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Unlike basic or pure research that’s carried out at universities, applied research focuses on delivering practical solutions to everyday problems. It often involves testing new products before they’re brought to market, proving a concept or assessing a need. It seeks to enrich and improve. In 2014–15, faculty, staff and students at Saskatchewan Polytechnic participated in a number of applied research projects that promised to do just that. One team, for instance, developed a database for Habitat for Humanity Prince Albert that will help the non-profit to organize its volunteers and housing projects. Another began the design of a “talking head” mobile app that

could potentially show students who are learning a new language how to form sounds. And about 50 Sask Polytech faculty and student research assistants have partnered with the University of Saskatchewan and six of the province’s biggest mining companies in an extensive enquiry that aims to improve safety practices in the minerals industry. Applied research projects not only support the community and economic development,” says Dr. Anne Neufeld, Saskatchewan Polytechnic’s provost and vice-president, Academic, “they foster innovative thinking amongst our students and provide unique opportunities for faculty to think outside the box.”


Cover photo: Integrated Resource Management student Leila Benmerrouche.

A Message from Dr. Larry Rosia Sask Polytech president & CEO The applied research momentum is building at Saskatchewan Polytechnic. Our emphasis on applied research is a key way we support economic growth in Saskatchewan. As a polytechnic, we draw on faculty expertise to help small- and medium-sized enterprises find real-world solutions to practical problems through applied research. At the same time, this research provides opportunities for our students to develop criticalthinking skills that will serve them well as they pursue their careers. Over the past five years, the amount of external funding we have attracted to help our partner enterprises find and test innovations through applied research has grown eight-fold. Faculty and student engagement in applied research

is up by factors of four and eight respectively. Applied research goes hand in hand with applied learning in driving economic growth. Both are hallmarks of a polytechnic education. Combined, they are The Polytechnic Advantage. This annual review highlights some of the tangible ways in which our students and faculty have helped private and public sector employers improve their operations and pursue new opportunities through applied research. You will see more, similarly innovative, applied research projects in the years ahead as our evolution into a polytechnic continues.

A Message from Dr. Anne Neufeld Sask Polytech provost and vice-president, Academic Applied research seeks to enrich and improve, which often requires trying something new and untested. It may involve overcoming unforeseen barriers and making adjustments as obstacles arise, but ultimately applied research makes this world a better place to live and learn. In this annual review, you can read about how Saskatchewan Polytechnic faculty, staff and students are enriching the lives of others through applied research. For instance, a group of Computer Systems Technology students has developed a database for Habitat for Humanity Prince Albert that will help the non-profit track its housing projects and acknowledge its volunteers. We also have a team

that is engineering a hockey puck for the blind, while another group is in the early stages of designing a “talking head” mobile app that has the potential to show students learning a new language how to form sounds. In addition, this report will provide information about some of Saskatchewan Polytechnic’s internal supports and structures that foster applied research. You can learn about an instructor who is taking time off from teaching to pursue his research passions as well as our plans for a biological field station in central Saskatchewan. You’ll also find out more about our research priorities to 2020, which support our organizational goal to grow applied research.


HELPING HANDS Integrated Resource Management student Leila Benmerrouche studies dragonfly nymphs, which can provide valuable information about the province’s forests and waterways.


When Leila Benmerrouche needed help in identifying dragonfly nymphs, she turned to Sask Polytech’s bioscience centre.


arlier this year, Integrated Resource Management student Leila Benmerrouche found herself preparing an unusual courier package. Using tweezers, she carefully removed a couple of legs from a dragonfly nymph, dropped them in vials of alcohol, and sent them off to Sask Polytech’s BioScience Applied Research Centre (SBARC) in Saskatoon. Her mission was to get some help in identifying these wingless little creatures. In Saskatchewan, there are more than 60 species of dragonfly nymphs—or larvae—and each species can provide valuable information about the health of the province’s forests and waterways. Benmerrouche had already spent hours over a microscope, comparing leg lengths, jaws, lateral spines and other defining characteristics of dragonfly larvae. As part of a Sask Polytech applied research team, she wanted to develop a better taxonomic key—or identification system—for these aquatic organisms. But progress had been slow. “Dragonfly nymphs are incredibly difficult to identify,” says David Halstead, a natural resources instructor at Sask Polytech’s Prince Albert campus who is heading up the project. “All of the [dragonfly nymph] keys are designed for the very last phase of growth—before nymphs become adults.” And because the team’s samples consisted of younger nymphs, he says, “we ended up with larvae that just didn’t fit the keys.” Thinking that there had to be a better way, he considered DNA analysis. “The DNA signature of every species is unique. It doesn’t matter how old it is,” he says. His next step was to call Blaine Chartrand, head of Sask Polytech’s BioScience Technology program in Saskatoon, to discuss the possibility of extracting and analyzing nymph DNA at the SBARC.

“Our BioScience Technology program includes extensive molecular biology courses, so our students were up for the challenge,” says Chartrand. “They could apply what they’d learned about DNA extraction and modify their extraction methods for the tiny insect samples.” Soon, the couriered vials had arrived at the Saskatoon campus for initial assessment, followed by Benmerrouche, who drove the 140 kilometres for a first-hand look at DNA extraction. “I can’t believe how much they showed me that day,” she says. (Benmerrouche has now graduated and is pursuing a certificate in Geographic Information Science for Resource Management at Sask Polytech.) Her mentor was BioScience Technology student Janet Chung (who has graduated and works as a laboratory research technician). “We had fun together,” says Chung. Initially, they experimented with taking cells from their cheeks, then Chung showed Benmerrouche the steps in extracting DNA from the nymph appendages. “I had to explain to her how it works,” says Chung, who was grateful for what she’d learned about distilling science into understandable terms in her program’s communication courses. “Usually, it was the instructor telling me what’s going on!” So far, the SBARC has identified the species of 10 dragonfly nymphs through DNA extraction and Halstead’s team is that much closer to developing an alternative—or at least a supplemental way—of identifying these insects that can tell us so much about our environment. “DNA analysis can help us not only learn more about microorganisms, but about larger organisms and our ecosystems as well,” says Halstead. “This kind of collaboration between our two program areas could lead to more areas of shared research.”


High-tech equipment,such as drones and hydroacoustic technology, will enhance how natural resources technology students and faculty carry out applied research at the Hannin Creek Educational Facility in central Saskatchewan.


wice a year, students in Saskatchewan Polytechnic’s natural resources technology programs head to a field camp at the Hannin Creek Educational Facility in central Saskatchewan. During their time there they might collect and analyze fish, conduct mammal and bird inventories, practise boating manoeuvres, test water quality and learn other outdoor skills. Set within a large boreal forest near the pristine Candle Lake, the site offers countless opportunities for studying the province’s vast northern ecosystem. It’s also a spot that’s perfectly poised to meet the growing needs of conservation and resource development in Saskatchewan. In 2014, Sask Polytech and the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation (SWF) acquired the facility, making substantial improvements to its infrastructure, including re-insulating cabins and installing barrier-free washrooms. Sask Polytech’s next step is to expand the biological research capacity of the field station. “Currently, there is no boreal research facility in the province,” says Dr. Hamilton Greenwood, program head of Sask Polytech’s natural resources technology programs. “This will be a first for Saskatchewan.” In July, Sask Polytech received $348,952 in funding from Western Economic Diversification Canada, which will go towards providing new high-tech equipment for use in a future lab at the field station.


The new equipment will include unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones—ideal for surveying and mapping—and 3D “lidar” (laser-based) technology, which lets researchers measure and map hard-to-get data such as forest height and volume, flood volume and solar insolation. In addition, hydroacoustic technology at the facility will make it possible to gather sonar data for use in mapping lakes and rivers, assessing fish populations and monitoring reservoirs. “There’s no limit to the applied research that will be possible there,” says Greenwood, “and no limit to the hands-on learning that will take place there.” Both students and industry/research partners will have opportunities to conduct research in the station’s new lab. Sask Polytech plans to equip the lab with top-of-the-line microscopes, dissection benches, large freezers and refrigerators, powerful computers and satellite Internet. It all goes according to plan, the new lab will be accompanied by a new wing at the facility, which will include 20 bedrooms that will sleep 40 and a dining hall that will accommodate about 70. “Once the building is constructed, it should be self-sustaining and run a modest profit every year,” says Greenwood. Sask Polytech and the SWF expect to rent out the space on a limited basis to groups and organizations looking for an unusual, natural spot for gatherings such as corporate retreats and training sessions.


omedian Mike Simmonds is not joking when he says that designing a better hockey puck for the blind is like solving a Rubik’s Cube. “It’s a puzzle, for sure,” says the Saskatoon resident. Simmonds, 49, played goal until his early 30s, when diabetes took his sight first in one eye, then the other, and he switched to playing hockey with other blind and visually impaired individuals. The key to “blind hockey” is the puck, which is larger and moves more slowly than a traditional hockey puck and— most importantly—emits noise.

and identifying potential problems” says Anthony Voykin, who heads up the project team. “Once we have [developed] a prototype, he comes over and we all go down to the gym and shoot the puck around. He gives us some very good feedback.” The team has also involved second-year students in the project, having them experiment with designing circuit boards for inside the puck. By January 2015 the team had a promising prototype. Made using a custom-built mould, the puck has a rubber shell, with a metal tube inside to house the electronics. “It has the same feel that an NHL hockey puck has,” says Voykin, but it emits noise. “If someone takes a shot at it, the noise changes,” he says. “It will beep a little bit faster, enabling goalies to pick it out as it’s flying towards the net. As well, when it’s stationary, it still makes noise so the players can find it.” The team soon made a set of seven prototypes, in time for a test run at Ryerson University in Toronto in February. There, at the former Maple Leaf Gardens site, Simmonds and 75 other athletes, aged 14 to 82, competed in the third annual Courage Canada National Blind Hockey Tournament. “There’s a lot riding on this,” says Simmonds. “It’s definitely worth waiting for.”

Simmonds has played with three different pucks for the blind over the years, including one fashioned from a plastic barbecue wheel with piano pins inside. With the assistance of an auto body specialist, he even helped develop a steel puck containing ball bearings. None of the pucks was ideal so, convinced there was room for improvement, he approached Saskatchewan Polytechnic in 2014. Six faculty and staff from the Electronic Systems Engineering Technology program took up the challenge, supported by $23,000 in funding from Sask Polytech’s Office of Applied Research and Innovation. In their experiments, they’ve used everything from oscilloscopes and CAD software to a reflow oven (for soldering), sheet metal sheers, a 3D printer and a vacuum pump.

Faculty member Michael Lasante is part of a six-person team in the Electronics Systems Engineering Technology program that is designing an audible hockey puck for visually impaired players.

“Mike has been a mentor to us, helping us with our prototypes



Top: Computer Systems Technology (CST) student Jonathon Miller. Above: CST students developed a database for Habitat for Humanity Prince Albert. The team also won for best CST second-year project. Back row, from left to right: Les Dickson (Habitat for Humanity), Alan Schroeder, Jonathon Miller, Christopher Stewart, Oseyi Kokobili and Bob Allen (Habitat for Humanity). Front row, left to right: Wyatt Anderson, Linden Soroka , Bethel Hailu and Sarah Etter. Right: Volunteers help build a Habitat for Humanity home.




very year more than 63,000 Canadians volunteer with Habitat for Humanity Canada, a non-profit organization that builds affordable homes for low-income families in some 300 communities across the country. Recently, its affiliate in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, turned to Saskatchewan Polytechnic for help.

The Challenge Habitat for Humanity Prince Albert has grown by leaps and bounds in the last eight years. “We went from building one house every two or three years to building three or four houses a year,” says Les Dickson, a web designer who sits on Habitat PA’s board of directors. The organization also builds three houses annually in surrounding communities. Habitat PA needed a web application that would help it to track its volunteers’ hours. This information is important not only for volunteer recognition purposes, but also because each family that is eligible for a Habitat home commits to 500 volunteer hours, which need to be recorded accurately. Habitat PA had been tracking this information in a makeshift manner—on paper and Excel spreadsheets, and from memory.

The Solution Dickson contacted Sask Polytech’s Computer Systems Technology (CST) program. As a former instructor and consultant at Sask Polytech, he was aware of how the institution partners with industry, government and the community to find solutions to practical problems. He also knew that the CST program had developed a database for the Lymphedema Association of Saskatchewan, another non-profit organization. “I knew that it [would be] a good fit with what we needed,” says Dickson. In September 2014 Habitat PA was assigned a team of eight second-year CST students at Saskatchewan Polytechnic, Saskatoon Campus. “They met with us initially and asked a lot of questions, trying to get a handle on the scope of the project,” says Dickson, who, along with another Habitat PA director, drove the 90 minutes to meet with the students every month or two. “There was always someone who took minutes, someone who chaired the meeting, someone who corresponded with us. We were very

impressed with their professionalism.” The team developed a database that can be accessed from wherever there’s an Internet connection, allowing users to log in—from a building site, an office, or a mobile phone—and enter information. The database also tracks other information, such as donations of building materials and appliance warranties, and filters data so that Habitat PA can generate custom reports—by project, by volunteer or by family.

The Results Habitat PA can now begin to keep track of its volunteer hours and other project details with greater speed, accuracy and consistency. It also has the flexibility to add more features to its database in the future.

BUILDING A CAREER. For Sarah Etter, helping to build a database for Habitat for Humanity Prince Albert has brought some real perks. The project uses open source software, for instance, which means that she and her Sask Polytech teammates had the opportunity to work with an industry-wide web development platform. “It really is a great thing for a resumé,” she says. Not that Etter is overly concerned about her resumé at the moment. During her first year in Computer Systems Technology, she landed a part-time job as a junior web developer with Territorial, a Saskatoon branding, web development and creative agency. “It’s worked out really, really well for me,” says the 27-yearold, who started making websites—including one for Spice Girls fans—at age nine or 10. The Habitat project not only broadened Etter’s understanding of application development and architecture, it also gave her a chance to develop team-building skills and to put project management theory into practice. “We learned a lot about every single aspect of what a business or firm would do in an actual workplace,” she says. “It’s just been a huge learning experience.”




DNA research safeguards beer brands


askatchewan Polytechnic’s BioScience Applied Research Centre (SBARC) is collaborating on a research project that will identify and protect the yeast strain that is essential to the production of some regional beers. Working with Great Western Brewing Company (GWBC), a Saskatoon brewery, SBARC researchers are using DNA techniques to characterize the genetic identity of the firm’s proprietary yeast culture. “Saskatchewan Polytechnic has the expertise, equipment and technology to identify the yeast’s genotype,” says Anita Fuller, GWBC’s manager of corporate quality assurance. “This baseline information is critical to recovering the yeast if it were damaged or contaminated in a crisis, such as a fire or flood.” Under the supervision of principal researcher Lance Wall, a student from Saskatchewan Polytechnic’s BioScience Technology program is collecting DNA from GWBC’s yeast and comparing it with catalogued yeast strains. Once the company’s strain is identified, GWBC plans to deep-freeze a sample of the yeast culture off-site to protect it and ensure the continuity of the company’s beer brands. “Applied research projects in the BioScience Technology program directly incorporate the knowledge and skills students acquire both in the classroom and in the lab,” says Wall. “These experiences not only enhance learning, but also increase our graduates’ marketability and provide value to our industry partners.” SBARC assists business and industry in testing new products, techniques and technology. Saskatchewan Polytechnic’s Office of Applied Research and Innovation (OARI) facilitated SBARC’s partnership with GWBC by securing a $25,000 grant through the College and Community Innovation Program of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), enabling GWBC to access SBARC’s research and development expertise. GWBC was founded in 1989 when 16 former Carling O’Keefe employees pooled their resources and started the brewery to save their jobs. The company now is one of Canada’s most successful regional brewers, has more than 90 employees and produces three world-class brand families of beer: Original 16, Great Western Brand Family and Brewhouse.

BioScience Technology student David Thiessen at Great Western Brewing Company in Saskatoon.



ince the Office of Applied Research and Innovation (OARI) opened its doors in 2006, there’s been more support for applied research activities at Saskatchewan Polytechnic (and formerly, SIAST) than ever before. Policies around intellectual property and research ethics have been established. Internal and external funding programs have helped numerous faculty and industry/community partners get projects off the ground. And two research hubs—the BioScience Applied Research Centre and the Digital Integration Research Group—have been launched and outfitted with state-of-the-art equipment. To ensure that applied research continues to be a cornerstone of Sask Polytech’s strategic direction, an Applied Research and Scholarship Action Plan (2015 to 2020) has been developed. A key part of the plan is its applied research priorities. “The Action Plan closely aligns our applied research activities with the evolving needs of the provincial economy,” says Anne Neufeld, Saskatchewan Polytechnic provost and vice-president, Academic. Going forward, applied research activities will focus

on five sectors: agriculture and biotechnology; construction; health and human services; manufacturing, mining and minerals; and oil and gas. They will also tap into Sask Polytech’s areas of expertise in relation to stakeholder needs. These four areas comprise business and process efficiencies, environmental and natural resources, information and communications technology and digital integration, and social capital, health and wellness. “This two-pronged approach will allow us to create multidisciplinary research teams,” says Neufeld. “We want to foster the cross-pollination of ideas, the use of technology and the sharing of different perspectives around common issues so that we can quickly respond to industry’s needs.” Expect to hear more about the Action Plan and how Sask Polytech helps industry and community partners capture new opportunities through applied research in the next academic year. “The OARI plans to launch an applied research road show,” says Neufeld. “We’ll visit each Sask Polytech campus and offer information sessions for faculty and staff about what we do, why we do it and where we’re headed.”

APPLIED RESEARCH HIGHLIGHTS Saskatchewan Polytechnic* earns eligibility to receive funding from Canada’s three federal granting agencies

Office of Applied Research and Innovation (OARI), Institute for Nursing Scholarship established

2007 2006

BioScience Applied Research Centre launched



2009 OARI launches Seed Applied Research Program, Sustainability Initiatives Fund and the Applied Research Relief Time Stipend

2013 Research Ethics Board established

Digital Integration Research Group launched; Saskatchewan Polytechnic* earns eligibility to receive funding from the Saskatchewan Health Science Foundation

*Then the Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology (SIAST).


ADVANCING INDIGENIZATION THROUGH UNDERSTANDING Examining the Aboriginal student experience of self-declaration or self-identification As efforts to advance the indigenization process at Saskatchewan Polytechnic continue, one group is digging deeper into the experience of self-declaration or selfidentification for Aboriginal nursing students enrolled in the SCBScN at the Saskatoon campus. The Sask Polytech Kindred Spirits for Indigenization is an interprofessional grassroots group originating from Aboriginal students’ concerns regarding a few key areas including the perceived lack of support to self-identify as Aboriginal. “What we have already learned is that many students may self-declare as Aboriginal on formal documents but may not self-identify as Aboriginal within a classroom setting,” says Judy Kreuger-Jones, principal researcher and faculty in the School of Nursing. “The two are not mutually exclusive and are context dependent. We want to know why that is and learn how to improve the overall experience for our aboriginal students.” Funded through the Applied Research Relief Time Stipend, the group is approaching their methodology from a relational perspective. This means the research process itself is about building relations and strengthening bonds with the community before conducting surveys for quantitative data and focus groups for qualitative data. The goal is to collect enough data to accurately describe the self-reported frequency of selfdeclaration while exploring the experience of self-identification in a postsecondary setting.

student advisor at the School of Nursing, the knowledge gained will be a pivotal component as Kindred Spirits continues to move indigenization forward and promote the success of Sask Polytech Aboriginal Students. “Understanding barriers to either selfdeclaration or self-identification will help us make the changes that are necessary to ensure that we are properly representing and honouring the experiences of our First Nations and Metis students,” Ahenakew says.

For Sharon Ahenakew, Aboriginal Nursing



Research promises to aid language learners


earning a new language can be a touchy-feely experience. Just ask Brenda Sherring, English as a Second Language (ESL) program head at Saskatchewan Polytechnic Regina Campus and a former ESL instructor. In her six years of teaching ESL students, she would often use her fingers and tongue to show them how to form sounds. Or, she’d get the students to press against their larynx—their voice box—to feel the reverberations they could create. These exercises helped her in her teaching, but they weren’t ideal. “I know there’s a better way,” she says. “We have the technology.” So, through Saskatchewan Polytechnic’s Office of Applied Research and Innovation (OARI), she contacted Terry Peckham, a Sask Polytech technology instructor who is immersed in applied research this year, aided by an Applied Research Relief Time Stipend. “I asked Terry to make an animated head,” says Sherring. “A transparent head would let us see how the tongue moves around the mouth, how the breath works and how the musculature in the face changes when different sounds are made.”

has consulted with Dr. Ian Stavness, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Saskatchewan, who has created a 3D computeranimated model of a tongue. “It’s completely flexible,” says Peckham of the model. “That’s what we’re shooting for as our holy grail.” Peckham hopes to extend Stavness’s application to the other parts of the mouth required for speech and incorporate it into a mobile platform. Then there is the challenge of how to create realistic, intricate animations that smartphones can support and that illustrate concepts such as air passing over lungs. “This is a project that will go on for a while yet,” says Peckham. Once a prototype is developed, Sherring will have her students experiment with it and Peckham will be in a position to show it to potential partners. “There could be some interesting spinoffs,” he says. The technology could eventually have speech therapy applications, or language-training companies could incorporate the pronunciation model into its software.

It was a tall, but fascinating order. There are language-learning apps that demonstrate how to pronounce a sound, word or short phrase, but none illustrates how mispronunciation occurs and how students can correct their errors. Peckham wanted to make an app that would. “It’s a project that has a lot of potential—and a lot of technical hurdles,” he says. “We’re taking advantage of smartphones’ built-in voicerecognition software.” So far, he’s programmed the app to prompt a user to record a phrase into a phone which is then compared with the correct pronunciation of the phrase. “It highlights any words they’ve said wrong,” says Peckham. The next, more difficult, step is to develop a 3D prototype of a transparent head that will pop up on a user’s screen to show how the tongue moves when forming certain sounds. For that, Peckham


ESL program head Brenda Sherring demonstrates how to form sounds. She’s hoping a new animated head app will show ESL students how mispronunciation occurs and how they can correct their errors.


One of the six snake hibernation chambers designed by natural resources technology students.

99 snakes at a time


hibernation chambers and released 99 healthy snakes today.”

Three Saskatchewan Polytechnic students overwintered and cared for 99 of the Plains garter snakes. Salthaven kept 150 snakes awake and fed over the winter months but did not hibernate the snakes.

The snakes were kept in six hibernation chambers designed by Saskatchewan Polytechnic’s natural resources technology programs. Each chamber contained wood shavings and an open bowl of water for hydration. The snakes’ hibernation chambers were stored in a walk-in refrigerator. Students checked on the snakes daily, monitoring their weight, temperature and humidity.

askatchewan Polytechnic and Salthaven Wildlife Rehabilitation & Education Centre West released 250 rescued snakes at the Condie Nature Refuge last spring. These snakes were rescued from a Regina house beginning in late November 2014.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime animal husbandry project for our students,” says Joanne Marchand, School of Natural Resources and Built Environment. “To the best of our knowledge this is one of the largest artificially induced hibernation projects for a captive snake population in Canada. Working with Salthaven experts, our students and faculty helped rescue 99 snakes in late November, cared for them in artificial

“Without intervention from Saskatchewan Polytechnic and Salthaven, these snakes would have perished,” says Megan Lawrence, Salthaven director of rehabilitation. “It is very rewarding to see the snakes released back into the wild and to work with students who are excited about environmental stewardship and sustainability.”


Saskatchewan Polytechnic Applied Research & Innovation Dr. June Anonson, Interim Director 400-119 4th Ave. S Saskatoon, SK S7K 5X2 1-866-467-4278

Sask Polytech Applied Research Annual Review  

Sask Polytech Applied Research Annual Review 2014-2015

Sask Polytech Applied Research Annual Review  

Sask Polytech Applied Research Annual Review 2014-2015