By Jeff Bell

Times Colonist

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Rona Ambrose gave her alma mater a million-dollar boost yesterday.

Ambrose, visiting the University of Victoria in her role as federal minister of western economic diversification, announced funding of $1,036,400 for technology-related projects organized through the Gordon Head campus. The funds will provide equipment for the chemistry and physics/astronomy departments, enhancements for the renowned VENUS undersea project, and an upgrade for the conference centre at the UVic-owned Vancouver Island Technology Park.

"Strengthening UVic's world-class research capacity is important to British Columbia, but it's also important to the rest of the country," said Ambrose, who graduated from UVic in 1995 with a degree in psychology before moving on to the University of Alberta and eventually a career in politics.

Ambrose, a former environment minister, lauded the VENUS (Victoria Experimental Network Under the Sea) project as an example of "leading-edge science and technology." The $353,700 in funding it receives will purchase specialized equipment to be used near the mouth of the Fraser River.

"For the first time, we will be able to monitor in real time the behaviour of the muds and sands that the Fraser annually deposits on the foreslope of the delta," said Tom Pedersen, UVic's dean of science.

One remarkable new piece of equipment coming to the campus is a $130,000 Raman microscope, he said.

"It's the first such instrument to be installed on Vancouver Island."

Pedersen likened the use of the microscope to working with "micro-Lego."

"Every component that you're putting together is much, much smaller than the width of a human hair."

The diagnosis of ovarian cancer and the development of micro-scale fuel cells are two of the diverse areas of research in which the new microscope will be used, Pedersen said.

Ongoing research will also benefit from a $150,000 nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer coming to the department of chemistry, he said. Studies that will benefit range from breast cancer therapy to the harvesting of solar energy.

The $112,700 investment in the Vancouver Island Technology Park supports an important and growing facility, Ambrose said.

"With 30 companies employing some 1,300 people, the tech park truly is a major economic asset to the region."

Dale Gann, vice-president of the technology park, said the funding infusion is an example of continuing support from the federal government. Previous funding in 2001 led to the initial establishment of the business centre, giving executives and young entrepreneurs a place to meet, he said.