Alan Winter

Igniting Wonder

For most of his career, Alan Winter has had a laser-like focus on the knowable truths of science and technology. He began with Canada’s space program in the 1970s — back when Canada had one of the top programs in the world — and was with Ottawa-based satellite communications firm Telesat by the end of that decade. As president and CEO of Vancouver incubator MPR Teltech Ltd. from the mid-80s to mid-90s, he helped launch six successful tech companies, including local pioneers PMC-Sierra and Sierra Wireless. He also led Genome BC for 15 years (2001–2016), positioning the nonprofit research organization as a champion for the economic and social benefits of integrating genomics into society.

Inspiration from the Night Sky

When asked about the roots of his scientific passion, Winter cites a fascination with the unknowable: the wonder he experienced as a boy in 1950s Northern Ireland, staring up into space each night from the family’s front lawn. “When I was young, Sputnik was launched,” he recalls. “My dad took me out and perched me on his shoulders, and I remember seeing Sputnik going over our house. I still remember that.”

The experience triggered an interest in space, which Winter carried with him to Canada in 1969, where he pursued a PhD in engineering physics at Queen’s University. “Wonder takes you beyond yourself,” he says. “It takes you into a world that you imagine yourself in. And that can be liberating — particularly as we go through the ups and downs of being teenagers. Having wonder or imagination is really important, because it gives you a goal.”

Igniting wonder is one of the core missions of Science World, and Winter has had a long association with the institution, serving on its board from 1993 through 1997 and co-hosting several events under the dome while CEO of Genome BC. That group’s partnership with Science World made intuitive sense, says Winter. “With new technologies such as genomics or understanding DNA, it really is in the hands of the next generation to take us to the next level.”

B.C.’s First Innovation Commissioner

In February 2018, the province appointed Winter B.C.’s first Innovation Commissioner. In this role, he says, his job is to “encourage additional investment in innovation” — soliciting money not only from the federal government through its various science and technology programs but also from private companies and organizations.

“Innovation, in my terms, is particularly concerned with economic development,” says Winter. “How do we develop new products and new services? How do we get companies and organizations to be more competitive, whether it’s using data, new technologies, fusion, artificial intelligence, or augmented reality/virtual reality?”

Building a Technology Hub in British Columbia

He sees Science World as being critical to the development of a more innovative economy and credits the institution, in part, with creating Vancouver’s technological boom over the past 30 years. “You just have to drive downtown to see the Microsofts, the Sonys, the Hootsuites, the Slacks, the SAPs. It gives you a sense of the emerging economy — and I think Science World has been a significant part of that. The reason for that is the excitement. It’s the acceptance. It’s the feeling that young people get [coming through Science World] that they can do things that are really exciting for them and that they can chart their own paths.”

For Winter, rediscovering the sense of wonder and the curiosity that comes with youth may be key if B.C. is to maintain its position in the vanguard of the tech pack. “We now have two young grandkids, and I’m just seeing wonder all over again,” he says. “It’s that stage of life that I think is really exciting. Sometimes we get beaten down as we get older — but we need to be reinvigorated.”

Sometimes, in other words, we need to stand out on the front lawn and stare expectantly into the night sky.

As Science World at TELUS World of Science celebrates our 30th anniversary, we are connecting with people who have made an impact on our physical space and in the community of science enthusiasts and supporters in British Columbia. We present here a selection of their stories, and hope that their words will inspire you to continue to help us ignite wonder and empower dreams for the next generation of STEAM leaders and the people of British Columbia. If you have a story to share about how Science World has impacted your life in a meaningful way, please share it with us online on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.


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