Biology grad part of international research team

February 23, 2009 - 3:18am

Only a year after graduating from the Bachelor of Science program at Vancouver Island University, Jake Etzkorn is making a name for himself as an international researcher.

Etzkorn works as a research technician for Environment Canada researcher Dr. Max Bothwell and recently as a senior research assistant with VIU’s Applied Environmental Research Laboratory (AERL) team.

“Jake worked with the AERL group for a number of years as a student and we’re thrilled to have him on board as a senior research assistant,” said Dr. Chris Gill, one of Etzkorn’s former professors and co-director of the multi-million dollar AERL. “He is contributing significantly to a number of on-going investigations.”

Etzkorn attributes much of his current success to his undergraduate experience at VIU. The small university atmosphere, caring and supportive faculty, and opportunities for student research added up to an amazing educational experience, he said.

When Etzkorn first arrived at the Nanaimo campus in 2001, he experienced culture shock.  “Nanaimo was a huge city to me, because I grew up in the Carmanah lightstation on the west coast of Vancouver Island,” he explained. “I was homeschooled my entire life and never stepped foot in a public classroom until I got to VIU (formerly Malaspina).”


Instructors in the Adult Basic Education program took Etzkorn under their wing, and helped him make a smooth transition to university life. He upgraded some high school courses, then enrolled in VIU’s Bachelor of Science program. Etzkorn began working in the AERL as a second year student.

“We train students in classes with the theory and some of the practice of science in the classroom, but that's really only a starting point,” said Gill. “Involving students like Jake with ‘real’ research early in their education helps to mentor them in ‘how to do’ science.”

Etzkorn is currently assisting the AERL team with a research project in Seattle, funded by the Environmental Protection Agency in the USA. “This project represents the culmination of a five-year collaboration between the AERL and several researchers at the University of Washington,” explained Gill. 

“The goal is to employ a variety of field-portable ‘real-time’ chemical monitoring technologies to measure the distribution of air pollutants in the Seattle-Tacoma airshed. We’re evaluating the effectiveness of existing (EPA) regulatory monitoring stations in predicting air quality.”

The portable technology systems developed and used in the study by the AERL team is known as “membrane introduction mass spectrometry (MIMS), and represents a ‘leading-edge’ real-time environmental monitoring strategy,” added Gill. “The technology provides detailed data about trace contaminants from wood smoke, automobile exhaust and industrial activities.

“Jake’s past experience with MIMS as a student here at VIU, and its use in the field, make him a valuable member of our internationally funded research team,” said Gill.  “It’s a privilege to have such a long-term involvement with fine people like Jake with our science, and very rewarding to be a part of their growth in their own scientific careers.”

Etzkorn is grateful to be back working in the AERL, and is also enjoying his stint at Nanaimo’s Pacific Biological Station. Currently he’s working on a project with Dr. Bothwell examining Ultra Violet Radiation and its effects on juvenile salmon and is beginning a field project looking at how environmental factors affect the biomass of algae in rivers on Vancouver Island.
“Jake’s training in science at VIU and the hands-on experience he had at AERL prepared him well for starting a job here at PBS working independently on research projects equivalent to those undertaken by graduate level students,” said Bothwell.

Etzkorn said working with high qualified faculty researchers and mentors in the AERL, and the opportunity to conduct hands-on research both in the lab and the field added a whole new dimension to his post-secondary studies. “It’s almost unheard of at larger institutions,” he said. “I feel very lucky. These opportunities at VIU far exceeded what I expected to get out of my undergraduate experience.”

For more information about VIU’s Bachelor of Science program visit the website at or call Advising at 250-740-6140.

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