Posts Tagged: engineering physics

Meet three new chairs of EngSci’s majors

July 13, 2020

New chairs have been appointed for three of EngSci’s majors, beginning their terms in July 2020. Professors Stark Draper (ECE), Ashish Khisti (ECE), and Pierre Savard (Physics) will lead the machine intelligence, electrical and computer engineering, and engineering physics majors, respectively.

We sat down with each to hear their thoughts on the coming year.

Machine Intelligence: Professor Stark Draper

Professor Stark Draper in front of a white background, wearing a blue and white checked shirt.

Professor Stark Draper is the new chair for EngSci’s machine intelligence major. (Photo courtesy Stark Draper)

Stark Draper’s research interests include information theory, optimization, error-correction coding, security, and the application of tools and perspectives from these fields in communications, computing, and learning. Before joining U of T’s Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering (ECE) in 2013 he was a faculty member at UW Madison. Prof. Draper started his 2019-20 sabbatical year at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in Shenzhen and completed his sabbatical visiting the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT) in Hawaii, USA, after being caught outside of China by the coronavirus pandemic during the Lunar New Year’s holidays. He looks forward to returning to U of T to chair the third year of the machine intelligence major.

What do you hope students get out of the machine intelligence major? How does it fit into what’s going on in the world?

It seems that every day the applications of machine learning, artificial intelligence and data science expand. The core of this relatively new major provides three inter-locking components: deep mathematical underpinnings, strong software implementation skills, and exposure to a range of topics in the data and learning sciences.

Our hope is always that our students’ experiences at U of T prepare them not just to contribute to technological and social trends, but to drive them. This major, and EngSci broadly, focuses on fundamentals. From deep (and often tiring) experience wrestling with the concepts introduced in class, students internalize the ideas and insights that underlie current technologies. This allows them to understand the problems and challenges they face more holistically, helps them ask the right questions to cut through to better solutions, and aids them in engineering well thought-out, efficient, and robust designs.

Given the breadth of applications and the depth of interesting developments in theory and practice, I am excited to see where our students go and what challenges our first machine intelligence graduates take up in their next chapters. Further down the road I look forward to having those alumni back to campus sharing their stories and learnings with our current students.

Do you have any specific goals as chair of the major?

2020-2021will be the third year of the machine intelligence major, and our first students graduated last month. As we strive for continual improvement, this is a natural time to assess what is working well in our curriculum and extra-curriculars, e.g., how we connect students to PEY Co-op opportunities. My other immediate goal is to successfully transitioning my fall-term classes to online delivery during to the pandemic, as my students next term are likely to span some 16 time zones. I will miss the chalk board!

Electrical & Computer Engineering: Professor Ashish Khisti

Professor Ashish Khisti in front of a leafy background and wearing a blue shirt.

Professor Ashish Khisti is the new chair for EngSci’s major in electrical and computer engineering. (Photo courtesy Ashish Khisti)

Ashish Khisti (EngSci 0T2 Electrical) is an associate professor in U of T’s Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering (ECE), and an EngSci alumnus. He holds a PhD from MIT, and focuses his research on communication systems and machine learning. His work involves developing fundamental performance limits of these systems and developing practical schemes that approach these theoretical limits.

How do you view the ECE major, or EngSci in general?

Engineering Science is one of the most rigorous and competitive engineering programs in Canada. Graduates from this program are highly respected and actively recruited by graduate schools and industry.

The ECE major develops a broad foundation in the field of electrical and computer engineering. It has a good mix of both fundamental and applied courses, and it appeals to both theoretically inclined as well as practically driven students.

What do you hope students get out of this major?

Students develop an understanding of both hardware and software systems that are relevant to today’s industry. Students from this major are actively recruited by a variety of industries including computer hardware/software, communication systems, digital electronics, power systems, data science etc. Many students go on to do graduate studies and specialize in a specific area of their interest.

How do you view your role as chair of the major?

As the ECE major is designed to provide a broad foundation, I am most happy to provide guidance on course selections in this major based on students’ interests and future career plans.

Engineering Physics: Professor Pierre Savard

Pierre Savard at CERN

Professor Pierre Savard, shown at CERN, is the new chair for EngSci’s engineering physics major. (Photo courtesy Pierre Savard)

Pierre Savard is a professor in U of T’s Department of Physics, TRIUMF Scientist, and Canada Research Chair in Experimental Particle Physics. He is also a member of the ATLAS Experiment at CERN. In the last decade the focus of his research has been on Higgs boson physics and the search for new phenomena beyond the Standard Model of particle physics.

What are your thoughts on the engineering physics major and the EngSci program?

I believe EngSci offers an outstanding program that provides a strong foundation in the sciences and uniquely prepares its graduates for the challenges of a rapidly evolving technological future.
The engineering physics major provides a high degree of flexibility in terms of course selection. The variety of careers chosen by our graduates (chemical engineering, electrical engineering, geophysics, business, pure mathematics, and of course physics) demonstrates that choosing this major keeps students’ options open in terms of future careers.

What do you hope students get out of the major? How does it prepare them for today’s challenges?

This major provides a strong foundation in physics, applied physics, and mathematics in addition to engineering that provides them with the maximum flexibility in the future. Given the fast pace of technological innovations, having the skill sets needed to change, adapt, and evolve during one’s working life is a great asset.

Do you have any specific goals as chair of the major?

I have been chair of this major in the past and I’m very happy to be in this role again. I look forward to talking to what I consider to be the strongest students I’ve had the privilege to interact with during my career. My past and present goal is to make sure that the program continues to maintain its commitment to a strong foundation in science and continues to attract the best students in Canada and abroad.

We would like to thank the outgoing chairs of the majors for their service: Ashish Khisti (ECE) for machine intelligence, David Bailey (Physics) for engineering physics, and Tony Chan Carusone (ECE) for electrical and computer engineering.

Continuing on in their roles as chairs of the EngSci majors are: Peter Grant (UTIAS) for aerospace engineering; Rodrigo Fernandez-Gonzalez (IBBME) for biomedical systems engineering; Aimy Bazylak (MIE) for energy systems engineering; Roy Kwon (MIE) for engineering mathematics, statistics and finance; Matthew Roorda, Evan Bentz and Michael Collins for infrastructure engineering; and Tim Barfoot (UTIAS) for robotics engineering.

Planets in motion: an EngSci summer research story

Naireen Hussain

EngSci student Naireen Hussain (Year 4) spent summers researching a fundamental subject in astronomy.

Chaos theory may seem like a very complex topic, but EngSci student Naireen Hussain is not intimidated. The Year 4 student recently published a research paper in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society on a key question about the role chaos plays in planetary motion. The publication is the result of several years of work with Professor Daniel Tamayo of Princeton University.

Hussain spent two summers and part of two academic years working with Tamayo at U of T’s Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics. They took on a challenging research topic related to the uncertainty inherent in the movement of solar systems. Their work helps to quantify how stable a planetary system is, and will help guide the assumptions that astronomers make when studying planetary dynamics or formation from afar. Hussain’s research focused heavily on statistical and computational analysis.

“For an undergraduate to produce such high-impact research is very impressive, let alone being first author on a scientific paper before they graduate,” says Professor Aimy Bazylak (MIE), EngSci’s Associate Chair for Research.

Read more about Naireen’s research in The Varsity.

Hussain is one of many EngSci students who spend their summers in university research labs at U of T and around the world. In addition to EngSci’s own Engineering Science Research Opportunities Program (ESROP), the university supports summer research through its Centre for International Experience, the University Toronto Excellence Awards, NSERC USRA, and many department-specific summer research programs. Engineering students who conduct research on campus can present their work at the annual Undergraduate Engineering Research Day (UnERD) conference every August.

“I recommend that all of our students gain research experience. They will learn how to distinguish between research and engineering, which is an asset in industry or academia,” says Bazylak.

We sat down with Naireen Hussain to learn more about her experience.

How did you come to work with Prof. Tamayo?

After Year 1 in EngSci, I participated in the Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP) jointly hosted by the Canadian Institute of Theoretical Astrophysics and the Dunlap Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics. Because I enjoyed it a lot, I returned after Year 2 and paired up with Prof. Tamayo. I continued to work with him through Year 3, and then took a break for the Professional Experience Year Co-op Program. In Year 4 we wrapped up our work, and got the research paper out the door and published.

What was it like being part of a research group with grad students, postdoctoral fellows, and professors?

It was a very welcoming environment. The work itself was mostly done in small groups, but during the summers, there were weekly meetings where the larger research group would gather to talk about their progress or about recent papers, which was a great opportunity to learn about other research frontiers.

What did you learn through this experience?

Research is slow hard work! It takes substantial time to have solid evidence to back up your hypothesis, and to ensure that you didn’t miss any details when validating your claim.

From a technical perspective, I definitely learned a lot of transferable technical skills, especially in statistics. These are of use to me even though I ultimately decided to pursue robotics in my studies instead of astrophysics.

Do you have any advice for students about doing research?

Don’t feel intimidated if you’re in your first or second year, as professors are generally enthusiastic and are willing to help mentor you. As long as you demonstrate initiative, you’ll be surprised by how much you’d be able to learn! Also, if possible, it is worthwhile to continue research into the school year. The extended time allows you to examine a problem in more depth.

EngSci students selected to compete in Canadian Reduced Gravity Experiment Design Challenge


The members of Team FAM

U of T Engineering’s Team FAM (Fluids Affected by Magnetism) includes Engineering Science students (L-R): Twesh Upadhyaya, Tyler Gamvrelis, Jacob Weber and Hanzhen Lin. (Photo: Courtesy Team FAM)


A team of U of T Engineering students is set to launch an experiment aboard the National Research Council of Canada’s (NRC) Falcon 20 jet as part of the Canadian Reduced Gravity Experiment Design Challenge (CAN-RGX).

Team FAM (Fluids Affected by Magnetism) is one of just four post-secondary teams selected for this year’s CAN-RGX, joining teams from the University of Calgary and Queen’s University. The teams will fly various experiments in microgravity during the flight campaign, taking place in Ottawa at the end of July 2018.

The flight campaign for the competition will take place over three days in Ottawa during the week of July 25, 2018.

“What really struck me was the opportunity to not only fly in microgravity but to conduct an experiment in microgravity and really see the progress from start to finish — from the proposal to conducting the experiment on a very unique testbed,” said Twesh Upadhyaya (Year 3 EngSci), one of the two primary mission specialists for Team FAM who will fly onboard the Falcon 20. “This year’s CAN-RGX is a unique opportunity for us to put into practice all of the engineering design knowledge we’ve gained so far.”

The competition challenges post-secondary student teams from across the country to design and build an experiment to be flown on board the NRC’s Falcon 20 — an aircraft modified for parabolic flight to simulate microgravity— in collaboration with the Canadian Space Agency. This is the second year a team from U of T Engineering was selected for the competition.

Team FAM’s experiment will examine heat transfer in paramagnetic fluids and their behavior under external magnetic fields. To carry out the experiment, the team developed a compact optical setup that enables them to “see” the temperature of the fluid. A fluid cell holds the paramagnetic fluid, and a set of two electromagnetic coils is positioned around it.

Team FAM’s prototype, which will be used to investigate the effectiveness of heat transfer mechanisms of a paramagnetic fluid in microgravity. (Photo: Courtesy of Team FAM)

The team’s literature review suggests nobody has ever visualized the heat distribution in a paramagnetic fluid under microgravity conditions before.

“We have a system that will — at the peak of the flight when we hit zero gravity — automatically trigger the experiment to start,” says Upadhyaya. “We’ll do one parabola, gather the data, and repeat the experiment with different parameters. The plan is to do eight to 10 parabolas.”

The team’s goal is to gain a better understanding of how paramagnetic fluids behave in zero gravity, which could lead to improved heat management in space craft, space stations and satellites; as well as a better understanding of the fundamental behaviour of magnetic fluids in microgravity.

“In a space station, they may want to shuttle heat from one component to another,” Upadhyaya says. “Paramagnetic fluids offer an interesting solution, and by testing various magnetic patterns in our experiment — although it’s only one small step — it’ll provide some idea of the most effective way to use paramagnetic fluids in heat transfer.”

Outreach is an important part of Team FAM’s goals, as they plan to share their project with high school students to showcase the opportunities available in engineering at the post-secondary level.

“We wanted to inspire high school students, get the word out there, and showcase what they can do in engineering at university — especially the University of Toronto,” Upadhyaya says.

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

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