Not very often does a student get recommended for a research role by an industry collaborator, but that is exactly how fourth-year Electrical Engineering student Joel Johnson began his NSERC’s Undergraduate Student Research Award program research with Electrical Engineering Professor Kenneth Chau and VO2 Master.
“Over the course of the summer, I discover that Joel’s attributes, derived from his competitive athletic background, perfectly aligned with pursuing positive research outcomes,” says Chau.
Johnson entered academia as a mature student, and during his time at UBC Okanagan, he has found a passion for micro-electronics and embedded solutions. “Working with Dr. Chau and the VO2Master team, I have been able to use my knowledge and gain new insights into designing cutting-edge technology to make a meaningful mark on the space.”
VO2 Master is an Okanagan-based company that has developed a portable lab-grade weight management and performance analysis tool. The researchers at the School of Engineering have been creating compact optical sensors that acquire physiological information and share it with a mobile application.
“This project facilitated by the USRA program enabled the team and I to really push the envelope on colorimetric and optical sensing,” explains Johnson. “The technology shows great promise for applications in health care and exercise science, and it’s so exciting to be a part of that.”
NSERC’s Undergraduate Student Research Award program develops students’ interest in a research career in the natural sciences and engineering. The research experience is intended to complement their studies in an academic setting.
Chau points to the USRA as providing an exploratory environment that allows students to do a lot of accelerated learning outside the classroom. “It creates a learning space which has no boundaries, if you want to try something or do something, it is up to the student and teacher to go explore.”
According to Chau, UBC Okanagan has fostered an environment that really encourages undergraduate research. “I have been shocked time and time again about how far undergrads can push research projects. Because of Joel’s contributions in this project, we are much further along than we would have been if he hadn’t have worked with us.”
“It is a great privilege to get to do research and push myself as part of this team,” says Johnson. “It is a great stepping stone to graduate studies and future research with industry (being a part of this team), and it really tied everything together as I look to my future.”
Johnson says Chau was a great source of insight during his USRA, and provided a support and direction throughout the research.
“I learned so much from Dr. Chau and the team at VO2 Master about design and analyzing the motivation and efficacy behind each design choice of research, so it was definitely an amazing learning experience.”
Both Chau and Johnson say there’s plenty of potential in utilizing phase sensitive detection and sensor arrays to improve the cost and form factor of VO2 breath analysis devices.
For more information about NSERC USRA opportunities, connect with a School of Engineering Academic Services Advisor.