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Letter: Graduate students critical to innovation in the province

Recently the provincial government changed its model for innovation and business growth by replacing a Crown corporation, the Research & Development Corporation of Newfoundland and Labrador (RDC), with a new organization, InnovateNL.

Graduate students and research will have a key role in shaping the success of this new group. Along with their faculty supervisors, graduate students represent a tremendous resource and capacity in our province for generating discoveries and turning them into new technologies and products.

In Memorial University’s faculty of engineering and applied science, we have identified innovation in energy, oceans, information and communications technology (ICT) and environmental technologies as our top research priorities. Over the past five years, we’ve nearly doubled the number of engineering graduate students. By harnessing this capacity of ingenuity, with support from the government and community, we’re developing the next great innovations that our province needs. From safer offshore operations to enhanced oil recovery and improved subsea and integrated operations, among many others, our graduate students are keys to our innovation ecosystem.

I reflect on a quote from Maclean’s magazine a few years ago: “To compete globally, you need to stay ahead — the secret to building an innovative economy — in a word: engineers.” Many successful startup companies have originated from Memorial’s engineering graduates, such as Verafin, Bluedrop, Solace Power, and Virtual Marine Technology, among others. Engineering expansion at Memorial and related new initiatives such as the Memorial Centre for Entrepreneurship (MCE), in partnership with the faculty of business administration, are valuable investments that are leading to growth of existing and new technology companies in the province.

We attract graduate students from all over the world who are remarkably talented. Recently, graduate student Han Byal Kim received the Best Young Presenter (under 30) Award at an international conference, IOR Norway 2017, for her graduate work on enhanced oil recovery using nanoparticles as a water additive for the Hebron field.

Another graduate student, Javad Hashemi, secured a Gold Standard Award for Memorial in the Society of Petroleum Engineering for exceptional industry engagement and innovation, and earlier this year, Rajib Dey received the Chancellor's Award with the Fry Family Foundation Award for exceptional leadership and volunteering contributions in the community.

Along with outstanding graduate students, new infrastructure projects on campus — particularly the Core Science Facility (CSF) and Battery Facility — will also have pivotal roles in shaping this innovation pathway. CSF brings modern, world-class science and engineering facilities that will dramatically improve the functionality of Memorial’s campus for decades to come and foster multi-disciplinary innovation.

The Battery Facility is crucial for Memorial’s public engagement with the community for fostering new innovations, as well as opening up new space on the main campus for strategic initiatives like engineering expansion.

So, continued support of graduate students and their research in the new InnovateNL model will be pivotal for our collective innovation successes. Graduate students contribute significantly to excellence in research and innovation, bringing a diversity of perspectives and creative talents from around the world. They’re critical to enhancing our reputation as a vibrant hub of world-class innovation in our strategic priority areas.

For example, graduate students were central when our faculty recently launched the new Centre for Risk, Integrity and Safety Engineering (C-RISE), led by Faisal Khan, and the Canadian Network for Innovative Shipbuilding, Marine Research and Training (CISMART), led by Wei Qiu, by providing highly qualified personnel through those centres.

In addition, our province benefits from international graduate students who become Canadian citizens, contribute to our economy, or who return back to their home countries and create stronger economic ties between our province and other countries.

Our evolving technical world is changing rapidly. Innovative new R&D solutions are needed to meet the technical challenges and opportunities on the horizon — clean water in remote communities, autonomous thinking machines, climate change, working safely in harsh ocean environments, just to name a few. We’re indeed proud of our graduate student successes and how they will help us capitalize on these opportunities on the way to a more innovative, diversified and knowledge-based economy.


Greg F. Naterer, dean
Engineering and Applied Science
Memorial University

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