Lassonde professors working toward healthier planet

View of the Earth from space

Researchers from across Lassonde departments are demonstrating collective research efforts aimed towards creating a healthier planet across areas including smart materials, renewable energy, climate change, and water and sustainability.

Kamelia Atefi-Monfared, assistant professor – Department of Civil Engineering

Focusing on geomechanics, Atefi-Monfared is working to improve understanding of coupled processes in porous media, such as soils and geological reservoirs, including geothermal reservoirs. Her research establishes fundamental knowledge used to tackle global challenges involving energy, water and climate change through various projects.

Kamelia Atefi-Monfared

Specifically, Atefi-Monfared is applying her research to the advanced development and design of models for environmentally friendly ground improvement techniques, resilient infrastructure and sustainable production/storage of energy and water. One of her current projects involves the development of a novel framework to stabilize mine tailings and gravel roads using microbial-induced carbonate precipitation (MICP) – an eco-friendly technique for ground improvement that uses bacteria to produce bio-cement.

This work helps solve the problem of chemical and cement-based grouting materials that emit carbon dioxide and contaminate soil and groundwater.

Paul O’Brien, associate professor – Department of Mechanical Engineering

O’Brien leads research on the design, fabrication and application of materials that control, absorb and harvest electromagnetic radiation. These materials are used to develop and advance sustainable technologies, such as solar energy storage systems for the electrification of buildings.

Paul O’Brien

Through the development and improvement of sustainable technologies, O’Brien aims to contribute to the decarbonization of the building sector, which accounts for one-third of global energy consumption and almost 40 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions. Through assessment and evaluation, his work also explores how energy systems and processes can be used to advance the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs).

O’Brien’s research team is currently working on numerous projects, including the development of optical cavities to improve the performance of thermophotovoltaic systems, which convert radiant energy from heat sources to electric power.

Hany E. F. Farag, associate professor – Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

As a visionary leader in smart and sustainable energy, Farag has worked on countless projects that address Canada’s urgent need for clean and sustainable energy and transportation systems. Specifically, Farag develops modelling and control techniques to support the integration of low-carbon solutions into energy and transportation sectors.

Hany E. F. Farag

These low-carbon solutions include the production of renewable hydrogen, electrification of transportation and improvement of distributed energy resource (DER) capacity.

In a notable partnership with Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO), Alectra inc., Metrolinx and the Canadian Urban Transit Research and Innovation Consortium (CURTIC), Farag was the first researcher to investigate the integration of electrified bus fleets into power grids in Canada, resulting in research findings that influenced company policies and provided planning tools.

Mark Gordon, associate professor – Department of Earth and Space Science and Engineering

Gordon focuses his research on understanding what happens to pollutants after they are released into the atmosphere from different emission sources. This research produces information about the activity of pollutants, which can be used in climate and air quality models to improve the representation of real-world environments.

Mark Gordon

These models help stakeholder companies make informed decisions about the environment, such as implementing design strategies to reduce air pollution from a newly built highway.

Examples of Gordon’s research include the investigation and measurement of greenhouse gas emissions from traffic in urban areas, as well as the deposition rate of pollutants from oil sands and production facilities to the Boreal Forest in Northern Alberta.

York’s Ecological Footprint Initiative to host national footprint, biocapacity data launch

Glass planet in the sunshine

Canada’s ecological footprint declined during COVID-19, but is it back to pre-pandemic levels? York University’s Ecological Footprint Initiative (EFI) will release data showing changes up to 2022.

What is the size of Canada’s ecological footprint, and that of the rest of the world, and how did that change during the global pandemic?

Viewers from across the University community and beyond are invited to join the online launch Thursday, April 20, from 1 to 2 p.m, when researchers at York will release the Ecological Footprint of Canada, and 200 other countries, from 1961 to 2022.

Popularized roughly 30 years ago, the term “ecological footprint” was a way of measuring humanity’s appropriation of Earth’s carrying capacity. Since then, it has evolved to include a comprehensive system of national and international accounts. These accounts provide valuable insights about humanity’s use of lands and waters. The accounts help countries and communities to engage with sustainability and to make informed decisions about the future.

In practice, ecological footprints track the area of land and water used to grow food and renewable materials, plus the area occupied by settlements and infrastructure, as well as the area of forests needed to soak up carbon emissions.

In the last few years, York has become a global hub for producing ecological footprint accounts, and for researching ways to make them even more comprehensive.

Eric Miller
Eric Miller

“Canada reports on GDP with a lag of just a few months, yet its environmental data lags by years. We filled in gaps and lags to make it easier to assess environmental performance in Canada and around the world,” says EFI Director Eric Miller, from the Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change. “Time is ticking. Each year of action or inaction matters for the future of humanity. For this reason, our data reports on Ecological Footprint up to the end of 2022.”

Since the first Earth Day in 1970, humanity’s ecological footprint has been in overshoot of the planet’s capacity to sustain it. Since 1961 humanity’s footprint has tripled.

“For each country we calculate the footprint of what was produced and what was consumed. The difference comes from the footprint embodied within the goods imported to the country, and the footprint of the goods exported by the country,” says Miller.

“Canada, for example, produces more wood products than it consumes, with the difference as exports,” he adds. “We generate this data for all countries, to reveal the ecological dimensions of global supply chains and the extent to which countries effectively offload their ecological requirements onto others.”

Miller says that to continue advancing the UN Sustainable Development Goals, University researchers depend on data that can be scaled nationally, as well as locally and globally – EFI provides this crucial data so that it remains timely, scalable and accessible.

This is the fifth anniversary of York producing data about ecological footprint and biocapacity, and supplying that data on an open-source basis to researchers around the world.

This year’s data will also include a more robust look at the footprint of fish harvests, including unreported catch. “In Canada, fish harvests were significantly underreported up to the point of the cod collapse. By including underreports, we can help researchers see these trends much more easily,” says Katie Kish, EFI research associate.

Mike Layton
Mike Layton

York’s new Chief Sustainability Officer Mike Layton will kick off the event, followed by updates to the 2023 accounts from Miller, along with EFI data analysts Sila Basturk Agiroglu and Peri Dworatzek.

Kish will talk about research futures and the growing international research network for the global footprint family, with a direct focus on better public-facing data and data for communities.

Mathis Wackernagel, co-founder and president of the Global Footprint Network, will discuss the state of the footprint and a look towards the future. One example he will draw on is the Kunming/Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework with 23 targets agreed upon at the 15th meeting of the Conference of Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. These targets include the ecological footprint as a measurement tool.

Learn more at News @ York.

Professor receives fellowship at Chemical Institute of Canada

Wind turbines at twilight

York University Professor and Canada Research Chair (Tier 1) in Sustainable Organomain Group Materials, Thomas Baumgartner, has been selected as a 2023 Fellow of the Chemical Institute of Canada (CIC), an honour that recognizes the merits of members who have made outstanding contributions in chemistry.

Thomas Baumgartner
Thomas Baumgartner

Baumgartner, who joined York’s Department of Chemistry in 2017, has pursued ongoing research focused on the design of novel materials that can be used to lower humanity’s carbon footprint and will provide knowledge crucial to the development of essential next-generation technologies for a sustainable future.

His program targets several energy-focused topics by addressing the efficient and sustainable use, conversion, and/or storage of energy via advanced synthesis in a bottom-up approach. For example, in 2020 he published research highlighting how Lithium-powered batteries might be made more environmentally friendly. His research also looks at the design of strongly luminescent species and their possible application as biomarkers and sensors.

Baumgartner has received several international awards, and lectureships, including a Japan Society for the Promotion of Science fellowship and a Bessel Research Award from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Germany.

His latest recognition, the CIC Fellowship, is a senior class of membership that recognizes the merits of CIC members who have made substantial contributions across multiple areas, such as:

  • science, engineering and technology;
  • CIC, Canadian Society of Chemistry (CSC), Canadian Society for Chemical Engineering (CSCE) and Canadian Society for Chemical Technology activities;
  • management of science, engineering or technology; and
  • teaching, mentorship, and public Awareness

New Fellows are announced and certificates are presented at an awards ceremony held in conjunction with the annual conference of the CSC or CSCE.

Lassonde professor’s research helps turn sunlight into fuel

sunshine hand

With society’s increasing demand for clean and renewable energy, the conversion of sunlight to fuel is a particularly useful application of solar energy. A research collaboration between York University Professor Thomas Cooper and a Switzerland-based company, Synhelion, is finding ways to produce sustainable solar fuel that is compatible with existing global fuel infrastructure.

According to the 2020 Statistical Review of the World Energy by BP, 84.3 per cent of the world’s energy consumption is from fossil fuels, a non-renewable and hazardous source. When fossil fuels are burned, they release harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), causing detrimental effects to the environment.

Simplified equation of Synhelion’s solar fuel production process
Simplified equation of Synhelion’s solar fuel production process

Working to help eliminate fossil fuels, Cooper, from the Mechanical Engineering Department at the Lassonde School of Engineering, has partnered with Synhelion, which has developed clean, renewable and sustainable solar fuel to power transportation technologies. Instead of releasing new and harmful gases into the atmosphere, this fuel is produced by recycling existing greenhouse gases from the air, specifically carbon dioxide (CO2) and water vapor (H2O). To initiate this process, solar radiation is reflected by a mirror field and generated into high-temperature solar process heat using Synhelion’s solar receiver. This solar process heat provides thermal energy to a reactor that drives the conversion of carbon dioxide and water to syngas (synthesis gas). Synthesis gas is then processed by standard liquid-gas technology into usable solar fuels such as gasoline or jet fuel.

To support the extreme heat conditions required to produce solar fuel (up to 1500C), Cooper is developing, improving and testing durable materials for Synhelion’s solar receiver. These materials are comprised of a ceramic substrate and a metal oxide coating which enhances solar absorption. In addition, Cooper is researching and developing aerogels – porous materials that can be used as thermal insulators for heat retention. Using various apparatus and testing conditions, the developed materials are also analyzed for their solar absorption properties as well as their ability to withstand high-intensity light and heat.

Ceramic materials developed in Professor Cooper’s lab
Ceramic materials developed in Cooper’s lab
Synhelion’s solar receiver
Synhelion’s solar receiver

“The heart of our lab is solar-thermal,” says Cooper. “We want to convert sunlight into something beneficial by using a thermal pathway. The target is to create systems that are viable everywhere and anywhere.”

In ongoing support of this project as well as other work in his lab, Cooper demonstrates innovative approaches to solar energy research – including the conversion of solar energy to heat, electricity and clean water. He is currently implementing a solar simulator in his lab, which can simultaneously emit high-intensity heat and light, creating realistic testing conditions for materials. He also continues to explore solutions for the persistent obstacle that is faced when working with solar energy; it tends to escape.

“It can be difficult to keep all of the solar energy that we harness, and it’s normal for us to lose energy and efficiency in the beginning of a project,” says Cooper. “Sometimes new materials have to be created; other times, we have to develop insulation.”

Through his collaboration with Synhelion, Cooper continues to work towards building a more sustainable world for all by creating accessible and renewable energy systems. This project will contribute to the development of a cleaner transportation sector by replacing fossil fuels with solar fuels and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Climate Change Research Month showcases York as community of changemakers

Trees against a blue sky

A month-long series of events hosted by York University Organized Research Units (ORU) and campus groups aim to generate awareness on climate change research and mobilize community action.

March 1 marks the start of the second annual Climate Change Research Month at York University, which features seminars, book launches, art installations and panels throughout the month.

“Climate Change Research Month was born out of a desire to unite with faculty, staff and students from across campus to take up the significant challenge posed by climate change and prompt meaningful dialogue,” said Professor Elaine Coburn, director of the Centre for Feminist Research (CFR), who spearheaded the event series. “By bringing together the arts and sciences, professional studies and humanities, social sciences and engineering, we hope to create possibilities for more just relations with each other and with the natural world that sustains all life.”

Photo by Singkham from Pexels
The month-long event series reflects York’s commitment to contributing to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals

From health impacts of global warming to climate policy to Indigenous sovereignty, the events touch on a wide variety of climate-related issues and research areas. The events, both in-person and virtual, are open to the University community to attend.

The series reflects York’s commitment to contributing to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs), specifically Goal 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

“The University boasts a wide range of leading experts and researchers who care deeply about the world and are uniquely qualified to tackle such a pressing global issue as climate change,” said Vice-President Research and Innovation Amir Asif. “Climate Change Research Month at York showcases this breadth of knowledge and demonstrates that we are home to a community of positive changemakers.”

One of the month’s events includes a book launch for The End of This World: Climate Justice in So-Called Canada, co-authored by Angele Alook, assistant professor in the School of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies and member of the Bigstone Cree Nation.

“Indigenous Peoples contribute the most to the maintaining the biodiversity and stewardship of the planet, yet we face the greatest burdens of loss and damage due to climate change,” said Alook.

Participating ORUs include the Centre for Feminist Research, the Centre for Indigenous Knowledges and Languages, Dahdaleh Global Health Institute, One WATER, Risk and Insurance Studies Centre, Robarts Centre for Canadian Studies, Sensorium: Centre for Digital Arts and Technology, and more. 

To learn more about the series and each event, visit

York researchers invited to share, collaborate at global health workshop

FEATURED Global Health

Call for presenters: The Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research invites the York University community to join the ongoing discussion on critical social science perspectives in global health research.

Critical research often involves the use of critical theory with social justice aims. Critical social science perspectives in global health (CPGH) are transdisciplinary, participatory, experimental or experiential analyses that seek greater effectiveness, equity and excellence in global health. This means engaging directly with global public health actors, structures and systems to transform global public health while remaining committed to social science theory and methodology. For more information, visit the CPGH project page.

There is an open call to York researchers to consider presenting at the Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research’s fourth annual, Workshop on Critical Social Science Perspectives in Global Health Research on March 29. The registration deadline for new research ideas presentations is March 20. Participants will engage with the research community at York University from a variety of disciplines to create new insights, foster collaboration and discuss research opportunities. The workshop will be an in-person event at the Dahdaleh Institute with continental breakfast and lunch. All are welcome to attend.

Critical Perspectives in Global Health Research Workshop Wednesday, March 29

Who can present?
York faculty and researchers (with the support of a York faculty member) are invited to deliver presentations.

What is the format of the presentations?
Interested participants are asked to prepare a brief five-minute, two-slide presentation on any research project, current or planned, which takes a critical social science approach to global health.

Seed grants
Following the workshop, the Dahdaleh Institute will launch the 2023 Critical Perspectives in Global Health Seed Grant program and award five research seed grants of up to $5,000 each. The seed grants will support critical global health research that contributes to the themes of the Dahdaleh Institute, which are planetary health, global health and humanitarianism, as well as global health foresighting.

For more information on these research themes, visit the Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research website. For the event’s full agenda, visit the event page.

York University maps courses that teach about Sustainable Development Goals

Image shows a hand holding a pine cone against a lush backdrop of greenery

York University is internationally recognized for its contributions to addressing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) through teaching, research, stewardship, and partnerships. York’s annual SDG report is a snapshot of some of the work the University is doing in collaboration with Canadian and international partners to advance the Global Goals.

“The University is making determined and substantial strides towards the goals, through the power of higher education,” says York University’s Provost and VP Academic Lisa Philipps.  

As the world rapidly approaches 2030, youth have been mobilizing to compel global leaders to take urgent action on the SDGs. “As a global SDG leader, York University and its students are already playing an integral role in this movement,” adds Philipps.

To continuously improve the support offered to students and graduates who are tackling these challenges, York University has embarked on a process of understanding how its courses address or are linked to the SDGs. This initiative maps York courses with one or more of the SDGs, as appropriate, and the University is making this information available to the community on its SDG website.

The goal is to better inform students about learning opportunities related to the SDGs, to understand York’s strengths and curricular assets across the disciplines, and to increase awareness and deepen SDG-related conversations at the University and beyond.

Teaching the SDGs: the number of York courses related to each Global Goal

The above graphic shows the number of courses that relate to each of the United Nations 17 SDGs

Lessons learned from mapping courses

In consultation with OSDG, an open access tool developed by the United Nations Development Program’s SDG AI Lab and the EU-based thinktank PPMI, York analysts were able to undertake this process. They looked at both undergraduate and graduate courses offered in both English or French across all Faculties and all courses offered at the time of this analysis.

This approach looked at the use of more than 20,000 keywords and with the help of machine learning identified courses that are related to one or more of the SDGs through course titles and official descriptions. The University learned about the OSDG tool from University College London.

York University is the OSDG’s first official North American partner, as the organization works with a range of global partners such as the University of Hong Kong. York analysts consulted other universities in Ontario, British Columbia, California, England and New Zealand, organizations like York that are recognized for their global leadership on SDGs. Those consultations focused on learning about best practices for mapping and sharing SDG-relevant courses with their respective communities.

In total, analysts identified 1,635 courses (38 per cent of all courses), that are related to at least one SDG. Mapping for SDG 17 is still in development. All Faculties were represented among the mapped courses and the above table shows the number of courses that were identified as being related to each SDG.

The OSDG’s machine learning-enabled course mapping functionality flagged SDG-related courses when they specifically referenced the SDGs in the curriculum or where the curriculum empowered students to independently tackle an SDG theme within or outside of the classroom.

Many courses also mapped to more than one SDG – in fact, 285 courses were simultaneously mapped to two SDGs and 43 courses mapped to three SDGs. The process of mapping courses to the SDGs is iterative and analysts recognize that it is reliant upon the use of specific keywords and phrases found in current courses descriptions. As course descriptions continue to evolve, the analysis will be updated.

This approach will continue to improve over time, as new keywords are contributed to the OSDG’s bank. The full list of mapped courses will be published by Spring 2023 on York’s SDG website for the benefit of prospective and current students. The University will invite feedback in the lead up to publishing these courses and will continue to welcome ongoing feedback thereafter to ensure the mapped list of courses are kept up to date, and remain helpful for the York community.

The current analysis will serve as a starting point to improve the process of capturing SDG-related courses and advancing SDG education, and research on the SDGs, as outlined in the University Academic Plan.

Feedback from former Provostial Fellow and Professor Cheryl van Daalen-Smith, associate dean, academic; the Sustainability Office; the UNESCO Chair in Reorienting Education Towards Sustainability; and the Vice-Provost Students team has also been invaluable during this initial mapping endeavor. This Provostial initiative was supported by the Associate Vice-President Teaching & Learning, the University Registrar, the Office of Institutional Planning and Analysis and York International.

Workshop series brings SDGs to forefront of teaching and learning

Featured image for stories related to sustainability

A series of one-hour workshops at York University will launch in the new year and share ways in which educators can infuse the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SGDs) into teaching and learning.

Co-developed by York’s Teaching Commons and SDGs-in-the-Classroom Curricular Innovation Hub, The Sustainable Development Goals in Teaching and Learning series launches Jan. 25, 2023 and presents five online workshops.

UN SDG wheel with the 17 SDGs

The series explores how educators might speak to the SDGs through curriculum, teaching practices, course design and assessments. The outcomes are developed to raise awareness of the importance of sustainable development and prepare students with the knowledge, skills and attributes to tackle the world’s greatest challenges.

The workshops, which run from 10 to 11 a.m., are:

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)-in-the-Classroom Curricular Innovation Hub is part of the SDG Teach In, a campaign to put the SDGs at the centre of all stages of education, and across all disciplines. The SDG Teach In, hosted by Students Organizing for Sustainability United Kingdom (SOS-UK), is a student-led education charity focusing on sustainability with a belief that change is urgently needed to tackle the injustices and unsustainability in our world.

The 2023 campaign will run from March 1 to 31, 2023, and encourages educators to pledge to include the SDGs within their teaching, learning and assessment during the campaign and beyond. Educators can pledge to take part now via the SDG Teach in pledge form

Study reports public control over energy policy required to avert climate crisis

climate change iceburg

A new paper authored by York University PhD student Erin Flanagan and Professor Dennis Raphael explores the future of the environment in this time of climate crisis.

Dennis Raphael
Dennis Raphael

From Personal Responsibility to an Eco-Socialist State: Political Economy, Popular Discourses, and the Climate Crisis” was published in the Sage journal Human Geography and looks at how Canadians think about the crisis, and what can be done to move toward a more environmentally friendly future.

The study builds upon research from Flanagan’s major research paper completed as part of her MA degree in health policy and equity, at the Faculty of Health’s School of Health Policy and Management.

Based on the authors’ review of different ways of resolving the crisis, the paper concludes that averting a catastrophe will require gaining public control over energy policy and countering the power and influence of fossil-extracting industries.

“In theory, this could be accomplished through existing policy instruments, but in reality, it may require the establishment of a post-capitalist eco-socialist state,” says Raphael.

  • while what this state will look like is uncertain, certain features can be envisioned, he said. These would initially include:
  • universal access and social justice: ending energy poverty while reducing energy consumption and prioritizing the needs of communities, households, and marginalized people;
  • renewable, sustainable, and local energy: shifting to renewables by leaving fossil fuels in the ground, divesting from fossil fuels, and investing public funds in local renewable energy systems to create thriving communities;
  • public and social ownership: bringing energy production under democratic control, within new forms of public ownership by municipalities, citizens’ collectives, and workers;
  • fair play and creation of green jobs: building renewable energy through fairly paid, unionized jobs; and
  • democratic control and participation: empowering citizens and workers to participate in energy policy by democratizing governance and instituting complete transparency.

The authors state that to accomplish this, Canadians are required to understand that the current features of the country’s economic system make dealing with the climate crisis almost impossible and make the provision of health-promoting living and working conditions difficult.

Read the full paper here.

Bracing for Impact series returns in-person with ‘Future of AI’ event

Event banner Bracing for Impact 2022 The Future of AI for Society

IP Osgoode, Reichman University and Microsoft announce the return of Bracing for Impact in-person events for the first time since 2019.

This year’s conference theme is “The Future of AI for Society.” Bracing for Impact 2022 will run from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 9 at Osgoode Hall Law School.

Throughout the day, three panels – each an hour in length – will examine the burgeoning roles of artificial intelligence in our daily lives. Areas of focus include: AI in the urban development of smart cities, AI in legal practice and the importance of legal data, and AI in healthcare. These panels are followed by the launch of the York University Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Society and the award ceremony for the IP Osgoode David Vaver Medal of Excellence in Intellectual Property, which annually recognizes one graduating Osgoode student’s exceptional achievements in intellectual property law.

For more panel details, including a full list of guest speakers, click here.

Between the panels are two intermissions – during which attendees will have an opportunity to meet and greet SPOT, the famous AI robot dog from Boston Dynamics – as well as a lunch break.

Lior Zemer, dean of the Harry Radzyner Law School at Reichman University, will be joined by Justice Marshall Rothstein, formerly of the Supreme Court of Canada, for a special luncheon keynote. Their collaborative presentation on “ghetto copyright” demonstrates the failure of today’s legal apparatus and contemporary academic discourse in protecting and advancing the property rights of Jewish prisoners who directly documented the horrors of the Holocaust. Zemer and Rothstein will spark a provocative debate over legal and moral rights in these works of art, music, drama and authorship.

Admission is free and includes breakfast, lunch, refreshments throughout the day and a reception in the evening. The event will also be livestreamed on the Osgoode Hall Law School YouTube channel. You can also register to receive an email reminder with the link on the morning of the event.

In-person registration is currently full. To join the in-person event waiting list please proceed through the Eventbrite registration to be notified if a seat becomes available.

If you are no longer able to attend in-person, please advise event organizers via the Eventbrite page to edit your registration.

Click here for event registration.

For more information contact IP Osgoode at: