Rehab Med gets summer boost from world's brightest young minds

Internship program's "best of the best" international students join local researchers in drive for ground-breaking discoveries

Communications Staff - 03 August 2016

Tourism in Edmonton is getting a boost this summer with the infusion of 47 international students - some of the brightest young minds in the world - who are in town for 12 weeks. More than enjoying all the city has to offer though, they're helping to bolster the economy by spending time in local labs, focused on helping Edmonton researchers make ground-breaking discoveries and form global connections in a wide range of industries.

Alejandra Ruiz, a 22-year-old student from Universidad de Guadalajara in Mexico, is one of these students. She is working with Kim Adams, assistant professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Alberta to develop an assistive robot for improving functional abilities and participation in play activities among children with cerebral palsy and other physical impairments.

It's all part of a unique internship program, called Mitacs Globalink, that is welcoming a total of 565 top students to Canada this summer. Coming from such countries as Australia, Brazil, China, France, India, Germany, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and Vietnam, they are working to solve complex issues under the direction of Canadian professors at 45 universities across the country.

Using advanced technology which provides haptic force feedback, the robots that Ruiz and Adams are creating will be used to help children to interact with toys and games despite physical limitations caused by the impairments. The assistive robots can give these children access to play and activities that may improve their social and cognition skills. Ruiz is applying research in psychology to help engineers to understand feedback and cues between the robot and the child to ensure effectiveness of the activities when applied in a clinical setting.

"Alejandra's research brings a new perspective that is very valuable to the development of assistive robots for children with physical impairments. I would love to see Alejandra return for later studies so that we can continue this collaboration in the future," says Adams.

Mitacs is a not-for-profit organization that works to provide research and training programs in Canada, giving universities the chance to work with up-and-coming young researchers to promote innovation in a number of different research areas.

"The Mitacs Globalink program contributes to a stronger and more vibrant economy by building international research partnerships that support and stimulate Canadian innovation," said Alejandro Adem, Mitacs CEO and Scientific Director.

Since 2009, Mitacs has matched more than 2,500 international students with Canadian researchers through the Globalink program. According to a 2015 Mitacs study that queried 560 former Globalink interns, 95 percent spoke positively about their experience in Canada and encouraged friends to come to this country for research, internships or employment, while 65 percent intend to develop, or have already developed, collaborations with Canadian researchers.

The survey also revealed that 91 percent of respondents said their participation in the Mitacs Globalink program convinced them, or reinforced their decision, to pursue additional studies in Canada. More than 70 percent of interns enrolled in a new degree program in Canada have applied or will apply for permanent residency.

For her part, Ruiz is greatly enjoying her time working with Adams at the U of A and is already considering returning for graduate studies.

Funded by the Government of Canada and Canadian universities, the Mitacs Globalink program now offers two-way mobility opportunities between Canada and Mitacs partner countries for both undergraduate and graduate students.

For information about Mitacs and its programs, visit