NC research lab tech talks engineering, art and adrenaline

Creativity is often thought of as the cornerstone of engineering.

For artist and mechanical engineering technologist Brock Husak, he is proving engineers are indeed fundamentally creators – both requiring imagination and smarts to develop novel solutions to problems. 

During the course of many research projects, this research laboratory technologist at the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC) generates conceptual freehand designs before moving onto a digital CAD drawing format.

“It can be a blessing, but I also have to catch myself trying to get creative with something that does not need to be overly complicated,” he says with a laugh.

In addition to his busy full-time position at Niagara College, Husak burns the midnight oil designing and painting helmets for athletes, from professional motocross racers to Olympic cyclists, using his drawing and airbrush talents.

“This is a way for me to satisfy my burning desire to be creative and make art while also generating some extra money from it.”

Graduating from NC’s Mechanical Engineering Technology program in April 2019, Husak has been with the Research & Innovation division since January 2017, first during his co-op as a research assistant and then as a research associate until this past September, when he assumed his new interim role of research laboratory technologist.

Husak has amassed a wealth of experience in all areas at the research labs at WAMIC, including reverse engineering in conjunction with 3D CAD modelling/printing and rapid prototyping, metrology and machine design, to name just a few.

All this has laid a solid foundation for his current position, where he is responsible for coordinating the technical services and applied research activities and managing the various advanced manufacturing technologies and equipment in the research labs. He also provides mentorship training to the co-op students and graduate research associates.

Husak says he most appreciates the diversity of projects and tasks he’s afforded. “Every day really is a new day here. You’re always doing something new, which is so important to me.”

“When I’m grooving, and in the zone, it’s a feeling like no other – a sense of satisfaction and happiness all at once.”

Likewise, on his list of advantages, he would tell prospective co-op students interested in working at WAMIC, is having the opportunity to learn new skills.

“Sometimes, you’ll be tasked with something you’ve had no experience with, and you’ll slowly understand and work through the challenges,” he explains. “This makes for a smarter you and allows you to build your resume for future endeavours.”

He recalls a successful project he worked on during his senior co-op term for medical technology industry partner Studio 1 Labs. The company invented an intelligent medical bed sheet with fabric sensing and non-invasive technology that wirelessly monitors vital signs for hospital patients and can predict the onset of health decline and emergencies.

R&I’s digital media team helped with the interface software, and Husak developed an electrical component enclosure designed for injection molding – a creative undertaking.

“The project literally went perfect,” he recalls. “I learned some valuable lessons along the way. The client was very happy; our team at WAMIC was happy. So it was a huge success.”

More recently, the Niagara Falls native also played a large role in producing many thousands of face shields at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic when PPE was scarce. During the closure of both NC campuses, Husak was one of only a few graduate students in the WAMIC lab assembling the PPE for local health-care workers.

A total of 17,300 face shields were donated to the local Niagara Health System and another 20,000 units going to other essential workers and community members throughout the province.

“It felt rewarding knowing I was helping the community and the brave front-line workers.”

During these challenging times Husak has used his love of art to provide his own sense of inspiration.

“When I’m grooving, and in the zone, it’s a feeling like no other – a sense of satisfaction and happiness all at once.”

Husak draws, paints and does the occasional mural, but most of his time is dedicated to helmet work for his business, Twisted Design. He has had his own art exhibition and even won ‘creator of the year’ at the 2018 Niagara Social Awards, which recognizes the Niagara region’s writers, entrepreneurs and creators.

While he “lives for creativity,” Husak says his need for adrenaline is just as important.

He feeds this passion with motocross, where he races throughout Canada and the United States. It’s a sport he took up as a youngster and has acquired the trophies and more than a few broken bones along the way.

He also satisfies his craving for adrenaline – and exercise – through rock climbing, a discipline that he devotes time to, as many as three times a week.