York mathematician receives funding to advance mpox research

mpox virus

A York University mathematician has received nearly half a million dollars from the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) to better predict and assess future outbreaks of mpox and other zoonotic threats (infectious diseases that jump from animals to humans).

Woldegebriel Assefa Woldegerima
Woldegebriel Assefa Woldegerima

Woldegebriel Assefa Woldegerima, an assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics in the Faculty of Science, will use epidemiological and geospatial models including mathematical and artificial intelligence-based models to study epidemiology, transmission dynamics and immunology and intervention strategies to forecast the effectiveness of prevention and control strategies for mpox and other zoonotic diseases in Canada and around the world.

“We are not safe from emerging or re-emerging diseases including animal-to-human spillovers,” said Woldegerima. “Our research will provide valuable insights for preventive public health strategies and help governments be better prepared to manage and respond to an epidemic or pandemic threat in the future.”

Mpox, more commonly known as monkeypox, is a virus spread through close contact including sexual interactions and is typically found in parts of central and western Africa. The 2022 outbreak was reported in early May that year. A total of 87,479 cases, including 140 deaths, have been confirmed in 111 countries as of May 2023, according to the World Health Organization. 

Woldegerima and his research team will conduct risk-map assessments, geospatial analysis and machine learning to identify hotspots for potential outbreaks around the world. In addition, their research will use biobehavioural data and results of a survey by the Centre for Disease Control that involved men who have sex with men – a population considered at higher risk for infection – to examine control measures, risk factors and the impact mpox has had on sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections.

These various data sources will allow the researchers to extend their mathematical models for the first time to account for how the virus has disproportionately affected people living with HIV, who make up almost half of the global cases, and to better understand how HIV stigma and discrimination may impede public health interventions.  

The work will provide new training opportunities for postdoctoral researchers and undergraduate students in the Faculty of Science and builds on York University’s expertise in the mathematical modelling of infectious diseases. York is among the top institutions in Canada for publications on COVID-19 modelling.  

Woldegerima’s team for the CIHR research project includes Professors Jianhong Wu, James Orbinski, Sarah Flicker, Ali Asgary, Jude Kong, Nicola L. Bragazzi and Nickolas Ogden. The project is supported by two Organized Research Units at York, Y-EMERGE and Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research, which will provide in-kind support in the form of office space and administrative support.

Woldegerima’s project, “Modelling, predicting and risk assessment of mpox and other (re)emerging zoonotic threats to inform decision-making and public health actions,” received $480,000.

Lassonde professor receives grant for 3D/4D printing in space

View of the Earth from space

George Zhu from York University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering received a $250,000 New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF) grant to conduct innovative research that explores metal manufacturing for space equipment using 3D and 4D printing in space to satisfy the actual demands of materials needed.

Zheng Hong (George) Zhu
George Zhu

Spacecrafts are frequently manufactured with extra materials and spare parts to prepare for potential mission challenges and vicious movements during launch, making them overdesigned for the calm, vacuum, zero-gravity environment in space. When the excess materials aren’t used, they contribute to unnecessary waste, financial burdens and launch and process-related carbon dioxide emissions on Earth.

“Less than five percent of spare parts carried on space missions are actually used,” says Zhu. “If equipment was manufactured where it is needed, we could make space exploration more sustainable.”

Zhu’s work will involve collaboration with fellow Lassonde School of Engineering mechanical engineering professors Alidad Amirfazli, Cuiying Jian and Aleksander Czekanski, as well as taking full advantage of the diverse fields of mechanical engineering research at York, including space instrumentation and robotics, molecular dynamics, metals and alloy materials and fluid mechanics.

“Space has different conditions than Earth that will affect 3D printing, mainly zero-gravity and vacuum, so there will be a lot of exploratory work,” says Zhu. “When we use 3D printing on Earth, the gravity helps create strong bonds, but we don’t know what will happen in conditions without gravity. It is possible that the vacuum might cause molten metals to vaporize and disappear right in front of us.

“We want this to work but at this stage, we don’t know what will happen. We are actually the first to do this kind of research with metals,” he adds.

Using equipment obtained with substantial funding from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI) in 2019, this project will simulate space-like conditions to determine the feasibility of, and potential practices for, metal 3D printing in space. 3D printing will be performed in a large vacuum chamber, while modelling zero-gravity by printing in a horizontal orientation rather than vertical – this helps avoid the direct pressure from gravity that supports the creation of strong bonds.

The newly funded research will also explore the use of 4D printing, a new method of 3D printing that incorporates the dimension of time and may be useful in the development of deployable spacecraft components, like solar panels. Using shape memory alloys (SMA), 4D printed materials can remember and revert to their original shape after being deformed by certain stimuli, presenting a potential application for spacecrafts that spend long periods of time in space and are vulnerable to damage from debris.

Contributing to sustainable spacefaring effort, this exploratory project will take the first steps towards using space as an on-demand manufacturing site for space equipment. This project will also explore new and exciting ideas that can change and improve the design of space equipment, including the recycling of materials from debris to repair and manufacture materials for space activites.

“We have plans and ideas for applications, but this research is very new,” says Zhu. “I’m excited to learn as we go and discover the unknown. If this is successful, it will change the future of space exploration.”

Faculty of Education responding to need for careers in skilled trades 

One participant got support from his teachers and this greatly encouraged him to be himself

By Angela Ward

Professional Learning in the Faculty of Education has introduced four new Technological Education Additional Qualification (AQ) courses and is merging classroom learning with on-site sector experience to address the shortage of high school teachers with these qualifications. 

Technological Education encompasses 10 broad-based technologies with four of these in-demand courses being offered by York University as Additional Basic Qualifications (ABQs). Ontario teachers can now earn a new “Tech Ed” qualification in the following areas with more planned for the near future: green industries; health care; hospitality and tourism; and hairstyling and aesthetics. These new Tech Ed AQ courses allow teachers to expand and extend their knowledge, so they can design and deliver programs to the next generation of talent for in-demand careers.

Anna Jupp
Anna Jupp

“If technological education teachers have trade or sector experience, such as nursing, these Additional Basic Qualification courses support them in translating their specialized knowledge and experience to classroom teaching and learning,” says Anna Jupp, director, professional learning, Faculty of Education. “Our courses are designed to help educators create student programs that not only meet Ontario curriculum expectations but inspire students to pursue careers in the skilled trades.”  

The creation of the new courses results from a shortage of teachers who have the training and qualifications to teach these subjects, which has been a growing issue for years. Areas such as hospitality and tourism require specialized sites such as kitchen facilities, which can be a logistical and costly challenge for course providers. Accessing the latest technology is also a challenge, as teachers need to have access to tools and equipment in these areas to be trained in safely using the tools of the trade, so that students can also be taught.   

Typically, 125-hour AQ courses are structured in a fully online format, where candidates sign in at various times to complete their coursework. In contrast, these Tech Ed AQs offered Jupp and her team a new way to restructure the way educators learn in their chosen broad-based technology. While those enrolled may or may not have sector experience in their chosen field, the Tech Ed AQs are structured to account for 60 hours of traditional learning and 65 hours of experiential learning.   

“There have been challenges in the last several years when it comes to technological education in high schools,” Jupp explains. “We’ve seen a lot of technological education classrooms being dismantled. High schools had carpentry or mechanic shops and kitchens but because of low enrollment among students and a shortage of qualified teachers to teach these subjects, these classrooms were shut down.”  

Both education and the government are preparing teachers and students for future jobs in the skilled trades, highlighting experiential education and technical skills. Jupp notes that the Ministry of Education recently announced that to obtain a secondary school diploma, students will require at least one technological education course to graduate, starting in September 2024.   

“It’s important that teachers be trained, so that students get excited about the trades and get the opportunity to explore them at the high school level,” Jupp says. “This way, students with an interest or talent in the trades can start thinking about this option for their post-secondary path.  

“In thinking about equity and different pathways, it’s important to provide not only options but opportunities for those who are university-bound and those considering a future in the skilled trades. In education, we’ve been looking at ways to offer possibilities for both routes.”  

The technological education additional qualification courses help to build the necessary skills, knowledge and expertise of teachers and feature a custom Moodle Learning Management System (LMS) platform. This offers users a balance of both flexibility and structure as the courses are a blend of online (both synchronous and asynchronous) and in-person learning. The 65-hour sector experience component is unique to York and to all technological education courses across Ontario.   

“We’re proud of our design,” Jupp says. “We included subject matter experts, such as teachers who hold both experience teaching these courses and experience working in their tech sector. The course developer for the health care course, for example, is both a health-care teacher and a former nurse, bringing with her a wealth of sector and teaching experience.”   

Their Moodle LMS design “allows for the initial development of a course,” Jupp notes, “but also provides instructors with the opportunity to customize the course they’re teaching based on the needs of their students. We’ve designed a course where instructors and candidates meet online synchronously once a week for five weeks. Online is preferred since candidates are participating from all over Ontario and attend these classes in the evenings. While facilitated by an instructor, these AQs allow for a highly collaborative environment.”  

After the class, candidates complete Moodle assignments or activities which reflect the topic of the evening and connect back to the classroom. Within their chosen sector, candidates job shadow to earn their 65 hours of sector experience in a placement through the approval of their instructional leader.  

Jupp sees the hands-on learning element in technological education courses as key. “Some providers in the province offer similar courses but went the fully online route, which I think leaves a gap,” Jupp says. “Educators need hands-on experience of knowing how to use the tools and equipment such as properly sanitizing hairdressing tools. They need to know how to effectively transfer this knowledge in a classroom setting.”   

The Office of Professional Learning in the Faculty of Education has been offering AQ courses to Ontario educators since the mid-’90s and are proud to now offer over 100 additional qualifications. These technological education courses and their innovative format are their latest development. Jupp and her team say they are looking forward to always finding new ways to offer their high-quality, in-demand courses in ways that bring the best learning experience to educators possible.   

York community gathers to celebrate Connected Minds

Partners from Queens University and York University at the May 15 event to celebrate the Connected Minds project

York community members gathered on May 15 to celebrate Connected Minds, the largest York-led research program in the University’s history.

Connected Minds: Neural and Machine Systems for a Healthy, Just Society is a first-of-its-kind interdisciplinary research program, funded in part by the Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF), that will work to ensure technological progress and the future of AI is fair and equitable. For more about the program and the researchers, see this story: York University leads groundbreaking research to ensure technology revolution leaves no one behind.

Attendees had the opportunity to enter an Indigenous metaverse in an immersive virtual reality (VR) experience, test their skills behind the wheel in a driving simulator, take in a VR art installation, jumble their senses in a tumbling room that can spin 360 degrees, interact with some of the latest robots used in University research, and more.

Click here to watch the full event recap on YouTube. To see photos from the event, view the gallery below.


Celebrate the launch of largest York-led research program on May 15

Driving Simulator

Celebrate Connected Minds, the largest York-led research program in the University’s history, and explore the world of artificial intelligence and disruptive technologies, at an official launch event and interactive showcase on Monday, May 15.

York community members are invited to attend and experience York research first-hand. Attendees will have the opportunity to enter an Indigenous metaverse in an immersive virtual reality (VR) experience, test their skills behind the wheel in a driving simulator, take in a VR art installation, jumble their senses in a tumbling room that can spin 360 degrees, interact with some of the latest robots used in University research, and more.

Connected Minds: Neural and Machine Systems for a Healthy, Just Society is a first-of-its-kind interdisciplinary research program, funded in part by the Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF), that will work to ensure technological progress and the future of AI is fair and equitable. For more about the program and the researchers, see this story: York University leads groundbreaking research to ensure technology revolution leaves no one behind.

Connected Minds was officially announced as a recipient of the CFREF grant on April 28. It is the largest single federal grant ever awarded to York University. Join University officials, the research team and the program’s many partners, to mark this significant milestone for York research and the beginning of Connected Minds.   

RSVP today to attend in person, or virtually through a live stream, at https://www.yorku.ca/go/connectedmindsreception.

Date/time: Monday, May 15 at 1 p.m.
Location: Sherman Health Science Research Centre, 281 Ian MacDonald Blvd., Keele Campus

Faculty of Health targets anxiety with support from Beneva

York researcher Lora Appel demonstrates a VR headset during a recent TO Health gathering

Four innovative and community-focused Faculty of Health studies will shed new light on anxiety, thanks to an investment in York University mental health researchers by Beneva, the largest mutual insurance company in Canada.

The $200,000 Anxiety Research Fund, powered by Beneva, aims to enhance assessment and treatment supports for individuals coping with anxiety – a debilitating and frequently hidden affliction experienced by one in five Canadians.

“Anxiety prevention is the main focus that guides Beneva’s social and philanthropic action nationwide,” notes Beneva President and Chief Executive Officer Jean-Francois Chalifoux. “We are proud to have teamed up with York University to create the Anxiety Research Fund, dedicated entirely to accelerating research which will have an immediate and positive impact on the community, bringing new insight and change around this important issue.”

“York’s partnership with Beneva will have lasting benefits, not only for individuals struggling with anxiety, but for society as a whole,” says Faculty of Health Dean David Peters. “Through strategic collaboration with their community partners on these projects, our researchers will ensure their findings are used to address one of the most critical mental health issues today: anxiety.”

Four projects were selected for funding through a competitive application process led by the Faculty of Health Research Office.

Exposure Therapy Using Virtual Reality
Lora Appel (image: Sophie Kirk)
Lora Appel (image: Sophie Kirk)

With her team in York’s PrescribingVRx lab, School of Health Policy & Management Professor Lora Appel is using virtual reality technology to pilot an Exposure Therapy program focused on anxiety experienced by people with epilepsy. Project participants have identified common anxiety-provoking themes, which will be recreated virtually into 360-degree videos.

After conducting randomized trials in a controlled environment at Toronto Western Hospital, the study will move into the community (recruiting through Epilepsy Toronto), where therapy can be administered in people’s homes. While the results are expected to have a direct impact on people with epilepsy, the researchers also envision applications to others who suffer from anxiety.

Retooling Black Youth Anxiety
Godfred Boateng

Headed by School of Global Health Professor Godfred Boateng, who is director, Global & Environmental Health Lab and Faculty Fellow, Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research, this project will address anxiety and mental health issues of Black youth and their families, resulting from encounters with the criminal justice system and the child welfare system.

Partnerships with the Ghana Union of Canada (GUC) and Gashanti Unity (GU) will play a critical role in implementing this project to their communities. Researchers will recruit participants, identify key needs and work with clinical professionals to provide interventions. An online resource centre and sensitization programs aimed at improving the mental well-being of Black individuals and Black families will be created.

Reducing Anxiety About HPV Tests
Catriona Buick
Catriona Buick

A School of Nursing project led by Professor Catriona Buick focuses on anxiety that is anticipated in response to upcoming revisions to Ontario’s Cervical Screening Guidelines. In other countries, anxiety has been minimized by introducing evidence-based communications with patients around Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infection and cervical cancer.

The project will assess whether an infographic education intervention about primary HPV testing can decrease anxiety and increase understanding and acceptance of the upcoming changes to existing screening guidelines. The intent is to manage anxiety, dispel myths and misconceptions, normalize HPV, and improve acceptance of primary HPV testing for routine cervical cancer screening.

Decision-making in a Global Health Crisis
Shayna Rosenbaum
Shayna Rosenbaum

This project will investigate how mental health issues can interfere with people’s compliance with important public health measures – such as mask wearing and vaccination – during a global pandemic. The team, led by Department of Psychology Professor Shayna Rosenbaum, studies “delay discounting” (undervaluing or discounting future benefits when making health decisions).

The researchers will seek methods to reduce anxiety and optimize decision-making during global crises. Their findings will inform action by the Public Health Agency of Canada on the wider impact of COVID-19 and which sectors of society to target through technical briefing.

Thanks to Beneva, the Anxiety Research Fund in the Faculty of Health aims to support critical, community-focused projects to better identify, manage and help reduce the manifestations of anxiety.

York satellites headed to space

Satellite in space

By Alexander Huls, deputy editor, YFile

One CubeSat – a square-shaped satellite the size of a Rubik’s cube – created by York University students, and another with hardware supplied by students, will launch from the Kennedy Space Center and be placed in orbit by International Space Station astronauts.

Zheng Hong (George) Zhu
George Zhu

Funded by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), since 2017 the Canadian CubeSat Project (CCP) has provided the opportunity for students to gain greater access and experiential learning to better prepare for careers in the aerospace industry by designing and building their own satellites.

“In the past, students who wanted to learn the design of space instruments and satellite technology never had the hands-on opportunity to build, launch and operate their own. Everything was on paper. This gives them opportunities,” explains Zheng Hong (George) Zhu, director of the Space Engineering Design Laboratory at York’s Lassonde School of Engineering.

Zhu led the team of students who created an entirely York-made satellite set to enter space this summer. The Educational Space Science and Engineering CubeSat Experiment (ESSENCE) is the first satellite to be designed and built mainly by undergraduate students across engineering programs at Lassonde. A previous York-made satellite was launched in 2020, but was designed, built, integrated and tested by graduate students led by Zhu.

The ESSENCE carries two science payloads expected to contribute to understanding of the effects of climate change, aligning the project with the York University Academic Plan 2020 – 2025, and the School’s dedication to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs).

The first payload is a high-resolution 360 degree by 187 degree fisheye camera which will be used to capture images of Canada’s Arctic Region from a height of 400 km to monitor the thawing of permafrost and Arctic ices. The camera can also capture images of stars and space debris. The team will collaborate with scientists at Defense Research and Development Canada to observe and monitor space debris with these images. The second payload is a proton detector, developed by the University of Sydney in Australia, which will collect data on energetic solar protons from solar storms in low Earth orbit, providing insights into the impact of climate change on Earth.

The ESSENCE was a collaborative effort between students, four co-investigators from Lassonde (Franz Newlands, Mike Daly, Andrew Maxwell and Alexsander Czekanski), as well as strategic partnerships with the Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) and the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS), which provided novel attitude control algorithms to point the camera in desired directions.

The ESSENCE Satellite team
The ESSENCE CubeSat team saying goodbye to their satellite before it was shipped off for launch preparation

The second CubeSat to be launched into space this summer, thanks to York students, is also a product of an external partnership. However, while the ESSENCE was a York-led satellite relying on hardware from other institutions, a University of Manitoba-led CubeSat project draws on innovative hardware provided by Lassonde students.

Supervised by Regina Lee, professor of space engineering, a team of students was asked by the University of Manitoba CubeSat team – who named their satellite “IRIS” – to create a critical component to help realize the partner school’s CubeSat goal of consistently exposing geological samples to solar radiation in space and study the effects.

Regina Lee
Regina Lee

“Our job was to design the subsystem to go into their satellite that would figure out which direction it’s pointing in within space, and make sure it’s pointing to the sun,” explains Ryan Clark, who worked on the project, and is a former member of the Nanosatellite Research Laboratory at York.

“They set a general guideline for the hardware component development, and our contribution was the sun sensor, magnetorquers and then the board that contains the full Attitude Determination and Control System that fits on the CubeSat,” says Peter Keum, who was part of the team.

Lastly: “We were focused on testing, calibrating and – once we were done – shipping it off,” says Gabriel Chianelli, the remaining member of the team, who is part of the Nanosatellite Search Group at York.

The two CubeSats – the ESSENCE and IRIS – are now being readied for their space-bound journey, and both teams are preparing to see them launched this summer. Zhu and 20 of his students are planning to travel to the Kennedy Space Station Center to witness the launch, some of them from within a NASA VIP room that is only five kilometers away from the launch pad. Others, like Lee’s team, will eagerly be watching via YouTube livestreams.

For both professors behind the work on the two satellites, the launch will mark the fruition of a desire to see their students work on something that won’t just make it to space, but impact their futures. “My goal was to make sure that my students have hands-on experience so they can graduate and do well in their career,” Lee says. Zhu shares that sentiment. “I have a passionate love for space engineering, and I like my students to have the same life experience I do,” he says.

Projects like the ESSENCE might be the first satellite to be designed and built mainly by undergraduate students at York, but it’s unlikely to be the last. “When I was an undergrad, starting to 2014, there were no internships or placements for undergrad space students,” Clark says. “Now, there are so many more placements, so many opportunities available, it seems like just the barriers to entry are coming down, and a lot more people are getting into space.”

York-led $318M project to create transformational change in inclusive tech research 

York University's Amir Asif, Pina D'Agostino and Doug Crawford with representatives from Queen's University

York University is leading a $318.4-million, interdisciplinary, first-of-its kind research project that aims to advance the understanding of relationships between human minds and machines, and how society – or as the researchers have dubbed it, the “techno-social collective” – can evolve with these emerging technologies in a socially responsible way.

An initiative focused on inclusive technology research that partners with Queens University, “Connected Minds: Neural and Machine Systems for a Healthy, Just Society” is supported by $105.7 million in funding from the federal government’s Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF) with $82.8 million dedicated to York and $22.8 million to Queens.

Susan Boehnke, Queen’s University with York University’s Pina D’Agostino, Doug Crawford and Gunnar Blohm, Queen’s University

Connected Minds will fund 35 strategic faculty hires, partner-focused seed, team, and prototyping grants, knowledge mobilization and commercialization activities, and an ambitious multi-institutional micro-credential training program with 385 trainees and cross-sector stakeholders. All activities will require interdisciplinary participation, and projects that benefit Indigenous and other equity-deserving groups will be prioritized. 

“The current technological revolution will have transformative positive impacts, and likely unintended negative impacts, on humanity for generations to come,” says Doug Crawford, York University Distinguished Research Professor in Neuroscience and inaugural scientific director of Connected Minds. “To predict these impacts and steer toward positive outcomes, one requires transdisciplinary expertise, multi-sector community engagement and research and training at levels that can only occur in a large-scale program. We thank CFREF for providing Connected Minds with the resources to lead Canada and the world in this timely and critical enterprise.” 

The directorate will be shared with York University Professor Pina D’Agostino, intellectual property and technology law expert, as vice director, and Professor Sean Hillier, Indigenous health scholar, as associate director. Engineer and neuroscientist Professor Gunnar Blohm joins as the vice director from Queen’s University. 

Experts across various fields – from eight of York’s Faculties and three of Queens’ – will focus on how emerging technology is transforming society and work to find a balance between the identified risks and benefits for humanity. The program will engage more than 50 community partners – from hospitals, policymakers, artists, industry partners and Indigenous communities – with emphasis on inclusive, interdisciplinary research. 

Connected Minds will combine York’s leadership in science and technology research, and longstanding institutional priorities in social sciences, arts and humanities, with Queens’ strengths in neuroscience, health and AI, as well as with partners across multiple sectors.

Amir Asif
Amir Asif

“York is an international leader in interdisciplinary research involving artificial intelligence and other disruptive technologies, social justice, and human science like biology, neuroscience, philosophy, and psychology,” says Amir Asif, York University vice-president, research and innovation. “The government’s substantial investment will unite York’s incredible strengths with Queen’s health specialties to chart new territory in socially responsible, community-engaged research for a rapidly changing digital world. 

“Connected Minds is the result of the incredible work and collaborative efforts of our faculty and staff, and will enable Canada to lead the creation of more inclusive technologies for the world.” 

Some of the program’s proposed projects include explorations into a more inclusive metaverse, virtual reality and community organizing, technologies for healthy aging, Indigenous data sovereignty, and how the human brain functions when people interact with AI versus each other. 

A new, dedicated Indigenous research space on York’s Keele Campus supports the program’s, and the University’s, focus on decolonizing, equity, diversity and inclusion (DEDI). 

“Connected Minds is informed by Indigenous perspectives and priorities to achieve outcomes that are culturally relevant and responsive to Indigenous ways of being and doing that impact how we think about and engage in life, health and education,” says Hillier, who is also director of York University’s Centre for Indigenous Knowledges & Languages. “Our work will seek to address the unexpected consequences of technological innovation, like the growing digital divide for Indigenous communities to access remote health care, and issues of data sovereignty, ownership and digital colonialism.” 

The CFREF funding positions York as a national leader in creating and adopting scientific and technological innovation and an agent of change in the promotion of a healthy and just techno-social collective. 

“We believe our inclusive, interdisciplinary approach that aligns with the UN Sustainable Development Goals makes York University the perfect place for anticipating the way humans and machines will, and should, connect in an equitable society,” says D’Agostino.

Watch a video on Connected Minds below.

York University receives largest-ever research funding grant

Vari hall

La version française suit la version anglaise.

Dear colleagues,

Today marks a new level of achievement for York University research and our outstanding faculty.

We are thrilled to share with you all that York University – in partnership with Queen’s University – has been awarded a monumental grant of nearly $105.7 million from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF). The funding from the Government of Canada is the largest single federal grant ever awarded to York and is in support of Connected Minds: Neural and Machine Systems for a Healthy, Just Society.

As a research-intensive University committed to positive change, the Connected Minds program and its successful CFREF application elevates York’s research enterprise and allows our researchers to push the boundaries of purposeful research even further.

This innovative, new research program will be led by the inaugural directorate of:

  • Doug Crawford, Distinguished Research Professor, Faculty of Health, York University, Connected Minds Inaugural scientific director
  • Pina D’Agostino, associate professor, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University, Connected Minds vice-director
  • Gunnar Blohm, professor, School of Medicine, Queen’s University, Connected Minds vice-director
  • Sean Hillier, assistant professor, Faculty of Health, York University, Connected Minds associate director

In addition to the directorate, the core Connected Minds team includes York’s Shayna Rosenbaum, James Elder, Danielle Elliott, Robert Alison and Laura Levin, as well as Catherine Donnelly from Queen’s.

This historic CFREF grant awards York University with $82.8 million and $22.8 million to Queen’s University. When combined with the contributions (including in-kind) from multi-sector partners, municipal governments and collaborating institutions, the total value of the Connected Minds project is $318.4 million, making Connected Minds the biggest York-led research program in the University’s history.

Connected Minds is a pan-University effort and brings together experts in multiple fields, including the arts, humanities, engineering, law and life sciences, located across eight York Faculties and three Queen’s Faculties. Our researchers will examine the ways in which technology is transforming society – dubbed the “techno-social collective” – and will work to balance both the potential risks and benefits for humanity.

Connected Minds will fund 35 strategic faculty hires, three new Ontario Research Chairs, as well as partner-focused seed, team, and prototyping grants, knowledge mobilization and commercialization activities, and an ambitious multi-institutional micro-credential training program with 385 trainees and cross-sector stakeholders. All activities will require an interdisciplinary participation, and projects that benefit Indigenous and other equity-deserving groups will be prioritized.

Learn more about Connected Minds here: https://yorku.ca/research/connected-minds.

Click here for York’s official announcement: https://www.yorku.ca/news/2023/04/28/york-university-leads-318-4m-first-of-kind-inclusive-next-gen-technology-research-initiative/.

On behalf of the entire University, we want to express the community’s pride and excitement for today’s news and what this will mean for the future of York research.

Congratulations to the Connected Minds leadership team and for everyone involved in bringing about this significant milestone.

It’s a new era for research and innovation at York University.


Rhonda Lenton
President and Vice-Chancellor

Amir Asif
Vice-President Research and Innovation

L’Université York reçoit la plus importante subvention jamais accordée à la recherche

Chers collègues, chères collègues,

Aujourd’hui, un nouveau palier a été franchi par la recherche à l’Université York et notre remarquable corps professoral.

Nous sommes ravis de vous annoncer que l’Université York, en partenariat avec l’Université Queen’s, a reçu une subvention colossale d’environ 105,7 millions de dollars du Fonds d’excellence en recherche Apogée Canada (FERAC). Le financement du gouvernement du Canada est la plus importante subvention fédérale jamais accordée à York; elle appuie le projet appelé Esprits branchés /Connected Minds : Systèmes neuronaux et mécaniques pour une société saine et juste.

En tant qu’université à forte intensité de recherche engagée en faveur de changements positifs, le programme Esprits branchés/Connected Minds et sa candidature fructueuse auprès du FERAC rehaussent l’effort de recherche à York et permettent à nos chercheurs de repousser encore plus loin les limites de la recherche ciblée.

Ce nouveau programme de recherche innovant sera dirigé par l’équipe de direction inaugurale du programme de recherche :

  • Doug Crawford, professeur distingué de la Faculté de la santé, Université York, directeur scientifique inaugural d’Esprits branchés/Connected Minds
  • Pina D’Agostino, professeure agrégée de l’École de droit Osgoode Hall, Université York, vice-directrice associée d’Esprits branchés/Connected Minds
  • Gunnar Blohm, professeur de l’École de médecine de l’Université Queen’s, vice-directeur associé d’Esprits branchés/Connected Minds
  • Sean Hillier, professeur adjoint de la Faculté de la santé, Université York, directeur associé d’Esprits branchés/Connected Minds

En plus de la direction, l’équipe principale d’Esprits branchés/Connected Minds comprend Shayna Rosenbaum, James Elder, Danielle Elliott, Robert Alison et Laura Levin de York, ainsi que Catherine Donnelly de Queen’s.

Cette subvention historique du FERAC attribue 82,8 millions de dollars à l’Université York et 22,8 millions de dollars à l’Université Queen’s. Si l’on ajoute les contributions (y compris en nature) des partenaires multisectoriels, des administrations municipales et des institutions collaboratrices, la valeur totale du projet Esprits branchés/Connected Minds s’élève à 318,4 millions de dollars, ce qui en fait le plus grand programme de recherche dirigé par York dans l’histoire de l’Université.

Esprits branchés/Connected Minds est une initiative panuniversitaire qui rassemble des experts dans de nombreux domaines, notamment les arts, les sciences humaines, l’ingénierie, le droit et les sciences de la vie, répartis dans huit facultés de York et trois facultés de Queen. Nos chercheurs examineront la manière dont la technologie transforme la société — appelée « le collectif technosocial » — et s’efforceront d’équilibrer les risques et les avantages potentiels pour l’humanité.

Esprits branchés/Connected Minds financera le recrutement stratégique de 35 professeurs; de trois nouvelles chaires de recherche de l’Ontario; des subventions de démarrage, d’équipe et de prototypage axées sur les partenaires; des activités de mobilisation des connaissances et de commercialisation; ainsi qu’un ambitieux programme multi-institutionnel de formation aux microcrédits avec 385 postes de stagiaires et des intervenants intersectoriels. Toutes les activités nécessiteront une participation interdisciplinaire, et les projets bénéficiant aux autochtones et aux autres groupes en quête d’équité seront prioritaires.

Pour en savoir plus sur Esprits branchés/Connected Minds : https://yorku.ca/research/connected-minds.

Cliquez ici pour l’annonce officielle de York : https://www.yorku.ca/news/2023/04/28/york-university-leads-318-4m-first-of-kind-inclusive-next-gen-technology-research-initiative/.

Au nom de toute l’Université, nous tenons à exprimer la fierté et l’enthousiasme de la communauté à l’égard de l’annonce d’aujourd’hui et de ce qu’elle signifie pour l’avenir de la recherche à York.

Félicitations à l’équipe dirigeante d’Esprit branchés/Connected Minds et à toutes les personnes qui ont contribué à la réalisation de cette avancée majeure.

Une nouvelle ère commence pour la recherche et l’innovation à l’Université York.

Sincères salutations,

Rhonda Lenton
Présidente et vice-chancelière

Amir Asif
Vice-président de la recherche et de l’innovation

Lassonde researcher fighting clickbait, Twitter bots with artificial intelligence

Social media icons on a phone screen

Uyen Trang Nguyen, an associate professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science at York University’s Lassonde School of Engineering is developing artificial intelligence (AI) systems to detect clickbait and Twitter bots, two techniques commonly used to spread fraudulent content online.

“I was inspired to start this work because I see the issues that are caused by false information on the internet,” says Nguyen.

Uyen Trang Nguyen
Uyen Trang Nguyen

Fraudulent content online, such as misinformation and marketing scams, can have major global and personal consequences, ranging from financial to political damage, to cultural and personal disagreements and divides.

The systems Nguyen has created to combat them are developed with a subfield of AI called machine learning (ML), which trains computers to extract patterns and knowledge from specific data and learn from it, similar to the way humans read an instruction manual before completing an unfamiliar task. Each target – clickbait and Twitter bots – will be detected in particular ways by Nguyen’s AI.

For clickbait, Nguyen’s system analyzes the relationship between words in an article or on a webpage to detect clickbait. This system operates using a combination of methods that have not been used for clickbait detection systems before: a neural network that can mimic our brain’s ability to recognize patterns and regularities in data, coupled with human semantic knowledge of language to understand the relationship between words. While analyzing an article or webpage, the system relies on a graph that represents the semantic relationship between words and uses this information to correlate the title of an article or webpage to its content – if the title and content do not match, it is labelled as clickbait.

To detect Twitter bots, Nguyen’s system combines natural language processing with a recurrent neural network. Working together to analyze tweet content, natural language processing allows the system to understand text the way humans do, while the recurrent neural network helps the system identify language patterns used by bots. Using these methods, the system can distinguish a Twitter bot from a legitimate Twitter account.

Using these proposed systems to detect clickbait and Twitter bots, network administrators from companies such as Google or Twitter would have the ability to slow down or prevent the spread of fraudulent content before it reaches more internet users. An added feature that Nguyen is developing to improve the use of these systems is explainability – this allows the systems to provide an explanation behind their decisions. “It’s hard for people to trust artificial intelligence – it’s a computer, not a person,” says Nguyen. “I want to make sure these systems can explain what they are doing, so we can build trust in AI.”

Nguyen is working on additional improvements on her AI systems, including a feature that will permit her Twitter-bot detection system to distinguish between harmful and harmless bots. She is also applying machine learning methods to develop a system that can support financial institutions by detecting money laundering transactions.