This ultra-thin hot water bottle could help ease menstrual pain


One of the Undu team members holds up its first product, an ultra-thin heating pad. The new startup, led by U of T Engineering grad student Charlie Katrycz is developing new ways to relieve menstrual pain. (Photo courtesy of Undu)

A U of T Engineering-led team has developed the world’s thinnest wearable hot water bottle to relieve menstrual pain in the lower abdomen.

Although dysmenorrhea — also known as menstrual cramps — affect up to 95 per cent of those who experience monthly menstruation, it is commonly undertreated, and the list of market-ready design solutions has traditionally been short.

“In terms of products to be worn on the body, there’s the bulky hot water bottle, a more than a century-old technology, and then there’s expensive electrode machines that deliver shocks to your lower abdomen,” says Charlie Katrycz (MIE MEng 1T8, MSE PhD candidate).

Katrycz and his collaborators — including U of T alumna Katherine Porter (Art History), Robin Linton, and Graham McLaughlin — have created Undu, a wearable, pain-mitigating underwear product, measuring just a third of a centimetre thick, that can be worn comfortably and seamlessly under high-waisted underwear to deliver heat therapy on the go. Just like other heating packs, it can be heated in the microwave or boiled in water.

What makes the product unique from other gel packs is Katrycz’s patented air-casting technology and manufacturing approach. He calls the result Loonskin: the technology works by injecting fluid channels that imitate those found in blood vessels and veins — imagine capillary beds under the skin —within silicone materials.

“This branched-out pattern is reminiscent of biological structures. They’re also the kind of geometrical shapes that’d be great at delivering or taking away heat, so I wanted to find ways to make this technology wearable,” says Katrycz, who is currently researching generative manufacturing technologies under the supervision of MSE professors Ben Hatton and Glenn Hibbard.

“My friends pointed out that this method could be a great device to relieve menstrual pain,” says Katrycz.

Despite their intricate shapes, Undu’s materials can be manufactured with simple mechanisms: two paper spacers and thin plastic film create a port to pump air and fluid channels into the silicone.

“The fastest way to make a large number of something, in terms of creating moulded, plastic objects, is injection moulding. The slowest method is 3D printing, but that method allows for the manufacturing of more complex objects,” explains Katrycz.

“Our manufacturing method accesses the complexity of 3D printing, while retaining the speed of injection moulding. That means we’ll be able to easily and quickly produce many different designs and sizes of this product — including customizing for different body types.”

To inform the design of Undu, the team conducted a survey, asking 100 respondents to draw and describe where they experience cramps. They were also asked to indicate their current methods of pain relief, with many saying they used over-the-counter painkillers, cannabis and hot water bottles.

Linton has used all three methods to combat dysmenorrhea and is currently the team’s product tester. “I got involved in this project because menstrual pains have affected me every month for 16 years, sometimes requiring me to miss school and work,” she says. “Experiencing intense pain on a regular basis for so long had me feeling like this would just be my life for the next 30 years.”

The thinness of the product is an advantage, but has led to challenges in other areas. Current prototypes retain heat for only about 20 minutes. “It is important for relief to last as long as possible,” says Linton. The team’s goal is to get to two hours without sacrificing comfort.

Undu is an entrant in this year’s James Dyson Award, an international design competition that celebrates the next generation of design engineers. In the fall, the team plans to get more people to test new designs. In addition to the current application, the team is also looking at how it can leverage the Loonskin technology to help people through other wearable products.

“This product could help address a problem that the market hasn’t historically paid much attention to,” says Porter, who is working on the industrial design of Undu. “For me, this was a socially important project to work on.”

“It’s incredibly important that we all work to reduce the stigma around discussing menstrual pains, as it is a worldwide issue that impacts so many people,” adds Linton. “It’s been eye-opening to work on this project with people who do not menstruate, and the more we talk about it and support one another, the better.”

Article originally published at U of T Engineering News. Article by Liz Do. August 1, 2019.

Meet Marisa Sterling, U of T Engineering’s first Assistant Dean and Director of Diversity, Inclusion and Professionalism

Marisa Sterling

“It’s about taking inclusion further, while strongly connecting it back to the engineering profession,” says Marisa Sterling, the Faculty’s first Assistant Dean and Director of Diversity, Inclusion and Professionalism. (Photo: Liz Do)

Marisa Sterling (ChemE 9T1) was recently appointed the first Assistant Dean and Director of Diversity, Inclusion and Professionalism at U of T Engineering.

This newly created role aims to support and guide the Faculty’s efforts in ensuring that every member of the Engineering community is afforded the right to study and work in an environment free of biases based on race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship or creed, sexual diversity, age, gender and ability.

Sterling has more than 20 years of experience as a professional engineer, working and volunteering in both the private and public sectors. Most recently she served as the Assistant Dean, Inclusivity and Diversity, at York University’s Lassonde School of Engineering. She was also recently installed as president-elect of Professional Engineers Ontario (PEO) for a three-year term.

U of T Engineering News sat down with Sterling to learn more about her vision in this new position.

What are the overarching objectives of the Assistant Dean and Director of Diversity, Inclusion and Professionalism?

This role is really important, and it’s close to my heart. It shares a core value with me around building an equitable world. It also advances engineering, a profession and education that I’m so proud to be a part of.

My role is to see what we can do to improve upon, and increase, accessibility for everybody here at the Faculty – whether it’s future and current students, faculty or staff. It’s about taking inclusion further, while strongly connecting it back to the engineering profession.

Engineering has a critical role in society and I think going forward, with a lot of challenges that we face on our planet — in terms of sustainability, health, and so much more — engineering will play an even bigger role. I want to continue to see U of T Engineering flourish, and be a leading voice in diversity, equity and inclusivity, as we face these future challenges.

Tell me about the Professionalism part of your portfolio. 

The foundation of the engineering profession is that it upholds a code of ethics and is accountable to the public. Engineering work can be about doing transactional work for a client and applying one’s stamp, but it can also be about leading and innovating for the future well-being of society. Our work has an impact on others, and having equitable and inclusive leadership behaviours is one pathway to making a positive impact on others.

Within this role, I plan to work collaboratively with the Vice-Dean, First Year, faculty, staff, students, PEO and other external professional engineering organizations to further student reflection on the changing identity and public expectations of an engineer and student preparedness on ethical and equitable behaviours of licensed engineers.

What have you observed so far at the Faculty, and what are the challenges ahead for this role?

I’ve observed a very modern-thinking institution with a really engaged, supportive and excited community. During the hiring process, I had the chance to meet with some student leaders who volunteered for hours at a time to talk to me about inclusion and equity issues. They’re passionate to be part of these discussions, but at the same time, can become overwhelmed when they feel they are shouldering the responsibility.

In terms of the challenges ahead — this work is culture-change work. And as much as it can be programmatic with milestones and measures, at the end of the day, we are shifting culture. My role will be to enable students, staff and faculty to make improvements from the ground up, as well as to remove barriers in systems and process.

I always quote Peter Drucker: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” It’s hard work to shift culture, and it’s long, sustained work. Clearly, that work has already started at U of T Engineering, and so what I’m excited about is how I can help take it to the next stage.

What was your experience like studying at U of T Engineering? Did you face any biases as a female engineering student?

I was a heavily involved student. I was in Skule Nite, I joined the basketball, soccer and ice hockey intramural teams, I was on the Engineering Society and elected to Governing Council, I was involved in student clubs at ChemE, and I also played the trumpet for the Lady Godiva Memorial Bnad [sic].

At the same time, I joined a sorority at the University. I now look back and reflect on that and realize that I joined a sorority because I was looking for a connection to a network of women.

Another thing I reflect on is my senior year in high school, when I was deciding on which engineering program I would apply to. I was flipping back and forth between mechanical and chemical engineering, I just couldn’t decide.

The advice I was getting from my parents and the people in the recruiting process was, ‘put chemical engineering as your first choice.’

Part of me always wonders if there was an inherent bias — that I would have more success academically and socially in chemical engineering, where there was a higher percentage of women. For the whole four years that I was at U of T Engineering, there were no women in mechanical engineering. Zero.

That’s changed significantly since. We’ve made a lot of progress and have stellar female role models in mechanical engineering and so many other disciplines at U of T Engineering now.

What do you hope to accomplish in the next six months?

 The next six months is about continuing the momentum in this space of equity, diversity and inclusion. This is tough work, shifting culture, so I hope to do whatever I can do to support these efforts.

In particular, I am eager to help put into action the recommendations from the Eagles’ Longhouse Blueprint for Action as well as the Black Inclusion Steering Committee’s pending final report.

I believe in acting from the best available research at the time. Therefore, I’m looking forward to integrating into our strategies the results of the recent climate survey of students spearheaded by the Faculty’s Community Affairs and Gender Issues Standing Committee, along with our statistics and student experience data for equity-seeking groups.

With my dual reporting role to the Vice President, Human Resources and Equity, I plan to deepen our connections with the University’s equity officers, the University’s Office of Workplace Investigations and other Faculties across our campuses to continue to bring best practices into our engineering community.

I’m also really excited about the opportunity to link professionalism to equity work. It’s important for us, moving forward, to be able to develop new programming and teaching styles to enhance students’ professionalism so that they can carry that forward as licensed engineers.

Originally published at U of T Engineering News. Article by Liz Do. July 10, 2019.

U of T Engineering celebrates the leadership and legacy of Dean Cristina Amon

On Wednesday, June 26, more than 400 members of the U of T Engineering community came together to celebrate the transformative leadership of Dean Cristina Amon and reflect on the past decade of excellence in the Faculty. Under her visionary leadership, the Faculty has become a global leader in multidisciplinary research, education and innovation.

“The past 13 years have been a remarkable journey — one we have taken together,” said Amon. “I find myself moved to have arrived at this momentous occasion in our Faculty’s history. Through our collective will, we have built a strong and vibrant community and elevated our standing as Canada’s top engineering school, and truly one of the very best in the world. I am tremendously proud of all we have accomplished.”

In recognition of Amon’s enormous impact and lasting legacy, alumnus Paul Cadario (CivMin 7T3) announced the creation of the Decanal Chair in Innovation, an endowed chair to be held by all future Deans of the Faculty that will seed innovative projects in perpetuity. A testament to her unwavering dedication to fostering innovation and collaboration, the Decanal Chair will be renamed in honour of Cristina Amon upon her retirement in accordance with University policy.

“What a brilliant run for Cristina — not only the longest serving Dean in the last half-century of the University of Toronto’s stellar Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, but one of our most successful deans ever,” said Professor Cheryl Misak, former vice-president and provost of the University of Toronto. “On every metric, Cristina soared, as did the Faculty to which she is so committed.”

From left: Dean Emeritus Michael Charles, U of T Chancellor Rose Patten, Dean Cristina Amon and Professor Ron Venter unveil a portrait of Amon by artist Joanne Tod. The portrait will be displayed in the foyer of the Myhal Centre. (credit: Lisa Sakulensky)

Professor Ron Venter (MIE) unveiled a portrait of Dean Amon, to hang in the foyer of the Myhal Centre for Innovation & Entrepreneurship. The Myhal Centre was envisioned and spearheaded by Amon as a world-class facility for the 21st century engineer. The building elevates engineering experiential education and research through technology-enhanced active learning spaces, prototyping facilities, and design studios where students, faculty and external partners can exchange ideas and launch new ventures.

The Myhal Centre is also home to leading multidisciplinary research centres and institutes created in recent years, including the Centre for Global Engineering, the Institute for Water Innovation, the recently relaunched Robotics Institute, and the newly established Centre for Analytics & Artificial Intelligence Engineering. During her tenure, the Faculty strengthened international and industrial partnerships, and established two startup accelerators, The Entrepreneurship Hatchery and Start@UTIAS, which provide a comprehensive suite of programs to both undergraduate and graduate students to nurture the thriving culture of entrepreneurship across U of T Engineering.

Amon has enriched experiential, collaborative and active learning opportunities, and evolved the Faculty’s undergraduate and graduate programming to cultivate new generations of makers, innovators and leaders. Under her direction, U of T Engineering enriched opportunities for students to build on their strong technical foundations by developing professional competencies such as leadership, entrepreneurship and global fluency. The Faculty also created 19 undergraduate minors and certificates, on topics ranging from engineering business and advanced manufacturing to global engineering, music performance, robotics and artificial intelligence. Under her leadership, the Faculty also introduced five new majors in Engineering Science, including the latest in machine intelligence — the first undergraduate engineering program of its kind in Canada.

During the same period, U of T Engineering more than doubled graduate enrolment, launching new graduate programming from the PhD in Clinical Engineering and the Master’s in City Engineering and Management, to the 12 professional master’s emphases, starting with the ELITE (Entrepreneurship, Leadership, Innovation in Technology and Engineering) to the most recent in Analytics.

One of the many hallmarks of Amon’s deanship has been her unwavering commitment to increasing diversity and striving to create an inclusive environment so that all members of the Faculty have the opportunity to thrive. Under her leadership, U of T Engineering has almost tripled the number of women faculty members (from 20 to 57), and has been successful at recruiting outstanding undergraduate women, surpassing 40% women in the incoming class over the last three consecutive years, and tracking for more than 42% in fall 2019. Students, staff and faculty come from more than 100 countries around the world, further enriching the Skule™ community with global perspectives.

Dean Cristina Amon, second from left, speaks with alumni and guest at the Celebration of Leadership event on Wednesday, June 26, 2019. (credit: Lisa Sakulensky)

“Dean Amon has had a lasting impact on me, both as a U of T student and as a young woman in engineering,” said Shivani Nathoo (EngSci 1T8+PEY), president of the Engineering Society, 2018-2019. “Through her amazing leadership, she has shown what it means to stand up for your beliefs and make a difference. U of T Engineering today looks very different from when she started, and it’s credit to her hard work and dedication towards students and the student experience.”

“Dean Amon has led extraordinary growth and change at U of T Engineering,” said Professor Chris Yip, who will succeed Amon as Dean and become the first to hold the Decanal Chair in Innovation. “Through her inspired efforts and engagement, we now have the unparalleled talent — from students to staff and faculty — innovative educational programming, as well as the facilities and partnerships in place to drive the innovations, technologies and industries that will come to define our future.”

Original article posted at U of T Engineering News. Marit Mitchell. June 27, 2019.

U of T Engineering students earn Clarke Prize for designing a non-contact aircraft braking system

The 2019 Clarke Grand Prize Awardees, left to right: Jiwoo Kim, Tareq Deaibes, Nikola Kostic, and Mark Chaboryk (Photo courtesy of Troost ILead)

The 2019 Clarke Grand Prize Awardees, left to right: Jiwoo Kim, Tareq Deaibes, Nikola Kostic, and Mark Chaboryk (Photo courtesy of Troost ILead)

A team of U of T Engineering capstone students recently clinched the top prize and won $15,000 at the Clarke Prize Finale for developing a non-contact braking system for commercial aircraft.

The Clarke Prize is named after alumnus Richard Morel Clarke (ChemE 5T4), who established the awards to recognize capstone design teams that demonstrate excellence in engineering design, leadership, teamwork and environmental impact assessment. Hosted by the Troost Institute for Leadership Education in Engineering (Troost ILead), the Clarke Prize provides up to $25,000 per year for awards to student teams— $10,000 for first place, $5,000 for second place and four $2,500 subcategory prizes.

Fourth-year students Mark Chaboryk (MechE), Tareq Deaibes (MechE), Jiwoo Kim (ElecE) and Nikola Kostic (MechE) won first place for designing a non-contact braking system that can be readily implemented in current landing gears, generating significant savings in brake maintenance. The team has applied for a patent, while their industry collaborator, Safran Landing Systems, is keen to do further development.

“This award is the culmination of painstaking work by our team, as well as everything we’ve learned over the last four years at U of T Engineering,” says Kostic. “The Clarke Prize is a reminder of our responsibility as engineers to society and the environment. It also inspires us to ensure sustainability remains core to our work as engineers in the future.”

“The team demonstrated a remarkable level of understanding of the engineering and physics of the problem and undertook a very impressive modelling of designs,” said project supervisor Professor Jan Spelt (MIE).

The team also won two subcategory prizes of $2,500 each for engineering design and leadership.

Fourth-year students Flavia Ng (CivE), Sayuri Guruge (MSE), Tayyeb Zarabi (MechE) and Jonathan Jeyarajah (MechE) designed a flooring solution to reduce exposure to contaminated soil found in the households of Indigenous communities in Guatamala. (Photo credit: Liz Do)

Fourth-year students Flavia Ng (CivE), Sayuri Guruge (MSE), Tayyeb Zarabi (MechE) and Jonathan Jeyarajah (MechE) designed a flooring solution to reduce exposure to contaminated soil found in the households of Indigenous communities in Guatamala. (Photo credit: Liz Do)

Team members Sayuri Guruge (MSE), Jonathan Jeyarajah (MechE), Flavia Ng(CivE) and Tayyeb Zarabi (MechE) won second place for their design project, which aims to reduce exposure to contaminated soil flooring in Guatamalan Indigenous communities.

The event’s judging was led by U of T alumna Sandra Odendahl (Chem MASc 8T9), CEO of CMC Research Institutes. “I’m always excited to return to my alma mater, and a lot of that excitement comes from listening and interacting with the next generation of engineering leaders,” she says.

“I’m so impressed by the calibre of our U of T Engineering students, and delighted to see how much they care about making a positive impact on the world. I was honoured to be a judge for the Clarke Prize Finale.”

The team also won a subcategory prize of $2,500 for teamwork.


Article first posted at U of T Engineering News on May 17, 2019. Article by Engineering Strategic Communications.

U of T Engineering celebrates student leadership with 18 Cressy Awards


U of T Engineering 2019 Cressy Award Winners

18 U of T Engineering students were recognized for their exceptional contributions to the Faculty and university communities with 2019 Gordon Cressy Student Leadership Awards. (Photo: Erica Rae Chong)

Eighteen U of T Engineering students were presented with the 2019 Gordon Cressy Student Leadership Awards on Monday.

The students were recognized for their outstanding extra-curricular contributions to U of T Engineering and to the university community as a whole. Their diverse activities range from serving in leadership roles in student government bodies such as The University of Toronto Student Union and the Engineering Society, to design achievements with the University of Toronto Aerospace Team and the Blue Sky Solar Racing team, and organizing community events such as the Women in Science & Engineering Conference.

This year’s U of T Engineering winners join 190 other students from across the University of Toronto who were honoured at a ceremony held at Convocation Hall.

Prior to the formal awards ceremony, recipients joined Vice-Dean, Undergraduate Tom Coyle at the annual Dean’s Tea to celebrate their accomplishments.

“Your meaningful contributions have made our Faculty, the University and our broader community a better place. Your enthusiasm and energy have also inspired many more to follow in your footsteps,” says Coyle. “It has been my privilege to witness your growth and development over the last few years and I look forward to following all you will accomplish in the future.”

Established in 1994, the awards are named after former U of T Vice-President of Development and University Relations Gordon Cressy for his commitment to higher education and leadership in fundraising and community service. Since their inception, over 3,000 students have received the award.

Congratulations to all of this year’s awardees:

  • Sneha Adhikari (CivE 1T9 + PEY)
  • Kyle Bimm (MechE 1T9)
  • David Boroto (EngSci 1T8 + PEY)
  • Eric Bryce (EngSci 1T8 + PEY)
  • Locke Davenport Huyer (IBBME PhD 1T9)
  • Molly Gorman (ChemE 1T8 + PEY)
  • Yu Cheng (Frank) Gu (ElecE 1T9)
  • Amanda Khan (IBBME PhD 1T9)
  • Andrew Kidd (EngSci 1T8 + PEY)
  • Bennett Leong (EngSci 1T9)
  • Ana Medinac (IndE 1T8 + PEY)
  • Shivani Nathoo (EngSci 1T8 + PEY)
  • Lauren Reid (EngSci 1T8 + PEY)
  • Rosten Role (ChemE 1T8 + PEY)
  • Samantha Stuart (MSE 1T8 + PEY)
  • Twesh Upadhyaya (EngSci 1T9)
  • Donna Vakalis (CivMin PhD 1T9)
  • Rohit Zachariah (IndE 1T8 + PEY)

Article originally published at U of T Engineering News. Article by Erica Rae Chong. April 22, 2019.


Posted in Uncategorized

Christopher Yip appointed next dean of U of T’s Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering

Christopher Yip.

Christopher Yip will be the next dean of U of T’s Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering.


Christopher Yip plans to draw on his extensive experience supporting research and academic relationships — both at the University of Toronto and beyond — in his new role as dean of the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering.

Yip, who currently serves as U of T’s associate vice-president of international partnerships, will serve a five-year term that begins July 1.

“I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to lead the Faculty,” said Yip, who is a professor in both the Department of Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry and the Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering (IBBME). He also has cross-appointments to The Donnelly Centre and the Department of Biochemistry in the Faculty of Arts & Science.

“U of T Engineering is a tremendous, world-class unit that’s so vibrant, energetic, flexible and adaptive — it’s leading in so many different areas.”

Yip previously served as director of the IBBME, a multidisciplinary institute that connects the Faculties of Engineering, Medicine and Dentistry. There, he oversaw initiatives including the launch of a new biomedical engineering minor for undergraduates, a new biomedical engineering master’s degree, the creation of a new design studio and an expanded teaching lab.

During Yip’s directorship, IBBME was instrumental in launching two major collaborative projects: the Translational Biology and Engineering Program at the Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research, and Medicine by Design, which undertakes transformative research in regenerative medicine and cell therapy.

“Professor Christopher Yip’s service to U of T, both as director of IBBME and associate vice-president of international partnerships, has been exemplary,” said Cheryl Regehr, the university’s vice-president and provost. “His leadership, vision and dedication to academic collaboration and innovation will be key to the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering’s future success.”

Yip will succeed Cristina Amon, the Faculty’s longest serving dean in the past half century. Under her visionary leadership, the Faculty has become a global leader in multidisciplinary research, education and innovation. Amon envisioned and led the creation of the new Myhal Centre for Engineering Innovation & Entrepreneurship, which elevates engineering experiential education and research through technology-enhanced active learning spaces, prototyping facilities, and design studios where students, faculty and external partners can exchange ideas and launch new ventures. The Myhal Centre, a shining beacon of innovation, is also home to a number of new institutes created over the past few years, including the Entrepreneurship Hatchery, the Troost Institute for Leadership Education in Engineering, the Centre for Global Engineering, the Institute for Water Innovation and the Robotics Institute.

One of the many hallmarks of Cristina Amon’s deanship has been her tireless commitment to increasing diversity and striving to create an inclusive environment so that all members of the Faculty have the opportunity to thrive. Under her transformational leadership, U of T Engineering has almost tripled the number of women faculty members (from 20 to 57), and has been successful at recruiting outstanding undergraduate women, surpassing 40 per cent women in the incoming class over the last three consecutive years.

“This is a tremendously exciting time for our Faculty as Professor Yip takes the helm — my congratulations and warmest wishes for a rewarding journey,” said Amon. “It has been my privilege to work with Chris in his previous roles, and I know his remarkable wisdom and insights will serve our Faculty well in the years to come.”

“Dean Amon has led extraordinary growth and change at U of T Engineering,” said Yip. “Through her inspired efforts and engagement, we now have the unparalleled talent — from students to staff and faculty — as well as the facilities and partnerships in place to drive the innovations, technologies and industries that will come to define our future. I look forward to building on these remarkable achievements.”

Yip received his bachelor’s degree in applied science from U of T and his PhD in chemical engineering from the University of Minnesota. His research, in the field of molecular imaging, is focused on understanding how molecules and proteins assemble themselves to create functional structures.

He said his time at IBBME provided him with key insights into how researchers from different fields can work together.

“You learn how to drive interdisciplinary relationships,” he said. “You learn how to make things work in different [research] cultures.”

That education continued when he arrived at Simcoe Hall. But there was one important difference: Yip was now able to observe how all of the university’s constituent parts fit together — not to mention how U of T connected with outside institutions.

As associate vice-president of international partnerships, Yip helped create new awards and funding opportunities for PhD students and partnered with MaRS Innovation and Toronto Global to facilitate international research partnerships, attract corporate investment and build entrepreneurial initiatives.

Yip also helped launch the Toronto-Tsinghua Entrepreneurship and Innovation Forum and helped strengthen links with key academic partners, including University College London, the University of Manchester, Zhejiang University, the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, the National Centre for Scientific Research and the National University of Singapore.

Now, Yip said, his goal will be to apply everything he’s learned to his new role at the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, where he hopes to increase international visibility and opportunities for faculty and students.

He added that, in some ways, the job of dean resembles what he’s trying to accomplish in his research.

“The tools that I’m using at a molecular scale are very similar to what you need to get people to interact — and to get them to work together as functional units,” he said. “I like to help build, facilitate and encourage people to do things.

“Other people’s success is really what drives me.”


Article first published online at U of T Engineering News. Article by Christopher Sorensen. March 29, 2019. 

Celebrating excellence in experiential education: PEY Co-op turns 40

PEY Reception

Representatives of IBM receive the “Employer of Distinction” award from Tom Coyle, Vice-Dean, Undergraduate (fourth from left) and Roger Francis, Director, Engineering Career Centre (far right) at the inaugural PEY Co-op Recognition Reception. (Photo: Dhuoi Chang)

More than 180 students, professors, alumni and industry partners gathered to celebrate 40 years of excellence in experiential education at the inaugural Professional Experience Year (PEY) Co-op Recognition Reception.

The event, held Feb. 28, 2019 in the Great Hall of University of Toronto’s historic Hart House, honoured those who have been instrumental to the success of the program. Awards were presented in categories including Student of the Year, Employer of the Year and for advancing Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.

PEY Co-op is U of T Engineering’s flagship work-integrated learning program. Students who have completed the third year of their undergraduate degree programs have the opportunity to work at leading companies around the world for up to 16 months.

More than an internship, PEY Co-op is a full-time position with a competitive salary to match. Participants are empowered to apply their engineering competencies to industry challenges while making valuable connections and strengthening their professional development. Many return to complete their degrees with job offers waiting for them after graduation.

Today, the number of companies that partner with U of T Engineering on PEY Co-op has risen to more than 100, ranging from dynamic startups to multinational corporations such as IBM and General Motors. In the most recent cohort, more than 850 engineering students chose to participate, representing 70 per cent of those eligible. The average salary was more than $49,000 and the highest was more than $89,000.

Employer of Distinction Award

Roger Francis, Director, Engineering Career Centre, presents an Employer of Distinction Award to a representative of AMD. (Photo: Dhuoi Chang)

“PEY Co-op is a model for experiential engineering education in the 21st century,” said Cristina Amon, Dean of U of T Engineering. “We have achieved many significant milestones over our first 40 years, and we look forward to evolving the program as we continue to prepare the next generation of engineering leaders to excel.”

“IBM has had a longstanding tradition of investing in talent and skill development in Canada, and we’re very proud of this tradition,” said Jeff Heath, senior software development manager at IBM, which was named an Employer of Distinction at the event. “Congratulations to the PEY Co-op Program on 40 years, and we look forward to the next 40 years and beyond.”

The complete list of awards and award winners is:

Student of the Year

  • Ognjen Kelec (MinE 1T8 + PEY)

Employer of the Year

  • Safran Landing Systems

Mentors of the Year

  • Dominic Bergeron, BA Group
  • Dennis Merino, BiblioCommons

Employers of Distinction

  • AMD
  • IBM

Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Employer Recognition

  • AMD
  • IBM
  • Nuology
  • Procter & Gamble
  • Security Compass
  • The Toronto Transit Commission
  • Ultimate Software Group


Article originally published at U of T Engineering News. By Tyler Irving. March 4, 2019.

This U of T Engineering student is holding companies accountable for biased AI facial technology

Deb Raji

A recent study by Deb Raji (Year 4 EngSci) and researchers at the MIT Media Lab shows a need for stronger evaluation practices of AI products to mitigate gender and racial biases. (Credit: Liz Do)

A study by Engineering Science student Deb Raji (Year 4) and researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is underscoring the racial and gender biases found in facial-recognition services.

Raji spent the summer of 2018 as an intern at MIT’s Media Lab, where she audited commercial facial technologies made by leading companies such as Microsoft, IBM and Amazon. The researchers discovered that all of them had a tendency to mistake darker-skinned women for men.

But one service in particular — Amazon’s Rekognition — showed a higher level of bias than the rest. Although it could identify the gender of light-skinned men with nearly 100 per cent accuracy, it misclassified women as men 29 per cent of the time, and darker-skinned women for men 31 per cent of the time.

Rekognition was recently piloted by police in Orlando, Fla., using the service in policing scenarios such as scanning faces on cameras and matching them against those in criminal databases.

“The fact that the technology doesn’t characterize Black faces well could lead to misidentification of suspects,” says Raji. “Amazon is due for some public pressure, given the high-stakes scenarios in which they’re using this technology.”

With rapid advancements and deployment of artificial intelligence (AI) products, this new study emphasizes the need to not only test systems for performance, but also for potential biases against underrepresented groups.

Although algorithms should be neutral, Raji explains that because data sets – information used to ‘train’ an AI model — are sourced from a society that still grapples with everyday biases, these biases become embedded into the algorithms.

“Let’s say I want examples of what healthy skin looks like. If you Google it now, you will see mostly light-skinned women,” says Raji. “You won’t see a man for pages, and you wouldn’t see a darker-skinned woman until you really scroll down. If you feed that into an AI model, it adopts this world view and adapts its decisions based on those biases.”

These biases should be called out, just as one would hold a person accountable, says Raji. “There’s this increased danger when you embed that bias into an algorithm versus when a human makes a prejudiced decision. Someone will tell you it’s wrong, whether it’s the public or your boss,” she says. “With AI, we tend to absolve this responsibility. No one is going to put an algorithm in jail.”

Raji’s passion on the subject of bias in machine learning comes from her time on a work experience placement at the AI startup, Clarifai, where the topic of AI and ethics was regularly discussed at the research-oriented company.

Learn more about Clarifai in this Q and A with founder Matt Zeiler (EngSci 0T9)

“It’s something that the company noticed and was very explicit about addressing, and it’s a subject that personally resonated with me because I’m a visible minority,” she says.

It also stems from her very own personal experiences with racially biased technologies.

“I’d build something at a hackathon and wonder why it couldn’t detect my face, or why an automated faucet can’t detect my hand,” she says.

Raji shared her experiences with computer scientist and digital activist, Joy Buolamwini, at MIT’s Media Lab. This led to the internship, and to Raji becoming the lead author on a paper that she presented at the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence Conference on AI Ethics and Society.

“I know it looks like I wrote a research paper in three months,” says Raji. “But this issue has been percolating inside of me for much longer.”

Raji is currently finishing her last term in Engineering Science and running a student-led initiative called Project Include, which trains students to teach computer programming in low income neighbourhoods in the GTA and Mississauga. She is also a mentee at Google AI. As part the mentorship program, she is working on a new thesis that focuses on practical solutions to hold companies accountable.

“People sometimes downplay the urgency by saying, ‘well AI is just so new,’” says Raji. “But if you’re building a bridge, would the industry allow you to cut corners and make those kinds of excuses?”

This article was originally posted at U of T Engineering News. Liz Do. Feb. 11, 2019.

Catalysts for change: U of T Engineering hosts WISE National Conference 2019

The WISE team.

The WISE team is gearing up for its annual two-day conference, which promotes opportunities for women in STEM, fosters leadership and technical competencies and builds a supportive community for women pursuing careers in engineering. [Photo: WISE]

The Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) National Conference, taking place Jan. 26 and 27 at Toronto’s Westin Harbour Castle, aims to empower, inspire and connect more than 500 science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) students and professionals from across Canada.

The annual two-day conference, founded seven years ago by the U of T chapter of WISE, allows participants to learn from notable speakers, network with industry professionals and expand their skills in technical competitions and workshops.

The theme for this year’s discussions and events will be “Catalysts for Change,” a timely look into the achievements of women in STEM and what lies ahead for women in today’s shifting engineering landscape.

According to Engineers Canada, the number of women in the profession more than doubled in the decade between 2006 and 2016. However, women still make up only 13 per cent of licensed engineers.

Writer Erica Rae Chong sat down with WISE conference chair Victoria Cheng (Year 4 EngSci) to learn more about what to expect at this year’s conference.

This year’s theme is Catalyst for Change. What message are you trying to convey to other women interested in STEM?

We want to communicate that by working together, women in STEM can overcome barriers and inspire others to catalyze change in their schools or workplaces, creating a cumulative effect that will hopefully spread throughout the entire industry as a whole.

This is the seventh year of WISE National Conference — what’s different? What can participants look forward to at this year’s event?

We are so excited to be running the biggest WISE National Conference yet! This year, more than 500 people will be attending the conference, including a multitude of talented panelists, influential keynotes, and incredible sponsor companies.

Our featured speakers include physician-surgeon and astronaut candidate, Dr. Shawna Pandya, physicist and fashion designer, Dr. Kitty Yeung, as well as former CEO of the MaRS Discovery District, Dr. Ilse Treurnicht just to name a few.

Gender equality and representation in STEM continues to be an important and ongoing conversation. How will this impact discussions at the conference?

Our speakers come from a variety of different STEM backgrounds and are at various points in their careers, from recent graduates to industry veterans. The discussions will be centered around their experiences, the challenges they have faced and the advice they may have. We will also be exploring their predictions of the future challenges of their respective industries.

During the talks, we have allocated plenty of time for audience questions, so that attendees can ask the speakers what they want to know and really drive the discussions at the conference in the direction that they desire.

Why did you want to become the chair of this conference? Why are you passionate about the issues in which WISE engages?

I believe that it’s important to bring together women and allies from different backgrounds and experiences so that we can bond over common interests and share perspectives and stories.

Sharing and collaborating are essential for defining the challenges that women face and for generating the best solutions. Every person participating in the discussion can then bring back what they’ve learned, and implement the solutions in their environment, whether that is at work, home or school.

More information about the WISE National Conference:

Engineering students recognized for academic and athletic excellence

U of T Engineering student-athletes at the 2019 Academic Excellence Breakfast. Top row (L-R): Matthew Chen (MSE 1T7 + PEY, MSE MASc candidate), Megan Kamachi (IBBME MASc candidate), Zach Frangos (Year 2 ChemE), Osvald Nitski (Year 3 MechE), Tanner Young-Schultz (CompE 1T8 + PEY, ECE MASc candidate), Jacob Weber (Year 3 EngSci). Bottom row (L-R): Kamran Ramji (Year 3 EngSci), Stefan Dusciuc (Year 3 IndE), Nicole Parkes (ChemE 1T8 + PEY), Matthew Freibauer (MechE 1T8 + PEY), Somerset Jarvis (Year 3 CivE), Jack Berkshire (Year 3 IndE) (Credit: Seyran Mammdov).

34 student-athletes celebrated for excellence in the classroom at annual breakfast


U of T’s Varsity Blues celebrated its top student-athletes from the 2017 – 2018 academic year at the ninth annual Academic Excellence Breakfast, held Jan. 22, 2019, at the Goldring Centre for High Performance.

The event recognizes student-athletes who earned an 80% average or higher in all courses they were enrolled in during the 2017- 2018 academic year, while competing on a varsity team.

Academic Excellence Breakfast Photo Gallery.

Awardees received special pins to mark their achievements – enamel for first-time winners, bronze for second, silver for third, gold for fourth and diamond for students earning the award five or more times during their intercollegiate athletic careers. Yusuf Shalaby (IndE 1T8 + PEY, MIE MASc candidate), a member of the Varsity Blues Men’s Squash team, was among four U of T students who received a diamond pin.

Participating in varsity sports improves how Matthew Chen (MSE 1T7 + PEY, MSE MASc candidate) approaches both academics and life in general, shared the rower.

“It’s true, the rigours [of school work and varsity sports] do complement each other – they really make you see the value of time, how little there is, and how you must spend it carefully.”

He also emphasized the networking opportunities varsity sports provides. “I [look] forward to team practices, not just to train, but to talk to other people doing other things and getting perspective. And I think that’s the main takeaway I got from being a varsity athlete: perspective.”

“Receiving an academic excellence award is great,” adds Chen. “It really does feel nice to be recognized for your efforts in all aspects of your life – mind, body and spirit, if you will.”

The 2017-2018* U of T Engineering Varsity Blues Academic Excellence Award recipients include:

  • Riley Alvarez (MechE 1T8) – Cross Country
  • Jackson Banbury (MechE 1T7, MIE MEng 1T8) – Lacrosse
  • Jack Berkshire (Year 3 IndE) – Track and Field
  • John Browne (Year 4 IndE) – Lacrosse
  • Nicole Butkovic (Year 4 CivE) – Rugby
  • Katelyn Chan (IBBME MHSc candidate) – Fencing
  • Matthew Chen (MSE 1T7 + PEY, MSE MASc candidate) – Rowing
  • Stefan Dusciuc (Year 3 IndE) – Soccer
  • Keith Eriks (MechE 1T8) – Swimming
  • Zach Frangos (Year 2 ChemE) – Cross Country
  • Matthew Freibauer (MechE 1T8 + PEY) – Football
  • Antonina Gorshenina (EngSci 1T8 + PEY) – Tennis
  • Cameron Haigh (Year 2 EngSci) – Fencing
  • Liam Horrigan (MechE 1T8 + PEY, UTIAS MASc candidate) – Water Polo
  • Somerset Jarvis (Year 3 CivE) –Cross Country
  • Phillippe Johns (Year 2 ElecE) –Track and Field
  • Megan Kamachi (IBBME MASc candidate) – Rowing
  • Zia Karim (MechE 1T8 + PEY) – Volleyball
  • James Keane (Year 2 ChemE) – Lacrosse
  • Brenden Lavoie (Year 3 CivE) – Golf
  • Beston Leung (Year 3 CompE) – Fencing
  • Alex Magnan (CivE 1T8 + PEY) – Swimming
  • Tori McIntyre (ChemE 1T8) – Track and Field
  • Avkash Mukhi (Year 3 IndE) – Mountain Biking
  • Dan Nicolau (Year 2 CompE) – Wrestling
  • Osvald Nitski (Year 3 MechE) – Swimming
  • Colin O’Brien (MIE MASc candidate) – Mountain Biking
  • Nicole Parkes (ChemE 1T8 + PEY) – Soccer
  • Kamran Ramji (Year 3 EngSci) – Rowing
  • Yusuf Shalaby (IndE 1T8 + PEY, MIE MASc candidate) – Squash
  • Austin Shih (CivE 1T8 + PEY) – Rowing
  • Jacob Weber (Year 3 EngSci) – Curling
  • Tanner Young-Schultz (CompE 1T8 + PEY, ECE MASc candidate) – Baseball
  • Kaiwen Zhang (Year 3 MechE) – Rowing

*Students’ years of study and/or graduation dates are current as of January 2019.

© 2021 Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering