Nathan Skolski

Email: nathanskolski@okmain.cms.ok.ubc.ca


 

Interior university research coalition funds research to improve the lives of those living outside large urban centres

UBCO associate professor Nelly Oelke is one of the researchers receiving funding from the interior university research coalition for her work in mental health resilience in rural communities

The challenges facing rural and remote communities do not always make front-page news, but this lack of attention does not make them less important, especially for those who live there.

Supported by the Interior University Research Coalition’s (IURC) Regional/Rural/Remote Communities (R3C) Collaborative Research Grant, three Interior university research teams will address the complex problems faced by British Columbians who live outside large metropolitan areas. The funded projects grapple with disparate topics such as aging, water treatment and mental-health resiliency in the face of climate change.

“Rural and remote communities in non-metropolitan areas are experiencing economic, social and environmental changes that are profound and complex,” says Janice Larsen, IURC director.

“It is vital to understand and support the healthy and stable development of our society, our economy and our environment,” she adds.

Each of these three research teams receives $40,000 to complete their projects.

TRU associate professor Wendy Hulko, joined by UBCO’s Kathy Rush and UNBC’s Sarah De Leeuw, leads a project investigating the results of the Interior Health’s repositioning of health-care services for seniors. The intent of repositioning services was to enable older adults to live at home longer, reduce hospital admissions and delay residential care.

One of the outcomes of Interior Health’s service restructure was the creation of health and wellness centres in Kamloops and Kelowna. The centres provide primary health care for older adults and were designed to create better access to health services for vulnerable populations. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will certainly play a role in the study, says Hulko.

“One of the goals of these wellness centres was to get people connected to care, but we will have to find out how those services have been impacted by the pandemic and how the pandemic is impacting the ability of older adults to age in place,” she explains.

UNBC Environmental Engineering professor Jianbing Li leads research to develop an effective, low-cost, portable water-treatment system for remote and rural communities. Due to a lack of resources, rural communities have long faced challenges in accessing potable water, and consumption of untreated water poses health risks. Joined by Rehan Sadiq and Kasun Hewage, professors in UBCO’s School of Engineering, the research team aims to develop a household water-treatment system that would remove common contaminants from rural water sources. By the project’s end, a prototype of the water-treatment system would be demonstrated in the community.

“Having reliable access to a safe drinking water supply is essential for the healthy development of rural, regional and remote communities,” says Li. “Our interdisciplinary research team is working toward discovering a water treatment solution, training graduate students and developing meaningful partnerships with relevant communities in British Columbia.”

UBCO associate professor Nelly Oelke leads a project that aims to foster resilience in rural and remote communities by developing a greater understanding of the mental-health impacts of climate-change events.

“Climate-change events can result in extreme physical and psychological trauma for vulnerable populations living in rural and remote communities,” says Oelke. “PTSD, depression, anxiety, increased substance use and suicidality are all found to increase during and after problematic flooding, wildfires and drought, which are becoming more and more common in BC and around the world.”

She adds that many of the approaches used to address mental health relating to natural disasters are also used in pandemics and the evidence-based solutions they develop will provide increased support to Indigenous peoples, people living in poverty, children and first responders.

The research takes place in the Similkameen region of BC’s Southern Interior, including Keremeos, Hedley and Princeton, in addition to Ashcroft in the Thompson-Okanagan region and Burns Lake in Northern BC. Collaborators on this project include Sue Pollock (interim chief medical health officer at Interior Health), UNBC’s Davina Banner, TRU’s Bonnie Fournier and UBCO’s Lauren Airth and Carolyn Szostak. One outcome of this project is the development of community-based action plans for mental-health support, as research shows rural communities are disproportionately impacted by climate change.

“This is very exciting project and allows me to build upon the relationships I have already developed in Ashcroft, while also allowing me to work alongside two really fantastic researchers,” says Fournier. “The R3C program is innovative and unique, and I haven’t seen anything like it across Canada.”

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

UBCO’s Cortnee Chulo wears a prototype 3D-printed face shield.

UBCO’s Cortnee Chulo wears a prototype 3D-printed face shield.

3D printed face shields approved for use with the Interior Health Authority

With an increased demand for medical-grade personal protective equipment (PPE) during the COVID-19 outbreak, UBC Okanagan’s School of Engineering and makerspaceUBCO—an interdisciplinary design and fabrication lab—have partnered with the Okanagan Regional Library and the Interior Health Authority (IHA) to design and produce 3D printed, medical-grade face shields for front-line health care workers.

Ray Taheri is an engineer at UBC Okanagan with expertise in manufacturing and 3D printing. He was brought into the project after the university was contacted by Dallas Rodier, a Kelowna resident with a keen interest in finding a printable solution to PPE shortages.

“Dallas did a great job pulling together some open source designs for a 3D printed face shield,” says Taheri. “We’ve been working closely together to refine the design and streamline the manufacturing process so that they are of sufficient quality and meet the needs of IHA.”

While the group’s manufacturing capacity is modest relative to established industrial producers, the team hopes that the combined printing capacity of UBC Okanagan, the Okanagan Regional Library, Okanagan College and a group of private citizens will mean that they are able to get critical equipment into the hands of local front-line health care workers quickly.

makerspaceUBCO is playing a key role in coordinating supplies and in the early manufacturing process. Cortnee Chulo is the facility manager and says this kind of project is exactly why makerspace was created in the first place.

“Our mandate is to connect creators and innovators right here in our community,” says Chulo. “It is incredible to see our mission being fulfilled in a tough situation we never anticipated and in a collaborative way that addresses such a critical need.”

Chulo says that there are 15 printers ready to be deployed at UBCO alone and that the team has been working hard, not only to finalize design and prototyping but to put appropriate 3D printing protocols in place to ensure the face shields meet medical standards.

“We have some incredible student volunteers from UBC Okanagan’s Southern Medical Program who will be collecting all the printed components, before we are able to conduct quality checks and the final products are delivered to IHA,” says Chulo.

Taheri adds that the design and manufacturing process hasn’t been without its challenges.

“We needed, for example, a product that could be sanitized and re-used but that is simple enough to be assembled quickly by hand,” he says. “IHA has been working closely with our teams to verify the prototypes and make sure we’re supplying something they can use.”

Chulo says she’s excited to ramp-up production in the coming days and thinks they’ll be able to produce several hundred per week. But she’s quick to point out that their solution is an interim measure until commercially produced facemasks can meet unmet demand.

“We’re not aiming to replace commercial manufacturers but to address an immediate need in our community. I’m grateful to all those that have volunteered their time and expertise to do exactly that.”

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

Countries around the world, including Canada, are working to contain the current outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
UBC Okanagan Engineering Professor Cigdem Eskicioglu has been named the Senior Industrial Research Chair (IRC) in advanced resource recovery from wastewater.

UBC Okanagan Engineering Professor Cigdem Eskicioglu has been named the Senior Industrial Research Chair (IRC) in advanced resource recovery from wastewater.

New role will create clean technologies for municipal wastewater treatment

UBC Okanagan announced today that Engineering Professor Cigdem Eskicioglu has been named the Senior Industrial Research Chair (IRC) in advanced resource recovery from wastewater.

The IRC role, awarded in partnership with the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and Metro Vancouver, will focus on developing the next generation wastewater sludge treatment technologies that recover energy and resources from what we pour down the drain.

“Dr. Eskicioglu is an internationally-recognized researcher in the area of waste reduction and resource recovery. Her use of innovative bioreactor technologies has advanced the field considerably,” says Phil Barker, vice-principal and associate vice-president, research and innovation at UBC Okanagan. “Her research is making wastewater treatment cheaper, safer, cleaner and more sustainable and is likely to have a significant impact for cities across the globe.”

Eskicioglu leads the Bioreactor Technology Group on UBC’s Okanagan campus where she develops treatment systems that produce cleaner wastewater byproducts and that repurpose those byproducts for sustainable uses, such as the production of bioenergy. Her group also develops technologies that minimize human-produced toxic chemicals, like pharmaceuticals, personal care products and pesticides, to reduce risks of treated wastewater sludge use in agriculture.

“NSERC’s research partnerships support collaborations that allow new scientific evidence to be created which economically, socially or environmentally benefits Canada and Canadians,” says Marc Fortin, NSERC vice-president, research partnerships. “This chair in collaboration with Metro Vancouver will have a significant impact on adopting new technologies by municipalities across the country, and will potentially create a strong ecosystem of innovation in wastewater treatment in Canada."

Metro Vancouver began collaborating with Eskicioglu in 2013 after a Canada-wide search to identify top researchers studying more efficient ways to remove excess ammonia from treated wastewater. The success of the initial partnership led to additional research collaboration that has already resulted in a provisional patent on an advanced bioreactor concept to boost renewable natural gas production.

“Dr. Eskicioglu is a leader in bioreactor technologies and has a strong record of successfully completing research projects for Metro Vancouver. We are thrilled that this Industrial Research Chair expands into thermal-chemical reactors that promise even greater resource recovery opportunities,” explains Paul Kadota, Metro Vancouver’s program manager of collaborative innovations.

The IRC funding will lead to laboratory testing and pilot programs to help evaluate emerging wastewater sludge conversion processes. These research findings will be considered by Metro Vancouver as they invest billions in capital infrastructure over the next decade to upgrade the region’s wastewater treatment facilities.

“I’m thrilled to step into this new role and further the potential of wastewater treatment and resource recovery technologies,” says Eskicioglu. “My research will help inform and improve Metro Vancouver’s treatment plant upgrades and provide valuable lessons to municipalities with similar challenges across Canada and around the world.”

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

Life Raft Debate graphic

Life Raft Debate makes experts defend their fields to a live audience

What: Life Raft Debate
Who: UBC professors debate their expertise during fictional zombie apocalypse
When: Tuesday, January 14, beginning at 7 p.m.,
Where:  Room COM 201, The Commons building, 3297 University Way, UBC Okanagan, Kelowna

For many, the question of who to bring along in order to rebuild human civilization during a zombie apocalypse has gone unanswered for too long. Now, six UBC Okanagan professors, all from different fields of expertise, aim to settle the issue once and for all—or at least until next year—as they prepare for the second annual Life Raft Debate.

For event organizer and chemistry undergraduate student Jesse Lafontaine, the premise of the debate is simple. The audience is the last of humanity to survive a zombie apocalypse and there’s only one seat left in their life raft. Which UBC expert should they pick to join them and why?

“The concept is definitely absurd,” jokes Lafontaine. “But it’s also refreshing and entertaining to hear very accomplished UBC professors explain their expertise and argue how their work would help human civilization recover from such an unlikely disaster.”

Lafontaine adds that the lighthearted nature of the debate is what makes it so compelling while at the same time helps translate complex areas of study into something fun and accessible to everyone.

Stephen McNeil, chemistry professor and Life Raft Debate defending champion, agrees.

“As university professors, we’re used to speaking to students who are already interested in our fields of study,” says McNeil. “Defending the power of chemistry to a room full of people who probably aren’t as passionate as I am about organometallic reaction mechanisms is certainly humbling.”

He adds that offering this unique twist on academic debate is a great way to help people discover how different points of view and areas of expertise each make essential contributions to human society.

“Medicine keeps us healthy. Engineering builds the tools we need to survive. Anthropology understands how other cultures survive and thrive. Art is what makes us human in the first place,” he says. “It’s difficult to defend and advocate for just one.”

Lafontaine is quick to point out that the debate lineup is more than up to the task.

“We have heavy hitters from our campus this year,” says Lafontaine. “They include, among others, the director of the School of Engineering, who is a formidable engineer and researcher; the dean of the Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies, whose eloquence is unmatched; and the Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Principal of UBCO, who has been in charge of our campus for the last eight years and definitely knows how to win an argument.”

The list of debate participants also includes the role of ‘devil’s advocate’, whose job is to argue that none of the experts deserve a spot on the life raft.

While the topic may be lighthearted, Lafontaine says the debate is classically structured and the participants will make their arguments in earnest, with the audience voting on the winner.

McNeil is returning to defend his title.  The key, he says, is communicating to as broad an audience as possible.

“I’ve been interested in science outreach for a long time,” he says. “But even with that experience, distilling the accomplishments and capabilities of the whole field of chemistry into a five-minute defense is no easy task.”

“My winning argument was that, as a chemist, I know how to take simple molecules and manipulate them into creating something new, like penicillin or steel. But now that we not only need to rebuild civilization but also survive a zombie hoard, I may need to up my game this year.”

The Life Raft Debate takes place on January 14, at 7 p.m. in the Commons lecture theatre at UBC Okanagan. The event is free and open to the public but registration is required at: https://students.ok.ubc.ca/life-raft-debate/

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning in the heart of British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley. Ranked among the top 20 public universities in the world, UBC is home to bold thinking and discoveries that make a difference. Established in 2005, the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

New course seeks to make the operating theatre safer and more efficient

UBC Okanagan student Hafsah Khan is immersed in an operating room at the Hospital for Special Surgery at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York where a spine surgery is currently underway; although she is not physically there. The fourth-year mechanical engineering student is wearing a virtual reality headset to observe the surgery as part of an innovative new clinical engineering course being offered by UBCO. “Clinical engineering is a field few people have heard of but it’s one that is likely to impact them directly if ever they find themselves in an operating room,” explains Sabine Weyand, an instructor at UBC Okanagan’s School of Engineering. “Our goal as clinical engineers is to make an operation as safe and efficient as possible.” Weyand compares a surgery to a complex and well-choreographed dance with everything in its place and everyone with a role to play. “Our job is to analyze every step of that dance, from the tools surgeons use to the lighting design to where people stand and how they interact,” she says. “It’s all dissected and analyzed to improve the mechanics of the procedure and, above all, patient care.” During the course, three types of surgeries are viewed including a hip replacement, a robotically-assisted knee replacement and a transforaminal lumbar inter-body fusion back surgery. Weyand says local experts at the Interior Health Authority were key developing the course content and shaping the virtual reality labs. “I wanted the experience to be as realistic as possible and to help students understand the real-world design challenges that they might encounter right here in the Okanagan,” she adds. “The clinical engineering course exposes students to clinical environments, a variety of diagnostic and treatment tools, as well as the complex human factors and regulatory requirements that accompany any surgical intervention.” According to Khan, the reports are challenging because they require students to incorporate medical and anatomical vocabulary while understanding the procedure itself. “It is definitely a big challenge, but fun to step outside of the traditional engineering lab environment and find ways to improve how these medical procedures are done.” Interior Health also sees the value in providing UBC Okanagan engineering students with virtual reality experiences. “These students, as future clinical engineers, need to have the latest information and technology at their fingertips,” says Aaron Miller, Director of Strategic Initiatives at Interior Health. “Virtual reality operating room observations are providing hands on experiences to see how the different healthcare providers work and provide direct patient care.” He says that students that understand the needs of healthcare providers, are better able to support healthcare teams and improve patient outcomes. Meanwhile back in the lab, Khan adjusts her eyes after removing her virtual reality headset. She says the course has already made a lasting impression. “After this course, I am way more interested in pursuing a career in biomedical engineering.”

Hadi Mohammadi is an assistant professor at UBC’s School of Engineering.

UBC Okanagan engineer says not all body types are taken into account

As technology advances in the things we use every day, it’s generally accepted they also become safer. But according to one UBC engineer, that may not be true for a large portion of the population.

New research from UBC’s Okanagan campus has developed a innovative model to map the impact of trauma on a pregnant woman and her uterus if she were involved in an accident—with the hopes of making everything from airbags to seatbelts safer for all.

“I became an engineer because I firmly believe we have an incredible ability to make the world a safer and better place,” says Hadi Mohammadi, an assistant professor at the UBC Okanagan School of Engineering and lead author on the study. “But unfortunately a large portion of the world around us is designed and built excluding a group representing 50 per cent of the population—women.”

Motor vehicles, explains Mohammadi, are a prime example. He says that things like seatbelts, airbags and even the vibrations of the suspension are designed with the male body in mind, largely ignoring the physiology differences between men and women or women who are pregnant.

“A pregnant woman’s body is under very unique stresses that absolutely must be taken into account when designing safety equipment—especially in something she’s going to be using every day, like a car or a bus,” says Mohammadi. “Our intention was to create a model of how different mechanical traumas, like those you’d see in a car accident, impact a woman’s uterus specifically.”

It’s an area that he says has very little research behind it.

“Medicine spends a lot of time seeking to keep fetuses healthy on the inside but we don’t know much on the impact of exterior traumas to maternal and fetal health,” he adds.

The model is the first of its kind to use CT-scan data—a tool to visualize the interior of the body in real-time—to map out and compare trauma on pregnant and non-pregnant abdomens. Mohammadi and his team were able to gauge the impact of different amounts of force and penetration into the abdominal area.

“We found that a pregnant women’s abdomen responds similarly to a non-pregnant abdomen during events involving less force, but the pregnant abdomen responds more rigidly when faced with greater impact,” he says. “This is an important factor in the risk of injury for both mother and fetus during a traumatic event like an airbag going off.”

Mohammadi hopes his model can help future engineers rethink how they design safety equipment and sees this kind of research as just the tip of the iceberg.

“While our research looked specifically at pregnant women, the reality is that humans come in all different shapes, sizes and with different abilities,” he says. “Thinking about the safety and other needs of everyone—no matter their height or weight—really needs to be part of engineering and design right from the beginning.”

The study was published last month in the International Journal for Numerical Methods in Biomedical Engineering.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning in the heart of British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley. Ranked among the top 20 public universities in the world, UBC is home to bold thinking and discoveries that make a difference. Established in 2005, the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

UBC engineer Kevin Golovin says ice buildup may become a thing of the past.

UBC engineer Kevin Golovin says ice buildup may become a thing of the past.

Researchers develop new class of anti-ice surfaces

Scraping an icy windshield can be a seasonal struggle for those that live in colder climates. But engineers from UBC’s Okanagan campus are aiming to ease that winter frustration with a new surface coating that can shed ice from large areas using little effort.

The new anti-ice coating is a new class of surfaces called low interfacial toughness (LIT) materials and was developed by UBC Okanagan researchers in a new study published this week in the journal Science.

“For those experienced in the early morning windshield scrape, it should come as no surprise that it normally takes quite a lot of force to remove large areas of ice,” explains Kevin Golovin, assistant professor at the UBCO School of Engineering and study lead author. “That’s not the case with LIT materials. Imagine simply brushing the ice away or letting it slide off the windshield from its own weight—that’s how effective LIT materials can be.”

According to Golovin, the development of this new class of materials is changing the way scientists understand ice adhesion.

“We’re disproving the last 80 years of thinking about how to lower ice adhesion. Lowering toughness had never been explored as an effective de-icing strategy.”

Golovin says LIT materials work by causing cracks to form easily beneath the ice, allowing it to readily dislodge. He compares the effect to a string of dominos.

“If designed correctly, the force to knock down a single domino is enough to topple them all—adding more dominoes doesn’t require you to push any harder,” says Golovin. “It’s the same with LIT materials. Once you form a crack it can de-ice the entire interface, whether it’s the length of a windshield, an airplane wing or a turbine blade.”

Golovin says LIT materials can be fabricated from commonplace paints and plastics but possess superior performance against state-of-the-art anti-icing materials in different applications like the de-icing of power lines, aviation wings and even in complex shapes like ice cube trays.

“Ice buildup has adverse effects on a range of commercial and residential activities, from downed power lines to air travel delays to scraping one’s windshield,” says Golovin. “This development is definitely a game-changer.”

The research, in partnership with the University of Michigan, was funded by the US Office of Naval Research, the US Department of Defense and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning in the heart of British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley. Ranked among the top 20 public universities in the world, UBC is home to bold thinking and discoveries that make a difference. Established in 2005, the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca.

Doctoral student Mohamed Gamal uses a newly developed cell encapsulation device.

Doctoral student Mohamed Gamal uses a newly developed cell encapsulation device.

New device encases delicate cells into protective microgels

A simple injection that can help regrow damaged tissue has long been the dream of physicians and patients alike. A new study from researchers at UBC Okanagan takes a big step towards making that dream a reality with a device that makes encapsulating cells much faster, cheaper and more effective.

“The idea of injecting different kinds of tissue cells is not a new one,” says Keekyoung Kim, assistant professor of engineering at UBC Okanagan and study co-author. “It’s an enticing concept because by introducing cells into damaged tissue, we can supercharge the body’s own processes to regrow and repair an injury.”

Kim says everything from broken bones to torn ligaments could benefit from this kind of approach and suggests even whole organs could be repaired as the technology improves.

The problem, he says, is that cells on their own are delicate and tend not to survive when injected directly into the body.

“It turns out that to ensure cell survival, they need to be encased in a coating that protects them from physical damage and from the body’s own immune system,” says Mohamed Gamal, doctoral student in biomedical engineering and study lead author. “But it has been extremely difficult to do that kind of cell encapsulation, which has until now been done in a very costly, time consuming and wasteful process.”

Kim and Gamal have solved that problem by developing an automated encapsulation device that encases many cells in a microgel using a specialized blue laser and purifies them to produce a clean useable sample in just a few minutes. The advantage of their system is that over 85 per cent of the cells survive and the process can be easily scaled up.

“Research in this area has been hampered by the cost and lack of availability of mass-produced cell encapsulated microgels,” says Kim. “We’ve solved that problem and our system could provide thousands or even tens of thousands of cell-encapsulated microgels rapidly, supercharging this field of bioengineering.”

In addition to developing a system that’s quick and efficient, Gamal says the equipment is made up of readily available and inexpensive components.

“Any lab doing this kind of work could set up a similar system anywhere from a few hundred to a couple of thousand dollars, which is pretty affordable for lab equipment,” says Gamal.

The team is already looking at the next step, which will be to embed different kinds of stem cells—cells that haven’t yet differentiated into specific tissue types—into the microgels alongside specialized proteins or hormones called growth factors. The idea would be to help the stem cells transform into the appropriate tissue type once they’re injected.

“I’m really excited to see where this technology goes next and what our encapsulated stem cells are capable of.”

The study was published in the journal Lab on a Chip with funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Canadian Foundation for Innovation.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning in the heart of British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley. Ranked among the top 20 public universities in the world, UBC is home to bold thinking and discoveries that make a difference. Established in 2005, the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca.

Three professors named Researcher of the Year

UBC’s Okanagan campus is home to nearly 300 faculty researchers that are exploring some of the most urgent challenges, newest ideas and most ground-breaking technologies in the world.

The university this week named its 2019 Researchers of the Year. These prestigious annual prizes are awarded to the campus’ top researchers, with this year’s recipients recognized for their contributions to the development of innovative digital tools for marginalized communities, advances in sustainable energy and construction, and support for youth living with developmental disabilities and autism.

Awardees for 2019 are Associate Professor Jonathan Corbett in the category of social sciences and humanities, Professor Kasun Hewage in the category of natural sciences and engineering and Associate Professor Rachelle Hole in the category of health.

“This award recognizes outstanding UBCO faculty members who have carried out highly impactful work during their time at UBC,” says Vice-Principal, Research Philip Barker. “Professors Corbett, Hewage and Hole epitomize excellence in research and creative scholarship and are leaders in their respective fields and disciplines. Each of them works across multiple fields to help make the world a better place.”

Student researcher awards were also presented this year to master's student Emily Giroux and doctoral student Katrina Plamondon.

About UBC Okanagan’s award-winning researchers

Social Sciences and Humanities Researcher of the Year: Associate Professor Jonathan Corbett


While the science and art of cartography may have ancient roots, Associate Professor Jonathan Corbett is a modern cartographer who is working to map out how digital multimedia technologies can help preserve and strengthen remote or marginalized communities.

He is one of the country’s leaders in bringing geoinfomatics to a web-based, community-facing, knowledge platform. His Geolive software uses an online map as a storytelling tool to help marginalized communities feel empowered and overcome social exclusion.

“His technological sophistication, coupled with his steadfast commitment to interdisciplinary and community-based research is what makes Dr. Corbett’s work so remarkable,” says Mike Evans, associate dean of research, graduate and post-doctoral studies in the Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences at UBC Okanagan. “As a critical cartographer, he has made significant contributions to the field and to the communities with which he works.”

Natural Sciences and Engineering Researcher of the Year: Professor Kasun Hewage


Kasun Hewage is a professor of engineering and associate director with UBC’s Clean Energy Research Centre. He takes a holistic approach to investigating smart energy and construction sustainability. His expertise includes life cycle thinking based analysis of cost-effective and renewable energy production and green construction processes that are coordinated by cutting edge science and technologies.

Earlier this year, Hewage was named the inaugural FortisBC Smart Energy Chair, with the goal of investigating how energy use in BC can be optimized to reduce the province’s greenhouse gas footprint.

“Dr. Hewage’s research and scholarly contributions are extensive,” says Rehan Sadiq, associate dean of the School of Engineering at UBC Okanagan. “His work brings together academic and industry stakeholders to access the most pertinent facts required for sustainable building decisions, a crucial area of study as the world continues to strive towards sustainability.”

Health Researcher of the Year: Associate Professor Rachelle Hole

With a career spanning over 20 years working with individuals with physical and developmental disabilities, associate professor Rachelle Hole has focused her research on the socio-cultural practices that promote inclusion and equity. She has a particular interest in participatory research methods and strives to work directly with communities to empower participants.

Her most recent work, the Transiting Youth with Disabilities and Employment (TYDE) project, was awarded $1.3M in federal funding, involves working directly with community groups to help prepare youth living with intellectual disabilities or Autism Spectrum Disorder find meaningful employment later in life.

“Dr. Hole has a unique ability to pull groups together and to catalyze relationships between researchers, community members, and other stakeholders to build a shared vision,” says Evans. “She consistently generates policy-relevant insights and knowledge that shapes programs and practices – and indeed people’s lives – in very immediate ways.”

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning in the heart of British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley. Ranked among the top 20 public universities in the world, UBC is home to bold thinking and discoveries that make a difference. Established in 2005, the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca.