Student Co-Inventors Thrive at Trent University
Watch a short video on Professor Narine’s work for more information.
Dr. Suresh Narine understands the power of cultivating an entrepreneurial spirit. As a Trent alumnus, professor in Physics & Astronomy and Chemistry, and the director of the Trent Centre for Biomaterials Research (TCBR), he’s surrounded himself with students, industrial partners and academic collaborators who, like him, are driven by research that will have a commercial and environmental impact.
“We deliberately seek students who are motivated by applied opportunities for their academic work, students who find motivation by seeing their work impact society,” explains Professor Narine.
To develop students’ academic and commercial abilities, they go through a rigorous interview process and orientation program, are exposed to the centre’s industrial partners, and are taught early on about the challenges involved in commercializing a product. Students learn to prepare research proposals which have economic as well as scientific justification, are taught to understand the value of confidentiality, and all students sign a contract which establishes up front that they will share in the economic proceeds of any commercialization of their research.
Culture is key…as is the perfect cup of coffee
“If you speak to the students in my lab, they are all excited and motivated by intellectual property and commercial application as a measure of their success,” says Prof. Narine. “Culture is really powerful this way.”
The culture in Prof. Narine’s lab was put on display in a recent partnership between Materials Science graduate students, Michael Floros and Michael Tessier. While the two students’ research focused on different topics, the collaborative lab culture at Trent allowed them to merge their ideas to brew up a unique product that caffeine craving consumers could soon be lining up for.
“The Michaels had some kind of spontaneous combustion together – and excitedly approached me to approve a project they conceptualized all on their own,” explains Prof. Narine. “To develop a series of phase change materials from food lipids which can effectively regulate the temperature of a cup of coffee.”
The result? Three filed patents, published work in major academic journals, and a coffee cup that will cool your coffee to perfect drinking temperature in seconds and keep it at drinking temperature for nearly four hours. Professor Narine, the students and their industrial partners are now seeking to commercialize this invention.
Putting the power in students hands
With over 18 patents coming out of the TCBR alone in the past five years it’s clear that Prof. Narine is putting the power in the hands of students – both at the undergraduate and graduate level - to focus on research that will solve the varied problems in today’s world.
For example, when one of the commercial partners involved with the TCBR discovered that a commercially-generated cocktail of compounds used as waxes were capable of lowering the crystallization temperature of biodiesel, they turned to Prof. Narine and his students to figure out which of the compounds in the mixture was causing this reaction.
A number of undergraduate students, including Bruce Darling and Mark Baker, two student summer interns, took up the challenge on this project under the supervision of more senior students. Both Mr. Darling and Mr. Baker are now named as inventors on a total of four patents originating from this research. Not only was the TCBR able to confirm which compounds were involved, but they were also able to figure out the mechanisms involved and then vastly improve on the efficacy of the compounds. This work was a collaboration between undergraduates Mr. Darling and Mr. Baker as well as Athira Mohanan’s Ph.D. thesis, research associates, Dr. Shaojun Li and Dr. Laziz Bouzidi and Prof. Narine himself.
The group has also been able to design polyurethane foams made from the byproducts of a vegetable oil refinery owned and operated by some of the TCBR’s commercial partners, which has also resulted in four patents being filed by Ph.D. graduate student Prasanth Pillai, and Drs. Li, Bouzidi and Narine. This project is also the focus of significant commercial activity by the centre and its industrial partners.
“All inventors, including students, share equally on the proceeds of commercialization which is a wonderful motivator as it rewards people for their work,” explains Prof. Narine. “Watching an undergraduate student play an equal role alongside seasoned academics and researchers in innovation is tremendously exciting and rewarding.”
Professor Narine’s work with his students, collaborators and commercial partners has once again received a resounding vote of confidence from his industrial funders and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) of Canada: he has recently been reappointed as a Senior NSERC Industrial Research Chair (IRC), his third consecutive renewal as an NSERC IRC.
Posted on Monday, September 14, 2015.