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UPDATED: 12 ways U of T is preparing for a safe return to in-person instruction

July 31, 2021

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The University of Toronto is closely monitoring the latest public health guidance as it prepares to welcome students, faculty, staff and librarians back to campus this fall. Ontario’s Ministry of Colleges and Universities recently sent a memo to post-secondary institutions expressing its support for a safe return to in-person learning in alignment with the latest evidence. Further guidance is expected from the province in early August, which U of T will follow in conjunction from guidance from local public health authorities. “U of T is encouraged by the uptake of vaccinations in Ontario and welcomes the provincial government’s support for efforts to plan a safe return to campus this fall,” said Professor Salvatore Spadafora, a special adviser to U of T’s president on COVID-19 and senior adviser to the dean of the Temerty Faculty of Medicine. “We are looking forward to resuming in-person learning, campus activities and other experiences in keeping with the latest public health guidance.” At U of T, planning is already well underway for a safe resumption of in-person classes, with faculties and divisions tailoring their individual plans to meet their unique needs. Residences, meanwhile, are requiring students to be vaccinated in an effort to provide a safe, welcoming and enjoyable experience that is conducive to learning and community-building. Several other precautions have been taken across the three campuses to curb the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Building ventilation systems are being inspected, air filters have been upgraded where necessary and air purifiers are being added to classrooms as needed. Everyone coming to campus will be required to complete a self-reported health screening and wear face masks indoors. U of T also continues to work with local public health units to promote vaccine information and has hosted vaccination clinics on its three campuses. Here are 12 ways U of T is planning for a safe return of in-person instruction this fall:

1. UCheck health screening

Before visiting campus, everyone – students, faculty, staff, librarians, researchers and even contractors – must complete a health screening. The easiest way to do this is by using the university’s online self-assessment tool, UCheck. A paper-based process is also available. The UCheck questionnaire has been updated to reflect the latest public health guidance, takes just a few minutes to complete and can be accessed via smartphone, tablet or desktop. Submitted data is encrypted in transit and storage to protect users’ privacy.

2. Scheduling changes and capacity limits

Across the university, faculties and divisions are working on plans tailored to meet their individual needs. “Everyone is committed to providing the rich academic and campus experience for which U of T is known – and it’s unlikely there will be a one-size-fits-all approach,” said Ron Saporta, chief operating officer, property services and sustainability. “We are reviewing our strategy on a regular basis and will be taking into account any changes to public health guidelines.” With capacity restrictions being relaxed across the province, U of T anticipates that such limits will be lifted for educational spaces by this fall and will continue to monitor public health directions – making updates to its plans when appropriate.

3. Physical distancing measures

Saporta said U of T is preparing for a variety of scenarios, including the possibility physical distancing may no longer be required indoors this fall – so long as masks are worn. “We will be able to adapt quickly using an evidence-informed approach that adheres to evolving guidelines and, most importantly, seeks to keep our community safe,” he said. In the meantime, the university has taken steps to re-orient traffic flow in buildings by posting signage and rearranging furniture and other features to help people maintain a distance from one another if required.

4. Non-medical face masks

The university’s policy requiring non-medical masks to be worn in all indoor spaces will remain in effect in accordance with evolving public health guidelines. U of T’s mask policy and allowable exclusions, as well as answers to frequently asked questions about masks, can all be found on the UTogether site and Chapter 6 of the General Workplace Guideline (GWG). Health Canada and Toronto Public Health now recommend wearing a well-fitted mask with at least two layers of tightly woven fabric, such as cotton, plus a third middle layer of filter-type fabric, such as non-woven polypropylene.

5. Enhanced cleaning and more sanitizing stations

The university has installed thousands of touchless hand sanitizing stations and sanitizing wipe dispensers across the three campuses. U of T has also ramped up cleaning of common-use areas such as classrooms, libraries, washrooms and lobbies. Staff frequently wipe down and disinfect high-touch surfaces like door handles, handrails and elevator buttons.

6. Industry-leading classroom ventilation targets

 
Wall-mounted air purifier in a classroom
(Photo by Johnny Guatto) Classrooms that will be used for in-person teaching across the three campuses will be equipped for six equivalent air changes per hour, the same standard applied to patient examination rooms, walk-in clinics and other health-care settings. U of T consulted outside experts in adopting its ventilation standard. “In the context of the pandemic, we’ve been on top of recommended COVID-19 ventilation safety measures,” said Jelena Vulovic-Basic, a senior manager, operations and maintenance at U of T Facilities & Services.

7. Upgrading building ventilation and air filtration

The university continues to upgrade and monitor heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment where necessary as part of its HVAC strategy. That includes monitoring and maintaining upgraded air filters that capture a greater percentage of smaller particles and outfitting some classrooms with a local air filtration device with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters. All building ventilation systems at U of T will continue to undergo regular maintenance to ensure air is clean and flowing into and out of buildings properly. As an additional measure, the university plans to flush air from enclosed spaces prior to occupancy. “We turn on the ventilation system two hours before anyone walks through the door, filling the building with clean air,” Saporta said.

8. Contact tracing through QR codes

As part of a voluntary pilot project, people entering some buildings will see posters encouraging them to use UCheck to scan a QR code located at the entrances. The scans will help with contact tracing in the event of a confirmed case of COVID-19. “If we have an issue, Occupational Health Services can notify people directly about a potential exposure,” said Cathy Eberts, U of T’s director, enterprise applications and deputy chief information officer. “It’s all through UCheck, so your information is encrypted and only accessible by our occupational health nurse if we need to do contract tracing.

9. Monitoring wastewater in large residences

A pilot project is underway at U of T to monitor sewage for the virus that causes COVID-19. Some municipalities, including Ottawa, have been using this method to detect the virus – often before those who are infected realize they are sick. At U of T, the plan is to monitor wastewater from residences that house about 100 people or more – and could be expanded in the future. “The approach here – which was successfully tested during a pilot earlier this year – is we monitor building wastewater for pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic cases of COVID-19, and if we find it then we implement our outbreak prevention protocol,” Saporta said.

10. Rapid screening for some essential roles

The university is also piloting rapid antigen testing for U of T staff whose role requires frequent face-to-face interaction with the public, such as those working in dentistry and health and wellness. The screening program was developed by the Creative Destruction Lab – a business accelerator affiliated with the Rotman School of Management – and has been used by the likes of Air Canada and Scotiabank. The BD Veritor System uses nasal swabs to detect SARS-CoV-2. The test, which returns a result in as little as 15 minutes, can accurately identify the presence of the coronavirus roughly 85 per cent of the time and can accurately eliminate those who are not infected nearly 100 per cent of the time. Those who test positive will be referred for further testing. The pilot will expand to include more U of T community members in the fall. Rapid testing will also be used in connection with the wastewater monitoring initiative.

11. Department-specific COVID-19 guidelines and tools

Rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach, U of T is asking each department to adapt the university’s – and indeed broader public health guidelines – to its own specific circumstances. “It’s important to contextualize general guidelines to the space where you work,” said Gina Trubiani, U of T’s director, occupational health and safety. “This allows for a nimbler, more flexible response so departments can apply the general guidelines based on their circumstances.” More information on department-specific COVID-19 guidelines and tools can be found on the Human Resources & Equity webpage on returning to campus, as well as the Environmental Health & Safety COVID-19 information webpage.

12. Supporting Ontario’s vaccination drive

 
overhead view of the vaccination clinic at UTM
    (Photo by Nick Iwanyshyn) U of T is encouraging all members of the U of T community to get vaccinated against COVID-19. It has also supported the province’s vaccination efforts by supplying space and volunteers. That has included hosting a vaccine clinic at U of T Mississauga that was run by Trillium Health Partners and Peel Public Health, a clinic on the St. George campus operated by the University Health Network with participation from Sinai Health and a pop-up clinic at U of T Scarborough that’s operated in collaboration with Scarborough Health Network. The university has also hosted a vaccine clinic pow wow in June and pop-up clinics on the St. George campus to provide Indigenous Peoples with a culturally safe place to receive their vaccinations. So far, more than 400,000 doses have been administered at the U of T-hosted sites, which have followed the province’s vaccine priority schedule and ethical guidelines. “Our main goal is to do what we can to partner with our hospitals and public health to serve our communities,” said Spadafora. “We recognize the important role U of T can play to encourage vaccination across the university and broader community.” As for the entire 12-step plan, Spadafora said it will evolve with the science and the public health regulations of the day – and as case counts fall and vaccinations increase. “The university will continue to monitor the effectiveness of these programs, as well as scientific evidence and best practices, and will adapt this program as warranted.”

Visit UTogether for the latest updates

    This story originally published by U of T News Read More

Friends and family: U of T’s Lucia Stafford to share track with big sister in Olympic debut

July 26, 2021

Lucia Stafford will compete against her older sister Gabriela DeBues-Stafford in the 1,500-metre race at the Tokyo Olympics. Both athletes studied at U of T and ran track with the Varsity Blues (photo by Johnny Guatto)

In less than two weeks, Lucia Stafford (Year 4 CivE) will come up against the fastest runners in the world in the 1,500-metre race at the Tokyo Olympic Games. But at least one of her chief rivals doesn’t intimidate her – even if she’s ranked among the top five at that distance: her older sister Gabriela DeBues-Stafford.

The two sisters, who both studied at the University of Toronto and ran track with the Varsity Blues, have been pushing each other to their limits long before becoming elite middle-distance runners.

“We’ve been running together since I was in Grade 4 and she was right by my side for all of it, starting on our cottage road – just going for 5K and getting dragged by her and my dad,” Lucia says.

“Now we’re toeing the line on the biggest stage ever. That will be pretty special.”

Terry Radchenko
(photo by Johnny Guatto)

Gabriela, who is three years Lucia’s senior, revealed her potential relatively late for a runner – near the end of high school. Terry Radchenko, an assistant U of T coach for middle-distance and cross-country running, first met her when she was in Grade 10, when she was posting respectable times for her age group but lagged behind the leaders.

Two years later, after training with the U of T track club, Gabriela was leaving her competitors in the dust.

“She didn’t come out of the womb a superstar,” Radchenko says, noting that he’s recorded 10 training logs that capture the Stafford sisters’ progression over many years.

“It took a training effect to bring out Gabriela’s full potential.”

 

Today, Gabriela is the fifth-fastest woman in the World Athletics Rankings over 1,500 metres and trains with the Bowerman Track Club in Portland, Ore., one of the premier running clubs in the United States and home to world champions and Olympic medal winners.

Yet, during family runs or even strolls, it was Lucia who often took the lead – especially when the two women were younger.

“If we were on a walk in the forest, Lucia would have to be the one at the front of the pack,” Gabriela recently told Canadian Running Magazine. “She’s been a chronic one-stepper since she was a toddler.”

While Lucia denies there’s a sibling rivalry, Radchenko says she’s always keen to prove herself against her older sister.

“She’s not scared of Gabriela,” he says. “When it comes to her sister, there’s no qualms about going head-to-head.”

He points to their duel in the home stretch of the 2017 Ontario University Athletics track and field championships. With about 200 metres left in the race, Lucia pushes ahead of Gabriela, staying basically neck-and-neck with her sister until the very end. After a photo finish, Lucia crumples to the floor in exhaustion. Gabriela, meanwhile, forgoes any celebration and immediately turns back to help her sister to her feet as the third-place runner crosses the line.

Running is in Lucia’s and Gabriela’s genes. Their late mother, Maria Luisa Gardner, was a teacher who coached cross-country in elementary school, while their aunt Sara Gardner, ran in the 1992 world cross-country championships. Their father Jamie Stafford, who happens to be a professor of statistical sciences at U of T and vice-dean of academic operations in Faculty of Arts & Science, represented Canada as a cross-country runner at four world championships.

Lucia Stafford and her father Jamie Stafford, a U of T professor, are joined by Gabriela Stafford, who was training in Portland, Ore. prior to the Tokyo Games (photo by Johnny Guatto)

Heading into the Olympics, Lucia might find comfort in the fact that she ran a personal best of 4:05.70 this year, smashing her previous best record by five seconds. It’s the second-best indoor time in Canadian history after – who else – Gabriela.

“Whenever I’m in a race with her, I have a really good race because I think it’s just having that reminder: This is someone that I’ve run with for years and years, and here we are running together again,” she says.

“The scenery might look a bit different, but at the end of the day, we’re still just running.”

As a civil engineering major in U of T’s Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, Lucia has had more than just running to think about in recent years.

The day before an important meet to book her ticket to the Olympics, she wrote an exam in geotechnical engineering from her hotel room. In Tokyo, she will spend some of her time off the track completing the requirements for her engineering degree through a summer course on multidisciplinary perspectives on the environment.

“I have to email my TA because the lectures and tutorials are mandatory, but it’s going be, like, 1 a.m. [local time] during the lecture,” she says.

Like her sister, Lucia has also had to cope with Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes an overactive thyroid. The disease left Lucia feeling listless and unable to hit prescribed paces. She even once swallowed a radioactive iodine pill to shrink her thyroid gland and alleviate symptoms.

“This pill is no joke,” she told Canadian Running Magazine in 2019. “I set off the alarm in airport security one month later when I was flying to Florida.”

Lucia says she and Kelly have grown especially close over the past year. “It’s kind of like having a stand-in big sister,” she says.

Since they specialize in different events, the two women didn’t have to compete with each other for a spot on the Olympic team – and were relieved when they qualified together.

“I can’t imagine doing it without her,” Kelly says. “I can’t imagine doing it with anyone else.”

Madeleine Kelly (left), a U of T alumna and fellow Varsity Blues runner, trained for the Olympics with Lucia Stafford, forging a close bond in the process (photo by Johnny Guatto)

Making the Olympic team was a process of self-discovery for Kelly. “I think I’ve learned that I’m much tougher than I give myself credit for sometimes,” she says. “Because it was hard – but manageable, as it turns out.”

Kelly’s first race in round one of the 800-metre event takes place on July 30, while Lucia and Gabriela begin their pursuit of Olympic glory three days later.

Lucia’s and Gabriela’s father, meanwhile, plans to cheer on his daughters from back home in Toronto. He cautioned the pair to manage their expectations and avoid putting too much pressure on themselves. “Set the bar low and clear it by a mile,” Lucia recalls him saying.

And while the stats professor is well aware of the improbabilities, his dream result for Lucia and Gabriela in the 1,500 metres comes as little surprise.

“A dead heat for first.”

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Consumer pumps not the worst of Delhi’s water woes

July 19, 2021

First neighbourhood-scale study of home water pumps shows that they decrease water pressure moderately, but have minimal effect on average water quality 

 

With utilities in countries such as India running water infrastructure intermittently to minimize water lost to leaky pipes, many residents use pumps to draw as much water as they can when it is available (photo by Noah Seelam/AFP via Getty Images)

Household water pumps are a quirky feature of many urban water systems around the world. Utility operators hate them, and in many places they have been made illegal, yet their use remains widespread. A new study authored by Professor David Meyer (CivMin, CGEN) looks at how these pumps affect water quality — and it contains some surprises. 

“Because the use of these pumps is often illegal, they haven’t been well studied,” says Meyer. “But this is not a problem that’s going away. I estimate that there are probably 250 million people around the world that drink water that is pulled out of water pipe systems by these pumps.” 

In North America, household water pumps are typically only used by people who get their water from wells or from a nearby lake or stream. By contrast, city dwellers rely on their public utilities to deliver water under high enough pressure so that when they open the tap, the water flows. 

But in many places around the world, that’s not the case. Meyer (né Taylor) and his team study intermittent water systems, which are turned on and off several times throughout the day or week. 

While this type of operation can minimize the amount of water that is lost to leaky pipes, it also creates an incentive for customers to extract as much water as they can while it is available. 

“It’s a bit like an arms race,” says Meyer. “If the water delivered to you is at low pressure and comes out slowly, a pump connected directly to the city’s system will pull the water out faster. But that lowers the pressure for everyone else around you, which drives them to buy pumps too.” 

The study, recently published in Water Research X, was carried out in Delhi, India. Meyer says that in parts of that city, it’s possible to tell when the water system is about to be activated simply by listening for the humming sound produced by hundreds of household water pumps switching on.  

All these pumps pulling on the pipes creates negative pressure in the system, which in turn leads to other issues. One is that people who don’t have pumps often can’t get any water, even when the system is turned on. 

Another is that the negative pressure can suck dirt, sewage or other pollutants into the water system, contaminating the supply. 

“When I started this project, officials at the local water utility told me that these pumps were their number one problem, full stop,” says Meyer. “The public utility has claimed that 90% of contamination issues can be traced to the use of these devices.”

To test this, Meyer and his collaborators came up with a simple solution: a small, low-cost (less than $20) pressure control valve that can be fitted onto any pipe to neutralize the effect of downstream pumps.

In many areas of Delhi, India, households use water pumps like these to pull water out of the pipes faster than it would otherwise flow from their local utility. A new study suggests that contrary to what is commonly believed, these pumps don’t always have a strong effect on average water quality. (Photo: David Meyer)

This simple plastic valve can be used to restrict the flow of water and neutralize the effect of a household water pump. (Image: David Meyer)

 

“As the pump operates, the valve automatically collapses itself to restrict the flow and keep the overall pressure the same,” he says. “Once we had this intervention, it enabled us to do a controlled experiment to find out how exactly the pumps were affecting water quality, which was something that hadn’t been done before.” 

Meyer and his team took more than 500 water quality measurements from two neighbourhoods over the course of about six weeks to get a baseline. After that, one of the two neighbourhoods was fitted with these new pressure control valves, and the team collected another set of more than 500 measurements, covering another six weeks. 

Having a pump more than doubled the chances of finding a water sample with high turbidity, a measure of the water’s cloudiness that is sometimes associated with water quality concerns. 

But on average, the water quality varied ten times more from day to day and week to week than it did between the two neighbourhoodslikely due to what was happening in the rest of the system. 

“We expected dramatic effects, but pumps actually made very little difference to average water quality,” says Meyer. 

A more substantial effect was found by studying the water pressure, which also affects water safety. The neighbourhood with pumps had an average water pressure that was lower by about 0.5 m. That’s not a lot compared to the pressure in an average North American system, but in Delhi it represents between 20 and 40% of the water pressure many homes receive, meaning a big loss for people without pumps. 

The findings come with some caveats: the study involved only two neighbourhoods with a combined total of about 500 water connections. It also took place during the dry season — in the wet season there would have been more groundwater moving near the pipes that could potentially have carried contaminants. 

Still, Meyer says that the overall results point in two interesting directions. 

“Increasing water pressure by neutralizing pumps is a good thing, because it reduces the chance that contaminants can force their way into the pipes,” he says. 

“On the other hand, we now know that, at least for this area and this time of year, pumps are not the main factor driving water quality issues. Rather than focusing on pumps, we can focus on other things, such as improving the overall system integrity through leak detection and increasing the hours per day of water supply.” 

Meyer hopes that more studies like his will be done in the future. 

“Given that 250 million people get their water using these devices, it’s astonishing to me that until now, nobody had measured what they actually do,” he says. 

“I can’t say we’ve answered all the questions, but it’s an exciting first start. Now that we’re looking into this dramatically understudied feature of many water systems around the world, I hope others will start to pay more attention to it.” 

By Tyler Irving

This story originally published by Engineering News

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CivMin welcomes three new faculty

July 5, 2021

The Department of Civil & Mineral Engineering welcomes three new faculty as of July 1, 2021. All three join as assistant professors.

Besides impressive academic credentials, among the trio there’s a myriad of surprising life skills and experiences as an army drill sergeant, dancing with Bill Nye the Science Guy, playing concerts as a flutist and strumming electric guitars.

“We wholeheartedly welcome our newest faculty members to the Department,” says Chair Brent Sleep offering his greetings. “Students will benefit from the fascinating range of expertise and experience they bring.  Join us in offering our newest professors a warm welcome to CivMin.”

Meet our newest faculty members and learn a bit more about each via their Q&A.
Welcome:

Daeho Kim

Seungjae Lee 

Sarah Haines

 

~CivMin~

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CivMin’s Lucia Stafford is bound for Tokyo Olympic Games

July 5, 2021

Lucia Stafford (Year 4 CivE), a middle distance runner, has secured an Olympic berth as Athletics Canada announced their national team for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games next month.

Stafford finished second in the women’s 1500m at the Olympic Trials. As a Varsity Blue, Stafford was a cross country phenom, helping the Blues to the 2017 national title, while winning both championship races to be named OUA and U SPORTS female athlete of the year in 2019.

On the track, she is a four-time OUA all-star and three-time U SPORTS all-Canadian. She was named the winner of the 2018 Dr. Wendy Jerome Trophy as the OUA female most valuable performer and wrapped up her intercollegiate career as U of T’s T-Holders’ female athlete of the year and the OUA female athlete of the year across all sports in 2019-20.

Her last international appearance came with two fifth-place finishes in the 1500m and 4×400 relay at the 2019 FISU Summer Universiade in Naples, Italy.

Full story by Varsity Blues

 

Previous stories:

CivMin’s Stafford named OUA Female Athlete of the Year

 Stafford named female Varsity Blues Athlete of the Year

Lucia Stafford named OUA Athlete of the Week

Lucia Stafford breaks Canadian U23 1500m record

National champion: Lucia Stafford strikes gold in Kingston

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Congratulations to the CivMin Class of 2T0+PEY and 2T1

June 23, 2021

To the graduating students of the CivMin Class of 2T1 and 2T0+PEY,

Hosting a virtual reception on Gather Town and watching your virtual Convocation ceremony on June 23, 2021, was very moving.  We are tremendously proud of your many accomplishments and resiliency to adapt and overcome during the last year..  No matter where life takes you, we know you will use your skills and knowledge to have a lasting, positive impact as engineers.

The Convocation Office is shipping your U of T Engineering parchment to you.  To help celebrate its arrival at your door, I’d like to share this video of congratulations from many CivMin faculty and staff.

You’re now joining a network of over 50,000 U of T Engineering Alumni. With words of encouragement and well wishes, they also congratulate you on your accomplishment.

Please do stay connected with the CivMin community as a member of the Engineering Alumni Association, which offers many alumni benefits and supports.  Keep your contact info up-to-date through U of T Engineering CONNECT to stay informed about special events and opportunities in your region.

Engineering Dean Chris Yip has also posted a Convocation message to the class of 2021.

We wish you all the best for a bright and fulfilling future!

 

The CivMIn reception for Convocation held on the Gather Town platform on Wednesday, June 23, 2021.

~CivMin

 

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CivMin Grads to Watch 2021

June 21, 2021

BUILDING COMMUNITY

Karen Chu (CivE 2T0 + PEY)

Karen Chu. Photo submitted.

Throughout her undergraduate studies, Karen Chu has jumped at any opportunity to both represent U of T Engineering and to be a voice for her peers.

She joined the CivClub, quickly moving up each year, from mentorship director to becoming the student club’s chair. As a student ambassador working in the Engineering Recruitment Office, she helped prospective students make the decision to choose U of T Engineering. And through the Girls’ Leadership in Engineering Experience initiative, run by the Engineering Outreach office, she shared her experiences to inspire the next generation of female engineers.

Like many civil engineering students, Chu says the highlight of her studies was Survey Camp. She and her classmates built their class monument, which consisted of a clear resin table that encased mementos from their undergraduate years, a tetherball pole, and a concrete stepping stone with their class year written on it with mosaic tiles.

“This experience incorporated all the elements of U of T Engineering — teamwork, designing and building, fun with friends, hard work and challenges, and a lasting impact,” says Chu.

Her biggest lesson from her undergraduate experience is to never give up and to never hesitate to ask for help — a message she wants to share with current and upcoming first years.

“Asking for help when needed has been vital to my personal growth,” she says. “I also learned the importance of community and communication. No work, especially in engineering, can be done alone and we need to be able to understand each other to accomplish goals together.”

Upon graduation, Chu plans to pursue a career in residential construction and apply her knowledge of building science to design sustainable homes.

 

I would like to thank the CivMin Department, staff and professors, for their continued support, Civ Club for helping me develop my soft skills, and the Civil Engineering community for welcoming me into the family and providing a place to call home. I would also like to give a shoutout to the CIV2T0 class. It’s been a wild journey but your kindness and comradery have made it an unforgettable experience.”

 


 

CATALYZING SUSTAINABILITY

Chibulu (Lulu) Luo (CivMin PhD 2T1)

Chibulu (Lulu) Luo. Photo submitted.

“I am passionate about using my engineering skills to address global challenges,” says Chibulu (Lulu) Luo.

Luo’s doctoral research examined current and future trends of energy use and greenhouse gas emissions in one of Africa’s largest and fastest growing cities, Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.

“What was most exciting about my research was the opportunity to explore important sustainability and energy sector questions and conduct extensive fieldwork in Dar es Salaam,” says Luo. “I appreciate the fact that I led doctoral work that both aligns with this passion and aims to inform policies and investments for improved energy access and societal well-being in developing countries.”

In Dar es Salaam, Luo coordinated a diverse team of local graduate students, who helped to administer her research survey to more than 1,300 households across the city. Her research has also taken her to Ghana, Zambia and Rwanda.

She says one of her proudest moments during her time at U of T Engineering was helping to lead the Faculty’s Engineering Education for Sustainable Cities in Africa (EESC-A) project.

“I still have fond memories of 2018, a time when two of my EESC-A colleagues travelled from Toronto to Dar es Salaam to mark EESC-A’s presence at a policy workshop that I was planning as part of my fieldwork,” she recalls. “My memory is still painted with the joyous image of our after-workshop dinner and celebration at a beachfront restaurant in Dar es Salaam.”

Luo is currently working as a consultant with the World Bank’s Climate Investment Funds, providing research and strategic expertise to various renewable energy projects around the world.

She says she’s not entirely sure what the future holds, but “I certainly want to continue fuelling my passion for research, teaching and topics that are globally relevant and significant.”

 

A big thank you to my supervisor, Professor Heather MacLean (CivMin). Heather gave me space to delve into different topics, some of which did not make it to the written pages of my final thesis, but which were essential to developing my research questions and goals. I also appreciated our many conversations on research ideas or life in general – especially last year given the initial uncertainties of navigating research and life at home amid a global pandemic. I look forward to staying in touch with Heather over the course of my career.”

 

Stories by Liz Do and Tyler Irving

Read the full list of Engineering’s Grads to Watch posted on Engineering News

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This low-cost smart sensor can help optimize interventions to improve water quality and public health

June 17, 2021

SmartSpouts — low-cost sensors embedded in these water filters — can track when and for how long the spigot is open. More than 200 of them have been successfully deployed in a radomized controlled trial in South Africa’s Limpopo Province. (Photo: David Meyer)

A sensor known as the SmartSpout, designed in part by U of T Engineering professor David Meyer (CivMin, CGEN) has been successfully deployed in a large-scale field trial in South Africa’s Limpopo Province. 

Prof. David Meyer

 The results, published in Environmental Science & Technology, showcase the power of rich datasets gathered by low-cost sensors to improve public health by helping governments and development agencies hone in on both technological and social interventions that have the greatest impact. 

“Let’s say you want to improve drinking water quality, so you distribute a whole bunch of household water filters,” says Meyer. “Well, if nobody is using the filters, they don’t help anyone. Understanding usage — who is using them, when, how consistently, and why or why not — is critical to designing more effective interventions.” 

One way to determine usage is through surveys. But just as with any type of poll, responses given by the participants don’t necessarily match their behaviour. 

“When you go to the dentist, you probably claim you floss every day, whether or not you actually do,” says Meyer. “One of the big advantages of a sensor is that you can learn about what people are actually doing.”  

 The development of the SmartSpout started about eight years ago, when Meyer and one of his co-authors, Professor Natasha Wright of the University of Minnesota, were both graduate students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

“We were taking the same civil engineering graduate course, taught by Professor Susan Murcott,” says Meyer. “She had had this idea for a new kind of sensor, and when she found out we were both mechanical engineers, she asked us if we could build a prototype.” 

Meyer and Wright have been working together on this project ever since.  

The idea was simple: the sensor would attach to the spigot of a water container equipped with a purification technology, such as a filter or chemical tablets. Using an accelerometer similar to that found in most smartphones, the sensor would detect and log how long the spigot is held open for and at what time. 

While the SmartSpout is not the first sensor designed to track the usage of such interventions, it distinguishes itself from the competition by its simplicity and low cost. 

Using an accelerometer rather than a flow meter that directly measures how much water is flowing was one cost-saving innovation. Another was the use of near-field communication, rather than technologies such as Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. 

Together, these two design changes reduce power consumption and enable the sensor to be about one-tenth the cost of comparable products. 

By 2017, the sensor was ready to be deployed in a two-year randomized control trial, organized by the University of Virginia and the University of Venda in Thohoyandou, South Africa. The field-study was led by Professor Pascal Bessong at the University of Venda and Professor Elizabeth Rogawski McQuade at the University of Virginia. 

A year later, the team collected data from 232 households in Limpopo Province. Households received one of three types of water storage containers: one containing a water filter, one containing tablet that released antimicrobial silver ions, and one without either of these two technologies.  

The findings confirmed that surveys are not very accurate: they overestimated consistent usage by 53 percentage points when compared with the sensors.  

“We found this huge range, from households that use it every single day, to households that almost never use it,” says Meyer. “This is important when you consider what other teams have shown, which is that even if you use the filter 90% of the time, you’re only getting 4% of the health benefits. So consistent use is key.” 

It only takes one drink of contaminated water to become infected with a pathogen. And the more times that happens, especially early in life, the more likely it is to lead to chronic effects, such as damaged tissue in the intestines that can lower nutrient absorption and lead to other health effects, such as stunting. 

“If we can push those households that are at 90% usage up to 100%, that can have almost 10-times the impact than going from 50% to 60%,” says Meyer. “And we need sensors like these to help us find the households at 90%.” 

Rather than try to patent the design of the SmartSpout, Meyer and his collaborators have decided to leave it in the public domain. Their hope is that other groups — including development organizations and even potentially the companies that manufacture water filtration devices — take the idea and run with it. 

“I like the idea of use-it-or-lose-it schemes, where you can tell if the water treatment device is being used, and if it’s not, you can give it to someone else,” he says. “To do that, you need sensors that are cheaper than the devices themselves. With the SmartSpout, we’re roughly at cost parity, so it’s a big step toward being able to deploy these everywhere.” 

By Tyler Irving

This story originally published by Engineering News

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Renewed Canada Research Chairs will power research into green chemistry and environmental remediation

June 15, 2021

Professors Elodie Passeport (CivMin, ChemE) and Ya-Huei (Cathy) Chin (ChemE) have both received renewed Canada Research Chairs.

Two renewed Canada Research Chairs will catalyze innovations that could reduce the environmental impact of chemical manufacturing and help remediate contaminated sites. 

Professor Elodie Passeport (CivMin, ChemE) is the Canada Research Chair in Environmental Engineering and Stable Isotopes.  Professor Ya-Huei (Cathy) Chin (ChemE) holds the Canada Research Chair in Advanced Catalysis for Sustainable Chemistry. Both have had their research chairs renewed for another five years. 

For her part, Passeport leads a team of researchers focused on understanding the fate of pollutants that do not easily degrade in the environment. One of the key tools used in their work is stable isotopes, which provide an unambiguous signal that can be easily detected in environmental samples. 

Using such tools, Passeport and her collaborators can evaluate the effectiveness of environmental remediation strategies, for contaminated groundwater as well as for surface waters, such as constructed wetlands or bioretention cells, which have the potential to speed up the rates at which human-generated chemical degrade. 

 “Managers of highly contaminated groundwater sites need to know whether or not naturally-occurring microbes are able to break down contaminants, and isotope analysis can provide the evidence of that,” says Passeport. 

 “For example, we are currently working with experts from both industry and academia at a complex contaminated site in Brazil. We are developing new methods of stable isotope analysis for chloroanilines and chloronitrobenzenes, two of the compounds found there.”   

 Chin and her team develop ‘green chemistry’ processes to recover value from materials that might otherwise have been discarded as waste: everything from tree bark to the stalks and leaves of agricultural crops. Through the use of carefully designed catalysts, these materials can be transformed into sustainable fuels or other petrochemical products. 

 For example, Chin and her collaborators both in academia and industry are currently working on new ways to convert lignin — a chemical found in wood that currently has limited economic value — into green polymers that could replace the fossil fuel-derived versions in use today. 

 “Our research is multidisciplinary in nature and involves advanced experimental and computational strategies to unravel the fate of a feedstock in the chemical process,” says Chin. “This support will help us discover new reaction pathways by designing and creating catalyst structures that enable more atom- and energy-efficient reactions.” 

By Tyler Irving

 

This story originally published by Engineering News

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Cargo e-bikes get green light from City of Toronto

June 11, 2021

On June 8, 2021, Toronto City Council approved a plan to update City of Toronto bylaws to allow for the continued use of cargo e-bikes that support businesses in meeting unprecedented demand for local deliveries while also making way for a new micromobility pilot for larger cargo e-bikes.

The proposal received letters of support from UTTRI associated faculty Professor Matthew Roorda, Canada Research Chair, Freight Transportation and Logistics, and Chair of the Smart Freight Centre; The Bike Brigade; The Pembina Institute; and Cycle Toronto.

In his letter of support, Roorda says that greener transportation modes, such as cargo e-bikes for last-mile delivery, are  proactive steps for the environment and will open up research opportunities:

“It is no longer news that we are already behind in the race to battle climate change. As such, we must act aggressively and proactively to protect the environment. One such way is to adopt and promote alternative transportation modes, including Cargo E-bikes for last mile delivery.

“This [approval] will enable our current [City Logistics for the Urban Economy] research to proceed with pilot research programs with Cargo E-Bikes on the U of T Campus. This work will positively impact consumer access and drive new business opportunities. At the same time, it has the potential of significantly reducing CO2 emissions.

“There is immense opportunity in this area, we voice our full support for the ongoing policy developments in our city to enable a pilot program Cargo E-bikes of >120kg and up to 1000w in the near future.” – Professor Matthew Roorda, Canada Research Chair, Freight Transportation and Logistics

Professor Roorda and Dr. Ahmed Lasisi from University of Toronto, and Professor Kevin Gingerich from York University, are developing cargo tricycle initiatives on the U of T and York University campuses as part of the City Logistics in the Urban Economy (CLUE) project.

In March 2021, the Province of Ontario introduced a new cargo e-bike regulation and pilot for Ontario municipalities. The provincial pilot requires that municipalities choose to opt-in and change their bylaws to allow for use of any cargo e-bike weighing over 55 kilograms on public streets including bike lanes and cycle tracks.

As part of the provincial pilot, the City has an opportunity to potentially allow for larger cargo e-bikes weighing more than 120 kilograms to be piloted. A pilot project with larger cargo e-bikes would allow the City to evaluate use and impacts of such e-bikes in Toronto. The provincial O. Reg 141/21 Pilot Project – Cargo Power-Assisted Bicycles is available online.

“More people than ever are shopping locally online and relying on quick and efficient delivery services to get their purchases in a timely fashion. Cargo e-bikes represent a great opportunity for local businesses to meet that demand in a way that is environmentally responsible and helps reduce traffic congestion.” – Mayor John Tory

“Continuing to allow cargo e-bikes on Toronto’s streets and cycling infrastructure can help reduce transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants, reduce traffic congestion, and enhance how goods are moved throughout the city.” – Councillor Jennifer McKelvie (Scarborough-Rouge Park), Chair of the Infrastructure and Environment Committee

This article originally published by Urban Transportation Research Institute (UTTRI) 

 


Related content

 

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Concrete Canoe at U of T: The origin story

June 7, 2021

How a breakfast cereal led to beating U.S. competitors and a patent

For the last 24 years engineering students in Canada have been competing in the annual Canadian National Concrete Canoe Competition (CNCCC) but concrete canoes were being built at U of T long before the first CNCCC event.

In 1973 Civil Engineering (CivE) Professor Emeritus John Timusk and Professor Emeritus Ken Selby launched University of Toronto’s first concrete canoe into the Toronto Harbour. The canoe, which weighed 120 pounds, was completed the night before and took CivE students six hours to make.

Prof. John Timusk (standing) and Prof. Ken Selby launch U of T’s first concrete canoe in Toronto on April 26, 1973. (Photo: Frank Lennon / Toronto Star via Getty Images)

 

At the time Prof. Timusk was working on various mixes for insulated concrete; the first insulating material he used were Styrofoam beads. Then he thought to use an organic material.

“It occurred to me, why don’t we use puffed wheat? Imagine that!” Timusk recalls.

To prevent the cereal grain from going soggy, Timusk experimented dipping the puffed wheat into boiling wax. By a lucky mistake, one of them turned into carbon, from too much heat.

“I said ‘Eureka! we got a product here!,'” Timusk recalls. This led to other formulas for insulated concrete using glass fibres and cement paste, which were later patented by Timusk.

Under the direction of Prof. Timusk, CivE students were using insulated concrete for various extracurricular projects. First, they made a concrete igloo, a concrete motorboat and then came U of T’s first concrete canoe in 1973.

Concrete Canoe races had been held in the United States since the 1960s, with U of T becoming the first Canadian university to enter the competition in 1974, then hosted at Notre Dame University in Indiana.

1974 Concrete Canoe Race, Notre Dame University, Indiana. (Source: Skulebook)

Prof. Ken Selby accepting an award for the staff division race. (Source: Skulebook)

Using Prof. Timusk’s patented insulated concrete formula, U of T entered with an ultra-lightweight canoe, weighing only 78 pounds.

“Our canoe was so much lighter, we travelled with it on the roof rack of a car,” said Timusk.
The 78-pound winning concrete canoe now resides at the Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough, Ont.

Prof. Ken Selby and Prof. Cameron Kenney, who was Department Chair at the time, paddled the canoe in the staff division of the race, winning first place.

The win from the upstart Canadian entry caused jealousy amongst the U.S. universities, who expressly did not want to compete with U of T’s new innovations in concrete. Timusk jokes, “That was probably the first and last concrete canoe competition we went to in the States.”

By this time, there were other university concrete canoe races starting in Ontario. Races were held at Grenadier Pond in Toronto’s High Park and at the former Lady Eaton Estate, now a Seneca College campus, near King City, Ont.

Prof. Ken Selby recalls a race at Lake Seneca, where he and Prof. Cameron Kenney were paddling in a staff division race. Three-quarters through the race, Kenney fell out of the canoe into the lake but Selby kept paddling on.

“There were a whole bunch of other boats, so I didn’t want to cause a scene picking him up!” Selby chuckles as he recounts the memory.

1974 Staff Division Medal

For years, Prof. Selby and Prof. Timusk enjoyed concrete canoe competitions. “The more we do this, the more the students become independent, they start to work in teams and this is all in their spare time,” said Timusk.

Today, the U of T Concrete Canoe Club is an interdisciplinary design team, attracting students from all departments in the faculty.

This year the CNCCC went virtual and asked teams to submit an analysis on a past canoe in a technical report. Last month, the U of T Concrete Canoe Team submitted a report on its 2018-2019 canoe, the Polaris, earning second place in the competition.

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Dean’s Message: Scenarios for Fall on campus

June 7, 2021

A message for Engineering students, faculty & staff from Engineering Dean Chris Yip

 

To our U of T Engineering community

More than half of the population in Canada has now received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and in Toronto, the proportion is over 70% of adults. Second doses are coming, and the Ontario government recently announced its three-phase reopening plan. As I shared in a past Dean’s message, here at U of T Engineering, we’ve also been mapping out our plans for a safe and gradual return to campus.

Our plans are being built from the latest public health guidance and government directives. Indeed, the entire University has been working diligently since the pandemic began to rethink every facet of our operations — from signage and scheduling, to ventilation and vaccination — to ensure the safety of our whole community.

Of course, there are still a lot of questions and details outstanding, but I wanted to provide the outline of our scenario planning, the rationale behind it and the considerations we have made. I know it’s a lot of information, but I am sharing this so that each of you, whether you’re an incoming first-year, returning undergrad, graduate student, staff or faculty member, can begin to imagine how the Fall Term may look for you, and have as much info as possible to make your own plans.

Our leadership team, Departments, Divisions and Institutes, the Registrar’s Office, our Faculty’s Health and Safety advisors, and the Graduate Offices are working hard to develop a schedule that will prioritize as many in-person course activities as possible, while considering student workload, travel or commute times, health and safety and well-being. We also continue to work closely with EngSoc into and throughout the summer on scenario planning for extra-curricular activities such as student teams and orientation.

Review the scenarios planned for the Fall Term:

It is crucial to remember that even if we start the term under one plan, changes in public health guidelines could mean an unpredictable switch. We need to be prepared to pivot and adapt. We advise preparing for both Plans A and B, as these are based on the current provincial health and safety guidelines, which could change. Course instructors are also working to develop in-class delivery under both plans.

My central message is this: plan to be in Toronto. I encourage those who are able to be vaccinated to get their shots, as I have. While I acknowledge the past 15 months have been a grind, and I know many of you have faced challenges in your personal, professional, academic lives and beyond, I’m also enormously energized by the prospect of seeing you on campus again this Fall Term.

 There will be bumps in the road ahead, but we’re moving forward. I will continue to keep you updated as we go.

Chris

Christopher Yip
Dean
Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering
University of Toronto

Scenario Plans for Fall Term in U of T Engineering

Undergraduate students

Plan A: In-Person Course Activities

  • This is our “as in-person as possible” scenario, which involves in-person delivery of all course activities.
  • This is our default plan.
  • This plan is feasible as long as we do not have any physical distancing or significant gathering limit restrictions imposed by public health guidelines; however, we anticipate the continued use of non-medical masks indoors and outdoors while on campus.
  • We hope that in this scenario, small club and student group gatherings will be possible but realize that, at this time, this cannot be guaranteed.
  • When registration for U of T Engineering undergraduates opens on July 14, 2021, students will register for courses as if they will take place in person under Plan A.

Plan B: In-Person Pods, Labs & Tutorials

  • The University has asked all divisions to develop a Plan B in the event that public health guidelines do not allow us to proceed with Plan A.
  • U of T Engineering’s Plan B is based on a hypothesis of having the strictest public health restrictions that would still enable us to facilitate some in-person activities: gathering limits of 50, and no physical distancing requirements. We also anticipate the continued use of non-medical masks indoors and outdoors while on campus.
  • Since not all course components can be in-person under Plan B, we are prioritizing those smaller in-person activities that are focused on hands-on and/or interactive experiences, which are generally the laboratories and tutorials.
  • With gathering limits of 50, the numbers of tutorial and laboratory sections drastically increase. In this scenario, with the anticipation of classrooms being fully utilized (at low capacities), U of T Engineering does not have the space required to satisfy public health restrictions that would allow students to congregate, wait, study or attend synchronous online lectures between their in-person labs and tutorials.
  • We also do not have the space required for students to wait and study within our buildings between course activities. We are being mindful to avoid crowded and congested spaces.
  • Therefore, Plan B involves designing cohorts of undergraduate students in Years 1 and 2, divided into ‘pods’, whereby each pod’s in-person course activities (labs and tutorials) are scheduled together, so that they can leave campus when they are done their in-person activities for the day. Due to the custom nature of Years 3 and 4, we do not have a pod structure for upper-year students.
  • In developing a Plan B, we are prioritizing in-person labs and tutorials over synchronous online lectures. While we understand that this is not ideal for every course, we believe this will provide students with a better overall experience, addressing their desire for in-person peer-to-peer interaction.
  • Since undergraduates will be grouped into pods, we are encouraging students to come to campus only on days when they have in-person course activities.
  • In this scenario, we expect that all extra-curricular activities will stay virtual. If a club or design team has a specific request or concern, they are encouraged to first coordinate with EngSoc, whom we have been working with continuously through the pandemic and into this summer.

Plan C: Remote (with some exceptions)

  • If physical distancing is required, then the vast majority of in-person activities will not be feasible. We will run our Plan A schedule for undergraduate courses, but it will be fully remote with the exception that some programs will still hold some in-person laboratories.
  • All extra- and co-curricular activities will also be remote under Plan C.

Graduate students

Plan A: In-Person Under 50

  • If public health guidelines require little or no or physical distancing or gathering limits, for graduate courses where the class size is smaller than 50, the default plan is to be in-person as much as possible.
  • We anticipate the continued use of non-medical masks indoors and outdoors while on campus.
  • For courses where the class size is 50 or more, the default plan is online lectures with in-person components in small groups. For example, when possible, these could include in-person office hours scheduled in a classroom, while still offering a portion of the office hours online.
  • Course enrolment opens for graduate students on August 4, 2021. Students will register in courses as if we are proceeding with Plan A.

Plan B: Remote (with some exceptions)

  • If significant physical distancing and gathering limits are still in place: most classes will be delivered remotely.
  • In-person course activities that are possible under public health requirements, and that can be delivered equitably for all members of the class may be held in person.

Quick links:

 

 

This message originally posted by U of T Engineering

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CivMin’s Prof. Passeport among group awarded nearly $1M NSERC grant for microplastics pollution research

May 31, 2021

Professor Elodie Passeport

U of T researchers are among those in a large multidisciplinary and multi-institutional project to track Ontario’s microplastics pollution.

CivMin Professor Elodie Passeport (jointly appointed with ChemE), along with Profs. Miriam Diamond (Earth Sciences and ChemE.), Maria Dittrich (UTSC) are all co-principal investigators (PI) on a project awarded a grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). The PI is Prof. Jill Crossman at University of Windsor (UWindsor), who is coordinating the project.

In an announcement Monday, May 31, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, the Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, and Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, announced the Government of Canada is providing close to $7 million to support seven science-based research projects. Passeport and colleagues from partner universities are to receive a nearly $1 million grant from NSERC and Environment and Climate Change Canada’s (ECCC) Plastics Science for A Cleaner Future program for their project, “Source-specific identification, characterization and control of microplastics across a remote, rural and urban gradient.

The multidisciplinary, multi-institutional project is to develop new tools to test, analyze and track Ontario’s microplastics pollution. Researchers must solve the mystery of where microplastics originate, as well as how they travel and where they end up, before the major international pollution problem can be curtailed.

“There are severe knowledge gaps limiting our ability to track plastics already in the environment and these gaps remain a key roadblock to efficient policy implementation,” says Dr. Crossman.

“Canadian and international concern is mounting regarding risks associated with microplastic ubiquity, accumulation and potential for ingestion– particularly now that they are being found in such remote environments, so far from any obvious sources. To get a clear picture of where microplastics end up, we will be tracking and testing what proportion of microplastics are found in the atmosphere, in watersheds and in soil in remote, rural and urban areas across Ontario,” says Crossman.

The UWindsor team, headed by Crossman, is joined by researchers from the University of Toronto, Trent University, and Western University; an industrial partner Wilson Analytical; and scientists from Environment Canada, Ontario Ministry of Environment Conservation and Parks, and the Toronto Region Conservation Authority. The researchers will visit various industrial, agricultural and urban sites throughout the year to identify key sources, transportation processes and pathways of microplastics. The program will become an important resource for future research through the creation of an open access data portal. Crossman’s focus will be on developing and calibrating watershed models, supported by the databases developed within the program, which will be used to identify source contributions and sustainable control measures.

Before collecting any data however, the group will develop uniform investigation methods for analyzing samples of air, water and soil and create a harmonized microplastics surveillance network.

“The research is designed around a cross-institutional training and graduate exchange program, enabling students to gain experience on a wide range of analytical instruments as they travel between universities,” says Crossman.

In addition to developing standards for existing methods, new analytical tools and approaches will be investigated. Dr. Mundle, a professor at the School of Environment and researcher with the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research (GLIER) will develop new isotope finger-printing methods that will be used for source tracking of microplastics across Ontario. Dr Mundle says “we will use recent developments in mass spectrometry methods to isolate previously unidentifiable environmental processes, generating unique fingerprints of δ2H, δ15N and δ13C which vary by polymer, region of manufacture and environmental degradation process. This will enable users to track microplastics in the environment back to their original source”

By working directly with municipal and federal stakeholders, and engaging with a diverse group of collaborators, the program aims to develop knowledge which will be directly applied to support effective microplastics mitigation policies which can be used across Canada.

Funding allocation listed here.

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CSE at CivMin selected for funding from eCampusOntario

May 31, 2021

Professor Oya Mercan

Three U of T Engineering projects have been selected for funding by the eCampusOntario Virtual Learning Strategy – a historic $50 million investment by the  One of the projects selected involves CivMin Professor Oya Mercan, who heads the Centre for Climate Science and Engineering (CSE).

Engineering in a Changing Climate brings together University of Toronto Scarborough Department of Physical and Environmental Sciences Professor Karen Smith, and U of T Engineering Professor Mercan to develop a transdisciplinary learning opportunity that will allow engineering and climate science students to study climate-related stress on infrastructure.

For a full list of funded projects, visit: uofteng.ca/VLS

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12 ways U of T is preparing for a safe return to in-person instruction

May 19, 2021

(Infographic by U of T Communications)

Download a transcript of the infographic

As it prepares for the return of students, staff, faculty and librarians this fall, the University of Toronto is taking a wide range of precautions to curtail the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

Everyone coming to campus will be required to take a self-reported health screening. Building ventilation systems are being inspected, air filters have been upgraded where necessary and air purifiers are being added to classrooms as needed. Room occupancy will be limited, as is the case with other enclosed spaces, from grocery stores to buses.

“We’re exploring every possible avenue to prepare our campuses for a successful fall term that includes in-person learning, activities and other experiences,” said Ron Saporta, chief operating officer, property services and sustainability. “As the situation evolves, we will continue to monitor public health guidance daily to ensure that our measures are up to date and are informed by evidence.”

Here are 12 ways U of T is planning for a safe return of in-person instruction this fall:


1. UCheck health screening

Before visiting campus, everyone – students, faculty, staff, librarians, researchers and even contractors – must complete a health screening. The easiest way to do this is by using the university’s online self-assessment tool, UCheck. A paper-based process is also available.

The UCheck questionnaire has been updated to reflect the latest public health guidance, takes just a few minutes to complete and can be accessed via smartphone, tablet or desktop. Submitted data is encrypted in transit and storage to protect users’ privacy.

2. Physical distancing measures

(Photo by Nick Iwanyshyn)

To help facilitate physical distancing, the university has taken steps to re-orient traffic flow in buildings by posting signage and rearranging furniture and other features to help people maintain a distance of at least two metres from one another. In some cases, chairs have been taped off and desks and other furniture have been physically separated – or removed altogether.

“Physical distancing remains an important practice to limit the spread of COVID-19,” Saporta said.

3. Scheduling changes and capacity limits

(Photo by Johnny Guatto)

U of T has also capped the number of people allowed inside rooms to help facilitate physical distancing. Some departments have adjusted schedules so that fewer people occupy the same indoor space at the same time.

Efforts will also be made to move activities such as fitness classes outdoors while weather and public health guidelines permit – a strategy that was successfully implemented last fall.

“In keeping with the latest public health guidance, we have further limited occupancy since last spring.  We will continue to monitor the guidance in this area over the summer and make adjustments as needed,” said Saporta.

4. Non-medical face masks

The university’s policy requiring non-medical masks to be worn in all indoor spaces will remain in effect. U of T’s mask policy and allowable exclusions, as well as answers to frequently asked questions about masks, can all be found on the UTogether site.

Health Canada now recommends wearing a well-fitted masks with “at least 2 layers of tightly woven fabric, such as cotton,” plus a third middle layer of filter-type fabric, such as non-woven polypropylene.

5. Enhanced cleaning and more sanitizing stations

(Photo by David Lee)

The university has installed thousands of touchless hand sanitizing stations and sanitizing wipe dispensers across the three campuses. U of T has also ramped up cleaning of common-use areas such as classrooms, libraries, washrooms and lobbies.

Staff frequently wipe down and disinfect high-touch surfaces like door handles, handrails and elevator buttons.

6. Industry-leading classroom ventilation targets

(Photo by Johnny Guatto)

Classrooms that will be used for in-person teaching across the three campuses will be equipped for six equivalent air changes per hour, the same standard applied to patient examination rooms, walk-in clinics and other health-care settings.

U of T consulted outside experts in adopting its ventilation standard.

“In the context of the pandemic, we’ve been on top of recommended COVID-19 ventilation safety measures,” said Jelena Vulovic-Basic, a senior manager, operations and maintenance at U of T Facilities & Services.

7. Upgrading building ventilation and air filtration

(Photo by Johnny Guatto)

The university continues to upgrade and monitor heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment where necessary. That includes monitoring and maintaining upgraded air filters that capture a greater percentage of smaller particles and outfitting some classrooms with a local air filtration device with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters.

All building ventilation systems at U of T will continue to undergo regular maintenance to ensure air is clean and flowing into and out of buildings properly.

As an additional measure, the university plans to flush air from enclosed spaces prior to occupancy.

“We turn on the ventilation system two hours before anyone walks through the door, filling the building with clean air,” Saporta said.

8. Contact tracing through QR codes

As part of a voluntary pilot project, people entering some buildings will see posters encouraging them to use UCheck to scan a QR code located at the entrances. The scans will help with contact tracing in the event of a confirmed case of COVID-19.

“If we have an issue, Occupational Health Services can notify people directly about a potential exposure,” said Cathy Eberts, U of T’s director, enterprise applications and deputy chief information officer.

“It’s all through UCheck, so your information is encrypted and only accessible by our occupational health nurse if we need to do contract tracing.”

9. Monitoring wastewater in large residences

A pilot project is underway at U of T to monitor sewage for the virus that causes COVID-19.

Some municipalities, including Ottawa, have been using this method to detect the virus – often before those who are infected realize they are sick.

At U of T, the plan is to monitor wastewater from residences that house about 100 people or more.

“The approach here – which was successfully tested during a pilot earlier this year – is we monitor building wastewater for pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic cases of COVID-19, and if we find it then we implement our outbreak prevention protocol,” Saporta said.

10. Rapid screening for some essential staff

The university is also piloting rapid antigen testing for U of T staff whose role requires frequent face-to-face interaction with the public, such as those working in dentistry and health and wellness.

The screening program was developed by the Creative Destruction Lab – a business accelerator affiliated with the Rotman School of Management – and has been used by the likes of Air Canada and Scotiabank.

The BD Veritor System uses nasal swabs to detect SARS-CoV-2.

The test, which returns a result in as little as 15 minutes, can accurately identify the presence of the coronavirus roughly 85 per cent of the time and can accurately eliminate those who are not infected nearly 100 per cent of the time. Those who test positive will be referred for further testing.

11. Department-specific COVID-19 guidelines and tools

Rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach, U of T is asking each department to adapt the university’s – and indeed broader public health guidelines – to its own specific circumstances.

“It’s important to contextualize general guidelines to the space where you work,” said Gina Trubiani, U of T’s director, occupational health and safety.

“How physical distancing works in caretaking may be different from how it works in a place like the Medical Sciences Building. This allows for a nimbler, more flexible response so departments can apply the general guidelines based on their circumstances.”

12. Supporting Ontario’s vaccination drive

(Photo by Nick Iwanyshyn)

U of T is supplying space and volunteers to boost the province’s vaccination efforts. Earlier this month, a vaccine clinic hosted by U of T Mississauga and run by Trillium Health Partners and Peel Public Health celebrated an important milestone: 100,000 shots in arms.

Another clinic, on the St. George campus, is operated by the University Health Network with participation from Sinai Health and U of T. And there are plans to host a third clinic at U of T Scarborough.

In all cases, the vaccinations are administered at the U of T-hosted sites following the province’s vaccine priority schedule and ethical guidelines.

“Our main goal is to do what we can to partner with our hospitals and public health to serve our communities,” Salvatore Spadafora, a physician and professor in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine who is special adviser to the president and provost on COVID-19, told U of T News.

He later said he hoped Canada’s mass immunization effort will also help the U of T community “arrive at a better, safer and less isolated place this fall.”

As for the entire 12-step plan, Spadafora said, it will evolve with the science and the public health regulations of the day – and as case counts fall and vaccinations increase.

“The university will continue to monitor the effectiveness of these programs, as well as scientific evidence and best practices and will adapt this program as warranted.”

For the latest updates visit UTogether

By Geoffrey Vendeville

This story originally published by U of T News

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© 2021 Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering