Microlecture Series in Sustainable Living: Building a better future with Usman Khan

Globe and York branded box for the Microlecture Series launch

York University’s free Microlecture Series in Sustainable Living is an innovative, interdisciplinary and open access program that gives participants the opportunity to earn a first-of-its-kind digital badge in sustainable living.

Throughout the Microlecture Series in Sustainable Living, six of York University’s world-renowned experts share research, thoughts and advice on a range of critical topics related to sustainability. Their leadership and expertise, however, extends beyond the six-minute presentations.

Over the next several weeks, YFile will present a six-part series featuring the professors’ work, their expert insights into York’s contributions to sustainability, and how accepting the responsibility of being a sustainable living ambassador can help right the future.

Usman Khan
Usman Khan

Part three features Associate Professor Usman Khan.

Usman Khan is an associate professor of civil engineering at the Lassonde School of Engineering. His research interests lie in water resources engineering, focusing on urban hydrology, including flood risk assessment and uncertainty analysis, sustainable water resource management and infrastructure, and the impacts of climate change on these systems. Khan specializes in developing novel machine learning and artificial intelligence methods for various engineering applications. The role of civil engineering in creating vibrant, liveable and sustainable cities is a strong motivator for Khan. He is committed to using his professional practice to meet the challenges that face the urban environment. 

Q: What does it mean to be a “sustainable living ambassador” and how does it foster positive change? 
Being a “sustainable living ambassador” means, first, that you’re committed to learning about global sustainability problems, such as the climate crises, and second, that you’re committed to creating positive change in your community – either through direct action or through advocacy. As more people become ambassadors, I hope the discussions about sustainability on campus increase and that these discussions then lead to positive change on our campuses. Sustainability is an integral component of our University’s mission (University Academic Plan) and therefore, I think the York community should be well-versed in the topic.

Q: What would make you most proud for viewers to take away from your lecture, and the series as a whole?
The role of engineers in designing and creating a more sustainable world is under-appreciated. I hope that viewers who watch my lecture understand how important a role engineering design can have on sustainability in our communities. The design of engineering infrastructure – even relatively simple technologies to manage stormwater – influences each component of sustainability: environmental, social and economical. I want viewers to learn that, indeed, there are more sustainable options for stormwater management, and deciding who receives this sustainability benefit is an important decision. We should be demanding more sustainable solutions.

Q: Equity and equality are a common theme throughout these sustainability lectures. Why is that such a critical component of sustainability? 
We need to make sure that any new technologies and systems that are designed and implemented are providing benefits to those who need them the most. In my work, this means providing engineering solutions, for example for flood risk reduction, to people who are most at risk and disadvantaged.

Q: Are there changes you’ve made in your work at York that other York community members can learn from? 
I am fortunate to be able to commute to campus via public transport – despite two subway stations and bus connections, I know it is not easy for everyone in the York community to be able to do this. Since the transport sector is responsible for 25 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, it is important to me personally to commute using low emission modes.

I am not convinced yet that paperless assignments are a better route than traditional approaches. I am wary of the size of emissions from increased online education (online assignments, streaming lectures, life-cycle cost of all our new devices, etc.). Much of York’s online infrastructure is powered by data centres (off campus) which use a huge amount of energy to store all of our assignments and data in “the cloud,” and host all of our Zoom lectures. I would encourage community members to think about these “hidden” emissions when they are participating in academic life on campus.

Q: How do you view collective responsibility vs. personal responsibility in creating a more sustainable future?
This is a difficult question to answer, and I am not an expert in this area. I think that personal responsibility alone cannot be used to address the climate crises and sustainability more broadly. For example, substantially reducing our emissions requires a fundamental change in our systems, and small, personal actions are not the path to this change. Heavily focusing on these small, personal changes, takes attention and energy away from the systemic change needed for a more sustainable future. Our collective attention should be on large-scale, system-wide solutions that are urgently needed.

Q: How is York leading the way towards a more sustainable future? 
As a university, York’s strength in creating a more sustainable future lies in its role and responsibility in training the next generation of leaders and innovators. Having sustainability embedded in its academic curriculum, research enterprise, and in operations, means that thousands of students are exposed to new ideas and expertise in sustainability every year. These students, with this new knowledge, will be the foundation for the system-wide change that our planet needs. 

Visit the Microlecture Series in Sustainable Living to see Usman Khan’s full lecture, as well as those by the other five experts, and earn your Sustainable Living Ambassador badge. Watch for part four of this series in an upcoming issue of YFile. For part one go here, and part two go here.

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.

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 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 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 receives $1.65M NSERC grant to develop pharmaceutical technology

pharmaceutical pills and blister packs

Distinguished Research Professor Sergey Krylov of the Faculty of Science received the Collaborative Research and Training Experience (CREATE) grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) to train the next generation of technologically advanced graduates.

Krylov will lead a team of researchers and industrial leaders in helping graduates meet the scientific and engineering challenges of tomorrow, as well as drive and support pharmaceutical drug discovery and vaccine development in Canada. The goal is to allow master’s and PhD students to graduate from York with the technical and managerial skills to take on leading positions in new entities to capitalize on disruptive technologies that could impact Canada’s research and development in the pharmaceutical industry.

Sergey Krylov
Sergey Krylov

“This grant will help train our students to become highly qualified personnel ready to meet difficult scientific and engineering challenges, while also helping to drive and support pharmaceutical drug discovery and vaccine development in Canada,” says York Vice-President Research and Innovation Amir Asif.

“This NSERC CREATE program taps into York’s expertise in bio-analytical methods and instrumentation and the University’s commitment to purposeful research. I congratulate Sergey Krylov on his successful application and collaboration.”

The NSERC-funded industrial stream Technology-Enhance Pharmaceutical Discovery (TEPD) program at York, designed with industry input, will bring together some of Canada’s leading academics working on technological aspects of pharmaceutical discovery, as well as major companies driving or supporting this country’s pharmaceutical research and development.

“Big Pharma is continually shifting tremendous costs and risks associated with pharmaceutical discovery to small-venture players, changing the landscape of pharmaceutical discovery in Canada,” says Krylov. “The pressing needs of Canadian pharmaceutical research and development were what motivated our academic and industrial team members to come together to create a comprehensive training ecosystem capable of making a difference in this industry at the national level.”

The goal of this program is to enhance Canada’s global economic competitiveness by fuelling innovation in the pharmaceutical industry, a sector of the economy which creates more research and development jobs in Canada than any other industry.

Trainees will conduct collaborative research in one of seven pharmaceutical-discovery research themes, like the stages involved in pharmaceutical discovery used by developers of drugs, biologicals and vaccines. They will work with leading-edge technologies that could result in potential drug discovery and vaccine development.

The program is comprised of collaborative research, joint seminars, summer school with hands-on and in-classroom workshops run by instructors from academia and industry meant to advance soft and professional skills of the trainees, summer research conferences and industrial internships in the research and development labs of the four industrial partners in Canada or the United States.

Students will graduate with superior industrial and academic research expertise, ready to meet the scientific and engineering challenges of Canada’s new research landscape.

Learn more at News @ York.

Lassonde showcases SARIT to Toronto corporate leaders

SARIT vehicles on York's Keele Campus with Frank Stronach
SARIT vehicles on York’s Keele Campus with Frank Stronach

Members of the Lassonde School of Engineering attended the Toronto Region Board of Trade’s (TRBOT) “Above the Radar” event to expand awareness of SARIT, the three-wheeled micro-mobility electric vehicle with a 100-kilometer range, in anticipation of the start of full production in mid-2023.

As the world moves towards a more sustainable future, micro-mobility solutions such as SARIT – which stands for Safe, Affordable Reliable, Innovative Transit – will become increasingly important to reduce greenhouse gases, ease traffic jams and solve parking problems.

The SARIT project is a collaboration between manufacturer, and former governor of York University, Frank Stronach, and the SARIT Project Team at Lassonde. Since 2021, York has served as a living lab for the vehicle, with faculty, students and more than two dozen York staff, who are running real-life tests of the cars through their work in areas such as maintenance, security and parking.

Attendance at events like TRBOT’s “Above the Radar” is, and will be, a critical strategic component of the project’s future success. “As SARIT is close to full production by mid-2023, these events and interactions will help with general awareness, customer acquisition and potentially B2B sales,” says project manager Omid Sadeghi.

The event was attended primarily by corporate leaders who will prove pivotal in the further commercialization of the vehicle – especially as it gets ready for production. For example, some corporations may become interested in using SARIT as a fleet solution.

The SARIT team had the chance to highlight their progress, illustrated by demonstrations of the vehicle’s use on campus for food delivery, recycling, parking enforcement and ridesharing. Also shared were future plans for developing unique features such as pedestrian detection, geofencing, solar charging and more along with industry partners, to help customize the micro-mobility experience for the end user.

Sadeghi is hopeful events like these will not just generate further awareness and success for SARIT ahead of its production start, but also other opportunities for Lassonde to help right the future with more sustainable solutions. “As we helped the Stronach Group to commercialize a new class of vehicle, we are open to new partnerships to commercialize new innovative products,” he says.

Bergeron Chair in Technology Entrepreneurship Andrew Maxwell, who spearheaded the SARIT living lab at York, also emphasizes that events like these offer an opportunity for York to showcase several aspects of its strategic plan, including its commitment to research, innovation, entrepreneurship, community engagement, experiential learning and more.

Averting ecological ruin topic of upcoming EUC book launch

Panoramic photo a hand clasping miniature globe with view of arid mountain range behind in the distance

York University’s Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change (EUC) wil celebrate the launch of Professor Emeritus Peter A. Victor’s latest book, Escape from Overshoot: Economics for a Planet in Peril (2023), on Wednesday, April 12.

Faculty members and students are welcome to attend the book launch event from 5 to 7 p.m., either in person at the Centre for Social Innovation located at 192 Spadina Ave., or virtually via livestream. To attend, register for the event here.

As a precursor to the event, Victor met with graduate student researcher Danielle Legault to answer questions about the new book.

Peter A. Victor close-up portrait
Peter A. Victor

Q: Can you speak to how the longer trajectory of your academic work inspired you to write Escape from Overshoot?

A: I began exploring the dependency of the economy on the environment for all its materials and energy requirements as a student at the University of British Columbia in the late 1960s and have continued with that theme ever since then. My work on alternative economic futures during the past two decades suggests that an intentional escape from overshoot will be a lot more attractive than continuing to over stress nature and suffer the consequences.

Q: What is “Earth overshoot,” and how does your book tackle the challenges associated with it?

A: When any organism, including humans, exceeds the capacity of its environment to sustain it, it is in overshoot. The accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that could be irreversibly changing the climate means we are in overshoot. If more fish are caught than are reproduced by the remaining stock, we have overshot. Overshoot can happen to ecosystems at all scales from a single pond to the entire planet and to any species. Humans are no exception.

To tackle the challenges associated with Earth overshoot, my book summarizes the evidence for overshoot, gives an approach to thinking about the future, draws from relevant insights by leading economists, explains how the current economic system works, describes trends that are leading us into an uncertain future, explains why “green growth” is a dangerous distraction, looks at post-growth possibilities, presents an escape scenario for the Canadian economy over the next 50 years and closes with ideas and examples for planning an escape from overshoot.

Q: Why is your book a must-read for York students and faculty?

A: This is a book for the general reader. It is highly illustrated and avoids technical language. We are all threatened by overshoot, and we all contribute to it. If we are to escape from overshoot, everyone has a part to play.

Q: What do you hope readers will take away from your book in terms of actionable steps for promoting a more sustainable and equitable future on Earth?

Escape from Earth Overshoot by Peter A. Victor
Escape from Earth Overshoot (2023) by Peter A. Victor

A: I hope that readers find the book useful for understanding overshoot and its implications for all species including humans; that they appreciate the seriousness of the risks we are facing, and that they discover useful ideas about what can be done to escape from overshot that recognizes differences in culpability and vulnerability. I would also like them to come away with a sense of hope and a commitment to help.

Q: Having completed this book, how do you see your work moving forward in the future?

A: My immediate focus will be a resumption of my work on modelling alternative economic/environmental futures, collaborating with the excellent team at York that produces the annual National Ecological Footprint and Biocapacity Accounts for more than 200 countries, and working with as many people as I can on finding an escape from overshoot.

About Peter A. Victor

Victor is a professor emeritus and senior scholar at York University with 50 years of experience in ecological economics, alternatives to economic growth. He served as dean of the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University from 1996 to 2001. He has authored six books, including Managing without Growth, and is a member of the Honorary Board of the David Suzuki Foundation and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. He has been the recipient of several prestigious awards, including the Molson Prize in Social Sciences and the Boulding Memorial Prize.

Students win BEST Startup Experience awards for innovative startups

lassonde winter students

Five awards were given out in early March at Lassonde’s annual BEST Startup Experience event to celebrate innovative startups created by students.

The BEST Startup Experience is designed to be part of an experiential learning opportunity for students to solve real-world problems in a team environment by creating projects related to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). This year, the event brought together over 300 undergraduate and graduate students to work in teams on more than 60 projects.

“These types of experiential learning activities provide students with unparalleled opportunity to acquire hands-on, practical knowledge and skills that they can apply in real-world scenarios,” says Maedeh Sedaghat, program manager, BEST. “Through active engagement in problem solving and collaboration, students are able to develop a deeper understanding of complex concepts and cultivate critical thinking, creativity, and adaptability.”

With support from their dedicated mentors, the students went through a structured learning journey using Design Sprint methodology and learned how to use various tools and techniques to create innovative solutions for real problems. The award winners, in particular, highlight the ongoing efforts of students and the University to move towards a more sustainable and equitable future.

First place went to Carbon Report (Alvin Chan, Arjit Johar, Nitya Bhatt, Mike Shen and Tiffany Kwan), an emission reporting and accounting software that focuses on collecting, analyzing, auditing and reporting data to regulators for oil and gas, metals and mining, manufacturing, and power and utilities. The project provides an all-in-one platform service that is accurate and affordable.

The winning team: Carbon Report
The winning team: Carbon Report

Second place was given to TranReality (Azwad Abid, Wachirawit Umpaipant, Madison Bardoel, Elijah Paulsen, John Brown and Francis Joseph Fajardo), a project that uses modular VR training programs to improve the retention of knowledge and baseline skill level for new employees when training them. The programs focus on bridging the gap between informational learning and on-the-go job training.

Second place team: Train Reality
Second place team: Train Reality

Third place and People’s Choice winner was Handi Fuel, (Muhammad Qasim, Daoud Ali, Jia Xu, Tarek Jarab, Mohamed Nizar, Sayed Suliman, Tariq Qureshey and Manala Perera), which aims to offer a full-service experience to those with disabilities or limited mobility when using a gas station. HandiFuel uses a robotic arm for fueling assistance. The team intends to work alongside the government, businesses and non-for-profit organizations to support drivers.

Third place team: Handi Fuel
Third place team: Handi Fuel

Additionally, two new awards were handed out at the event. The Special Award prize was given to a team named Yorkers (Shaheer Saif, Soo Min Yi, Jenny Zhao and Camie Wong), who worked on a project called LinkAssist, a digital platform for shelter staff that streamlines resource allocation and client data, allowing for a more efficient and cost-effective response to homelessness in the city of Toronto.

Special award winners: Yorkers
Special award winners: Yorkers

The Just Do It Award was given to Tiffin Time (Imam Khalid, Jason Yang, Shafin Mahmud, Tariq Syed and Masrur Rahman), a platform that connects producers and consumers to provide healthy and unique food options. This platform aims to make getting food from various cultures more convenient across Canada.

Just Do It winners: Tiffin Time
Just Do It winners: Tiffin Time

“One of the biggest takeaways from this experience has been the realization that with the right mindset, tools and techniques, we can overcome obstacles and achieve our goals,” says Rushanshah Saiyed, fourth-year computer engineering student.

For more on the program, visit the website.

York innovation hub receives $3M to support women entrepreneurs

Group of diverse women entrepreneurs

ELLA, run by the University’s innovation hub, YSpace, has received $3 million from a federal government program called Women Entrepreneurship Strategy (WES) to expand support for woman entrepreneurs across the country.

ELLA was created in 2019, with previous funding from WES, as an accelerator program for women entrepreneurs working in areas like tech, retail and food and beverage. It is Ontario’s first accelerator for women-led products and service-based businesses with programs designed to support women entrepreneurs in all stages of the business development process.

Since its creation, ELLA’s programming has supported 167 women, and its ventures have generated $15.9 million in revenue, raised $7.6 million in funding and created 121 jobs. It has also been a critical tool to boost women entrepreneurs during a difficult time. “According to the latest Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub (WEKH) report, service-based women-owned businesses were hit the hardest throughout the pandemic,” said David Kwok, associate director of entrepreneurship at YSpace, adding that ELLA was created to address such challenges.

Until now, ELLA’s focus has been provincial, but the new $3-million funding from WES – announced on International Women’s Day on March 8, 2023 – will enable ELLA to expand its services across Canada. ELLA will now have three national programs supporting women across the country, which include:

  • ELLA Express: A self-paced program designed to equip participants with the knowledge and tools to launch or grow their business;
  • ELLA Ascend: Support early-stage businesses in establishing their business infrastructures and setting up to scale; and
  • ELLA Altitude: Support national and international scale-ups with access to mentorship and our proven fractional executive model to overcome major business challenges.

These programs and the funding initiative aim to provide access to women entrepreneurs in areas such as financing, resources, networks and more to support their businesses and help remove systemic barriers.

YSpace ELLA parcipants
ELLA program participants with YSpace staff

ELLA has a track record of supporting underrepresented entrepreneurs and those who may not traditionally have access to similar programming. 77 per cent of the women supported by ELLA are at the intersection of more than one underrepresented group, and 66 per cent of participants indicate that their involvement in ELLA was the first time they received support from an entrepreneurial program. This funding opportunity with WES enables ELLA to provide more opportunities for women-owned ventures that were previously not supported by existing programming to succeed in the economy.

“This funding from Innovation, Science & Economic Development Canada and the Women Entrepreneurship Strategy is not only a signal of confidence in the work we’ve done in the past three years, but the work that we can do to better support the community around us and create greater access,” said Assistant Vice-President of Innovation and Research Partnerships Jennifer MacLean.

“We are very excited to work with and create impact for women-identifying entrepreneurs across Canada over the next two years,” said Marlina Ramchandran, ELLA’s entrepreneurship manager. “We aim to exponentially increase the capacity of skills training by organizing topic specific workshops and foster an inclusive community of women-identifying startups by creating access to mentors and subject matter experts.”

Learn more about YSpace and ELLA here.