Category Archives: Research & Innovation

Welcome to the modern greenhouse

Greenhouse Technology Network - Modern Greenhouse Technology

Photos courtesy of Niagara College and Vineland Research and Innovation Centre.

By Rita Sterne, PhD, project manager
Greenhouse Technology Network

Did you know that modern greenhouses are largely automated and highly controlled environments to produce safe and fresh food and flowers? We are lucky here in Niagara to live close to one of the most vibrant and productive clusters of greenhouses in North America.

Led by Niagara College, the Greenhouse Technology Network (GTN), is a consortium of research centres helping greenhouse growers and related technology businesses solve technology-related challenges – with funding available to support applied research projects. Technologies are tools, equipment, or machines – in addition to methods, systems, or techniques for helping plants grow better, keeping costs down, and maximizing efficiencies that increase sustainability.

The modern greenhouse uses technologies across many activities, for example, plant propagation, growing, harvesting, and packaging processes. Vertical farms, often located in urban centres or remote locations, have capitalized on these technologies to bring food production closer to consumers.

Here are a few interesting examples of greenhouse-related technologies that help put safe, fresh food on our table, and beautiful plants in our homes and gardens:

  • • Automated heating and cooling systems that support optimal growing conditions for each plant crop
  • • Systems that regulate water and nutrient recipes specifically for different plant crops
  • • Networks of sensors in the greenhouse that feed information to growers and help them monitor growing conditions across—and to the top of—the largest greenhouses
  • • Computer software and apps that help growers stay in touch with conditions inside the greenhouse 24/7/365
  • • Artificial intelligence embedded in many technologies can improve sustainability and further lower a grower’s carbon footprint
  • • Drone technology now allows smart, airborne robots to play a role in a grower’s pest management strategy, for example, drones that can distinguish a moth from a bee — and take action
  •  

The Greenhouse Technology Network (GTN), is a Niagara College-led consortium of three institutions, through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario): NC’s Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre (AETIC), the University of Guelph’s Controlled Environment Systems Research Facility (CESRF) and Vineland Research and Innovation Centre.

To learn more about the GTN or apply for project funding, visit the website: greenhousetechnetwork.ca

Programmer welcomes real-world experiences

His is an example of how a great teacher can make a big difference in the trajectory of one’s life. For Brian Culp, his Grade 11 teacher anchored an enthusiasm for computer programming – a profession he decided to pursue.

“Mr. Digaetano at Stamford Collegiate really mentored me at that time, noticing I had the interest and skill, helped me advance my knowledge above and beyond the class requirements,” explains Culp. “I ended up spending all of my free time during the last two years of high school in his computer lab, learning all that I could.”

This past spring, Culp graduated from Niagara College’s Computer Programmer Analyst (Co-op) program and is currently employed as a computer programmer research associate with the Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre (AETIC), in the Research & Innovation Division. This after spending his co-op as a research assistant with AETIC in 2019/20.

“You are immersed in a real-world work environment, getting a true feel as to what life as a programmer is like. An added benefit was that I was able to say that I had a full year of real work experience by the time I even graduated from my course.”

At AETIC, Culp manages a small team of programming students in solving complex problems for industry partners. On his end, his work has focused on one industry partner, SoilOptix, where he has helped maintain and improve upon the analytics of the company’s advanced website portal.

The portal is used to perform advanced calculations on imported raw soil samples for SoilOptix clients, which helps growers understand their field and where there may be deficiencies, for example. It’s an incredibly challenging project that makes his classwork seem effortless, says Culp.

“Some may consider putting students onto a project this difficult as throwing them to the fire, but I found it allowed me to thrive, and have noticed this in many other students as well,” says Culp, adding he also needed to learn a new programming language, which has now given him a leg up for his career.

He also had the advantage of working with vast amounts of data – something not offered in the classroom.

“In class, we would work with a few gigabytes of data, whereas the SoilOptix project has multiple terabytes of data and is always growing.”

Throughout his time with the Research & Innovation division, Culp says he has improved his communication skills, which ultimately translates to about any field within programming.

“You are immersed in a real-world work environment, getting a true feel as to what life as a programmer is like,” he adds. “An added benefit was that I was able to say that I had a full year of real work experience by the time I even graduated from my course.”

Brian Culp, computer programming research associate at AETIC, personalizes his workspace with a collection of wrestling action figures he has collected since childhood.

The attributes about computer programming that have kept him hooked since high school include the mental challenges and abundant options for creativeness.

“The most interesting aspect of programming is the ability to create and manipulate something from scratch with minimal limitations,” he explains. “I like to have a problem in which I must create a solution. I find this differs from other jobs because computer programming doesn’t have the same limitations since we are in the virtual computer environment. With programming, the possibilities are endless; new tools are created every day.”

When he’s not at work or in front of a computer screen, Culp has a keen interest in weightlifting and an affinity for wrestling action figures – as demonstrated by the close to 100 figurines that stand guard as the backdrop to his computer workstation.

“The action figures are mine, in an effort to make my workspace feel more my own… I may have gone slightly overboard,” he says with a laugh. “Most of these are wrestling figures since I loved playing with these as a kid and still enjoy watching wrestling.”

Culp lives in Niagara Falls with his wife Samantha and their two young children, Nicholas and Hunter.

“They are what drives me to be my best.”

NOW HIRING: Research Assistant position available with our Canadian Food & Wine Institute Innovation Centre team

Research Assistant, Canadian Food & Wine Institute Innovation Centre

The Research Assistant will be enrolled in the Culinary Innovation and Food Technology or related food and beverage program. The successful candidate will work on a variety of projects and skill-building tasks. This includes assisting across various projects focusing on, but not limited to: new product development, product optimization and scale-up for production, shelf-life and packaging studies, and food safety and traceability. In addition, the successful candidate will have the opportunity to work on various other food and beverage related tasks, participate in networking/conference events and communications/outreach projects.

See the full CFWI IC Research Assistant job posting. The deadline to apply is Monday, September 27th, 2021 at 12pm.

To apply, please email your resume, cover letter, program of study, year or term in which you are currently enrolled, and school schedule (if available) to [email protected] and reference job posting ‘CFWI IC Research Assistant‘ in the subject line.

 

We thank all applicants; however, only those qualifying for an interview will be contacted.

Students and business reap benefits of RBC program

Business and Commercialization Solutions teams

Just as businesses impacted by the global pandemic need to navigate a new economy and reimagine their offerings creatively, graduates entering this new workforce need to be prepared for this ever-changing landscape.

A Canadian-wide initiative called the RBC Future Launch program aims to provide opportunities to help students gain practical, real-world experience to help prepare them for this shifting environment.

RBC Foundation announced a $150,000 corporate gift (over three years) in December 2019 to Niagara College’s School of Business and Management to support NC’s Productivity Innovation Lab (PiLab). The gift was funded through RBC’s Future Launch, a 10-year $500-million commitment to help Canadian youth prepare for the jobs of tomorrow.

And, through Research & Innovation’s Business & Commercialization Solutions (BCS) centre at Niagara College, both the students and small- and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) are reaping the benefits of this program. In collaboration with the BCS, the RBC Future Launch program helps connect students with SMEs who require support for market research, go-to-market strategies and to steer or creatively pivot their business model.

Student researchers, paid through the program for a qualifying project, receive invaluable real-world experience to help prepare them for the workforce, while the business gains instrumental market research and strategies to help them evolve.

“Canada has a collective responsibility to help prepare young people for the opportunities of the future,” says Steve Nixon, regional vice-president, Niagara Market, RBC. “Through RBC’s partnership with Niagara College we’re enabling students to gain real world experience in solving social and business problems that will ensure they are career-ready and feeling prepared for their future.”

If you are a registered small- or medium-sized business with a proof of concept or have existing products/services and need assistance in exploring new revenue streams or business direction, you may be eligible to receive business research support within the RBC Future Launch project.

For information on the RBC Future Launch project visit their website here.

To discover if your business could be a candidate to receive assistance by the research students at Business & Commercialization Solutions through the RBC Future Launch program, contact project manager Paula Reile at [email protected]

To learn more about the capabilities offered by the Business & Commercialization Solutions team or discover how initial feasibility research is helpful prior to engaging with Research & Innovation for applied research projects, visit the website.

A rapid pandemic response to keep communities safe

The onset of the global health crisis in the spring of 2020 — with ongoing shortages in critical medical and protective equipment — has underscored the need for innovative solutions.  

Soon after the COVID-19 pandemic swept the world, Niagara’s local health system faced a startling shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) and reached out to Niagara College’s Research & Innovation division for a rapid response for the essential health equipment. 

Researchers at the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC) promptly engineered a face shield prototype using computer-aided design and received certification by Health Canada for a Medical Device Establishment Licence (MDEL Class1).  

The team at WAMIC, and with help from R&I’s administrative staff, spent long hours assembling hundreds of face shields each day, and delivering them to frontline workers at Niagara Health. 

In all, the team produced 37,300 face shields for essential healthcare staff locally and other community members throughout the province. 

“The Research & Innovation division at Niagara College provided invaluable services at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic when PPE inventories were running low, and the supply chains were disrupted,” said Amir Gill, director of Capital Planning, Engineering Services, and Biomedical Engineering for Niagara Health. “I would term their efforts heroic, and they definitely helped Niagara Health keep our patients, staff, and visitors safe.”

The face shield project was funded by the Niagara College-led Southern Ontario Network for Advanced Manufacturing Innovation (SONAMI)  through Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) contributions. In fact, all seven of SONAMI’s academic partners took action to combat the health crisis, working on dozens of COVID-19-related research projects, including PPE, manufacturing of a medical device prototype, a ventilator prototype, a portable air filtration system and exciting research in the treatment for SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19. 

 

At the forefront of innovative technologies 

The global pandemic has highlighted the need for rapid, inclusive response to public health emergencies. As a result, following the initial PPE project, the WAMIC team went on to partner with industry partners to help in the fight against the coronavirus. 

During a collaboration with McMaster University, researchers at WAMIC reverse-engineered and created a parametric CAD model of a video laryngoscope sheath to prepare for potential supply-chain interruptions at Hamilton Health Sciences. Laryngoscopes are needed for the intubation procedure for patients requiring assisted ventilation.  

“We can see how we’ve all joined forces to tackle the challenges of the day,” said Marc Nantel, PhD, vice president, Research & External Relations at Niagara College. Innovative technologies to address the coronavirus arrived in record time, and more locally, we’ve seen our community, stakeholders and industry partners, come together to help each other.”  

One industry partner in particular engaged with the Research & Innovation division during in order to advance its technology of utilizing ultra-violet (UV)-C radiation as industrial disinfection to help kill viruses like SARS-Cov-2. Brilliant Photonics sought the expert help from WAMIC engineers to help reduce manufacturing costs and complexity. 

The College was also awarded a grant of close to $50,000 for the purchase of a biomedically compatible 3D printer for the WAMIC labs in the R&I division to continue COVID-19-related research. 

Previously, WAMIC’s lab capability in this area has been limited to Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) 3D printers, which are not intended for biomedical material. With this specific equipment, research and development projects pertaining to the coronavirus could proceed with the necessary biocompatible and liquid-tight parameters. 

“The research infrastructure funded by CFI will expand Niagara College’s capacity to serve a wider array of people in need of specialized protection, testing and life-saving medical assistance,” said Nantel at the time.  

Research & Innovation’s activities are in addition to a college-wide effort. In early April, NC donated 30,000 personal protective items, collected from a number of different program areas, to the Niagara Health Foundation. 

As well, the NC Teaching Distillery – with help from NC’s Teaching Winery and Teaching Brewery –utilized its stills to produce 1,700 bottles of hand sanitizer (instead of spirits) to help frontline workers and for distribution to local and province-wide charitable organizations.

NOW HIRING: Graphic Design Research Assistant position available with Research & Innovation team

Graphic Design Research Assistant

The Graphic Design Research Assistant will work remotely and meet regularly with the Research Project manager and other members of the research team through virtual software programs. This project will seek to address and improve health care access and implementation by health care professionals at homeless shelters for individuals facing diabetic foot problems.

We are looking for a motivated Graphic Design Research Assistant who is interested in supporting the development of a shoe sizing tool that will be utilized by various partners involved in this project and can be potentially expanded for use across the community and other health care disciplines.

See the full posting for Graphic Design Research Assistant.

To apply, send your cover letters and resume to Niagara College Research & Innovation, [email protected], and reference ‘Graphic Design Research Assistant’ in the subject line. Please also include a portfolio of graphic or media designs (2-3) to your application for further consideration.

The deadline to apply is Monday, September 20th at 12pm.

 

We thank all applicants; however, only those qualifying for an interview will be contacted.