The Star Phoenix: Top global scholars lured to U of S

Chau Nguyen thinks of the people in remote Vietnamese villages who must travel half a day by bike, train or bus to get to a doctor because their local clinics don’t even have a nurse.

She hopes the work she does this summer, helping University of Saskatchewan researcher Anh Dinh develop a blood pressure monitor that can be read by doctors in distant cities, will offer an affordable and simple method to bring health care to those people.

At 22, Nguyen has just completed her Bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering at the International University at Vietnam National University, where she is at the top of her class.

Her high academic performance has placed her among the elite group of students being wooed by Canadian universities in a program that aims to introduce future world leaders in their fields to institutions that might not have caught their notice.

“Despite the fact that our universities are really world class, we don’t tend to attract the top tier of international university graduate students … Canadian universities weren’t on the radar for students in countries like India or China or Brazil … Canada just didn’t register,” said Rob Annan, interim CEO of Mitacs Globalink, a federally sponsored program that offers plum research assignments and bursaries to those students.

The program will match whatever funds the provinces put up. This year, Saskatchewan contributed $140,000 and has 10 academic superstars participating in 12-week internships.

Canada-wide, 37 universities are hosting 473 students from countries such as Vietnam, India, Brazil, Mexico, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Once students experience Canadian culture and universities, at least some of them are likely to choose to do graduate studies here and they’ll tell their friends and fellow students, thus raising Canada’s profile abroad, Annan said.

Nguyen said she intends to do her graduate research at the U of S.

The opportunity to work with Dinh was her favourite of seven options across Canada this year.

“This is the most important project” she was offered, Nguyen said.

Dinh has been working for two years on a blood pressure monitor that uploads data to a remote storage system known as a cloud. Cloud storage can be set up to allow access from other locations, such as a hospital or doctor’s office anywhere.

The device itself is about the size of an iPhone and has electrodes that are taped to the chest.

It will be possible to monitor a patient around the clock so they can be notified if they need to seek medical care, allowing early action and preventing unnecessary travel.

Nguyen is working on the wireless component that will connect with smartphones and computers.

“The device gives me hope we will be able to support the poor in rural areas of my country or other developing countries,” she said.

By: Betty Ann Adam