Faculty & Staff

DR. NUWAN SELLA KAPU

DR. NUWAN SELLA KAPU

When you talk with CEOs in the bio-products, pulp and paper, green engineering or forestry sectors, they often say that they have strong technical people, but what they need are more technical professionals who also excel as business leaders.

The Master of Engineering Leadership in Green Bio-Products directly addresses this issue: we are training and graduating students who are both tech and business savvy. Our students graduate with an enhanced understanding of engineering/science and the leadership skills to communicate technical and business knowledge with a wider audience.

A particular strength of our program is that it brings together professionals who have several years of industry experience. (We also admit exceptional students with limited or no professional experience who add value to the program through their fresh technical knowledge and, sometimes, entrepreneurial spirit.) Whether they have already worked in bio-products or are shifting into this industry from other fields, our students are eager to develop their business and engineering knowledge so that they can work at the forefront of the green economy.

I came to UBC in 2010, left for a short time to work in industry, and then came back with the launch of the MEL program. I teach two of the technical courses and run the laboratory component of a third.

My own research spans many different areas. I’m the team lead on a biorefinery project to make high-quality pulp, cellulosic ethanol, and biopolymers from bamboo. I’m also part of a team working with a pulp and paper company to identify valuable chemicals in what has traditionally been considered a waste stream, but which I would call a byproduct stream. There are many valuable compounds there, and we’re looking at how to extract them and add value. And I’m also involved in a project on novel applications of nanocrystalline cellulose.

These are all collaborative, interdisciplinary projects where I work alongside my UBC colleagues, who are all experts in different but complementary areas. I originally trained as a plant biologist, and I now find myself working with people with expertise in mathematics, fluid mechanics and chemical engineering. It’s productive and rewarding to be part of these teams.

My first job out of grad school was working at a start-up. I enjoyed the experience and it transformed me from a lab rat into someone who was comfortable with the business side of science. In my mind, the MEL is something like a start-up. There’s an entrepreneurial focus to the program, and being part of the MEL has been a welcome opportunity to help build something unique from the ground up.

Experience

Dr. Kapu is assistant director of the MEL in Green Bio-Products program and a lecturer in Chemical and Biological Engineering in the Faculty of Applied Science. After graduating with a PhD in plant biology from Penn State University, he worked for three years as the principal scientist with a start-up company, where he raised close to US$1 million in research and development funding. Dr. Kapu enjoys teaming up with people with different perspectives and expertise to create innovative programs, research or educational, and build bridges among groups and organizations.