Posts Categorized: People

Bridging data science with traditional engineering

Alumnus Ivan Damnjanovic on stage at the Google Hackathon event in Singapore.

University of Toronto Engineering graduate Ivan Damnjanovic (CivE 1T4+PEY) has developed software that harnesses the power of data science and traditional engineering to make sustainable building management less expensive and more productive than ever before.

The engineer and computer scientist turned entrepreneur earned his Civil Engineering degree from U of T with a minor in Sustainable Energy. Right after graduation, Damnjanovic easily scored a job with a well-known Canadian management consulting firm but knew he wanted to take his skills and start his own business.

“Eventually I realized that the fastest growing companies are based on software innovation, so I pursued a master’s degree in computer science to prepare myself and build credibility with investors.”

Then he started Ambient Systems, a subscription-based software that provides property developers and facility managers with valuable, data-driven insights about how structures are developed, operated, and maintained.

“I was somewhat of an adventure seeker when I was younger,” he said. “For better or worse, this transferred into my academic and professional choices.”

The software’s goal is to deliver a new data-driven way to build with the goal of decarbonizing real estate development, financing, and operation through an open-source platform.

Ambient Systems was conceptualized during the pandemic as Damnjanovic and his team realized that more than ever, building operators were going to need to tap into the power of data science to efficiently manage processes traditionally bogged down by complicated workflows and archaic legacy systems.

According to the company’s website, the platform uses comprehensive open-source data to empower property developers and building managers to make timely, informed decisions, thereby leaving nothing to chance. Regardless of whether the facility that they are managing is new or existing, they can Ambient Systems to reduce operating costs, increase revenue, and vastly improve their customer experience.

Damnjanovic launched the product in mid-June through a Google Cloud competition in Singapore, where his team won a second spot in the city-state.

He estimates that his proprietary data science models — delivered through a cloud-based software — can reduce time spent on data collection and analysis to around 5 hours per month, compared to a typical process which takes 100+ hours and multiple teams to coordinate.

Furthermore, Damnjanovic estimates that the cost of these activities can be further reduced by 80% compared to the current amount of time and money being spent on using multiple software vendors.

“Most importantly, the customers will be able to see the results fast, in just a few days. We’re making delivery faster by doing data engineering and machine learning on the cloud.”

Damnjanovic says that the engineering degree at the University of Toronto gave him the solid foundation he needed to succeed on his current career trajectory.

“Although I took the entrepreneurial route, my time at the Faculty of Engineering gave me the confidence to tackle some of the world’s toughest challenges, such as the current environmental and economic crises.”

By David Goldberg


Student profile: Hannah Hermanson (CivE Year 3)

Changing lanes in academic pursuits and sports

Hannah Hermanson (CivE Year 3) poses in the SF Pit with her Engineering leather jacket sporting 2T3 on the sleeve. (Photo courtesy Hannah Hermanson)

Hannah Hermanson is a third year Civil Engineering student currently employed during her Professional Experience Year (PEY) in Calgary. As a student-athlete she has been a member of the U of T Varsity Blues swim team for four years and has now switched to water polo. Academically, she switched lanes too, changing from a path in math and physics to one in Engineering.

This interview was conducted at the end of the school year, then updated recently to add her PEY experience.

Can you tell us just a little bit about yourself?
I’m Hannah Hermanson in third year Civil Engineering and I’m also planning on doing a minor in business. I’m originally from Hawaii, but both of my parents are Canadians, and I have dual citizenship. That’s kind of what pushed me to come to U of T.

I’ve been swimming competitively for 16 years. I started when I was super young and, since we were living in Hawaii, it was more because of safety concerns that my parents got me into swimming. We were always at the beach, and they didn’t want us to drown, so it was mandatory swimming lessons if you’re going to go to the beach.

Since then, I’ve been swimming everywhere we lived. We moved to Spain when I was 12, so wound up swimming competitively there for three years, then we came back to the States, to North Carolina for high school, and was swimming there. Then I came to U of T and I’ve been swimming the past four years with the [Varsity Blues] team here.

Were you born in Hawaii? It’s a big weather adjustment here in Canada from there.
Yes, I was born in Maui. It’s very different being here, especially in April when it’s still snowing.

Why U of T? What attracted you specifically to this institution?
My mom’s from Alberta, and my dad is originally from Ontario, so there was a tie to Ontario, but I was mostly just attracted to U of T for the academics and the programs.

And why Engineering at U of T?
Originally, in my first year, I was in math and physics in the Arts and Science program – that was what I got into U of T for.

Then I thought if I was going to be doing all the work for math and physics, and all the calculations and everything related, I wanted it to have some real-world application. So, midway through the first semester in math and physics, I thought, “You know what? I need to do a more applied discipline.” I applied to transfer into Civil Engineering, then finished my first year in math and physics and got into engineering that summer.

Hannah Hermanson (CivE Year 3) swimming the backstroke in competition for the U of T Varsity Blues swim team.

Engineering is known to be rigorous, academically, and you’re also a Varsity athlete. How do you maintain balance with that and keep some sort of personal life?
For swimming it was set up pretty nice – we have 11 practices throughout the week and we need to go to a minimum of six of them.

There’s morning practices and afternoon practices so, depending on your class schedule, you can make your own schedule. Since I’ve been at U of T, I’ve mostly been going to morning practices because I have classes all afternoon.

To make the morning practices, I’d go to bed pretty early; it’s all about time management. I feel like I would finish courses, have two hours to do homework and then I needed to start winding down to go to bed to wake up early enough to go to practices. Usually, I would stop work around 9 p.m. and be asleep by 10 p.m. and then morning practices are usually at 6:30 a.m., sometimes 7 a.m.

In high school, classes started so much earlier than the usual 9 a.m. here at U of T, so I would have to wake up at 4 or 4:15 a.m. for practice. Then, when I came to U of T, I thought, wow, swimming is an enjoyable sport again. I really started to love it again just because of the great atmosphere and the coaches are so much more relaxed. They’re like, “You’re an adult – you can come to practice if you want to. If you don’t, we really don’t care, we have so many other athletes to attend to.” The whole staff is great. Everyone from Byron MacDonald [Head Coach], Linda Keifer [Assistant Head Coach] and Doug Vanderby [Assistant Coach] is simply spectacular.

 You seem very capable of assessing your situation and changing direction on the fly. You went from math and physics to Engineering; you went from swimming, an individual sport, and moved to water polo, a team sport. How very adaptable.
Yes, changing and testing it out. I tend to make the decision and then, deal with the aftermath as it comes. Whether I have doubts, or not, I just deal with it as it comes. But I do definitely feel like I have made some pretty big changes.

It’s amazing to have that kind of confidence, some inner strength. Kudos to you. Now you’ve wrapped up competitive swimming and now you’re doing water polo at U of T. Does it require a different set of skills, because instead of individual events it’s now as part of a team?
It is very different. I’ve only been doing water polo for four weeks. I’m still very new there, so they’re teaching me how to throw, how to hold my hand, how to do the eggbeater kick. I’m still learning the basics. It’s very different from swimming, but super fun.

How does that work now for your schedule and balancing academics, athletics and personal time?
They only have six practices a week and they offer and their practices are from 7 p.m. at night to 9 p.m. On Wednesdays they’re from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. So when I’m usually winding down, they’re just starting. It’s a very,  very different thing for me to get used to. My day has usually been over by 9 p.m., but now it doesn’t really start until then for water polo practices. I get home at 11 and, well, I don’t fall asleep for at least another two hours.

Have you played any matches as it in water polo now, or just been practicing?
No, I’ve just been trying to learn the basics. Their season ended in December, so everything they’re doing right now is just practicing and a few scrimmages.

Do you think having these two very arduous time commitments has kept you very disciplined and structured for the use of your time?
I’m definitely not able to procrastinate assignments, because I just don’t have time to procrastinate them. I feel pretty thankful I’ve always had a time crunch with my schedule. I only ever have an hour or two at a time to work on things, so I can’t put it off till that night. I just don’t have time. It’s what really helped me throughout high school and in general.

You’re in third year right now. Did you go to Camp at the beginning of the year?
I’m actually doing my PEY this year and then I’m planning to do Camp the following summer. 

Are there any professors or other people at the University, and particularly in Engineering, that you think fondly of, or who have made an impact on you? Maybe somebody you want to give a little shoutout to?  
I thoroughly enjoyed the course APS301 – Technology in Society and the Biosphere, taught by Prof. Robert Irish I absolutely loved that course.

Also, Prof. Susan Andrews’s course CIV220 Urban Engineering Ecology, Pedram Mortazavi (CivE PhD candidate) in CIV312 too – Pedram was our instructor for CIV312 last year.

You’re three years in now – did you start first year in person?
Yes, my first year of Engineering at U of T was all in-person classes, until about March 2020 when everything went downhill. I was happy to have one whole year with everyone before we had to spend a year with remote learning.

So are you are you glad to see in-person classes come back, even though there’s been some, restrictions on gatherings and you have to wear mask?
Yeah, I definitely think so. Last year I was in Hawaii for most of it. There’s a six-hour time difference, so I was doing a lot of my 9 a.m. Toronto time classes by waking up at 4 a.m., depending on daylight savings. I would just be sitting there at my desk at home and nobody else was awake but me. That part I really don’t miss.

I did like when you could watch lectures at your leisure and rewatching lectures was super useful, but I definitely prefer in person. As well, seeing my friends and going to lectures together just helps build this sense of community. I feel like it’s such a big part of helping you get through Engineering. Sure, the courses are hard, but the people make it better.

During the pandemic you made the decision to go back home to your parents in Hawaii.
I went home in March 2020 and then I came back the following fall because training for swimming was happening, and we were hoping things would open up. So I came back with high hopes. But then, around Thanksgiving, it kind of just shut down and then it just got more closed from there on. I went back and stayed home for the whole next semester.

Now you’re back to classes and Varsity sports full time.
I live right along Bloor, 10 minutes from campus, with three other swimmers and two track athletes. It’s a house of six girls, all athletes, so they train a lot in the AC [Athletic Centre] too. It only takes about 10 minutes to get ready in the morning – we leave exactly seven minutes before we have to be at the pool. We have it down to a science and we all convene in the hallway at 6:07 a.m. – we never leave on an even number. Then we get to the pool exactly when we need to be there, not a minute wasted.

Do you have any places on campus that you say this is my go-to spot on campus or maybe an off-campus place you go?
I go to Sid Smith quite a bit, since it’s so close to the pool. If I finish practice and have an odd hour between when classes start, I would just go to Sid Smith. And New College – the lounge in New College is where swimmers just end up doing work after or before practices, as it’s so close to the AC.

Is there any other place, even off campus, where you seek out a familiar or comforting dish? Perhaps something that tastes like home?
No. I’ve tried a few poke bowls here, but they hardly compare to the ones back home. I’d say Zaad, this Mediterranean place on Bloor me and my roommates go there all the time.

I guess it’s been pretty short term for you living in Canada really, but is there anything that you found here that you go, oh, we just don’t have that at home?
Definitely ice skating in my first year – I really took advantage of the family skate times on Sundays. That was super fun. I bought my first pair of skates, as I was really thinking I’d need to embrace the Canadian side of me. So, I’ve been trying to learn how to skate, and every time I go home to Hawaii, I think, oh, I wish we had skating rinks here to cool off.

Is there any food here that is unique. To hear that you found that you go oh, shoot when you don’t have that in Hawaii.
I absolutely love poutine. I’ve had to make that a couple of times at home just because it’s so good. And Timbits every time. We’ve come to Canada before, as I have relatives in Alberta, and every time we come I always get Timbits. It’s a running joke inside my family that every time you go to Canada, Hannah needs to get Timbits. So Tim Horton’s and poutine, the most stereotypical Canadian snacks.

Do you have an unusual or a different kind of a hobby, or some other talent that somebody may not know about, except that we’re asking you here now?
I do quite a few other sports outside. When I was 12, my dad taught my sister and I to kite surf, so every time I’m in Hawaii we kite surf quite a bit. There was a pretty big learning curve there for that. I love rock climbing, and snowboarding.

And I’m kind of a grandma in some ways, as I really like to knit and crochet.

Your next step, as you already said, is you’re going to do a PEY. Can you say where you’re going to go work this summer?
I’m going out to Calgary, Alberta – as I said most of my family is in Alberta – and I just loved snowboarding. I thought the mountains are there, my family is there, it’s cheaper to live there and I like the job. So, I’ll be in Calgary for 12 months with Enbridge. It’s an enterprise asset management position.

Can you give us some updates on the PEY Co-op Position? (added after the original interview)
It’s a super-great environment. The first couple of weeks it felt like I was drinking from a fire hose, because there was so much information to learn in a very short period of time. Now that it has been a couple of months I am much more in the groove of things.

It’s a very self-directed position, so I have a lot of freedom to explore different areas in the company and talk to people about what they do. I’ve been going on a lot of coffee chats to see all the different career paths that other engineers have taken. It’s fascinating how many turns people take and changes they make in their careers.

Calgary has been wonderful, I’ve tried to go to the mountains as much as possible, camping, hiking, I even got a day of summer skiing in on the July long weekend. It’s also nice being near family, they’ve made the transition much easier.


By Phill Snel


Engineering Alum helping Ontario grow sustainably

Picture of Alex Leonard

“We should encourage more engineers to join public policy,” says CivMin Alumnus Alex Leonard.

Building strong and healthy communities is a rewarding job, but it can be challenging.  

Leave it to an engineer to help navigate through the various layers of politics and bureaucracy.  

Meet Alex Leonard (CivE 1T2+PEY and MEngCEM 1T5), Senior Associate in the Growth Policy and Program Delivery unit at the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.  

Leonard currently helps Ontario’s municipalities implement the province’s Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, ensuring development is supportive of projected population growth over the next 30 years. Prior to helping cities grow, Leonard also provided policy advice on connecting communities to transit at the Ministry of Transportation and mitigating climate change at the Ministry of Environment. 

“My job is navigating all these spokes on a wheel, and you must balance costs, social services, political pressure, technical constraints and environmental protections. Essentially, you’re trying to get all the spokes to be the same length at the same time so the whole wheel can roll efficiently.” 

The public servant says we need more engineers in public policy because sometimes when you’re in a room of lawyers and policy professionals, you need an engineer to bring a diverse perspective. 

“We should encourage more engineers to join public policy because, without strong engineering voices, the important technical aspects of a project will often get overlooked.”  

A graduate of CivMin’s Master’s of Engineering in Cities Engineering and Management program, Leonard says in his early days at the government, he drew from his Skule™ knowledge on sustainable infrastructure and sustainable energy systems to make an immediate impact.  

“There was a government initiative to plant 50 million trees including 1 million in urban areas, but I talked up the benefits of urban trees and their effect on flood control and air quality. And because of that, the team was going to plant 2 million trees in cities across Ontario and double their impact.”  

Leonard is also tasked with crunching numbers to validate the effectiveness of various programs. In one case, he analyzed the implementation of electric vehicle charging infrastructure. He had to discern what the reduction of greenhouse gases would mean on multiple levels.  

“If 10,000 electric vehicles are sold or 100,000 electric vehicles sold, what is the difference in not only the environmental impacts but what does that mean for costs to the government? What does that mean for the taxpayers? What does that mean for our trade with other jurisdictions? What does that mean for working with automakers and car dealers?” 

The biggest learning curve for Leonard was navigating the politics that needed to be considered for every project.  

“Your main boss is the general public, but there are multiple lenses to look through when solving a problem and having some political acuity can help get a project approved.” 

Leonard is lucky because he found a job he loved right out of school, but he doesn’t want his fellow MEngCEM grads to get discouraged if they don’t have the same experience right after convocation. 

“Don’t feel like your first job has to be a perfect fit. Use those steppingstones to figure out what your career can be as you progress. My advice has always been to figure out what jobs you don’t want to do, and eliminate those from the list, and leave yourself with a shorter list.”  

As an engineer, Leonard always wanted to use his skills to make a positive contribution to his province and local community, whether that was helping to facilitate the approval of a new park or bringing public transit to underserved communities. 

“It’s an amazing feeling knowing that you’re making an impact on people’s lives.”  

By David Goldberg 

Bridging communities in Bolivia

U of T Engineers in Action (EIA) students team up to connect separated communities in rural Bolivia.

The finished bridge linking communities in Quinamara, Bolivia. (Courtesy Engineers in Action)

Thanks to efforts by students, a remote Bolivian community previously divided by a ravine with a seasonal river, sometimes making a land crossing impossible for months at a time, is now united with a pedestrian crossing, ensuring access for everyone to vital services.

U of T Engineering students from the all-volunteer group Engineers in Action (EIA) have once more completed a bridge-building project for a deserving community in need. The EIA U of T Student Chapter joined forces with their counterparts at the University of Alberta (U of A EIA) to successfully design and build a suspended footbridge linking the rural residents of Quinamara, Bolivia.

The interdisciplinary group, including students from ECE, MechE and CivE at U of T, combined their skills with guidance and support from Arup and faculty advisor Prof. Brent Sleep.

“We have a parent organization, Engineers in Action, and each year they apply for a project to build a bridge and assign us a location. Then we’ll just go about designing it,” explains Jun Rong Zhao (CivE 2T1 + PEY), the team’s president. “Then in the summer, if we get the chance, we’ll get to also go and build it.”

Sharing the responsibilities, the U of T team took the task of design, with the U of A team travelling for the on-site construction of the bridge.

“The bridge is located in Quinamara and it now serves two communities divided by a ravine. About 350 community members and 30 children now have access to local health care, health posts, schools and markets,” Liah Scott (Year 3 CivE) says. “Because there’s now the bridge for them to cross the river, almost 400 community members have year-round access to vital services. Otherwise, the river made it impassable for 120 days of the year.”

Arup’s Maxime Bellefeuille (right) and Sara Albouz, on site of the 2019 build. It was the last U of T build before the pandemic. (Photo courtesy Maxime Bellefeuille)

The U of T group received the guidance of Senior Engineer in Bridges and Civil Structures at Arup, Maxime Bellefeuille, along with several of his colleagues. A total of six working engineers were providing valuable insight and feedback. “I think the students did a very, very good job. I think even EIA were extremely impressed with the work the U of T and University of Alberta students have produced,” offers Bellefeuille. Continuing with the feedback received from EIA, “They kept repeating these were amazing reports and they would share them with every team, making them templates for them to follow in the future,” then offers direct praise himself, “I think that’s all the power to you. You did very, very thorough work.”

Bellefeuille has a history with assisting the U of T EIA team, “A co-worker of mine, who used to work in Toronto, knew I had been involved with Bridge to Prosperity in the past, so he forwarded me the details and I got interested, so I started helping out on the first-year’s project. Then it bloomed into what we have now – a six-year partnership.”

The process is long and involved during the academic year. Along with the team in Toronto and Edmonton, coordination with an in-country program manager from the parent organization helps keep an eye on the project site and conditions before boots hit the ground.

Luna Amador (Year 3 CivE) explains the use of technology to virtually visit the remote site, “We get the profiles they send in and the surveys, but we would also use Google Maps [satellite view] to view the surrounding area and terrain. For instance, I know last year there was an issue where the bridge we were building there was a dam downstream, which would affect the level of the water. You have to keep an eye out for the type of thing that wouldn’t be in the survey, because it’s outside of the immediate area where the bridge would be, but might still impact it.”

“We know what we’re building on – it’s not always an easy site and it’s not perfect. Sometimes there’s boulders in the way we have to manage, or trees and other obstacles. But we always have someone on the on the ground who can go to the site if we have questions, such as about the soil conditions,” says Scott.

A plaque on the newly constructed bridge joining communities in Quinamara, Bolivia. (Courtesy Engineers in Action)

Multiple reports and revisions are the norm. “During the first report, the preliminary report, I think the students did a very good job of identifying all the potential issues ahead of time. They identified concerns such as a mill next to one abutment and we didn’t know if it would be in conflict,” Bellefeuille recounts. “If it is in conflict, then we will need to revise the abutment design. There are ways of mitigating this, so the students asked the in-country staff team to confirm its position and confirm whether or not there’s an issue ahead of time. The teams were as proactive as possible and I think it helped. They completed the bridge ahead of time, so I think everything went well in country.”

Asked of the sustainability and durability of the project, Bellefeuille beams,“It does meet a lot of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, SDG’s, and it’s an amazing project. I think these projects are incredibly sustainable to start with – they use local materials and their environmental footprint is very low. There’s almost no mechanical equipment, as we know, since it’s mostly manual labour that goes into them.”

Zhao includes, remarking on the lasting impact of the work, “Hopefully the bridge lasts about 30 years. The bridge manual we follow does mention some maintenance is required beyond 30 years.”

This summer Liah Scott and Luna Amador are taking their respective Professional Experience Year (PEY). Jun Rong Zhao convocated in June.

By Phill Snel

Engineers in Action (EIA) is an international non-profit organization whose mission is to support development of sustainable systems and infrastructure with underserved communities, local experience, and global partners. Since 2006 in EIA’s Bridge Program, hundreds of students from 30+ universities across the globe have designed and built 80+ footbridges alongside rural communities in 11 countries. Through their work, they have helped connect nearly 150,000 previously isolated people to essential resources.




CivMin’s Prof. Goodfellow on team awarded massive CIHR grant

Physiological earthquakes: Predicting cardiac events combining seismic experience with AI in the hospital


Photo composite of ECG readout over image from pediatric ICU at SickKids. (Courtesy Laussen Labs)

It is rare for a mineral engineering professor to receive funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), as it usually falls to biomedical engineering research and others directly involved with health care.

Professor Sebastian Goodfellow, from the Lassonde Mineral Engineering Program, with some CivMin graduate students and a team of predominantly medical doctors at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), affiliated with the University of Toronto, have achieved exactly this. They’ve been awarded a $657,900 grant from CIHR to fund their research into deploying artificial intelligence (AI) in the intensive care unit (ICU) at SickKids to detect and diagnose heart arrhythmias.

Up to 29 per cent of critically ill children experience arrhythmias that cause deterioration and even death. These arrhythmic complications affect roughly 700 critically ill children at SickKids each year. Preventing these complications requires timely detection and accurate heart rhythm diagnosis, which is currently done by continuous clinician surveillance of single-lead electrocardiograms (ECG) displayed on patient monitors. Differing clinician expertise and experience in this task lead to errors and delays in detection and diagnosis associated with preventable patient harm.

Prof. Goodfellow, along with Dr. Mjaye Mazwi and the team at Laussen Labs, a multidisciplinary research group at SickKids, are working to develop and deploy a highly accurate AI capable of expert classification heart rhythm to prototype what they believe will be a generalizable solution to addressing the translation gap in AI for health care.

We met (virtually) with Prof. Goodfellow to talk about the plans for deploying this AI system and how it’s not just as simple as training a model.

Prof. Sebastian Goodfellow (Courtesy Prof. Goodfellow)

You were recently told you have been awarded funding through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).
Yes, along with co-PI [principal investigator] Mjaye Mazwi and the team at Laussen Labs, we have applied many times – perhaps this is the fourth or fifth time – and we’ve been close. In 2020 we were ranked 7th, but funding went to the top six. Again, in 2021 we were ranked 11th, when funding went to the top 10. This time we were successful and it’s very gratifying.

Usually someone in the medical field would receive this kind of funding. It’s unusual for the CIHR to award something engineering related, right?
Well, yes, it is strange. Always raises a few eyebrows. What does mineral engineering have to do with health care? On the surface, not much.

I joined Laussen Labs in 2017 to bring my signal-processing expertise to the group. My PhD research, which I conducted in our Department, focused on applied seismology, which is the study of seismic waves generated by engineering processes such as mining. At the time, Laussen Labs had just started acquiring physiologic waveform data, such as ECGs, which are the electrical signal of the heart. The analysis and modelling of high-frequency time series data require a skillset called digital signal processing. When analyzing earthquake seismograms during my PhD, and afterwards in the private sector, I acquired this skill set, which is how I first got into the health-care field.

However, these multidisciplinary teams are more common than you may think and the reason is the important problems of today and tomorrow spill across borders, cultural divides and fields of knowledge. For example, Laussen Labs developed a bespoke time-series database for the storage of physiologic waveform data at SickKids. The lead database architect was a hydrologist by training whose previous experience was developing a database for the storage of drone photography for a flood plane mapping application. There are, of course, many doctors in Laussen Labs but also computer scientists, a seismologist, a cognitive psychologist and yes, a hydrologist.

Over time, the gap between AI in mineral engineering and AI in health care has become smaller and smaller for me. Beyond publishing proof-of-concept studies in academic journals, deploying AI models in the real world is very hard and the challenges span mineral engineering, health care, and beyond.

The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) in Toronto. (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

What is it you’ve proposed? And what will you do to fulfill this grant?
We are building and deploying a model that detects and diagnoses common pediatric heart arrhythmias using continuous ECG data, which is generally a task staff physicians in the ICU can do very well. The challenge is there are only two staff physicians on duty at any given time to service 42 ICU beds, and detecting and diagnosing heart arrhythmias is just a small part of their job. As a result, these arrhythmias often go undiagnosed for a period and the longer the delay, the worse the outcome for the patient. The idea is to use our expert clinicians to train an AI, which can match their performance and monitor all ICU beds 24 hours a days, seven days a week, looking for arrhythmias.

The model is actually quite vanilla. AI experts from the Vector Institute would be rather underwhelmed – it’s just a WaveNet model performing multiclass classification. Big deal, right? But, employing the golden rule of engineering, Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS), was deliberate. If you search the keywords AI/ Machine Learning/ Deep Learning + Health care in Google Scholar, you’ll find hundreds of thousands of academic papers and the growth is exponential. It’s a hot topic to say the least. However, if you dig a little deeper to see how many of those AI models actually made it to clinical deployment, it’s less than 0.1 per cent. We call this the “translation gap” and we made the decision to keep our model simple, so we could focus on translation.

The translation gap is a result of multiple factors. These include difficulties creating computational infrastructure that can reliably ingest data for real-time classification, the requirement of a production-grade Machine Learning Operations [MLOps] platform for serving, monitoring, and re-training AI models, regulatory challenges integrating AI models into clinical domains, and concerns about responsible validation and bias, sometimes described as “algorithmic fairness”. The team that can close this gap must include a wide range of expertise including bio-ethics, MLOps, law, cloud, software development, human factors, cognitive psychology, digital signal processing and machine learning.

VIDEO: This animation shows an ECG signal transitioning from a normal rhythm to an arrhythmia. In the top right corner is the model score for a particular pediatric arrhythmia called Junctional Ectopic Tachycardia (JET). When the signal transitions, you can see the model score increase.


You have a background in AI, correct?
Before joining U of T, I was the AI Lead at a startup in the mining industry called KORE Geosystems. We developed an AI product that automated various parts of geotechnical and geological core logging workflows. For example, rock type classification and fracture counting. In this role I had to deploy AI models that geoscientists relied on to do their work. This is where I learned just how hard deploying AI models in the real world is. I was able to bring this experience to Laussen Labs where they were running up against similar challenges.

When you’re building products, you’re forced to start from the business requirements and work backwards to the technical solution. Because products are built for users, it’s no surprise why this is the preferred approach. In research, it’s more common to start from a dataset, build a model, publish a paper, and then start thinking about the application, which is no wonder less than 0.1 per cent of AI studies make it to deployment. The product development mindset I developed in the private sector has been invaluable in successfully translating AI models into complex clinical environments.

I’ve sometimes heard people say they don’t trust AI. Is this going to be a challenge?
Trust is always a challenge when introducing any new technology into an established workflow, and AI is no exception. In health care and mining, AI adoption has been seriously impeded because of early and very public projects that started with building a model and only involved the end user, such as a doctor or a geologist, at the very end if at all. This model-centric approach gets people’s walls up quickly and we’re still trying to overcome it even to this day. Therefore, it is imperative to think about your AI model as a product from the very start, which will involve those end users in documenting requirements and ultimately build trust.

There is also a sci-fi perception of AI perhaps resembling Skynet from the Terminator movies. Whenever talking about AI with doctors or geologists, I always try to use the most boring descriptions I can think of. My favourite at the moment comes from the Head of Decision Intelligence at Google, Cassie Cozirkov, who describes Machine Learning, which is a subdomain of AI, as a “thing labeller”. The “thing” could be a photo of an intersection and the “label” could be the number of pedestrians in the intersection. For our arrhythmia model, the “thing” is a five-second segment of ECG data and the “label” is whether an arrhythmia is present. What’s all the hype about, right?

Lastly, how we present the performance of a model to the end user is important and, in my opinion, is the best way to promote trust. We need to use metrics that map to clinical key performance indicators, and we need to present those metrics in a transparent manner over long periods. Most people have no clue how a plane achieves flight or how a jet engine works but they feel safe flying. The reason is there is a one in 20 million chance of dying in a commercial airline plane crash. So, an arrhythmia model that is consistently performing at the level of a board-certified cardiologist will build trust.

By Phill Snel


Team members:
Mazwi, Mjaye, SickKids (co-PI)
Goodfellow, Sebastian (co-PI)
Assadi, Azadeh, SickKids
Bulic, Anica, SickKids
Ehrmann, Daniel, SickKids
Eytan, Danny, SickKids
Goldenberg, Anna, SickKids
Goodwin, Andrew, SickKids
Greer, Robert, SickKids
McCradden, Melissa, SickKids
Gallant, Sara, SickKids
Gnatenko, Vladislav (CivMin, MASc candidate)
Shubin, Dmitrii (CivE MASc 2T1)




CivMin’s Bo Zhao shares Best Architecture Award at 2022 Seismic Design Competition

Bo Zhao (Year 3 CivE) and Adela Hua (with their certificates for Best Architecture Award at the 2022 Seismic Design Competition at Salt Lake City, Utah.

A University of Toronto student team took top honours for architecture at an international competition. Congratulations to design and architecture lead Bo Zhao (Year 3 CivE) from the Department of Civil & Mineral Engineering, currently on PEY, and architecture lead Adela Hua a third-year student from the Daniels Faculty of Architecture, who won the Best Architecture Award at the 2022 Seismic Design Competition at Salt Lake City, Utah. The event is held by the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI). 

The team designed a building titled “Tomorrow’s Tower” for the competition. View the score sheet here.

“They placed first out of 32 international teams and this is the best achievement in our team’s history, proving U of T has the best,” says U of T Seismic Design Team captain Eliza Van Weerdhuizen (EngSci 2T1). 

A rendering of the U of T entry titled Tomorrow’s Tower.

The team managed to present their project at the in-person event, with three members attending, but without any model to show. “Tragically, our model actually got lost in the airline and never made it to the competition on time. It is still somewhere in transit/storage with no news on when it will return home,” says Hua. The team persevered Hua recounts,”We were, however, still able to participate in all other parts of the competition, including the poster and power-point presentation where all components of the design were shown, including the model’s digital simulation, build process, and cost estimation.”

Alumni-founded Cast Connex collaborates to build world’s largest sphere

The top of the MSG Sphere at The Venetian is lifted into place in Las Vegas. The Madison Square Garden Entertainment Corp. project, including collaboration with Cast Connex to create 368 cast steel nodes and nearly 10,000 Diablo Bolted Splices, is the world’s largest sphere. (Courtesy Cast Connex)


A 366-foot-tall sphere is gaining attention as it quickly becomes a noticeable part of the Las Vegas skyline. The construction of the largest sphere on Earth involves CivMin alumni, who played an integral role in the design and construction of the exosphere for this enormous and complex undertaking.

The co-founders of Cast Connex Corporation, President and CEO Carlos de Oliveira (CivE MASc 0T6) and Executive Vice-President Michael Gray (CivE BASc 0T5, PhD 1T2), sat down virtually to chat about the project, sharing perspective on its scope and objectives.

Carlos de Oliveira and Michael Gray.

The MSG Sphere at The Venetian, a Madison Square Garden Entertainment Corp. project, is scheduled to open late 2023. “It has developed an entirely new way of sharing and creating media,” offers de Oliveira. “The Sphere being constructed in Las Vegas is the first of what they suggest will be many to be built worldwide.”

It is to be the most technologically advanced entertainment venue ever built; with surrounding screens completely enveloping both exterior and interior surfaces. Covering about 580,000 square feet of LED panels, it will be the largest LED screen in existence. An astoundingly detail-rich 14K uninterrupted interior screen will give visitors a sensory-laden experience.

“It’s a complete wrap-around 14K ultra-high resolution LED screen. Everywhere you look is an immersive surface – everyone will be completely enveloped in the show,” expresses de Oliveira. “Additionally, they will have audio technologies that will enable incredible control of audio perception of everyone in this venue.”


Some of the cast steel nodes created by Cast Connex for The Sphere at The Venetian in Las Vegas. (Photo courtesy Cast Connex)

The ability to divide audio feeds to various audience areas, via its 164,000 speakers, will allow for the tailoring of specific content. Astoundingly, different groups could be seated quite close to each other but not experience interference from the other’s custom audio feed. Explains de Oliveira, “In other words, they could have a block of seats over here with someone speaking in English and another block of seats, just a few seats over, hearing a different language.”

Getting to the technical aspects of constructing the sphere, Gray says, “The outside of the Sphere is also covered with an LED array, so they can project anything onto it. If you’re going to have the world’s biggest curved screen on the inside and the outside, then it needs to be dimensionally controlled. All of the LED panels have to match exactly, and the only way the constructors could figure out how to reliably pull this off was to come to Cast Connex.”

“The build is created with unique cast nodes at every location, so the constructor can just put straight members between, locking in the proper geometry,” continues Gray. In all, some 368 cast steel nodes, fitting like X-intersections in the design, are being used in the exosphere.

Giving scope to the immense project, Toronto’s Ontario Place Cinesphere, a 35 m (115 ft) wide dome with seating for up to 614, would fit many, many times over inside the MSG Sphere. For some perspective, the new venue will have 17,500 permanent seats, with an additional 2,500 retractable seats, bringing maximum seating capacity to 20,000.

U of T origin story

A chance meeting, while both Gray and de Oliveira were on a work term, led to them both attending U of T, working together, then founding their company. While student work colleagues, Gray persuaded de Oliveira to not pursue graduate studies at a U.S. institution but choose U of T instead. He raved about the professors and CivMin’s resources, especially the Structures Lab.

“With my research we were looking at the use of steel castings to simplify the fabrication and improve the performance of seismic resistant connections for steel structures; particularly bracing connections,” recounts de Oliveira. While he completed his MASc in 2006, it was suggested to him his research continue with, ironically, someone who was already a friend, “We found a perfect student to continue your work. His name is Michael Gray and he’s really intelligent.”

Cast Connex co-founders and Carlos de Oliveira (CivE MASc 1T6) and Michael Gray (CivE BASc 0T5, PhD 1T2) (Photo courtesy Cast Connex)

Gray was persuaded to move on from his MASc thesis and go directly to a PhD with this work. “Michael’s research continued to establish and broaden our understanding of casting manufacturing and to improve the performance of connections and structures that have to resist earthquakes,” says de Oliveira. The work proved so demonstrably effective, their thesis supervisors suggested the methods were patentable. With this encouragement, provisional patents were filed and a fledgling new niche industry was created.

The pair had not originally thought to strike out on their own, thinking their work might be something woven into roles at larger companies.

“A key part of our success was the founding of Cast Connex to be the vehicle to commercialize our technologies,” de Oliveira recounts, “and that action was linked to my having been selected for a Heffernan Commercialization Fellowship at U of T. It provides a sum to cover costs over two years to help a grad student develop a business plan. If not for this grant, I don’t think we would have really taken that big step; this was a big part of getting the momentum to create the business and start growing it.”

Cast Connex, spawned from collaboration at U of T, continues to forge strong bonds with CivMin research. Ongoing relationships with past Professors Constantin Christopoulos, Oh-Sung Kwon and Jeffrey Packer have led to long-term collaborations in research too. Current PhD candidate Pedram Mortazavi has continued the work on cast steel replaceable links with eccentrically braced frames (EBF).

The company continues to employ many U of T Engineering alumni, with five in the Toronto office of ten employees.

The importance of being bilingual

Asked if the Sphere project is in metric, as most Canadian and international designs might be, the reply from de Oliveira brings a humorous, but diplomatic response, “This project is entirely designed in U.S. Standard, even inches, but it’s okay … we’re bilingual.”


By Phill Snel



  • US$1.8-billion project
  • 14K resolution video
  • 23 luxury suites
  • 20,000 seating capacity
  • 164,000 speakers
  • 580,000 square feet of LED panels
  • 366 feet tall
  • 516 feet wide
  • 368 Cast Connex cast steel nodes in the exosphere
  • 734 Cast Connex cast steel nodes in the structural backup to the immersive surface
  • 18,000 lbs – weight of the heaviest exosphere cast steel nodes
  • 775 tons of steel
  • 1,400 workers on site



Can hemp and mushrooms make the construction industry greener? 

Picture of John Kabanda.

John Kabanda is using his PhD studies in steel structure durability and applying it to a natural building material.

Are panels made from mushrooms and hemp a realistic solution to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the construction industry?  

The construction industry has a pollution problem, but University of Toronto alumnus John Kabanda (CivE MASc Structural and Geotechnical Engineering 1T3) has developed a new building material that promises to cut costs for contractors and reduce a project’s carbon footprint.  

“With the environment, we’re almost at a point of no return, and we can’t just keep building things the way we used to. As a structural engineer, I care about the environment we live in, so I thought maybe I can make a difference here.” 

Kabanda is vice-president, engineering with okom wrks labs, overseeing the development and testing of a structural mycelium composite that would replace plywood panels typically used to cover the exterior walls of building before any siding is installed.  

This mycelium biocomposite known as zero-frm is made from hemp and fungi to create a durable and eco-friendly building material, which Kabanda contends to be 33% stronger than competitors’ offerings.  

He hopes it will be the first mycelium composite to be cleared for structural use soon and one day, it may be suitable for roofs and subfloors too.  

“The process is not too complicated and not too energy-consuming. I was really taken with this idea of making something very simple that can have a huge impact.” 

The production of this mycelium composite can reduce carbon emissions in several ways.  

All the raw materials and resulting products are lighter and therefore cheaper to transport.  

Hemp used in manufacturing is recycled by farmers who simply grow it and then throw it away to keep their soil nutrient-rich between crop cycles.  

And because all the ingredients are naturally occurring materials, the panels can be sent to the landfill in good conscience.  

They’re also entirely edible, although Kabanda would never advise anyone to start chewing the scenery.  

“I think every company right now must embrace change and if we work together, we can solve this,” says Kabanda. “There’s a lot of pressure on engineers to look for innovative methods to reduce the emissions we’re producing.” 

The future is green, says Kabanda, who believes that young engineers can learn a lot from University of Toronto researchers, just like he did.  

“Many U of T professors are putting a lot of effort into sustainability, which tells you that’s where the industry’s headed. And if we can all work together, that’s how we can solve this climate crisis.”

By David Goldberg 

Alumnus Lawrence Smith on mining, mentorship and mastering your craft 

University of Toronto Alumnus Lawrence Devon Smith (Civil 7T2) was honoured by Women In Mining Canada with the Rick Hutson Mentorship Award.

Lawrence Devon Smith is a mining engineer who has worked in the mining industry for more than 40 years in economic evaluations and project engineering, and as an adjunct professor at his alma mater, U of T. 

Larry has mentored countless students and young engineers over the course of his career, culminating in this most recent honour from Women In Mining Canada.

“I was honoured and flattered to receive this award. It was quite a surprise and very much appreciated,” said Smith.  

The longtime engineer says he benefitted greatly from mentors early in his career, and so he never hesitated to pick up the mantle himself and help the next generation.  

Larry Smith at Gull Lake Camp in 1970.

“When you share knowledge or an insight with a mentee, you often learn something from them as well. Mentorship is a two-way street.”  

In terms of the role of women in engineering, and particularly in mining, Smith has witnessed a significant transformation of the industry since his student days.

“I recall there were only two women in my graduating class in 1972.  Now when you walk into an engineering classroom or a mining convention event it’s not surprising to see equal numbers of women and men working, studying or presenting.”  

New Engineering Program  

Smith’s next project in collaboration with Prof. Kamran Esmaeili, is the creation of an online master’s of engineering program and professional development online courses through CivMin.  

The Mining Industry Management Program (MIMP) is planning to launch later this year. 

The goal of MIMP is to prepare students with the technical and transdisciplinary competencies necessary for them to identify, learn and apply these along with the engineering practices to resolve global challenges, create new technologies and contribute to the prosperity of society. 

MIMP is aimed at recent Mineral Engineering and Geoscience graduates who have several years of work experience and want to rise in supervisory and management roles, but just don’t have the background yet.

“It’s difficult to get that education and training they need to expand their base without taking extended time off work. And while it’s common for people to leave a job to get an MBA, there are few programs which actually focus on mining activities.”  

Smith and Esmaeili realized there’s an unserved market and set the wheels in motion to develop a program that can be done while maintaining a full-time job.  

MIMP will offer courses focusing on the following themes:

  • Exploration, Studies, Resources & Reserves
  • Environment, Social, Governance & Indigenous
  • Economics & Finance  
  • Construction & Development  
  • Operations 

Each course is compromised of several modules and designed to be completed in approximately 12 weeks.  

“Being online, this program will be ideal for someone working in a smaller community. Or perhaps for someone who works fly-in-fly-out at a remote mine, where they can take these courses during their weeks off-site,” explained Smith.

And for Smith, MIMP is just another way he can help mentor the next generation of mineral engineers.  

“I’m very keen on the idea of sharing experience, which is what mentoring is. Particularly if you can give some very basic advice early on in someone’s career that might allow them to miss a lot of the potholes on the road.”  

Larry has held senior positions in mineral project evaluations with Barrick Gold, Vale, Inco, BHP-Billiton, and Rio Algom as well as SNC-Lavalin / Kilborn. He is the recipient of the CIM MES Robert Elver Award for Mineral Economics, is on the executive of the CIM Management and Economics Society (MES), is past Chair of the CIM Toronto Branch, a CIM Distinguished Lecturer, and a CIM Fellow. 

If you’d like to know more about the Mining Industry Management Program, subscribe to the mailing list.  

By David Goldberg 

CivMin students attend Pierre Lassonde in-person event

Pierre Lassonde (centre) and co-guest speaker, Ashley Kirwan (to his right), stand with CivMin students (L to R) Yu-Jen Yu, Junzhe Liu, Saleh Ghadernejad, Mojgan Faramarzi, Negin Houshmand, Amily Xu, Aarnav Deenapanray, Rain Ferrer, Junxiong Yang and Jennifer Gordon. (Photo courtesy The Northern Miner)

“Meeting Pierre Lassonde in person is an experience I will never forget.”

Ten CivMin students were invited to attend the Mining Legends Speaker Series featuring Dr. Pierre Lassonde, Chairman & CEO Firelight Investments. Lassonde, whose name adorns the Lassonde Mining Building, the Lassonde Mining Institute as well as the Lassonde Mineral Engineering program, is well known at U of T.

Event tickets were provided by The Northern Miner for the June 8 in-person event, including a luncheon, at the spacious One King West venue, known for its vaulted ceilings and rich ambiance. Co-guest speaker Ashley Kirwan, M.SC., P.GEO. ICD.D, Co-Founder, President & CEO | Orix Geoscience Inc., took the stage as well.

The mix of undergraduate and graduate students from CivMin expressed gratitude for the opportunity to attend the event and, in particular, see and talk to the man who has a name on a building.

Pierre Lassonde (centre) responds to a question while Ashley Kirwan (left) observes. (Photo courtesy The Northern Miner)

“Overall, the event was terrific. Meeting Pierre Lassonde in person is an experience I will never forget,” offers PhD candidate Negin Houshmand.

“As his name is on the building and the scholarship I got, it was a dream come true for me to see him. It was admirable to me that he was very humble. He spent most of his time with the students there and eagerly asked us each about our research topic. During the speech, he explained how he started his business and motivated us to invest in ourselves. It was a fantastic experience with such a humble, brilliant, and kind human being.”

“Attending the Pierre Lassonde talk was very valuable for me,” expresses Rain Ferrer (Year 2 MinE). “I greatly enjoyed meeting someone as preeminent in the mining industry as Mr. Lassonde. Through his talks and the Q&A period, I gained meaningful insight into his career path and the mining industry at large. Moreover, I was pleased to personally extend my gratitude for his generous contributions to our university. The entire event made for a truly memorable experience.”

“Everyone was friendly, and it was interesting to have two different perspectives (Ms. Ashley Kirwan and Mr. Pierre Lassonde) shared during the interviews over the lunch. For the first time, I heard personal stories about the key points in the recent history of the mining industry, and the origins of Pierre Lassonde’s success.” Jennifer (Jay) Gordon, a PhD candidate, says.  “The Q&A period was probably my favorite part, as it gave me a chance to hear the voices of several people in the room, and what their interests in mining are.  It was also an excellent opportunity for me to ask someone I would never normally have the chance to meet about equity, diversity, and inclusion in the mining industry, as that is something that will be very important to me in my future employment.”

As a bonus, Gordon remarks, “Imagine my surprise when it meant I won a bottle of wine for best question!”

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