Posts Tagged: CivE

U of T researchers win TRB Urban Freight Transportation Paper Award

Diagram of the winning proposal.

Congratulations to University of Toronto authors Tufayel Chowdhury, James Vaughan, Marc Saleh, Kianoush Mousavi, Marianne Hatzopoulou, PhD, and Matthew J. Roorda, PhD, who received the Best Applied Research Paper Award for their paper “Modeling Impacts of Off-peak Delivery in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area” from the Transportation Research Board’s Standing Committee on Urban Freight Transportation (AT025).

The research was sponsored by The Atmospheric Fund, Region of Peel, City of Toronto and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC).

The paper award was presented at TRB in Washington, DC on January 10, 2022.

Originally posted by UTTRI


Meet your CivMin club leaders

Min Club President Joleia Bucad (L), Civ Club Vice-Chair Bo Zhao, and CivMin GSA President Praveen Siluvai Antony (R).

Entering this academic year with a renewed sense of optimism, the leaders of CivMin’s student clubs are on a mission to restore pre-pandemic levels of student involvement while continuing to support undergraduate and graduate students in their academic, professional and personal journeys here at the University of Toronto.

We recently chatted with each club leader to discuss their goals for the year and to get to know them a bit better.

Meet Civ Club Vice-Chair. Bo Zhao

Meet Min Club Chair Joleia Bucad

Meet GSA President Praveen Siluvai Antony

 

 

 

 

 

 


Meet Civ Club Vice-Chair Bo Zhao

Bo Zhao (Year 3 CivE) is Civ Club Vice-Chair for 2021-2022. (Photo courtesy Bo Zhao)

 

We are recognizing the student leaders making a difference at CivMin this academic year, and we recently chatted with Civ Club Vice-Chair Bo Zhao. There is no Chair for Civ Club this school year, so in line with the constitution, Zhao takes on Chair duties as Vice-Chair.

 

What’s your goal this year as Civ Club’s designated leader?

My main goal is trying to recover the in-person opportunities we had in Civ Club before the pandemic. Hopefully, we can get the green light for the Dinner Dance to be held in the winter semester as well. Another goal of mine is to try and improve mental health and well-being in Civ while ensuring everybody’s academic concerns are taken care of throughout our program.

 

The Civ Club Common Room reopened about a month ago. What has the response been? 

Civ Club Common Room in Galbraith Building

On a practical level, it just gives people a space to eat their lunches and study, but I think most importantly it’s there to foster a connection between students. I remember back when I was in my first year, I met a lot of my upper-year classmates through the common room and the CivMin computer labs. Now with the space open, hopefully, we can start revitalizing the student community as we recover from the pandemic.

 

What is Civ Club?  

It’s about making sure everybody feels like they’re going into a program where they spend four or five years with the tools and support to improve themselves and not feel too stressed about school. We’re also here to make the little changes to help improve our student experience bit by bit, however, we can through academic or social activities.

 

How did you first get involved with Civ Club?  

I started last year as a mentorship director. I oversaw coordinating the mentorship program of upper-year mentors and first-year mentees. We try to develop social events and exam review sessions. My role was particularly important last year as we helped first-year students transition to university when it was a fully online experience.

 

What are some of your tips for people that are just getting to discover campus in person for the first time? 

The 4th-floor computer labs in the Goldcorp Mining Innovation Suite

I recommend just going outside of the engineering corner of campus, at least once, just to take a walk. It’s nice to see the whole university and going for a walk can help de-stress you as well. I also recommend visiting the common room and the mining 4th-floor computer lab (Goldcorp Mining Innovation Suite), once it’s open, which are basically open 24-7. So if you need a spot to be somewhere late or really early, they’re always open for people to use.

 

 

 

What’s your favourite spot to grab a bite to eat on campus? 

For me, it’s probably the green food truck outside of Bahen (BA) because it’s so conveniently placed 

 

How can students get involved with the Civ Club? 

Email us if you guys have any ideas of how you think you want to improve the student community, we’ll do our best to work with you to make it happen.  

 

What do you like to do in your spare time when you’re not studying? 

On Friday nights I’m usually playing in the Toronto Chinese Orchestra. I play the Erhu (Chinese-bowed fiddle). It’s been a great way to destress, and I recommend people do activities outside of engineering to find another community one can be a part of.  

 

By David Goldberg 

 

 

Visit Civ Club’s website for more info and follow them on all social media channels:  

Website: civ.skule.ca 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/civclub/ 

Instagram: @civclub 

Twitter: @civclub 

 


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)

Flexibility

“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


© 2022 Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering