ReBuild: Retrofit for a clean energy future

Four researchers wearing hard hats and safety vests stand on a campus rooftop discussing the building’s heating and venting equipment.

UVic researchers are playing a central role in a nascent industry that’s rushing to find effective, affordable ways to energy retrofit existing buildings.

Civil engineer Ralph Evins is leading a wide-ranging partnership of 16 organizations called the ReBuild Initiative, which will share information and develop solutions to help businesses, governments and homeowners improve existing buildings so that they’re more energy efficient, low-carbon and resilient to climate change.

“There are lots of options for energy retrofits, but determining which one is best and cheapest for a particular type of building is very complicated,” says Evins. “Right now, lots of companies are tackling different parts of the issue, but not necessarily talking to each other and probably missing some important ways that they could be learning from each other.”

Although many governments have set bold greenhouse gas reduction targets, most haven’t fully appreciated just how formidable their goals are when existing buildings are included in the equation, says Evins. And older buildings must be addressed if these targets are to be met. Read more


Partnership provides big wins for e-company and UVic team

Four people stand or sit at a computer station in an office on campus, with two computers and a laptop that show the VINN website and technical data.

A Canadian e-commerce marketplace that brings together consumers and car dealerships from across the country is relying on UVic expertise in artificial intelligence to improve its operations and enhance its customers’ online experience.

VINN Auto offers both a place for paying dealerships to list their new and used cars for sale, and free, personalized support to consumers looking to purchase their next vehicle.

“The company wants to incorporate effective artificial intelligence tools into its operations – and that’s a very good match with what our research group focuses on,” says Kin Fun Li, a computer engineering researcher.

“At the same time, VINN is enabling our team members to work on real industry problems, not just from a textbook or pure research,” Li adds. “So it’s a two-way street – we’re both learning from each other.”

Li and his team of engineering graduate students have been identifying areas for improvement and providing recommendations and tools to VINN in a series of projects. Read more


Expansion to nurture budding engineers and computer scientists

An artist’s rendering of a large, high-ceilinged room with an L-shaped concrete wall, wooden walls and a few people inside.

New, expanded facilities to house teaching and research labs, equipment and workspaces will drive curiosity, co-learning and collaboration among engineering and computer science students and researchers.

In a new high-bay structures lab, students will construct and attach model buildings to a two-metre-thick concrete strong wall to measure and test structural strength. In a design studio, first-year students will build robots with sensors that can detect objects. In a hydrology lab, students will compare models of water flow with measurements of real-time stormwater flow outside the building. The lab will also enable the study of water flow through pipes loaded with sensors or augmented reality solutions to illustrate the force of water through pipe systems.

“The new labs will enable active learning with a focus on more hands-on research,” says Thomas Froese, chair of civil engineering. “More importantly, the new buildings will demonstrate what green engineering can be and nurture and inspire students to help create a sustainable future.” Read more


Message from the Dean

A collage, in which three images show people sitting at many dining tables in a large meeting room and a fourth shows Dean Mina Hoorfar speaking into a microphone.

Friday, Mar. 11, marked an event that was a “first” for our faculty but will certainly not be the last of its kind. I was honoured to host an evening for women, trans and non-binary students, who began their studies this past year here in UVic Engineering and Computer Science. Those in attendance, who included faculty members and community partners, shared experiences as students and former students in a discipline where men still vastly outnumber women.

Women make up approximately 19 per cent of the student population at UVic Engineering and Computer Science, a figure similar across most schools in North America. When women are advancing in every other profession, engineering thus far has fallen behind. How can we ever create change when there are so many voices missing from the table?

I wanted this event to be an opportunity for women and others from underrepresented groups in engineering and computer science to come together as a community, to get to know one another and build a network. Alongside targeted student awards, as well as recruitment, co-op and career programs (see the story below on our new INSPIRE program), creating opportunities for underrepresented groups to come together and build a supportive community is key to student success. Read more


Inclusivity + ingenuity + industry = Inspire STEM program

An outdoor head-and-shoulder photo of Daniela Damian.

For Daniela Damian, creating a unique program aimed at strengthening student retention among underrepresented groups in STEM disciplines has been a bit like launching a startup company.

Called “INSPIRE: STEM for Social Impact,” the program will provide students in engineering, computer science, and science with paid co-op opportunities to work with industry mentors to develop solutions that address real-life challenges in local communities. The program targets students from historically underrepresented groups – encompassing gender, Indigeneity, race and ability.

“I’m building a team, bringing in lots of funding, identifying community projects, building industry partnerships, and doing marketing,” says Damian, program director and a professor in UVic Computer Science. “I feel like I’m launching a startup – it’s been scary but also very exciting!”

This May, the program’s first cohort will be divided into small teams who work with an industry partner to solve a problem that has a social impact. Senior STEM students are also being hired as part-time, paid Ambassadors to coach the junior students. Read more


Club creates software solutions for all UVic students

Seven members of the VikeLabs admin team stand in a row outdoors on campus, smiling for the camera.

In 2019, a handful of UVic students with a keen interest in software development created a team with a mission to design and deploy apps that benefit students across campus.

Just a couple of years later, VikeLabs’ membership has ballooned to 85 students, who are actively working on 15 projects.

“VikeLabs is a community of like-minded individuals who are excited to collaborate in building solutions,” says Aomi Jokoji, club president and fourth-year software engineering student. “It’s the perfect place to gain experience in everything from developing software to team leadership, and tasks are tailored to members’ strengths, interests and capabilities.”

To date, the club’s most successful project has been CourseUp, a course scheduling app launched in 2021, which at last count had more than 8,000 unique users. The app lets UVic students build their timetable, with an engaging interface, easy-to-use course finder, and “persistent” schedule that saves users’ selections even when they leave the page. Read more


Innovations get lab-to-market support in crucial early stage

Milena Restan Perez has worked on co-op terms at the Willerth Lab at UVic and at spinoff company Axolotl Biosciences.

Starting this month, UVic biomedical engineering student Milena Restan Perez will begin researching the commercial potential of 3D-printed tissue models of the human heart, which are designed to improve disease modelling and screening for cardiac drugs.

In a separate project, computer science post-doctoral researcher Eduard Wisernig will perform an in-depth market analysis to determine how a new navigation platform – which uses augmented reality to provide vital information to mariners – fits into the existing commercial market.

The two are the first from UVic to benefit from a new pilot program that provides funding to teams of students and researchers so they can assess the commercial potential of promising technologies at the critical early stages.

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) is partnering with business training program Lab2Market in the pilot, which supports testing a technology’s market viability, accelerating its development, and promoting its transfer to a Canadian company. Read more


A journey from power outages to studying renewable energy

Nihal Shavdia stands outdoors with trees in the foreground and mountains and water in the background.

Kenyan-born Nihal Shavdia studied for his high school finals under the lights of the local gas station. Power at his home was unreliable, so during outages he’d take his books there rather than struggle by candlelight.

That experience was one of the drivers behind Shavdia’s decision to pursue a degree in engineering. His long-term dream is to help increase access to reliable power in Kenya – and in Africa more widely – through renewable energy.

Based on his success in his finals, Shavdia received a full scholarship to come to Canada to attend UVic. Then, in 2020, he received the Bez Tabarrok Scholarship in Mechanical Engineering, which was created by alumnus Marinos Stylianou (BEng ’93) as a way to honour the strong legacy of Dr. Tabarrok, the founding chair of the department. Read more


Hundreds take engineering bridge from Camosun to UVic

Kath Silversides faces the camera while working indoors, surrounded by equipment such as pipes, wires and magnets.

Every January, more than 50 students from Camosun College transfer into the third year of an engineering degree at UVic, thanks to a longstanding and extremely successful collaboration known as the Engineering Bridge Program.

Under the decades-old partnership, the two schools work together to ensure that Camosun students with qualifying diplomas and courses can move into UVic’s accredited degree program, in electrical, computer or mechanical engineering.

“It’s great for transfer students to be recognized as having a level of skill equal to the start of third year,” says Kath Silversides, who bridged from Camosun to UVic Mechanical Engineering in 2020.

Soon after UVic established its Faculty of Engineering in 1983, the two schools began discussions on how to ensure a smooth passage for students wanting to take their college diploma to the next level by earning a Bachelor of Engineering. Read more


UVic aerospace researcher receives two international honours

Suleman is shown in the lab surrounded by Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).

Afzal Suleman, a researcher in UVic Mechanical Engineering, has received prestigious international recognition for his significant contributions to aerospace.

In February, the world’s largest aerospace technical society – the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) – named Suleman a 2022 Fellow. Several months earlier, Suleman was awarded the 2021 Von Kármán Medal by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Scientific and Technology Organization (STO).

“Professor Suleman has made outstanding contributions to research and development in the fields of aeronautics, with a particular focus on unmanned air systems, aero-elasticity and morphing wing technologies,” NATO STO said in an announcement. “Professor Suleman has served NATO Science and Technology with excellence and professional integrity.”

At UVic, Suleman is the founding Director of the Centre for Aerospace Research (CfAR), which has experimental research facilities on campus and at the Victoria International Airport. CfAR provides research and development services, design, fabrication, ground and flight testing and operations for potential Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) applications for industry partners, such as Boeing and Bombardier. Read more


Researcher brings air quality expertise to UVic

Laura Minet stands alongside Ring Road on UVic’s campus, holding a device that helps measure air quality.

Like most newcomers to the West Coast, Laura Minet has found plenty to discover and love in the beauty and culture of the Victoria area. Less common, perhaps, is her eagerness to explore the diverse sources of air pollution here.

Minet, who joined UVic last summer, researches outdoor air quality and population exposure to air pollution. Her expertise is especially welcome at UVic Civil Engineering, a department well known for its focus on environmental sustainability and healthy communities.

“What I find interesting about the Victoria area is that you have the usual issues around traffic-related air pollution, but you also have marine vessel emissions,” says Minet, the department’s first air quality specialist. “In the summer you have cruise ships, sea planes and wild fires, which all make it a good challenge to study air quality and how it affects the population’s exposure to air pollution.”

Minet describes her work as lying at the intersection of transportation and environmental engineering. Read more


New master’s gives students edge in booming industries

A student wearing protective goggles works in a lab with biomedical engineering equipment.

UVic’s new Master of Engineering in Biomedical Systems aims to provide students with a competitive knowledge base and skill set so they can innovate and lead in the fields of medical devices and biomedical systems.

The new degree program will supply skills sought by employers looking to hire talent in the growing biotechnology and biomedical device industries, including Victoria-based StarFish Medical, one of BC’s largest medical device companies.

“Development of medical devices requires specialized, cross-disciplined expertise,” says Jordan Haas, Mechanical Engineering Manager at StarFish. “The master’s degree in biomedical systems provides students with the additional skills and technical background needed and is an asset for us when hiring.”

The program’s first cohort starts in September 2022. Applications are open and international students are encouraged to apply as soon as possible to allow for student visa processing times. Read more