Showcasing the CREATE‑ive power of Dal

DalPower breakfast highlights NSERC CREATE programs

- November 15, 2012

Representatives from Dal's CREATE programs speak at the DalPower breakfast. From left: Martha Crago (standing, VP research), Aaron Newman (RADIANT), Liz Joyce (ASPIRE), Dominic Groulx (DREAMS), Cheryl Kozey (BioMedic), Graham Gagnon (STEWARD). (Danny Abriel photo)
Representatives from Dal's CREATE programs speak at the DalPower breakfast. From left: Martha Crago (standing, VP research), Aaron Newman (RADIANT), Liz Joyce (ASPIRE), Dominic Groulx (DREAMS), Cheryl Kozey (BioMedic), Graham Gagnon (STEWARD). (Danny Abriel photo)

Psychology’s Aaron Newman says that when he arrived at Dal, he found a huge openness to cross-faculty collaboration — particularly with clinicians.

“[They] had lots of really interesting ideas and burning questions about how we could use the kinds of technologies and expertise that I had in the clinic with patients,” says the assistant professor. “I wasn’t trained to think about how to apply what I knew in these kinds of settings, and as I started doing that, I realized there was an opportunity to train others.”

This is where CREATE comes in. The Collaborative Research and Training Experience program, funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), trains students and postdocs from Canada and abroad in interdisciplinary research, industry collaboration and entrepreneurship —in other words, the very skills needed to take research from idea to application.

On Wednesday, the Life Sciences Research Institute was host to the first DalPower breakfast: an opportunity for government, industry and Dal leaders to start their day by learning about just some of the exciting research collaborations happening on campus. The inaugural event, in support of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada’s “Open Doors, Open Knowledge: Putting Ideas to Work” initiative, focused on highlighting Dalhousie’s CREATE projects.

The university has been remarkably successful when it comes to CREATE grants. Dal has secured a new program each year there’s been a competition — five in total —and is currently ranked fourth in the country for the most programs at a single institution.

“These grants help bring Canadian and international students to Nova Scotia and encourage collaboration between industry and academia,” said Dal President Tom Traves, speaking at the breakfast. “CREATE give us a pool of highly-qualified personnel here in the province that have strong research training, combined with industry involvement, entrepreneurial training and international experiences.”

Creating scientist-entrepreneurs

Dr. Newman is the program director for RADIANT, a CREATE grant that stands for “Rehabilitative and Diagnostic Innovation in Applied Neurotechnology.” With fellowships, certificate programs and an intensive two-week summer institute, RADIANT’s goal is to train neuroscience students to push the envelope in developing new diagnostic applications.

The phrase that Dr. Newman uses to describe these students is “scientist-entrepreneurs”: graduates who have a firm grounding in neuroscience, but who also understand how to bridge the gap between science and technology, and between research and application.

“The business knowledge is something you don’t always get in a regular masters or PhD program outside of a business school,” says Andrew Clouter, a master's student with RADIANT who is researching cognitive rehabilitation. “But just as important is learning how to discover real-world needs and problems that you want to find technology solutions for.”

“It’s the needs-based approach that’s so great,” says Ian Westhaver, another master's student with a different Dalhousie CREATE project called BioMedic: Biomedical Technology, Innovation and Commercialization. Led by Program Director Cheryl Kozey, it focuses on developing innovative technologies for health and medical research.

“Rather than simply pursuing science for the science alone, we’re looking at the needs prior to entering into the research phase,” adds Westhaver.

The power of collaboration

The three other CREATE grants highlighted at the DalPower breakfast were:

  • DREAMS (Dalhousie Research in Energy, Advanced Materials and Sustainability; program director: Mary Anne White)
  • STEWARD (Systems Training and Education in Water Assets Research and Development; program director: Graham Gagnon)
  • ASPIRE (Applied Science in Photonics and Innovative Research in Engineering; program director: Michael Cada)

Though all these programs are unique, they share several features. All involve interdisciplinary research and education, connecting faculty and students from across departments and disciplines. They are based around industry application and collaboration, connecting Dal research with international companies, local startups, and businesses of all sizes in between. And their educational programs and internships train students in business planning, entrepreneurship and product development.

“One of the things that people don’t always understand is that the majority of students with PhDs do not continue working in the academy; they go into the private and public sectors,” noted Martha Crago, Dalhousie vice-president research. “Universities have needed to catch up with that phenomenon, and these are examples of how we’re doing that.”

Dal’s most recent CREATE grant, ASPIRE, is continuing the university’s success with the program: it was selected by NSERC as the top CREATE application last year.

Learn more about CREATE at the NSERC website.


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