Communicating science

Mitacs entrepreneur turns hobby into cutting-edge business

“I just knew that there was a better way,” he said. “There had to be a way to engage students using technology.”

Rowan created simulation and visualization tools and shared them with faculty at the university. Suitably impressed, several professors incorporated the new technology into the geology curriculum. Not one to be satisfied with the status quo, Rowan revamped the tools after graduation and put them online. His tools are now used at universities worldwide to help educate and engage budding geologists.

Stepping into industry

In June of 2013, Rowan began a Mitacs Accelerate internship with Computational Geosciences Inc (CGI) during his master’s program in geophysics at UBC. He was tasked with the development of geophysical data visualization software to be used in real time by field engineers collecting electromagnetic data.

My Mitacs internship introduced me to working on a software team; plus, I gained valuable skills in presenting my work to clients, incorporating feedback, and providing development timelines,” Rowan explains.

“Perhaps most importantly, it introduced me to the world of start-up companies.”

With the encouragement of his supervisors at CGI, Rowan co-founded 3point Science in partnership with University of Calgary geoscience professor Adam Pidlisecky and Dr. Tara Moran from Stanford University’s Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment

Finding their niche

At the beginning, Rowan and his co-founders focused 3point on creating tools for colleges and universities as the team had a rosy impression of data-rich industries such as oil and gas and mining. “We assumed that they had the tools that they needed to communicate complex data,” he explains.

But after researching the issue, they realized that existing tools are often clunky and required a technician to run the software, essentially creating a barrier between colleagues and discouraging collaboration.

“Because of these challenges, geoscientists often opt to use static images in PowerPoint, which don’t communicate the 3D nature of the data,” Rowan says. 

The team at 3point knew they could make things better.

Gaining traction

Currently the company is creating dynamic geoscience visualization tools to enable users to see the earth through one-, two- and three-dimensional measurements. “Our goal is to make the abstract tangible by engaging users,” explains Rowan. “We use human-centred design in all of our tools.”

As they continue to perfect their software, Rowan and his co-founders are conducting geoscience modelling for the oil and gas and mining sectors while collaborating with several universities, including the University of Calgary and the University of British Columbia.

When asked what keeps him going, Rowan says it’s his passion in the belief that what 3point is doing will improve communication of difficult scientific concepts. “Starting a company is hard! It certainly helps if you know what you are reaching towards is important and needs to exist in the world.” 

Mitacs thanks the Government of Canada and the Government of British Columbia for their support of the Accelerate research internship in this story. Across Canada, the Accelerate program also receives support from Alberta Innovates,  the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, the Government of Prince Edward Island, the Government of Quebec, the Government of Saskatchewan and Research Manitoba.

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