Lassonde Innovation Fund promotes innovative research through internal funding

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Researchers at the Lassonde School of Engineering are taking risks and investigating novel technologies with the help of the Lassonde Innovation Fund (LIF). More than 20 interdisciplinary projects have received over $630,000 in support from LIF. The call for applications for the 2022 phase of LIF is now open.

From making masonry bricks out of treated municipal and livestock waste by-products, to bolstering star-tracking algorithms with artificial intelligence (AI) to prevent satellite collisions, Lassonde researchers are producing disruptive technology and trailblazing new frontiers.

The Lassonde Innovation Fund is a Research Boost Initiative which, over the last four years, has supported more than 20 research projects through an investment of over $630,000. The fund is designed for new and experimental projects, led by interdisciplinary teams, and focused on research aimed at addressing many of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs).

Approximately 40 per cent of the LIF-funded projects were interdisciplinary, crossing departmental and Faculty boundaries, 33 per cent were led by female researchers and more than 50 per cent addressed a UN SDG.  

John Moores Lassonde York U
John Moores

“The impact of the research that has come from LIF has been tremendous on both the training and innovation front,” says Professor John Moores, associate dean of research and graduate studies at Lassonde.

Since its launch, the seed funding has enhanced the training of graduate and undergraduate students and generated more than 30 high-impact publications and 11 new external funding applications.

The 2022 LIF Call for Applications is now open.

Here are summaries of some of the current LIF projects underway at the Lassonde School of Engineering:

Sustainable Reuse of Sludge in Bio-Brick Production Voula Pantazopoulou and Ahmed Eldyasti

Behind every challenge there is an opportunity, or, in the case of two Lassonde Professors, Voula (S.J.) Pantazopoulou and Ahmed Eldyasti (Civil Engineering), the opportunity was hidden behind two challenges in two distinct industries – construction and disposal of treated wastes. In construction, the production of building materials, such as masonry bricks, is highly energy-intensive, environmentally unfriendly and contributes to more than half of the carbon dioxide footprint of a building. It is also a high consumer of natural resources (e.g. quarries of shale deposits). In municipal and livestock waste management, disposal of treated sludge by-products resulting from extraction processes also leads to great financial and environmental burdens.

A team led by Pantazopoulou identified that the treated sludge by-product possesses high polymer content and has the potential to be used as a source component in the production of fired brick, which solves two problems at once. In their LIF project, Pantazopolou and Eldyasti developed technologies to integrate the sludge waste as a partial clay replacement in construction products. They published results showing that the resulting “bio-bricks” met the quality control criteria set by the masonry industry. By reducing environmental impact from clay quarries and simultaneously facilitating the disposal of waste, this work contributes to SDG 11 – Sustainable Cities and Communities.

Integrated structural health monitoring of carbon fiber composites – Gerd Grau and Garrett Melenk

Due to their high strength and light weight, carbon fiber composites are a promising class of structural materials that are seeing increased use in applications ranging from bicycle frames to bridges. More recently, the development of braided carbon fiber bundles encased in a resin matrix offers a way to manufacture freeform shapes. However, this development introduces a major concern for structural health monitoring (SHM) as these complex structures are difficult to monitor with discrete sensors.

To tackle this SHM challenge, Lassonde Professors Gerd Grau (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science) and Garrett Melenka (Mechanical Engineering) are incorporating electrical-conducting or light-emitting functionality into the carbon fiber composite. They have shown that embedding printed electronics enables damage location sensing, and embedding electroluminescent films facilitates damage visualization by lighting up structurally weak segments. This LIF project brought together Melenka’s expertise in braided composites and Grau’s expertise in printed electronics, leading to three journal articles and three conference papers, even applying this technology as an integrated heater to de-ice the wings of drones. They are now seeking further funding to continue this interdisciplinary, transformative research.

Resident Space Object (RSO) identification using artificial intelligence – Regina Lee

Since the days of Sputnik 1, there has been an ever-increasing deployment of Earth-orbit satellites for scientific, commercial, communications and navigation use. These resident space objects (RSOs), which also include man-made debris, number in the millions and pose significant collision risks for spacecraft and satellites. Current methods to track RSOs rely on a large-scale, and expensive monitoring network. However, Professor Regina Lee, (Earth and Space Science and Engineering), is combining space-based surveillance technologies found in low-cost commercial grade satellites with AI as a novel approach to RSO identification and tracking. Satellites already contain the hardware to track stars to orient themselves in space. Lee is using the same technology to instead identify RSOs and improving upon it with AI.

Lee and her team are working with Defence Research and Development Canada to develop and demonstrate their tracking system. The success of this LIF project has led to six publications and additional funding with the Canadian Space Agency and Department of National Defence.

Photo-Thermal Optical Coherence Tomography for Risk Assessment of Atherosclerosis – Nima Tabatabaei

In atherosclerosis of the coronary arteries, lesions develop on the arterial wall from the buildup of lipids, collagen and other material known as plaque. These growing lesions can potentially rupture and cause coronary thrombosis (a clot) which can be fatal. Early identification of lesions at greatest risk of rupturing is of utmost importance in interventional cardiology. While intravascular imaging techniques such as Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) can already visualize the plaque’s structure at high resolution, they are unable to determine chemical composition. This is crucial to ascertaining atherosclerosis risk because the chemical composition, specifically the lipid content, of plaques is highly correlated with the risk of rupture.

Professor Nima Tabatabaei (Mechanical Engineering) is exploring the application of a photo-thermal extension to OCT (PT-OCT) to capture high-resolution structural images of tissue co-registered with lipid composition information, as well as innovations for significantly enhancing the imaging speed of PT-OCT. The innovation is based on the phenomena that different molecules absorb light and generate heat (e.g. thermal energy) in differing amounts. The measured thermal energy serves as a chemical signature to discern lipids from other plaque material and is sensed interferometrically via the conventional OCT method. This LIF project has led to four publications and received additional funding from the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences.