Posts Categorized: Alumni News

EngSci alumnus Alfred Aho elected to the National Academy of Sciences

photo of Alred Aho sitting at an office desk with textbooks, one of which is titled Compilers

Photo credit: Eileen Barroso

By Brandon Wesseling

Professor Alfred Aho (EngSci 6T3) was recently elected as a member to the distinguished National Academy of Sciences for his distinguished and continuing achievements in original research.

Alfred V. Aho, the Lawrence Gussman Professor Emeritus of computer science at the Columbia University, is known for his broad and fundamental contributions in algorithm design and analysis, and programming languages and compilers, which translate human-written code into a form that machines can execute. With his longtime collaborator Jeffrey Ullman (SEAS’63), a professor emeritus at Stanford, Aho received computing’s highest honor, the Turing Award, in 2020. Before joining Columbia Engineering in 1995, Aho spent more than three decades at Bell Labs, helping to run the lab that invented UNIX, C, and C++.


Meet our alumni: Adam Rosenfield (1T5) helps remake our cities to save our planet

photo of Adam Rosenfeld wearing a bike helmet standing next to a lake with a bicycle in the background

Adam Rosenfield (EngSci 1T5) is a transportation policy advisor in Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation.

Adam Rosenfield (EngSci 1T5) likes to look at the big picture, and that’s what led him to earn degrees in both engineering and urban planning. Today, as a senior policy advisor in Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation, he draws on his expertise in both fields to tackle the province’s number 1 emitting sector—transportation. And the big picture is a sustainable, equitable future.

Read a conversation with Rosenfield about his career path, his commitment to a sustainable future, and how he is helping to develop new curriculum options for engineering students.


EngSci alumna bolsters U of T’s rapid rise in entrepreneurship space

Phot of Jiayue (Jenny) he wearing a red dress and smiling

Jiayue (Jenny) He (EngSci 0T3 PEY) is the co-founder of a Silicon Valley startup that’s rethinking how home construction and renovation services are delivered (Photo: Jenny He)

By Rahul Kalvapalle

When you think of industries that are being disrupted by technological innovation, fence installation and driveway construction don’t immediately leap to mind.

Jiayue (Jenny) He (EngSci0T3 + PEY) is looking to change that. She’s the CEO and co-founder of Ergeon, a Silicon Valley startup that’s transforming how outdoor home construction and renovation services are delivered.

Ergeon uses video calls and satellite imaging to conduct remote assessment of clients’ properties, before sub-contracting the labour to skilled contractors — essentially owning the process end-to-end. Founded in 2018, the company has completed over 8,000 projects in California alone (it also operates in Texas) and has raised nearly $35 million from investors.

“We’re trying to empower the world to build,” says He, who earned her Bachelor of Applied Science from the Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering at the University of Toronto.

“We’re trying to take a pretty traditional industry — construction is one of the oldest industries since the beginning of time, as long as people have had houses — and bring in innovation, transparency and more access.”

Ergeon is one of more than 400 promising startups that have played a role in U of T’s status as the fastest riser in the 2021 PitchBook rankings for undergraduate programs, which rank universities on how many undergraduate alumni become founders of venture capital-backed companies.

U of T leapt to 27th from 33rd in the rankings last year. The rankings consider companies that received a first round of venture funding between January 2006 and November 2021 — a period in which companies founded by U of T undergraduate alumni raised over $17 billion.

The biggest fundraisers include AI research company OpenAI, enterprise software firm Databricks and pharmaceutical firm Moderna — which is now a household name thanks to its ubiquitous mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine.

He says her time at U of T Engineering was foundational to what she went on to achieve. That includes getting comfortable with numbers and instilling a data-driven approach to problem-solving and decision-making. She adds that her engineering education also helped her hone the ability to structure and solve problems.

“I find that universally applicable, no matter what kind of problem I’m solving,” He says.

She also credits the Faculty’s Professional Experience Year Co-op Program (PEY Co-op) with an all-important first exposure to Silicon Valley, where she worked for a semiconductor company.

“That made it very easy for me to make the decision a few years ago to move out here,” she says.

She launched Ergeon after recognizing the home renovation and construction sector needed to become more customer-friendly and transparent — as any homeowner can probably attest — as well as her observation of there being a lack of technology to facilitate skilled blue-collar work.

She says clients have largely embraced the novelty of remote video and satellite-based assessments, but a bigger challenge — especially early on — was convincing workers in the skilled construction trades to interact with a tech startup.

Ergeon’s solution?

“We literally make our app look like texting because that’s what they’re OK with,” He says. “We make all the interfaces look much more old-school — our interface looks like a calendar because that’s in their comfort zone.”

Ergeon has also had to adapt to several non-tech challenges, including the volatility of lumber prices.

“Lumber has been oscillating as wildly as Bitcoin, so that’s been the biggest challenge we’ve had to manage,” He says, adding that the issue has forced Ergeon to take greater control of its supply chain and ordering processes, which has paid off in other ways.

By contrast, when it came to scaling her company to match a rapid uptick demand, He says she found herself better prepared than most. That’s because her previous job at EZ Home, a startup that offers lawn care and yard maintenance services, ballooned from about 10 employees to 250 over a period of just three years.

“When I started Ergeon I wanted to do a lot of things with scalability in mind much earlier,” He explains. “So, we made a few decisions including having super-clear company values and investing in scalable processes and tools from day one.”

She adds that Ergeon’s status as a fully remote operation has also helped the scaling process — and gave the company a head start adapting to the pandemic. As a result, Ergeon this year became one of 32 new U of T entrants in the PitchBook rankings — and among the top three raisers of venture capital in the group.

Going forward, He says she envisions Ergeon progressing from outdoor projects to servicing “the whole home.”

“We started with outside the home first since that’s where technology has the biggest power to do remote assessments, etc.” says He. “But with the latest iPhone, you can now do that much better inside as well.”

“I think we’re just a few years away from that being pretty common and ubiquitous.”

Interested in entrepreneurship?  Check out the upcoming U of T Entrepreneurship Week.


Improving water equity in India: EngSci alumnus funded by U of T’s Data Sciences Institute

 

Photo of an urban street in India with a woman standing next to pipe coming out of the ground from which water is flowing into a blue barrel.

As part of their research on water equity in India, a multi-disciplinary team at U of T will examine water distribution infrastructure, such as this tube well seen in New Delhi, India in 2017. (Photo: iStock)

 

EngSci alumnus David Meyer (1T1) is an assistant professor in U of T’s Department of Civil & Mineral Engineering and the Centre for Global Engineering whose research focuses on how urban water distribution infrastructure behaves in Mega Cities in the Global South.

He and his multidisciplinary colleagues have received one of 17 Research Catalyst Funding Grants through U of T’s Data Sciences Institute (DSI).

Read how they are using data visualization to study how access to water could be improved in urban India.


‘He’d be thrilled to see this’: Alumnus’ pioneering work helps inspire U of T’s massive geoexchange project

rendering showing aerial view of the front campus with cutaway showing geothermal exchange infrastucture of long vertical pipes in the ground

As part of the Climate Positive Campus initiative, the area beneath Front Campus will be used for a large-scale ground source heat pump — a technology pioneered in part by MIE Professor Frank Hooper (EngPhys 4T6). (Photo courtesy: U of T Facilities & Services)

By Tyler Irving

When Jim Wallace (MIE) joined the University of Toronto back in 1978, one of the first people he met was Frank Hooper (EngPhys 4T6).

“I took over a course that Frank had been teaching a while, and he was gracious enough to give me a copy of his notes,” says Wallace, a professor emeritus of mechanical and industrial engineering in the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering. “Not long after that, he and his wife had me over for dinner. He was so supportive and helpful to the new guy.”

Hooper, who was also a professor emeritus of mechanical and industrial engineering, died in May 2021. He was an accomplished researcher in energy systems – and his legacy includes seminal work on ground-source heat pumps. Today that technology is being demonstrated on an unprecedented scale as U of T constructs Canada’s largest urban geoexchange system at the heart of its St. George campus, which is being built in connection with the ongoing Landmark Project.

Read the full story in the U of T News.

 

 


AI, tech and social justice: Meet EngSci alumna and U of T Groundbreaker Deborah Raji


The interview with Deborah Raji begins at 4:44 min in this episode of Groundbreakers.

 

How can AI and related technologies avoid perpetuating racism and gender bias?

The latest episode of U of T’s Groundbreakers video series hosted by Ainka Jess features an interview with an EngSci alumna who has made foundational contributions to this question.

Deborah Raji (1T9), a member of U of T’s Black Research Network discusses how bias in AI algorithms can perpetuate racism and gender bias and erode civil rights.  The research she began as an undergraduate focuses on how we can avoid this trap and how access to technology can further inclusive excellence.

Learn more about Raji’s work here.

Groundbreakers is a multimedia series that includes articles at U of T News and features research leaders involved with U of T’s Institutional Strategic Initiatives, whose work will transform lives.

 

 

 


EngSci alumni Tony Chan Carusone and Joyce Poon named IEEE Fellows

photos of Professors Tony Chan Carusone and Joyce Poon in offices

Professors Tony Chan Carusone and Joyce Poon have been named Fellows of the IEEE. (Photo: Chan Carusone; Poon by Katja Woldt)

 

By Matthew Tierney

The world’s largest technical professional organization, IEEE, has named its Fellows for 2022 — including ECE Professors Tony Chan Carusone (EngSci 9T6 PEY) and Joyce Poon (EngSci 0T2). IEEE Fellow is the highest grade of membership, given to those whose outstanding accomplishments in engineering, science and technology have shown significant value to society.

Chan Carusone, who is cited for ‘contributions to integrated circuits for digital communication,’ realized early in his career that his research in communication and control systems would have the most impact in the context of microchip design.

“That is where the rubber meets the road in electrical and computer engineering,” he says. “And I saw digital communication technologies as the most transformative technology of our age.”

The connective tissue of our high-speed digital world is the integrated circuit (IC) — the microchip — and designing faster ICs with greater reach and reliability impacts a myriad of fields: everything from digital communication to imaging and machine learning.

One can draw a direct line between efficiency gains in micro- and nanoscale IC design to vast, impactful areas such as sustainability, Chan Carusone says.

“For the past ten years I’ve been working to lower the power consumption of the microelectronics that handle our communication traffic, with hopes of reducing our footprint on the planet.”

Over his career, his research has earned him seven best-paper awards at IEEE conferences, and he’s served on many editorial boards and technical program committees of the world’s leading journals. He co-authored the textbook Analog Integrated Circuit Design and recently took up the torch from Professors Adel Sedra and K.C. Smith (EngSci 5T4) to co-author the 8th edition of the classic textbook, Microelectronic Circuits.

Professor Poon’s research focuses on a different medium of transmission: not electrons, but photons. Cited by IEEE for ‘contributions to integrated photonics on silicon and resonant microphotonic devices,’ she looks to advance computing and reduce power consumption by using light from the infrared wavelength to the visible spectrum.

“What drives me and my research is envisioning what computers will be like in ten years or so,” Poon says. “Quantum computing, neuromorphic computing, wearable displays, and eventually brain interfaces are all part of that future. I see photonics taking computing technology into new directions.”

She mentions her past work with silicon photonic foundries, which demonstrated how photonic integrated circuits (PICs) could enable new devices and functionalities, as one of her proudest accomplishments to date.

In 2018, Poon was named a Director of the renowned Max Planck Institute of Microstructure Physics in Germany, heading the new department of Nanophotonics, Integration, and Neural Technology. She regularly serves on technical program committees and is a Director-at-Large of Optica (formerly known as the Optical Society).

While their research interests may have followed different paths, Chan Carusone and Poon share beginnings as undergrads in University of Toronto’s Division of Engineering Science. When reflecting on their elevation to IEEE Fellow, they both mention the people they’ve been fortunate to work with, learn from, and teach.

“I am deeply honoured by the elevation and cannot emphasize enough how grateful I am for the many team members and collaborators who make the work possible,” says Poon. “This recognition shines a spotlight on our team, our ideas and our efforts over the years.”

Chan Carusone adds, “The most inspiring and innovative people I’ve encountered are IEEE Fellows, and I’m proud to count myself among them. But I’m most proud of seeing my grad students accomplish amazing things during and after their degree.”

Professor Deepa Kundur, Chair of ECE, sees Chan Carusone and Poon as part of the continuity of excellence in the department. “The commitment and talent that they bring to their work exemplify the ideals of engineering: bettering society while mentoring the next generation. Sincere congratulations to Tony and Joyce on this prestigious recognition.”

This story was originally published in the ECE News.

 


Former EngSci Chair Rod Tennyson inducted into EAN Hall of Distinction

Two photos of Prof. Tennyson: on the left a black and white picture of the UTIAS team that helped the Apollo 13 mission gathered around a table in a classroom with chalkboard in the background; on the right a photo of Prof. Tennyson today.

Professor Emeritus Rod Tennyson (second from left in the left picture) was part of a team from the U of T Institute for Aerospace Studies that helped the Apollo 13 mission land safely.

 

Members of the U of T Engineering community were recognized on November 4 at the virtual 2021 Engineering Alumni Network (EAN) Awards Ceremony. Alumni and friends from around the world joined the lively evening to honour eleven graduates and students for their outstanding professional achievements and contributions to their communities.

Professor Emeritus and former EngSci Chair Rod Tennyson (EngSci 6T0, UTIAS MASc 6T1, PhD 6T5) was inducted into the EAN Hall of Distinction, an assembly of extraordinary alumni, selected for membership by their peers for their lifelong accomplishments. Located in the Sandford Fleming Building, the Hall of Distinction is a familiar daily presence in the lives of students and is often visited by alumni and their families.

“I would like to extend my congratulations to Rod on receiving this recognition and thank him for his many contributions to U of T Engineering,” says Professor Will Cluett, Director of the Division of Engineering Science.

Tennyson has been a pioneering leader in aerospace engineering research and education and over the course of his career spearheaded the creation of new research, entrepreneurship, and teaching initiatives.

In 1970, while still a junior professor at the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS), Tennyson was part of the U of T team that helped Apollo 13 land safely after experiencing critical damage from an explosion during a mission to the moon.

He became a full professor in 1974, and served as Chair of the Division of Engineering Science from 1982-1985 .

He was later appointed Director of UTIAS for two terms, from 1985 – 1995. Under his leadership a new wing was added to UTIAS facilities to accommodate new research areas. He also implemented a new program that provided incubation laboratory space for start-up companies formed by graduate students.  He was appointed founding Director of the University of Toronto’s Government Research Infrastructure Program (GRIP) office , helping to secure over $400 million dollars in funding for researchers across the University over just four years.

He was a Founding Member of the International Space University (ISU) headquartered in Strasbourg, France, and President of the Canadian Foundation for ISU (CFISU) from its inception
in 1987 to 2001. He has also served as a consultant to the Federal Government in the early creation of the Ministry of State for Science and Technology, and as member of the first
Canadian Defence Science Advisory Board.

Tennyson has been a Board member of the Canadian Institute for Aerospace Research and the federal Centre of Excellence, Intelligent Structures for Innovative Systems, and served as Board member and Interim Director of the Ontario provincial Centre of Excellence, the Institute for Space and Terrestrial Science.

Over the last decade, Tennyson has focused his engineering and leadership expertise on bringing clean drinking water to tens of millions of people in the Sahel region of Africa.  He has worked tirelessly to bring the 8,000-kilometre Trans-Africa Pipeline (TAP) to reality in the hopes of alleviating human suffering and environmental degradation.


EngSci alumnus establishes fellowships to support research in AI and robotics

Photo of EngSci alumnus Steven Truong

Steven Truong and his company VinBrain have created eight new fellowships which will provide undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to catalyze research at the intersection of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics

 

Steven Truong (EngSci 8T9) was just 17 when he moved to Canada from Vietnam in the 1980s to study Engineering Science at U of T.  Now the successful computer engineer and entrepreneur is giving back to U of T Engineering by supporting undergraduate and graduate research in AI and robotics related to Smart Cities, Smart Health and the Internet of Things.

Truong believes that each of us has the power to leave this place better than we found it. After more than 12 years as a senior leader in artificial intelligence (AI) at Microsoft, he recently a founded VinBrain to use AI to help create more equitable healthcare.

 

Screenshot of a chest x-ray and the AI-based app developed by Steven Truong's company.

VinBrain has developed an AI-based assistant to help radiologists detect diseases faster and more accurately. (Photo courtesy: Steven Truong)

 

As AI and robotics play an ever-increasing role in our daily lives, Truong believes U of T Engineering students are in prime position to have a significant positive impact by applying technology to improve the lives of people around the world.

With a donation of $130,000 he and his company have created the VinBrain AI Undergraduate Student Summer Research Fellowships and the VinBrain AI Graduate Student Fellowships. These fellowships will provide funding to undergraduate students and PhD students working with U of T’s many experts in these areas, including in the Centre for Analytics and Artificial Intelligence Engineering (CARTE) and the University of Toronto Robotics Institute.

Learn more about Steven Truong and his motivation to support U of T Engineering.

“Being able to spend the summer in internationally renowned research groups working at the leading edge is an invaluable experience for undergraduate engineering students,” says Professor Will Cluett, EngSci’s Director. “We are very grateful to Steven Truong for establishing these fellowships and encouraging students to apply their skills to improving the lives of others.”


Are you interested in supporting students in the Division of Engineering Science?
Find giving opportunities here.


ParkinSense: EngSci alumnus helps design award-winning medical monitoring system

ParkinSense is a medical monitoring system that uses wearables to provide detailed, real-time data on the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. It can be used to objectively determine the effectiveness of treatment. (Image courtesy of ParkinSense)

 

EngSci alumnus Christopher Lucasius (1T7 PEY, ECE PhD candidate) and his colleagues are among the five winning teams from Hatchery Demo Day 2021 that will share $80,000 in seed funding.

They have designed a system called ParkinSense that can provide real-time information about tremors in people living with Parkinson’s disease to their physicians.  The system can expedite treatment and track its effectiveness.

Read the full story and watch their video in the U of T Engineering News.


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