Dahdaleh Institute awards annual seed grants


Following its fourth annual Workshop on Critical Social Science Perspectives in Global Health Research, York University’s Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research awarded five researchers $5,000 seed grants to further develop grant proposals and research programs to carry out critical global health research.

All winners of the grants this year embody the critical social science perspectives in global health research that is representative of Dahdaleh’s three research themes: planetary health, global health and humanitarianism, as well as global health foresighting.

The recipients – largely representing the School of Global Health – and their projects are:

Syed Imran Ali, research Fellow in global health and humanitarianism, and Stephanie Gora, assistant professor in civil engineering, will explore community-based participatory water quality monitoring for safe water optimization in the Canadian North.

Chloe Clifford Astbury, postdoctoral researcher in the School of Global Health, will pursue mining, health and environmental change by using systems mapping to understand relationships in complex systems.

Godfred Boateng, assistant professor, director of the Global and Environmental Health Lab, and faculty Fellow at the Dahdaleh Institute, is studying Black anxiety with an exploratory and intervention look at Black families with children in and out of the criminal justice system in Canada.

Ahmad Firas Khalid, faculty Fellow in the Faculty of Health, will use experiential simulation-based learning to increase students’ ability to analyze increasingly complex global health challenges through a mixed methods study.

Gerson Luiz Scheidweiler Ferreira, a postdoctoral Fellow at Dahdaleh will examine how to break barriers to sexual and reproductive health by empowering Venezuelan refugee women in Brazil’s resettlement process.

2023 Critical Perspectives in Global Health Research banner

In keeping with the overall mission of Dahdaleh’s Critical Perspectives in Global Health’s (CPGH), these projects will seek to create greater effectiveness, equity and excellence in global health. The recipients of the seed grant share that in common with many of the projects presented at the Global Health Research Workshop earlier this year, which highlighted research looking at a broad range of issues.

Those included:

  • medical waste management practices in Accra, Ghana since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, presented by Jeffrey Squire, faculty member in the Department of Social Science;
  • the role of social media and how negative sentiments or misinformation contributes to vaccine hesitancy, presented by Blessing Ogbuokiri, postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics;
  • health-care inequity in post-slavery societies with a specific focus on Quilombolas populations, presented by Simone Bohn, associate professor in Department of Politics;
  • misoprostol and its use in providing reproductive health care during humanitarian emergencies, presented by Maggie MacDonald, associate professor and graduate program director in the Department of Anthropology; and
  • Indigenous Williche peoples acts of ecological repair and how it contributes to planetary health in the past, present and future, presented by Pablo Aránguiz, associate researcher with Young Lives Research Lab at York.

Watch a full recording of the workshop here.

For more information about CPGH, visit its project page.

Lassonde receives $250,000 bursary from Kenaidan Contracting

Lassonde School of Engineering contest

The Dr. Istvan Fogarasi Kenaidan Contracting Bursary will go towards supporting undergraduate students enrolled in the Civil Engineering program at York University’s Lassonde School of Engineering.

“There are two main reasons that we are providing this additional bursary to Lassonde students,” says Aidan Flatley, president and CEO of Kenaidan. “For one, it’s in memory of Dr. Istvan Fogarasi, who started the engineering department at Kenaidan and was a great mentor to our younger engineers. Second, to provide financial support to a Lassonde student that will allow them to concentrate on their studies instead of their monetary needs. The Lassonde School of Engineering has been a great source of co-op students and graduate engineering candidates for Team Kenaidan.”

Jane Goodyer
Jane Goodyer

“It’s incredible to see this show of support from Kenaidan for our students,” says Jane Goodyer, dean of Lassonde. “Partnerships like this are so valuable for our School and help our students excel. We are so grateful to the Kenaidan team for their generous contribution and look forward to continuing working together to create positive change.”

The bursary is a top-up and amendment to a previous University award that Kenaidan had, making it exclusive to Lassonde students. Kenaidan has been a valued partner for Lassonde for some time. It’s supported Lassonde’s Civil Engineering Industry Night for the past eight years, and since 2016 has offered co-op opportunities to students, bringing on 10 since then.

“Throughout my time in the civil engineering program at Lassonde, I was exposed to innovative learning opportunities paired with a series of challenges that prepared me for a successful start to my career at Kenaidan,” says Julia Ferlisi, project engineer at Kenaidan and Lassonde alumna. “I’ve been able to apply the technical knowledge and soft skills I developed throughout the program on a day-to-day basis with various stakeholders, from subcontractors to owner and consultant levels. Kenaidan develops its employees, particularly new graduates, to adopt the positive company culture and presents them with opportunities that challenge them to grow professionally. Seeing Kenaidan give back to the institute that got me to where I am today reassures me that students at Lassonde will see the value in the contractor side of the industry and ignite a passion for this work in the early stages of their professional development.”

The bursary will be available to all Lassonde students in the Civil Engineering program starting Fall 2023. Recipients must be Canadian citizens, permanent residents or protected persons, residents of Ontario, and demonstrate financial need. Preference will be to provide 50 per cent of the awards in any year to a female-identifying student.

York takes academic leadership role at Congress 2023 

Female conference lecture teacher professor

By Ashley Goodfellow Craig, editor, YFile

Upwards of 250 York University faculty members and scholars are among the presenters during the 2023 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, where they take an academic leadership role in sharing their research with colleagues from across the nation. 

The flagship event of the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences – taking place May 27 to June 2 at York University’s Keele Campus – returns to an in-person format this year, following a hiatus in 2020 and the subsequent virtual format in 2021 and 2022. Congress is the largest academic gathering in Canada, with at least 10,000 participants attending this year. The event was last hosted at York University in 2006. 

Congress 2023 provides a platform for critical conversations, including diverse voices and perspectives to create collaborations that help drive the future of post-secondary education. This year’s theme “Reckonings and Re-Imaginings” will guide the direction of discussions and knowledge sharing in presentations, panels, workshops and more.

Andrea Davis
Andrea Davis

“I am excited by this theme because it’s a call to reflection on where we (as scholars, activists, artists and thinkers) are and how we got here,” said York University Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies Professor Andrea Davis, who is serving as academic convenor for Congress 2023, when the theme was announced. “Rather than simply centering the problems, this theme insists that we imagine otherwise – that we consider what a different set of possibilities might look like and that we come together collectively to create the kind of world we want to live in.” 

York faculty and scholars will contribute their humanities and social sciences research and expertise through more than 250 different events scheduled in a variety of programming streams, such as the Big Thinking Lecture Series, Career Corner, Black and racialized programming, Indigenous programming, scholarly presentations and more. 

Contributions come from all 11 York Faculties, three Organized Research Units, two divisions and other units, such as the Teaching Commons and York International. 

“We took the opportunity to apply York’s strengths as an institution that is known for supporting social justice and social responsibility. At Congress 2023, the University is playing an active role in igniting and sustaining positive change through scholarship, creative practice and conversations that generate new perspectives,” said Lisa Philipps, provost and vice-president academic.

Philipps is also a member of the Scholarly Planning Committee for Congress, which is comprised of York faculty, staff, graduate students and senior leadership, who together have helped to guide and shape the themes and programming for this year’s event through broad consultation with the York community. Learn more about the Scholarly Planning Committee here

York programming at Congress 2023 

The School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design will feature work from faculty and graduate students with topics exploring culturally relevant pedagogy, accessible tech for Canadian artists, film screenings and more. 

Diverse programming from the Faculty of Education – which contributes to more than 60 events – includes re-imagining teacher education, book launch events, the risks of queer lives during the pandemic, findings from a Black feminist qualitative study and more from faculty and graduate students. 

Both faculty and graduate students from the Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change will participate and explore topics such as the intersectional feminist approach to gathering and analyzing stories that reconsider risk, and a look at ceremonies of mourning, remembrance and care in the context of violence and more.

Glendon College faculty members will consider the ascent of right-wing populism in Canada, the politics of refusal in the Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette novel Suzanne, and more. 

Research by graduate students will be the focus of contributions from the Faculty of Graduate Studies, with a variety of presentations on diverse topics, including the impact of the pandemic on intimate partner violence in Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa, a focus on mental health and the suicide of Black men, female activists and their relationships with their mothers, and more. 

From the Faculty of Health, faculty members will explore how academic nursing leaders addressed the complexities of sustaining quality nursing education programs during the COVID-19 pandemic, participate in a roundtable on transnational Black communities and overcoming epidemics and a panel on promising practices that support aging with equity. Faculty will also present research on Indian immigrant fatherhood in the perinatal period, the experiences of immigrant Pakistani youths, and Asian Canadian exclusionary experiences in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to research contributions, a graduate program assistant will perform at the Swag Stage.

Lassonde School of Engineering will have contributions from faculty and an undergraduate student that focuses on designing a more equitable science curricula and York’s Cross-Campus Capstone Classroom (C4), which will be presented in partnership with a student from the Schulich School of Business.

Knowledge sharing from the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies will come from undergraduate students, graduate students, teaching and research assistants and faculty, with participation in upwards of 80 different events at Congress. Some of the research will cover racial profiling among Canadian university professors of Chinese descent, re-imagining criminal justice, activism and inclusion, decolonizing transnational human rights engagements and partnerships in Africa, queer rural teacher activists and more. 

Osgoode Hall Law School faculty members and a visiting Fellow will present their research on girls and Young Women before the Cour du bienêtre social of Montréal, conflicting interpretations of women in Canada’s thalidomide tragedy and Indigenous laws and jurisdiction for addressing harm. 

Faculty members representing the Faculty of Science will share their research on geological fantasies, the stark effect, and offer perspectives during a roundtable on overcoming epidemics and the transnational Black communities’ response. 

Find more information about open programming events at Congress here: https://www.federationhss.ca/en/congress2023/york-programming.  

C4 team receives teaching innovation award

Award stock image banner from pexels

Members of York University’s Cross-Campus Capstone Classroom (C4) team were awarded the 2023 D2L Innovation Award in Teaching and Learning from the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE), which recognizes post-secondary collaborative teams for their innovative approaches to promoting student-centered teaching and learning.

C4, launched in 2019, enables students to work on real-world challenges with social impact, promoting team-based collaboration, advanced research and design, critical and strategic thinking, and more.

The award was bestowed on those associated with C4’s innovative approach to pan-university interdisciplinary experiential education, including:

  • Danielle Robinson, co-founder and academic co-lead of C4, as well as associate professor in the Department of Dance;
  • Franz Newland, co-founder and co-lead of C4, as well as associate professor of Space Engineering;
  • Rachelle Campigotto, classroom coordinator assistant for C4 and contract faculty in the Faculty of Education;
  • Dana Craig, Libraries liaison for C4 and director of student learning and academic success in the Libraries;
  • Danielle Dobney, team culture strategist of C4 and assistant professor in Kinesiology and the Athletic Therapy Certificate program;
  • Andrea Kalmin, curriculum lead, classroom coordinator for C4 and adjunct faculty in the Department of Social Science;
  • Alice Kim, scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) research lead for C4 and interim assistant program head for Psychology at the University of Guelph-Humber; and
  • Natasha May, Teaching Commons liaison for C4 and educational developer in York’s Teaching Commons.

The D2L Innovation Award is an international recognition, open to applicants from all countries. It evaluates and rewards innovations in pedagogical approaches, teaching methods, course design, curriculum development, assessment methods, and more. It is named after D2L, a cloud-based learning analytics platform.

Award recipients are invited to a retreat held the day of the pre-conference at STLHE’s Annual Conference. This retreat includes a facilitated session, lunch, and a social and learning excursion focused on innovation. At the conference they will be recognized at the Conference Awards Ceremony and receive a certificate in recognition of their work.

Professor’s work shines light on Northern Lights

Northern Lights

In March 2023, cities across Southern Ontario witnessed a rare occurrence of the Northern Lights. A source of wonder for many, for Afshin Rezaei-Zare, associate professor in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science department at York University’s Lassonde School of Engineering, it was an example of the focus of his research on geomagnetic disturbances (GMD) and their impacts on society and technological infrastructures.

“The event that many people witnessed in the Greater Toronto Area was caused by a relatively weak geomagnetic solar storm,” says Rezaei-Zare. “Strong solar winds from the storm pushed the sun’s particles deeper in the atmosphere, ionizing more gases and moving them to lower latitudes than we usually expect; that is why we could see these lights in the GTA,” he says, explaining the event.

Afshin Rezaei-Zare
Afshin Rezaei-Zare

Solar winds are streams of materials from the sun, mainly charged particles like electrons and protons, that can come in contact with Earth’s magnetic field and collide with gases in the Earth’s atmosphere, emitting the flares of light that are commonly known as the Northern Lights. There is more to them, however, than a beautiful sight.

“When the Earth’s magnetic field is hit by coronal mass ejections and intense solar flares, similar to but stronger than what happened in March, they can cause geomagnetic disturbances in addition to expanded northern lights,” says Rezaei-Zare. “This can have a widespread impact on technology, even damaging things on the ground level.”

Rezaei-Zare’s work focuses on how those geomagnetic disturbances are potentially dangerous fluctuations in the Earth’s magnetic fields, causing geomagnetically induced current (GIC) to flow through ground-level power systems, transmission lines and transformers. His research aims to focus on taking preventative measures and understanding the effects of space weather and resulting geomagnetic disturbances to help develop protection for vulnerable ground-level technologies. Those technologies which can be overwhelmed with thermal stress, damaging their functionality and leading to harmful effects such as large-scale power outages, as occured in Quebec in 1989 when a strong geomagnetic storm left the entire province without power for more than nine hours.

Using calculations, modelling techniques and computational tools, Rezaei-Zare analyzes the impacts of geomagnetic disturbances on various power systems, identifying components that are vulnerable to malfunction or damage from geomagnetically induced current.

In recent and ongoing research, much of it first-of-its-kind scientific literature, Rezaei-Zare has investigated the impacts of geomagnetically induced current on various equipment and systems, including transformers, generators, protection systems, renewable resources and High-Voltage DC (HVDC) systems.

This research provides crucial knowledge to manufacturers and power utility companies, allowing them to identify and protect their vulnerable equipment to better prepare for the potential effects of solar storms, allowing for updates to technical guides and standards for power equipment.

Leading research teams with domestic and international members and collaborators, Rezaei-Zare continues to work towards understanding geomagnetic disturbances and their impacts on power systems, to protect Earth from the harmful effects of solar storms and space weather.

“The GMD research is becoming more and more important, but there are very few experts in the field because of how many disciplines are involved in understanding this single area of research,” says Rezai-Zare. “I want to use my combined expertise to stimulate knowledge and increase understanding of this unfamiliar field.”

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.”

Lassonde-funded course highlights colonial impact on Indigenous people

Notes lecture workshop meeting

Indigeneity and Decolonization in a North American Context, an eight-session course supported by Lassonde EDI Seed Funding, concluded its exploration of themes, methods and concepts in Indigenous studies and knowledge in relation to ideas in sociology.

The course, which successfully concluded in March, was open to the Lassonde community – including students, staff and faculty members. It focused on the “truth about colonialism,” based on Indigenous history and ethnographies, to demonstrate the impact of white colonial history on all Indigenous people, within a North American context.

Indigenous feminism and storytelling were at the forefront of this course, along with discussions about the colonial structures that have facilitated limited access to resources for Indigenous people with regard to employment, education, housing and more.

Jeffrey Harris
Jeffrey Harris
Emma Posca
Emma Posca

A significant portion also outlined the perspective of a settler scholar, as part of a decolonial movement, to teach the disruption of colonial policies, procedures and institutional structures that work towards the eradication, marginalization and oppression of Indigenous people in Canada. 

This course was a result of the successful application by Jeffrey Harris, associate professor and director of Common Engineering, as well as Emma Posca, a PhD candidate, former Lassonde staff member and current teaching assistant in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

Posca led the course, drawing on her PhD work in the School of Gender, Feminist and Sexuality Studies, and her dissertation which uses theories, methods and concepts such as Indigenous feminism, allyship, intersectionality, critical race theory, ethnography, patriarchy, colonialism and decolonization.

The curriculum also included several guest speakers, including Alejandro Mayoral, executive director and founder at Indigenous Friends Association, and Jennifer Meness, Bawajigan Waabanong (Dreams Tomorrow’s Dawn) Migizi minwa Biné Dodemok from the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation and assistant professor of Indigenous studies at Toronto Metropolitan University.  

“I want to give a big thank you and shoutout to Emma Posca for organizing this course and sharing her knowledge with us,” says Harris. “I found that this learning opportunity was thought-provoking.”

Posca shared the spirit of gratitude. “The support shown to me by Harris has been unparalleled,” says Posca. “I also want to recognize Lassonde’s EDI Seed Funding that made this series possible. I am honoured and privileged to be a part of this initiative. All the participants joined class activities with enthusiasm and encouraged each other to learn, feel safe, share great ideas and get creative.” 

Indigeneity and Decolonization in a North American Context was one of six projects that received funding as part of the EDI Seed Funding Initiative introduced in 2022, to promote a culture of EDI at the School while helping to remove systemic barriers for faculty, students and staff in academia. “It is our responsibility to work towards Indigenization and decolonization of the macro (the academy) and the micro (the classroom) so that more Indigenous people can have places and spaces that are reflective and inclusive,” concluded Posca. “I will continue to work hard towards Indigenization and decolonization initiatives and encourage others to do the same through initiatives like this one.”

Learn more about Lassonde’s EDI Seed Funding and the application and review process.

Lassonde professor receives grants to prepare for Mars exploration

NASA exploration vehicles on the surface of Mars

Isaac Smith, assistant professor in the Earth and Space Science and Engineering Department and Canada Research Chair in Planetary Science, was recently awarded two research grants from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) to support a better understanding of Mars’ environments to enable exploration missions and potential habitation.

Isaac Smith
Isaac Smith

The funded research projects support a focus on ice, a critical resource for supporting future human missions to Mars by serving as a source of drinking water or rocket fuel. Martian regions that are abundant in icy deposits will become primary targets for future landing and exploration zones.

“I feel honoured to be the recipient of these awards. Earning one CSA grant is feels great, but two is something unique,” says Smith, a faculty member in York University’s Lassonde School of Engineering.

One of Smith’s projects, which received $299,121 in funding, focuses on demonstrating predicting the feasibility and performance of a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) for detecting near-surface ice on Mars. Conducting airborne and ground-based fieldwork in Yukon, a region comparable to the environment on Mars, Smith’s project will establish useful information about the SAR’s ability to positively identify ice deposits in the subsurface, while his research team characterizes the depth, distribution and purity of detected ice. This work will help ensure the validity and best interpretations of data collected on Earth, with the goal of confidently extending these practices to data collected on Mars.

Knowledge gained from this project will directly support a large-scale robotic space mission led by NASA, the International Mars Ice Mapper, which focuses on developing a radar to help quantify specific characteristics of ice in exploratory Martian regions, supporting future planning of the first human missions to Mars. Smith’s research is specifically designed to mimic the equipment and activities that will be used for the International Mars Mapper mission to help determine the best practices for NASA’s radar and ensure confidence when analyzing collected information.

The other project, which received $148,251 in funding from the CSA sees Smith, as well as graduate students Chimira Andres and Ivan Mishev (both PhD candidates), analyze data to investigate two different Martian regions with deposits that indicate presences of water: Phlegra Montes, known for icy deposits, permafrost and glaciers; and Valles Marineris, a large canyon with sedimentary deposits on the rim that indicate ancient flowing water.

As a co-investigator on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), a NASA-led mission that aims to search for the existence of water on Mars, Smith has access to data and resources that allow his students to investigate these regions and advance understanding of past and current climatic states on Mars. Analyzing Phlegra Montes is particularly important, as it is one of the best options for future human exploration and habitation on Mars. This project will also directly target objectives from the MRO mission including the study of Early Mars: Environmental Transitions and Habitability, and Amazonian Ices, Volcanism and Climate.

Surface of Mars
Ius Chasma, the largest region of Valles Marineris. Evidence of past water is seen in the rocks, including layered sediments close to the rim of the Chasma

Both projects aim to advance current knowledge of Martian environments, contributing to a pool of research that will progress NASA’s goal of sending humans to the Martian surface by the mid-2030s.

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.”

Lassonde’s Education Innovation Studio enhances learner engagement

Lassonde School of Engineering contest

Since its launch in 2020, the goal of the Lassonde Education Innovation Studio (LEIS) has been to partner with professors and learners to tackle educational challenges, innovate modes of learning and positively impact experiences across three domains: elementary and secondary education; postsecondary education; and executive and professional education.

Salvatore Paneduro
Salvatore Paneduro

“Together with our faculty, we are developing new ways of learning through multifaceted immersive experiences that bring education to life and enhance learner engagement,” says Salvatore Paneduro, director of educational innovation.

LEIS aims to do so through agile innovation processes by galvanizing a custom cross-functional team of learning experience designers, educational developers, e-learning developers, graphic designers, programmers, educational technologists and postdoctoral Fellows.

Among LEIS’ recent successes has been a collaboration with a professor who understands what the innovation studio is trying to do. “We were thrilled when Alidad Amirfazli, Chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, brought LEIS the challenge of finding new ways to achieve this in traditional theory-heavy courses.”

Alidad Amirfazli
Alidad Amirfazli

He and the LEIS team proceeded to experiment with the Fluid Dynamics course by introducing a virtual escape room classroom activity. Students used their laptops to navigate avatars of themselves through various spaces – campgrounds, a casino, a museum – where they hunted for clues. These clues were questions relating to course concepts, and each time they answered correctly, they earned “fluid dollars.” They then redeemed this digital currency for a real-world treat – a mini Caramilk or Dairy Milk chocolate.

At the same time, Amirfazli worked with the LEIS team to design and run focus groups throughout the subsequent offering of this course, and capture feedback to be responsive to student learning experiences. However, positive results were quickly apparent. “The first time we offered students the opportunity to play this game, it was very interesting,” says Amirfazli. “None of the students were leaving the class despite the period being over; 15 minutes after class ended, they were still playing. This usually never happens. In fact, I’ve never experienced this in more than 20 years of teaching.”

“The more dynamic, interactive and immersive experiences got the students excited about learning and created an opening of possibilities for Alidad,” says Paneduro, noting that LEIS innovation continued from there. “Alidad and the team designed and created brand new ways of assessing students through concept mapping and infographics. It was so exciting to see the team working to re-invent what assessment and instruction could be in mechanical engineering education.”

Amirfazli and LEIS’ goal to foster community and share work with other engineering educators will be realized when he presents on the course innovation at the 2023 Canadian Engineering Education Conference later this year. That goal is driven by a desire to ensure new modes of learning are adopted not just at Lassonde, but elsewhere. “How are we going to connect with students who are largely visual, and not very interested in, or accustomed to through their K-12 education, the traditional way of acquiring knowledge, which means reading a textbook? We cannot be static and keep doing the same thing. We need to be more creative in our methods,” says Amirfazli.

The professor credits LEIS for promoting that type of thinking, and for enabling projects like the virtual escape room activity to be easy and viable. “Without LEIS, the change was likely not possible or would have taken a lot longer to implement,” he says.

Paneduro says he is excited for what’s next. “This is shaping a whole new approach to andragogy at Lassonde.”