Stacy Penner

(She, Her, Hers)

Communications Strategist (on leave)

Office of the Vice-Principal, Research and Innovation
Office: ADM006 (WK11)


BCKDF funding awarded to the campus’s newest Canada Research Chairs

Photo credit: Margo Yacheshyn

Two UBC Okanagan researchers have received a combined $440,221 in infrastructure support from the Government of BC.

The funding came from the latest round of the BC Knowledge Development Fund (BCKDF) awards, which help support expanding research capacities at BC post-secondary institutions. At UBC Okanagan, these funds are supporting research projects from UBC Okanagan’s newest Canada Research Chairs.

Dr. Alanaise Ferguson from the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences is the Canada Research Chair in Health, Healing and Community Revitalization: Indigenous Approaches to Overcoming Intergenerational Trauma and Loss (Tier 2). Her BCKDF-funded project is a communication centre for health and cultural revitalization that prioritizes Indigenous lived experiences.

From the School of Engineering, Dr. Will Hughes is the Canada Research Chair in DNA Engineering (Tier 1). His BCKDF funding will go towards the DNA Nanotechnology Laboratory, where Dr. Hughes and his team are studying storing data in synthetic DNA, or nucleic acid memory (NAM).

“I am delighted to see this investment in research infrastructure, which will support UBC Okanagan’s newest Canada Research Chairs and their colleagues,” says Dr. Lesley Cormack, Principal and Deputy Vice-Chancellor. “I’m grateful to the Province of BC for helping enable our researchers’ cutting-edge and important work in DNA nanotechnology and developing Indigenous approaches to overcoming intergenerational trauma and loss.”

The most recent round of BCKDF funding gave approximately $52.3 million to support 25 research projects at five BC post-secondary institutions. Across both campuses, UBC researchers were awarded more than $47 million for 21 projects.

Drs. Alanaise Ferguson and Will Hughes recognized for research excellence

UBC sign at UBC Okanagan, with snow on the ground and snowy hills in the background.

Photo credit: Margo Yacheshyn / University Relations

Two UBC Okanagan faculty members have received prestigious Canada Research Chair appointments from the federal government.

The Honourable Pablo Rodriguez, Minister of Transport, announced the new chairs today on behalf of the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, as part of a larger funding announcement for Canadian researchers and projects.

Dr. Alanaise Ferguson from the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences is the new Canada Research Chair in Health, Healing and Community Revitalization: Indigenous Approaches to Overcoming Intergenerational Trauma and Loss (Tier 2), while Dr. Will Hughes from the School of Engineering is the Canada Research Chair in DNA Engineering (Tier 1).

Both faculty members also received Canada Foundation for Innovation funding through the John R. Evans Leaders Fund for their research infrastructure, for a combined total of more than $440,000.

Alanaise Ferguson in a brightly lit atrium, wearing an Indigenous-designed scarf.

Dr. Alanaise Ferguson, Associate Professor, Indigenous Studies is the new Canada Research Chair in Health, Healing and Community Revitalization: Indigenous Approaches to Overcoming Intergenerational Trauma and Loss (Tier 2).


An Associate Professor in Indigenous Studies, Dr. Ferguson focuses on developing Indigenous approaches to overcoming intergenerational trauma and loss. As a registered psychologist, and the daughter and granddaughter of residential school survivors, she incorporates therapeutic models in her work and engages with diverse Indigenous ways of healing.

“Indigenous approaches to health and wellbeing are really expansive and include techniques and processes we might not necessarily recognize,” said Dr. Ferguson. “One of these techniques is cultural reclamation, such as language reclamation or the resurgence of Indigenous stories—basically the things we lost when we were enduring different policies of genocide, especially in the last century.”

With a group of Canadian scholars, Dr. Ferguson is developing a healing plan that can be easily adapted across Canada in various environments and communities.

Though Indigenous people experience similar levels of mental health issues as non-Indigenous Canadians, their rates of post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic stress are disproportionately higher, says Dr. Ferguson. This stress can contribute to other health disorders, including cardiovascular diseases and diabetes, and to greater involvement in the criminal justice system.

“If Indigenous people had access to culturally appropriate services, then we could really remediate that disparity,” says Dr. Ferguson.

Will Hughes standing in front of a brick pillar with white flowering tree in the background.

Dr. Will Hughes, Director of the School of Engineering, is the new Canada Research Chair in DNA Engineering (Tier 1).


Dr. Hughes, who serves as the Director for the School of Engineering and a Professor in Applied Science, designs DNA for multiple uses, including storing and reading digital data.

The increasing popularity of cloud computing is creating a two-fold storage crisis. First, the world is projected to run out of semiconductor-grade silicon—necessary for manufacturing the flash memory used in cloud storage applications—by 2040. Secondly, storing the huge amount of data already created in memory requires a massive amount of energy, resulting in high environmental and financial costs.

To help solve this problem, Dr. Hughes believes storing data in synthetic DNA is a viable alternative. Nucleic acid memory (NAM), as coined by his team, is stable, sustainable, inexpensive to operate, and can store significantly more data in a smaller package.

In contrast to large servers and data centres, with the emerging capabilities of DNA, it’s possible that the projected digital universe in 2040 could fit in a 100×100×10 cm3 box—slightly smaller than a U-Haul box to move a TV.

Dr. Hughes’s project focuses on encoding and encrypting information into DNA in multiple dimensions, but the team will also be exploring basic questions about how DNA interacts, how information flows in a system and how to take advantage of the biological and non-biological components of DNA for data storage applications. To address these questions, they’re also building the next generation of sequencing tools.

“This project is an engine for creating questions and answering questions,” says Dr. Hughes. “It’s where science and engineering and design come together in authentic ways.”

To the benefit of UBCO, Dr. Hughes combined CFI funding related to his CRC with that of another CRC in UBCO’s Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science, Dr. Isaac Li, to purchase a near video-rate atomic force microscope.

“It is a gift to work with Dr. Li, and together we were able to acquire a state-of-the-art instrument that neither one of us could have acquired independently. Partnership means everything here, and this new CRC-funded equipment will support UBC Okanagan’s growing research success for years to come.”

The federal government established the Canada Research Chairs program in 2000 to promote excellence and innovation in Canadian research centres. Chairholders are some of the world’s most accomplished and promising minds, improving our depth of knowledge and quality of life, strengthening Canada’s international competitiveness and helping train the next generation of researchers. UBC Okanagan now has nine Canada Research Chairs.

With the announcement, UBCO researchers received more than $4.1 million in funding for 26 UBCO-led projects, including the two CRC-associated JELF awards, 10 SSHRC Insight Development Grants and 14 NSERC Alliance Grants.


SSHRC Insight Development Grants

UBCO researchers received more than $630,000 in funding from SSHRC Insight Development Grants, over 10 successful projects.


Adebayo, Sakiru (English and Cultural Studies)
The Melancholic Diaspora: Postcolonial African Immigrant Subjects in the United States

Obeegadoo, Nikhita Sonia Richa (Languages and World Literatures)
From coelacanths to mangroves: A multilingual, multispecies and decolonial approach to global archipelagic literature

Ronquillo, Charlene (Nursing)
Stakeholder perspectives and impacts of explainable artificial intelligence: A case study in a British Columbia health authority

Saifer, Adam (Faculty of Management)
Connecting the dots: Investigating institutional philanthropy’s entanglement with right-wing populism in Canada

Wong, Wendy (Economics, Philosophy and Political Science)
Increasing Accessibility in Surveys

Mohamadpour Tosarkani, Babak (School of Engineering)
A novel decision-support approach for exploring and analyzing factors affecting Canadian food industry performance

Neimanis, Astrida (Community, Culture and Global Studies)
Enhancing Access and Inclusion in Environmental Humanities Research Practice

Chau, Shirley (Social Work)
Anti-racism task forces and reports at universities in Canada: What happens to them after the launch party? A Critical Race Theory application of institutional response to calls for action…

Paulson, Timothy (History and Sociology)
Canola Capitalism: Futures Markets and Genetically-Modified Rapeseed on the Canadian Prairie, 1963-2007.

Yoon, Kyong (English and Cultural Studies)
Asian Canadian YouTubescape: Youth Cultural Politics of Visibility


NSERC Alliance Grants

UBCO researchers had 14 successful applications during 2022/23, totalling over $3 million in NSERC funding.


Sina Kheirkhah (School of Engineering)
Development of hydrogen safety codes and standards through a collaboration between UBC and the University of Groningen: Design of reacting flow facilities

Suliman Gargoum (School of Engineering)
Automated Low-Cost Change Detection of Road Infrastructure Assets Using Remote Sensing and AI

Zheng Liu (School of Engineering)
Multi-Modal ILI Data Fusion for Combined Diagnostics of Pipeline

Sumi Siddiqua (School of Engineering)
Bio-mediated treatment of organic soil with fungal strain Penicillium Chrysogenum and wood fly ash

Ifeoma Adaji (Computer Science, Mathematics, Physics and Statistic)
A Systematic Review of Behaviour Change Technologies for Influencing Healthy Nutrition

Jian Liu (School of Engineering)
High-performance quasi-solid-state zinc-ion capacitors coupling carbonaceous electrodes with eutectic hydrogel electrolytes

Solomon Tesfamariam (School of Engineering)*
Performance-Based Design of Tall Mass Timber Buildings Under Earthquake and Fire Loads

*has since moved to another institution

Rehan Sadiq (School of Engineering)
Enhancing Sustainability Performance in Aquatic Centres: A Life Cycle Approach

Thu Thuy Dang (Chemistry)
Single-cell omics approaches for anticancer camptothecin biosynthetic pathway elucidation

Ahmad Al-Dabbagh (School of Engineering)
Toward resilient operation of large-scale systems

Nathaniel Pelletier (Biology)
Collaborative roadmap development towards a net zero greenhouse gas emissions Canadian egg industry

Kenneth Chau (School of Engineering)
UV LED Light Controlling Elements for Photoreactor Applications

Shahria Alam (School of Engineering)
Crack detection and prediction of RC piers during earthquakes using machine learning and artificial intelligence

Kyle Larson (Earth, Environmental and Geographic Sciences)
Tectonics, deformation, fluid flow, and gold metallogeny during Cretaceous inversion of the Selwyn basin

Projects funded to improve campus air quality, energy efficiency and wildfire resiliency

Aerial of UBCO campus buildings, with Nechako in foreground and looking towards Academy Hill.

New research projects from the Campus as a Living Lab program will help UBC Okanagan set an example of sustainability in the region.

Now in its second year, the Campus as a Living Lab (CLL) program is funded by the Office of the Vice-Principal, Research and Innovation and partners researchers with campus operations staff to help design and implement innovative solutions to on-campus challenges. This opportunity allows research to be directly applied to a real-world setting while providing meaningful impact to the campus through climate action, resilient systems, sustainable places and communities, or health and wellbeing.

This year’s results saw two successful projects selected in a competitive process.

Man hangs what looks like a canvas painting on a wall, but with cords coming from the bottom. In the foreground, a handheld monitor sits on the table.

Ryan Gordon, a summer research assistant, hangs an ART device in the Pritchard Simulation Centre at Kelowna General Hospital. These low-cost air filtering devices will be mounted in high-priority areas across UBC Okanagan to reduce viral spread and air pollution.


Dr. Sunny Li (School of Engineering) and Dr. Jonathan Little (Faculty of Health and Social Development) are partnering with Roger Bizzotto and Martin Gibb in Facilities Management to clean UBC Okanagan’s air through wall-mount air filtering devices that are cleverly disguised as paintings.

Developed out of the work of the Airborne Disease Transmission cluster, these Aerosol Removing Tapestry (ART) devices use positively charged filters to reduce airborne particles and bacteria. The ART device is low cost, quiet and uses only about four watts of energy per device. The team plans to assess UBC Okanagan indoor spaces for the highest risk areas of viral spread and pollutant inhalation, test different device sizes and locations, and monitor their effects on airflow in this live setting.

“This work has significant potential for the health and wellbeing of students, as the Okanagan region is grappling with a rise in respiratory illness and increased wildfire smoke in the summer months,” says Dr. Li. “Being a successful applicant for the Campus as a Living Lab competition is a great honour. We are thrilled to embark on this collaborative journey exploring how we might enhance the indoor air quality across our campus through the implementation of our ART filter devices.”

Administration building at UBCO in dark blue dusk, lit from inside with dark silhouettes of trees in front.

Researchers and campus staff are aiming to improve the efficiency of the energy system responsible for the campus’s legacy academic buildings, including the Campus Administration building pictured above. Photo credit: Martin Dee / UBC Communications & Marketing


The second project will apply Dr. Klaske van Heusden’s control-relevant modeling research from the School of Engineering to optimize UBC Okanagan campus heating and cooling systems for increased energy efficiency and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

Control-relevant models are simple, approximate models estimated from data. Designed to minimize the impact of modeling errors, they’re created to help enable high-performance control systems that are relatively easy to maintain.

In 2019, 88 per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions from UBCO campus operations were due to heating buildings with natural gas. Working with Colin Richardson, Associate Director of the UBC Okanagan Energy Team, Dr. van Heusden will apply her modeling research to help improve the energy system responsible for the older academic buildings on campus. This system currently functions about 68 per cent efficiency, despite the potential for operating at 90 per cent.

The team believes the project will mark the first time this type of modeling has ever been applied to energy control systems in buildings. The modeling approach is more cost effective than other more complex modeling options and can lead to simpler solutions that don’t require specialized staff to control and implement.

“It is well known that most buildings function well below the energy efficiency they were designed for,” says Dr. van Heusden. “The technology to optimize energy use is mature and reliable but is not used in practice. We’re working on methods that can bridge this gap. I’m very excited to evaluate the impact of our technology on greenhouse gas emissions, right here at UBCO.”

The Campus as a Living Lab project launched at UBC Okanagan in 2022 and funded their first cohort in 2023.

“I’m thrilled to see projects that are going to directly benefit the campus community,” says Dr. Miranda Hart, Campus as a Living Lab project lead.

“Air quality is a growing concern for the campus, and the world in general. The technology developed through CLL is an elegant, easy solution that may eventually help improve life quality for millions. Optimizing our campus energy system will reduce campus carbon footprint, help us on our goal towards carbon neutrality and reduce our contribution to climate change.”

UBC Okanagan campus aerial

Located in the wildfire-prone Okanagan Valley, UBC Okanagan can greatly benefit from a smart fire detection system throughout its network of buildings. Photo credit: Geoff Lister


In addition to the annual CLL competition, this year introduced the Campus as a Living Lab Grand Challenge, a one-time opportunity for two UBC Vancouver projects, and one at UBC Okanagan, to be awarded major seed funding to address on-campus solutions to the climate emergency.

The successful Okanagan project—proposed by Dr. Qian Chen and Dr. Shahria Alam from the School of Engineering and Roger Bizzotto of Facilities Management—will implement a smart fire detection system to improve wildfire resilience at UBC Okanagan. Keeping in mind the 2023 wildfire and the high overall fire risk in the Okanagan, the team will build a 360-degree system of “virtual watchtowers” that use sensor networks, thermal camera imaging and AI-driven predictive control.

“With this system, each building on campus becomes a smart agent to understand when to trigger sprinkler system, and when and how to optimize air purification in hot spots in response to real-time particulate matter data, reducing considerable manual effort from the facilities management team to patrol and manage those systems,” says Dr. Chen.

The Office of the VPRI’s Innovation and e@UBCO staff members will soon be moving from their space in the Innovation Centre downtown into the Landmark Centre, where other UBC faculty, staff and administrative departments currently exist.

The team’s last day in the Innovation Centre will be March 16, 2024.

UBCO has been consolidating departments, faculty and staff in the Landmark District for the past few years. The move enables the Innovation and e@UBCO team to join those resources in a new location that still enables partnership and engagement with the community. It also helps further consolidate UBCO resources and departments in a single location and serves as a step toward the larger move into the university’s new downtown building, which is slated for completion in 2027.

There will be no impact on activities, programming or support, and team members will continue to support start-ups and grow our programs from this new location. UBCO will also continue to be a member of Accelerate Okanagan.

As is the case now, the Innovation and e@UBCO team members will still operate out of the Office of the VPRI in ADM 006 for a portion of the week.

Three new, two renewed Eminence clusters tackling complex societal problems


The newest UBC Okanagan Eminence research clusters are utilizing their interdisciplinary expertise to tackle some of society’s most complex and urgent challenges.

Funded through the Office of the Vice-Principal, Research and Innovation’s (VPRI) Eminence Program, Clusters of Research Excellence are interdisciplinary teams of researchers that focus on addressing complicated societal problems beyond traditional disciplinary boundaries. The Eminence Program funds each cluster for three years.

“I am proud of the interdisciplinary research taking place on our campus that is represented in this year’s Eminence clusters,” says Dr. Phil Barker, Vice-Principal, Research and Innovation. “These teams are taking on major challenges in our society, from data safety and AI, to understanding immune cells, optimization of human radiotherapy, aging well and in place, and our homelessness crisis. We look forward to realizing the impact of these initiatives in research outcomes and in our community.”

After a competitive process, VPRI has funded three new clusters and renewed two existing clusters to continue their work.

Data Safety and AI Literacy

This image was generated by Midjourney, an AI visualization program, using a simple prompt: “How will artificial intelligence positively and negatively affect the world.”

 Co-led by Dr. Pourang Irani and Dr. Wendy Wong, the Data Safety and AI Literacy cluster will create digital literacy tools for better data safety.

Given the challenges around accountability with AI applications and their heavy reliance on data generated by, and about, humans, the cluster will focus on equipping the broader community with the essential tools needed to make informed choices and leverage the numerous advantages of AI. The cluster is a collaboration between humanists and social scientists dedicated to understanding the effects of AI on society and humanity and technologists specializing in visual computing and engineering.


Dr. Isaac Li and Dr. Emmanuel Osei will lead this new cluster and collaboratively research immune cell interactions for better cancer treatments.

Immunotherapy is a highly promising approach to cancer treatment that boosts a person’s immune system to help find and attack cancer cells. However, immunotherapy is currently inconsistent in treating cancer and inflammatory diseases, and scientists don’t have a detailed understanding of how immune cells interact at a cellular level, or with other cells. With this interdisciplinary team of experts, the cluster aims to develop next-generation techniques to monitor immune cells in real time with hopes of revolutionizing treatment of cancer and other diseases.

Personalized Cancer Radiotherapy

Led by Dr. Christina Haston, the Personalized Cancer Radiotherapy cluster will be developing a blood test for individualized radiotherapy risk.

Currently, physicians constrain radiation doses to avoid severe damage, but for 95 per cent of patients, increased radiation doses may possibly increase the effectiveness of the treatment. The cluster’s aim is to develop a pre-treatment blood test for radiotherapy that, combined with information about individual traits (age, gender) and radiation dose, could provide more specific information on patients’ genetic risk of radiotherapy side effects.

In addition to these new clusters, both the Aging in Place and Homelessness research clusters have been renewed for another three years of funding to enable them to continue their outstanding work.

Aging in Place

For the past three years, Dr. Jennifer Jakobi and Dr. Kathy Rush have been leading this interdisciplinary team to help optimize active and healthy aging at home. The cluster’s goal is to help older adults “age in place” or remain in their homes, safely and comfortably, by developing evidence-based, in-home self-management supports and assistive technologies to maintain physical activity, functional independence and social connections.


The Homelessness cluster, led by Dr. John Graham, is identifying technology and service-delivery solutions to reduce homelessness in vulnerable populations in the Okanagan. The team works in close collaboration with community-based agencies and Indigenous communities to help make homelessness strategies more responsive and efficient in addressing the diverse needs of vulnerable populations, including those who have experienced a traumatic brain injury.

Grants to fund research on youth mental health, MAID and global health equity

Rock wall with "University of British Columbia" and light snow, pine trees in background.

Photo credit: Margo Yacheshyn / University Relations

Major grant funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) will support three multi-year projects led by UBC Okanagan researchers.

The funding is granted through CIHR’s Project Grant: Fall 2023 competition, which is designed to support ideas with the greatest potential to advance health-related knowledge, research, care, systems and/or outcomes. Three researchers from UBCO’s Faculty of Health and Social Development were awarded grants for their projects related to youth mental health, medical assistance in dying (MAID) and global health equity.

Dr. Shelly Ben-David from the School of Social Work is leading a four-year project to develop a digital toolkit designed to increase the amount of underprivileged youth accessing mental health services in Canada.

Focusing on integrated youth services, which put multiple types of in-person and digital services from mental health to substance use in one place, the researchers will develop the toolkit curriculum and test whether youths who use this tool decide to access the mental health services. Throughout the various stages, the study will also engage youth directly in the research with focus groups and teaching research skills.

In the School of Nursing, Dr. Barbara Pesut will study Track 2 MAID—the availability of medical assistance in dying (MAID) to people whose sole underlying medical conditions are serious mental disorders (now delayed until 2027).

In collaboration with co-principal investigators Dr. Michael McKenzie of BC Cancer Agency and Drs. Laurel Plewes and Sally E. Thorne of the UBC School of Nursing on the Vancouver campus, Dr. Pesut will study the experiences of applicants and family applying for, and receiving, MAID under Track 2 in order to contribute to policies and high-quality care. The research team will also interview those health-care providers charged with the difficult job of deciding who is eligible to receive MAID in these circumstances. The project involves knowledge sharing and workshops for both decision makers and the public.

The final project is focused on health equity and led by Dr. Katrina Plamondon from the School of Nursing with Dr. Elijah Bisung of Queen’s University, Dr. Susan J. Elliott of University of Waterloo and Dr. Elysée A. Nouvet of Western University.

Recognizing the gap between a vision for global health equity and following through, this team will test a training intervention designed to move equity intentions into action. Focusing on Canada’s global health research ecosystem, the researchers will study how equity is put into practice, evaluate how an intervention can build capacity, and develop consensus for excellence standards for equity.

Across both campuses, UBC researchers were awarded $31.3 million across 30 CIHR Project Grants and 16 Priority Announcement Grants in the Fall 2023 competition.

Funding to support aging in place and intimate partner violence survivors with brain injuries

Snowy branches with small red berries in the foreground, with the University Centre blurred in the background.

Photo credit: Margo Yacheshyn / University Relations

Michael Smith Health Research BC (MSHRBC) has funded two collaborative teams led by UBC Okanagan researchers to co-develop research that will directly impact the health of people in BC.

The funding is part of the MSHRBC’s Convening & Collaborating (C2) competition, which promotes knowledge exchange and meaningful collaboration by supporting researchers and research users to develop research together. This engagement with the people who use research ensures the relevance of the project and builds knowledge translation and skills within BC health research.

One of the successful projects, led by Dr. Paul van Donkelaar, Associate Vice-Principal, Research and Innovation and a professor in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences, focuses on the ethical and legal implications of screening for brain injury (BI) in intimate partner violence (IPV). The project received $15,000 from MSHRBC from the C2 competition.

Recognizing IPV-caused BI is a public health emergency that happens behind closed doors, research from Dr. van Donkelaar’s lab has shown a BI diagnosis has the potential to be weaponized against women in family court proceedings. This project will bring together experts from legal, community and health care-focused agencies to create an action plan to develop training and prevent such weaponization.

Dr. van Donkelaar has partnered with Supporting Survivors of Abuse and Brain Injury through Research (SOAR), a nonprofit initiative he co-founded, and will co-lead the project with its executive director, Karen Mason. They hope this collaborative, community-based project will inform future research and practice and spark system change for better outcomes for survivors.

“We’re incredibly pleased to have been recognized and to have received this funding,” said Dr. van Donkelaar. “It will play a critical role in helping us develop training and raise further awareness of the links between IPV and brain injury, particularly in the legal sector.”

The second successful project also received $15,000, $7,500 of which was funded by the Tai Hung Fai Charitable Foundation and Edwin S. H. Leong Centre for Healthy Aging. The project is led by Dr. Jennifer Jakobi, a professor in Health and Exercise Sciences and co-lead of the Aging in Place Eminence cluster. Working with project co-lead Lee Clark, Director of Health, Native Women’s Association of Canada, Dr. Jakobi will be working alongside Indigenous communities to understand what aging in place means to Indigenous older adults.

The team will be modifying a developed survey and hopes to build on it with partners across Canada to capture the voices of different nations. The project will develop reports jointly with Indigenous communities and share the information through knowledge-exchange events with government, Indigenous leaders and policy makers at the provincial and federal levels.

Ultimately, this team aims to capture Indigenous voices on this important topic and use intentional listening to elevate these voices to shape policies and practices to support aging in place for Indigenous communities.

A total of 11 UBC-led projects were funded across both campuses through the 2023 C2 competition, with an additional 10 UBC-led projects supported through the MSHRBC Reach program for knowledge translation.


Since 2017, the Eminence Program has invested more than $10 million into funding 23 Research Clusters across the UBC Okanagan campus.

With this level of investment, and given the fact that the Outlook 2040 vision is currently being reviewed, we have begun a review of the Eminence Program to ensure it is delivering on its stated aims and impacts, and to help identify any necessary program modifications to help us achieve further research success. This review will seek feedback and draw data from a range of sources, including research cluster leads, members, researchers and support staff, external funding successes, research outputs and research cluster annual reports.

The aims of the Eminence Program are to:

  • Contribute to, and leverage, existing and emerging research strengths aligned with the strategic plans of units, faculties, campus and the university
  • Encourage new collaborative, interdisciplinary research and/or artistic creation that address key questions facing society
  • Support the recruitment and training of highly qualified students and personnel
  • Foster new knowledge and enable knowledge transfer with business, government and community partners that will have a transformative impact on UBC and society
  • Support and catalyze new research success in order to attract further external research funding
  • Enhance UBC’s academic reputation
  • Support UBC’s commitment to respectful engagement with Indigenous and local communities and to equity, diversity and inclusion

VPRI will be working closely with the Associate Deans of Research from each of the faculties and schools to conduct the program review and to draft a final report and recommendations. We hope to produce a final report by March 2024.

If you wish to provide input into the Eminence Program review, please send thoughts to

We look forward to staying in touch with further updates, as appropriate, and to sharing the recommendations from the review when they are available.


Rob Shave
Professor, Special Advisor
Office of the VPRI

UBC is embarking on a search for the next Vice-Principal, Research and Innovation, UBC Okanagan, to provide strategic direction and oversight for research at our Okanagan campus.

The Vice-Principal, Research and Innovation serves as a member of the UBC Okanagan campus executive leadership group and also as an executive member of the Office of the Vice-President, Research & Innovation as an Associate Vice-President, Research & Innovation for the UBC system.

Boyden Canada has been retained to assist with the search. As a first step, they have created a survey for members of the UBC community who wish to share their thoughts on the qualities and experience the next Vice-Principal should possess.

If you wish to inform the search process, please visit:

The survey will be open until October 27, 2023, and all responses will be confidential.

We are also in the process of forming a search committee, which will include elected representatives from both campuses. Further information and opportunities to inform the search will be shared as the process progresses.

We would like to take this opportunity to once again thank Dr. Phil Barker for his more than eight years of exemplary service in this role to date. Phil will continue to serve as Vice-Principal and Associate Vice-President, Research and Innovation until the end of March 2024.


Lesley Cormack
Principal and Deputy Vice-Chancellor
UBC Okanagan

Gail Murphy
Vice-President, Research and Innovation

Five researchers, one new recruitment form 2023 PRCs

Trees with red and orange leaves in front of UBCO's UNC building, with Every Child Matters banner in midground.

Photo credit: Margo Yacheshyn / University Relations

Five exceptional researchers from UBC Okanagan have been recognized with the title of Principal’s Research Chair.

Now in its fifth year, the Principal’s Research Chairs (PRC) program is an initiative of the Office of the VPRI and the Office of the Provost and Vice-President, Academic and provides financial research support for UBC Okanagan faculty engaged in outstanding research or creative scholarship. UBCO PRCs are expected to be leaders that will build and intensify the research ecosystem at UBCO.

The PRC program helps retain top researchers and recruit new talent to UBCO. PRCs also serve to support and intensify ongoing research with the ultimate goal of achieving further external recognition and awards. Each PRC recipient receives five years of funding in one of two tiers.

Five UBCO researchers have been named as the campus’s newest PRCs. One additional allocation will be used to recruit a top-caliber faculty member who will become a Tier 2 PRC in the School of Nursing.

Tier 1 Chairs

Julian Cheng, headshot with his arms crossed


Dr. Julian Cheng’s research in next-generation wireless technologies is driven by the needs he sees in the world.

A Professor in the School of Engineering, Dr. Cheng’s research interests range from ultraviolet (UV) communication to wireless robotics communication to integrating artificial intelligence into wireless networks. Many of his recent projects are related to UV communication, which uses wavelengths of ultraviolet that don’t necessarily travel in a straight line. Because the signal can drop sharply and scatter, UV communication is extremely difficult to intercept or interfere with compared to traditional wireless communication using radio frequencies.

“It’s a niche technology, but we are the leaders in this area in North America,” says Dr. Cheng.

There are military and civilian applications to his research, particularly when it’s used for sensing. Forest fires, for example, emit ultraviolet signals that could be detected by a UV sensor, and there are also potential applications in search and rescue.

Whether it’s related to UV communications or ensuring robots can collaborate to finish complex tasks, Dr. Cheng is inspired to continually improve and advance his research. “I find it very satisfying to identify a new research problem from the actual implementation of our work,” he says. “Our research is driven by the needs of the actual system we’re working with.”

That said, training the next generation of talent is always front of mind in his research.

“Ultimately, it’s not about the prototype or the paper we’re producing, but the students we produce, especially at this stage in my career.”


Growing up in the Fraser Valley, Dr. Kyle Larson could see Mt. Baker from his back porch. His early curiosity about this large volcano in the middle of flat farmland eventually led him to become a world-leading expert in the movement and collision of Earth’s tectonic plates.

His research explores how mountains are formed due to the movement of tectonic plates. This work is important not only in understanding Earth’s geological history, but also in quantifying how large-scale tectonics are related to Earth’s natural climate fluctuations, enabling a better understanding of the specific impact humans have had on Earth’s climate.

In addition to being a Professor and Department Head of Earth, Environmental and Geographic Sciences, Dr. Larson is Director of the Fipke Laboratory for Trace Element Research (FiLTER), where he’s led the development of new, improved methods for determining geological age using minerals and a reactive gas in a specialized “collision cell.”

“This new method allows us to date many different minerals that we haven’t been able to date before,” says Dr. Larson.

The new dating method can help target exploration of critical minerals like lithium, copper or nickel that are crucial for transitioning to a greener economy.

As important as his research is, he’s most inspired by what it enables: the training of highly skilled professionals in his lab on new methods and their unknown future achievements.

Tier 2 Chairs

Dr. Amir Ardestani-Jaafari, Principal’s Research Chair in Data-Driven Operations Management (Tier 2)

Before he was an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Management, Dr. Amir Ardestani-Jaafari’s background in industrial engineering left him wanting more of a direct impact on people.

“In management, our primary focus is on thoroughly understanding and defining the underlying challenges and their implications,” says Dr. Ardestani-Jaafari. “I sought to apply my background in math and engineering to create a meaningful impact on society by addressing real-world challenges.”

His research in operations management works to make systems more effective and efficient, from manufacturing to health care to supply chains. Often using real-time data and sensors, Dr. Ardestani-Jaafari incorporates predictive models to help make decisions and to prepare for worst-case scenarios. He loves that his research can be applied to diverse areas, with current projects looking at flooding disruptions to BC’s supply chain, predicting the lengths of telehealth appointments and determining the impact of gas prices on rural food banks.

“Operations management permeates all aspects of industry and business,” says Dr. Ardestani-Jaafari.

Dr. Ardestani-Jaafari stresses that the PRC honour is not just for him, but for his entire research group. “This is a result of teamwork, and we celebrate this achievement as a team.”

Dr. Onyx Sloan Morgan, Principal’s Research Chair in Communities, Justice and Sustainability (Tier 2)

When they started university, Dr. Onyx Sloan Morgan had a lot of questions about injustices faced by communities in BC and how decisions created these conditions. Now an Assistant Professor in Human Geography, Dr. Sloan Morgan works with mostly rural and Indigenous communities who have invited them to work on priority topics like environment, justice and health.

Currently, Dr. Sloan Morgan is working with Binche Whut’en First Nations, whose unceded traditional territory is in northern BC, to document the ongoing legacy of mercury mining on their lands, which included dispossessing community members for the mine.

“We ask, how do we hold these legacies and if the community decides to share this history, what does it look like? How does the community want to move forward?”

This particular project involves creating a documentary. Other projects include documenting the modern treaty implementation process with the Huu-ay-aht First Nations, determining how fire has impacted communities across BC differently and expanding the presence of UBC’s new Centre for Climate Justice to the Okanagan campus.

“My work looks at larger systemic questions that help us to understand how we got to this moment. From that understanding, what can we do to address where we are and envision justice by and for communities who bear the brunt of harms we see happening today?”

Tania Willard, Principal’s Research Chair in Indigenous Art Initiatives (Tier 2)

When Tania Willard moved back to her home territory of Secwepemcúl̓ecw after being a practicing artist in Vancouver, she was drawn to the idea that the real art gallery is the land.

“Our art forms are so tied to the land in materials that we harvest and then transform into artistic expressions,” says Willard. An Assistant Professor in Visual Art, Willard combines Indigenous plant knowledges with contemporary art, which includes sun printing, lens-based work and alternative photography.

This connection to the land includes Willard’s work in Secwépemc language revitalization, which in turn continues to inspire her art. One example is T.susúsu7t, the word for bead that refers to a dew drop on a leaf.

“If you think about a spherical dew drop, it’s a really beautiful way that a new material that was introduced, beads, were then compared to something on the land. It’s an enriching way of thinking through artist materials and connecting to land.”

Willard is also the Director of the Indigenous Art Intensive and the UBCO Art Gallery, which includes the forthcoming professional gallery space in UBCO Downtown. This new university gallery will be the first in the BC Interior, and Willard’s looking forward to making space for experimental approaches as well as local Syilx and Indigenous artists and artists with diverse and inclusive practices.

“My work seeks to affirm and make space for creative ways of being because it’s transitional, pivotal and revolutionary for people to be able to be in touch with that part of themselves.”

Principal’s Research Chair in Indigenous Health and Wellbeing (Tier 2)

The final PRC is an allocation for a new hire of a top-tier scholar in the School of Nursing with the intended title of Indigenous Health and Wellbeing.

“We are pleased to have been awarded this Principal’s Research Chair in Indigenous Health and Wellbeing,” says Dr. Marie Tarrant, Dean of the Faculty of Health and Social Development. “It’s a uniquely interdependent Chair, in that the appointed nurse scholar shall also serve as mentor, advocate and ally to deepen and broaden research on Indigenous health priorities as identified by the communities. As such, this Chair appointment is a collective step towards our commitment to the Truth and Reconciliation Report’s Calls to Action specific to education, health and justice.”

With this announcement, UBC Okanagan has a total of 24 faculty members who have been named Principal’s Research Chairs.

“We couldn’t be prouder of these outstanding UBCO researchers,” says Dr. Phil Barker, Vice-Principal, Research and Innovation. “The PRC program helps identify the best and the brightest on campus and supports these researchers to make bold new discoveries in their fields. Each of these researchers has the potential to profoundly transform not just our campus, but the wider community.”