Kelowna Secondary Students tour UBC’s advanced engineering labs

Winners of 2small2c contest get first-hand insights from university scholars

UBC School of Engineering technician David Arkinstall points to the image of a spider’s eye on his computer screen while explaining to Kelowna Secondary School grade 11 students, left to right, Geoffrey Abubakary, Anoop Sidhu, and Connor McKenzie, the technology behind the highly-powered scanning electron microscope.

The Grade 11 Biology class from Kelowna Secondary School (KSS) toured the Scanning Electron Microscopy and Micro Electro Mechanical Systems facilities April 11 at UBC’s Okanagan campus, along with laboratory facilities for laser, applied optics, and high-resolution tomography (CT) scanning.

The KSS class held the winning entry in a BC-wide secondary schools competition called the 2smalltoC game, sponsored by the School of Engineering. Students, family and friends built up their scores by entering the contest by answering the multiple-choice question: What Is It?

The highly-powered scanning electron microscope (SEM) uses electrons instead of light to produce a detailed high-resolution image with considerable depth of field. It has many applications for a variety of disciplines, including forensics, agriculture, forestry, mineral exploration, biofuel development, manufacturing and much more.

“A SEM is one of the most versatile instrument for the study of solid materials — you can resolve features in an object that are as small as four nanometers,” explains Andre Phillion, mechanical engineering professor in the School of Engineering. “It is an essential research tool that enables students and faculty from multiple disciplines to examine a sample and then understand the composition, texture, and functionality of the object they are working with.”

The Charles Fipke Foundation gave $500,000 to cover the cost of the SEM, located in the Fipke Centre for Innovative Research, and Western Economic Diversification (WED) Canada contributed $1.35 million to support its operational requirements, as well as build the MEMS fabrication facilities.

Andre Phillion, mechanical engineering professor, explains to visiting KSS students how the X-ray Micro-Tomography Facility provides unique 3D images of the internal structure of many different types of materials, such as aluminum and other alloys.

Jonathan Holzman, associate professor in the School of Engineering, shows visiting KSS students the Applied Micro and Nanosystems Facility.

The Micro Electro Mechanical System (MEMS) Fabrication facilities in the engineering building use a combination of chemistry, light technology and lasers to fabricate devices — or microsystems — as small as one-millionth of a metre, also known as a micron.

“The tools we have access to in the MEMS lab are incredible,” says Jonathan Holzman, associate professor in the School of Engineering. “But I would say that the greatest advantage is not so much the equipment, but the people who use it.

“We have a diverse and talented faculty in mechanical, civil and electrical engineering who are working together to create solutions for a wide scope of industry and community partners, both locally and globally.”

Holzman, an electrical engineer specializing in micro-sensor technologies, is collaborating with UBC mechanical engineering colleagues specializing in micro-fluidics to improve water quality sensing for the City of Kelowna.

“We are developing a very small microsystem — essentially a lab on a chip — with multiple sensing techniques that has the ability to quickly detect cryptosporidium pathogens in water, helping to ensure a potential problem in water quality can be detected before it makes its way into the public water systems.”

Find out more about UBC’s “world of the very small” at

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