The Daily Gleaner – UNB looks to attract best and brightest across the globe

The University of New Brunswick is one of 32 Canadian institutions that have become benefactors of some of the top young minds in the world.

UNB hopped on the two-way knowledge exchange in May as it welcomed four students from India, Mexico and Brazil to its Fredericton and Saint John campuses for a 12-week program that allows researchers to work hand-in-hand with undergraduate students in the field of technology and engineering.

Mitacs Globalink was created in 2009 in an effort to build connections between Canadian researchers and top students from four countries – the fourth being China – and to raise Canada’s profile as a desired spot for research and innovation.

“These are some of the biggest and brightest students in the world,” said Lorena Christensen. “They have the choice to go to the top universities in the U.K. or U.S. but we want them to at least consider a Canadian institution.”

Canada ranks sixth in international student recruitment and more than $7.7 billion in economic activity is generated annually by international students, according to Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada.

The program grew from humble beginnings five years ago, starting with 17 students, but has posted 285 students at 32 Canadian universities this year.

One of those students is Shikhar Gupta, a third-year civil engineering student at the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur. He left India for the first time and travelled to Fredericton this spring to help Emmanuel Stefanakis, an assistant professor in UNB’s geodesy and geomatics department.

Their summer goal is to create a digital map of the world without its inherent distortion.

“The maps that we see, we see them on a plain surface,” said Gupta. “The plain map will be distorted. It won’t exactly show how the things are there on the Earth because you can’t open a spherical surface onto a plain without distortions.”

Gupta said that distortions affect shape, direction and length, and typically the effect is greater in areas closer to the Earth’s poles and less so near the equator. For instance, Greenland is often depicted as roughly the size of Africa on world maps, but in reality Africa is about 15 times larger than Greenland.

Stefanakis said the distortions vary from map to map, depending on the map’s purpose. The distortions near the poles were initially drawn as a navigational tool used in the 1500s, he said.

Gupta, through a process of calculations and web coding, is constructing an interactive map to be used on top of current web maps allowing the user to access specific areas and produce a proper projection.

“Suppose someone wants to navigate, he can get rid of the distortions in direction because shape won’t matter to him, but for navigation purposes direction is a must,” Gupta said.

Stefanakis said the map will be a handy teaching tool.

“When we are discussing map projections (in class), we can show this tool and the students can play with the tool and get acquainted with where the distortions are located,” Stefanakis said, noting the improvement from a textbook.

“People will understand it better in a visual form,” Gupta added.

Gupta jumped at the opportunity to research in the field of geomatics after Stefanakis’ request was accepted by Globalink. They said the competitive program received more than 700 project requests and more than 4,000 students applied.

“It’s a good platform for us to get international exposure and experience the world, “ said Gupta, who said he enjoyed his first month in Fredericton.

Gupta’s desire to research geomatics wasn’t met at his university in India. He said that geomatic department falls under the civil engineering faculty and is made up of just two professors, and he was attracted to the size and scope of UNB’s geodesy and geomatics department.

For Stefanakis, the program offers a chance to work with a student with a different perspective and the opportunity to reel in master’s or doctorate students.

Christensen said Mitacs is set to expand in the coming years, adding Turkey and Vietnam to its list of countries in 2014. She said they are also talking with France and Saudi Arabia.

Mitacs, a non-profit organization funded by the federal government, universities and foreign funding groups, has opened up the call for projects on its website.

Mon June 10 2013

Byline: Colin McPhail