People Profiles

Research Profile: Daniel Hilbich, Engineering Science

April 11, 2014
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SFU Applied Sciences takes student to the classroom and beyond


Engineering Science MASc student Daniel Hilbich has had a lifelong passion for the study of science, space and life. Although he started out as a regular undergraduate student at SFU, over time Dan has combined his studies and personal interests in pursuit of unique opportunities and life-changing experiences beyond the lab.

In summer 2012 Dan completed the International Space University’s (ISU) Space Studies Program at the Florida Institute of Technology and NASA Kennedy Space Center. The ISU specializes in providing graduate-level training to future leaders in the emerging global space community. Aside from doing research and project work, Dan enjoyed learning about space programs and enterprises, watching rocket launches and meeting with directors of space agencies. He plans to go back this summer, this time as a teaching assistant in the Engineering department at the École de technologie supérieure in Montreal, QC. In fall 2013, Dan traveled even further abroad to the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Beijing, China, where he met fellow space buffs and co-presented a paper with a student from the University of Scotland.

Dan’s interest in grad school began when he received an NSERC Undergraduate Student Research Award (USRA) and started working with associate professors Lesley Shannon and Bonnie Gray, whose support he credits for inspiring him to further pursue his research. After two years of working at PMC-Sierra as a Product Development Engineer, Dan began his graduate studies in 2012. Alongside his supervisors, Shannon and Gray, Dan works in the Applied Sciences Microinstrumentation Lab, where he studies microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) – the technology of very small devices – and creates miniature structures of micrometre (one thousandth of a millimeter) scale.

Dan is investigating new, polymer-based microfabrication technologies for biomedical and space applications. His goal, and the focus of his thesis, is to create conductive, magnetic devices that are foldable, flexible and wearable, and can read a person’s heart rate, body temperature and different levels of chemicals in the blood. Given his personal interest in astronomy and astrobiology, Dan wants to examine how these devices can be used in space. He is also exploring new avenues for inexpensive large-scale production of the technologies he and his team are working on. In terms of global application, this may include instruments like blood sensors that can be deployed to developing countries unable to afford expensive diagnostic equipment.

Given that much of the research he is conducting has not yet had extensive real-world testing and application, Dan has faced some challenges. However, he notes that perseverance is key: “A lot of what I’m doing is new, and you expect it to work and it doesn’t work. You have to have confidence in your process, and keep experimenting. Sometimes it seems impossible, but work away and you’ll get there.” In 2013 Dan won an NSERC Canada Graduate Scholarship to further fund his graduate studies, which he hopes to finish by fall 2014.

Dan completed his BASc in Electrical Engineering at SFU in 2010. From his time in Applied Sciences, his work and extracurricular experience, Dan has developed diverse and valuable skills – including a solid foundation in hardware and software design, programming, and embedded systems and communications networks, gained through his three co-op terms at PMC-Sierra, MDA and Ericsson. He is considering PhD opportunities in MEMS and embedded system/hardware development, particularly with applications in space and physical sciences. His advice to current and future students interested in following a similar path is to take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself. “Every time an opportunity comes up you might have a lot of excuses not to do it, but do all the things you can and you’ll open the door to more possibilities for yourself.”

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