Posts Tagged: CivE

CivE Alumna Deborah Goodings receives Engineering Alumni Hall of Distinction Award

Thirteen accomplished members of U of T Engineering’s alumni community, including CivE alumna Deborah Goodings, were recognized on Nov. 7 at the annual Engineering Alumni Network (EAN) Awards.

The awards ceremony, held at the Myhal Centre for Engineering Innovation & Entrepreneurship, celebrated alumni for their outstanding contributions to the Skule™ community as well as their remarkable career achievements.

“At all stages of their careers, U of T Engineering graduates use their creativity, technical knowledge and leadership skills to make life better for people around the world, and tonight’s award winners are shining examples,” said Dean Christopher Yip. “The depth and breadth of their impact is outstanding and truly inspiring. On behalf of the Faculty, I wish them all our warmest congratulations.”

The Hall of Distinction is an assembly of extraordinary alumni, selected for membership by their peers for their exemplary accomplishments. These are graduates whose performances have ultimately defined what is most outstanding in our graduates and in our profession. The careers of the members stand as examples and add a sense of reality to the aspirations of successive generations of U of T Engineering students.

Deborah Goodings, CivE 7T5

Deborah Goodings (CivE 7T5) is associate dean of engineering at George Mason University. In addition to her research and teaching at the University of Maryland, she co-founded and co-directed the UMD Master of Engineering and Public Policy Program. She also established one of the earliest and most active student chapters of Engineers Without Borders-USA, which completed 10 international infrastructure projects under her guidance. In recognition of her Engineers Without Borders-USA leadership, a gift was made to the university to endow the Deborah J. Goodings Professorship in Engineering for Global Sustainability.

Goodings’ experience and expertise have led to her service to the U.S. National Academies and National Research Council, as well as to institutional visiting and review committees both in the United States and Canada. She was elected as a By-Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge University, in 1996. Her career accomplishments have been recognized with awards from the U.S. Department of the Army; the U.S. National Research Council; the U.S. Universities Council on Geotechnical Engineering Research; Professional Engineers Ontario; and the University of Maryland.

Goodings earned her BASc in civil engineering from the University of Toronto and her PhD in geotechnical engineering from Cambridge University. She is a Fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers; a Diplomate, Geotechnical Engineering (ret.); a registered Professional Engineer in Ontario; and a proud Canadian.

Learn more about Deborah Goodings (video)

Read about the other recipients from the 2019 Engineering Alumni Awards

Hart professorships boost research into medical diagnostics, smart cities and more

Seven new Hart Professorships will boost U of T Engineering research into technologies across a range of fields, from improved medical testing to more efficient transportation networks.

Created in 2016 by a landmark bequest from the estate of alumnus Erwin Edward Hart (CivE 4T0), the Percy Edward Hart and Erwin Edward Hart professorships are awarded to faculty members who are within the first 10 years of their careers. They provide increased research funding for a period of three years. Today’s announcement recognizes the second cohort to receive these awards.

“Each of these seven professors has demonstrated a high level of research excellence and exemplary graduate student mentorship,” said Christopher Yip, Dean, U of T Engineering. “These awards will accelerate their work and lead to innovations that can address some of the toughest challenges we face, from supplying safe water, to fighting cancer.”

Khandker Nurul Habib (CivMin), Percy Edward Hart Professor in Civil and Mineral Engineering
Planning and optimizing transportation in the age of self-driving cars

Khandker Nurul Habib (CivMin), Percy Edward Hart Professor in Civil and Mineral Engineering, studies the impact that autonomous vehicles will have on urban transportation systems. (Photo: Roberta Baker)

Autonomous vehicles (AVs) are poised to have a powerful impact on urban transportation. Yet our infrastructure — roads, rails, subways, parking lots — was designed and built well before the rise of AVs. Better design could enhance the benefits of AVs, while minimizing the risks.

Nurul Habib and his team are addressing this challenge. They are leveraging digital tools to gain a better picture of how people and goods move in our cities, and building new models to predict how our transportation behaviour will change as AVs become more widespread. Their ultimate goal is a decision-support tool that will help city planners make smarter decisions around transportation.

Oya Mercan (CivMin), Erwin Edward Hart Professor in Civil and Mineral Engineering
Better testing for safer construction

Professor Oya Mercan combines computer models and experiments to study how building components stand up to high winds, earthquakes and other stressors. (Photo: Tyler Irving)

A changing climate will bring more extreme weather events, including high winds. In order to understand the effects of these events on man-made structures, Mercan and her team combine computer models and large-scale dynamic experiments in a method known as real-time hybrid simulation, or RTHS.

RTHS models can compare the effectiveness of traditional construction methods with new and emerging methods, such as modular construction. In addition to high winds, it can also assess resilience to other natural disasters, such as earthquakes. Going forward, these tools will help civil engineers and architects proactively mitigate climate change and other challenges through good design, resulting in better, safer buildings.

David Taylor (CivMin, ISTEP), Erwin Edward Hart Professor in Global Engineering
Enhancing global water supplies

David Taylor analyzes so-called “intermittent” water supply systems with the goal of improving equitable access to safe water to everyone around the world. (Photo: Roberta Baker)

The United Nations has declared access to safe water a human right. But for more than a billion people around the world, running water comes from “intermittent systems” that are only turned on some of the time. Before joining the Centre for Global Engineering, Taylor worked in places such as India to understand and model these systems, including how changes to them will impact factors such as operation costs and customer satisfaction.

Going forward, he plans to further validate and refine his models using sensors that measure pressure or acoustic responses in the pipes. His insights will inform strategies for operating intermittent systems in more efficient and equitable ways, as well as lower the costs of converting intermittent systems to continuous ones. Ultimately, the research will enable more people to access safe water.

Other U of T Engineering Professors who received Hart Professorships

Ben Hatton (MSE), Percy Edward Hart Professor in Materials Science and Engineering
Engineering safer surfaces

Professor Ben Hatton. (Photo: Mark Neil Balson)

Hatton and his team study and design surfaces at the micro- and nanometre scale, and will use part of the award to study how bacteria exploit tiny crevices to hide from disinfectant products. The work has important implications for the fight against hospital-acquired infections, which affect hundreds of millions of patients each year.

Other projects include research into how certain plant leaves and insect exoskeletons have evolved to repel parasites, and a study that uses a ‘switchable adhesion’ material created by Hatton to enhance robotic gripping and assistive devices

Xinyu Liu (MIE), Percy Edward Hart Professor in Mechanical and Industrial Engineering
Microfluidic nanobiosensors for improved disease diagnosis

Professor Xinyu Liu (MIE), Percy Edward Hart Professor in Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, developed nanobiosensors that can be used in microfluidic devices to diagnose diseases quickly and efficiently. (Photo: Tyler Irving)

Liu and his team are exploring the potential of nanomaterials to enhance a class of medical devices known as point-of-care (POC) diagnostic biosensors. These low-cost tests take samples from a patient —  such as a drop of blood — and run fast, reliable analyses for biomarkers associated with various diseases, without the need for complex and costly laboratory equipment.

One material, known as nanofibrillated cellulose, is created from wood and can be made into transparent paper that contains hollow channels. These channels can hold tiny samples in a way that makes them easy to analyze. Another material, molybdenum disulfide, provides a bio-electronic interface that can detect very small amounts of specific proteins, greatly increasing the sensitivity of diagnostics. The research has applications in the detection of prostate cancer, brain injuries and other disorders.


Josh Taylor (ECE), Percy Edward Hart Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering
Optimizing power networks

Professor Josh Taylor studies how to combine the best of AC and DC power lines for a grid that is safe, reliable and efficient. (Photo: Caitlin Free Photography)

Most of the power lines that supply electricity to cities and towns operate using alternating current (AC). But some direct current (DC) lines also exist, and they can have their advantages: for example, the 2003 Northeastern Blackout largely missed Quebec because most of its interconnections are DC lines. Over the past 10 years, the total installed capacity of DC lines worldwide has doubled.

Taylor and his team will optimize power networks that contain both AC and DC lines. Using analytical and computational tools from control theory and optimization, they can predict how the addition of new lines or the replacement of old ones would impact factors such as capital cost, operating costs and stability. The research aims to guide the creation of power grids that combine the best of both worlds to provide safe, reliable and efficient electricity.

Lidan You (MIE), Erwin Edward Hart Professor in Mechanical and Industrial Engineering
A mechanical approach to fighting cancer

Lidan You and her team design microfluidic devices for earlier diagnosis of diseases such as cancer. (Photo: Liz Do)

You and her team leverage their expertise in mechanical engineering to develop new ways of detecting and combating cancer. One example is the creation of microfluidic devices that can perform analytical chemistry tests that are less costly and more sensitive than current approaches. They are currently developing a microfluidic chip that can detect very low levels of clonal circulating plasma cells, which are considered a biomarker for aggressive forms of multiple myeloma.

Another example is the use of physical exercise and its alternatives to improve treatment. In breast cancer, exercise is known to have both psychological and physical benefits, including reduced risk of metastasis. However, some patients experience significant barriers to regular exercise. You is researching the use of high-frequency mechanical signals to create whole-body vibration, and assessing its potential as a supplement to traditional exercise.

By Tyler Irving

Originally published on U of T Engineering News

Take a look inside the new bunkhouse and common room at Survey Camp

Rendering of the HCAT Bunkhouse and MacGillivray Common Room (Credit: V+A Architects)

Survey Camp at Gull Lake is celebrating its centennial and getting a new bunkhouse. Nearly a century after the first group of University of Toronto Engineering students used the site, located on the north shore of Gull Lake near Minden, Ont., a modern and flexible-use building has been planned.

Purchased in 1919, the first cohort of U of T students took classes on the site in 1920, with the current 2019 class becoming the 100th consecutive year to attend Survey Camp – now known as Civil And Mineral Practicals (CAMP). Centennial celebrations included the ceremonial launch for construction of two new connected buildings, a bunkhouse and common room, on Saturday, September 7, 2019.

A distinction between the site and the course might seem superfluous, but has become the recognized norm with “Camp” being the location and “CAMP” denoting the proper name for the course of study.

Expanding numbers in a single season

Over the century, the number of attendees to the site has continued to grow, and it’s not just engineering undergrads who attend Camp for CAMP. High school students, attending the Da Vinci Engineering Enrichment Program (DEEP) Leadership Camp since 2003, have required the creative reconfiguration of the bunkhouse layout and the overall site for their different age-specific use requirements during their stay.

With uninsulated accommodations, the short summer season has led to a fairly crowded scheduling of the DEEP Leadership Camp, two separate two-week CAMP courses in August (formerly known as Survey Camp), followed by two groups that each stay for an overnight in September for the second year Introduction to Civil Engineering course.

As the number of students visiting annually has increased, so too has the representation of women in Civil and Mineral Engineering, coming in at just over 47 per cent of the current class. The current bunkhouse is one big room, designed for what used to be an all-male class of attendees. As a solution, the old Stewart Hall building layout was reconfigured to allow for separate sleeping and washroom space for women, but this arrangement is no longer meeting our needs.

Planning and parameters

Planning for a new building requires a dedicated approach, many opinions sought, several committees to meet with and hoops to jump through. “What we want is for it not to stick out (compared to the other buildings); it’s about the place, not about the building,” said Professor Brenda McCabe, who is acting as the faculty lead on the project.

Among the considerations, with feedback from students and alumni, was the new building should create continuity with existing structures, recognize the character and culture of survey camp, and maintain the existing site topography. Other considerations include the need for accessibility under the Accessibility Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), giving wheelchair access to bedrooms, washrooms, and the common room.

The new project aims to extend the window for the site to be usable by the University. “We wanted three-season, and well-insulated,” said McCabe. “But still with a passive design since we want it to be as energy neutral as possible, so the design needs to be well thought through. It has to be easy to maintain.”

“From the alumni [perspective] it’s primarily to make sure it’s a sustainable building. Which means probably PV (photovoltaic),” said McCabe. “While we don’t have a budget to install a PV system right away, we have planned for it and there is a location on the roof where PV panels can be installed.”

As for the exterior cladding, “It’s a cement board, so it’s very functional, low maintenance and economical.” Suggestions for the outside colour have ranged from a similar green of the old bunkhouse, to a bright yellow, but a more neutral and soothing tone is being considered at the moment.

Design Overview

Rendering of the HCAT Bunkhouse (Credit: V+A Architects)

Gently sloping and staggered roof lines allow for high ceilings with windows for light and ventilation, especially helpful in the summer heat. The shape also emulates the gentle slopes of the immediate land contouring, enabling the new buildings to nestle into the existing landscape.

When asked about the design including two separate buildings, one for sleeping accommodations, and the other for a common room and washroom facilities, McCabe stated, “It was unexpected. The architect came up with it. That was their role; they certainly did things that we would not have dreamed of.”

“It was two separate buildings,” according to McCabe. “I think that was interesting for us because then we only have one “wet building” – with plumbing and running water. It makes it simpler for maintenance and cleaning – it’s all in one area, as opposed to being separate or spread out.”

The new facilities include two separate single-storey buildings connected by a gently sloped and covered walkway. The sleeping accommodations (to be known as the HCAT Bunkhouse, in appreciation of the generous support provided by the Heavy Construction Association of Toronto) will be positioned to the south and include several separated rooms along a long corridor, running east-west with south-facing windows, towards the lake. Benches will run the length of the corridor by the windows and allow for indoor socializing space. Stairs leading south, down from the sleeping accommodations, to an outside deck allow for splendid views and a social gathering space.

HCAT Bunkhouse

The new bunkhouse will not be the usual open-plan long bunkhouse of the past. It will have six individual rooms with up to eight bunkbeds each, allowing a maximum of 16 campers per room, for a maximum total potential capacity of 96 occupants.

The rooms are designed for maximum flexibility in configuration, and can be adjusted for multiple needs and uses. There is a need for flexible sleeping spaces particularly to accommodate our changing demographic of students – for example the Department had a female student population of less than five per cent in 1960, versus a nearly 50 per cent female student population today.

Students enter the HCAT Bunkhouse (named after Heavy Construction Association of Toronto) to find a large vestibule area, including two closets where coats and wet gear can be stowed (especially after long, rainy days on the highway curve), leading to the walkway headed north.

The entry with added storage was planned. “We asked specifically for this space for coats. When we’ve got especially wet weather, we need places for stuff to dry out. If it goes into the bunkhouses, it’s lying all over. There isn’t really a place to hang things up. So we asked for a place where they can put their wet things – there will be a breeze coming through, there will be a nice area there for stuff to dry out.”

MacGillivray Common Room

In the north building, a generously-sized common room (to be called the MacGillivray Common Room in appreciation of Robert and Scott MacGillivray’s generous support) is designed for socializing, relaxing and informal gathering – along with the obligatory late nights to finish the day’s assignments. In addition to ample wall-space for student “graffiti”, there will be signage to recognize all those who attended CAMP at Dorset (Ont.).

Across the hall from the common room one finds the washroom facilities comprised of eight individual shower rooms, a single fully-accessible washroom with shower, and men’s and women’s separate large common washrooms, each with an accessible stall.

Floor plan of the new complex (With files from V+A Architects)


“Depending on which group is using the facility, the needs are going to change. Younger groups may use it and would they need, for example, an instructor in each of the rooms where students are sleeping? Those things are so different from our needs, that I’m not certain how that’s going to work for them, but the existing buildings work for them. I think that’s an important component. And they completely transform the way that the buildings are used when they’re there – the staff house becomes a medical centre, for example.”

Creature comforts

Asked if there might be laundry facilities or refrigerators for snacks, the response was candid. “No laundry facilities in Camp. It’s a good reason for the students to go to town. It also requires more septic.” As for refrigeration, “No – there’s no beer fridge,” conceded McCabe. “We don’t want food or snacks in the sleeping facilities because of the chances of having critters come sniffing for a snack. But surprisingly, we don’t get that kind of complaint from the students. They’re too busy.” Otherwise, “It means they’re not working hard enough.”

What will happen with the old bunkhouse?

While the use of the space may change in time, preservation of the heritage structures and their many murals are paramount. The historic bunkhouse will remain intact, with repairs made to the foundation and roof. “One of the things we want to do, once we have the new bunkhouse working, is explore the idea of turning it into a group assembly space, so that we can have lectures, or large group meetings in there. The classrooms are too small to hold the whole group at once.”

Leave your own mark on Camp:

The ongoing Centennial Campaign for Camp offers alumni an opportunity to once again ‘leave their mark’ on camp, and bolster the success future generations of Civil & Mineral students. All Donations are matched dollar-for-dollar as we work toward a goal of $1.5 million (we’ve reached 70 per cent to date!). Donors are gratefully acknowledged on the campaign website. Those who contribute $1,000 or more will be recognized on a permanent donor wall. In addition, bunkbeds can be named for $5,000, built-in benches for $10,000 or even rooms for $25,000 and above.

Direct link to donate 

Special thanks to everyone who has contributed to the campaign for CAMP to date*:

Kirk M. Allan, 8T2
Donald I. Amos, 5T8
Anonymous (multiple)
Michael Aresta, 1T7
The Association of Ontario Land Surveyors (AOLS)
John Bajc, 8T2
John Donald Barber, 6T2
Beacon Utility Contractors Limited
Robert A. Beattie, 5T2
Wayne M. Bennett, 6T9
Evan Charles Bentz, 0T0
Devon G. and Linda J. Biddle, 6T7
John A Bond, 6T8
Dawn Britton
Kenneth R. Brown, 6T9
David C. Brownlow, 5T6
Buttcon Limited
W. Brian Carter, 6T1
John Challis, 5T1
Arun Channan, 8T0
So M. Chiang, 0T0
Bruce Chown, 5T5
Michael Circelli, 8T3
Classes of Civil 6T0–6T5 Campaign for CAMP
Class of Civil 6T8 for CAMP
Class of Civil 8T0 Campaign for CAMP
Class of 0T3 Engineering
Michael Cook, 6T3
Ralph Cowan, 6T8
Richard J. J. Daigle, 6T9
Ivan Damnjanovic, 1T5
Dawn Demetrick-Tattle 8T5
B. Michael den Hoed, 7T5
Steve Patrick Dennis, 9T9
Vanessa M. Di Battista, 1T2
Peter F. Di Lullo, 7T8
Gregory Dimmer, 8T3
Paul G. Douglas, 7T8
Henry N. Edamura, 6T0
L. T. Eklund, 6T0
Marie-Anne Erki, 8T0
James K. Farquharson, 7T7
Leslie D. Ferguson, 0T0
James H. Flett, 6T0
Douglas P. Flint, 5T6
Jordan A. Freedman, 1T6
Yifan Geng, 1T5
Wayne S Gibson, 8T3
Arousha Gilanpour, 9T5
David J Grabel, 0T0
Gordon Gracie, 5T2
Sheri Graham, 9T1
Donald H. Grandy, 8T4
David H Gray, 6T8
Gull Lake Cottagers’ Association
Peter Halsall, 7T7
The Heavy Construction Association of Toronto (HCAT)
Walter J. Hendry, 6T0
Alvin Ho, 9T8
Vera Y Kan, 0T0
William P Kauppinen, 6T8
Leslie & Margaret Kende 6T0
Allan M. Koivu, 8T6
Tetsuo G Kumagai, 6T8
Ross Lawrence, 5T6
Arthur Leitch, 6T9
Yiu Chung Li, 6T3
Michael Loudon, 6T6
Robert MacGillivray, 8T5
Scott MacGillivray, 8T2
G. Alexander Macklin, 5T5
Mateen Mahboubi, 0T7
William V. Mardimae, 6T9
Orlando Martini, 5T6
Levana Mattacchione, 1T3
Brenda McCabe, 9T4
Lloyd McCoomb, 6T8
Lisa McGeorge, 8T9
Malcolm McGrath, 5T4
Robert McQuillan, 5T0
Joel Miller, 6T5
Model Railings & Ironworks Inc.
Ricky Junji Mori, 6T8
Loui Pappas, 8T8
PCL Constructors Canada Inc.
Kristin Philpot
Rob Piane
Robert Piggott, 5T7
Victor Piscione, 7T5
Harold F. Reinthaler, 7T7
Peter and Michelle Rhodes, 6T7
Sidney Richardson, 5T1
John H. Rogers 3T9
Glenn L. Rogers
Senior Women Academic Administrators of Canada
Steve Schibuola, 8T6
Barbara Simpson
Amir Hossein Soltanzadeh, 9T5
John Starkey, 6T1
Kayla Louise Steadman, 1T8
D Wayne Stiver, 8T0
Arih P. Struger-Kalkman, 0T8
Selvarajah Sureshan, 9T1
Emilio A. Tesolin, 8T3
Umberto Testaguzza, 8T3
Michael V. Thompson, 6T1
Sujitlal Thottarath, 0T6
Louis J. Tilatti, 7T8
Diego Tonneguzzo
Andrew S. Turner, 8T8
John Vinklers, 6T6
Paul Walters, 5T6
Nicholas Walker, 6T5
Arthur H. Watson, 7T5
Glen A. Weaver, 5T2
Gabriel Wolofsky, 1T7
Gary J. Woolgar, 6T1
Wilson Yip, 1T0
Edward J Zavitski, 6T1
Victor N. Zubacs, 6T9

*As of August 22, 2019

Is there plastic in our drinking water? Probably – and U of T researchers are studying how concerned we should be

These tiny plastic particles were extracted from Toronto’s harbour by U of T researchers Chelsea Rochman and Bob Andrews (photo by Tyler Irving)

These tiny plastic particles were extracted from Toronto’s harbour by U of T researchers Chelsea Rochman and Bob Andrews (photo by Tyler Irving)

Is there plastic in your drinking water? The University of Toronto’s Bob Andrews and Chelsea Rochman say there is – but, unfortunately, they don’t have much more information to share.

“If someone asks me how microplastics in drinking water influence human health, I have to say that we have no idea,” says Rochman, an assistant professor in the department of ecology and evolutionary biology in U of T’s Faculty of Arts & Science.

“But we should be concerned that the mismanagement of our waste has come back to haunt us.”

Plastic never really goes away. While some waste plastic is recycled or incinerated, most ends up in landfills or worse. A world-leading expert on the fate of plastic waste, Rochman has documented how it ends up in oceans, lakes, rivers, as well as along their shores and even in the bodies of aquatic animals.

“All of the big stuff that you see eventually gets broken down by sunlight into smaller and smaller pieces,” she says.

When plastic pieces become small enough that a microscope is required to see them – anywhere from a few millimetres down to a few micrometres – they are referred to as microplastics. As with larger plastic pieces, microplastics are found widely in the environment. Rochman and her team have even extracted them from the bodies of fish for sale in a commercial market.

Concern over microplastics has been floating just below the surface for some time, but it wasn’t until the fall of 2017 that the issue of microplastics in drinking water hit headlines in a big way.

A non-profit group called Orb Media took samples of tap water from around the world, found microplastics in most of their samples, and released their results to the media. As a member of both the Drinking Water Research Group and the Institute for Water Innovation, Andrews, a professor in U of T’s department of civil and mineral engineering in U of T’s Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, knew that his collaborators would be curious about the story.

“Within hours, I got calls from a couple of the major water providers in southern Ontario that I work with, asking me what we were doing on this topic,” Andrews says.

Chelsea Rochman and Bob Andrews have joined forces to develop new techniques for analyzing microplastics and nanoplastics in drinking water (photo by Tyler Irving)

Chelsea Rochman and Bob Andrews have joined forces to develop new techniques for analyzing microplastics and nanoplastics in drinking water (photo by Tyler Irving)

Yet, despite his experience collaborating with drinking water providers on treatment and technology, Andrews had not researched the issue of microplastics before. So he sought advice from Rochman.

She was skeptical at first.

“I said, ‘I don’t think they’re going to be there, but sure, let’s filter some water and have a look,’” says Rochman. “We did, and they were there.”

The traditional approach to dealing with drinking water contaminants, such as heavy metals or organic compounds, is for scientists to determine a target threshold below which the risk to human health is considered minimal. Drinking water authorities then invest in treatment technologies designed to keep the levels of these contaminants below the threshold.

But there is no existing threshold for microplastics, and developing one will be complex for several reasons.

First, plastic interacts differently with the body depending on how big the pieces are. “What we’ve seen in animals is that larger pieces usually just get excreted,” says Rochman. “But the smaller particles can actually leave the gut and go into tissues, which is when you can get inflammation and other problems.”

Another challenge: There are no standardized methods for testing levels of microplastics in drinking water. Different teams employing different techniques could obtain different results, making it hard to compare scientific studies with one another.

Contamination is also an issue since tiny plastic particles shed from clothes, carpets and upholstery can get into the samples and skew the results.

These challenges are further compounded by the fact that microplastics can break down into even smaller particles known as nanoplastics. Nanoplastics may behave differently from microplastics, but information is scarce because methods for detecting them haven’t been invented yet.

“Right now, we don’t have good techniques for handling nanoplastic particles,” says Andrews. “One strategy we’re considering is to concentrate them, burn them, and analyze the gas to determine what types of plastic are there. We’d then have to back-calculate to determine their initial concentrations.”

Andrews and his team also have experience testing the toxicity of various compounds on cells grown in the lab. While they may one day go down this route for nanoplastics, for now Andrews and Rochman emphasize the importance of improved analysis as a key step towards developing policies to address the challenge of microplastics.

“California has already passed laws mandating the monitoring of microplastics in drinking water and in the ambient environment,” Rochman says.

“I think it’s good that those bills happened because they are now forcing this global methods development program, which we’re helping lead. We don’t want to throw out numbers until we feel that we have a sound method.”

The collaboration between Rochman and Andrews is funded in part by U of T’s XSeed program, an interdivisional research-funding program designed to promote multidisciplinary research. XSeed projects include one principal investigator from U of T Engineering and one from another university division – in this case, the Faculty of Arts & Science.

“Dealing with microplastics is the kind of challenge that truly does require people from different disciplines to work together,” says Andrews. “Neither of us could do this alone.”

By Tyler Irving

Originally posted in U of T News

Without changes, Scheer’s climate plan will be expensive or useless

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer delivers a speech on the environment in Chelsea, Que. on June 19, 2019.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

David Taylor, University of Toronto


When Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer unveiled his long-awaited climate plan, he said he could eliminate the federal carbon tax and still meet Canada’s emissions targets by focusing on investments into green technology. Tech, not taxes, he said.

Under the plan, major emitters would not pay a carbon tax and would, instead, have to invest in “emissions-reducing technology.” But if you look closer, these investments may not actually reduce emissions.

Instead of investing in proven green technology such as wind farms and solar power, Scheer’s plan allows industries to fund things with the potential to reduce emissions, like research or green companies. This flexibility reduces the guaranteed benefits of these green investments.

Although the details remain sparse, Scheer’s proposal isn’t entirely off base: My own research shows that investment into green technologies can offset the emissions of an entire industry, but it can only work in certain circumstances. With a couple of modifications, policies like Scheer’s can bring more predictable and affordable emissions reductions.

A disguised carbon tax

Scheer’s plan includes “green investment standards” that would force major emitters to invest a set amount, based on their emissions. Investments must go to activities, technologies, companies or research that might eventually reduce emissions.

Unless large emitters invest in proven technologies, emissions may continue to rise. Shuttersock

These mandatory investments would create financial pressure to lower emissions, much like a carbon tax. But, unlike many carbon taxes, these investments aim to reduce emissions in the “medium term,” according to Scheer.

It’s not clear how long that might be or what the investment amounts will be. Surprisingly, the standards let emitters invest in indirect emissions reductions, including funding research or a purchasing a clean-tech start-up company.

Allowing investments that do not create substantial short-term emissions reductions creates a major loophole. For example, a $1 million factory expansion that also reduced factory emissions by 0.01 per cent might be considered an eligible investment under Scheer’s plan, but that $1 million would have little effect on emissions.

Scheer could improve his plan with this change: Make explicit emissions-reduction targets for investments, and let the private sector innovate and find cheaper paths to those targets.

Affordable or effective?

Typical climate policies fall into two categories. Defined costs, like a carbon tax, where fixed financial penalties encourage greener choices, but the benefits can vary. Or, defined benefits, like cap-and-trade, where regulations require emissions to change, but the costs can vary.

While research suggests that the details of a climate policy matter more than its structure, Scheer is proposing a new policy structure without providing details. Without details, Scheer’s plan may seem like the best of both a carbon tax and a cap-and-trade system. But without firm emissions-reduction targets, Scheer’s policy relies on its financial incentives for emissions reductions and will behave like a carbon tax.

To be effective, therefore, the required investments per tonne of emissions in Scheer’s plan would need to be similar to the per tonne costs of the carbon tax. Yet Scheer decries projections that an effective federal carbon tax would need to climb north of $100 per tonne. Both Scheer’s plan and the federal carbon tax rely on financial incentives to reduce emissions. Either policy will force Canadians to choose between an affordable climate policy and an effective one.

My research team has found a way to ease this dilemma. With a couple of modifications, the efficiency of policies like Scheer’s can be improved by as much as five times.

A savings opportunity

We looked at what would happen to emissions if fossil fuel producers were forced to invest in green technologies that were known to be profitable or save costs, and were further required to reinvest a portion of those profits or cost savings. We created a simulation where oil and gas producers in North Dakota were forced to invest in wind turbines — and reinvest a fraction of the wind turbines’ revenue into more wind turbines.

In a simulation, researchers found that when oil and gas producers in North Dakota invested and reinvested in wind turbines, emissions and costs decreased. Shutterstock

The initial investments in wind turbines turned a profit and some of that profit went towards growing the wind farm. This feedback loop allowed the wind farm and its emissions offsets to grow exponentially and reduced the necessary initial investments. In North Dakota, the investments needed to offset all of the emissions from producing and consuming oil and gas dropped from about 50 per cent of the value of the hydrocarbons to 10 per cent because of reinvestments.

Combining investment and reinvestment into proven and successful green technologies allows green technologies to expand more quickly. Policies with reinvestment are like a savings account with a high interest rate — over time, the balance is funded by more than the initial investment.

Reinvestment makes green technologies and their emissions reductions available at a lower cost to consumers and businesses. Owning profitable and growing green technologies gives businesses, consumers and heavy emitters a transition plan, which my colleagues and I call “black-into-green,” or the BIG transition.

Mandate reinvestments

While our case study is not directly applicable everywhere (and is not as favourable in the Athabasca oil sands due to lower wind speeds and greener Canadian electricity), it demonstrates the benefits of pairing investments and reinvestments into profitable or cost-saving green technologies.

Our work suggests Scheer should make another modification to his plan: The green investment standards should mandate that heavy emitters make profitable or cost-saving green investments and reinvest a portion of those profits or savings.

Scheer’s green investment plan is missing key details and needs two major improvements. The Conservatives should mandate the efficacy of investments and require reinvestments. Without these modifications, the proposed green investment standards, like a carbon tax, are another climate policy that can be either affordable or effective — but not both.

Given this trade-off, Canadians should fear promises of affordability and advocate for more efficient climate policies.The Conversation

David Taylor, Assistant Professor in Global and Civil Engineering, University of Toronto

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Smart Freight Centre aims to deliver the goods — faster and greener

The demand for goods transportation continues to rise, leading to increased traffic congestion across the GTHA. The newly launched Smart Freight Centre looks to find solutions. (Photo: Flickr)

Leading experts from U of T Engineering, McMaster University and York University are working together to improve — and future-proof — how goods are delivered across the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area (GTHA) through the newly established Smart Freight Centre (SFC).

Professor Matt Roorda (CivMin), of the U of T Transportation Research Institute, is the U of T Engineering lead for the effort, and is the centre’s inaugural chair. The SFC will advance the goals outlined in the Region of Peel’s Goods Movement Strategic Plan, said Roorda in an announcement event today in Brampton, Ont.

The new centre will study ways to improve the transportation of goods throughout the region, taking into account issues like traffic, population growth and the environment.

From delivering stock to stores or packages to individual homes, the demand for freight transportation continues to rise — at the same time that expected delivery windows are narrowing.

“It’s the Amazon effect. People are buying things online and expect them delivered within a day or even within a few hours,” says Roorda. “And that has a real impact on the number of trucks on the road.”

Increased truck traffic contributes to congestion on the roads and competition for parking, both of which pose distribution challenges — especially as populations grow across the GTHA. Meanwhile, stop-and-go traffic leads to higher carbon emissions.

“We want to establish sustainable freight transportation systems that are more efficient and less impactful on communities,” says Roorda.

Roorda’s project, which launched in February, will see industry partners Walmart, Loblaws and LCBO stores piloting nighttime freight deliveries — shifting key daytime deliveries from distribution centres to retail locations to the late evening, from 7 to 11 p.m.

“There definitely seems to be a lot of spare capacity on our roadways at different times of day, so why not make better use of our current infrastructure?” says Roorda. “With there being less traffic congestion on the road during that time period, what we hope to see by studying the before and after, is that operations are running faster and more smoothly.”

His research group will also look at how the time shift will affect emission levels, examine cost mitigation for companies, and consider whether late-evening noise levels is an issue for residents along freight delivery routes.

The pilot is one of three initial projects underway in the SFC, with each of the three partner universities leading one. York University will study the feasibility of establishing truck-only lanes in the GTHA, while McMaster will research e-commerce purchasing behaviours to predict driving trends of future home-delivery demands.

Roorda and his colleagues at York and McMaster are currently developing SFC’s five-year plan, which will include research projects on automated trucks, and innovative alternatives to last-mile deliveries.

“I think we can make an impact with not just research papers in journals, but with demonstrated projects — there’s one foot in real life happening with this centre,” says Roorda. “These are on-the-ground problems that we’re trying to solve.”

By Liz Do

Story originally appeared on U of T Engineering News

‘A different kind of family’: Three international students on why they chose U of T Engineering

Second-year civil engineering student Oskar Rudolf Emanuel Andersson, who hails from Sweden, chose U of T for its reputation. (Photo courtesy of Oskar Rudolf Emanuel Andersson)

Each year, hundreds of top students from around the world choose to study at U of T Engineering. International applications have increase by more than 40 per cent over the last three years, and international students now make up more than a quarter of the undergraduate population.

This growing interest reflects both the Faculty’s global reputation and the many opportunities afforded to U of T Engineering students, both before and after graduation. In addition to the work-integrated learning offered through U of T Engineering’s Professional Experience Year Co-op (PEY Co-op) program, international students can work up to three years in Canada after completing their degrees.

Three international undergraduates recently shared their thoughts on choosing U of T Engineering, their student experience so far, and their engineering career aspirations.

Oskar Rudolf Emanuel Andersson — Sweden

Although higher education in Sweden is free for students from European Union countries, Andersson (Year 2 CivE) sought to study engineering at U of T because of its reputation as a top engineering school.

“So far, it’s been great,” he says. “Engineering is challenging, but there is a supportive student community that alleviates it a little bit.”

Andersson says settling into life in Canada was easier than he expected, “thanks to the large international community that understands what it’s like to start a new life in a new country, and are willing to help you,” he says.

As he gets set for final exams, capping off his second year, he is already planning his future goals — a career in structural engineering — and how to leverage the opportunities available at U of T Engineering, including the PEY Co-op program, which he hopes to enter in his fourth year.

“A lot of my courses have already encouraged learning in a practical way, making us think of how to apply theoretical concepts to real-life problems,” he says. “The PEY Co-op program will further this learning and help me gain the real-world experience I need to succeed once I graduate.”

Andersson’s advice to international students considering U of T Engineering: “It gets easier once you get used to your studies and get to know the city and its people better. The experience is worth it.”

Deniz Nalbantoglu chose Canada because she felt the country was more open and welcoming towards international students. (Photo credit: Nick Iwanyshyn)

Deniz Nalbantoglu — Turkey

When Nalbantoglu (Year 2 IndE) finished high school in Istanbul, she says she had two options: study in Canada or the United States.

Nalbantoglu says she chose Canada because she felt the country was more open and welcoming towards international students. She chose to study at U of T Engineering because of its global reputation and ranking.

Now in her second year, Nalbantoglu says today she has two homes. “Home for me is where my family is and that’s why Turkey – Istanbul – is home, but Toronto is my second home since I have a different kind of family here, with my friends,” says Nalbantoglu.

Industrial engineering has been a great fit for Nalbantoglu, who loves the program’s emphasis on productivity and efficiency, and says the field offers many opportunities, including in management.

“I didn’t want to limit myself – and in industrial engineering there is no limit,” she says. “I don’t want to sit in an office all day and work with numbers. Industrial engineering is something that would allow me to use my social skills.”

U of T Engineering has challenged her, and helped her grow, she says. “I believe U of T made me more independent and boosted my self-confidence.”

Kaushal Binani says he’s especially enjoyed his interactions with his course professors. (Photo credit: Liz Do)

Kaushal Binani — India

For Binani (Year 3 ChemE), as with Nalbantoglu, Canada’s reputation as a welcoming and diverse country was also a major factor.

What ultimately swayed him was “considering international reputation, campus location, and post-graduation career prospects,” says Binani, who is originally from Mumbai. “U of T Engineering checked off all of those boxes.”

Binani says he’s especially enjoyed his interactions with his course professors. “I quickly realized that even a short conversation with a professor can teach me things no textbook can,” he says.

As an international student, Binani acknowledges that his academic journey has had challenges, including adjusting to living in a new country and balancing studies and personal time — but says it’s led to personal and professional growth.

“I strongly believe that studying and living in Toronto has made me a more responsible and independent person,” he says. “I’ve also gotten so much exposure to different cultures, which has helped me gain a broader worldview.”

Over the last three years, Binani has immersed himself in business and finance courses in pursuit of an Engineering Business certificate, as he hopes to use these competencies to one day start his own chemical manufacturing company.

“I feel academically equipped and ready to start my career and solve future business problems,” he says.

By Liz Do & Cansu Aydemir

This story originally appeared on U of T Engineering News.

CivMin professor, and alumna receive Engineers Canada Awards

Professor Jennifer Drake (CivMin) received the Young Engineer Achievement Award, which recognizes an engineer under 36 years of age for outstanding contributions. (Photo credit: Tyler Irving)

Engineers Canada has recognized Professor Jennifer Drake (CivMin) and alumna Helen Wojcinski (CivMin 8T7) with Engineers Canada Awards. The national awards celebrate engineers who have made distinguished contributions to Canada.

Drake received the Young Engineer Achievement Award, which recognizes an engineer under 36 years of age for outstanding contributions. Wojcinski garnered the Meritorious Service Award for Community Service, presented to an engineer who makes exemplary volunteer contributions to the community.

Drake holds a Dean’s Catalyst Professorship in the Department of Civil & Mineral Engineering. Her research is focused on Low-impact Development (LID) stormwater systems, watershed planning and stormwater management, as well as the impact of LID technologies on aquatic environments, urban water security and wet weather policy.

Her work aims to reduce flooding by creating alternative pathways for rainwater within the urban environment. Drake has developed new, more accurate regional flood equations for the Ontario Ministry of Transportation for ungauged watercourses, work that is essential for flood response planning.

As a member of U of T’s Green Roof Innovation Testing Laboratory, she is currently working with the City of Toronto and Toronto Water on research that will inform the city’s Green Roof Bylaw and Green Construction Standard. Drake serves on the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority’s Board of Directors and is a member of the Regional Watershed Alliance.

She is committed to increasing the public’s knowledge and understanding of issues related to urban flooding and flood prevention through social media and other outreach. In 2018, she received an Early Researcher Award from the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation and was awarded the Ontario Professional Engineers Young Engineer Medal.

An accomplished engineer, Wojcinski managed the Highway 407 West design-build project for the Ontario Transportation Capital Corporation and now operates her own management consulting practice.

For more than 20 years, she has volunteered in leadership roles on boards and committees for several health care and social services organizations, including the Simcoe-York Region District Health Council, Blue Hills Child and Family Centre, Southlake Residential Care Village and Surrey Place. She also contributes to arts and culture as a board member for the Canadian National Exhibition Association.

A passionate advocate for women in engineering, Wojcinski was Chair of the Professional Engineers Ontario (PEO) Women in Engineering Advisory Committee from 1993-1995, during which time the committee lay the foundation for initiatives related to workplace harassment and changes to the Professional Engineers Act’s Professional Misconduct section. She is a member of the Engineers Canada Equitable Participation in the Profession Committee, Chair of PEO’s 30 by 30 Task Force, and PEO’s 30 by 30 Champion for Engineers Canada.

Wojcinski has received the U of T Arbor Award, the Engineering 2T5 Mid-Career Achievement Award, and the Ontario Professional Engineers Citizenship Award. She is a Fellow of Engineers Canada and the Canadian Academy of Engineering.

“These exceptional engineers demonstrate the tremendous contributions that U of T Engineering faculty and alumni are making at all stages of their careers, as well as the breadth of those contributions,” said Dean Cristina Amon. “On behalf of the Faculty, I congratulate them on this richly deserved recognition.”

By Carolyn Farrell

Story originally posted on U of T Engineering News


Going with the flow: Alumna Jenny Hill aims to improve stormwater management in Toronto and beyond

Jenny Hill (CivE PhD 1T6) advises everyone from landscape architects, to professional civil engineers, to condominium developers, on how to put more water back into the ground and the air. (Photo credit: Yuestas David )

Jenny Hill (CivE PhD 1T6) advises everyone from landscape architects, to professional civil engineers, to condominium developers, on how to put more water back into the ground and the air. (Photo credit: Yuestas David )

Before Jenny Hill took on her current job — working to prevent catastrophic city-wide flooding in the Greater Toronto Area — she worked in a police forensics lab. She thinks her role now is more exciting.

“Forensics is not what people think,” she says. “None of us carry guns, we don’t do a dozen different tests to solve a crime. We have to do very routine tasks, which quickly becomes repetitive.”

In her spare time, Hill pursued a master’s degree in landscape architecture, and eventually moved to Toronto to work in the field. But she quickly discovered that her U.K. training wasn’t completely transferable, and began considering the related field of environmental engineering.

“I decided to reach out to a few professors at U of T, just to get a feel for what was going on,” she says. Soon, she found herself in the lab of Professor Jennifer Drake (CivMin), a leading expert in stormwater systems and management.

Urban stormwater is a critical issue for many large cities, including Toronto, which experienced catastrophic flash floods in both 2013 and 2018. Part of the challenge is that asphalt, concrete and rooftops are normally impervious to water. Heavily paved urban landscapes prevent rainwater from draining into the underlying soil — instead, the built environment channels it into low-lying areas, which quickly become overwhelmed.

Hill focused her research on designing infrastructure that could help absorb excess rain and release it at a more gradual pace. In particular, she looked at the performance of various types of green roofs using the Green Roof Innovation Testing Laboratory (GRIT Lab) at the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design.

Green roofs are often touted as a potential solution to urban flooding: a 2009 Toronto bylaw mandated the construction of green roofs on all new buildings. But according to Hill, the law omitted any performance-based specifications, limiting its effectiveness.

“It simply says that you have to have one,” she explains. “You know the turf grass you can roll out onto a lawn? You can purchase a similar product, roll it onto the roof membrane and call it a day, but that alone doesn’t have much absorbent capacity.”

A key finding of Hill’s research was how the composition of the soilless planting medium affects a green roof’s performance in adequately meeting the stormwater retention needs of the city. “The planting medium is a key component of a green roof, it influences the performance in relation to stormwater management, and the resiliency of the planting,” says Hill.

Today, Hill works as a research scientist at the Toronto Region Conservation Authority (TRCA), which is mandated to ensure the conservation, restoration and responsible management of the region’s water, land and natural habitats. In this role, she advises everyone from landscape architects, to professional civil engineers, to condominium developers, on how to put more water back into the ground and the air.

Green roofs are only a small part of the strategy. Hill and TRCA promote feasible, sustainable solutions such as implementing underground stormwater crates and the planting of more tree pits.

They also advocate for floodable landscapes: areas such as the public parks that line ravines throughout the city of Toronto that are specifically designed to flood during heavy rain events. The idea is to contain waters in these recreational areas rather than allowing them to destroy homes and businesses. But Hill acknowledges that it can be a hard sell.

“The public are afraid of flooding, and rightly so,” she says. “They think you’re bringing the flooding to them, but that’s not the case. We can’t easily stop having excess stormwater in the city. We have to decide where to flood; do you want it in your park or in your basement?”

Hill is currently focusing her research on the practice and development of floodable landscapes  around the world — she cites the Netherlands as a useful model — with the aim of implementing more of them throughout Toronto.

Looming over all her work is the threat of climate change, which will likely increase the frequency and intensity of flooding events. Hill says that while floodable landscapes, green roofs, and other low-impact developments will make a positive difference in managing floods, they may not be enough on their own.

“I think that climate change is serious enough that we’re going to need all of these green infrastructure measures, and the pipes.” she says. “It’s not an ‘either or’ situation. We will need all of the engineering.”

By Liz Do

This story originally appeared on U of T Engineering News

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