Posts Categorized: News

Skule Days, 1961-1965

The Class of 6T5 produced a souvenir album on the occasion of their 50th reunion.

Construction on the Berlin Wall began in 1961 as the CivE Class of 6T5 prepared for its first day at the University of Toronto.

During their four years of study, these students witnessed the height of the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassination of President Kennedy and three Stanley Cup wins by the Toronto Maple Leafs!

These experiences bonded the Class of 6T5 and helped to create lifelong friendships.

The Class of 6T5 highlighted these special connections in souvenir album, which was distributed to all classmates in celebration of the 6T5 50-year reunion.

Sue Joel (CivE 6T5) with Nick (CivE 6T5) and Marg Walker wrote, edited and compiled the album.

Sections in the album include:

  • Skule Days, 1961-1965: includes photos, memories and overviews of what happened in their four years of study, including Survey Camp
  • Recaps and reminiscences of past reunions
  • Highlights of the 50th reunion
  • Dedicated individual pages where each class member contributed personal memories, photos and updates about family and career.

The nearly 75-page album is clearly a labour of love. Thank you to the Class of 6T5 for sharing your cherished memories with the Department.

Spirit of service alive in alumni volunteers

As a Civil Engineering student in the late ‘70s, Arun Channan’s involvement ran the gamut from the Brute Force Committee and the Engineering Society, to the Concrete Canoe Competition, Cannon Guard, and Civil Club. One of his fondest memories is affixing giant Mickey Mouse ears to the SAC dome at three o’clock in the morning as a prank.

Now, as an alumnus, Channan (CivE 8T0) has volunteered his time to the Department of Civil Engineering for more than 20 years, organizing five-year reunions, as well as fundraising on behalf of CAMP Campaign and Skule Society. He believes his volunteerism is a direct extension of his student activities.

“Influencing the quality of education and student experiences in the Department of Civil Engineering is important to me,” Channan says. “I remember my own positive associations and I get a charge from seeing the Department’s achievements.”

Channan’s participation reflects alumni enthusiasm for the Department and is an example of the range of volunteer opportunities open to alumni and how these opportunities enrich the University of Toronto’s Civil Engineering community.

“We can make a difference in many ways, from running committees and projects to teaching,” says Channan. “Students and the Department benefit from our real-world experiences. We can share our different career paths, showing how civil engineering opens up many doors.”

It’s this real-world experience and familiarity with the Department that makes alumni contributions so valuable.

“Alumni volunteers are among the University’s best spokespeople,” explains Paul Cadario (CivE 7T3). “In Civil Engineering, they share a common commitment to the Department and our different backgrounds offer valuable outside perspective on the Department’s different initiatives.”

In addition to teaching, funding scholarships and creating the Cadario Facility for Integrated Learning, Cadario serves on several University boards and the Boundless campaign committee for the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering. He has chaired the Civil Engineering Chair’s Advisory Board for the past three years and is quick to highlight the benefit of similar alumni involvement.

“We are a sounding board for the Department’s campaign and priorities,” he said. “We act as consultants for the Department Chair, bringing our day jobs’ perspective to teaching, research and advancement. Our knowledge of the Department is invaluable for the university in improving connections and building its profile.”

For example, Cadario facilitated the creation of a course on water issues, one of the Board’s current priorities, between Civil Engineering and the Munk School of Global Affairs, where he sits on the Master of Global Affairs external advisory board.

Alumni also get involved in causes that demonstrate their interests and skills. Sue Joel (CivE 6T5) began volunteering with the Department in 2010, when it established five scholarships in honour of the first five women to graduate from Civil Engineering, of which Joel was one. “I felt very honoured that the Department would do this,” she said. “It has been a real pleasure to renew my acquaintance with the Department through this initiative.”

Since then, Joel spearheaded the creation of a Class Album yearbook in celebration of her class’s 50-year anniversary in 2015, and she has recently joined the Engineering Alumni Association’s Alumni Awards Committee.
Engineering education is a key focus for Indi Gopinathan (CivE 9T6), who currently teaches a mineral economics class in the Lassonde Mineral Engineering Program. She draws on her mining industry connections to bring in guest speakers and deepen the level of expertise.

“Being involved has given me the opportunity to reflect on the value of engineering education to my career and to consider its role more broadly within our industry,” she said.

No matter the activity, alumni volunteerism fosters a lifelong attachment to the Department and its students.

“Once you get engaged, it’s really easy to ask, ‘How else can I help?’ and stay engaged,” said Cadario.


Changes on campus

Small and large changes at iconic places on the St. George Campus

This past summer, a pedestrian-only zone was put in place to increase the accessibility and safety around Convocation Hall.

Inspired by the circular form of front campus, the playful circles that dot the pavement in signature U of T blue and white, make a fun and functional addition to the campus. Students can use the space to chat with friends after class and check their phones out of the path of motor vehicles.

The zebra striped-crosswalks create clear paths for students, faculty and visitors, and defines a clear intersection for drivers.

An expansion and facelift at One Spadina Crescent clears the way for the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design, which moves in next year.

The historic southfacing stone facade received a cleaning and restoration. The addition to the north side will reflect a more modern design.

The revitalization of the property will greatly expand the teaching and faculty space, and breathe renewed life into the western edge of the St. George campus.


The University recently annouced a high-profile design competition to revitalize King’s College Circle.

Four design concepts were showcased to the public at an event on September 28. Ideas included an elevated walkway, vehicle-free circle, skating rink and multi-use plaza.

Eight principles will guide future development:

  1. improve the pedestrian experience;
  2. enhance green space;
  3. create public spaces that animate the campus;
  4. support events;
  5. remove surface parking from front campus circles;
  6. limit traffic on front campus circles;
  7. wayfinding; and
  8. allow for discreet servicing and access to all infrastructure.

Shear brilliance

U of T Completes Groundbreaking Experiment on Shear Resistance

Supervised by Professors Evan Bentz and Michael Collins, master’s student Phil Quach (CivE 1T2, MASc 1T5) headed new groundbreaking experiment in the Structures Lab to discover the effect of extreme member depth on shear resistance.

A shear failure is a critical issue that all engineers want to prevent. It is one of the ways a structure can collapse catastrophically with little to no warning, such as  Quebec’s De La Concorde overpass in 2006.  As the demand for larger infrastructure and buildings increases, so does the need for greater understanding of how larger slabs of reinforced concrete—used in roofs or transfer slabs, for example—behave in shear.

“When we’re dealing with design of buildings and industrial facilities, we have one chance to get it right,” said Prof. Bentz. “We have to make sure we know the behaviour of the materials.”

The nature of reinforced concrete—its propensity to crack and susceptibility to shear failure—limits the applicability of scale model testing due to the size effect; different sizes of concrete slabs will behave differently under stress. Professors Frank Vecchio and Michael Collins developed the Modified Compression Field Theory (MCFT) to explain shear behaviour in 1986. According to the theory, the size effect should be substantial for some types of members such as thick slabs.

The experiment expanded on a previous series of tests on shear strength. Currently, the largest concrete slab in the world tested for shear was three metres thick in Japan. The U of T team doubled the size of its previous experiment—a two-metre deep slab in 2000—by creating a four-metre high, 20-metre long slab that is reinforced longitudinally in one end of the member and both longitudinally and transversely in the other end.

The results were as significant as the specimen itself: they validated the current provisions in the Canadian design code, and allow for thicker slabs as modern construction slabs increase in size. The results also find failures in current American building codes; the U of T study will be instrumental in changing what is currently prescribed as safe design.

The team has also engaged about 350 academic research groups and engineers worldwide in a prediction competition to estimate the strength of the slab, given the specifics of the specimen. They received close to 100 responses from the U.S., Germany, Turkey, Mexico, Italy, Australia, and Canada. The guesses varied in accuracy.

“The fact that the predictions have been so variable so far shows us that a lack of knowledge and inconsistencies in international building codes are a big problem,” said Bentz.

Particle Man

Prof. Jeff Siegel studies particle pollution in landmark indoor air quality study

Prof. Jeffrey Siegel likens engineers to “people who practice medicine without licenses,” and his research on particle pollution highlights the intersection between civil engineering and health. Prof. Siegel, a cross-appointed faculty member at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, has been studying particle pollution since the late 1990s. He is currently part of a research study by the University of Toronto, the Toronto Atmospheric Fund and Health Canada examining indoor air quality and energy use in seven Toronto Community Housing (TCH) buildings, which will undergo retrofitting by 2018.

“Indoor air quality is remarkably understudied,” said Siegel. “Particle pollution is our biggest environmental hazard. We know categorically that when particles in the air increase, people get sick and die. There is no safe threshold.”

Particle pollution, or particulate matter, is an airborne mixture of miniscule solid particles and liquid droplets that are less than 10 micrometers in diameter. It is composed of various materials, including organic chemicals, acids, and metals created by different mechanical and chemical processes. Particle pollution causes a host of health effects, such as cardiovascular and respiratory problems, cancer and even genetic defects in unborn children.

The study looks at indoor air quality and energy use together with the aim of optimizing both. Prof. Siegel’s group monitors the air quality in the TCH buildings pre- and post-retrofits, which are slated for completion in 2018. The team focuses on filter forensics. They have installed air filters in a selection of apartments and willcomplete dust analyses of the filters for size distribution of the particles and their chemical constituents.

“We are looking at the filters in a qualitatively formalized way,” said Siegel. “They’ll tell a story that can lead to greater public knowledge about the localized effects of particle pollution and how retrofits can mitigate these effects.”

Eight Ways to Limit Your Exposure to Particle Pollution

It’s all about limiting the effects of combustion and creating ventilation!

  1. Avoid burning candles indoors. You may love the smell of your scented candles, but combustion creates particles that compromise your health.
  2. Always cook in well-ventilated areas. Buy an overhead vent fan for your oven and keep it on while you’re preparing meals.
  3. When walking on the sidewalk, keep close to the building side rather than the roadside to lessen the effects of particles from vehicle exhaust fumes.
  4. Limit the amount of cleaning products you use in your home. Even if a product is labeled “green” or “natural,” the fewer chemicals you can use to get the job done, the better.
  5. Keep windows open and turn fans on while vacuuming.
  6. Avoid buying furniture made of particle board; it often contains formaldehyde-releasing components. Yet another reason not to shop at IKEA!
  7. If you’re in the market to buy a house or condo, steer clear of properties along major roadways. Vehicle exhaust can more easily make its way into your indoor air supply.
  8. If a baby is on the way, put down that paint roller and sledge hammer! Pregnant women should avoid home renovation projects.

CivE alumni honoured by industry organizations

Norbert Morgenstern (CivE 5T6)

Canadian Academy of Engineering
Honorary Fellow

Morgenstern has led a distinguished career in Geotechnical engineering. A distinguished professor emeritus at the University of Alberta, he is a member of the Order of Canada and won the Killam Prize in Engineering in 2001. He also received the EAA Engineering Alumni Medal in 1995.

Michael Butt (CivE 6T3)

Ontario Professional Engineers Awards
Management Medal

Butt has committed over 50 years to the construction engineering industry. He founded Buttcon Limited in 1979. He is a fellow of the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering and the Canadian Design Build Institute. Butt was inducted into the Engineering Hall of Distinction in 2011.

Civil Engineering Student Competes in the Modern Pentathlon at PanAm 2015

A fourth-place finish qualifies her for the 2016 Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro

Donna Vakalis, a PhD candidate studying the impact of indoor building environments on public health and productivity, competed in the modern pentathlon for Team Canada.

The sport includes competition in fencing, swimming, show jumping, and running and shooting. Vakalis won the running and shooting combined event to place fourth overall; qualifying her for the Olympic Games.

“We look forward to cheering on Donna at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games,” said Prof. Brent Sleep, chair of Civil Engineering.

Before the TO2015 Games, Vakalis commented on how being an engineer affects her life as an athlete.

“There are so many connections for athletes to think analogically,” said Vakalis. “For example, an athlete can start to see connections between the structural properties of materials and the way the body works.”

Recovering from an injury earlier this year, Vakalis said her engineering studies were helpful for understanding the mechanics of the body in order to heal smarter and faster. Vakalis also believes the skills she gained in competition will benefit her academic career.

“Being a pentathlete who has to execute moves perfectly when an Olympic berth will be on the line, it helps to be able to think clearly under tremendous pressure,” said Vakalis. “That’s helpful for standing up and teaching a class, or being able to answer a challenging question in front of your thesis defence committee.”

Turning an 1870’s solid masonry house into a low-energy home

Using a Nested Thermal Envelope DesignTM

This project involves the renovation of a historic solid masonry home on the University of Toronto campus using an innovative, low-energy approach known as GEMINI Nested Thermal Envelope Design (GEMINI NTED)™. (more…)

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