uOttawa engineering students showcase their ground-breaking research
When he sees judges handing students their business cards, Ioan Nistor, Vice-Dean Graduate Studies and Professor, knows the University of Ottawa’s Engineering and Computer Science Graduate Poster Competition is doing its job to connect talent and hard work with opportunity.
“This competition is a great way for students to make contacts in industry and R&D ventures – for potential employers this is a great opportunity to see the cutting edge research underway at the graduate level,” said the Vice Dean of Graduate Studies.
First-time judge Dr. Iosif Viorel Onut agrees. He has a unique perspective on the intersection of research and commercialization. He serves as an Adjunct Professor at uOttawa, and as Principal R&D Strategist with oversight of all research projects at IBM Canada’s Centre for Advanced Studies.
“The Poster Competition is a great initiative that’s reached the point where it has a reputation in industry,” he said. “It’s a great networking event for students.”
Now at its ninth edition, the Poster Competition allows students to showcase their research to the experts and public alike, often for the first time. Most of the judges are experts from industry and Ottawa’s world-class R&D organizations or sometimes investors with a trained eye for breakthrough ideas. Along with demonstrated expertise in their chosen fields, students must also know how to sell their ideas and market their research.
Getting to market
Wowing a judge can lead to internships, job placements, capital investments, government research grants and entrepreneurial support.
With this year’s crop of 67 posters, many students have moved beyond fundamental research to projects with ready-market applications.
“Many of these projects could quickly find their way into further development for commercialization, or move to market almost immediately,” Prof. Nistor said.
Given uOttawa’s focus on increasing the representation of women in the engineering sciences and other technology fields, he is also pleased by the growing level of participation by female students. In fact, fully a third of the projects this year are by women.
Three posters that demonstrate the variety of innovative research undertake by graduate students are typical examples of the development of leading technologies:
Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, involves much more than just plastics. Metals are being printed, too. Titanium is an excellent candidate. Despite its widespread uses, it is an extremely difficult metal to work with using conventional processes.
3D printing titanium could be the answer. But existing 3D printing methods for titanium have two problems – they are very slow, and the printed object is too porous – it must be compressed with heat and pressure, adding to the cost and complexity of the manufacturing process.
Mechanical Engineering PhD student Daniel MacDonald is developing a new 3D process using the cold-spray techniques traditionally used to apply coatings. His novel process overcomes those two key challenges with existing 3D printing methods for titanium, with substantial savings in time and cost.
Protecting fish habitats
Civil Engineering PhD student Parna Parsapour-Moghaddam wanted to build on her undergrad degree in river engineering, to improve environmental stewardship of our waterways.
Her research focuses on creating 3-D numerical models that predict how interactions between erosion, sedimentation and changes in the landscape can impact the riverine habitat for flora and fauna. Her goal is to enable more accurate and comprehensive modeling, to help river keepers more effectively predict, plan for and address issues that can impact habitats for aquatic life, and develop effective restoration plans to improve the stability of river and creek channels.
Helping people walk again
Spinal cord injuries can have a dramatic impact on a person’s life, leaving them with partial or even complete paralysis. The challenge is how to help damaged neurons repair or regenerate themselves.
Chemical and Biological Engineering PhD student Taisa Regina Stumpf is working on how hydrogels could be used as a tissue scaffold to help a spinal cord repair itself. Hydrogels are either natural or man-made networks of polymer chains that are highly absorbent (they can contain 90 per cent water). This absorbency gives them characteristics similar to natural tissue. For her research, Stumpf is using bacterial cellulose, a natural hydrogel produced by some forms of bacteria.