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A Look at IBM’s Award-Winning New Brunswick Research Institute

The IBM Centre for Advanced Studies – Atlantic (CAS Atlantic) is a research-based institution designed to promote collaborative research between IBM and the University of New Brunswick (UNB). At this past fall’s CASCON, IBM’s annual industrial and academic conference, UNB was the only university to be recognized for excellence in three categories.

Ph.D. candidate Bing Yang was awarded Student of the Year; Panagiotis Patros, another Ph.D. candidate, led a UNB team to the Project of the Year award; and CAS Atlantic Director Dr. Kenneth Kent was recognized as Faculty Fellow of the Year.

Dr. Kent says UNB has the most heavily engaged CAS team in Canada; it currently hosts four faculty members, 20 grad students, two full-time researchers, and 14 active projects.

ONB spoke to Dr. Kent about this hub of innovative research doing great things from New Brunswick.

ONB: Can you give us an overview of what IBM’s Centres for Advanced Studies do?

Kent: The goal of IBM’s CAS program is to work with universities across Canada, and the world, to engage in technology research and development. They look at CAS as a way to leverage academic partners in order to push innovative research, ideas, and objectives. Ultimately the goal is to find new solutions that can be commercialized.

ONB: Why choose UNB as home to the Atlantic Region’s CAS? 

Kent: CAS Atlantic was created mainly because IBM saw a need to work with UNB due to our expertise in runtime technologies. The IBM Runtime team is predominantly based in Ottawa; around 2009 they were looking for more people and realized a large portion of their existing team came from UNB. They then discovered that I and others here were working in areas highly related to what they were doing. Rather than simply partner on small projects, it was decided to go ahead and launch a CAS in Fredericton. With support from ACOA’s Atlantic Innovation Fund, CAS Atlantic was made official in 2010.

ONB: What brought you to New Brunswick?

Kent: I was studying out west for a stretch and wanted to return to Atlantic Canada; I’m originally from Newfoundland. I was looking for a faculty position closer to home that would provide the opportunity to do interesting research, be involved in teaching, and have a great family life — New Brunswick fit the bill. There were several people here that helped convince me this was the place to be. I don’t regret that decision.

ONB: UNB has been recognized as Canada’s Most Entrepreneurial University, and hosts a treasure trove of amazing researchers. What is it about UNB that draws great talent?

Kent: One thing UNB has over other destinations is that it’s just the right size. It’s large enough to do what it wants to do and compete with larger universities. However, nothing is sacrificed in terms of giving up individuality and personality, and the opportunity to interact with people on a personal level.

I’ll give you a great example — Panagiotis Patros, the Ph.D. student involved with our Project of the Year. He told me he came to UNB thinking it was just another university. Once he got here, however, and started working with the faculty, that perception changed. He saw the level of interaction here between professors and students, and the collaborative atmosphere that created. He said you aren’t just a student here; you’re a colleague, a collaborator, and a friend. He said that really sold him on staying at UNB for his Ph.D., and sold him on staying in Canada, New Brunswick if possible after he’s finished.

ONB: Can you tell us about CAS Atlantic’s industry collaborations?

Kent: Absolutely. Part of our mandate when we created CAS Atlantic was to develop skills and expertise and to make that expertise readily available to Atlantic Canada companies. To give just one of our latest examples, we’ve engaged with Shediac’s Butterfly Energy Systems; they deal in energy management and HVAC systems. Their goal is to build a system with which you can control a building’s entire HVAC system via a smartphone. What they want to do is be able to do it securely from outside the building. We’ve been doing a lot of software development with Butterfly on that project, and our contract with them should be completed very soon.

The other thing I should mention with regards to industry is that a lot of students that come out of our Centre end up going to small startup companies and feeding this region’s young businesses. Our students have also ended up at places like Inversa Systems, Green Imaging Technologies, Siemens Canada, and IBM’s Security Division, which has a large presence in New Brunswick as well.

[Read IBM: Securing the Future in New Brunswick, to learn more about the IBM Security Division’s investment in New Brunswick and collaboration with ONB.]

Want to learn more about growing or establishing your business in an innovation hub like New Brunswick? Connect with an ONB Business Development Executive at the button below.

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Cover image: UNB Media