Category Archives: Research & Innovation

R&I projects double in 2021-22

The Research & Innovation division of Niagara College provides real-world solutions for business, key industry sectors and the community through applied research and knowledge transfer activities. We have grown both in resources, capabilities and therefore, outcomes for industry, during the past two decades of operation.

In fact, last year (fiscal year 2021-22), we leveraged $34,648,976 in funding from a variety of sources to work with 222 industry and community partners on 306 projects and services. They come to us to conduct applied research projects, involving teams of students and faculty, and a mix of partner and government funding; technical services, which are shorter, fee-for-service projects that still provide student training; and course-based projects, which are conducted during the course of a term, and often involve partner time, but minimal or no funding. There were 65 applied research projects, 151 technical services, and 90 course-based projects.

Each interaction with industry involves students, who learn real-world skills as paid employees, or through course work, and faculty-researchers, who bring their new experiences back into the classroom. Last year, 1,258 students from 23 academic programs were able to participate in projects, alongside 60 faculty and researchers.

Comparing this fiscal year to the one before (FY 2020-21), the number of applied research projects more than doubled, to 65 last year, up from 31 the year before. The 151 technical services represents a 45% increase over the previous year, when the services numbered 104. Similarly, the number of partners coming to Niagara College increased by 17%, to 222, compared to 190 the year before.


By The Numbers 21-22


Product spotlight on offering at tourneys

September brought the return of several golf tournaments to the region, including Niagara College’s own NC Classic, which took place at Peninsula Lakes Golf Club, in Pelham, on Sept. 20. Two days later, the same venue also hosted the Food and Beverage Ontario (FBO) annual tourney, which featured sponsorship from our Food & Beverage Innovation Centre.

For both events, R&I staff was on hand to talk about recent innovations, and to serve up zero-alcohol gin and tonics, featuring industry partner DistillX’s Sobrii 0-gin. Canada’s first non-alcoholic distilled gin, created at Niagara College in partnership with DistillX Beverages Inc., is made from all-natural botanicals and extracts, contains no sugar, artificial flavours, sweeteners or calories. And even better – there is no hangover.

Read the full Søbrii Ø-Gin story, including the company’s appearance on Dragon’s Den, here.

Grow Up features NC speakers, education award for academics

Stanley Leggett, Laurie Zuber and Alberto Gerhke Hardt represented Research & Innovation’s Food & Beverage Innovation Centre at the Grow Up Conference & Expo on Sept. 11-13 in Niagara Falls.

Niagara College cannabis experts leveraged their learning at the recent Grow Up Conference & Expo, which took place Sept. 11 to 13 at the Niagara Falls Convention Centre. Besides presenting during a talk titled “The impact of cannabis research on developing cannabis technology,” the team took home the Cannabis Education Award, for the work being done through the Commercial Cannabis Production Program.

The talk was moderated by Laurie Zuber, technologist with the Commercial Cannabis Production program, and included a discussion by Peter Brewer, research associate with the Horticultural & Environmental Sciences Innovation Centre (HESIC), which is part of the Research & Innovation division at Niagara College, and Daniel Lirette, CEO of GrowDoc. The two discussed GrowDoc’s successful collaboration with Niagara College in an applied research project to enhance the capabilities of a mobile app that helps address plant health issues.

To learn more about the Education Award, read the news release.

Learn more about the Horticultural & Environmental Sciences Innovation Centre’s cannabis research expertise in growing & edibles

Project helps company overcome pesky pests in cannabis crops

Finding a natural solution for one of the most challenging pest pressures in cannabis production fits perfectly with the mission of Koppert Biological Systems.

But Tom Groot, Koppert’s Manager of Research and Development, Macrobials, knows that asking growers to contribute their own crops to test biological controls against the cannabis aphid is a big ask.

They’re potentially putting their growing season — their livelihood — at risk for something that may or may not work.

So, when faced with finding a solution for what Groot calls “the hardest challenge” of growing cannabis in Canada, the team at Koppert knew it would need support from well-equipped researchers capable of working in a confined setting.

“In order to do pest control, you have to see it, you have to touch it, you have to see the results for yourself,” Groot said.

Thanks to Niagara College alumni working at the Canadian office of the Netherlands-based global corporation, Koppert found help through the NC’s Horticultural & Environmental Sciences Innovation Centre (HESIC).

Led by researcher Sebastien Jacob, a faculty member and researcher, with his deep knowledge of integrated pest and disease management, the HESIC team started testing biological controls in the CannaResearchBunker in January. For four months, the team studied natural candidates that could take on the cannabis aphid and be a product that Koppert could then market to growers as a vital part of their integrated pest management plans.

By April, Groot and Koppert had valuable insight into which direction they should go in their pursuit of a game-changing biocontrol.

“It was a pleasure to work with Sebastien and his team. We were happy. They did an excellent job,” Groot said.

“In order to do pest control, you have to see it, you have to touch it, you have to see the results for yourself.” ~ Tom Groot, Koppert Biological Systems

Since the project with HESIC wrapped in the spring, Koppert has taken what it learned from Niagara College outside the lab to test in real-world growing conditions in an effort to confirm the findings of Jacob and team.

“That, I can say, is so far, so good. The lessons we learned (from Niagara College) really helped us a lot,” Groot said.

Koppert has even been able to start marketing the biological control to Canadian growers, who work in a highly regulated industry that emphasizes natural pest control over the chemical interventions used elsewhere in the world.

“I think you should consider that a compliment because from what I see, Canada has one of the most stringent controls on what can be used, especially what cannot be used on crops for pest control,” Groot said. “It’s a compliment but it’s also why this was a tough challenge to solve.”

And a challenge that Koppert is seeing in other cannabis-producing regions that are moving away from chemical pesticides. That means there’s a wide market for this new biological control beyond Canada.

“We are learning in Canada solutions that will be used in other places as well,” Groot explained. “That’s the great thing about Canada controlling what’s being used (on cannabis crops). It’s a brave move and Canada will be ahead of everybody.”

The great thing for Koppert and Niagara College is they now have a partnership that could one day lead to more critical industry-advancing research when the need arises.

“If there’s a good topic to work on, I’d be happy to collaborate,” Groot said. “They delivered more than we asked for.”

Recreational affection becomes career path for graduate

Peter Brewer’s fondness for plants runs as deep as a taproot on an unrelenting dandelion.

That affection and its accompanying curiosity about all things green and leafy makes him the ideal candidate for his research associate role at Niagara College’s Horticultural & Environmental Sciences Innovation Centre (HESIC), where he assists on critical industry-advancing projects involving cannabis production.

It also made Brewer the ideal grandson.

Growing up near Ottawa, Brewer could often be found as a teen helping his grandfather, Pedro, in his garden. They grew spinach and other leafy greens in raised beds, using organic methods and forging a deeper connection to each other over every crop they harvested together, to share with family or charity.

“It was a great way to bond with my grandfather before he passed away,” Brewer recalled. “He was a strong believer that organic food was helpful for people with cancer and people transitioning into elderly life, for staying healthy and active.”

It would turn out to be helpful in carving a career path, too. So would experimenting with cannabis in high school.

What started as a foray into recreational cannabis use turned into an eye-opening experience for Brewer. He had trouble sleeping as a youth until he started consuming cannabis. Even his stress management improved.

That experience only solidified Brewer’s love of plants.

As further attestation, he enrolled in biology at the University of Ottawa after graduating high school. He continued honing his gardening skills while studying, this time growing cannabis as a hobby. Unlike edible leafy greens, however, getting a worthwhile cannabis crop proved a bit more of a guessing game.

“I found with cannabis there was so much information and so many opinions on how things should be done,” Brewer said. “There was room for improvement because the industry was so young.”

Brewer saw himself as part of that improvement. He put his biology degree on pause and switched his studies to Niagara College’s Commercial Cannabis Production program.

“It’s great for me, personally, to upgrade my skills and be adaptable for any type of job in the future.”

Brewer graduated in April, having worked part-time during his studies as a research assistant in the CannaResearchBunker on industry-driven projects. He was promoted to full-time research associate soon after graduation.

During his time with HESIC, Brewer has worked on projects testing fertilizer and seeking remedies against the crop-damaging cannabis aphid. His day-to-day work involves tending to plants, documenting findings, and lending his green thumb to all stages of growing and testing crops.

Much like his feelings for his subjects, Brewer is quite fond of his job.

“We find interesting things I wouldn’t have thought would happen,” he said. “It’s really expanded upon my knowledge. (The cannabis aphid) project, in particular, had very interesting results that were very different than I thought they would be. It was interesting to see things I thought were true, or that I thought were true but weren’t what happened.

“It’s great for me, personally, to upgrade my skills and be adaptable for any type of job in the future,” he added.

When he’s not getting his hands dirty at work, Brewer enjoys kicking up mud on hikes and taking in the natural beauty of Niagara. He also recently enrolled in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

Of course, there’s growing things in his spare time, too, although not a vegetable garden because he doesn’t have the space. And no cannabis to avoid cross-contamination with plants at work.

Instead, he’s turning his attention toward another type of greenery no less worthy of his care and interest.

“I’ve always liked things you can eat or smoke but I do like flowers, too,” Brewer said. “So, I have a lot of houseplants that have become my hobby now.”

R&I welcomes (back) new Business Development leader

Research & Innovation (R&I) is pleased to welcome David DiPietro back to Niagara College. Having started his career with the division, this new assignment feels like a homecoming in many ways.

“I’m really thrilled to be back at Niagara College and specifically with Research & Innovation,” he said. “It feels special to return to the place where I made so many meaningful connections and truly launched my career. The department has grown significantly and it’s really exciting to be back with such a dynamic team.”

In his current role as Manager, Business Development, David works with the Business Development Coordinator and all Innovation Centres to support the strategic planning and execution of industry and community partner recruitment. As the liaison for course-based project support, he also works with NC’s academic schools and faculty to bring meaningful engagement in course-based research opportunities into the classroom, to the benefit of all involved – industry, students and faculty. With the development of the college’s Dream Big fund, David will play a similar liaising role with our academic partners and NC staff in making their exploratory research project plans a reality.

“The department has grown significantly and it’s really exciting to be back with such a dynamic team.”

David started his career as the Course-Based Coordinator with R&I, before moving to Brock University in 2016 to take on roles centred on experiential learning opportunities, including Experiential Education Coordinator, and most recently Senior Experiential Education Coordinator with the Goodman School of Business. In his time at NC, he has also taught part-time in a capstone course with the (former) Canadian Food & Wine Institute, and worked as acting co-op employer relations consultant for technology programs for one term.

David graduated from the Business Administration – Marketing Co-op program at NC, and has completed a Social Media Marketing post-graduate certificate from George Brown College. He is currently working on his BA in Business Communications at Brock University.

He serves on the Wavemakers Advisory Board and currently sits on the Grant Review Committee of the Niagara Community Foundation.

For more information on David’s portfolio, to reach out regarding industry partner involvement or potential course-based research project support, contact him by email at [email protected], or by phone at 905-735-2211, ext. 7056.