Mitacs celebrates Canadian innovators

Mitacs celebrates Canadian innovators

In 2021, it was estimated that fewer than 230 Southern Mountain Caribou roam traditional Splatsin First Nation (FN) territory. The steady decline in population is directly attributable to the loss of their habitat as well as their only food source, tree lichens.

While the forestry industry shoulders the blame for these losses, the climate crisis has accelerated the impacts and impending extinction of these caribou.

Southern Mountain Caribou provide food security as well as clothing and tools essential to the physical and cultural survival of the Splatsin.

Splatsin are the southernmost tribe of the Secwépemc Nation, the largest Interior Salish speaking FN in Canada. Their territory stretches from the British Columbia/Alberta border near the Yellowhead Pass to the plateau west of the Fraser River, southeast of the Arrow Lakes and to the Upper reaches of the Columbia River.

The well-being of these caribou directly correlates with the health of the surrounding ecosystem and its inhabitants. Think canary in the coalmine.

Wildlife ecologist Mateen Hessami worked with the Splatsin in an effort to revive the endangered caribou population.

Hessami, an enrolled tribal member of the Wyandotte Nation, has a Master’s in Biology from the University of British Columbia. He was instrumental in facilitating co-learning between Western scientists and Indigenous community members ensuring that Indigenous knowledge, perspectives, and value systems were heard and that Splatsin FN continue to take a leadership role in Canada’s conservation efforts.

On November 22 Hessami’s vital work with the Splatsin was celebrated when he was awarded the Mitacs Award for Outstanding Innovation — Indigenous at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.

In total, eight innovators were honoured at the 12th annual awards ceremony recognizing the ground-breaking achievements of interns, professors and industry partners working together to find inspired solutions to pressing problems while boosting Canada’s lagging innovation record.

The Mitacs Award for Exceptional Leadership – Professor recognizes François Routhier’s work designing innovative technology to enhance life for variously abled folks.

The mechanical engineer, and professor in the Department of Rehabilitation at Laval University, collaborated on the development of an app that brings together those living with disabilities and community volunteers who can help them participate in outdoor activities like paddle boarding, hiking or adaptive skiing.

Routhier is an academic supervisor with an exemplary record of developing collaborations with industry and other partners. He provides valuable research and training experiences for interns while creating state-of-the-art technologies.

Cristiane Maucoski’s research work is certainly timely given the recent roll out of the Canada Dental Benefit that will give an estimated 500,000 children access to vital dental treatment.

The PhD candidate from Brazil earned the Mitacs Award for Outstanding Innovation – International for her almost year-long work exploring how to make stronger, longer-lasting fillings.

Working in the Department of Dental Clinical Sciences at Dalhousie University, Maucoski evaluated a variety of curing lights used to harden white composite fillings.

The work is critical to reducing the number of replacement fillings performed by dentists each year. It’s also keeping patients healthier by preventing leaks, increased tooth decay and the pain caused by improperly cured fillings.

Mitacs Award for Outstanding Innovation – Industry went to the Artic Research Foundation (ARF). The private, not-for-profit charity is creating a scientific infrastructure for the Canadian Artic.

Over its lifetime, ARF has generated and collected volumes of valuable data. With the assistance of Mitacs interns, ARF was able to design an effective database that not only integrates data from a variety of sources but manages and catalogues the data improving accessibility by researchers and the public.

Mitacs interns were instrumental in assisting ARF with a variety of projects while ensuring Inuit communities maintained the lead in determining and directing projects that address their most pressing issues.

The Mitacs-ARF collaboration built a free, pan-Canadian intersectional research repository designed to break down silos in Artic research.

It also significantly improved the digital storytelling platform, ArticFocus, by identifying and developing ways of meaningfully engaging Artic voices and community.

ArticFocus performs many roles including providing community understanding of the ARFs mission while improving and expanding the understanding of non-Northern audiences to the diverse life of the Arctic.

The team was also able to lay the groundwork for the development of a sustainable fishery on Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories (NWT) by engaging northern residents and governments of NWT for input on the project.

Mitacs partnerships are much more than co-operative learning for post-graduate and post-doctoral students. The companies and non-profits commit to the student experience and that includes competitively paying interns in exchange for creating ground-breaking solutions for Canadian companies.

In return, students get to develop their innovative ideas with established companies and see them come to fruition with the added benefit of a potential job offer after their internship ends.

Over 400 nominees vied for one of only eight coveted Mitacs awards this year.

In a statement, Mitacs CEO John Hepburn shared, “These prestigious awards celebrate the tremendous achievement of top Mitacs talent and recognize the infinite potential for innovation made possible when bold leaders work together. On behalf of Mitacs I am pleased to honour and congratulate this year’s recipients and to celebrate the significant contributions to innovation.”

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