Faculty profile: Assist. Prof. Ian Foulds

Assistant Professor Ian Foulds, PhD

Dr. Ian Foulds recently joined UBC Okanagan’s School of Engineering faculty from the Faculty of Applied Science at Simon Fraser University. Before becoming a professor there, he was an Honours BASc student (2003), proceeding to graduate studies.

In 2008, Foulds’ received the Canadian Governor General’s Gold Medal—the graduate award for highest academic standing—for his PhD. His doctoral thesis title is “SU-8 surface micromachining using polydimethylglutarimide (PMGI) as a sacrificial material.”

We asked Foulds about his background, interests, and favourite things about UBCO and the Okanagan.

Q: Why did you become an engineer? Who or what inspired you?

A: When I was a kid I always loved to take things apart and figure out how they work. As I got into high school and started learning about computers physics and chemistry, I was always most interested in how to apply the concepts to real problems. Engineering seemed like the natural choice.

What are your research interests and current projects?

I primarily do microfabrication research in the areas of microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), and microfluidics. I have ongoing projects in the areas of high throughput emulsion crystallization, high throughput biomarker quantification, implantable drug delivery, and low-cost microfabrication techniques. These areas of research deal with mechanical devices and fluid channels that are about the width of a human hair.

For an idea of scale, see the photo illustration above—it is of a microrobot that we fabricated four years ago.

What is the significance of your research — what are the implications?

The high throughput crystallization looks to increase the throughput of microfluidic synthesis systems from mL/hr output to L/hr output to make them more commercially viable. The emulsion crystallization in particular has applications to production of pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.

The high throughput biomarker quantification system takes a simple testing method called agglutination that has been around since the turn of the century and uses microfluidics to reduce the consumption of the analyte (the testing chemicals) and move the throughput from tens to thousands of tests per hour. The biggest machines can do ~400/hr. I am aiming at 10,000/hour.

The implantable drug delivery system stores a solid drug and can slowly and controllably dispense it into the body’s fluids. The whole system is powered by a low power wireless link, so that the patient doesn’t have to have anything breaking the skin, which lowers their risk of infection. And the solid drug approach allows more of the drug to be incorporated into the system, lengthening the useful life of the system.

Tell me about your lab facilities.

I am currently still setting up here (applying for infrastructure funding), so four of my five PhD students are still at my previous institution. But we can use the Applied Micro and Nanosystems Facility, which has much of the fabrication equipment that we need to get going.

What engineering compound, materials, or equipment do you find most fascinating?

I have always been fascinated with microscopes as they allow us to see a world we don’t normally get to interact with. We use microscopes extensively in my research to ensure that devices have been fabricated properly and to observe our devices in action.

What most excites you about the future of applied sciences, and about the School of Engineering?

There are a lot of very highly talented faculty members here and the school is set up to be interdisciplinary. So I am excited about the opportunities to collaborate both within the school and across campus.

Why did you choose to work at UBC’s Okanagan campus – what brought you here?

The campus is still young and growing, which makes it more dynamic and exciting. I also grew up an hour and a half north of here in Salmon Arm on Shuswap Lake. So this is the environment and area that I love. I am a small-town kid at heart and enjoy being part of a smaller community. There are not a lot of places in the world where you can work at a world-class university in a smaller city and live in an environment as beautiful as the BC interior. I jumped at the chance.

What student experiences of your own do you count as high points and challenge?

My interactions with my student friends, especially in grad school, were definitely a high point. We worked hard in the lab and then also did recreational stuff together like curling, hiking, poker, brewing, building a food dryer to make our own beef jerky, etc.

I also really enjoyed my co-op experiences—they were a good chance to apply what I was learning and fed back into my studies and helped me choose the path that I chose.

Lastly, what hobbies or Okanagan attractions do you enjoy?

I have four young children so my hobby at this point in life is hanging out and playing with them. We have been enjoying the beauty of the area with hikes and bike rides, and we are particularly taken with the Kettle Valley Railway, which is near my house. We enjoy playing in the pool in the summer and getting out into the snow in the winter. I’m hoping to teach my kids to ski, given our nice proximity to Big White.

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