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Knowledge surge

A once under-the-radar workshop between the Steele Ocean Sciences Building and the Life Sciences Centre has been transformed into a student space where big ideas about science and innovation will thrive. In January, the Government of Nova Scotia joined students, faculty, staff and industry partners to officially announce $1.05 million in funding and the opening of Dalhousie’s newest innovation sandbox: SURGE.

Short for Science Unleashed: Research Growing the Economy, SURGE joins nine other sandboxes in Nova Scotia all working to foster talent development and economic growth in the region. The new sandbox is nestled between two core facilities in the Faculty of Science, a natural location to pipeline talent into provincial science-based sectors such as oceans, clean technology and life sciences.

Making connections

Sandboxes are collaborative spaces that bring together multidisciplinary teams to develop innovative solutions to local and global problems. SURGE is the fourth sandbox to launch at Dalhousie. Others include ShiftKey Labs (Faculty of Computer Science), IDEA Sandbox (Faculty of Engineering) and Cultiv8 (Faculty of Agriculture). A fifth sandbox in health innovation is underway.

Each year SURGE will offer a range of courses, workshops and events for both undergrads and graduate students, as well as faculty members and industry partners. Programming began in January with a new innovation course for fourth-year students (SCIE 4705:  Science Innovation, Commercialization, and Entrepreneurship). The course is taught by Aaron Newman, a professor of psychology and neuroscience and the new director of SURGE, who passionately delivered a snippet of the course in a mini-lecture following the announcement. “Students will get hands-on experience building solutions based on their own ideas and backed by science,” said Dr. Newman. “They’re the next generation of leaders and sandbox initiatives help these students turn lessons learned in classrooms and labs into companies and products that can benefit society.”

Ramping up in 2019

SURGE already has its first few “Deep Dive” events scheduled, beginning with a hackathon that will explore science-focused augmented (AR) and virtual reality (VR) applications, similar to how Dal’s Ocean School uses VR to teach junior high students about ocean science in classrooms across Canada (see page tk). Dr. Newman describes these events as immersive sessions that span days, sometimes weeks, and focus on a single theme. In a way, they lead up to the annual Innovation Bootcamp challenge, which takes place each summer and involves all provincial sandboxes. In the future, SURGE will also host a residency program designed to support promising teams of students as they move to turn their innovative ideas into reality through refining their business model, developing prototypes, validating hypotheses and seeking initial funding and traction with investors.