Memorial University research projects receive $8 million from ACOA
Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Three projects at Memorial University of Newfoundland have received a combined investment of $8 million from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA), including funding for a project at the Marine Institute's Centre for Marine Simulation. The funding was announced today by Peter Penashue, minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, president of the Queen's Privy Council and regional minister for Newfoundland and Labrador.

The projects are funded under ACOA's Atlantic Innovation Fund, a program that encourages partnerships among private sector firms, universities, colleges and other research institutions to develop and commercialize new or improved products and services.

"The projects funded by the Atlantic Innovation Fund address issues that are internationally significant, yet also have a special resonance in our own province," said Dr. Gary Kachanoski, president and vice-chancellor, Memorial University. "ACOA's ongoing support for Memorial is helping us to deliver on our aspiration to truly be a first-rate, world-class learning and research environment, leading the province into a successful, sustainable future."

The awarded projects are based in the Fisheries and Marine Institute, the Faculty of Medicine and the Faculty of Science. The Centre for Marine Simulation at the Marine Institute, with the National Research Council and Kongsberg Maritime, received support for a project that aims to develop dynamic positioning system technologies specifically for ice-rich environments.

This system will enable vessels engaged in the exploration and production phases of the offshore petroleum industry to operate safely and efficiently in ice. A training simulator will be developed for prototype testing and for the preliminary training of appropriate personnel. This will lead to the development of a commercial dynamic positioning in ice product for real-time operations. This project, with total estimated costs of $8.595 million, received $3 million from the Atlantic Innovation Fund.

In the Faculty of Medicine, Dr. Proton Rahman, with co-investigator Dr. Darren O'Rielly, received funding to support the development of genetic tests for the detection of developmental disorders, such as autism. Early definitive diagnosis of such disorders will improve the quality of life for those affected and their families through timely access to the appropriate health and social support systems.

A secondary goal is to develop a database system to identify genetic markers that predispose individuals to develop common autoimmune disorders, particularly ankylosing spondylitis and psoriatic arthritis. This project, with total estimated costs of $6 million, received approximately $2.9 million from the Atlantic Innovation Fund. In the Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Science, Dr. Christina Bottaro, with co-investigators Drs. Erika Merschrod and Kelly Hawboldt, aim to develop technology to measure contaminants (e.g. components of oil) in harsh marine environments.

The technology under development is intended for use at remote sites, and will be able to function in cold temperatures and under ice cover. The long-term goal is to commercialize the sensing technology and potentially extend it to applications in medicine, biotechnology and civil defense. This project, with a total estimated cost of $3 million, received approximately $2.1 million from the Atlantic Innovation Fund, with additional financial support from Petroleum Research Atlantic Canada (PRNL).

The funding is part of a total investment of close to $49 million in 21 innovative research and development (R&D) projects in Atlantic Canada under Competitive Round 2011 of the Atlantic Innovation Fund. In Newfoundland and Labrador, the Harper Government is investing close to $14 million in five new R&D projects under AIF.

"Our government's top priority is creating jobs, growth and long-term prosperity. We recognize that innovation and research and development are crucial to a competitive economy and the creation of new, high-value jobs," said Mr. Penashue, on behalf of Bernard Valcourt, minister of state for ACOA and La Francophonie.

"The variety of projects being funded in Newfoundland and Labrador speaks to the diversity of talent and expertise living and working in our province.  From fraud detection software to advancements in oil spill detection and analysis, our private and public sector research community is creating game-changing technologies."

With the addition of these three new awards, Memorial University is leading 16 AIF projects, with a total value exceeding $55 million. These projects employ more than 150 people, approximately 100 of whom are undergraduate and graduate students, in the fields of energy and oceans, health and biosciences and information/communication technologies.