HK research tech earns his keep as departmental "go-to guy"

Sit in Don Clarke’s office for any length of time and it won’t take long to see why he’s considered kinesiology’s “go-to guy.”

Don Clarke

_Don Clarke.

The department’s lone research technician, he can program computer software, make sensors for a wide variety of ergonomic measurement applications and build or repair elaborate pieces of equipment for all manner of projects. But during an interview to discuss the fact that he’s the first-ever recipient of the university’s inaugural outstanding staff researcher award, a faculty member walks in with a key she bent trying open her office door and Clarke demonstrates just one of the reasons why the rest of his colleagues describe him as indispensable.

A few gentle hammer strokes later and professor Marijke Taks is back in her office, hard at work and with a straightened key.

“He’s like a magician,” Dr. Taks said of Clarke, who will receive his award next Monday at the Celebration of Excellence in Research, Scholarship and Creative Activity. “He can fix anything and he can build anything, and he’s so friendly.”

For his part, Clarke – who worked at Diffracto Ltd. for 30 years before joining the university in 2005 – is flattered but a little embarrassed by all the attention. Sitting on his desk is a package of glowing nomination letters from the researchers who rely so heavily on his skill set.

“It brought tears to my eyes,” the 59-year-old grandfather of two said of the praise. “It really did. I never expected to be recognized. I just really like my work and I like doing a good job for people. But at least I can show them to other people and say, ‘See – they really like me.’”

Among those letters is one from Dave Andrews, the faculty’s research leadership chair. He said without Clarke, all the plans he had for enhancing the research culture in his department wouldn’t have been possible.

“I can honestly say that none of the research labs in our building would have been developed or would be operating at the level they are without Don’s expertise, dedication and infectious enthusiasm about research and helping us achieve our goals,” he said. “He is irreplaceable.”

Among the many devices Clarke built is a Propelled Upper Limb fall ARrest Impact System (PULARIS). A complex web of pulleys, lifts, harnesses, video cameras and sensors, it’s used to simulate the position a person would be in when they slip, fall and put out their hands to absorb the impact. It’s used by researchers like Dr. Andrews to understand how tissues absorb shock and protect the body from injury.

“He is a very creative designer and an even more elegant builder of research tools and apparatus,” Andrews said of Clarke.

All of the award recipients will be honoured on February 6 in a ceremony that begins at 4:30 p.m. in the Ambassador Auditorium, CAW Student Centre.

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