Second annual BEEP day sparks innovation on campus

Students, researchers, and faculty came together to showcase work being done in UVic’s Biomedical Engineering department

The Victoria Hand Project is based out of UVic’s Engineering and Computer Science building. Photo by Josh Kozelj, Senior Staff Writer.

‘Beep’ is a sound many scientists are familiar with hearing in labs, but the famous robot tune had a completely different significance on campus earlier this month.

Hundreds of biomedical scientists and researchers gathered at UVic on Nov. 2 to celebrate technology being developed in Victoria and around the province at the second annual Biomedical Engineering Entrepreneurship Partnership day (BEEP).

Dr. Stephanie Willerth, an associate professor at UVic and current Canada Research Chair in Biomedical Engineering (BME), helped to organize the event and bring together members of the community with UVic students.

The University of Calgary showcase, which is in its third year, made Willerth think to start a similar endeavour in Victoria.

“We had the first [Biomedical Engineering industry Partnership day] last year,” said Willerth.”They actually … have an annual [Biomedical Engineering] day [in Calgary]. So I thought we should have one.”

While the Calgary event focuses more on bringing together established researchers and aspiring students to promote new entrepreneurial ways of thinking, Willerth sees Victoria’s event as a chance for UVic students to showcase their talents to the wider public.

“It’s really good, we got a lot of people from the industry coming in,” said Willerth.

She hopes events like this can double as an opportunity for BME students to network, get jobs, and show off to potential employers what they have been working on at UVic.

“There’s only limited exposure to biomedical engineering on the Island, so it’s always nice for the industry to come here so you know what’s available,” said Sukhi Singh, BME student and alumnus of Willerth’s lab.

The day’s events began with an optional lab tour that highlighted the many technologies the university is working on throughout campus.

“There’s only limited exposure to biomedical engineering on the Island, so it’s always nice for the industry to come here so you know what’s available.”

The tour started off in the chemistry labs of the Bob Wright Centre, before taking a look at the artificial limbs being designed and manufactured by the Victoria Hand Project in the Engineering and Computer Science building.

Willerth helped lead a segment of the tour through her personal lab in the Petch building. Inside were a host of 3D printers and scanners, all which help her interdisciplinary group develop tools that address significant biological problems in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.

Willerth got her PhD from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. Her 2017 book, Engineering Neural Tissue from Stem Cells, outlines basic information on the nervous system and explains how cells already existing in the human body can be used to create new neural tissue.

Following the tour, the groups were taken to the Michelle Pujol room of the Student Union Building for a meet and greet over breakfast, before the event’s keynote speakers took to the stage to talk more about their respective fields of work.

The morning’s speakers included Sue Paish, CEO of the Digital Technology Supercluster, a company that funds technology leadership projects in Canada, and Alan Winter, B.C.’s Innovation Commissioner. The speakers talked about the blending of healthcare and biomedical engineering, along with the various funding opportunities available to different innovative projects.

After a short lunch break that included more networking opportunities and presentations from UVic groups, Lisa Kalynchuk, Associate Vice-President of Research at UVic, took her position as moderator the first of two panels of the day.

UVic Mechanical Engineering professor Josh Giles, Island Health biomedical engineer Martin Poulin, and plastic surgeon David Naysmith lectured on how they tackle the difficult task of translating innovation from academia to the clinic in their respective workplaces.

A trio of entrepreneurs took the stage in the second panel. CEO and founder of TrichAnalytics Inc. Jennie Christensen, Nyoka Designs founder Paige Whitehead, and Noot Shaikh, Venture Manager at Creative Destruction Labs, all spoke about their biotechnology companies and how they improve the environment and help Canadian innovators get their science projects noticed by high-growth companies.

BEEP wrapped up with UVic students from the department of Biomedical Engineering showcasing their projects and studies to the esteemed scientists and researchers.

“The goal was … to showcase our new BME program, and also to get people to see what we’re doing at UVic,” said Willerth. And based on the size of the crowd that Willerth addressed in the SUB’s conference hall, it’s safe to say she met her goal.

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