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Margin Notes

Waterloo shines a light on Canadian innovation at AAAS

U of Waterloo hosted an opening night event to showcase young start-ups and bright co-op students from the university.


The following is a guest post by Helen Murphy, assistant director, communications, for the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada.

There were no iconic red mittens on offer, but Canadian talent continued to shine at the largest general science gathering in the world this past week.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science Annual Meeting, held this year in San Jose, can best be described as an international science and technology extravaganza, attracting some 8,000 leading scientists, engineers, educators and policy-makers, along with hundreds of media.

Those who lamented the loss of a coordinated national presence for Canada at the 2014 annual meeting last year in Chicago (myself included) – after years of a growing committee structure leading the effort – can take some comfort in the strong institutional-level presence at the 2015 event.

Leading the way was the University of Waterloo with a rare headline event on opening night. I found Waterloo’s Innovation Showcase to be a breath of fresh air in terms of how we showcase Canadian talent and innovation. Without heavy over-branding, it was an interactive innovation experience featuring young start-up leaders and bright co-op students from the university.

It was no small investment. Waterloo flew a handful of entrepreneurs and their gear down for the event and shared generous hospitality with guests, complete with live music and local fare. The venue was a cool, cavernous garage space in downtown San Jose – lots of room for maneuvering robots or posing for photos; the vibe was innovation meets nightlife. No mittens required.

New and well-established technology stars strutted their stuff, including: BlackBerry Ltd., Clearpath Robotics, Palette, Nicoya Lifesciences, Centre for Theoretical Neuroscience, Institute for Quantum Computing, MappedIn, Nuvation Engineering, and WAVE (Waterloo Autonomous Vehicles Laboratory).

It isn’t cheap to get this kind of exposure to thousands of leading scientists and innovators from across the U.S., the U.K. and other countries. UWaterloo was an official sponsor of AAAS 2015. And the event itself required significant support. But it’s an investment that pays off by strengthening the university’s reputation as “the intellectual engine of one of the world’s top-20 startup ecosystems.” And it’s the kind of event that ensures Canadian talent continues to be recognized in an extensive offering of research and innovation sessions.

Other universities were well-represented in the science symposia by some of Canada’s top researchers. McGill researchers Mark Ware and Julie Robert organized a popular session called, “Cannabis and Medicine: A New Frontier in Therapeutics.” I had no idea there were so many cannabis treatment possibilities – and so much work remaining to be done. (Dr. Ware is featured in a recent news story in University Affairs, “Medical marijuana a growing field for university researchers in Canada.”)

Another hot topic was addressed by McMaster researcher Victor Kuperman in his presentation, Psychological Distance and Emotional Attachment in Social Media.”

A fascinating subject was offered up by UBC’s Julie M. Robillard in her talk, “Finally, We Can Grow Spines: Stem Cells on Twitter.”

Canada doesn’t need hyped-up branding, a multi-tiered committee structure and huge financial investments to strengthen our presence at AAAS, but we can do more through partnerships and collaborations to take advantage of the tremendous exposure opportunity of this event – as Waterloo wisely chose to do this year.

Léo Charbonneau
Léo Charbonneau is the editor of University Affairs.
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