Research chairs to support hi-tech ocean probing

Alex Hay, John Cullen and Marlon Lewis

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and a local company - Satlantic - have provided more than $3 million for two industrial chairs in the Oceanography Department.

NSERC is providing $1.6 million and industry partner Satlantic is providing $1.5 million over five years to fund the chairs. The grants provide salary, equipment and operating expenses for the chair holders, support staff and graduate students. Additional support will be provided by Defence Research Establishment Atlantic, which will provide access to the experimental facilities and research vessels.

The NSERC/Satlantic Chair of Environmental Observation Technology will be held by John Cullen, an adjunct oceanography professor at Dalhousie since 1990. Alexander Hay, a Memorial University physics professor, will join Dalhousie to hold the NSERC/Satlantic Chair in Ocean Acoustic Technology. Their research will focus on visual and acoustical sensing of the ocean.

"The partnership will have some major long-term benefits for industry and the university," says Satlantic president and oceanography professor Marlon Lewis. "The high calibre of the chair holders, coupled with Satlantic's proven technical capability, will result in increased revenues, which translates into quality jobs in the high technology sector."

Satlantic was founded by Lewis in 1990, and grew out of research efforts started at Dalhousie. The company makes state-of-the-art optical sensors that observe the oceans from buoys, ships and planes. The sensors are used for monitoring pollution in the marine environment, to determine the transparency of the sea for defense purposes, and for calibration of ocean-observing satellites launched by space agencies in the U.S., Europe and Japan.

Satlantic's decision to invest in research made good sense, says Lewis. "We felt that we could either buy new machinery or tools that would depreciate and then be valueless, or put our investment in people and have them be worth a great deal more in three years."

Lewis says that Cullen's research interests complement Satlantic's optical manufacturing operations, while Hay's area of research opens the door for Satlantic to develop new sensing systems for the acoustical probing of oceans.

With these two strengths, he says, "we will be able to listen as well as to see."

"This is a great example of the ways in which university research benefits our economy," says President Tom Traves. "The exports and employment created by Satlantic spun off from university research. Now, Dalhousie's research capacity is being further strengthened by this very generous funding from Satlantic and NSERC."

NSERC president Thomas Brzustowski called the project "an impressive example of university-industry partnership, with a clear prospect of substantial benefits for both partners."