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Reversing the brain drain

February 5, 2009

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About 50 SFU graduate students will use data from Boeing Canada’s Richmond-based AeroInfo Systems division to find ways to improve aircraft efficiency and reliability, under an internship partnership funded by the aerospace giant and the B.C. government.

The internships are part of Accelerate BC, a four-year program supported by $10 million from the province and administered by MITACS, an SFU-based national research network that brings together university researchers and companies on collaborative projects.

The program is designed to stop the brain drain of local graduates to other countries and encourage Canadian businesses to do more R&D at home, an area in which Canada has trailed other countries in recent years.

Participants will work in a new multi-disciplinary field called visual analytics, which combines computer science, mathematics, engineering, design and cognitive psychology.

The partnership represents the largest investment in internships from the private sector to date, and has the potential to give B.C.’s aerospace sector a competitive edge and create better travel conditions for the public worldwide.

"This partnership is a great example of how university-based researchers can add tremendous value to B.C. industry," says Accelerate president Jim Brookes, an SFU sessional economics instructor who administers the program for MITACS.

"Even in these tough economic times, it makes good business sense to develop the products of tomorrow by making small investments in R&D today."

Visual analytics gives an interactive visual representation of large volumes of data, sometimes unrelated, to help analysts acquire insight that will help them solve problems. Projects at AeroInfo will include aircraft safety, maintenance, engineering, manufacturing and parts management.

The province and AeroInfo Systems are each providing $750,000 for the 100 internships, for a total of $15,000 per graduate student. The federal government’s Industrial R&D Internship program is contributing another $750,000 for project management, training and travel. Internships usually last four months.

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