Centre aids campus research innovations

by Stephen Forgacs
Staff writer

An Innovation Centre created by the National Research Council (NRC) of Canada on the UBC campus will enhance the B.C. research community's ability to maintain strong research programs in several key areas, said Bernard Bressler, UBC's Vice-president, Research, following the centre's opening Jan. 27.

"It's important to realize that the Innovation Centre is very much a provincial centre," said Bressler. "It will provide opportunities for UBC researchers, and researchers from across the province, to collaborate with the NRC and gain access to the centre's resources."

The centre, located off 16th Ave. at East Mall, was established following more than a year of NRC consultation with the provincial government, industry and other provincial research centres. The NRC decided to focus initial efforts on four areas it considers provincial research strong points. These include the forest industry, aquaculture and marine biosciences, the development of an infrastructure for biopharmaceuticals, and information and telecommunications technologies.

NRC President Arthur Carty said the centre will improve access to NRC resources including its Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information (CISTI) and Industrial Research Program (IRAP).

CISTI responds to more than 500,000 requests for information each year. CISTI has a collection of more than 50,000 journals, and more than a million books, technical reports and conference proceedings. Services include literature and patent searches and document delivery from the CISTI collection and other sources.

IRAP draws from a team of 260 industrial technology advisers in 190 locations across Canada. Through the program, researchers can gain access to people and financial resources that can facilitate research, development and technology adaptation projects.

Bressler said UBC's relationship with the NRC Innovation Centre will be similar to the university's relationship with the Pulp and Paper Research Institute of Canada with considerable crossover of expertise, joint initiatives and research partnerships.

"NRC is one of the federal government's key assets for innovation," Jon Gerrard, Secretary of State for Science, Research and Development, said at the centre opening. "By making NRC's scope, depth, infrastructure and linkages more easily accessible on a provincial level, NRC is encouraging B.C. to tap into its potential as a wellspring of science, technology and industrial innovation."

Several B.C. companies associated with UBC researchers have benefited from NRC assistance. Northwest Mettech Corp., a UBC spin-off company, received assistance from NRC and UBC's Industry Liaison Office in the development of a commercial product -- a plasma torch -- which is used to spray wear-resistant, protective coatings on jet engines and other manufactured metal items. Former UBC graduate students Doug Ross and Alan Burgess founded Northwest Mettech Corp. to commercialize the system.

"The benefit we got from our relationship with IRAP was much more than monetary. The industrial technology adviser kept us on a track that would lead to a commercial product," said Ross, now Northwest Mettech vice-president. "Without that, we wouldn't have had the structure we needed to succeed."