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UVic science students get boost from $3.3 million in grants

Two departments from the University of Victoria, chemistry, and physics and astronomy, have each received $1.65-million grants from the federal Natural Sciences and Research Council.
University of Victoria UVic generic
The University of Victoria

Two departments from the University of Victoria, chemistry, and physics and astronomy, have each received $1.65-million grants from the federal Natural Sciences and Research Council.

The grants, part of the council’s Collaborative Research and Training Experience, are meant to assist with collaboration between universities, outside agencies and private industry. Improved collaboration will mean a more timely uptake of new ideas by Canadian business and better prepare developing scientists to work in private industry.

Students funded by the grants will spend at least 20 per cent of the time in industrial labs. No industrial partners have been established in Victoria, but there are two in Vancouver and others in Montreal and Toronto.

“They are getting a training experience above and beyond what they would get as a regular grad student,” said UVic chemistry professor Matthew Moffitt.

An example of research being done at the university is the use of molecular-sized nanoparticles to carry medication to precise locations in a body.

By attaching the molecules of a drug to a nanoparticle, Moffitt said, the drug can be delivered directly to a cancerous tumour.

The drug-carrying nanoparticle can be made to be too big to pass through healthy blood and tissue barriers. But the more porous, leaky boundaries of a cancer tumour will allow the passage of the nanoparticle — with the medicine carried along as a hitchhiker. Moffitt said the result is chemotherapy that can strike at a tumour but leave the rest of the body alone.

Kim Venn, director of UVic’s Astronomy Research Centre, cited one example of collaborative work involving four graduate students working with Fibre Tech Optica Ltd., based in Kitchener, Ont.

Venn said Fibre Tech Optica has produced an optical cable capable of transmitting light at an efficiency rating far above anything else now manufactured. The cable is being used in Hawaii to transmit optical signals from the Gemini Observatory to the Canada France Hawaii Telescope about 300 metres way.

The larger Gemini telescope collects observations from galaxies millions of light years away, then transmits them to the Canada France Hawaii Telescope, where they can be analyzed using specialized spectrographic instruments.

“We are using observatories, building instruments for them, testing ideas and really pushing the limits of the technology and feeding the results back to our industrial partners for use in the Canadian economy,” Venn said.

Eighteen grants were handed out across Canada worth $29 million over six years.

rwatts@timescolonist.com