Biotechnology student Jorge Peña

Biotechnology student Jorge Peña

Reversing the Canadian brain drain

Summer intern program at the University of Victoria a means to attract foreign research scientists

For Jorge Peña and Anup Daté, a summer at the University of Victoria provided hands-on training in high-tech research, and a chance to explore a scenic new city. For Canada, it’s a 12-week opportunity to convince the brightest young minds from emerging economies to relocate here.

Peña, a 23-year-old biotechnology student from the Monterrey Institute of Technology in Mexico, tackled cutting-edge research in epigenetics, a field that holds promise in cancer diagnostics and treatment. Daté, 21, studies engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, and advanced techniques in capturing large amounts of waste heat to allow far more efficient heating of buildings.

They are two of 14 science and engineering interns from Brazil, China, India, Mexico, Turkey or Vietnam who attended UVic this summer, and of 280 in Canada, under the Mitacs-Globalink program.

“It’s a reverse brain-drain program,” quipped professor Fraser Hof in UVic’s department of chemistry, who oversaw Peña’s work. “It targets countries with high-quality people. Hopefully they come back as a graduate student.”

“It’s very competitive,” adds Rustom Bhiladvala, a professor of mechanical engineering overseeing Daté’s work. “People selected have the highest GPA to come here.”

When Peña wasn’t wandering around Beacon Hill Park or Fisherman’s Wharf, he was in a chemistry lab trying to understand how a useful molecule called a calixarene interacts with blood and other bodily fluids.

Calixarenes could ultimately become a way to control how particular genes operate, which could come in handy in shutting down cancerous cells.

“Epigenetics is like a light switch to control how a gene expresses, or not. If you have a mutation, you can turn it off or control what it is doing,” Peña says. “We are hoping to use these molecules as therapy, but we need to know how it interacts in body fluids.”

Hof noted that this avenue of research was only recently discovered “by accident,” like any great innovation. “It is completely brand new. We came up with it a month before Jorge joined us,” Hof said.

At UVic, Daté, who happily explored the Sooke Potholes and areas like Cadboro Bay, tackled the potentially far-reaching problem of how to efficiently capture and store heat produced in buildings by studying the various properties of “phase change materials” that can hold large amounts of heat in a liquid form.

“This is looking at ways to cut building heat loads,” Daté said. “We want to trap heat created by solar and waste heat (such as from air conditioning), and store it for later.”

“Our buildings are very poorly designed thermally,” Bhiladvala remarked. “We throw heat away when we don’t want it, and pay for it when we do want it. We’re at a stage of trying to alleviate that.”

Both students are returning to their home countries after July 15, but both are eager to return to UVic for post-graduate degrees.

“The weather is brilliant here and the people are awesome,” Daté said. “I think I’ll come back. If I’m accepted of course.”

“I’m hoping to come back for my PhD,” Peña said. “I really like Canada. The people are polite and helpful.”

editor@saanichnews.com

 

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Students from SD62 stepped up to help members in the community with the annual 10,000 Tonight food drive. This year’s organizers had to adapt during the campaign as COIVD-19 public health orders changed. (Black Press Media file photo)
West Shore students step up to make sure community members don’t go without

Students of SD62 are this year’s recipient of the Youth Volunteer Award

A cat died in this house fire in Sidney afternoon. The fire started on the house’s deck and spread from that point. Sidney Volunteer Fire Department Chief Brett Mikkelsen said the permanent presence of crews at the Community Safety Building prevented worse damage. (Photo courtesy of Clayton Firth)
Sidney house fire kills cat, causes extensive damage

Official says fire started on deck and damage to the house could have been worse

Millstream Village is welcoming a new Marshalls location March 9. (Photo courtesy GWL Realty Advisors)
New Marshalls store in Langford brings boost to women in need

Retailer will hold opening ceremony in Millstream Village March 9

Abstract Developments is donating $75,000 to support community programming at The Cridge Centre for the Family. (Courtesy of The Cridge Centre)
Victoria developer builds support for community programs

Abstract Developments donates $75,000 to The Cridge Centre for the Family

SD 62 (Sooke) has announced a COVID-19 exposure at David Cameron Elementary in Colwood. Potential exposure dates are Monday, Feb. 22; Tuesday, Feb. 23; and Wednesday, Feb. 24. (Black Press Media File).
COVID-19 exposure at Colwood’s David Cameron Elementary

Potential exposure dates are Monday, Feb. 22; Tuesday, Feb. 23; and Wednesday, Feb. 24.

A health worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to members of the police at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. The federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate, start with the vaccination of police officers in internal police vaccination centers. (Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP)
B.C. officials to unveil new details of COVID vaccination plan Monday

Seniors and health-care workers who haven’t gotten their shot are next on the list

A boat caught fire in Ladysmith Harbour on Saturday morning. (Photo submitted)
Search underway for missing woman after boat catches fire in Ladysmith harbour

A large boat caught fire on the morning of Saturday, Feb. 27

Lone orca from a pod that made its way north from Georgia Strait and into Discovery Passage on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. Photo by Ella Smiley/<a href="https://www.facebook.com/Comoxvalleywildlifesightings/?ref=page_internal" target="_blank">Comox Valley Wildlife Sightings </a>
Island wildlife viewers thrilled by close view of passing Orca pod

Group gives wildlife photographers a classic opportunity to view them off Campbell River shoreline

An investigation is underway after a man was shot and killed by Tofino RCMP in Opitsaht. (Black Press Media file photo)
Man shot and killed by RCMP near Tofino, police watchdog investigating

Investigation underway by Independent Investigations Office of British Columbia.

B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on Tuesday December 11, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s compromise on in-person worship at three churches called ‘absolutely unacceptable’

Would allow outdoor services of 25 or less by Langley, Abbotsford and Chilliwack churches

Baldy Mountain Resort was shut down on Saturday after a fatal workplace accident. (Baldy Mountain picture)
Jasmine and Gwen Donaldson are part of the CAT team working to reduce stigma for marginalized groups in Campbell River. Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror
Jasmine’s story: Stigma can be the hardest hurdle for those overcoming addiction

Recovering B.C. addict says welcome, connection and community key for rebuilding after drug habit

A Vancouver restaurant owner was found guilty of violating B.C.’s Human Rights Code by discriminating against customers on the basis of their race. (Pixabay)
Vancouver restaurant owner ordered to pay $4,000 to customers after racist remark

Referring to patrons as ‘you Arabs’ constitutes discrimination under B.C.’s Human Rights Code, ruling deems

Most Read