Category Archives: Research & Innovation

WAMIC leaders earn provincial award

Minister’s Award of Excellence winners from Niagara College include the PPE team from the College’s Research & Innovation division led by Research Program Manager Amal Driouich (top left), WAMIC Centre Manager Gordon Maretzki (bottom middle) and College Brewmaster Jon Downing (right).

When it comes to Ontario spirit and leadership, Niagara College’s Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC) shines in the spotlight.

Niagara College staff members have won two Awards of Excellence from the Minister of Colleges and Universities, including a team from the College’s Research & Innovation division, who was presented with an award in the Everyday Heroes category, for making a difference during the pandemic.

“Faculty, staff and graduate students across Ontario’s postsecondary sector rose to the challenge of helping students during these truly unprecedented times,” said Minister of Colleges and Universities Jill Dunlop. “The real winners are Ontario’s students and communities who truly benefit from the incredible work being done at our institutions across the province.”

Niagara College’s two awards were among 30 selected for the second annual Minister’s Awards of Excellence, out of approximately 675 nominations received.

Everyday Heroes: Amal Driouich and Gordon Maretzki
(Research & Innovation PPE Team)

During the onset of the pandemic, when frontline workers were facing a critical shortage and an urgent need for PPE, a team of staff, co-op students and alumni volunteers from the College’s Research & Innovation division responded with their own made-in-Niagara solution. They began to design and produce face shields at the College’s Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC), located at NC’s Welland Campus.

From March to September 2020, the PPE team – led by WAMIC Centre Manager Gordon Maretzki and Research Program Manager Amal Driouich – produced 36,500 COVID-19 face shields. More than 17,000 were donated to Niagara area hospitals and emergency responders during the first six months of the pandemic alone.

“At the time, the PPE supply chain was greatly disrupted, so even the relatively simple project of designing, licensing and manufacturing basic face shields made a difference to front-line workers and their patients,” said Marc Nantel, NC’s Vice President, Research and External Relations, who nominated the PPE team for the award.

“We have resources – expertise, equipment, funding – so it was incumbent on us to chip in any way we could. The community needed us to step up, and we’re glad to have been able to do so.”

Almost 10,000 face shields were also donated to long-term care homes in the Niagara region.

“We have resources – expertise, equipment, funding – so it was incumbent on us to chip in any way we could.”
– Marc Nantel, PhD, vice-president, Research & External Relations

The initiative was supported by Niagara College-led Southern Ontario Network for Advanced Manufacturing Innovation (SONAMI) through FedDev Ontario contributions.

The WAMIC team received approval for a Medical Device Establishment Licence (MDEL Class 1) to produce Health Canada-classified face shields. In addition to responding to local healthcare organizations, about 20,000 units assembled at the WAMIC were donated outside of the Niagara region.

Maretzki worked with Niagara Health System to develop a face shield that was quick and inexpensive to manufacture, and sourced raw materials from suppliers. Shields were fabricated in the College labs and lenses were laser cut. As they scaled up production, he worked with a supplier to develop die cut tooling that accelerated the cutting of the lenses, allowing the team to make more than 350 shields per day at peak production.

“We are grateful that the talents and resources of the R&I team could be quickly leveraged to mitigate the supply chain crisis of PPE and help those at the frontlines do their work safely,” said Maretzki, who was delighted and surprised to receive the Award of Excellence. “Responding to the pandemic and the needs of the community was simply a natural response by our team in the battle against COVID-19.”

The daily production of face shields was managed by Driouich, who was also responsible for licensing and regulatory compliance to ensure they were manufactured and distributed per applicable codes and standards.

“I am immensely thankful and truly honoured to receive the Minister’s Award of Excellence,” said Driouich. “It is a great pleasure to see the team’s effort being recognized by the Ministry of Colleges and Universities – that memorable team of co-op students, grad students and staff from Niagara College’s Research & Innovation Division who stepped up and worked tirelessly to support Ontario’s front-line workers in their fight against COVID-19 when access to PPE was challenging and almost impossible.”

The PPE team included Research Associates Brock Husak, Tyler Winger, Rafael Almeida and Brian Klassen (NC alumni); Research Assistants Liliana McIntosh, Scott Leuty and Dat Do (NC students), and staff volunteers Elizabeth Best, Rachel Brown, Janice Rowe and Andrea Campbell.

The NC team’s Award of Excellence in the Everyday Heroes category was among eight presented to recipients from postsecondary institutions across Ontario.

Innovation and Entrepreneurship:
Jon Downing (Brewmaster)

It’s been almost 12 years since Niagara College launched its trailblazing Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Management program, which made history as the first in Canada. The program responded to an identified need for education and higher quality product in Ontario’s brewing industry, and the impact it has had on the growing industry for more than the past decade has been unrivalled.

College Brewmaster Jon Downing has been a part of it from the very beginning. In recognition of his key role in developing the program, and its major impact on helping to grow the industry, he was presented with a Minister’s Award in Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

“Our brewing program at Niagara College has been instrumental in supporting the incredible growth of craft brewing in Ontario. Our Brewmaster Jon Downing has been at the lead of our NC Teaching Brewery since its inception over a decade ago and we are proud of his mentorship and support for the future brewers of Canada,” said Craig Youdale, Dean of NC’s Canadian Food and Wine Institute who nominated Downing for the award.

“Our entire division is proud to have Jon on our team and we look forward to his direction to many more future brewers to come.”

Under Downing’s leadership, NC Brewmaster students have been gaining extensive hands-on training preparing them for employment in the expanding brewery, microbrewery and brewpub industries since 2010. The College’s Teaching Brewery has won numerous provincial, national and international awards for its student-crafted brews.

Receiving a provincial award for his efforts was “totally unexpected” for Downing.

“I am honoured and deeply humbled that people think this much about what we have done to put me forward for the award, let alone to be chosen as the recipient,” he said.

For Downing, being selected for the award validates the faith that College leaders had in him when he first met with them almost 15 years ago about launching the program.

“Their support and that of many others at the College, and in industry, is what has led to our success,” he said.

Downing’s Award of Excellence in Innovation and Entrepreneurship was among seven presented to faculty and staff from postsecondary institutions across Ontario.

Adapted with permission from InsideNC article

NOW HIRING: Software Programmer Research Assistant with our WAMIC team

Software Programmer Research Assistant, Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre

The successful candidate will be a current student of Niagara College Computer Programmer (Co-op) or Computer Programmer – Analyst programs and will work with the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre team (Welland Campus). Working closely with the WAMIC team to develop or upgrade projects, work will include: programming, testing and troubleshooting of software applications and solutions as required by the industry partner.

Click HERE for the full job posting. The deadline to apply is Wednesday, March 16th at 12pm.

To apply: please email your resume, cover letter and transcript to [email protected] and reference job posting ‘Software Programmer Research Assistant Co-op‘.


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

NOW HIRING: Mechanical Engineering Research Assistant (Sr. Co-op) position available with our WAMIC team

Mechanical Engineering Research Assistant (Co-op)

The Mechanical Engineering Research Assistant will have a comprehensive skill set to work with the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre team, Faculty Leads and Industry Partners on a variety of time-sensitive projects. The successful candidate may work on research projects or technical services in Additive manufacturing, Product Design & Development, Product Testing, Reality/Spatial Capture, Reverse Engineering and Lean Manufacturing Assessment. Hours completed during this work term may be used toward your co-operative placement hours.

Click HERE to see the full job posting. To apply, please email your resume, cover letter, transcript and school schedule to [email protected] and reference ‘Mechanical Engineering Research Assistant SR Co-op’ in the subject line.

The deadline to apply is Friday, February 25th at 4pm.

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

POSITION AVAILABLE: Electronics Engineering Research Assistant position available with our Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre team

Electronics Engineering Research Assistant, Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre

The Electronics Engineering Technology Research Assistant will have a comprehensive skill set to work with Research Leads, Research Project Manager, and Industry Partners in the development of electronic systems. The Research Assistant will report to the Research Project Manager. Some duties will include assisting in the design, building and testing of electronics systems, troubleshooting and improving the developed circuits and systems and implementing robotic-based platforms (i.e. Arduino and Raspberry Pi) and related software.

Click HERE for the full job posting. The deadline to apply is Wednesday, March 16th at 12pm.

To apply, please email your resume, cover letter, class schedule and transcript to [email protected] and reference posting ‘Electronics Research Assistant’ in the subject line.

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

Boosting efficiency in plant growth through hydroponic media substitute

Niagara College’s applied research breadth and depth in agricultural technology innovation has grown one research project into the potential for a long-standing global partnership, thanks to early results from the Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre (AETIC).

International Zeolite Corporation (IZC), an international marketer and supplier of natural zeolite and zeolite-infused products, has been working with AETIC over the past year on growth trials related to an innovative substrate to efficiently supply nutrients for plant growth.

Through a recently formed economic association with the University of Havana, Cuba, IZC has acquired permission to test a zeolite-based substrate, embedded with nutrients, developed at the University of Havana called NEREA®, with the goal of assessing potential market adoption by and corresponding benefit to the greenhouse sector of agriculture in Canada and the United States.

Early research in some crops has shown environmental impact benefits by using fewer nutrient inputs during growth cycles, with a product that can be reused during that cycle, resulting in fast germination with good-sized crops. IZC came to Niagara College to conduct further growth trials to determine the efficacy of the product on certain crops, including Lactuca sativa, otherwise known as ‘Buttercrunch’ lettuce. The AETIC research team included research lead and faculty member Derek Schulz; researcher Christine George; technologist Branka Milunovic; and student research assistants.

“The level of collaboration between the research team and our company was outstanding,” notes Mark Pearlman, IZC president and COO. “It felt like we were all working towards identifying breakthrough opportunities to improve agriculture.”

So, what is NEREA® and how did it perform for the NC team? The NEREA® technology is based on charging zeolite, which can be periodically recharged with nutrients to promote and sustain plant growth for an entire growing season. It differs from conventional greenhouse hydroponic systems in that the plants access the nutrients as they are required and receive only water, rather than constantly supplying nutrients to the plants in solution. Conventional media for growing crops hydroponically in a greenhouse are rockwool, coir, or peat-based, all of which are single use, and the environmental impact of single use media is significant.

On the other hand, zeolite-based NEREA® has the potential to be reused and to enhance plant growth, due to a consistent nutrient supply, as a result of what is known as cation exchange capacity (CEC)-based pre-charge.

“The level of collaboration between the research team and our company was outstanding. It felt like we were all working towards identifying breakthrough opportunities to improve agriculture.”
~ Mark Pearlman, IZC president and COO

To provide evidence-based research for further development and marketing, the team at AETIC performed a small-scale trial on the lettuce, in the NC greenhouse hydroponic system, using NEREA® as substrate embedded with nutrients. NEREA® acted as a hydroponic substrate substitution for rockwool media. Crop performance was measured from germination to harvest in the trial comparing NEREA® and a rockwool substrate.

Results showed that the NEREA® substrate demonstrated faster and more abundant germination, suggesting the potential for shortened crop time, allowing more crops grown per year. NEREA® provided nutrients for leaf and root growth with no observable deficiencies from the control, indicating that NEREA® can provide all necessary nutrients for growth of the lettuce over 28 days. Further, lettuce grown in NEREA® was larger with more leaves than the rockwool substrate.

“The complimentary depth of knowledge found within the NC research team provided us with significant value outside of the intended project outcomes,” says Pearlman. “International Zeolite is using this information in its formulation of a go-to market strategy. The team not only understands the technical aspects of agriculture, but also the behaviour of growers in terms of adoption of breakthrough technologies.”

As noted, the partnership with Niagara College and the AETIC team will continue, as other crops are tested (for example, using a solid substrate containing NEREA®), and discussions on market strategy and potential partnerships with the business research team unfold.

“We would like to see Niagara college take a leadership role in the development from both a technical standpoint and the overall go-to market strategy,” notes Pearlman.

This project was made possible through funding from the Niagara College-led Greenhouse Technology Network (GTN), through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario).

For more information on IZC, visit their website.

For more information on GTN, its partners and projects, visit its website.

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, visit Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Centre.

Niagara College earns top-3 place among research colleges in Canada

Canada's Top 50 Research Colleges 2021 - Infosource Inc.

For the seventh year in a row, Niagara College has earned the honour of being in the top 10 colleges in the country for research funding, according to a special report released today.   

What’s more, based on the annual ranking released by Research Infosource, Niagara College landed in the top 3 for the 2020 study year, based on total research funding. The national study, entitled “Canada’s Top 50 Research Colleges,” shows a steady placement of seven years in a row in the top 10, including NC earning the No. 1 spot for the 2018 research funding year.

“We are delighted to see this continued recognition as one of Canada’s top colleges in research funding. Research and innovation continues as a key priority for NC, as we deliver value to our community, to industry, to students and our faculty,” notes Niagara College president Sean Kennedy. “Our funders see this dedication to innovation at work year after year – and throughout the pandemic – and so they continue to invest in us.”

Looking at colleges with applied research funding in Canada, NC earned the No. 3 spot by having attracted $13.9 million in funding to conduct innovative projects involving industry partners in the food and beverage, advanced manufacturing, precision agriculture, and related environmental technologies sectors. 

Of all the medium-sized colleges across the country, NC also earned the No. 1 spot in industry research income, as well as No. 1 in industry research income as a percentage of the total research income, at 70.3 percent, or $9.79 million.

“Our funders see this dedication to innovation at work year after year – and throughout the pandemic – and so they continue to invest in us.”
– Sean Kennedy, president, Niagara College

For the number of interactions with industry – small- and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) who turn to colleges for expertise and resources to innovate – NC’s total research partnerships was 188, making it No. 3 for medium-sized colleges in Canada. And by completing 278 projects during the study year, NC is No. 2 in that category.  

Further, even with the challenges of the remote work and learning during the pandemic, the College managed to earn a No. 5 spot in paid student researchers, with a total of 90 on the payroll.

Marc Nantel, PhD, vice-president, Research & External Relations, noted that NC’s long-standing place in the top 10 research colleges for the country is an ongoing source of pride for the Research & Innovation division. “Our strong industry-education connections help support the applied research needs of industry and, at the same time, link our students and the expertise of our faculty to local business,” says Nantel. “In the past decade, we have significantly increased our specialized equipment and leading-edge lab spaces to attract new partnerships and funding, and it’s paying off for SMEs in our region and beyond.”

Research funding allows the College to partner with SMEs in the region to conduct projects and undertake services, which provide innovative solutions for industry. These include producing and testing prototypes, evaluating new technologies, and developing new or improved products and processes. NC Research & Innovation conducts applied research, technical services and business and commercialization solutions with industry partners through its Agriculture & Environment Innovation Centre, Business & Commercialization Solutions Centre, Canadian Food & Wine Institute Innovation Centre, and Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre. 

Niagara College also administers the funding for two multi-institutional research networks, including the award-winning Southern Ontario Network for Advanced Manufacturing Innovation (SONAMI), and the Greenhouse Technology Network (GTN). 

The College’s innovative solutions have helped one company commercialize Canada’s first non-alcoholic gin product following a product development research project with NC’s Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre and industry partner DistillX Beverages Inc. Now sold in 20 stores, as well as online, Sobrii Ø-Gin (zero gin) has since received praise in national print, TV and radio media. In fact, the company found itself in the national spotlight when it secured a deal to take the product to the next level with a successful pitch on CBC’s Dragons’ Den. What’s more, DistillX is now a repeat industry partner, having also worked with the CFWI Innovation Centre team on a non-alcoholic tequila.

“Expertise from Niagara College’s Research & Innovation division was instrumental to being able to sell a product that was not only superior tasting, but something I can commercially scale and replicate safely,” said DistillX president Bob Huitema. “I think it’s important to support local academic and manufacturing resources as this is a ‘made-in-Canada’ initiative.” 

Research Infosource annually compiles listings of the Top 50 research universities, corporate R&D spenders, and research hospitals. This is the eighth year a list has been released for the Top 50 research colleges in Canada. For more information on the Top 50 list, visit 

NC’s award-winning Research & Innovation division administers research funding support from various regional, provincial and federal agencies. Students and graduates are hired to work alongside faculty researchers and assist industry partners with leaping forward in the marketplace. Students come from a variety of the College’s programs, such as Mechanical Engineering Technology, Culinary Innovation and Food Technology, Business Administration – Marketing, and Computer Programmer. Learn more at