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Entrepreneurial lens

PhD ocean researchers explore commercialization opportunities


By Jeff Green

Technology that improves the safety and efficiency of ships in the Arctic.

That’s the focus of Precision Pathways, a research project a pair of PhD students are working on in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science at Memorial.

Jonathan Soper and Tien Tran are under the supervision of Dr. Brian Veitch, Cenovus Energy Research Chair, in the faculty.

Unique student support

The project got its start with Mr. Tran’s research focused on route optimization for vessels in ice-covered waters.

He says he and Mr. Soper hope their work can generate a product that can be used and tested in the real world.

“Route planning is an important factor in maritime operations,” said Mr. Tran, M.Eng.’21, who is originally from Vietnam and decided to pursue graduate studies at Memorial on the advice of a friend and Memorial graduate. “It is more essential when the vessel goes through ice-covered waters. Our product plans to integrate economic factors and the shipping operations’ environmental impact to ensure that the suggested routes are green and effective while adhering to required regulations.”

The duo’s research project also has the potential to decrease carbon dioxide emissions while increasing safety and regulatory compliance in Arctic waters, says Mr. Soper.

“This project combines my knowledge of the marine industry from a human factors perspective with Tien’s work on route-optimization algorithms.”

Mr. Soper grew up in Kingston, Ont., and spent his summers sailing on the Great Lakes.

“There are lots of opportunities to help support your ideas.” — Jonathan Soper

Before coming to Memorial, he earned a commercial mate’s and captain’s license for small vessels and worked on passenger vessels.

“After working as a mechanical engineer in the automotive industry overseas, I decided to attend Memorial for a master’s in ocean and naval architectural engineering degree to combine my passions for the marine industry and engineering. I’m now working on a PhD studying safe technologies for Arctic marine navigation.”

From left are Tien Tran, wearing a grey sweater and black glasses, and Jonathan Soper, wearing a blue shirt.
From left are Tien Tran, whose previous research focused on route optimization for vessels in ice-covered waters, and Jonathan Soper, who has experience in mechanical engineering in the automotive industry as well as holding mate’s and captain’s licences.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Exploring entrepreneurship

Both men say their interest in ocean-related research has deepened since their participation in two of Memorial’s unique innovation and entrepreneurship programs.

Over the past several months, the pair completed Lab2Market Oceans and the Translational R&D Program, which are geared towards innovators and entrepreneurs.

Lab2Market Oceans is a national program hosted by Memorial and part of the Ocean Startup Project. It provides post-doctoral fellows, graduate students and faculty the opportunity to explore their ocean research ideas in a new way.

“I was able to expand my network to the shipping industry.” — Tien Tran

Translational R&D helps graduate students explore research through innovation and commercialization lenses. Graduate students can evaluate the potential of their research for commercialization, complete courses and receive coaching.

At Memorial, the initiatives are led by the Research Innovation Office.

Mr. Tran says Lab2Market Ocean is an “excellent” program and allowed him to step out of his comfort zone to explore the entrepreneurial path.

“The program gave me many lessons and experience in customer discovery and validation for a problem and a product,” he said. “Additionally, I was able to expand my network to the shipping industry.”

“Translational R&D helped me learn some of the basic and advanced terms and concepts while the Ocean’s Startup Program introduced ocean entrepreneurs to share their challenges and solutions,” added Mr. Soper, who recently started a job with the federal government and plans to pivot to part-time doctoral studies.

Both men encourage other entrepreneurial-minded students with a passion for ocean-related research to consider applying to the programs.

“There are lots of opportunities to help support your ideas,” noted Mr. Soper.

More information

The Lab2Market program is part of the Ocean Startup Project, hosted by Memorial University, and supported by Springboard AtlanticCanada’s Ocean Supercluster, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and Mitacs.

More about the program is available online.

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