Category Archives: Research & Innovation

NC industry partner wins top prize for medical technology innovation

The research team for the ARMM project at WAMIC: Allan Spence, PhD, researcher and industry liaison; Yodha Singh, Mechanical Engineering Technology student and former research assistant; Dave McKechnie, laboratory technologist; Daniel Bordenave, Bisep CEO and founder; and Avery Edge, Mechanical Engineering Technology student and former research assistant.

Research & Innovation industry partner Bisep Inc. has taken first place at the Hamilton Synapse Life Science competition, held virtually last week, for its medical technology invention. 

The Niagara-based start-up won the top prize of $35,000 cash and $7,000 in-kind services for its medical technology innovation. Named the ARMM (Ambulation, Retraining, Mobility, and Mechanism), the device acts as a security bridge between a walker and a wheelchair and is the brainchild of Bisep CEO and founder Daniel Bordenave.

Bordenave undertook two engineering research projects with the team at Niagara College’s Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre to help get his product to market. The company began commercialization of its new device in Niagara Falls at the beginning of the year.

Held at the Innovation Factory in Hamilton, the annual Synapse Competition is touted as the province’s premier life science pitch competition and is “dedicated to fostering the commercialization of innovation and the life science sector.”

Read about the award HERE

Read about the R&I project HERE

Research team in spotlight at OFVC

Niagara College’s Research & Innovation division was well represented at this year’s Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Convention in February. Known as Canada’s premier horticultural event, the annual conference brings together researchers, producers, industry experts, associations and educators. In its 18th year, the two-day event features world-class expert speakers, tradeshow exhibitors and network opportunities.

R&I had a number of experts speaking at the event: From the Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre (AETIC), both Mike Duncan, PhD, and Sarah Lepp, senior research associate, presented thought-provoking information about weather, climate change and the resulting impact on soil. From the Canadian Food & Wine Institute Innovation Centre (CFWI Innovation Centre), Ana Cristina Vega Lugo, PhD, spoke about sustainable packaging for both consumers and commercial applications.

On the tradeshow floor, research team members from AETIC, CFWI Innovation Centre and also the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC), showcased the division’s resources and capabilities.

Read more about our featured panelists at OFVC here.

For more information on the resources and capabilities of the Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre, visit the website.

R&I student ambassadors represent NC in Ottawa

 

Last month, two members of Niagara College’s Research & Innovation team had the opportunity of a lifetime to meet research leaders and political stakeholders at the annual Colleges & Institutes Canada’s CICan on the Hill + Student Showcase event in Ottawa.

During the Student Showcase, Brian Klassen, research associate with the Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre (AETIC) and Kyler Schwind, research assistant with the Canadian Food & Wine Institute Innovation Centre (CFWI Innovation Centre), had the chance to present their respective research projects to many industry and government stakeholders. Among them: Navdeep Bains, minister, Innovation, Science and Industry; Vance Badawey, MP, Niagara Centre; and Denise Amyot, president and CEO, CICan.

Schwind, a student of NC’s Culinary Innovation and Food Technology program, worked on the team to help develop Canada’s first non-alcoholic gin under the brand label Sobrii Ø-Gin. The challenge, from industry partner DistillX Beverages Inc., was to create a non-alcoholic distilled spirit that has zero calories, zero sugar and, as the marketing touts: zero hangovers.

“I was surrounded by outstanding students from all over Canada, so it was a great experience to learn what kinds of projects students are completing to solve everyday problems,” said Schwind, adding it was an impactful way to illustrate capabilities and knowledge to research leaders.

“Being able to showcase a commercialized product to some very prominent people in government and the research industry was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It was great to feature the skills and abilities of the CFWI Innovation Centre, while also connecting with officials on a personal level.

“Every student that attended was very knowledgeable and passionate about their projects, and I believe sharing that knowledge and passion is the best way for colleges and institutions to show the success of applied research.”

For Klassen, a 2018 graduate of NC’s Electronics Engineering Technology program, he also valued the opportunity to get to speak with key government officials and research stakeholders.

His research team worked on a project for international confectioners Ferrero, the makers of the popular Ferrero Rocher chocolates and Nutella. Ferrero wanted assistance with collecting growth tracking data of Ontario hazelnut trees in anticipation of planting thousands of acres of trees across the province in the next decade.

A custom growth monitoring system was developed for hazelnut trees by the AETIC researchers, which can be also be used by growers across Ontario. The system will monitor current hazelnut farms to see how weather affects the growth of trees and crop yield. The data from sensors and images from a time-lapse camera is sent to Niagara College servers and stored in a database, which can be used to analyze the data over the history of the project, and will help determine best hazelnut management practices.

The project was funded by the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE), through its College Strategic Sector/Cluster Technology Platform (CSSCTP).

“We were told that Mr. Bains only had time to see the displays on one side of the room and mine was on the side that he couldn’t come see. While he was meeting with all the students to check out their research projects, he seemed to be very interested and ended up coming to my side of the room as well,” said Klassen. “It was great to have had the opportunity to meet with him.”

Last month, two members of Niagara College’s Research & Innovation team had the opportunity of a lifetime to meet research leaders and political stakeholders at the annual Colleges & Institutes Canada’s CICan on the Hill + Student Showcase event in Ottawa.

During the Student Showcase, Brian Klassen, research associate with the Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre (AETIC) and Kyler Schwind, research assistant with the Canadian Food & Wine Institute Innovation Centre (CFWI Innovation Centre), had the chance to present their respective research projects to many industry and government stakeholders. Among them: Navdeep Bains, minister, Innovation, Science and Industry; Vance Badawey, MP, Niagara Centre; and Denise Amyot, president and CEO, CICan.

Schwind, a student of NC’s Culinary Innovation and Food Technology program, worked on the team to help develop Canada’s first non-alcoholic gin under the brand label Sobrii Ø-Gin. The challenge, from industry partner DistillX Beverages Inc., was to create a non-alcoholic distilled spirit that has zero calories, zero sugar and, as the marketing touts: zero hangovers.

“I was surrounded by outstanding students from all over Canada, so it was a great experience to learn what kinds of projects students are completing to solve everyday problems,” said Schwind, adding it was an impactful way to illustrate capabilities and knowledge to research leaders.

“Being able to showcase a commercialized product to some very prominent people in government and the research industry was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It was great to feature the skills and abilities of the CFWI Innovation Centre, while also connecting with officials on a personal level.

“Every student that attended was very knowledgeable and passionate about their projects, and I believe sharing that knowledge and passion is the best way for colleges and institutions to show the success of applied research.”

For Klassen, a 2018 graduate of NC’s Electronics Engineering Technology program, he also valued the opportunity to get to speak with key government officials and research stakeholders.

His research team worked on a project for international confectioners Ferrero, the makers of the popular Ferrero Rocher chocolates and Nutella. Ferrero wanted assistance with collecting growth tracking data of Ontario hazelnut trees in anticipation of planting thousands of acres of trees across the province in the next decade.

A custom growth monitoring system was developed for hazelnut trees by the AETIC researchers, which can be also be used by growers across Ontario. The system will monitor current hazelnut farms to see how weather affects the growth of trees and crop yield. The data from sensors and images from a time-lapse camera is sent to Niagara College servers and stored in a database, which can be used to analyze the data over the history of the project, and will help determine best hazelnut management practices.

The project was funded by the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE), through its College Strategic Sector/Cluster Technology Platform (CSSCTP).

“We were told that Mr. Bains only had time to see the displays on one side of the room and mine was on the side that he couldn’t come see. While he was meeting with all the students to check out their research projects, he seemed to be very interested and ended up coming to my side of the room as well,” said Klassen. “It was great to have had the opportunity to meet with him.”

Testing a pioneering organic silica product

Northern Hemp 1
(left) Greg Marsh, president at Northern Hemp Specialists, is with Laurie Zuber, horticulture technologist with NC’s Commercial Cannabis Program.

Northern Hemp Specialists is aiming to “greatly advance” the cannabis and hemp industries with its silica-based organic product. Once the growing trial by Niagara College cannabis students is complete, the Huntsville-based start-up is hoping to show significant improvements in nutrient uptake by the plants.

The post-graduate students from the Cannabis Production Science 2 class have been involved in an extensive growing study in the College’s cannabunker and greenhouse this past semester for the industry partner. The course-based applied research project is managed by Research & Innovation’s Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre, and funded by the Ontario Centres of Excellence through its College Voucher for Technology Adoption program. 

Greg Marsh, president at Northern Hemp Specialists, says his organic silica-based biostimulant also acts as a pesticide for the cannabis and hemp plants, to increase pest resistance.

The class has been overseeing and analyzing the growth of cannabis plants, amended with the silica-based product against control plants. During the trial, researchers have assessed the nutrient composition of the cannabis plants by taking leaf samples of the most recently matured leaf (MRML) at two-week intervals. This gives an indication of the nutrient uptake of the plants in the different treatments.

The cannabis plants have been harvested, and the flower buds will be appropriately dried, and sent for analysis of the cannabinoid and terpenoid content for treatment comparison.

Marsh checked in on the growing trial results this month at the Daniel J. Patterson campus in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and reports a growth improvement to the treated plants to date, compared to the control plants.

“We are hoping the trial will prove that we can increase the absorption rates of silica in cannabis and hemp plants from three percent to 60 percent,” explains Marsh, adding that his pioneering approach – which has been five years in development – should strengthen plants, enabling higher yields of both flowers and leaves, reduces transplant shock and is more pest resistant and efficient through the added strength created in the root zone.

“A 15 percent increase in yields can translate into millions of dollars of extra revenue for growers and producers,” he predicts.

“One of the most important benefits of using our process is that it’s 100 percent organic,” says Marsh. “We have this product that’s two-in-one; when it spreads over the soil, not only does it stop pests from coming through the soil, it also stops them from going from plant to plant on the ground.”

Northern Hemp 2
Northern Hemp Specialists is pleased with the visual growing results so far. The cannabis plant on the left, showing a larger yield, has been treated with their organic silica-based biostimulant product, contrasted against the control plant on the right.

For the burgeoning commercial cannabis growing industry, one of the most significant issues in scaling-up quickly has been combatting disease and controlling pests, says Bill MacDonald, coordinator and professor of NC’s Commercial Cannabis Production (CCP) program, started in 2018.

“You’re extremely limited in your toolbox of pest control products you can use,” says MacDonald. “Growers have to follow Health Canada regulations and, of course, since it is a consumable or inhalable product, it has to be grown and maintained as organic.”

A lot of what MacDonald and his faculty team are teaching in the one-year CCP program is environmental control – learning how to control the environment in terms of heat, humidity and light as well as biological control – which is using “good” bugs to control the destructive pests.

Marsh says his company uses a proprietary mixture of specially engineered bacterial and fungal inoculants, mixed with the silica flour. The product is soil soluble, enhancing the root, stem and leaf strength of cannabis plants, coupled with the ability to resist soil-based pests, such as gnats, borers, snails, aphids and others.

“This product could revolutionize this part of the business and give stronger, pest-free plants, with better yields,” adds Marsh.

“We have found Bill MacDonald, Laurie Zuber and the Niagara College students very knowledgeable and extremely helpful in setting up and administering the project.”

For more information on projects conducted for industry in partnership with the Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre, visit the website.

‘Unique’ climate data can help farmers prepare: NC researcher

If sophisticated weather data analysis is any indication, Mother Nature does not have a farm-friendly forecast in store for Southern Ontario growers.  

Instead of historically predictable weather – one reason Niagara has flourished as the fruit belt – one high-tech projection is calling for more significant, more extreme, and more variable rain rates. This according to forensic weather data processed and analyzed by Niagara College’s Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre (AETIC) team and led by Research & Innovation’s Mike Duncan, who has his PhD in Agricultural Physics. 

“Instead of being even and reliable, it will be heavy and sporadic, which is not crop or soil friendly,” says Duncan, who is the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Industrial Research Chair for Colleges, specializing in precision agriculture and environmental technologies.

His team is looking at two data sets; the first is a forensic, or very detailed, recreation of the weather in the farming areas of Southern Ontario for the between 2000 and 2018, and the second is based on the IPCC RCP(6.0) climate change scenario for the years 2030 to 2048, covering the same area. 

“The second data set shows a snapshot of what ‘might happen’ if CO2 levels keep increasing,” says Duncan. “It is unique in the sense that there are very few realizations of climate change data that show what might happen at the ground as the climate evolves.” 

Duncan and his team wanted to look at what farmers might face in a changing climate and he says the positive news is that the growers can be prepared.

“This data doesn’t lie … I’m not showing probabilities; I’m showing raw data. I’m not predicting that the rainfall in 2017 is going to flood the Great Lakes … it did.”

The 2000 to 2018 forensic meteorology data was generated using a numerical weather model operating on a global data set called ERA-Interim, which can re-create the weather over the last 18 years in Southern Ontario at one-hour intervals. This expensive data set was purchased as part of an industry partner project looking specifically at weather statistics for growing tree crops.

The state-of-the-art model generates 140 weather variables at more than 30,000 grid points across the farming areas of Southern Ontario, to allow the Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms to make very accurate maps of suitable growing areas for a given crop.

“It’s $155k worth of knowledge that nobody else has,” says Duncan, adding that the detailed weather data can re-create the growing conditions for any crop and offers a look at what’s happening at the ground level.  

“It also allows us to evaluate whether crops that currently grow in the area will be able to grow given various warming scenarios resulting from climate change,” he explains.

The data shows that while the summers aren’t getting any hotter, they are extended, and winter temps are rising, to the tune of one degree Celsius every year. 

The research team also found 2014 to be a pivotal year in our area. Before that year, rain fell like clockwork; there were very few droughts or deluges. Then it all changed, says Duncan.

“We had a rain rate that was pretty much constant up to 2014, and then it dropped in half, and then it doubled … and that is typical of systems becoming unstable.” He notes that while there have been erratic temperatures previously, it hasn’t before been in concert with fluctuating rainfall. 

“This data doesn’t lie … I’m not showing probabilities; I’m showing raw data. I’m not predicting that the rainfall in 2017 is going to flood the Great Lakes … it did.”

And while the forecasted increase in temperatures may be concerning, the water – the amount and variability – is what’s most important to agriculture. With higher temperatures and a longer summer, it also means a greater chance for pest survival. Couple this with crop stresses from variable rain rates, it only worsens the potential for disease, explains Duncan.

It’s a high-risk combination for growers because with low rain rates, the land becomes extremely dry and hot, and then when increased rain hits, the ground won’t soak up the water, and the soil/seeds can get washed away in an afternoon via erosion. 

Duncan’s team took this 2000 to 2018 data set and created a climate change scenario for 2030 to 2048. And he calls the projection data “depressing.”

“Rain rates will be 10 to 25 percent higher than what they have been historically – at least prior to 2014.”

The rain will come in higher rain-rate clumps, and the variability rate will also climb, he says. “Rain rates will be 10 to 25 percent higher than what they have been historically – at least prior to 2014.”

Duncan recently shared his findings at the annual Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Convention (OFVC), Canada’s premier horticultural event, in Niagara Falls, and also with local stakeholders, including Vance Badawey, MP for Niagara Centre. 

“I don’t think it’s a complete disaster, but there’s going to be a big change,” says Duncan.

It won’t be just farmers affected either; urban infrastructure won’t be spared, Duncan warns. “The urban effect can be huge – commensurate with the agriculture effects.”

‘I’ve seen high rain rates before and the effect can be stunning in an urban environment,” he says, adding industries such as insurance, farming banks bankrolling crops, and construction will all be affected.

The good news: such simulation data can help farmers prepare, and his AETIC team can help provide specific weather analysis. “Growers and other urban industries need to implement water management strategies, which means local reservoirs and pools. They need to have tools in place to deal with high rain rates and have a plan to manage how the water either pools or runs off their property.”

While there are still questions to be answered, Duncan says his team is open to work with growers or other industries who would like specific data analysis.

Niagara College’s AETIC team works with private and public sector partners to develop innovative solutions to address today’s challenges in agriculture, local and sustainable food production, plant growth, horticulture practices, greenhouse operations, aquaponics and environmental management.

For more information, see the website.

Where Are They Now?: Dalton Pearson

Dalton Pearson is a 2019 graduate of Niagara College’s Computer Programming program and served as both a research assistant and research associate with the Research & Innovation division, most recently with the Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre. Dalton is currently employed as a software systems engineer for Praemo in Kitchener.

Tell us about where you work:

I currently work for a company called Praemo in Kitchener; we are primarily a data science company. We use machine learning and data science to provide real-time monitoring and anomaly detection for the industrial sector.

Describe your role and what you like about it:

As a software systems engineer, I tend to deal with a lot of areas, but generally, I am responsible for how data enters, moves through, and is stored, within our systems. I also manage our infrastructure, technologies, and development workflows. But on any given day, I can find myself working in any area since I have an understanding of how all our systems work and interact with each other. This is the perfect position for me; primarily backend-development, working with big-data, and we use Python, which is a huge plus in my books.

How has your experience with Research & Innovation helped you prepare for your current role?

My experience at R&I was instrumental in landing my current position, since we were dealing with similar problems at both places – making sense of large amounts of data. I was able to re-apply a lot of the solutions and technologies that we came up with at R&I with a high level of confidence.

A memorable applied research project during your time at R&I?

The project that will always have a special place in my heart is working on the RoamIO Jumbo land robot project with Korechi Innovation. It was one of those great projects that was very rewarding and just bolstered my love of programming. That project was also largely written using Python, which is what we use at Praemo.

What led you to Niagara College in the first place?

I had some friends who went to NC, and they gave it glowing reviews.

Most memorable experience at NC?

That would have to be winning the Community Project Competition for the scoring website that we created for Squash Niagara.

A faculty member who influenced you?

Marsha Baddeley – a great professor and she always kept me challenged and hungry for harder problems.

A mentor at R&I?

There’s a couple: Mike Duncan [PhD] – he is both one of the most intelligent and down-to-earth people I know, and he always pushed me to reach my full potential. Also, [former senior research associate] Ryan Tunis – he really took me under his wing and would always toss new and harder problems my way. We’re now close friends.

“I was able to re-apply a lot of the solutions and technologies that we came up with at Research & Innovation with a high level of confidence.”

What advice would you impart to current research students or future alumni?

Work on hard problems that you find rewarding and don’t be afraid to move fast and break things – it’s a unique learning environment that you won’t see anywhere else. Try as many technologies as it takes until you find one that works for you and your problem. 

After being in the workforce, what have you learned?

In my experience, software development is a true meritocracy, where hard work and talent are rewarded. I’ve learned not to be afraid to ask for what you think you’re worth and don’t settle for less; the right opportunity will come around, and you’ll both be lucky to have found each other.

Proudest achievement since graduating?

Becoming a professional Python developer.

Interests outside of work?

We have a ping pong table at work, so I play a lot of ping pong both inside and outside of work. I’m still always working on my own personal software projects that solve the problems that I deal with.

If you could have a billboard message seen by many, what would it say?

Software is the direction the world is going – embrace it or get left behind.

Anything else you want to say?

I will always value my time at R&I and all of the friends that I made there. It was the experience of a lifetime; thanks for taking a chance on me!