Castanet: $6M boost for tech

The provincial government is investing $6 million into emerging tech research.

The announcement was made in Kelowna, at UBC Okanagan’s engineering building, where a project between students and industry partner Helios Global Technologies is underway.

The partnership is researching energy-absorbing materials in helmets with the aim of reducing concussion severity from sports impacts.

Advanced Education Minister Andrew Wilkinson said the money will be used to support graduate students and post-doctoral fellows via the not-for-profit organization Mitacs.

The funding will give students the opportunity to do research on real-world projects in a range of sectors, including technology, health, business and engineering.

“This is a substantial enhancement of the Mitacs program. We’ve been at it for 16 years, and it’s proven to be effective,” said Wilkinson. “So, we’ve decided this is a great place to invest because it makes the most of our talent and opportunities, right here in B.C.”

If successful, the helmet research could result in development of a prototype helmet with the capacity to reduce the incidence of concussions.

UBCO student Jonathan Smirl will receive funding for his training as a post-doctoral fellow.

“The concussion epidemic that is out there, the numbers are about 144,000 sport-related concussions in Canada each year. So, if we can find some technologies and find some ways to mitigate even a thousand of those … that would be awesome,” said Smirl.

Helios CEO Martin Cronin said the program has enabled the company “to access world-leading expertise in the academic community to speed our development path.”

During the past two years, UBCO has studied 142 athletes from the Okanagan Sun, Vernon Vipers and West Kelowna Warriors through the Mitacs Accelerate program.

“We have had 14 unfortunate concussions, but we have been able to track the data to see what is happening with them,” said Smirl.

Since 2004, the province has provided $29 million to Mitacs, and the organization has supported more than 2,800 research internships, trained more than 7,000 students, and supported more than 470 international research collaborations in B.C.