Alberta universities reach out to tech firms

Alberta’s educational institutions have been busy announcing relationships with information technology companies. On Friday, the University of Alberta was named as the site of IBM’s twelfth Centre for Advanced Studies. On Monday, Microsoft

announced it would contribute software, training and support to centres of excellence being set up at the Northern and Southern Alberta Institutes of Technology.

The Alberta Innovation and Science ministry also announced a memorandum of understanding to explore opportunities for research co-ordination between Hewlett-Packard Co. and the province’s four universities — University of Alberta, University of Calgary, University of Lethbridge and Athabasca University — and the Banff Centre. And HP formalized a two-year research collaboration with the Banff New Media Institute at the Banff Centre, researching content and applications for mobile digital devices.

Finally, Sun Microsystems Inc. agreed to provide its MuDoc software to create one of the world’s largest Web-based repositories of folk music, starting with the Folkways Records collection donated to the University of Alberta by Folkways founder Moses Asch.

The spate of deals resulted from an annual trip to California and the Pacific Northwest by Minister of Innovation and Science Victor Doerksen, said Lynn Hutchings-Mah, a ministry spokeswoman.

The newest IBM Centre for Advanced Studies will be located at University of Alberta</a.’s Edmonton campus. The university’s computing science department is providing space and support for the centre, said Jonathan Schaeffer, acting chair of computing science.

The university and IBM between them will invest $810,000 in the project, in the form of technology, facilities and cash. The provincial government is putting in $450,000 over a three-year pilot project. Funding will be reviewed as the project proceeds and may be extended, Hutchings-Mah said.

The Alberta CAS is Canada’s third. IBM’s first CAS worldwide was founded in Toronto in 1990. “The lab in Toronto was small but growing,” said Gabby Silberman, program director for Centres for Advanced Studies at IBM Corp., “and the leaders at the time figured that they needed to have a better way to communicate with the computer sciences schools in Canada.”

IBM also has a CAS in Ottawa.

Not all the centres are located on university campuses, but Schaeffer believes an on-campus location is best. “You really want someone on campus who can meet people, interact with them on a daily basis,” he said. IBM will have at least one representative on the University of Alberta campus.

Bernie Koolman, general manager for Edmonton and the public sector at IBM Canada’s Alberta offices, said IBM and university researchers had been talking and wanted a more formal way to co-operate. The creation of the National Institute for Nanotechnology Research, a joint venture of the university and the Alberta Research Council to be housed in a new building now under construction on campus, was a key impetus.

Schaeffer added that Project Cybercell, in which University of Alberta researchers are seeking to model the behaviour of cells, and the Alberta Ingenuity Centre for Machine Learning, within the computing science department, also helped attract IBM to the campus.

Nanotechnology, machine intelligence and biological simulation will be the main areas of interest for the Alberta CAS.

Koolman noted that IBM might extend the centre in future to work with the University of Calgary and University of Lethbridge.

Garth Dean, director of business solutions at Microsoft Canada Co. in Mississauga, Ont., said his company is working with the province’s two technology institutes through its Academic Alliance Program. Microsoft provides free software, with training and support, to many academic institutions. The program exposes students to Microsoft’s software, he said.

In this case, the centres of excellence will also help showcase Microsoft software for the private sector. Part of the centres’ mandate is to work with companies in the oil and gas and manufacturing sectors, showing them how to use information technology in their businesses.

“It seemed like a real good way to really drive into the oil and gas sector,” Dean said.

The centre at NAIT in Edmonton will focus on the use of information technology in manufacturing, while the centre at SAIT in Calgary will concentrate on using IT to streamline business processes.

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Grant Buckler
Grant Buckler
Freelance journalist specializing in information technology, telecommunications, energy & clean tech. Theatre-lover & trainee hobby farmer.

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