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UBC officially opens laboratory for trace element analysis and research

Cynthia Mathieson, Deborah Buszard, Chantal Venturi and Charles E. Fipke

Dedication of the new Fipke Laboratory for Trace Element Research at UBC took place this week. Unveiling the plaque naming the new facility were, from left, Cynthia Mathieson, dean of the Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences, Deborah Buszard, principal and deputy vice chancellor, Chantal Venturi, graduate student, and Charles E. Fipke.

Donors key to collaborative imaging facility that benefits faculty, students and industry

UBC’S Okanagan campus has officially opened a $3.5-million science lab that allows scientists to measure minute particles, scan them at the atomic level and determine their origin.

The Fipke Laboratory for Trace Element Research (FiLTER), a state-of-the art interdisciplinary research facility, was formally opened with the naming dedicated to Kelowna geologist and alumnus Charles E. Fipke, whose foundation was instrumental in equipping the lab with the world-class imaging equipment.

“We can take an element fingerprint of a sample and determine where it came from or how it formed,” says John Greenough, a professor of earth and environmental sciences with the Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences. “This lab gives us capabilities we never had before.”

There are four high-tech instruments tucked into the lab in the Charles E. Fipke Centre for Innovative Research. One of them is the Tescan Mira 3 XMU Scanning Electron Microscope.

“It lets us scan material, magnify it up to one-million times larger than the actual size, and produce a high-resolution image of the object,” says Greenough.

Eagerly anticipated – but not yet arrived – is an electron microprobe featuring a high-resolution definition head so powerful it will be the first of its kind in Canada, also donated by the Charles E. Fipke Foundation.

The other equipment, which performs spectrometry and laser analysis include:

  • ThermoFisher X2 quadrupole inductively coupled mass spectrometry instrument (ICP-MS) – used for trace element analysis of elements such as lead or uranium at concentrations in the range of parts per billion;
  • ThermoFisher Element XR double focusing ICP-MS – a more sensitive machine used for ultra-low trace element concentrations and measuring minute, low volume samples;
  • Photon Machines Analyte 193 Excimer laser – Among other functions, this basically uses a laser beam to blast solid samples into gaseous aerosols, that are fed to one of the two ICP-MSs to measure isotope ratios or determine element concentrations.

Acquiring the equipment puts UBC’s Okanagan campus into the forefront of major research universities and provides capability to do contract research, as well as attract students to sciences and engineering.

“I am pleased that projects like this continue to foster innovation in the Okanagan by supporting our region’s continued growth and development,” said the Honourable Ron Cannan, Member of Parliament for Kelowna – Lake Country, on behalf of the Honourable Lynne Yelich, Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification. “Through our investments, we are translating knowledge into products, services and production technologies that contribute to creating jobs, economic growth, and long-term prosperity.”

Among projects already under way with industry partners is an analysis of automobile wheel rims for structural integrity.

The equipment has a huge role to play in geology, says Greenough. The lab can examine ore samples carried long distances by glaciers or streams and help determine where they came from. The FiLTER lab is currently doing this kind of analysis on a platinum discovery.

The lab has been entirely funded by donors – led by the Charles E. Fipke Foundation and partners including Western Economic Diversification Canada, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, and the Government of British Columbia.

Fipke, a pioneering geologist and UBC alumnus who was the first to discover diamonds in Canada’s north is a proud champion of UBC’s academic pursuits.

“To graduate excellent scientists, a university needs to have the best technology available,” says Fipke. “My goal is to help UBC’s Okanagan campus reach the leading edges of science, in order to recruit the top students and faculty from around the world.”

Deborah Buszard, principal and deputy vice chancellor of UBC’s Okanagan campus, says establishing the FiLTER facility is an important milestone and she is grateful that Fipke and the federal government share the university’s vision.

“Charles Fipke is a titan in his field and a tireless benefactor for UBC,” says Buszard. “He is banking on the future of education and Dr. Fipke’s generosity continues to pay dividends to the benefit of our students, our researchers and our university. This is a great example of how foresight and philanthropy serves the research needs of the Okanagan region.”

UBC is equally grateful to all of the FiLTER facility funders.

“This laboratory provides UBC with so many important tools and opportunities to conduct world-class research,” says Buszard. “Yesterday’s dream is today’s reality. Without the help of Western Economic Diversification Canada, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, and the Government of British Columbia we would not be in nearly the same fortunate position we find ourselves in today.”

“This is an example of the important role that world-class infrastructure can have in creating research-driven growth in Canadian communities,” said Gilles G. Patry, president and CEO of the Canada Foundation for Innovation. “We are proud of the impact that our funding is having at UBC’s Okanagan campus and on campuses from coast to coast.”

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