Students build podiums fit for Olympians

Every athlete dreams of standing on an Olympic podium.  And a group of UBC students has been scrambling to make that dream come true.

Students and staff in UBC’s Centre for Advanced Wood Processing (CAWP) were given the task of creating all 23 Olympic and Paralympic wooden medal podia and the 100 wooden medal trays for the 2010 Winter Games.

“The podia are very striking,” says Iain Macdonald, managing director of CAWP.   Each one comes with a different story. The design is intended to symbolize the importance of our forests to B.C.

The provincial Ministry of Forests and VANOC approached UBC about the podium project in September.

“At first we were skeptical because the time frames were so tight,” said Macdonald.  “At the time when we started to talk to them about this project, much of the wood was still standing trees.”

Twenty-three community forests from around the province donated the B.C.-grown trees for the project. Each podium is made from a unique piece of wood, including one batch of lumber harvested from a submerged forest from the Cheslatta First Nation community forest.

“It is really interesting; it’s really pushing the edge to see a new, interesting design out of local wood species,” says Andrew Pershin, a graduate from UBC’s Wood Products Processing (WPP) program.

Pershin, a Vernon native, was asked to come back to UBC to help with this project.  He’s an expert with the Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machinery needed to turn podium drawings into solid structures.

As a thesis project in his last year at UBC, 2008-2009, Pershin worked with First Nations artists to see how the technology at CAWP could be used in the northwest coast sculpture market.  He developed computer programs to produce sculptures that now hang in the halls of the CAWP building.

But the Olympic podia project has presented new excitement to the grad as he gets to see a project go from start to finish.

“We’ve worked with the same machinery in the lab that we used for school, and we’ve seen it utilized for the full industrial process,” he says.

The full industrial process is something the WPP program prides itself on.  The students learn everything from wood science to marketing and how to set up and run a manufacturing facility.

“It really is a true interdisciplinary program,” says Simon Ellis, program director for WPP. “It’s a fusion of science, engineering and business.”

The program started in 1995 and until the recent economic downturn, 100 per cent of the students found jobs straight after graduation.  In a 2005 UBC survey, grads two years out of the WPP undergraduate program had some of the highest salaries of any UBC undergraduates.

The degree program promotes project-based learning.  Students get full run of a lab packed with a couple of million dollars worth of equipment and they get to experience real world scenarios.  In one project students use the lab machines to produce a piece of furniture; then they develop a business model for it and decide how they would run and set up a manufacturing facility.

“The podium project is a great example of authentic learning because our students are making something that they’ll see on the world stage this month,” says Macdonald.

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UBC Reports | Vol. 56 | No. 2 | Feb. 8, 2010

Andrew Pershin, a graduate of UBC's Wood Products Processing program, crafts an Olympic podium made from B.C. wood - Photo by Martin Dee

Andrew Pershin, a graduate of UBC's Wood Products Processing program, crafts an Olympic podium made from B.C. wood - Photo by Martin Dee

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Coca-Cola challenge: Build the perfect chair to sip fair trade coffee

by Heather Amos

Coca-Cola enlisted the help of UBC’s Wood Products Processing program to help create a lounge environment for its new drink – coffee.

To promote its new hot beverage line, Far Coast, Coca-Cola is setting up outdoor lounges in Whistler and Vancouver at the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games. The wooden furniture for these outdoor “warming zones” was designed and created by a team of UBC and Emily Carr students.

Pine wood from B.C.’s mountain pine beetle-ravaged forests was used for the project. A little plaque on the armrest of each chair tells the story of climate change and the resulting mountain pine beetle infestation in B.C.

“They’ve had to go through the whole process of designing what the furniture would look like and then actually transferring that to something that could be built efficiently,” said Iain Macdonald, managing director of the Centre for Advanced Wood Processing at UBC.

About 70 tables and 80 chairs were produced to capture the lounge feel and the sustainability image Coca-Cola is presenting with its Far Coast drinks, which are all fair trade.

“There was a real world design brief presented to the students by Coca-Cola. The students went through the design process and a jury came in from Coca-Cola and selected one of the designs,” says Macdonald. “Now this furniture is built and going to the Games.”

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