Celebrating staff: Jeffrey Johnston

Meet Jeffrey Johnston, industrial designer and lead coordinator of the Fabrication Lab in the Department of Biological Sciences.

Katie Willis - 7 December 2020

People come to Jeffrey Johnston with quandaries that require custom-built solutions. And whether it's a maze designed for fish to study their olfactory abilities, a ground chamber for measuring the gases that escape from soil, or a camera rig for photographing the behaviour of plant roots, Johnston always comes through with an answer. 

Johnston is an industrial designer and the lead coordinator of the Fabrication Lab in the University of Alberta’s Department of Biological Sciences. He and his team provide fundamental services for researchers from the Faculty of Science and across campus, creating unique, custom-built equipment for the many different research projects across campus. 

The countless and invaluable contributions of staff make the world go round in the Faculty of Science, and we are thrilled to introduce you to Jeffrey Johnston. Hear more about his work. 

Job title and area?

Lead coordinator of the Fabrication Lab in the Department of Biological Sciences

How long have you worked at the Faculty of Science?

I have worked for the faculty for 12 years and I have been teaching industrial design on campus for 17 years.

What is a typical day on campus like for you?

My typical day can vary between meeting with researchers to discuss designs for research equipment or designing and fabricating in the workshop.

How has your work changed during the COVID-19 pandemic?

I have not been as affected as most people. I have been in the shop working since just after the shutdown. I am now adding distancing barriers and COVID-19 signage to my list of jobs to improve safety in the Department of Biological Sciences.

What's the most common question people ask you about your job?

Most people are pretty interested in the extensive variety of things I get to build—from DNA gel trays to humane cougar traps to fish mazes to plant chambers. The work can vary a lot day to day from very small to large projects. We work with most materials and are flexible, able to design custom solutions for classes and research.

Favourite memory from work?

Last year I was asked to build and present a personalised award for Michael Caldwell, former chair in our department, at his retirement banquet from the chairship on behalf of the Department. The award was a hardwood shadow box with a cast of a proto-snake fossil on which he had written an influential paper.

Favourite thing about working at the Faculty of Science?

I would say the people here who care deeply about their research or support roles and getting to be a part of the momentum of those ideas and projects.