Indigenous student pathways program leads Gage Robinson to the Nanotechnology Research Centre

- Edmonton, Alberta

Gage Robinson sitting at the laboratory work bench

Gage Robinson in the lab at the Nanotechnology Research Centre. Credit: Grant Wang, Arts Resource Centre, University of Alberta

Planning a move from Manitoba to Alberta during end-of-semester exam season proved to be quite the challenge for Gage Robinson, even before starting his internship at the National Research Council of Canada's (NRC) Nanotechnology Research Centre. Luckily it was smooth sailing after his arrival in Edmonton.

Gage, a senior in the undergraduate Computer Engineering program with a focus on programming embedded systems at the University of Manitoba, got matched with the Nanotechnology Research Centre's Detection and Automation team through the University of Alberta's I-STEAM Pathways program. The program enables First Nations, Métis and Inuit undergraduate students to gain research experience in environmental fields.

"I-STEAM is a great program that allows students to see what it's like to work in industry and get experience outside the classroom," Gage, who is from the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation, explained. "It's also a great chance to meet new friends and peers and hopefully gain connections that are vital for developing a career. This, all while being Indigenous learning focussed, allows students to connect with their Indigenous community and culture."

The Detection and Automation team works on the design, fabrication, integration and automation of nano-enabled sensor platforms. Throughout his summer internship, the main project Gage worked on was an independent, open-source weather station. The station takes readings of temperature, air pressure, humidity, wind speed and wind direction and keeps track of rainfall. The data collected will be aggregated, formatted and sent via wireless communications to a web app. The weather data will then be compared to water quality measurements to determine if there is a pattern between reports of toxic water and the weather conditions during the spike in toxicity.

"The best part of the job was seeing an idea come to fruition," Gage shared. "At the start of my work term, the idea for the weather station was proposed. That idea then came to life through planning and crafting. I wish I had more time here to keep seeing ideas come to life and see how they evolve further."

Gage learned a tremendous amount through his term, ranging from technical information regarding specific microcontrollers or programming languages, to more general concepts like project management and career development. "Working at the NRC gave me access to many new resources: state-of-the-art labs, multitudes of project boards and microcontrollers and every electrical component I could ever need. Having these resources at hand lends itself to great learning opportunities, both on my own and with the rest of my team."

Gage also had nothing but positive things to say about his experiences outside of work, living in Edmonton for the summer where beautiful walking trails and fun events abound. "I have lived in Winnipeg my whole life, so it was a very enlightening experience to live in another city."

If he was not studying computer engineering, he would love to go into astrophysics or astronomy. "I find space fascinating, and with recent advancements in astronomy like the James Webb Space Telescope, now seems like one of the most interesting times to be in the field. When I find myself with some extra time perhaps I will get into hobbyist astronomy."

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