ESROP – Global

Each summer the Division of Engineering Science sends 30-35 ambitious students abroad through ESROP – Global to conduct research at one of our partner institutions.

These opportunities have been arranged by the Division of Engineering Science, and are available only to Engineering Science students.

Read some of their stories:

California Institute of Technology
Netra

Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation
Gary

King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi
Samantha

National University of Singapore
Christopher
Helen

Osaka University
Louis

Technical University of Darmstadt
Robert

Technion – Israel Institute of Technology
Yizhou



Netra (1T9) + PEY – California Institute of Technology

This summer, I had the privilege of working in the Microelectromechanical Systems (MEMS) Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). Under the guidance of Dr. Yu-Chong Tai and graduate student Colin Cook (EngSci, 1T2), I worked on a project that aimed to design and test a more efficient bioreactor device capable of higher cell culture densities.

Researchers have devised a method of generating an oncolytic virus, that can attack and kill cancer cells. The virus is made using mammalian vaccine-producing cells. However, to produce a sufficient dose for the average human you need trillions of viruses and this correlates to billions of mammalian cells. Currently, companies use industrial bioreactors capable of housing up to 50,000 L of cells. Yet only 0.05% of this volume contains cells, the rest is cell growth medium and wasted space. Our novel tube bioreactor design enables efficient packing of cells such that they can grow to large numbers without being limited by nutrients, while occupying a smaller volume. Furthermore, our modular design facilitates device scale-up so that you can easily bundle multiple tube bioreactors to generate even more cells in parallel. My role in the project was to build the bioreactor setup and characterize cell numbers within a single-unit tube reactor. Using our reactor design, we achieved cell densities that are 12 times larger than current industry values.

Netra at the California Institute of Technology. (Courtesy: Netra)

This research opportunity gave me a chance to experience hands-on device design and play a role in determining which design decisions would help achieve our desired objectives. I had always thought my research interests lay in more foundational biomedical engineering principles focusing on tissue engineering. Throughout this opportunity, I learned that I enjoyed designing biomedical devices that could ultimately change the engineering industry. It is important to keep commercialization in mind when designing devices and conducting research. As an engineer, one must always consider how to make the system more resource-efficient so that companies will want to use and fund the device.

In addition to gaining professional and academic development, I was also able to experience all the culture and wonderful sights the beautiful state of California had to offer. Despite being in the middle of Los Angeles and Hollywood city life, California offers many opportunities to connect with nature and this is probably what I enjoyed the most. I’ve been a lot more adventurous this summer trying out activities like hiking and kayaking. The highlight of my summer; however, was surfing for the first time – I felt like a true Californian. We wore our Caltech wetsuits and jumped right into the waves on Mondo’s beach. It was an experience I will never forget – not to mention one that required quite a bit of upper body strength.

Netra surfing at Mondo’s Beach, California. (Courtesy: Netra)

I was also fortunate enough to meet many amazing peers and scientists. I had dinner with Nobel Laureate and former President of Caltech, Professor David Baltimore. I learned so much about the underlying principles of basic scientific research and how to turn a failed experiment into a Nobel Prize-winning discovery. Caltech itself is filled with amazing people and some of the most brilliant minds I’ve ever seen. I really didn’t expect to learn as much as I did just by talking to them and breaking down their thought processes and ideas. I realized just how creative and innovative you can be when you are surrounded by like minds.

In hindsight, I can definitely say this was by-far one of the most exciting and productive research experiences I have had thus far in my undergraduate career. I am very fortunate to experience the impeccable research and facilities at Caltech as well as make many lasting friendships and professional connections. This unforgettable experience would not have been possible without the support and guidance of the Department of Engineering Science.

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Gary (2T0) – Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation

This summer I was granted the opportunity to work at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) to conduct research in the field of marine engineering in breathtaking Australia. The work conducted by my colleague and I this summer mainly focused on building an engineering data analytic toolbox for mooring systems. Simply put, moorings are underwater systems consisting of an anchor on the seabed, connected to a buoy on the ocean surface by a chain. Amongst these base equipment, various types of sensors are embedded to collect valuable time series scientific data, such as motion (accelerations and rotations) and line tension force. These data were assigned to us for analysis to form a story regarding events that affect the mooring system during its deployment.

The project was still in its initial stage, and so there weren’t any strict tasks or guidelines set up for us to follow. We were entrusted plenty of freedom to use our creativity and passion to mold the scope of the project. This degree of flexibility often challenged our decisions with uncertainty. Amidst the series of trials and failures, the project pushed me to utilize my two years of education in Engineering Science. For instance, the time series data were alternative represented in frequency domain using Fourier transform, something we learnt from quantum physics. The interpretation of the ocean waves recorded required extensive application of knowledge from lessons on waves and oscillation. Statistic courses trained me to conduct probability and distribution analysis of sea states. Lastly, understanding of the solid body motion and resonance mode of the mooring structure required a joint contribution from linear algebra and CIV102. Further computations of dataset also challenged me to explore higher-level topics, including digital filters, the interconnection between information theory and statistical mechanics, and the organization of code infrastructure.

Gary on a trip to Bruny Island in Tasmania. (Courtesy: Gary)

The CSIRO branch I worked at was located in Hobart, Tasmania. In the workplace, everyone worked hard and worked well together. The engineers were always willing to share some of their expertise while professionals from other fields were more than happy to show us around the place. I especially cherished the tour inside the “Investigator,” a CSIRO owned scientific research ship. The tour not only introduced us to the top-notch scientific equipment on a voyage, but also illustrated the comprehensive state-of-the-art marine vessel design. Stepping out of the workplace, Australia was a heaven made for nature lovers and foodies. Within Hobart, I was surrounded by the refreshing view of Mount Wellington and Bruny Island. Travelling north to Cairns, I was then amazed by the tropics’ gift of uncanny landmarks such as the Daintree rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef. Shifting back to the urban life in Sydney, I enjoyed an eventful sunset in the darling harbor, awing by the remarkable engineering feat of the Sydney Opera House. Of course, the journey was accompanied by a myriad of delicacies such as kangaroo steak, lamb skewers, fresh seafood and so much more!

Gary exploring the penguin’s habitat on Phillip Island, near Melbourne. (Courtesy: Gary)

Ultimately, the seemingly daunting task of mooring analysis appeared to be intertwined with my prior knowledge, while the distant land of Hobart turned out to be a sweet peaceful town. I hope that future students can get to enjoy this learning experience at CSIRO and Australia, as much as I had.

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Samantha (2T0) – King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi

Going into this exchange, I had no idea what to expect for the three months I was going to be in Thailand. Some questions or worries I had before coming to Thailand were: “how am I going to feed myself everyday”, “I hope I don’t accidentally offend any Thai people with my ignorant Canadian cultural behaviour”, and “I hope that I won’t feel too lonely for the whole three months”. After landing in Thailand and getting introduced to all the people in DLab at SIT, another thought that went through my mind was “how am I going to survive this weather?”  However, after a couple of weeks of getting used to the climate and culture, I realized that most of my worries had vanished.

My main task was working on an incubator monitoring system for ATK Lab and I was able to get a functional prototype with the support and help of people from both DLab and ILab. I learned a lot from this project, as it was more of a biomedical based project, I was able to learn the protocol in culturing adherent animal cells, specifically L929 cells, but I also learned a lot about image processing, basic microcontroller functions, and hardware selection. Aside from learning about technical knowledge from my project, I also had the chance to learn a little bit of Thai thanks to all of the people I met on this trip. So now, I am able to verbally order some dishes in Thai at the very basic level. Speaking of food, I have to say that Thai food is the most flavourful cuisine I have tasted so far in my life. My favourite Thai dish that I’ve come to love would be som tam.

Everyone from all the labs were so kind that they brought all of us interns on a bunch of excursions for us to explore Thailand a bit more beyond Bangkok. From treating us to fantastic meals to taking us on planned excursions to a floating market, temples, and other tourist attractions like Mueang Boran, there was never a dull moment for the entire internship. Jonathan (Associate Dean for International Relations) even encouraged us to be physically active during the internship, and all of us interns from Canada ended up participating in a couple small marathons. It was very exciting for me because even though I do have my own running regimen, participating in an officially organized run was a new experience and just an overall fun time to bond with everyone and improve on our own personal fitness.

Samantha (third from right) with Mary, Katherine, Omar, and their supervisors visiting Mueang Boran. (Courtesy: Samantha)

From my entire experience in Thailand, I can say that I have learned a lot more about what I am thinking of doing for my future career as I continue my studies in Engineering Science. I have come to realize that I really enjoy completing work based on a project to project basis. As opposed to constantly doing research on the computer, I am the type who definitely enjoys coming up with physical prototypes and testing their functionalities. After discovering this fact about myself, I have a much clearer vision of the potential career opportunities I know I will want once I finish my education at U of T.

The last thing I would like to say to everyone I met in Thailand as well as all of the people who made my research exchange at King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi is thank you, or ‘kop-khun-ka’, one of the phrases I constantly used in Thailand.

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Christopher (2T1) – National University of Singapore

I had the exciting opportunity to work at the Optical Materials and Devices Lab at the physics department of the National University of Singapore. I helped graduate students run experiments focused on taking advantage of diamond’s optical properties to enable the engineering of feasible and effective integrated optical circuits and devices. Specifically, the experiments dealt with characterizing the N-V centre crystal structure defect in diamond as well as characterizing different types of light-conveying optical waveguides constructed into diamond, made by either blasting ions at the diamond or using lithography. Waveguides that can efficiently carry light through diamond would be ideal for creating integrated optical circuits for ever-faster computing technologies. N-V centre defects have the useful property that their electron-spin states can be easily modified by putting them through magnetic and microwave fields, and this can be observed through spectroscopy. Though beyond my internship’s scope, these two fields combined could yield useful new technologies such as quantum computing. At the beginning of the internship, my professor jokingly said, “I’ll count how many diamonds there are here before and after your internship.” No joke though, during the duration of my internship, I felt like a kid in candy shop, getting to tinker with all sorts of cool equipment like lasers, spectrometers, microscopes, virtual network analyzers, oscilloscopes, and single photon detectors.

Christopher working in the lab. (Courtesy: Christopher)

A large portion of my time was dedicated to developing experimental setups used to perform the characterization of the waveguides, learning how to effectively use optical components like lenses, collimators, and filters. I also developed skill in SolidWorks, spending time creating CAD models of the diamond devices used in the lab. Finally, I learned how to work with microwave-frequency electrical circuits and how to program in LabView to help develop a system to study interactions between diamond N-V centres and microwave radiation for future experiments in the lab. Despite learning so many technical skills, sampling life in a graduate physics laboratory was perhaps even more meaningful. It was eye-opening to discover how creative, multi-faceted, and interwoven with engineering experimental physics research is, with the grad students’ humbling knowledge base in everything from machine learning to electrical engineering, and with the tasks ranging from creating precise computer simulations to spontaneously using tape-rolls as makeshift microscope stands. The experience helped me discover the value and opportunity in potentially choosing the Engineering Physics stream, and this is valuable to me as I begin to decide which stream to specialize in.

Christopher with Raghav island hopping in Krabi, Thailand. (Courtesy: Christopher)

Finally, the longest-lasting impacts of my time doing international research will be the “international” part. I will forever remember doing breathtaking beach-hopping in Thailand, zipping between historical monuments in Japan, and living the high life in Singapore’s Marina Bay area surrounded by amazing new friends. Beyond just the tourism though, spending such a long time away with a sense of purpose and daily routine allowed us to gain an intimate understanding of life in The Little Red Dot that couldn’t be done without that level of immersion. Exploring the food-stalls throughout the country, following the local news, listening to local students and taxi-drivers discuss local politics and economics, and exploring one of the world’s most effective public transport networks are but some of the incomparable and humbling experiences that helped us realize how much we can all benefit by sharing viewpoints and information among the world’s many societies. It is this desire to exchange ideas and open-mindedness to understanding others’ experiences that will really help me be a better engineer, whether working on the local or global scale.

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Helen (2T1) – National University of Singapore

On May 18th, 2018, I landed in Singapore, a country 14991 km away from Toronto, to participate in a research exchange at the National University of Singapore. This was one of the few times that I travelled alone and lasted the longest among all. However, the learning, adventures, and friendships along the journey made the trip a memorable one.

Under the supervision of Professor Ho Ghim Wei, I investigated the production of UV and IR filtering Distributed Bragg Reflectors (DBRs). The DBRs are produced through Dip-Coating alternating layers of TiO2 and SiO2 colloidal solutions, which enable the reflection of UV and IR wavelengths, while allowing the transmission of visible light. Compared to prior Sol-Gel solution coated Solar Reflective Films, colloidal solution films can be fabricated without an annealing temperature of 450C, making it easily adaptable to materials like plastic. However, current colloidal solutions only produce uniform results when Spin-Coated onto substrates, a method that is not practical for production of large samples. Therefore, the goal is to enhance the manufacturing process of the Nano-material, through adjusting application technique and the chemical composition of the colloidal solutions, to achieve application on a variety of substrates using Dip-Coating. Nanotechnology and Materials Science were distant fields that I have only gained exposure to through media and lectures, therefore, it was rewarding to see and understand the practical implementations of research done in these fields.

Helen climbing to the top of the Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine, Kyoto, Japan. (Courtesy: Helen)

At the beginning of the internship, I was overwhelmed by the atmosphere of the lab. From operating rare scientific equipment, to designing my own experimental procedures with complete freedom, to resolving problems independently when Google fails to help, working in a lab was indeed a brand-new experience. Although nerve-wracking at first, I grew to enjoy the lab environment. I especially enjoyed having control of the methods to attempt upon the failure of an existing solution, listening to the advancements made in other cutting-edge research projects by fellow colleagues, and coming to the lab every morning with new ideas and anticipation. On top of understanding what research is about, I also became an expert at operating a variety of technical equipment – such as the Scanning Electron Microscope and the UV-Vis-NIR-Spectrophotometer – which are valuable skills to have for future endeavours in grad school and research.

Having the chance to exchange in Singapore was not only beneficial from an Academics perspective, it was also an unforgettable travel experience. During my exchange, I was able to visit a variety of attractions, within and outside of Singapore. I can still recall the smells of delicious street food at the Jonker Street night market in Malacca, feel the thrills tickling down my spine as I recall myself standing in a glass box three hundred metres above the ground on Kuala Lumpur Tower, and hear the loud music that accompanied the Spectra Light Show on Marina Bay Sands echoing in my ears.

Observation deck on Kuala Lumpur Tower, Malaysia. (Courtesy: Helen)

I especially treasure the new friendships that I built in the matter of eight weeks, with fellow Engineering Science Students, colleagues, and locals. It was never difficult to start a conversation with a Hawker Center Chef while ordering dishes, with a stranger who is queuing behind you, or with lab colleagues in the Canteen during lunch.

As my first research internship, this experience has undoubtedly been a valuable learning experience both academically and personally. Being immersed in a lab environment has shown me the independence, motivation, and passion that researchers exercise while undergoing experiments, stimulating my interest and passion for a career in research. Through the continuous exchange and fusion of culture, religion, and values with Singaporean, Malaysian, and Japanese locals, I have gained another perspective on what travelling is all about. This summer is certainly one to remember and to reflect on in the future.

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Louis (1T9) + PEY – Osaka University

From replicating and improving upon state-of-the-art models to immersing myself into a foreign culture, the twelve weeks at Uchida Lab in Osaka University was filled with excitement and memories. Drawing from these experiences, I was able to grow as a student, and as a person.

The main focus of my brief tenure in Osaka University was construction of vectoral representation of documents. The research group required some concise, yet sentiment-rich representation of document so that this collection of information can be used for further processing in other contexts. While extensive work has been done in sentiment classification and related research, the state-of-the-art classifier model published earlier this year, namely MILNET, lacks a publicly available codebase and a concise document representation. Drawing ideas from both MILNET and its predecessors in sentiment classification, I introduced a simple and intuitive variant of this network that can yield a document-level vector without compromising the core of MILNET model. In addition to the coding of MILNET and the variant model, I applied manifold learning to the embedding space and used various techniques to visualize the document vectors to demonstrate their validity.

Louis visiting Nanen-do, Nara, Japan. (Courtesy: Louis)

Natural language processing was a field I always felt a tremendous amount of interest towards and I was glad I was able to delve into its richness over this summer. From having difficulty passing in documents to now implementing variants of state-of-the-art models, this experience builds on my coursework in the previous semesters and enriches my pre-existing understanding of machine learning. I know that the knowledge I gained during the stay will be extremely useful in future settings, whether it is for work or for personal projects.

In addition, I am genuinely appreciative of the weekly seminars I presented to my professor and one of his master’s student. From these seminars, not only did I become much more comfortable with reading academic papers, I also was able to appreciate the fervidity in learning that was so common in Japanese education. Everyone openly interjected to ask questions and raise concerns during presentations, but it is exquisitely done without compromising the respect and appreciation for the speaker. In contrast, from my experiences prior to coming to Japan, the mutual trust endowed between the audience and the speaker is one that is often overshadowed by the fear of being wrong or the cage of professionalism, and hence is shunned away from.

Being in a foreign country, the barrier of language was inevitable; however, I was very fortunate to have met many kind-hearted people who helped me along my trip. Japanese locals I encountered are really understanding and often go for the extra mile in order for me to understand their messages. For instance, I forgot to grab a dish that went with a lunch combo, and the cashier, seeing that my Japanese was lacking, ran out to grab that dish for me. The students in my lab were also genuinely considerate and welcoming, taking me to dinners and local baseball games. They were willing to explain their research topics to me and assist me when I needed help.

Louis with his labmates watching the Hanshin Tigers and Yokohama DeNA BayStars in Kobe, Japan (Courtesy: Louis)

Another things about Japan that stood out to me in my trips across cities was the balance between the tradition and modernity. From parking garage elevators for cars to the electric toilets, and from the exact timing of public transportation to genuinely ergonomic designs in condiment packs, the ubiquity of technology is well-established in Japan. However, often adjacent to them are often the very lingering structures of its past. Everywhere I visited, inklings of the ancient history were on full display: shrines where traditional marriage ceremonies still take place, temples where monks murmur their holy beats day and night, and streets filled with locals dressed in yukata as festive lanterns gently dropped down from the eaves. This unique blend of the seemly immiscible elements, as well as the observations aforementioned, really made this exchange special for me.

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Robert (2T0) – Technical University of Darmstadt

This summer, I conducted research in the field of Mathematical Engineering at the Technical University of Darmstadt, Germany. I worked to design and build a webpage ranking algorithm (like Google) that is both more computationally efficient and more customizable than Google. This capability empowers groups who wish to search through large amounts of information on esoteric parts of the internet, for instance police organizations that look for cybercriminal activity, to operate efficiently and effectively.

Our computer program models the internet as a mathematical object known as a Markov Chain. The Markov Chain consists of two parts: the collection of webpages which constitute the internet and the collection of hyperlinks which connect these webpages. A part of the computer program called the “random walker” is used to determine the relevant importance between two webpages x and y. Beginning at webpage x, the walker undertakes a process of indefinitely “jumping” from webpage to webpage along the webpages’ hyperlinks. If the walker returns to webpage x before reaching webpage y more frequently than it reaches webpage y before returning to webpage x, then webpage x is more important than webpage y. The novel part of our approach is our method of helping the walker to leave parts of the internet where it becomes “stuck” – i.e. where it only travels between a small set of webpages rather than travelling to other parts of the internet which may be connected to webpages x or y.  Our method uses the mathematical properties of Markov Chains to implement an algorithm which immediately returns the walker to a relevant part of the internet without altering the relative importance between webpages x and y.

I worked on this project on a team with two other summer students. In the project’s early stages, we collaborated to develop a deeper understanding of Markov Chains and the mathematics which underlie our “de-stucking” algorithm. We then developed a computer program that implemented this algorithm. The development process involved designing the program to optimize its modularity and efficiency, implementing the program by writing the necessary code and testing the program to guarantee its functionality. After the program had been fully developed we tested whether it was more efficient and effective than traditional methods.

Perhaps my most insightful revelation of the summer was that Prof. Foster was indeed correct in our first year design course: Engineering is Praxis, the melding of theory and practice. It is often possible to address an opportunity or solve a problem by applying already known scientific principles in new ways. This level of innovation is an important, practical approach that produces tangible results. However, we could not have developed our algorithm without expanding our horizons beyond the scope of pre-existing knowledge.

Robert visiting Paris, France. (Courtesy: Robert)

We dedicated a lot of time during the initial stage of the project to understanding and proving several new theorems about Markov Chains. These theorems were very abstract and their results did not appear to have any immediate practical use. I was not convinced that this research would help us to design an algorithm. However, as we developed a better understanding of Markov Chains we came to a key realization. One of the theorems we had studied implied that we could use a “conquer and divide” strategy in our “de-stucking” algorithm. This strategy was much more efficient than any traditional method we could have implemented.

Robert, far left, with his lab colleagues visiting a traditional Biergarten. (Courtesy: Robert)

Working in Germany was a unique lesson in the importance of building intercultural competence. I worked with two summer students, respectively from France and Colombia, and was supervised by a German professor. At first, we had difficulty communicating and collaborating because of our culturally different approaches to work. Our different conceptions of, for instance, the role of project management schedules created tension between team members. However, as time passed and we became better acquainted, we recognized that each of our perspectives had unique strengths. We tried to incorporate all of our perspectives and ideas into a shared vision and structure that was effective in addressing all elements of our project. As a result not only did our team productivity improve, but also we became great personal friends.  I believe that intercultural collaboration has a similar potential to improve team dynamics in all contexts.

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Yizhou (2T0) – Technion – Israel Institute of Technology

I spent this amazing summer as an undergrad researcher in the Civil, Environmental and Agricultural Robotics Laboratory (CEAR Lab) at Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. This opportunity allowed me to work on one of the coolest projects – using nano quadcopters to help farmers extract pollen from sunflowers. My work centred around how to use an RGB-D camera to capture the location of a quadcopter in the air, guide it to hover closely next to different sunflowers, and return it back to a ground robot carrying them around the field.

Yizhou in the CEAR lab. (Courtesy: Yizhou)

The CEAR Lab really made me feel at home in Israel. The research environment here was very open-ended and self-driven. Every day, I had plenty of freedom to implement new ideas, to decide my next steps, or to learn about state-of-the-art algorithms in the area. I gained a much more in-depth understanding of robotics sensors and computer vision, as well as many hands-on experiences, techniques and tools on how to create a robust robotics system. Working with a group of helpful and friendly graduate students in our lab is a valuable and relaxing learning experience. Along with receiving many great pieces of advice on my research project, I had the chance to find out many interesting aspects of robotics and artificial intelligence from their projects.

Yizhou visiting the Old City of Jerusalem. (Courtesy: Yizhou)

I also had many incredible memories outside of working in the lab. In Israel, I experienced a broad mix of tastes of the country, including its beautiful natural scenery, unique religious and archaeological sites dating from biblical times, many museums telling the history of the Jewish culture, and the pulse of a vibrant city in Tel Aviv. Overall, I have really enjoyed living, working and travelling in Israel for the summer, and I am very grateful of the ESROP program for making this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity possible

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