In terms of cool research equipment, a couple of biology professors at Mount Allison University can boast of something that most other universities surely can’t: a hovercraft.
Matt Litvak and Diana Hamilton, together with Myriam Barbeau at the University of New Brunswick, were awarded nearly $60,000 in July 2010 to purchase the Hoverguard 700 hovercraft through a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council grant for research tools and instruments.
When he and his colleagues put in the equipment request, “we really had no idea if we might be successful,” says Dr. Litvak. “I’m just happy to have it and I’m glad they took us seriously. It really was, and is, a needed instrument for us.”
Dr. Litvak says he and his colleagues have already submitted two papers because of the work they were able to accomplish with the hovercraft. Dr. Litvak studies the spatial ecology of sturgeon in the Saint John River basin, and he and his students use the craft in the winter as a research platform to track fish under the ice (seen in the photo above with the hovercraft is PhD student Sima Usvyatsov). The ice is often thin where the fish reside, which made this a dangerous procedure before they acquired the hovercraft, he says.
When the ice clears, Drs. Hamilton and Barbeau take over, using the hovercraft to investigate the ecology of intertidal mud flats. Walking in deep mud with heavy equipment is laborious, but with the hovercraft, “they can basically glide over the mud and not even leave an impression,” says Dr. Litvak. In both cases, “this makes us more efficient. We can quickly to different sites and cover more area in a given period of time.”