Durham College receives more than $106,000 in funding to support first-ever postdoctoral fellowship

Durham College’s (DC) Office of Research Services, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (ORSIE) is pleased to announce its first-ever postdoctoral fellowship, thanks to a Mitacs Accelerate grant totaling $106,666, including a contribution and collaboration with the City of Oshawa’s Fire Services through TeachingCity Oshawa.

Working with principal investigator Dr. Michael Williams-Bell, professor and research coordinator in DC’s School of Health & Community Services, Postdoctoral Fellow Dr. David Brian Copithorne joins the ORSIE team for a two-year term to support an innovative new project using virtual reality to simulate uncontrolled fire scenarios and improve training for firefighters and other Public Safety Personnel using immersive, life-like simulation.

“It’s an honour to be chosen as the college’s first postdoctoral fellow,” said Dr. Copithorne, who received his PhD from the University of Western Ontario. “The work we are undertaking using novel virtual reality simulation training is really going to enrich the firefighting training experience.”

Thanks to technology found in DC’s Mixed Reality Capture Studio, the physiological and psychological responses of firefighters that often occur during uncontrolled fire scenarios will be elicited. This will allow participants to be better prepared by learning to manage stressors and optimize their performance and well-being in real-life emergency situations, without the risk of injury, an outcome the City of Oshawa is looking forward to.

“We congratulate Durham College on its first-ever postdoctoral fellowship and we are excited to partner on this collaborative project,” said Oshawa Mayor Dan Carter. “The virtual reality simulations developed by DC will complement real-life training scenarios and help Oshawa’s firefighters master their skills.”

The grant has also funded two undergraduate intern positions, which are being overseen by Dr. Williams-Bell.

“The Ontario government is proud to support initiatives where the talent and expertise of Ontario’s PhD graduates is being leveraged to solve real-world problems through research and innovation,” said Jill Dunlop, Minister of Colleges and Universities. “By investing in research internships, we are preparing the next generation of talent with the experience they need to get good jobs after graduation. We’re also supporting employers, who are looking for students and graduates with hands-on experience so they can make an immediate impact in the workforce.”

The addition of a post-doctoral fellow is one more way DC is expanding its applied research innovation and reach. “This is a very exciting opportunity for the college,” said Debbie McKee Demczyk, dean, ORSIE. “As with all of our projects, faculty and students benefit from hands-on experiential learning, working to solve real-world challenges, while our partners are able to take advantage of our expertise and technology.”

This is the third Mitacs Accelerate grant the college has been awarded. “We are proud to support Durham College’s first postdoctoral fellowship and its commendable dedication to driving research and innovation in Canada,” said Mitacs CEO Dr. John Hepburn. “Dr. Copithorne’s virtual reality research will improve training for firefighters and safety for workers. We are very pleased to leverage provincial and federal funding to drive innovations that improve the lives of Canadians.”