Posts By: Christina Heidorn

EngSci alumnus recognized with U of T Excellence Award

Kramay Patel

 

Kramay Patel (EngSci 1T6, BME MD/PhD candidate) has been named a U of T Alumni Association (UTAA) Graduate Scholar as part of the 2021 U of T Excellence Awards. These prestigious awards celebrate inspiring members of the university community who have improved our world through scholarship, caring, and ingenuity.

Patel is an MD/PhD candidate at U of T’s Institute of Biomedical Engineering focused on epilepsy research, and is a dedicated volunteer and community leader. He is a former Vanier Scholar and in 2020 founded a community-based initiative called Stitch4Corona to provide face masks for frontline workers.

“On behalf of the Division of Engineering Science, I congratulate Kramay Patel for this well-deserved accolade,” says EngSci’s Director, Professor Will Cluett. “He embodies our motto of ‘Engineers for the World’ and is a wonderful role model for students and fellow graduates.”

Read more about Patel in the U of T Engineering News.


U of T Engineering to compete in SAE AutoDrive Challenge™ II

U of T's Zeus self-driving electric car

Zeus, a self-driving electric car created by a team of students from U of T Engineering, dominated the first series of the intercollegiate Autodrive Challenge. Now, the team is preparing to compete in the SAE Autodrive Challenge II. (Photo: Chude Qian)

 

By Tyler Irving

For the last three years, U of T Engineering has been leading the pack in the Autodrive Challenge, an intercollegiate competition to create a self-driving electric car. Now, they’re gearing up for the next round.

“We’ll have a new car, we’ll face new teams, and we’ll need to meet new challenges, probably more sophisticated ones,” says Jingxing “Joe” Qian (EngSci 1T8 + PEY, UTIAS MASc candidate), Team Lead for aUToronto, U of T’s self-driving car team. “But I think we’re well prepared.”

The general concept for SAE AutoDrive Challenge™ II, which is sponsored by SAE International and General Motors, will be similar to the original. Teams will receive an electric vehicle – the team’s award-winning entry in the first round was a Chevrolet Bolt that they named “Zeus” – along with sensors and certain software packages.

Their task is to integrate these components and enable the car to meet certain standards, such as recognizing and obeying stop signs or arriving at a sequence of pre-determined address points.

The aUToronto team — which has more than 60 members, including Professors Tim Barfoot, Angela Schoellig and Steven Waslander (all UTIAS) as faculty supervisors and Keenan Burnett (EngSci 1T6+PEY, UTIAS PhD candidate) as a graduate advisor  — has a track record of success. Zeus has placed first in all of the yearly meets held so far: the 2018 meet in Yuma, Ariz., the 2019 meet in Ann Arbour, Mich., and a virtual competition held last fall.

There is a fourth meet currently scheduled for June 2021. The SAE AutoDrive Challenge™ II will begin in fall 2021.

For more than a year now, most of the work on Zeus has been done remotely. Sub-teams such as perception, control and simulation coordinate their work using a variety of tools, meeting all together weekly to update each other on progress.

A small task force takes turns physically visiting the vehicle, which is housed at the University of Toronto Institute of Aerospace Studies, near Downsview Airport.

“It’s been a challenging time to work on this project,” says Qian. “Deliverables such as demonstration videos have become really important. They help our teams see that the changes they make have an impact on how the car behaves in a real-world environment.”

The other institutions competing in SAE AutoDrive Challenge II include Kettering University, Michigan Tech, North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State, Penn State, Queen’s University, Texas A & M, Ohio State, the University of Wisconsin and Virginia Tech. Qian is optimistic about aUToronto’s chances.

“I’m very proud of all the effort the team, and the university, have put into this project over the past few years,” says Qian. “I think we deserve to enter the second round, and I’m really excited to get started.”

 

This story originally appeared in the U of T Engineering News.


Company founded by EngSci alumni receives $3.8 million for nanosatellites

satellite above Earth

Kepler Communications recently became Canada’s largest satellite operator. (Image:  Kepler Communications)

 

Kepler Communications, a satellite communications startup founded by EngSci and UTIAS alumni, has received $3.8 million of federal funding to create a nanosatellite manufacturing facility, according to the Toronto Star.

After the recent launch of two new satellites, the company became Canada’s largest satellite operator with 15 satellites in orbit.

Kepler was co-founded by EngSci alumni Wen Cheng Chong (EngSci 1T3), Mark Michael (EngSci 1T2, MASc MIE 1T4, PhD 1T6),  and Mina Mitry (EngSci 1T2, AeroE MASc 1T4), and UTIAS graduate Jeffrey Osborne (AeroE PhD 1T6).

The team first met as students when all four were part the U of T Aerospace Team (UTAT), a student-led design team with focuses on rocketry and satellites.  Their startup was supported by U of T Engineering’s Entrepreneurship Hatchery and Start@UTIAS, and aims to build a global satellite network.

Read the full story in the Toronto Star.

 

 


‘Nobel Prize of Computing:’ U of T Engineering alumnus Alfred Aho receives A.M. Turing Award

Turning Award winner Alfred Aho

Alumnus Alfred Aho (pictured here in 2015 receiving his honorary degree at U of T) and collaborator Jeffrey Ullman have been named 2020 AM Turing Award recipients. (Photo: Roberta Baker)

 

By Liz Do

U of T Engineering alumnus Alfred Aho (EngPhys 6T3), alongside collaborator Jeffrey Ullman, has received the 2020 A.M. Turing Award — widely considered the Nobel Prize of computing — for their influential work in algorithms and compilers.

The award is named after mathematician and computer scientist Alan M. Turing, who articulated the mathematical foundation and limits of computing. It carries a $1-million prize with financial support provided by Google Inc.

In the late 1960s, Aho and Ullman were key members of research centre Bell Labs. There, they helped create the compiler, a crucial tool that takes in software programs written by humans and turns them into language that computers can understand. Their pattern-matching algorithms are run daily on computers around the world today, while their textbooks on algorithms and compilers have been used to educate generations of software engineers.

“It’s impossible to overstate the significance of Professor Aho’s foundational contributions to programming and software engineering,” says Professor Will Cluett, Director of Engineering Science. “He is a towering figure in the field, and an inspiration to classes of Engineering Science students, past, present and future.”

Aho is currently appointed the Lawrence Gussman Professor Emeritus of Computer Science at Columbia University. His honours include the IEEE John von Neumann Medal and the NEC C&C Foundation C&C Prize. He is also a member of the U.S National Academy of Engineering, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Royal Society of Canada. He is a Fellow of ACM, IEEE, Bell Labs, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 2015, Aho received an honorary degree from the University of Toronto, and in 2018, he was inducted into the Engineering Alumni Hall of Distinction at the Engineering Alumni Network Awards.

“The software researchers develop today would not be possible without the fundamental work of Alfred Aho and Jeffrey Ullman. They helped define the modern programming industry, and therefore shaped the very world around us,” says Chris Yip, Dean of U of T Engineering. “On behalf of U of T Engineering, my enthusiastic congratulations on this incredibly prestigious recognition. We have long been tremendously proud to call Professor Aho a U of T Engineering alumnus.”

This article was originally published in the U of T Engineering News.

 


U of T Entrepreneurship Week: EngSci-led startups to watch

Ali Punjani and Saara Virani

U of T PhD candidate Ali Punjani (EngSci 0T2, right) is CEO of the U of T startup Structura Biotechnology. His sister, Saara Virani (left), is the company’s chief operating officer (photo by Chris Sorensen)

 

The University of Toronto’s three campuses are home to nearly a dozen startup incubators and accelerators.  Many EngSci students and alumni have launched successful ventures through incubators like the U of T Entrepreneurship Hatchery, or serve as mentors to help students bring smart ideas to market.

To mark U of T’s virtual Entrepreneurship Week, here are some startups launched by EngSci students and alumni to keep an eye on in 2021:


Structura Biotechnology

The startup Structura Biotechnology arose from research by PhD candidate Ali Punjani (EngSci 0T2), who serves as the company’s CEO.  Its software helped researchers to quickly understand the 3D structure of the coronavirus spike protein early in the pandemic, the first step on the road to vaccine development.

Read about Punjani’s work in the U of T News.


LSK Technologies

Co-founded by alumna Seray Çiçek (EngSci 1T6 PEY), LSK Technologies has developed a portable diagnostic system for rapid testing for infectious diseases, including COVID-19.

Read about  Çiçek’s work in the U of T News.


Themis

Cindy Chen (Year 4 EngSci) is co-founder of Themis, a startup that uses AI to decrease the time it takes to draft legal contracts.

Read  Chen’s work in the U of T Engineering News.


U of T Engineering places among global top 20 in QS World University Rankings 2021

engineering buildings

U of T Engineering is Canada’s top-ranked engineering school and among the best in the world. (Photo: Daria Perevezentsev)

 

By Engineering Strategic Communications

U of T Engineering remains Canada’s top-ranked engineering school and is now in the global top 20, according to the QS World University Rankings by Subject for 2021.

The rankings, released March 4, placed U of T Engineering 18th globally in the category of Engineering & Technology. This marks an increase from last year’s position of 22nd and the fourth consecutive year where the institution improved its ranking. Among North American public universities, our closest competitors, U of T Engineering now ranks 3rd.

“Our rankings and reputation are a direct result of the hard work and dedication of our community: faculty, staff, students, alumni and partners,” said Dean Chris Yip. “From the world-leading impact of our research to the richness of our student experience — including opportunities to develop leadership and global perspectives — we can all be proud of everything we do to shape the next generation of engineering talent.”

In terms of overall institution-level rankings, U of T placed 25th in the world. It also placed first in Canada in 30 out of the 48 specific subjects on which it was measured, and in the global top 10 internationally in areas ranging from education (third) to anatomy and physiology (sixth).

“This latest international subject ranking reflects the University of Toronto’s strength across a wide array of disciplines, from the humanities and social sciences to medicine and engineering,” said U of T President Meric Gertler.

“It is also a testament to our unyielding commitment to research, innovation and academic excellence.”

Quacquarelli Symonds evaluates universities by looking at five broad fields — Arts & Humanities, Engineering & Technology, Life Sciences & Medicine, Natural Sciences and Social Sciences & Management — and 51 specific subjects. The results are based on four measures: academic survey results, employer review survey results, citations per faculty and an index that attempts to measure both the productivity and impact of the published work of a scientist or scholar.

This article was originally published in the U of T Engineering News.

 


‘My dream job’: How a PEY Co-op student is helping develop a new generation of autonomous space robots

Erin Richardson at MDA

PEY Co-op student Erin Richardson (Year 3 EngSci) is spending 16 months at Canadian space engineering firm MDA, where she is working on a new generation of autonomous robots for the forthcoming Lunar Gateway space station. (Photo: MDA)

 

By Tyler Irving

Erin Richardson (Year 3 EngSci) was in Grade 9 when she decided she wanted to be an astronaut.

“We had a science unit on outer space, and I remember being completely fascinated by the vast scale of it all,” she says. “Thinking about how big the universe is, and how we’re just a tiny speck on a tiny planet, I knew I wanted to be part of exploring it.”

Richardson started following Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield on social media and watching videos of his daily life on the International Space Station. She also started reading about aerospace and doing everything she could to break into the industry, including getting her Student Pilot Permit.

It was in a Forbes article about women in STEM that she first read the name of Kristen Facciol (EngSci 0T9).

A U of T Engineering alumna, Facciol had worked as a systems engineer at Canadian space engineering firm MDA before moving on to the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). When Richardson first learned about her, Facciol was an Engineering Support Lead, providing real-time flight support during on-orbit operations and teaching courses to introduce astronauts and flight controllers to the ISS robotic systems. Today, Facciol is a Flight Controller for CSA/NASA.

“I found her contact information and reached out to her,” says Richardson. “She’s been an amazing mentor to me over the last five years. We’re still close friends, and she’s really helped influence my career path.”

With Facciol’s encouragement, Richardson applied to U of T’s Engineering Science program, eventually choosing the aerospace major. After her first year, she landed a summer research position in the lab of Professor Jonathan Kelly (UTIAS), working on simulation tools for a robotic mobile manipulator platform.

“Working in Kelly’s lab piqued my interest in robotics as they could be applied in space,” she says. “Researching collaborative manipulation in dynamic environments will push the boundaries of human spaceflight – during spacewalks, astronauts work right alongside  robots all the time.”

After her second year, Richardson travelled to Tasmania for a research placement facilitated by EngSci’s ESROP Global program. Working with researchers at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Australia’s national science agency, she created tools to analyze data collected during scientific mooring deployments, which help us learn more about our oceans over long periods of time. This work informs the design of next-generation mooring systems which, like space systems, must survive harsh and constrained environments.

Richardson was sitting in a second-year lecture when she heard the news that Canada had committed to NASA’s Lunar Gateway project, a brand-new international space station set to be constructed between 2023 and 2026. Unlike the ISS, which currently orbits Earth, the Lunar Gateway will orbit the moon and will serve both as a waypoint for future crewed missions to the lunar surface and as preparation for missions to even more distant worlds, such as Mars.

Energized, Richardson searched for a way to get involved. Her opportunity came in the fall of 2019, when she saw a posting on MDA’s job board. She immediately applied through U of T Engineering’s Professional Experience Year Co-op program, which enables undergraduate students to spend up to 16 months working for leading firms worldwide before returning to finish their degree programs.

Richardson started her placement in May 2020, right in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. She and her employer quickly adapted.

“I was working from home through the summer, but for my latest project I was able to go onsite to operate this robotic arm,” she says.

The robotic arm in question is a model of Dextre, a versatile robot that maintains the International Space Station. Richardson used it as a prototype part for the Canadarm3, which will be installed on Lunar Gateway.

Because the Lunar Gateway will be so far from Earth, Canadarm3 will be designed to be autonomous, able to execute certain tasks without supervision from a remote control station. Part of Richardson’s job is to create the dataset that will eventually be used to train the artificial intelligence algorithms that will make this possible.

In MDA’s DREAMR lab, Richardson guided the robotic arm through a series of movements and scenarios, with a suite of video cameras tracking its every move. She then tagged each series of images with metadata that will teach the robot whether the movements it saw were desirable ones to emulate, or dangerous ones to avoid.

“We had to capture different lighting conditions and obstacles of various sizes and colours,” she says. “My colleagues pointed out to me that because it’s me deciding which scenarios count as collisions and which ones don’t, the AI that we eventually create will be a reflection of my own brain.”

Apart from the opportunity to contribute to the next generation of space robots, Richardson says she’s enjoyed the chance to apply what she’s learned in her classes, as well as the professional connections she’s made.

“It’s my dream job,” she says. “I use what I learned in engineering design courses every day. I’m treated as a full engineer and a member of the team. The people I work with are extremely supportive and they talk to me about my dreams and goals. I love being surrounded by a team of talented and motivated people, all so passionate about what they do and about advancing space exploration. It’s an awesome opportunity for any student.”

This article was originally published in the U of T Engineering News.


Student research: helping to fight COVID-19 and other diseases

conceptual sketch of smart UV lamp

Conceptual sketches for amodular UV lamp designed by students under the supervision of Professor Joyce Poon. (Courtesy Professor Joyce Poon)

 

How can we safely and quickly disinfect surfaces with minimal cost?  This is a question that everyone from public transit operators to grocery store managers have had to ask since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Frequent sanitizing of high traffic surfaces became a requirement to ensure public and employee safety.  But the cleaning can be time-consuming, difficult, and expensive.

Now a team of U of T Engineering students under the supervision of Professor Joyce Poon (ECE, EngSci 0T2) has designed a smart UV lamp with advanced sensors that could do the job more efficiently and cheaply than existing techniques.

At various times over the past year the team has included EngSci student Christopher Alexiev (Year 3 EngSci), Alec Xu (Year 3 EngSci), Bipasha Goyal (Year 3 EngSci), Jordan Hong (Year 3 EngSci), and alumna Saila Maham Shama (EngSci 2T0).

Read the full story of how they continued their fruitful research despite pandemic restrictions, and where the project is headed next.


Black History Month: Presidents reflect on the impact of National Society of Black Engineers at U of T

NSBE past presidents

Since 1999, the U of T chapter of NSBE has helped increase Black representation, while fostering community among Black students at U of T Engineering

Kelly-Marie Melville (ChemE 1T2 + PEY) was in her dorm room, just two weeks into her studies at U of T Engineering, when a fellow student Korede Owolabi (CompE 1T5 + PEY) and member of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) U of T chapter came knocking on her door.

“He gave me a full rundown about NSBE, and I didn’t fully understand the gravity of it at the time,” says Melville. “But once I started my classes, I got it.”

Melville remembers sitting in Convocation Hall, where all first-year engineering students traditionally gather for their first class together.

“It was intimidating for someone who just moved here from Trinidad and for someone who is just starting engineering. I remember thinking, ‘oh my goodness, there is no one here who looks like me.’”

NSBE, founded in 1975 at Purdue University, aims to promote, support and increase the number of Black engineers who excel academically and professionally. Each year, the NSBE National Convention brings thousands of members together for networking and professional development opportunities. The organization’s goal is to graduate 10,000 Black engineers annually by 2025.

The U of T chapter, founded in 1999, is the largest in Toronto. And for more than 20 years, NSBE U of T has played an important role in increasing Black inclusion at U of T, and in fostering a safe space among Black engineering students, who continue to be underrepresented among the student body.

Three years after that knock on the door, Melville was NSBE president (2009 to 2010), and found herself using the same recruitment strategy. “Sometimes I was even chasing students down in the hallways to talk to them [about NSBE],” she says.

One of the students she introduced NSBE to was Akira Neckles (ChemE 1T7 + PEY), who would also eventually become president (2016 to 2017). During her studies, Neckles remembers seeing only five Black students within her year.

“That can really make you feel like you don’t belong,” she says. “With NSBE, it felt like it brought us together. Within a program, we’re less, but within a group, we’re more.”

Over the years, each NSBE U of T president would bring a unique vision and leave their own legacy of impact.

During Melville’s term, she worked to significantly increase NSBE U of T memberships. For Neckles, her focus was on professional development, inviting organizations to U of T so that members were informed of career pathways, even before looking ahead at their Professional Experience Year (PEY) Co-op.

During Dimpho Radebe’s (IndE 1T4 + PEY, ChemE PhD candidate in EngEd ) presidency (2014 to 2015), she was challenged with keeping NSBE U of T afloat, as memberships began to dwindle.

“I think the biggest challenge for NSBE is that, although it is an organization created to support Black students, we’ve always said, we’re open to everyone and not exclusively to Black students,” explains Radebe. “But many students don’t realize that, and it makes our potential pool that much smaller.”

Radebe says one of her greatest achievements during her leadership was sending 10 students to the NSBE National Convention in Anaheim, Calif.

“That experience really inspired students to join because they can see the full power of NSBE versus when you don’t see many of us around at school,” she says. “Many of them ended up running for leadership positions after that.”

For Iyiope Jibodu (ChemE 0T8 + PEY), it was about “NSBE family and NSBE love.” As president from 2008 to 2009, he was instrumental in launching D-Battle, a student dance competition that would attract large crowds to the Sandford Fleming atrium. D-Battle started as an idea by Owolabi to increase membership — it would become a staple NSBE event for years to come.

“NSBE had a reputation as a professional student group, but we took the risk to host D-Battle, which turned out to be a fantastic platform to increase awareness on campus,” says Jibodu. “By having a fun event with mass appeal, we brought the entire Faculty together and showcased our strong and vibrant community.”

During Mikhail Burke’s (MSE 1T2, IBBME PhD 1T8) presidency (2010 to 2011), he would play a pivotal role in founding ENGage, an outreach program for Black students in Grades 3 to 8 that sparks passion for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). ENGage has been running for more than a decade out of the U of T Engineering Outreach Office, and would pave the way for Blueprint, a new program designed for Black high school students interested in STEM.

Alana Bailey (Year 3 CivMin) is NSBE U of Ts current president and has had a term like no other — having to lead from home during the pandemic. Despite this challenge, Bailey has set out ambitious goals.

Her mission when she took office in May was to have each executive member recruit at least five students — this led to a growth of more than 60 members by September 2020. Under her leadership, NSBE U of T has been more involved in Faculty recruitment events, as well as leading their own high school outreach efforts.

This year, NSBE U of T has also brought in more external sponsors to support initiatives — most recently, NSBEHacks garnered a wide range of sponsorships with leading companies such as Google, NVIDIA and Shopify, just to name a few.

Bailey hopes this effort builds toward retaining sponsorships year-round, providing funds for members pursuing professional development endeavours.

“If students need help to go to a conference or to enrol in an expensive course, our hope is to have the supports to actively help them achieve that,” says Bailey.

Bailey has three months left in her term, before she takes up her PEY Co-op position next fall. She plans to stay in close contact with NSBE, and she isn’t alone in wanting to stay in touch — many former presidents and members continue to advise, mentor and participate in NSBE U of T events.

That includes Burke, who is now the Dean’s Advisor on Black Inclusivity Initiatives and Student Inclusion & Transition Advisor at U of T Engineering. Over the last decade, he has seen and participated in many efforts by U of T Engineering to address Black underrepresentation — and NSBE has always played a role.

“There’s been a shift in what the Faculty feels empowered to do and it’s a good start, but there’s always room to do more. We have to continue to lean into the discomfort of talking about the lack of Black representation and about anti-Black racism on campus,” he says. “Organizations like NSBE are key advocates in driving the Faculty to engage in that change.”

This story was originally published in the U of T Engineering News.


Winter storms and power outages: Chair of EngSci’s energy systems major on creating a secure system

Aimy Bazylak on CTV

 

A massive winter storm system recently caused large-scale power outages affecting millions in the United States of America.

Professor Aimy Bazylak (MIE) was featured on CTV Your Morning to discuss the situation in Texas and why energy storage is critical for Canada’s energy security as extreme weather events caused by climate change become more common.  Professor Bazylak is the chair of EngSci’s energy systems major, and serves as EngSci’s associate chair.

Watch the interview here.


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