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Innovation through Collaboration
This story is part of the Faculty of Engineering Partnership Profiles.
Founded in 1995 LuminUltra is an Atlantic Canadian biological diagnostic testing company. Over 20 years ago LuminUltra formed a relationship with Dalhousie University when founder Phil Whalen met Dr. Graham Gagnon at the Centre for Water Resources Studies (CWRS) at Dalhousie. This relationship has blossomed and expanded over the last 20 years. Through leaning on each other for research and innovation to creating a talent pipeline for LuminUltra, hiring numerous Dalhousie alumni. One such alum is Jordan Schmidt (MASc’12, PhD’16), Director, Product Applications at LuminUltra Technologies Ltd. Jordan as a Faculty of Engineering graduate and an alumnus of Dr. Gagnon’s lab is an example of how deep the collaboration between the two organizations are.
Current president and CEO, Pat Whalen shared his thoughts on the strong partnership built over the years by adding, “Dalhousie has established an excellent brand with the Centre for Water Resources Studies under Dr. Gagnon’s leadership. We are proud to have played a role in in the evolution of the CWRS through research collaboration, product and service development, funding contribution, and most importantly in offering an opportunity for its bright minds to launch careers in the water and biotechnology sectors.”
Wastewater and COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic brought a wave of innovation to solve solutions quickly. “We all wanted to be able to do something to help our communities” shared Jordan when reflecting on that time. LuminUltra has been a strong player in helping Canada handle COVID-19, both in clinical testing and in answering Prime Minister Trudeau’s call to arms to develop homegrown testing products. “From there we went back to our core business, of measuring COVID-19 in wastewater. That’s what we do.”
LuminUltra’s key market has been finding ways to test closer to the source, closer to the problem, faster than before and simpler than before. They work on creating fast and accurate testing that can be done by someone with minimal training, and this became the core focus of the work in collaboration with Dalhousie. LuminUltra and Dalhousie with the help of an NSERC grant (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council) got to work, early in the pandemic, in the detection of COVID-19 in wastewater.
“We were able to take that and make commercial tweaks and resulting in products available to sell. It is now a patent-pending product available all over the world. From the back of vans driving around the United Kingdom testing wastewater to being used on a cruise ship, to correctional facilities in the United States, to industrial sites in Ontario” added Jordan. “We have continued to grow the work from there, due to the ingenuity of the team at Dalhousie and LuminUltra we have come up with some really great products that we have been able to deploy all around the world.”
Within the Atlantic Canadian community, LuminUltra and the CWRS at Dal are at the centre of all water and wastewater research and engineering work that happens in the region. It has become a uniquely positioned innovation hub with engineers and researchers speaking to municipalities, speaking to consultants and technology providers. The partnership between Dalhousie and LuminUltra has fostered an environment where their successes can be implemented on a world stage.
“We have a lot of activity happening outside of the Atlantic region– Europe, the United States, South America, Southeast Asia; we deploy our products and services to a lot of different areas of the world.” Jordan shared “We are able to take that homegrown innovation and export it outside of the region”
Making Partnerships Work
Jordan believes the key to a partnership like the one between LuminUltra and Dalhousie is knowing where your areas of limitation are and where you can excel. “Dal is amazing at science and engineering technology, innovation, and research. We have expertise in R&D and commercialization and bringing a project to market.” He then adds, “It’s knowing where each of us can succeed and what each of us can bring to a partnership. Being able to tap into the innovation through Dalhousie has been so critical and has been something that we have utilized for years.”
It’s not just through research and development that we see this partnership, LuminUltra values supporting the next generations of engineers. Through supporting the graduate research program and helping to train graduates to go out into the field and be excellent scientists and engineers. “That’s such an important part of the partnership and an experience I was able to take part in during my graduate school which led me to the commercial sector.”
As an alumnus himself, Jordan Schmidt reflects further on his time at Dalhousie and what it’s like to now be a part of the experience from the other side. “Dalhousie gave me that complete package of an experience. It wasn’t just let’s focus on science and papers, it was the exposure to industry, exposure to government entities and organizations. The understanding that we are not just working within the four walls of the university, we’re working within a community. You get access to seeing how the outside world works. It was critical to my career path and career growth. Without that, I would not be where I am today.”
Now, Jordan gets to hire new graduates. “It’s a great experience. We come from similar backgrounds; we make connections through professors. Being able to hire people that came down a similar path that you did and to trust that they’ve gotten a great education. It’s a comforting feeling to hire Dal graduates knowing that they’ve had a great education and training.” Shares Jordan.
For current students, LuminUltra’s key focus is creating a rich and meaningful experience for the graduate research program. Support can come in lots of different ways according to Schmidt, from mentorship to financial support, and providing real-world opportunities.
“I had the benefit of various support through the Faculty of Engineering, and it allowed me to focus and take advantage of what was in front of me. That is something that will continue to be of importance to graduate students well into the future” says Jordan. “It’s a cool opportunity to be tapped into the Dalhousie community to help the next generation grow and find themselves in whatever career path they decide to take.”
What’s next for LuminUltra
LuminUltra is continuing to grow its rapid diagnostic testing programs, work in the industrial microbiology space, working with water and wastewater, upstream water and gas, and bio remediations. The partnership with Dalhousie continues to grow into the next stages with further NSERC grant applications. Looking forward Jordan says “It’s all about innovation and growth. We continue to develop new testing products, legionella testing, online ATP testing to name a few. There’s lots of innovation and growth still to happen that will certainly happen within the Maritimes.”
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