equity, diversity and inclusion training
  • Increase accountability for improving representation of the Four Designated Groups (FDGs)
  • Review policies and procedures regularly to ensure they continue to reflect equity, diversity and inclusion principles

Reinforce Waterloo's distinctive brand of preeminence in innovation, entrepreneurship and knowledge mobilization


Maximize impact

  • Enhance the collective impact of Waterloo innovation and commercialization hubs: Velocity, the Conrad School of Entrepreneurship and Business, the Accelerator Center and WatCo
  • Support the creation of new companies and the commercialization of transformative research
  • Celebrate the innovation and entrepreneurship successes of faculty, alumni and students
  • Provide opportunities for co-op students to present work-term projects and experiences related to innovation and commercialization
  • Establish a fund to assist students and faculty with a strong entrepreneurial inclination to commercialize their IP
  • Review strategies and procedures for enhancing innovation and commercialization of research on a regular basis and be nimble in adjusting as needed
  • Adjust policies and procedures to ensure that performance criteria for tenure, promotion and salary adjustments for faculty include commercialization activity where appropriate

Support industry

  • Engage with strategic business sectors of competitive importance to Canada where interdisciplinary research teams can help resolve problems of common interest
  • Increase private-sector partnerships and develop new technologies that will enhance the competitiveness and innovation of Canadian business
  • Spearhead policy development for new technologies at municipal, provincial and federal levels of government
  • Share industry partnership prospects to build enhanced value for the partner, create incentives and opportunities for teamwork across the institution, and support Waterloo’s innovation goals
  • Establish interdisciplinary capstone projects to enable students to gain interdisciplinary research experience

Enhance the global impact and reputation of Waterloo research


Increase capacity to lead globally

  • Increase research capacity, particularly Research Chairs, broadly across the Institution to seize leadership in new and emerging research areas
  • Increase and diversify research funding
  • Encourage the pursuit of “Big Research Problems” of major societal importance requiring an interdisciplinary approach
  • Engage in research that threads technology and its impact into projects rooted in the social sciences and humanities

Share results

  • Encourage and support knowledge translation to inform business decisions, policy development by all levels of government, and members of society at large
  • Promote awareness of Waterloo research achievements by encouraging publication in highly ranked dissemination venues and nominating faculty for national and international awards and honours
  • Seize the opportunity for international leadership in the development and implementation of technologies at the interface between the physical sciences/engineering and medicine

Strengthen national and global research partnerships


Enhance connections

  • Enhance Waterloo’s dynamic innovation ecosystem by connecting with global institutions and global-change initiatives
  • Enhance digital connectivity in support of collaborative national and international research
  • Provide incentives to enhance the global mobility of researchers (faculty, post-doctoral fellows, graduate students)

Deepen relationships

  • Strengthen formal collaborations with research arms of government
  • Increase the number and scope of national and international industry/business research collaborations through Faculty-based initiatives and through the Gateway for Enterprises to Discover Innovation
  • Establish and invest significantly in a limited number of international research partnerships in areas where Waterloo has recognized strengths

About the Artwork

The Intersection of art and data

The conceptual art on our Strategic Plan website reflects Waterloo’s culture — one that welcomes change, chance and the great promise of human-machine interaction. Using data from our community, Matt DesLauriers, a Canadian artist and creative coder, developed four works of digital art to highlight Waterloo’s new vision and themes for action. Each time you interact with this digital art, you generate a unique image that represents the countless ways we interact with computers for a better world.

artwork snippet

Waterloo is a comprehensive, research–intensive university with a worldwide reputation. This artwork is a visualization of research publications listed in an InCites data set. When you click or tap and hold, new art will be generated from a random subset of most–cited publications. Each rectangular cell is mapped to a single publication. The colour coincides to the Waterloo faculty and the height is related to the citation’s impact.