BCIT earns acclaim for applied research at international awards

Photo, from left to right: Dr. Michael Chipps, President Northeast Community College, Norfolk, Nebraska; Dr. Kim Dotto, Dean, Applied Research, BCIT; Denise Amyot, Chair of WFCP, President and CEO of Colleges and Institutes.

A solar-powered electric vehicle charging station, simulation software that helps prevent leaky condos, and improved authentication of herbal health products: these are just a few of the research initiatives that helped BCIT earn top honours at the World Federation of Colleges and Polytechnics (WFCP) Awards of Excellence.

Dean of Applied Research Dr. Kim Dotto visited Vitória, Brazil, last week to accept the WFCP’s gold award in the Applied Research category on behalf of BCIT. The award recognizes colleges and polytechnics that have excelled at addressing real-world problems through applied research and that have advanced applied learning and research methods on an international level.

The work of three researchers in particular helped BCIT net this award.

Dr. Hassan Farhangi, Director of BCIT’s Smart Microgrid Applied Research Team, has spent the past nine years researching microgrid technology—small-scale electrical grids which have already enabled BCIT to use solar energy to charge electric vehicles and to power sections of the Burnaby Campus. He was also a driving force behind Canada’s NSERC Smart Microgrid Network, which brings together leading university researchers and industry partners to research, develop, and test smart grid technologies and standards.

Another BCIT researcher who has helped support energy conservation, as well as healthier living spaces, is Dr. Fitsum Tariku, Canada Research Chair in Whole-Building Performance. Among many other projects, Dr. Tariku has developed techniques for retrofitting buildings to improve ventilation—addressing the “leaky condo” crisis that has cost Canadian homeowners millions.

“More than 900 buildings and 31,000 housing units sustained approximately $4 billion in damages due to poorly designed building envelopes that were unsuited to BC’s wet, windy climate,” says James Albright, Director of BCIT’s Applied Research Liaison Office. “Dr. Fitsum Tariku’s research on this problem resulted in a total revision of the BC building codes and standards, ultimately helping eliminate the entire problem.”

Dr. Paula Brown, another BCIT-based Canada Research Chair, has made strides in botanical medicines. While certain botanicals are known to have impressive health benefits, the quantity and quality of active ingredients can vary widely across research studies and in commercial products.

Consider curcumin, which is present in the herb turmeric. This substance has been studied extensively for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, but standardization was sorely needed to improve research outcomes and supplement quality. To that end, Dr. Brown recently published protocols for determining the quantity of curcumin in raw turmeric and in supplements.

Dr. Brown’s research contributions have been widely recognized. In 2016, she won the American Herbal Products Association’s Herbal Industry Leadership Award for advances in the science of botanical quality.

As a polytechnic, BCIT focuses not on basic research but on developing practical applications of scientific discovery. This applied learning isn’t restricted to the lab: through directed studies and capstone projects, applied learning and research also form part of each student’s educational experience. Guided by BCIT’s multidisciplinary teams of faculty and researchers, students have the opportunity to help solve real problems, while making valuable professional connections in their field.

This model—with the contributions of researchers like Dr. Farhangi, Dr. Tariku, and Dr. Brown—is keeping  BCIT at the forefront of innovation in applied research.

“Often applied research is referred to as one of BCIT’s best kept secrets, but this award recognizes the locally and the internationally important work being done in applied research at BCIT,” says Dr. Kim Dotto, Dean, Applied Research. “I’d like to congratulate all of those involved in applied research—from students, to faculty, to directors, and everyone who works to support applied research at BCIT. This award really belongs to them.”

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