Governance & Social Justice

Tracing the roots of anti-Black racism in pursuit of an equitable future

Governance & Social Justice

Tracing the roots of anti-Black racism in pursuit of an equitable future

As Black Lives Matter protests sweep the continent, the ongoing and systematic racism that Black people face is once again in the public eye. The movement has prompted Canada to confront its own experiences with anti-Black racism, both historically and in the present day.

Police brutality towards Black people is among the most well-publicized concerns to be voiced in 2020. Yet for those who study anti-Black racism in Canada, there are many other elements of our society — from politics and health care to entertainment and media — that are implicated in persistent racism, bias and violence.

While for some these revelations may be new, leading researchers at Ryerson University have been shining a light on these issues for many years. Through their work, they have uncovered structural and historical injustices that, although sometimes unseen or ignored, continue to influence anti-Black racism today.

Mental health discrimination

Idil Abdillahi, a professor in the School of Disability Studies, specializes in research on anti-Black sanism — discrimination against people who have, or who are labelled as having, a mental illness. Through her scholarship, activism and policy work, Abdillahi is informing current debates on critical issues such as fatal police shootings of Black mad-identified peoples. She stresses that the nature of this line of research is interdisciplinary, taking into account real people’s experiences across many facets of life, including the rights of prisoners and those held against their will in hospitals.

a protester holding up a sign that says Black lives matter
The Black Lives Matter movement continues to expand globally, advocating for non-violent civil disobedience in protest against incidents of police brutality and all racially motivated violence against black people. Philadelphia, PA, USA. Photo credit: Chris Henry

“My work focuses on the places that we don’t see and the people that we’re often not looking at,” says Abdillahi, who is the advisor to the dean on anti-Black racism in Ryerson’s Faculty of Community Services.

Abdillahi’s work has highlighted ongoing anti-Black discrimination in mental health diagnosis and care. She says that Black people are frequently over-diagnosed with mental health issues and are often not provided with appropriate care. For example, Black children are being psychiatrized at higher rates and young Black men are diagnosed with schizophrenia more than any other group. Through her work on the front lines in Toronto — including as a social worker for over 15 years — Abdillahi has found that more Black-identified patients are being held against their will in hospitals.

My work focuses on the places that we don’t see and the people that we’re often not looking at.
Idil Abdillahi, Assistant Professor, School of Social Work

At the heart of this issue are the diagnostic tools that are used by health-care services, including the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Too often, Abdillahi says, people are under- or over-diagnosed, or receive inappropriate care. And too often, people are assigned to psychiatric institutions where their civil liberties are taken away. In her experience, the system is like a fixed algorithm.

“When we talk about these ideas, we don’t talk about the fact that they are absolutely imbued in issues around race,” she says. “A part of my work is looking at interruptions to people’s livability in the context of mental health. For Black people, it’s carcerality.”

Abdillahi’s work is impacting not only our understanding of these issues, but also that of justice surrounding cases of discrimination. In 2017, her theorizing helped to inform the inquest of Andrew Loku, a Black man killed by police in Toronto in 2015. What followed was one of the first instances of the term “anti-Black racism” featuring in an inquest recommendation. However, Abdillahi says that there are still too many circumstances involving police where official information does not provide enough detail.

crowded protest scene with multiple prostesters kneeling and holding up signs
Street demonstrations, part of the Black Lives Matter movement. Washington, D.C., USA. Photo credit: Clay Banks

“What we know is that they were killed — they were in crisis, someone called the police and something happened,” she says. “Those are often the things that we know, and it is not good enough.”

Abdillahi’s forthcoming book, Blackened Madness: Medicalization and Black Everyday Life in Canada, will see her examine personal experiences, policies, inquests and interventions, providing a critique and offering ways forward. She says working within the School of Disability Studies gives her the environment to do this important research.

One of the first instances in which the term “anti-Black racism” was used in an Ontario inquest recommendation

“I’m working in a space where my scholarship is seen as urgent,” says Abdillahi. “My thinking is validated and my leadership is honoured.”

The history of blackface in Canada

As far back as the 1850s, examples can be found of blackface performances in Canadian theatre houses. From this point, these shows — which involve white men and women painting their faces darker — grew in popularity over the next century, from the big stage to schools, sports clubs and churches. Yet, until recently, very little was known about this part of Canada’s cultural history. Our improved understanding of these shows is largely down to the pioneering work of one person, School of Creative Industries professor Cheryl Thompson.

“The work that I’m doing is really the first to centralize Canada as the place where this was a thriving form of entertainment for at least 100 years,” she says.

a vintage photo of people lining up in front of a movie theatre
Al Jolson in Blackface on Ace Theatre marquee located at 605 Danforth Avenue in Toronto, Ontario (1940)

For the past decade, Thompson has been unearthing the history of blackface in Canada through research in newspaper archives. With a collection of more than 8,000 files, she is now conducting a major project to get these items online and available for the public on a new research website. Together, these documents reveal exactly what shows took place, their location and who performed them. Thompson says that, as well as providing a resource for research and education, her work will encourage people to engage with a history that is recent enough to involve people who we may have known, such as relatives.

100 years
Approximate period of time in which blackface was a thriving form of entertainment in Canada

“Part of this work is really uncomfortable,” she says. “How do you reconcile the fact that you are seeing these people as good people, and yet they’re performing these acts that I believe are a kind of performative violence against a whole community?”

While this part of Canada’s past has been swept under the rug, Thompson says the legacy of blackface can be seen in art forms that are practised today, such as tap dancing, which originated from Black male performers who had no choice but to wear blackface on stage. Yet this influence has been sanitized from curriculums, reflecting the broader fact that Black people have been erased in the history of performance.

“For me, this project is explaining contemporary culture, even though I’m doing it through history,” says Thompson.

a vintage photo of people wearing blackface on stage
“McCormick Minstrels” posing in various rows at the Second Floor Stacks, 255 Spadina Rd, Toronto, Ontario (1920, January 29). Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 52, Item 794. City of Toronto Archives.

To tie her work together, Thompson is also producing a documentary about the subject. She says that working within the Faculty of Communication and Design (FCAD) offers a unique opportunity to explore both creative and academic ways of representing history and culture.

“I always tell people this, but it’s just factual — I don’t think that I could do this work at any other university,” she explains. “In FCAD in particular, you really have the breadth to be a creative.”

The story revealed by Thompson’s research not only illuminates a history of racism but also of Black resistance to discrimination and oppression. This includes the establishment of a Black newspaper in London, Ontario, in the 1920s and ’30s, and on-stage protest in the form of choral singing. Thompson hopes that highlighting these actions can help to broaden current debates.

“It speaks to the fact that there is a resiliency in Black communities that is not just about our relations with policing,” she says.

Urban Health & Wellbeing

How sewage science can be used to fight Covid-19 and future pandemics

Urban Health & Wellbeing

How sewage science can be used to fight Covid-19 and future pandemics

Beneath the streets of Toronto, there is an untapped resource that has the potential to provide authorities with vital clues about the spread of Covid-19. So far, the burden of tracking and containing the pandemic has been placed on mass testing. But pioneering work below ground could provide municipalities with a powerful new tool.

As Ryerson professors Kimberley Gilbride and Claire Oswald are keen to point out, no one can opt out of contributing to the sewage system. And in the fight against a deadly virus, this universal truth could offer a much-needed early warning system.

Evidence suggests that the virus can be picked up in samples of wastewater up to two weeks before clinical testing measures are able to detect that a new outbreak is on the way. Few cities around the world routinely conduct this kind of sewage monitoring, but in Toronto, Gilbride and Oswald are establishing a system that could be used during the Covid-19 crisis and beyond.

Targeting the communities most at risk

Since the beginning of the pandemic, predicting the spread of Covid-19 through urban areas has been a hugely challenging task. It’s made particularly difficult by the fact a person can be infected without knowing it for several days before they develop symptoms. Yet in this time, individuals are shedding traces of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease, via visits to the washroom.

1,200 megalitres
Amount of wastewater that’s treated in Toronto each day

As the pandemic picked up pace in spring 2020, Gilbride and Oswald began to hear of cities attempting to track the virus in wastewater. With decades of combined experience in urban water research, they realized they were in the perfect position to experiment with these techniques in Toronto.

“Before all this happened, nobody wanted to talk about poop,” says Gilbride, a professor in the Department of Biology and Chemistry. “But now people are realizing it’s not such a funny topic — it’s actually a serious topic.”

Gilbride and Oswald contacted other groups in Canada who were beginning to consider the wastewater approach, and built a team comprising other members of the Ryerson Urban Water research centre. In July 2020, they received support from the Ryerson Covid-19 SRC Response Fund, enabling them to begin the ambitious project. They also partnered with Toronto Public Health, Public Health Ontario and Toronto Water.

The unique thing about what we’ve proposed is that, while a lot of groups have stuck to the wastewater treatment plants, we are moving upstream into different communities, which opens up more end uses of the data if we are able to track the virus in those smaller areas.
Claire Oswald, Assistant Professor, Department of Geography and Environmental Studies

As Gilbride made preparations for testing samples in her lab, Oswald applied her expertise as an urban hydrologist to begin analyzing Toronto’s sewage network to understand how the virus would flow around the city. Extending the work being done by researchers elsewhere, the Ryerson team decided to test not only wastewater treatment plants, but also to head upstream. This would allow them to monitor the presence of the virus on a community level.

“The unique thing about what we’ve proposed is that, while a lot of groups have stuck to the wastewater treatment plants, we are moving upstream into different communities, which opens up more end uses of the data if we are able to track the virus in those smaller areas,” says Oswald, a professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies.

Creating a complementary tool

Gilbride and Oswald began with monthly sampling at one of Toronto’s four wastewater plants and, by successfully getting positive test results for the presence of the virus, have confirmed that their system works. They are now finalizing their procedures in their upstream sampling sites and preparing to begin weekly testing. The data gathered from this sampling will be sent to their public health partners, complementing intelligence gained from clinical testing and modelling.

three researchers wearing masks and distanced from each other standing on a grass patch by the road
Professor Claire Oswald (left) and members of her research team at one of the research sites, where automatic sampling equipment will be installed to collect wastewater for analysis in labs at Ryerson University

In addition to showing that a sample of wastewater contains SARS-CoV-2, the researchers’ system can also indicate differences in virus levels between two samples. With regular monitoring of wastewater, it is therefore possible to tell if a particular neighbourhood is experiencing an increase in the amount of virus circulating in its local network.

“If all of a sudden you see a rise in one of the markers you’re looking at, then you can try to find out what is happening and maybe try to rectify the problem before it becomes a bigger problem,” says Gilbride.

Number of wastewater treatment plants in Toronto

A potential application of this system would be to help give public health authorities an idea of which locations they should target for enhanced clinical testing. With cities only able to conduct a certain number of tests per day, this could be crucial in the management of stretched resources. “We know there are strains on the system when everybody is going to get tested and this could be a way to relieve some of that strain,” explains Oswald.

Although Gilbride and Oswald are currently focused on tackling Covid-19, they say that sewershed surveillance — monitoring wastewater in neighbourhood-level sewer networks — could be adapted to monitor many other substances, like drugs and bacteria. The researchers believe that with enough funding it could be possible to develop a coordinated provincial or even national network for the technique.

“We’re building up the expertise and the infrastructure to contribute to a broader scale sewage surveillance network, whether that’s provincial or national,” says Oswald.

With other researchers in Ontario now working on their own sewage surveillance, labs in different locations are able to share results and corroborate protocols. These efforts are being aided through support from the Canadian Water Network. Gilbride says working with people with varied expertise, both within Ryerson and elsewhere, has been a crucial component of their success so far.

“It’s a real collaboration because we’re all doing it to get this pandemic under control and hopefully leave society with a tool that can be used in the future for many other things,” says Gilbride.

Urban Health & Wellbeing

How to maintain social connection in long-term care facilities during pandemics

Urban Health & Wellbeing

How to maintain social connection in long-term care facilities during pandemics

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on Canadians from all age groups with more than 100,000 confirmed cases of the virus. In long-term care homes across Ontario and the country, staff have faced the tension of balancing residents’ safety from the disease with their ability to maintain social connections with family and friends.

Just a few months into the pandemic, a large portion of Canada’s COVID-19-related deaths — over 80 per cent — were among residents of nursing or retirement homes. During Ontario’s early response in March, the Chief Medical Officer of Health recommended that only essential visitors be allowed into long-term care facilities and issued directives prohibiting residents from leaving to visit family and friends. Family visits in long-term care homes were allowed to restart in late June, but included rules such as outdoor visits and physical distancing. 

The importance of relational care

Relational care is the care that addresses the importance of human connectedness for overall well-being. In the case of residents living in long-term care homes, family and friends can also offer insights about the life, health and well-being, and care preferences of the older person to health-care providers. Because of the global health crisis that has been created by the Covid-19 pandemic, providing relational care has been a challenge.

Two Ryerson researchers from the Daphne Cockwell School of Nursing have teamed up to examine these challenges and to find out how health-care providers have overcome them. Sepali Guruge and Lori Schindel Martin, along with a team of researchers and partners, will identify innovative strategies that can be deployed to create opportunities to maintain relational care as the Covid-19 global health crisis continues and in the event of future outbreaks. 

Daphne Cockwell School of Nursing building
Ryerson’s Daphne Cockwell Health Sciences Complex opened in the fall of 2019

“It’s the background story of the older person that’s absolutely critical,” says Schindel Martin, adding that family members help to provide that background story for the older person living in long-term care. Relatives have often developed skills in caring for their loved one, which has frequently gone untapped during the pandemic as access to one other was limited. Even before the Covid-19 outbreak, the researchers say, the impact of good relational care and how it is provided was misunderstood. 

It’s sometimes perceived that relational care is a happy accident instead of a result of the complex standards and competencies that are part of the skill sets of health-care providers such as gerontological nurses. “The public may not be aware of the skills and research-informed best practice knowledge that these wonderful interpersonal strategies are based upon,” says Schindel Martin.

of Covid-19 deaths were among residents of nursing or retirement homes

Social connections aren’t just nice to have for residents living in long-term care homes. They are critical to their well-being. “We can’t ignore the powerful impact that social isolation has on people in general, and older persons in particular. Social isolation can result in a range of short and long-term physical and mental health problems that can lead to early death,” says Guruge.

There can be difficulties in providing relational care during the pandemic. Many residents of long-term care homes may have cognitive impairments that affect their ability to initiate social engagement, which means staff, friends and family need to initiate or facilitate these engagements. Staff working in long-term care homes have had to try and balance allowing residents to socialize with each other and their family members and friends while keeping residents safe from those who may be infected and asymptomatic, a process Schindel Martin says can be complex. 

There’s also the potential confusion stemming from a visitor’s need to wear personal protective equipment, something Guruge says can make residents wonder if they’re having a bad dream when they cannot recognize their loved ones or their voices. This study will help to identify strategies, for example methods families have successfully used to make themselves known and understood by their loved ones when PPE makes them unrecognizable.

The pair says many health-care providers and family members are still striving to create meaningful moments of connection for long-term care home residents. “What we’re trying to understand is how we can do more of that,” says Guruge. She and Schindel Martin aim to capture the approaches that have brought such moments about, as well as highlight areas for improvement. 

someone having a video call on a tablet with an older Black couple
Health-care providers and family members are striving to create meaningful moments of connection for long-term care home residents

Creating guidelines for future pandemics and outbreaks 

As part of their research, Guruge and Schindel Martin will interview health-care providers and family members of older persons in care. Their findings could influence future policy directions as well as provide strategies for health-care providers to maintain relational care. Additionally, they seek to develop resources for health-care providers to help safeguard their own mental health and well-being during the pandemic. These resources may assist in future retention of health-care providers in long-term care homes or in other settings that focus on the care and well-being of older persons. 

We can’t ignore the powerful impact that social isolation has on people in general, and older persons in particular. Social isolation can result in a range of short and long-term physical and mental health problems that can lead to early death.
Sepali Guruge, Professor and Daphne Cockwell School of Nursing Research Chair in Urban Health

The strategies will aim to go beyond the individual health-care practitioner and family level to create best practice guidelines that could influence how facilities and even cities and neighbourhoods consider relational care and help to avoid some of the challenges that took place in the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic, such as visits being cancelled or some residents being restrained. 

Their findings will be applicable both during the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as during future disease outbreaks, whether it’s another pandemic or the annual influenza season that can lead to closed doors. “Every fall, there are long-term care homes where there is an outbreak because of the flu,” says Schindel Martin. 

The work they are undertaking will examine the creative strategies used to deliver relational care during this global health crisis to help ensure that during the ongoing pandemic and in future disease outbreaks the residents of long-term care homes can continue to have the social connections that are crucial to their health and well-being. 

Urban Design & Infrastructure

The cities of the future won’t just be greener, they’ll be more resilient too

Urban Design & Infrastructure

The cities of the future won’t just be greener, they’ll be more resilient too

The world is an increasingly urban place. More than half of the world’s population already calls urban areas home, with more than two-thirds expected to do so by 2050.

At the same time, the planet continues to face the challenges posed by climate change. Without change, global biodiversity will continue to decline. In the near future, many of our children may grow up more familiar with the landscapes of the city than those of nature.

Humans need nature to survive — and to thrive. Ryerson is at the forefront of applied research that helps to address how urban environments can incorporate and include nature.

Green infrastructure from the ground up

Building a greener city is much more than planting trees. The design choices we make can touch every facet of daily urban life, from turning on the tap to the air we breathe walking down the street. Through planning and design, engineered, purpose-built infrastructure that integrates well with the living world can help cities to become places that are more resilient and sustainable.

Imagine cities developed with nature in place, where “green and blue” infrastructure — which incorporates living things and water — is as essential to the cityscape as the “grey infrastructure” of buildings, sewers and roads. Parks, urban gardens, meadows filled with pollinator-friendly plants, living walls, green rooftops and bridges not only connect humans and animals to those spaces; they also are important infrastructural investments.

Ecologist and urban planner Nina-Marie Lister can envision urban spaces of the future where green infrastructure is a standard part of city building in every community worldwide. Her work, and that of her Ecological Design Lab at Ryerson, connects people to and reminds them of the sustaining power of nature. “Our work helps people see nature for its benefits and services to people, and also for its inherent value,” she says.

a woman standing in the forest and looking up
Nina-Marie Lister, Associate Professor, School of Urban and Regional Planning. Photo credit: Jonny C.Y. Lam

The green infrastructure she helps to design offers more than just the chance to experience nature’s beauty in the city — though that’s important too. As Lister notes, connections to nature are now known to be vital to human physical and mental health, as well as to our emotional and cultural well-being. In addition to providing green places to recreate, exercise and relax, integrating the natural world into the urban landscape provides important benefits to humans, as well as to wildlife, including cooling, shading, pollination, carbon capture and storage, oxygen production, water quality and infiltration, urban flood management, and food production through urban farming, foraging and seed collection.

Number of wildlife crossings (38 underpasses and 6 overpasses) in Banff National Park

Purpose-built green infrastructure has applications outside city limits as well. One of the best-known research projects that Lister has collaborated on are wildlife crossings designed to move animals across roadways safely via bridges and tunnels, which can effectively be used for urban roads and rural highways. The crossings can help to prevent animal and vehicle collisions and the ensuing potential injuries and deaths for animals and humans, as well as the costly cleanup and damage.

Despite perceptions that wildlife collisions are only issues in places like the Rocky Mountains, Lister says the fastest growing areas for wildlife-involved crashes are in the outer ring of suburbs. “You have wildlife on roads and you have settlement creeping into habitat areas, and both drivers and wildlife are at risk,” she says.

The ARC (Animal Road Crossing) project started 10 years ago with the International Wildlife Crossing Infrastructure Design Competition and has evolved into a decade-spanning effort. There are more than 30 partners across Canada and the U.S., including Ryerson University, working to make wildlife crossings a standard practice in transportation design. Well-known examples include wildlife overpasses in the Rocky Mountains and the efforts to build a wildlife crossing over the 16-lane Pacific Coast Highway in California to help save the cougar population in Los Angeles’s Hollywood Hills.

a woman sitting in a tree
Nina-Marie Lister, Associate Professor, School of Urban and Regional Planning. Photo credit: Jonny C.Y. Lam

“It’s slow going but the evidence is compelling,” says Lister. “When they’re placed in the right spot with fencing attached, we know they work more than 95 percent of the time.”

Location, habitat type and materials are key considerations when designing the crossings. The research shows the crossings are successful, says Lister. What’s harder is getting the funds, usually from governments, to invest in a type of infrastructure that can sometimes be perceived as a frill.

Cities are where we often make a real and lasting difference on the ground, where decisions about the land and how we live are made.
Nina-Marie Lister, director of the Ecological Design Lab at Ryerson

Collaborating across borders and industries to design a more natural city

Collaborations and partnerships play a key role in many of the projects Lister is involved in. When it comes to government partnerships, she seeks collaborations with cities, universities and institutions across the globe for her research. She says municipal governments can sometimes be more agile in responding to current issues, such as climate change.

“We find that joining a worldwide network of cities, especially for those of us in urban planning, is a really smart strategy,” says Lister. “Cities are where we often make a real and lasting difference on the ground, where decisions about the land and how we live are made.”

Toronto offers Lister a living laboratory, providing real-time research opportunities and community connections. “At Ryerson, we are in the heart of the downtown of Canada’s largest city, the economic engine of the country, and a diverse community of progressive urban leaders and place-makers,” she says.

Estimated effectiveness of wildlife road crossings when installed in strategic positions with proper fencing

While her own work is focused on landscape design, it’s part of the efforts to address pressing issues such as climate change and declining biodiversity, and to spur cooperation. “It’s urgent work that’s necessary, and we need a lot of us doing it,” says Lister. “We’re not in competition for work, we’re collaborating, many of us, to effectively keep clean air, clean water and places for people and wildlife that are healthy, resilient and sustainable.”

For some of her projects, interdisciplinary approaches have been woven together to reach innovative solutions, developing integrated designs that incorporate the expertise of engineers, landscape architects, architects, artists and ecologists.

Lister and her colleagues seek beneficial partnerships in ways that cross disciplines, borders and industries. Sometimes, unusual partnerships — such as working with insurance companies to reduce wildlife collisions — can be surprisingly fruitful, she says.

Governance & Social Justice

The commitment to foster equity and accessibility will make marginalization a thing of the past

Governance & Social Justice

The commitment to foster equity and accessibility will make marginalization a thing of the past

Access to entertainment is something the majority of us take for granted. But for those with disabilities, including neurological and perceptual differences, unencumbered access to creative content is far from assured. When entertainment and other expressions of our culture and values are available to some but denied to others, we cannot be considered a truly just and equitable society.

At the same time, a persistent lack of diversity and inclusion in the research cultures and structures of Canadian higher education produces — and reinforces — inequity. If we’re to serve our population impartially now and in the future, as well as compete globally, we need to transform systems that limit the potential for excellence among those in specific groups.

Research and collaboration at Ryerson are contributing to a better understanding of the effects of marginalization in the contexts of culture and higher learning as part of a larger commitment to striving for a better future for us all.

Following the evidence to make media more accessible

Until Henry Vlug came along, a Deaf person had never graduated from a law school in Canada — or practised as a lawyer. After receiving his degree from the University of British Columbia in 1985, Vlug continued to confront barriers and challenge perceptions through a series of human rights complaints and legal cases. The requirement to caption all television programming in Canada today came about as a result of Vlug v. CBC (2000), in which the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal found that captioning only some broadcasts was discriminatory.

Deborah Fels
Deborah Fels, director of Ryerson’s Inclusive Media and Design Centre and a professor with the Ted Rogers School of Information Technology Management

“I owe much credit to the many Deaf and disabled people who, like Vlug, have fought to lay the groundwork for the work I am doing today in accessible media education, policy and practice,” says Deborah Fels, director of Ryerson’s Inclusive Media and Design Centre and a professor with the Ted Rogers School of Information Technology Management.

Indeed, the result of Vlug’s efforts is part of a course series, Inclusive Media: Real-time Closed Captioning and Audio Description/Described Video, that Fels developed for Ryerson’s Chang School of Continuing Education.

Percentage of Canadian television broadcasts that must be captioned following the seminal Vlug v. CBC case in 2000

“Our approach to media access — an important strand of our research program — is unlike other approaches in that we work with people with perceptual disabilities to try and better understand enjoyment factors in current assistive strategies, such as audio description and captioning,” Fels explains. “Not only are we working with users to study entertainment factors in media experiences, but we are also deeply engaged with other stakeholders, which has enabled our research to have greater reach.”

Looking ahead, Fels’ hope is that media industries in Canada and elsewhere, along with federal regulators and tech companies such as Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft and major streaming services such as Netflix, will become more invested in providing evidence-based recommendations for standards. And, she envisions advances that follow inclusive design frameworks in which Deaf, hard-of-hearing, blind and low-vision users are involved at all levels within production, legal and distribution positions.

Our approach to media access — an important strand of our research program — is unlike other approaches in that we work with people with perceptual disabilities to try and better understand enjoyment factors in current assistive strategies, such as audio description and captioning.
Deborah Fels, director of Ryerson’s Inclusive Media and Design Centre

In the meantime, according to Fels, Ryerson provides an ideal setting and environment for important work that still needs to be done.

“The support of the university has been critical to the work I’ve been doing in my lab,” says Fels. “What we’ve achieved already would not have been possible without Ryerson’s commitment to access, innovation and scholarly research.”

Fostering change within higher learning

Slightly more than one-third of academic faculty and researchers in Canada’s post-secondary education sector identify as members of at least two diversity groups from a list that takes into account such characteristics as gender, visible minority status, Indigenous identity, self-reported disability, sexual orientation and use of official languages or others.

That’s according to a recent survey conducted by Statistics Canada. Its purpose was to fill important data gaps related to equity, diversity and inclusion in the Canadian academic community — and to better understand how certain diversity characteristics “may influence career experiences and affect career advancement of the survey respondents.”

Portion of academic faculty and researchers in Canada’s post-secondary education sector who identify as members of at least two diversity groups

Action to address similar concerns within the ecosystem of higher learning is fundamental to Dimensions: Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Canada, a federal government initiative in collaboration with Universities Canada as well as Colleges and Institutes Canada that was announced in May 2019.

Ryerson moved quickly to officially endorse the Dimensions charter and is participating in the program’s two-year pilot project, which is intended “to foster transformational change within the research community at Canadian post-secondary institutions by identifying and eliminating obstacles and inequities.”

“The Dimensions pilot will affect the Ryerson community by bringing responsibility and advocacy for equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in research right into every department, school and faculty,” says Art Blake, a history professor who was appointed as the pilot’s director last February.

“We are fortunate to have a commitment to EDI embedded in our leadership and educational structures through the Office of the Vice President, Equity and Community Inclusion; however, we cannot make lasting, structural change and improvement unless everyone, at all levels, engages in the work,” Blake explains.

researchers of diverse ethnic backgrounds smiling in a lab
Ryerson supports new federal charter to increase research diversity

In Blake’s view, the work ahead includes a broad but necessary re-thinking of established research cultures and practices.

“It is clear, from the design of research spaces that do not fit a variety of people to how opportunities are distributed formally and informally, that our systems are not always equitable or inclusive,” he adds. “By participating in this pilot and making our learning from the Dimensions program sustainable, we can develop innovative EDI practices that every research leader can put in place and from which every researcher — from undergrads to faculty members — can benefit.”

The endeavour is worthwhile for another reason. While seeking to reduce barriers for others, the university has an obligation to do all it can to ensure its own house is in order.

Migration & Integration

As newcomers power our cities, our cities must empower newcomers

Migration & Integration

As newcomers power our cities, our cities must empower newcomers

How newcomers are welcomed to this country is an important issue. It shapes their subsequent experiences, and reflects our perceptions and values as Canadians.

We can also respond compassionately to those who live and work in our communities even though they lack a legal right to do so, either because they never applied, their status was revoked or a refugee claim was denied, for example.

Those concerns are shared elsewhere, too, as countries around the world struggle with their own migration and settlement challenges, many of which have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Research and public outreach at Ryerson is contributing to new ideas around belonging and membership for newcomers of all kinds and laying the groundwork for positive change not just here, but beyond our borders, as well.

Changing the world through sanctuary cities

How do we include migrants and refugees in our communities and ensure they enjoy the same opportunities that others take for granted?

That’s a question that animates the research and advocacy of Harald Bauder, a professor at Ryerson and director of the university’s unique graduate program in Immigration and Settlement Studies.

One area about which he has written extensively is the role of sanctuary cities in protecting and including migrants who are denied legal status by nation states. Those cities provide services without asking about immigration status, and they refuse to cooperate with national authorities seeking to punish or deport non-status individuals. They may also ask their police boards to develop similar practices, so that someone can call 9-1-1, for example, without fear that it could lead to deportation.

activists with a banner that says refugees welcome
Protesters in Freiburg, Germany, during the summer of 2015

There’s a reason municipalities opt to show such solidarity. Despite their precarious circumstances, non-status migrants pay property taxes through their rent and help boost local economic growth through their employment. They also contribute to a city’s cultural vitality. That’s why Toronto declared itself a sanctuary city in 2013 — the first in the country to do so. Others now include Hamilton, London, Montreal and Vancouver.

There are similar implications for Canada as a whole. An estimated 200,000 to 500,000 non-status migrants live in the country, according to the Canadian Labour Congress, which also acknowledges the value of their presence.

The most important thing I want people to get from my research is that we can organize our societies in different territorial ways, and that municipalities are an intuitive level of governance in this context.
Harald Bauder, Professor, Geography and Environmental Studies

Yet, there is still much to learn and understand about integrating a hidden part of the population, says Bauder. For that, he is taking a broader perspective in a project for which he is the lead investigator.

“The label ‘sanctuary city’ tends to be used mostly in Anglo-American contexts, but innovative urban approaches that work toward the inclusion of migrants and refugees without full legal status also exist in cities elsewhere, such as Barcelona in Spain, Berlin and Freiburg in Germany, and Quilicura, Chile,” he explains. “My research examines urban sanctuary policies and solidarity practices in various parts of the world.”

The outcome of that work will be useful to a variety of local actors, including municipal policymakers, activists and community organizations, as well as those with a global or regional outlook on migration, he adds.

“The most important thing I want people to get from my research is that we can organize our societies in different territorial ways, and that municipalities are an intuitive level of governance in this context.”

Ryerson enables that research because of the importance it confers to city building. Bauder’s work is all about working with partners to not only to change Toronto and other cities in Canada, but also the world.

of migrants are estimated to reside in urban centres around the world

Understanding the true value newcomers bring

Alongside the widespread social disruption and tragic loss of life caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been at least one positive outcome: it has served to remind Canadians just how important many non-status migrants, as well as legitimate temporary workers, are to this country’s essential services.

Indeed, those employed in the agricultural and health care sectors, for example, have been regarded as much as anyone else as front-line workers during the crisis.

“The work they do was revealed for what it is — neither irrelevant nor superfluous,” says Usha George, a professor and Director of the Ryerson Centre for Immigration and Settlement, which aims to be a leader in the transdisciplinary exploration of international migration, integration, diaspora and refugee studies.

“Whether it is in food production, transportation and distribution, hospitality or health and social care, those individuals are often filling significant gaps in the workforce and doing work that needs to be done,” she adds.

For a more cohesive, inclusive society, it is important for us to understand how newcomers actually live and work in Canada once they have ‘settled down’ after their arrival.
Usha George, director of the Ryerson Centre for Immigration and Settlement

George’s research focuses on the experiences of newcomers in Canada and the issues they face in adjusting to a new life and developing a reshaped identity and sense of belonging over time. She’s particularly interested in the experiences of women, driven partly by her own as an immigrant from Kerala, a state on India’s tropical southern coast, and those in racialized groups.

The pandemic adds a new dimension to her work, inasmuch as it renews calls to grant greater protections to non-status migrants and temporary workers and make the path to more permanent status easier — thus altering the newcomer experience — in light of the dramatic decline in the number of permanent residents admitted to Canada due to Covid-related travel restrictions.

“For a more cohesive, inclusive society, it is important for us to understand how newcomers actually live and work in Canada once they have ‘settled down’ after their arrival,” George explains. “

“I imagine the outcome would be a deeper appreciation of the immigrant experience and the contributions those individuals make to communities and the economy.”

Migration & Integration

The health of our society – and economy – is indelibly tied to the success of newcomers

Migration & Integration

The health of our society — and economy — is indelibly tied to the success of newcomers

More than 300,000 people immigrate to Canada in a typical year. Those individuals are vital to diversifying our culture and economy, and expanding our workforce.

In fact, without significant levels of immigration, the country’s labour market would shrink. But help is needed. Entering the labour force is a critical step for newcomers to Canada, yet many of them arrive with education and work experience that is either undervalued by the Canadian labour market, or completely unrecognized. In addition, some individuals may arrive with no formal qualifications or previous experience at all.

With the right supports in place, immigrants — and refugees — stand a better chance of becoming contributing members of Canadian society.

Research, advocacy and an innovative networking platform co-created at Ryerson are helping to meet that goal.

Making a difference in the lives of immigrants and refugees

The successful settlement and integration of newcomers is clearly an important policy issue for Canada.

“The ability of Canada to do it right is critical for the future growth and economic, cultural and social health of the country,” says John Shields, a politics and public administration professor at Ryerson’s Faculty of Arts and senior scholar with CERIS, Ontario’s leading network of researchers, policymakers and practitioners working in the field of migration and settlement.

He is also a prolific author of books, articles and research papers whose work is widely cited in international journals. He frequently appears as a guest or panelist on radio, television and podcasts to discuss issues relating to immigration and integration, and as an expert in his field he has shared his insights as a witness before parliamentary committees.

Number of people who typically immigrate to Canada each year

“The research I have been engaged in has been very grounded in the real policy challenges facing newcomers after their arrival in Canada,” Shields explains. “It involves working closely with community-based partners. Hence, the work is centred both in the critical academic literature but also in the lived experiences of support practitioners and immigrants themselves.”

Ryerson’s mandate for applied policy-relevant research and its connection with the community has greatly facilitated his work, Shields adds.

What drives his inquiries is a desire for clarity. “We need to know more about what kinds of settlement programming have the greatest positive impacts on newcomer populations and how best to deliver them,” he says. “This also includes how to reform systems of government partnering with non-profit settlement agencies to ensure those organizations have the ability to respond flexibly to newcomer needs.”

When asked what more he would like to see happen, Shields is quick to list a few ideal-world priorities.

We need to know more about what kinds of settlement programming have the greatest positive impacts on newcomer populations and how best to deliver them.
John Shields, Professor, Politics and Public Administration

“Financially supporting community partners to more actively engage in research would give us greater insight into the working of settlement programs and the immigration policies that guide them. It would allow for more in-depth interviews with settlement workers and immigrants to understand better their experiences. Such funding would also allow us to engage in deeper and more reflective evaluations of new settlement initiatives, including pre-arrival programming. This would help to refine and better target programs for improved outcomes,” he says.

There is no shortage of ideas from Shields. In the meantime, his work and the projects he is leading are already making a profound difference.

Responding to the needs of newcomers

Matchmaking is not always about romance. “We often hear about jobs without people and people without jobs,” says Mark Patterson, executive director of the not-for-profit, social innovation platform Magnet.

“There’s an opportunity to better support employers and workers — especially vulnerable newcomers — during challenging times such as we are experiencing today,” Patterson adds. “The question is, how can we equip employment service providers, community organizations and employers across Canada to create a more inclusive labour market that meets the needs of our evolving 21st century economy?”

Magnet is providing part of the answer. Its mission is to accelerate economic growth in Canada by advancing careers, businesses and communities. It does that by connecting people and organizations to opportunities through an intelligent matching technology that was developed in 2014 at Ryerson’s DMZ — North America’s top-ranked university incubator and one of a series of on-campus zones for startups, causes, projects or ventures — in partnership with the Ontario Chamber of Commerce.

a team meeting in an office environment
Magnet team meeting

“Ryerson has a long history of partnering with community organizations to support inclusive economic development and has a culture that fosters fresh ideas and solutions to social challenges. This environment provides the perfect home for Magnet,” says Patterson.

Magnet’s network now includes 1.1 million job seekers and students, 500,000 employer accounts, 60 industry associations, and 300 community organizations. The organization also provides the digital infrastructure for Canada’s Future Skills Centre, a federally funded partnership led by Ryerson, alongside The Conference Board of Canada and non-profit research organization Blueprint.

Number of employer accounts within the Magnet network set to connect with 1.1 million job seekers

One of the chief challenges that Magnet is responding to is the needs of newcomers. Its Hire Immigrants initiative helps employers recruit, retain and promote those who are pursuing a place in the Canadian workforce. It also provides policy makers, researchers and community activists with analysis and global thought leadership on immigrant employment and entrepreneurship.

“Magnet’s ALiGN project is also key. In place of creating matches based on skills and experience, it creates talent-to-role matches based on the results of a personality assessment,” explains Patterson.

“We believe this work is critical in a time of rapid change and disruption in the labour market,” he adds.

Indeed, empowering organizations in communities across the country with technology, tools and assessments such as ALiGN can help ensure a brighter future in Canada and potentially beyond. The technology Magnet leverages in service of the Canadian economy is both exportable and scalable in other parts of the world. The possibilities for expansion are immense.

Economic Development

Innovation will drive the green economic revolution

Economic Development

Innovation will drive the green economic revolution

Canada’s entrepreneurs are increasingly diverse and opening more businesses today than in the past decade. That’s according to a study by the Business Development Bank of Canada in 2019. Among its key findings: more women, newcomers and younger Canadians are creating new companies, and this burst of entrepreneurial activity is “changing the face of entrepreneurship” in Canada.

That’s certainly good news for the country’s economy. Even more promising perhaps was a Thomson Reuters Foundation survey last year that ranked Canada as the best country for entrepreneurs seeking to tackle social and environmental problems, such as climate change.

Supporting innovation and entrepreneurship is therefore essential, which underscores the importance of Zone Learning at Ryerson. It’s a model of experiential learning that enables participants to develop new products, explore innovative solutions or embark on ventures to change the world.

Two of Ryerson’s zones have been particularly critical to the success of companies that are poised to help individuals find greater agency in their green decision-making and accelerate the adoption of sustainable alternatives — factors that are fundamental to developing Canada’s green economy.

Turning green choices into informed decisions

What makes a product green? If it is labelled “all-natural,” “organic” or “eco-friendly,” do we know what that means? We might assume the product is helpful — or at least not harmful — to the planet in some way, but is it really?

And what about the company that makes the product? Is it trustworthy? If a product we’re considering comes at a premium, or a portion of its sale will somehow support a green initiative or social cause, how confident can we be that it’s not all just “greenwashing” to mislead consumers about a company’s environmental practices generally?

These are all legitimate concerns, and, in fact, they often prompt consumers to mistrust green labels or lose faith in brands.

For Akhil Sivanandan and Navodit Babel, who met while pursuing MBAs at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto in 2011, these were also the questions that informed their research to understand why more consumers aren’t making greener choices.

They concluded that three key issues prevent greater green adoption: price, understanding of a product’s environmental impact and the lack of an emotional connection.

That, in turn, led to the creation of Green Story, a data-driven online platform that generates eye-catching, interactive visuals to help consumers make informed — and confident — green purchasing decisions.

a diverse team smiling around a table with laptops open
Green Story team in action: target 1 billion greener decisions

It is the only solution of its kind in the world, and it received early help from Ryerson’s Social Ventures Zone (SVZ) — an incubation space that caters to aspiring changemakers.

“From mentorship to training and research support, the SVZ did a lot to ensure we were in a position to succeed,” says Sivanadan. “The team there helped us win new clients, grow our network, win grants and really get ready to scale up.”

We believe there is as much potential for us in almost every green industry, from foods to travel — you name it.
Akhil Sivanandan, Co-founder of Green Story

Since starting out in 2017, with Sivanadan at the helm as marketing lead and co-founder Babel guiding development, Green Story has focused on the eco-fashion industry. Today, it works with 80 brands in 15 countries.

In January 2020, the company partnered with thredUP, the world’s largest online consignment and thrift store, to launch a Fashion Footprint Calculator. Green Story’s work in developing the online tool drew attention from CNN Business, Fast Company and other media outlets.

Now, the company is looking at expanding its reach.

“Our visualization system has been tested by over 10 million consumers globally, so we know how to reach a green demographic,” Sivanadan explains. “We believe there is as much potential for us in almost every green industry, from foods to travel — you name it.”

Number of brands that Green Story works with across 15 countries

Indeed, as demand for greener products and green transparency increases, the company is well-positioned to be at the forefront of enabling consumers to know the true environmental story behind products and services they are evaluating, so they can identify with the choices they ultimately make.

To mount a serious defence against climate change over the next decade and beyond, arming consumers with this knowledge is key to instilling a culture of sustainability and to fostering environmental responsibility on a global scale.

Making EV charging available to everyone

Electric vehicles (EVs) can help save the planet by reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. So, for all their green appeal, why aren’t more people buying or leasing them?

For both consumers and business customers, lack of exposure to the experience of driving an EV — let alone leasing or owning one — is a factor. So, too, is resistance to change.

When an EV is seriously considered as an option, concerns start to operate at a deeper level. They revolve around selection, price and range anxiety (the latter is a worry specific to EVs, but it can be regarded as an expression of durability or performance, which are measures for all products).

No less important for many potential EV owners is access to charging. That’s not an issue for those who live in single-family homes and can purchase a 40-amp charger for installation in their garage or driveway.

It’s a different story for those who live in urban multi-tenant settings, such as condos and apartment buildings, and operators of commercial office buildings, warehouses and depots, for example. There, electrical infrastructure upgrades can be prohibitively expensive and challenging to manage. The lack of suitable local charging options precludes investing in EVs.

underground parking lot with electric chargers
Six (6) SWTCH EV chargers in Ryerson’s new Daphne Cockwell Complex (DCC)

Enter SWTCH, a Toronto-based company that provides end-to-end electric vehicle charging and energy management solutions designed specifically for multi-unit residential and commercial buildings. Its smart EV charging platform “streamlines the charging experience for drivers while optimizing usage and revenue for building owners,” according to Thomas Martin, the company’s director of business development and a graduate of Ryerson’s Master of Engineering Innovation and Entrepreneurship program.

“Our technology is based on open communication standards to ensure scalable, future-proof solutions. Ultimately, our mission at SWTCH is to improve EV charging accessibility and ensure effective integration of EVs in our clean energy future,” he adds.

a closer up shot of electric chargers
Two (2) SWTCH EV chargers for shared use in uptown Toronto condo

Founded in 2016, SWTCH emerged from Ryerson’s Clean Energy Zone — an incubator focused on sustainable energy innovations, including electric vehicles, renewable energy, energy storage and distribution, microgrids and net-zero city building.

Number of homes SWTCH EV charging units are installed in multi-tenant residential, workplace and retail settings across North America

“The Clean Energy Zone gave SWTCH a home in its early development stage, along with all kinds of invaluable resources, including workshops, networking opportunities, industry partnerships and access to capital and talent,” Martin explains.

Now, according to Martin, SWTCH’s EV charging and energy management platform is fully commercialized, with 400-plus units deployed across more than 100 multi-tenant residential, workplace and retail settings in North America.

“By improving EV charging and energy management in urban multi-tenant settings, SWTCH is helping promote widespread EV adoption and ultimately contributing to the development of a cleaner transportation system.”

Given that transportation is a leading contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, the future impact of radically improved charging infrastructure is tantalizing. If enough people have access to such technology, EVs just might just help rescue our planet, after all.

Creativity & Culture

In the future, the things we wear will take care of us

Creativity & Culture

In the future, the things we wear will take care of us

For most people, monitoring wellness or undergoing tests to diagnose a medical condition means visiting a clinic or hospital. That can present challenges for individuals with language or mobility concerns, and, as has been the case during the COVID-19 pandemic, concerns regarding in-person visits for non-virus related medical care have led many to avoid seeking advice or treatment altogether.

Our mental and physical health might also benefit from the regulation of activities, including simple human or automated reminders to stand up and stretch, rest when we are overworked or take medications. But there are limits to what we can do with prevailing technologies and methods.

From day-to-day monitoring of our health and ensuring that prompt attention is dispatched in the event of a medical emergency to promoting better human connectedness and wellness through modern design and manufacturing processes, there are many opportunities to apply more creativity and innovation to how we take care of ourselves.

Ryerson is at the forefront of supporting such efforts and is contributing to work that ultimately will improve the lives of people everywhere.

Using smart textiles to promote health and wellness

“The apparel oft proclaims the man,” says Polonius, advisor to the newly crowned King of Denmark, to his son Laertes in Act 1, Scene 3, of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

But what if our apparel could proclaim more than just our station in life, such as the state of our health and safety or even performance at critical tasks?

Those are the kinds of questions that Toronto-based Myant Inc. has spent the last decade exploring. Now, in collaboration with Ryerson’s FCAD, the Faculty of Communication and Design, they are pushing the boundaries of design, fashion and engineering in the emerging field of textile computing: the integration of technology into the very fibres of clothing and other fabrics.

smart fabrics
Myant Inc. has “smart” apparel that can monitor everything from ECG to sleep quality

“Myant is at the forefront of the next wave of industrial and commercial innovation in Canada,” says FCAD Dean Charles Falzon. “Our students and faculty live at the intersection of design, technology and user experience, and we are excited to work with Myant to unlock new possibilities for the future of human-machine interactions.”

Indeed, the vision for textile computing is at once bold and far-reaching. The clothes we wear, bedding we sleep on and covered furnishings we use at home and work, for example, can be embedded with nano-scale sensors and actuators that are connected to an AI-enabled digital platform. That puts us on the cusp of a new era in remote health monitoring and management, along with improved productivity, performance and workforce wellness and safety.

a woman with a construction hat at a textile production line
FCAD’s partnership with Myant Inc. reimagines the future of design and technology through textile-based solutions

To demonstrate what’s possible, Myant has already launched an apparel line that includes everyday essentials such as underwear, bras and undershirts, as well as baby onesies and polo shirts. Each serves as a digitally connected epilayer on top of a person’s skin to monitor essential health information.

“We all wear clothes or sleep on sheets,” notes Todd Carmichael, FCAD’s executive director of strategic planning and advancement. “By embedding technology in use-cases that are already pervasive, we can unleash a world of possibilities.”

Number of patents secured by Myant Inc.

That chair we sit on to work? It will sense our physical and psychological state and suggest we take a 10-minute break. Sensors knitted into the fabric used in safety shoes will provide continuous gait analysis to help predict and ultimately prevent occupational slips, trips and falls.

The list goes on. So, too, will the need for more research and multi-disciplinary collaboration. What, for instance, are the useful lifetimes of smart textiles, and how should they be recycled or repurposed? It’s questions like these that will drive future innovations and refinement of the technology.

With textile computing, we’re seeing not just the emergence of a new industry that has the potential to make a profound difference in the lives of individuals, but also the start of a unique, made-in-Canada innovation network in which the Myant Textile Computing Lab at FCAD plays a central role.

We all wear clothes or sleep on sheets. By embedding technology in use-cases that are already pervasive, we can unleash a world of possibilities.
Todd Carmichael, Executive Director of strategic planning and advancement at Ryerson’s Faculty of Communication and Design (FCAD)

Making remote, real-time heart health monitoring a reality

Heart disease is a leading cause of death. For those with heart ailments, there are a few options for monitoring outside of healthcare facilities, but all are uncomfortable to wear and there is usually a delay before the information they collect is reviewed by medical professionals. Some of these devices also lack the ability to detect certain conditions. Plus, they are expensive.

Those and other shortcomings are partly what prompted Frank Nguyen and André Bertram to start HelpWear while they were still high school students in 2015.

There was also a personal incentive. Nguyen’s mother had serious heart problems. Nguyen was concerned that if an emergency occurred when he was absent, she would not be able to get proper medical care in time. So, he and Bertram set out together to develop an alternative.

smiling grandparents holding a baby
HeartWatch, a lightweight armband that allows users to engage in daily life without the physical restrictions associated with conventional ambulatory monitors

The result of their joint efforts is HeartWatch, a lightweight armband that allows users to engage in daily life without the physical restrictions associated with conventional ambulatory monitors. It’s an easy-to-use solution that combines the accuracy of a hospital-grade ECG heart monitor with the health data technology and smartphone integration of consumer-level wearable devices.

“HeartWatch is different from others on the market in that it monitors heart activity 24/7, can detect cardiac events, notifies emergency medical services of a patient’s GPS location and event data to emergency physicians in real time, so they can treat patients more effectively,” explains Bertram, who is now the company’s CEO alongside Nguyen as the chief technical officer.

An important first step in developing their device was attending Ryerson’s DMZ Basecamp, which helps aspiring young entrepreneurs bring their innovative ideas to life. It provided Bertram and Nguyen with access to “an ecosystem of industry experts, tech whizzes and advisors” as a starting point to building on their initial concepts.

The constant monitoring period of the HeartWatch differentiates from other products on the market

HelpWear was also one of the first residents in the university’s Biomedical Zone, a leading incubator for medical startups in partnership with St. Michael’s Hospital. The zone is one of 10 on-campus incubators in which entrepreneurs work to develop real-world ventures, projects and causes.

“Allowing us to design our technology around not only what a patient needs, but also from a clinical perspective with direct reference to what physicians and the medical system require, was a huge benefit,” Bertram says of their zone learning experience.

Looking ahead, he and Nguyen aim to position HeartWatch as “the doctor around a patient’s arm,” providing ICU-quality monitoring and care from anywhere to any location. More broadly, their business aims to be a key piece of the technology layer required to improve telemedicine.

That’s an ambitious goal. But if HelpWear succeeds, it could mean more than extending health monitoring to remote and under-served communities in Canada. It could also make affordable and potentially life-saving health care available to patients around the world.

Creativity & Culture

Our relationship with technology is about to become much more personal — and that’s a good thing

Creativity & Culture

Our relationship with technology is about to become much more personal — and that’s a good thing

Individually and collectively, we rely on an increasing number of interactions with machines, devices and platforms to perform tasks, connect with others and create as never before.

At the same time, the sophistication, scope and constant newness of those interactions can be bewildering and difficult for us to manage and process. And yet, our approaches to handling that complexity can take control further away from us, by handing it over to powerful but unseen algorithms, data streams and circuits that sense, process, suggest or decide on our behalf — often poorly or in ways that fall short of their full potential.

It doesn’t have to be that way. As researchers and innovators at Ryerson are demonstrating, there are opportunities to reshape our thinking around the complex digital landscape we inhabit, even as we continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible through the creative use of technology.

A new way to think about problems — and solutions

For decades, the field of study known as Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) has focused on what we can do using graphical user interfaces and standardized input devices, such as keyboards, trackpads, mice and so on. But there’s a problem with those conventional methods of presenting and manipulating digital information. As ubiquitous and familiar as they are, they fail to take advantage of the full spectrum of our physical, sensory and cognitive capabilities.

a hand holding a futuristic device on a digital surface
A user performs a filtering operation on a large biological dataset by stacking two active tangible objects on an interactive tabletop display

Exploring approaches to HCI in ways that capitalize on our human strengths is what drives Alexandra (Ali) Mazalek, Canada Research Chair in Digital Media and Innovation at Ryerson’s RTA School of Media in the Faculty of Communication and Design.

Her work seeks to reap more of the potential benefits of our digital interactions, while ensuring that they can also have positive influences on our lived experience — from our health and wellbeing to our ability to learn, create and discover.

“My research focuses on designing interactive systems that enable us to effectively use our bodies and minds, working in partnership with information and algorithms,” Mazalek explains. “It draws on the opportunities within emerging sensing and interaction technologies to better bridge our physical and digital world experiences — an area of research called Tangible and Embodied Interaction (TEI), which is a subset of HCI.”

a man holding a futuristic device surrounded by digital screens
A researcher visualizes and compares different gene regulatory networks using a cross-device interaction system called Tangible BioNets

An example of what she’s talking about is the gesture-based interface that is a highlight of the Steven Spielberg science-fiction film Minority Report. By moving holographic-like images, the character portrayed by Tom Cruise is able to sort through data — an embodied interaction — to “pre-visualize” capital crimes, so they can be stopped.

My research focuses on designing interactive systems that enable us to effectively use our bodies and minds, working in partnership with information and algorithms.
Ali Mazalek, Canada Research Chair in Digital Media and Innovation at Ryerson’s RTA School of Media

TEI is now a staple of science fiction in the creative arts, but there are many real-world applications, such as computer consoles with remote cameras and linked devices that enable users to interact with a range of scenarios for entertainment.

Mazalek wants to go way beyond that. She’s trying to better understand how our physical interactions with digital information can enhance our ability to think about complex data and problems in even more novel ways.

“That means designing real-time tangible interfaces that can serve as both representations and controls for complex information and processes, and can give our sensory and motor systems the materials they need to tinker, explore, question and form insights,” she says.

Changing the representation of information and our interaction with it opens the possibility of finding solutions to problems that currently seem too difficult for humans to fully comprehend. That could be a game-changer in areas such as computational biology and bioinformatics, for example, inasmuch as it re-imagines the way that algorithmic approaches are applied in discovery and opens those techniques to embodied manipulation and coupling with human visual-spatial skills.

Indeed, the same techniques could be used in other areas of discovery and scholarship, as tangible and embodied interactions help us rethink the way we access and manipulate large information repositories, look at problems and find solutions.

Harnessing technology to save lives and create art

What if within, say, a decade, we could create living body parts using 3D printing and implant the organs in someone in need of a life-saving transplant?

The notion is not so far-fetched. Manufacturing capabilities are evolving rapidly and already starting to produce work that challenges conventional uses of technology.

“Technology, if applied with a creative lens, is a tool that enhances the development of new frontiers, not just in entertainment and artistic expression, but in many other fields as well and often in unexpected ways,” explains Charles Falzon, dean of Ryerson’s Faculty of Communication and Design (FCAD).

The university’s Creative Technology Lab is an example of where such research and development can occur. Falzon likens it to a “state-of-the-art sandbox” — albeit one that covers 650 square metres in the university’s new Daphne Cockwell Health Sciences Complex — that enables the FCAD community to push traditional boundaries and harness technology in dynamic and inspired new ways.

Technology, if applied with a creative lens, is a tool that enhances the development of new frontiers, not just in entertainment and artistic expression, but in many other fields as well.
Charles Falzon, Dean of Ryerson’s Faculty of Communication and Design (FCAD)

“This is much more than a fabrication space,” adds Jonathon Anderson, the lab’s director and an associate professor in the faculty’s School of Interior Design. “One of our primary goals is to create an environment that provides hands-on training for FCAD researchers and students and enables them to experiment with advanced equipment such as robotic arms, projection mapping, motion tracking, 3D printing and CNC equipment. We’re working to disrupt traditional views that are commonly associated with this type of facility.”

That focus on disruptive innovation can encompass more than two dozen projects at any time. They span unexpected fields ranging from interior design and fashion to new media, image arts, performance, graphic communications management and journalism.

a man wearing a mask and face protector
FCAD student making masks for Covid-19. Photo by: Peter Bregg C.M.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the lab sprung to action as a dedicated micro-factory designed to address a national shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE). Making use of its broad range of process capabilities, Anderson and his team were able to prototype hundreds of face shield designs, ultimately coming up with an origami-inspired design using a laser cutter, which reduced typical production time from hours to 40 seconds.

With an innovative design in place, the lab partnered with Glia, Toronto General Hospital, Unity Health Toronto, and St. Michael’s Hospital to ensure that the face shields made it to frontline health workers. Over 12,500 shields were manufactured to St. Michael’s Hospital alone, which can be sanitized and reused by hospital staff.

seconds it takes to produce face shield using a laser cutter at the Creative Technology Lab

Beyond pandemic response, many of the lab’s activities are pushing the limits of how robotics can be used creatively. For example, the Uncanny Robots Project led by assistant professor Michael Bergmann of the faculty’s School of Performance is investigating how robotic arms and humans can perform together. And, for her part, Linda Zhang, an assistant professor of interior design, is investigating digital heritage through drone scanning, photogrammetry and the reproduction of artifacts using the robotic arm.

Those and other efforts are gaining global attention and helping to position the lab as a premier creative technology facility. At the same time, cultivating relationships with industry and community partners adds immense value and creates additional opportunities for students and researchers.

“We’re eager to nurture those relationships and the potential they bring, and to see creative applications across more and more sectors as a result,” Anderson says.

For good reason, too. It’s clear that as our relationship with technology continues to evolve, even more opportunities to explore how we interact with it — and to what ends — will arise.

Economic Development

The future of urban living is clean — and affordable

Economic Development

The future of urban living is clean — and affordable

Increasing access to affordable housing in urban markets and improving environmental sustainability are not usually part of the same conversation, but the subjects are in fact closely linked.

The construction and operation of buildings are responsible for roughly 30% of our greenhouse gas emissions, according to one estimate. The number is even higher in densely populated regions such as the Greater Toronto Area, where buildings generate as much as 45% of carbon that’s released into the atmosphere. There are costs attached to those numbers, and invariably they are passed along to consumers.

At the same time, there is a need for housing solutions that address scarcity of supply by means other than suburban sprawl or urban high-rise construction.

Through innovative research and ambitious pilot projects, Ryerson is at the forefront of finding ways to address those concerns.

of our greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to the construction and operation of buildings

Home, sweet alternative home

Location, location, location. This mantra of the real estate industry persists, but it’s no longer the leading factor in determining the appeal of a residential property. Canadians who are demanding action to address climate change are also looking to their homes to provide part of the solution. And, price is still very much part of the equation for buyers and renters.

But increasingly, such considerations can lead to unwelcome trade-offs. A lower-priced, comfortable home built to contemporary standards in the suburbs? Newer but more expensive in-fill or a high-rise apartment or condominium in the city?

For architect and researcher Cheryl Atkinson, another viable option strikes a balance between the desire for urban living, a low carbon footprint and affordability: housing that uses eco-friendly materials and building processes along with net-zero design targets in carbon emissions, energy use, toxic construction materials, landfill waste and cost premium compared with homes built using traditional supplies and methods.

interior of a wood panelled house with sloped ceiling
The interior of ZeroHouse is entirely clad an FSC certified Canadian maple panelling

ZeroHouse, a partnership between Ryerson’s Architectural Science Department and the Endeavour Centre, is novel not just for its design but also the team behind it. In addition to Atkinson, professor of engineering Alan Fung and professor of entrepreneurship and strategy Philip Walsh collaborated on this solution to address sustainable urban housing.

The project tapped into a growing opportunity for what’s referred to as missing-middle housing: duplexes, stacked row units and bungalow courts that sit in the middle of a spectrum between detached single-family homes and mid- to high-rise apartment or condominium towers.

Moreover, they’re intended to be built on land formerly occupied by low-density structures — one storey storage buildings and auto body shops , for example — the neglected spaces in existing urban neighbourhoods.

Number of weeks required for on-site construction of ZeroHouse

“There are lots of under-utilized sites for adding mid-rise density within existing urban footprints, if we were more clever about it,” says Atkinson.

“While this project was designed as urban infill for busy arterial areas that border existing low-rise neighbourhoods in Toronto, the same construction strategies could be scaled up or down in a variety of locales in other cities.”

The beauty and benefits of green building

Although only a single unit was built, the ZeroHouse prototype was conceived as the upper unit of a stacked townhouse with ground-floor commercial space that could exist as part of a mid-density urban development.

“It was also really important to me as a designer to integrate beauty into the mix,” Atkinson explains. “Elegant and beautiful mid-rise housing is the urban fabric of our great global cities. Housing should be worthy of design attention.”

Indeed, the 1,100-square-foot, wood-framed structure features clean minimalist lines and details both inside and out. Birch ply interior finishes and flooring made with recycled ash provide a soothing ambience within the airtight and highly insulated enclosure. State-of-the-art active and passive systems, including roof-integrated photovoltaics, add to the dwelling’s futurist vibe.

a woman and a man at a desk surrounded by architecture model houses
Cheryl Atkinson, Associate Professor, Architectural Science, collaborating with Matthew Ferguson, architecture student on ZeroHouse

As a proof-of-concept project, ZeroHouse also demonstrated the advantages of using prefabrication as a method of construction. Floor, wall and roof sections were built separately in a makeshift factory setting, reducing total construction time on site to just four weeks, compared with the 20 to 50 needed — depending on the season, materials used and site location — for conventional builds.

Only a day was needed to assemble those pieces, with pre-installed windows and doors, on a temporary foundation. Another six days were used to install prefabricated stairs and interior finishes, roofing and exterior cladding.

While this project was designed as urban infill for busy arterial areas that border existing low-rise neighbourhoods in Toronto, the same construction strategies could be scaled up or down in a variety of locales in other cities.
Cherly Atkinson, Associate Professor, Architectural Science and ZeroHouse designer

Along with that efficiency, a striking outcome was how little waste was sent to a landfill as unrecyclable: just eight kilograms, contained in a few garbage bags, as opposed to 1000 times that produced with typical house construction. That’s partly a result of design and the greater degree of precision that could be achieved in a controlled factory setting for fabrication.

Both of those factors were reflected in the building’s subsequent fate. It was disassembled and reassembled several times, including for a brief stint as a showpiece exhibit outside the 2017 Expo for Design, Innovation & Technology in Toronto. It now has a private owner and is lived in permanently in southwestern Ontario, although Atkinson and her colleagues continue to monitor and study its performance while developing and promoting the concept.

“It’s still getting attention from developers, home owners and municipalities interested in changing the status quo,” Atkinson says.

In fact, scalability is fundamental to the potential ZeroHouse represents. It’s precisely the type of urban housing solution that can be exported and expanded upon across the globe. As housing prices soar in densely populated urban centres around the world, sustainable alternatives to traditional single dwelling homes are key to ensuring high livability standards and mitigating environmental impacts.

Urban Health & Wellbeing

Health care will be less invasive and more personalized

Urban Health & Wellbeing

Health care will be less invasive and more personalized

In Canada, we’re living longer and healthier lives than ever. While Covid-19 offers a stark warning about complacency, contemporary life expectancy is aided by both modern drugs that prevent or treat illnesses and as a result of innovative diagnostic tools and procedures that have been developed for medical conditions that were a curse for previous generations.

Research at Ryerson that is leading to sophisticated approaches to detecting and treating diseases or managing pain are aimed at further improving our quality of life and longevity.

They can also contribute to the Canadian economy by reducing productivity that’s lost through sickness or poor health, delivering more efficient and cost-effective methods of treating diseases, and creating openings for startups to thrive here as a step towards expanding into global markets, where they can help improve the care — and lives — of an even greater number of people.

Making the medicine of science fiction a reality

There is a growing need in our healthcare system for diagnostic and therapeutic techniques that are less invasive yet more accurate, and with a lower cost compared with traditional methods.

For medical physics professor Jahan Tavakkoli, a solution lies in various applications of ultrasound — a field he is advancing as part of the Faculty of Science at Ryerson. His research spans a range of innovative approaches, including the use of high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) for the treatment of malignant solid tumors in cancer patients, as well as nerve ablation (destruction) and manipulation for pain management and anesthesia.

“Under proper imaging guidance and treatment monitoring, HIFU can be used effectively in a number of non- and minimally invasive surgical procedures,” says Tavakkoli.

two researchers in a lab
Jahan Tavakkoli in the iBEST lab with postdoctoral research staff, Dr. Elyas Shaswary

In fact, his work in developing applications of ultrasound in medicine and biology could have far-reaching implications.

“It could be beneficial in developed countries, as it provides a more efficient treatment modality with fewer side effects, but also in under-developed countries with limited resources, given it provides a cost-effective and simple solution for certain therapies and diagnostics,” Tavakkoli adds.

82.52 years
Projected life expectancy in Canada for 2020 (the number was 77.20 in 1990)

Another high-profile project for which Tavakkoli is the principal investigator is also at the cutting edge of science and technology. A collaboration between Ryerson and Toronto-based Tree of Knowledge International aims to develop a new nanotechnology-enhanced delivery method for medical cannabis.

The ultimate goal is to create treatments for a variety of medical conditions. Fellow physics professor Michael Kolios is co-principal investigator for the project.

“The nanocarriers we are developing, which will be coated with two different types of cannabinoid molecules, will be employed in targeted drug delivery applications using our proprietary therapeutic ultrasound technology to achieve a novel and effective method in treating cancerous tumours as well as pain,” Tavakkoli explained when the project was announced in July 2019.

What he’s talking about sounds like the far-out medicine of science fiction, except it’s happening today.

The number of microbial cells in the human gut than in the rest of the human body, totaling roughly 100 trillion microbes representing as many as 5,000 different species

Understanding — and treating — gut reactions

The human gut microbiome refers to the trillions of bacteria living in our digestive tracts to break down food we ingest and release important molecules in the process. Research shows that an abundance of health conditions are linked to unbalanced gut bacteria, including digestive, metabolic and mood disorders and autoimmune diseases; however, more work is needed to help scientists understand more fully their cause and effect relationships.

To develop therapeutics and prevention strategies, it is also useful to know more about the specific populations of bacteria present in individuals. For that reason, microbiome profiling has been on the rise in recent years as a way to identify the community of gut bacteria that may be contributing to someone’s symptoms.

“We track an individual’s microbiome over time and monitor changes in the population of bacteria, as well as self-reported symptoms during the same period,” explains biologist Aly Burtch, co-founder and managing director of uBioDiscovery, a Toronto-based firm that offers personalized microbiome monitoring kits to individuals.

“As an added feature, we also provide dietary suggestions for users to help them identify the foods that trigger their symptoms.”

gloved hands touching a microbiome monitoring kit
SUPERBIOME is a personalized microbiome monitoring program that provides you with a complete analysis of the bacterial community living inside your gut

uBioDiscovery grew out of Ryerson’s Science and Discovery Zone, one of 10 on-campus zones for startups, causes or projects. According to Burtch, she and co-founder Alejandro Saettone, the company’s director of research and development, were able to pursue the venture without having to sacrifice their educational goals. Indeed, both Burtch and Saettone were able to complete graduate degrees while also building the business.

We track an individual’s microbiome over time and monitor changes in the population of bacteria, as well as self-reported symptoms during the same period.
Aly Burtch, Co-founder and Managing Director of uBioDiscovery

“Microbiome research is relatively new, but rapidly advancing,” Burtch says of the opportunity they are pursuing. The company hopes its data contributes to the field and brings medical science a step closer to replacing current solutions for gut-related conditions, which include long-term prescription medication use, elimination dieting and over-the-counter supplements.

“Those solutions are often expensive and can cause unpleasant physical side effects and even significant emotional distress,” Burtch notes.

In the meantime, uBioDiscovery is looking at ways to improve the data it gathers for analysis.

“Although our users provide a food log, it is not enforced. We would love to partner with an organization that can track user diets strictly over time, while we monitor their microbiome, to really gauge how different foods influence the community of gut bacteria on a case-by-case basis.”

As allergies, digestive and metabolic disorders continue to rise in North America and elsewhere, uBioDiscovery’s mission has added importance.

If we’re able to shape a healthy microbiome early in life, for example, it could equip our bodies with the tools needed to prevent a variety of conditions later on.

Governance & Social Justice

The next generation of lawyers will use technology to increase access to justice

Governance & Social Justice

The next generation of lawyers will use technology to increase access to justice

Starting a new law school in the best of circumstances is a major undertaking. Opening the doors to one during a pandemic shows not only a determination to prepare future lawyers for a rapidly evolving legal landscape — as well as whatever new “normal” emerges from our current reality — but also a deep commitment to advancing social justice and democracy.

Ryerson’s Faculty of Law — Toronto’s first new law school in over a century — is the culmination of years of planning, legal consultation and approvals, but it started as a belief that the university’s innovative approach to learning should be applied to the study of law.

The school’s purpose is to train career-ready legal professionals who possess the diversity of skills required to expand the reach of justice for all Canadians, and to create a new cohort of lawyers who are innovative, nimble and well-equipped to meet evolving social challenges and shifts taking place in the Canadian legal market.

Meeting the needs of consumers and society at large

The legal industry — and with it legal education — is experiencing a transformation that is driven in large measure by the application of technology to legal work in ways previously unimagined, according to the school’s inaugural dean, Donna E. Young.

“Driving the genesis of the school is the development of a fresh perspective that combines legal theory, skill and practice,” she explains. “Our three-year Juris Doctor program is characterized by a thoughtful, practice-based approach that responds to the present and future demands of multiple users of legal services. Creating this program is providing us with a unique opportunity to help shape legal education in Ontario.”

a group of students sitting around a table
Ryerson’s new Faculty of Law welcomed its first class of students in September 2020

Young’s appointment marks another step in her already distinguished career. Her most recent position was at Albany Law School, where she was the President William McKinley Distinguished Professor of Law and Public Policy and a joint faculty member at the university’s Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies. Previously, she worked at Cornish Roland, a labour law firm in Toronto, as well as the Ontario Human Rights Commission and with the Legal Department of the City of New York. No stranger to Toronto or the Toronto legal community, Young is a first-generation Canadian raised in North York, the daughter of parents from Jamaica and Belize.

Number of years since the last new law school opened in Toronto

Working alongside Young is an impressive team of scholars with a broad range of interests and expertise who will help bring Ryerson’s Integrated Practice Curriculum to life.

“The faculty’s guiding principle is to train adaptive and flexible lawyers who can better meet the needs of consumers, communities and society at large,” says Young. “That translates into a dual focus on cutting-edge applications of technology in the legal sphere and issues related to equity and diversity. At the same time, our curriculum enables students to gain essential practical experience before they graduate.”

A track record of innovation

The faculty’s guiding principle is to train adaptive and flexible lawyers who can better meet the needs of consumers, communities and society at large. That translates into a dual focus on cutting-edge applications of technology in the legal sphere and issues related to equity and diversity.
Donna E. Young, Founding Dean, Ryerson’s Faculty of Law

According to Young, the emphasis on the growing role of technology in the legal sphere is especially relevant and a strong differentiator for the school. Students will get exposure to applications of artificial intelligence and quantitative legal prediction, technology-assisted review and predictive coding developments in eDiscovery, and a basic understanding of emerging transformative regulatory technologies, for example.

“There will always be a need for traditional lawyers,” Young concedes. “However, there is — and will continue to be — a growing demand for differently trained lawyers who are ready to become ‘legal knowledge engineers or consultants,’ ‘legal technologists,’ ‘legal process analysts,’ or ‘privacy, e-commerce and cyber security experts.’ Our goal is to produce this new generation of lawyers by infusing innovation in everything we do.”

She also notes that Ryerson has a proven track record in introducing novel approaches to the legal field, thanks to the success of its Law Practice Program — an eight-month engagement combining online training and experiential learning with a hands-on work term, as an alternative to articling — and the Legal Innovation Zone (LIZ), a global hub focused on building better solutions for the consumers of legal services.

a woman sitting in a coworking space
The Legal Innovation Zone (LIZ) is a co-working space and the world’s first legal tech incubator

“The faculty is making use of its strong linkages to the legal profession, as well as leveraging the experience we have gained — in large part through the LIZ — to extend Ryerson’s distinctive strengths in promoting entrepreneurial innovation in the legal sector,” says Young. “At the same time, we’re building on our record in furthering the principles of equity, diversity and inclusion throughout the university as a whole, as the faculty builds expertise in expanding access to justice.”

In a year of turmoil caused by Covid-19, Ryerson Law remains optimistic and is holding to its vision of offering students a leading-edge, future-focused legal education.

Urban Health & Wellbeing

A society should be judged on how successfully its seniors age

Urban Health & Wellbeing

A society should be judged on how successfully its seniors age

There are now more adults in Canada over the age of 65 than children who are 14 and under. But while we’re living longer and healthier lives, we’re not prepared — individually or collectively — to deal with the consequences of this fundamental and unstoppable shift in demographics. Among the many lessons the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us is that we need to take better care of our aging population.

It’s not that we need to find ways to turn back the clock for those in their senior years. A more realistic and desirable goal is to enable more Canadians to age successfully. We can also do more to acknowledge the wisdom and social capital that older adults can contribute. That will require us to recognize and remove barriers that can limit seniors from fully participating in society.

Research and advocacy supported by Ryerson are confronting those and other pressing challenges to create a better future for all Canadians.

Motivation is key to longer mental health

Social scientists and the general public often dwell on negative aspects of ageing. By the middle of this century, for example, seniors will make up 25 percent of the country’s population. There is anxiety — some of it justified — around how such a large cohort will adapt and the stresses it will place on the country’s social fabric.

But there is also an opportunity to focus on the positive potential associated with the greying of our society. For example, when it comes to learning and memory, older adults perform as well as — and sometimes better than — those who are much younger in tasks that are personally meaningful and rewarding.

For psychologist Julia Spaniol, a key question is how we can tap into the motivation of seniors to improve their attention, memory and intellectual engagement. Her work through the Memory and Decision Processes (MAD) Lab at Ryerson includes studying the brain mechanisms that are responsible for the effects of incentive on cognition.

seven researchers smiling at the camera
Julia Spaniol pictured centre with members of the Memory and Decision Processes Lab

“The knowledge we gain from this research helps shed light on how we can motivate people to build mental and behavioural habits that allow them to stay healthy longer,” Spaniol explains. “It also highlights best practices for workplaces that employ seniors, and for institutions that cater to older adults.”

Research in the MAD Lab is currently supported by a combination of government programs, grants and awards intended to promote innovation, but there is an opportunity to partner with other organizations that are eager to contribute to Canada’s leadership in understanding what’s needed for healthy ageing.

Ideally, too, Spaniol would like to build on her work by studying a multigenerational group of individuals over a period of 10 to 20 years. “That kind of study would give us extremely rich insights into the interplay between motivation and cognition across adulthood,” she says.

“Ageing is universal. It affects us all, and so our work is relevant for everyone, everywhere,” she adds.

That said, science shows that some people age better than others. And according to Spaniol, a point that should be added is this: communities in which everyone has access to key resources such as education are those in which more people will age with their sense of purpose intact.

Ageing is universal. It affects us all, and so our work is relevant for everyone, everywhere.
Julia Spaniol, Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Aging, Director of the Memory and Decision Processes (MAD) Lab

Thought leadership for age-related interests is crucial

The effects of Canada’s ageing population are already visible, and how they will continue to be a concern can be anticipated.

Individuals will need help planning for and funding longer periods in retirement. Governments and institutions will need to reassess long-standing approaches to public policy and systems geared towards older people, including those that relate to health care and income support. Employers will need to prepare for an increasing number of people who wish — and need — to work beyond age 65.

Those are just a few of the complex and interrelated realities that a unique Ryerson think tank was created to address. The National Institute on Ageing (NIA), established in 2016, is the only organization of its kind in Canada.

“We work at the intersection of health care, financial security and social well-being in bringing greater awareness and understanding of ageing issues in Canada,” explains Michael Nicin, the institute’s executive director.

Although still young, the organization is clearly making a difference.

During the height of the COVID-19 Pandemic, the NIA quickly mobilized to create the first and only publicly available online data platform and heat map to track the spread of COVID-19 throughout all retirement and nursing homes across Canada.

a speaker at a podium with panel speakers on stage
Dr. Samir Sinha speaking and Michael Nicin, of NIA, moderating at Ontario Long Term Care Association conference

The NIA’s work showed that Canada’s systems of long-term care are in urgent need of reform, with 80% of all COVID deaths having occurred in these long-term care (LTC) settings – a higher rate than in any comparable OECD country. The Institute, under the leadership of Dr. Samir Sinha, Director of Health Policy Research, also issued a series of expert guidance documents that various governments and LTC providers used to make difficult decisions in the early days of COVID, when evidence and best practices were elusive and evolving.

One such document, which aimed to help families decide whether or not to remove elderly loved ones from care, was downloaded over 10,000 times by people facing a difficult decision in a time of crisis.

Number of times the NIA’s Decision Aids for Residents and Families of Long-Term Care Facilities has been downloaded

“In the past two years alone, we’ve directly influenced public policy in several areas, convened countless experts and stakeholders at Ryerson to drive consensus on various issues, and released or co-released 12 reports, while our public outreach through presentations and media exposure has helped the NIA propel its message far and wide,” Nicin adds.

“We benefit from the institutional support of Ryerson, as well as from its stellar reputation as a leading-edge university with a focus on real-world impact,” says Nicin. “That opens doors to new partnerships and opportunities that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.”

Indeed, in the coming years, Nicin expects the institute will work even more closely with governments and industry partners to generate unique research and insights that will guide sound decision-making as the transition to an increasingly older population continues.

“There’s more work ahead of us than behind us,” he acknowledges.

That’s an understatement. The growing number of seniors in Canada will make direct advocacy, public outreach, convening and consensus-building around their interests — cornerstones of the NIA’s efforts so far — more important than ever.

Urban Design & Infrastructure

The future of flight is green and affordable

Urban Design & Infrastructure

The future of flight is green and affordable

While aviation serves and connects us in ways that no other mode of transportation can match, there are serious challenges in the industry today. To start, a look at a live air traffic monitoring website such as FlightRadar24 might surprise with the sheer number of aircraft in the skies around us. Together, they contribute significantly to one of the most pressing issues of our time: climate change.

We need to find ways to make aviation, on which we depend for so much, cleaner and less harmful to the environment — a cause that the young Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has made popular by refusing to fly to speaking engagements in Europe and North America, for example.

It’s also a goal that researchers and innovators at Ryerson are taking on through projects aimed at advancing alternative energy sources for powered flight, which ultimately could serve to make the aviation industry more sustainable.

Using the sun to power aerial vehicles

For aerospace engineer Goetz Bramesfeld, soaring above the clouds as a young man with his high school glider club in Germany inspired his career choice. Now, he’s leading a team of graduate students at Ryerson’s Applied Aerodynamics Laboratory of Flight who are focused on developing a long-endurance aircraft powered by clean solar energy alone.

“The immediate outcome of this project is the training of capable aerospace engineers who have a broad and applied understanding of the challenges in our field, while also considering the societal and environmental implications of their work,” Bramesfeld explains.

students gathered around a machine in a lab
Graduate students at Ryerson’s Applied Aerodynamics Laboratory of Flight

While that summary sounds appropriately well-grounded, the team behind the CREATeV endeavour has its sights set on a loftier purpose. It hopes to set a new world record for sustained autonomous flight by a solar aircraft. The current mark is just under 26 hours, which was set in 2018 by an aircraft built by the European aerospace giant Airbus. The CREATeV team is confident it can beat that using the solar panels it is developing and is aiming to deliver an aerial vehicle that’s capable of continuous flight for at least 60 days.

It would be an extraordinary achievement for such a small aircraft. The CREATeV is seemingly pencil thin, with a long, solar panel-covered wingspan. But small is what gives it many of its potential applications, including environmental and wildlife observation, remote surveying, forest fire detection and as low-cost airborne communication hubs.

students in the airfield with an aircraft
Testing a prototype at CREATeV, Ryerson’s Research Center of the Aerospace Engineering Department

In fact, although it is purely a research project at this stage, some of the students involved are hoping to commercialize the CREATeV, primarily by offering long-endurance airborne sensing services.

“The miniaturization of electronics and advances in solar and battery technologies are making things possible that we can barely grasp at this point,” Bramesfeld emphasizes. “Smaller and more autonomous aircraft become possible every day, and they will enable even more previously unimagined missions and applications. It is truly an exciting time for young aerospace engineers,” he adds.

Smaller and more autonomous aircraft become possible every day, and they will enable even more previously unimagined missions and applications. It is truly an exciting time for young aerospace engineers.
Goetz Bramesfeld, Associate Professor, Aerospace Engineering

Indeed, it is. And our airspaces will end up cleaner for it, as a result.

Making road trips less-travelled by road

“Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth/And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings.”

So begins the short poem “High Flight” by John Gillespie Magee Jr., written in 1941 while the 19-year-old airman was serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force in England, and beloved by generations of pilots and aviation enthusiasts since.

The experience of taking the controls of an aircraft is one that Alon Guberman, founder of Woodbridge, Ontario-based DisRAPTOR, wants to extend to everyday commuters, as well as aspiring adventurers, first responders and potentially even future delivery services.

a futuristic vehicle
CAD rendering of prototype

The company is developing an electric vehicle (EV) that can drive and park on regular roads, while at the same time offer vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) capabilities and cruising speeds of up to 300 kph. That makes it an attractive transportation alternative not just to and from densely populated areas, but also remote regions where communities are harder to reach. Plus, because the vehicle relies on clean, renewable energy for charging, it can operate at about a third of the cost of a small, sporty vehicle with an internal combustion engine. As an eVTOL vehicle, it can also take advantage of existing networks of EV charging stations.

300 kph
Speed that DisRAPTOR’s electric vehicle will be capable of flying

“Over the next decade, I can see several different models of DisRAPTOR zipping across the sky and driving our streets,” Guberman explains. “And there won’t be the need for hangar space or the costly infrastructure required for a commercial ‘vertiport.’”

He adds that DisRAPTOR is designed to be road legal, at least, anywhere in North America. Such a concept received a welcome boost in July 2020 when the state of New Hampshire passed legislation that was quickly dubbed the “Jetson Bill” after the 1960s animated sitcom, in which George Jetson “squired his family in a flying car,” as Forbes reported.

The state law addresses “roadable aircraft” and provides for their registration and rules for inspections and accidents in ways that could be precedent-setting.

Over the next decade, I can see several different models of DisRAPTOR zipping across the sky and driving our streets. And there won’t be the need for hangar space or the costly infrastructure required for a commercial vertiport.
Alon Guberman, Founder of DisRAPTOR

For Guberman, partnerships with or investments from major automotive manufacturers or aerospace design firms could also help accelerate getting versatile and energy-efficient vehicles like DisRAPTOR to market. In the meantime, he’s gained valuable experience through working with Ryerson’s Clean Energy Zone (CEZ), an incubator focused on clean, sustainable energy innovations.

“The great thing about CEZ is that it provides access to start-up learning resources, advice and connections to other founders with similar ambitions,” he says. “It also gives our work greater visibility, and that can help with fund-raising from government and private funds.”

However grounded in practical matters that might seem, Guberman also continues to hold to his vision — one in which door-to-door travel by car can be less time-consuming or bound to roadways laid out by others, and more environmentally friendly, by including the option of some EV-powered high flight for at least part of the journey.

Migration & Integration

Immigration and integration are key to helping future cities thrive

Migration & Integration

Immigration and integration are key to helping future cities thrive

Canada is among the world’s most welcoming nations for immigrants. In addition, as the United Nations has noted, this country has an exceptional history of embracing refugees. And yet, there are reasons to be concerned.

Populism based on protectionist and nativist ideologies is spreading globally and even putting some liberal democracies at risk. Canada is not immune to those pressures or the degree to which, as a core tenet, they seek to devalue the essential role newcomers play in a country’s growth and prosperity.

If Canada wants to be regarded as an example for inclusive narratives, we need to stand on guard against such threats. And to do that, we need to understand them better.

At the same time, we need to acknowledge the hurdles faced by local communities in integrating immigrants and refugees. Part of that involves learning more about the process of adapting to a multicultural, yet cohesive social fabric from the perspective of newcomers.

Researchers at Ryerson are exploring these and other issues related to migration and settlement. In doing so, they are helping to better understand what newcomers mean to Canada — and what Canada means to newcomers.

Estimated number of global refugees, roughly half of whom are under 18 years old

Examining migration and integration

While globalization has many benefits, it also produces challenges. We see that in the way delocalized production, transnational delivery of services and the adoption of disruptive technologies can lead to precarious employment. Moreover, our welfare systems struggle to keep pace in that environment.

Migration affects the equilibrium of work and welfare, too. Providing cheaper care services where welfare systems fall short, introducing new talent to push technological innovation further and bringing in much-needed manual labour can have the appearance of competing with native workers.

“We need to keep studying and analyzing how migration affects — and is affected by — global and local socio-economic transformations, with a view to ensuring that both migrants and natives are provided with support and are enabled to make the most of their skills and capacities,” says Anna Triandafyllidou, who joined Ryerson in 2019 as the Canada Excellence Research Chair (CERC) in Migration and Integration.

a group of researchers at a roundtable
CERC Migration Working Group. Photo by: Alyssa Faoro

The prestigious position — and the first CERC awarded to Ryerson — builds on the university’s strengths and commitments in the area of immigration and integration studies and is supported by up to $10 million in funding over seven years.

Over the past 20 years, Triandafyllidou has built an influential body of work with research that has become the standard reference among academics and policy-makers. Now, she is leading an ambitious research agenda at Ryerson in what she describes as a 360-degree approach to examining migration and integration.

Portion of Canada’s population that’s forecast to be made up of immigrants by 2036

“This means that we need to study the impact of migration at the lower and higher ends of the labour market, we need to understand the lived experiences of a diverse labour force, we need to assess how the migration policies of Canada serve the labour market and we need to make sure that all workers’ rights are respected,” she explains.

The data she and her team are collecting will provide insights that could affect a wide range of policies and practices, from how to reboot Canada’s stalled immigration system under the pandemic taking advantage of innovative tech solutions, to assisting migrant entrepreneurship, protecting labour rights, managing temporary migration schemes, possibly reforming the points-based system and even how to use — or not to use — artificial intelligence in the governance of migration and asylum.

“I hope our research helps us understand our common challenges, so we can work together to solve them,” adds Triandafyllidou.

In light of projections stemming from Canada’s last census in 2016 that the share of this country’s population made up of immigrants could reach as high as 30 percent by 2036, that outcome seems more necessary and relevant than ever.

Moving away from stereotypes

What is often overlooked in discussions about newcomers to Canada are the needs of one of the most vulnerable groups: refugee children.

It’s also a neglected group in social sciences research, according to Mehrunnisa Ahmad Ali, who is based in the School of Early Childhood Studies, and teaches and supervises students in three graduate programs at Ryerson.

smiling women and young children at a refugee camp
Syrian refugee children with their families

The reasons for this neglect reflect various challenges that researchers must navigate when working with refugee children, Ali explains. These include addressing the concerns of university research ethics boards and other gatekeepers such as school officials and parents or guardians. The lack of a common language and understanding of socio-linguistic norms, including expectations around social interactions between men and women, and children and adults, are additional challenges for researchers.

Other special skills may also be required, considering that refugee children may have been traumatised as a result of their experiences.

Many of these children have experienced trauma, but there is nothing ‘typical’ about them. We need to approach research with refugee children with great humility, yet do much more of it.
Mehrunnisa Ahmad Ali, Professor, Early Childhood Studies

To address the absence of such studies, Ali is leading a study on refugee children on communicating — through drawings, conversations, written and dictated texts and facial expressions and gestures — what they “remember, feel and care about” as they explore and adapt to their new surroundings.

“Without knowing what those children are thinking and feeling, we simply act on our assumptions about them,” says Ali. “The gap in our understanding of these children gets filled with stereotypes, as a result. We tend to think of them as ‘poor, suffering, innocent creatures’ we must rescue!”

Yet, in Ali’s view that kind of thinking reduces them to “one-dimensional, cardboard-like figures” and we miss opportunities to learn how young people are affected by war, violence, exile and migration.

“Yes, many of these children have experienced trauma, but there is nothing ‘typical’ about them,” Ali claims. “We need to approach research with refugee children with great humility, yet do much more of it, to get to know them and learn how to support them, if needed,” she adds.

Creativity & Culture

Creative expression is set to become even more engaging and interactive

Creativity & Culture

Creative expression is set to become even more engaging and interactive

In the best of times and worst of times, we seek entertainment and creative experiences to add more joy to our lives or find comfort and distraction in the face of adversity. We also routinely borrow from different means of creative expression to educate and inform.

Meanwhile, the methods of expression available to us continue to evolve. New media emerge to complement or displace traditional forms, and the sophistication of content presented to us grows daily.

We’re accustomed now to hyper-realistic animation and computer-generated graphics in film and television. Books are adapted to audio performances and interactive digital versions. Streaming services and live performances are increasingly amping up their staging, narrative choices and effects, as well.

Canada is a robust contributor to this landscape of creativity. Indeed, we have a thriving “experiences industry” that spans multiple sectors and produces attractions and performance events for both domestic consumption and international export. Even so, there is a continuing need for exploration, research and training to maintain and grow that ecosystem.

Forecast of the size of the global augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) market in 2020 (in US dollars)

Ryerson is playing a leading role in advancing new technologies and creative approaches that are shaping the world of entertainment, education and other avenues for expression today — and tomorrow.

Expanding the world of virtual reality

Immersive virtual experiences are not new. The notion of “something in essence or effect, though not actually or in fact” can be traced to the mid-1400s. Stage productions were regarded as such in the mid-20th century, while driving and flight simulators have been used for training purposes and amusement for decades.

What is relatively new is the technology that presents realistic images, sounds and other sensations, typically through a head-mounted unit, to simulate a user’s physical presence — and 360-degree awareness — in a virtual environment.

As is the case with many new technologies, there are challenges for those seeking to accelerate a transition from traditional media to fully immersive virtual reality (VR) experiences.

people wearing virtual reality goggles
Contraverse virtual reality cinema screening

“We started out as a VR production company and found that the tools needed to showcase and distribute our content were not comparable to what is present in the traditional film or TV industry,” explains Josh Gonsalves, Ryerson alumnus and co-founder and CEO of Toronto-based Contraverse.

“So, we decided to establish ourselves as a full end-to-end production and distribution company. We are not just creating exceptional VR content, but we are also developing the software and processes needed to present that content both digitally and physically at events.”

For Gonsalves, a game designer and filmmaker who initially aspired to “break through a television screen and become one of the characters in a program,” Contraverse is now an extension of work that evolved while at Ryerson’s RTA School of Media.

We are not just creating exceptional VR content, but we are also developing the software and processes needed to present that content both digitally and physically at events.
Josh Gonsalves, Co-founder and CEO of Contraverse

Gonsalves developed many of his ideas at the university’s Transmedia Zone, one of 10 on-campus incubators in which students can advance their startups or social ventures.

“The Transmedia Zone gave us the space and basic equipment to really get started,” Gonsalves explains. “If it weren’t for the VR-ready computers and headsets that we had access to in the early days of our company, we would never have been able to pursue our research and development and build the expertise we needed.”

The focus of that expertise now is Expo — an easy-to-use platform for presenting VR content to large audiences by synchronizing multiple headsets and gives an exhibitor the option of controlling these headsets with a tablet or laptop. It’s used for everything from immersive training applications to virtual real estate walkthroughs, as well as museum installations and, increasingly, at film festivals.

“We’re helping festivals expand their offerings by giving them an easy way to integrate virtual reality screenings into their programming,” adds Gonsalves. “This benefits not only those running the festivals, but also creators who can now see their content shared with much larger audiences. Plus, it expands the reach of VR by exposing more people to the experience, when they might not otherwise get the chance to consume VR content at home.”

someone pointing a finger at an iPad
Expo Cinema Remote app on iPad Pro

A next step for Contraverse and its Expo platform would be to get Expo in the hands of as many enterprise clients as possible to create a deeper integration with their hardware, and possibly with a major production studio, which would provide the space needed to work on large-scale, interactive VR storytelling experiences, rather than just 360-degree video content.

As COVID-19 has put a premium on virtual experiences, the potential application of Expo for experiential learning and educational purposes is also a promising horizon for the company.

of consumers in the US and UK report increased media consumption during Covid-19

Indeed, where Contraverse wants to take its technology is very well suited to the shifts to virtually supported interaction and human engagement. The possibilities are nearly limitless.

Rethinking the boundaries of live entertainment

Worldwide ticket sales for concerts, festivals and themed entertainment experiences have experienced annual double-digit growth over the last decade, but with shifts in how live events take place thanks to COVID-19, there are a host of areas within the live entertainment industry remain ripe for exploration.

To that end, Ryerson’s partnership with Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group, the world’s leading creator, producer and distributor of live entertainment, to conduct boundary-pushing research on live entertainment has become even more urgent.

The Future of Live Entertainment Lab (FOL!E) at the Faculty of Communication & Design (FCAD) is examining how changes in audience preferences, emerging technologies and shifting economic conditions are creating new possibilities for the live entertainment industry.

people sitting around a table
Working session with Ryerson University researchers at Cirque du Soleil International Headquarters

“FOL!E’s mandate is to bring together faculty, students and industry experts to develop innovative projects in high-potential areas — performance, stagecraft and experiences — for academic and field-based investigation,” explains Louis-Etienne Dubois, the lab’s director.

“Unlike traditional industry-academia research, our projects are not focused on the pursuit of a single, predetermined outcome or need. Rather, they support broad exploration — even if it leads to failure — of new technologies, weak signals, trends and opportunities.”

The lab’s projects fall within three clearly defined application domains, according to Dubois.

Unlike traditional industry-academia research, our projects are not focused on the pursuit of a single, predetermined outcome or need. Rather, they support broad exploration — even if it leads to failure — of new technologies, weak signals, trends and opportunities.
Louis-Etienne Dubois, Director of the Future of Live Entertainment Lab (FOL!E)

The first explores new types of human performance, especially those related to augmentations that enable performers to do things previously not humanly possible, as well as emerging unconventional, surprising or unexpected acts.

A second domain examines stagecraft, novel design and production approaches, including makeup and wigs, costuming, fashion tech and smart textiles, lighting, sound, set and prop design, robotics, projection mapping and tracking technologies.

And finally, the lab researches new approaches to ideation, novel business models, emerging types of entertainment experiences, as well as audience measurement, emerging industry trends and changing audience needs.

“At the moment, our work is filtering through to Canadian organizations and the domestic research community, but there is no reason for the results of our research not to have a global reach,” Dubois insists.

“The sector is growing pretty much everywhere, and competition with other entertainment media creates pressures for rapid innovation for everyone,” he adds.

Indeed, the next frontier might be to further blur the lines between themed experiences, attractions and live performances, and to launch research into any kind of entertainment that draws people together — in good times or bad.

Urban Health & Wellbeing

Food security has never been more challenging — and important

Urban Health & Wellbeing

Food security has never been more challenging — and important

A report released earlier this year by the United Nations acknowledges that the number of people affected by hunger globally has been on the rise since 2014. “Latest estimates suggest that 9.7 percent of the world population (slightly less than 750 million people) was exposed to severe levels of food insecurity in 2019,” the report notes in its executive summary. And that was before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, which, it’s suggested, could add “between 83 and 132 million people to the total number of undernourished in the world.”

Food insecurity and hunger won’t be solved overnight, but research at Ryerson is contributing to a better understanding of the challenges they present, as well as practical solutions that are improving access to food for people today, with the potential for even more in the future.

Addressing the fundamentals of food security

Throughout its 25-year existence, Ryerson’s Centre for Studies in Food Security (CSFS) has understood the matter it investigates as one defined by “Five A’s” — availability, accessibility, adequacy, acceptability and agency.

“Working with this comprehensive view has differentiated the work we do at the CSFS from the approaches taken by other scholars and research centres,” explains Cecilia Rocha, the centre’s director.

“In particular, our insistence that agency, which is achieved through democratic policies and processes, is needed for food security is significant. Overall, the field of food security has been dominated by researchers emphasizing either the need for food production to improve availability, or poverty reduction to increase accessibility. While those are certainly necessary conditions for food security, on their own they are not sufficient.”

of the global population were exposed to severe levels of food insecurity in 2019

Rocha’s perspective comes after many years of academic study and international experience. Over the past two decades, for example, she has worked with colleagues in Brazil to examine policies and civil society initiatives for food security in that country. She’s drawn special attention to pioneering efforts in the city of Belo Horizonte.

More recently, she and colleagues at the CSFS partnered with researchers at the National Institute of Nutrition in Vietnam on a project to improve nutrition and food security for children in that country.

“I am a firm believer in knowledge exchange between countries and different communities,” Rocha says. “If funding were not an issue, I would like to see us collaborate with more people in different settings, so we can learn about their experiences in attempting to deal with food insecurity. There is so much good work being done around the world. But we need to see and understand those positive outcomes — and then share our findings — so that others might benefit from them, as well.”

While field work is likely to be hampered for some time due to travel restrictions imposed as a result of Covid-19, other research can continue. Indeed, how a pandemic affects the Five A’s of Food Security will need to be examined.

In fact, there is a lot of work to do still, as long as we hold fast to the notion that through collective efforts the future can deliver access to food for all.

dome structures
Arviat, Nunavut’s “Double Dome” greenhouses

Growing food in Canada’s North

The twin problems of food security and hunger are not experienced only by people living in third-world countries or in war-torn parts of the world. In fact, for many Indigenous peoples and those who are homeless in cities across Canada, the problems are daily experiences.

Additional vulnerabilities were exposed as the country shut down in response to Covid-19. Supply chains that were disrupted and difficulties hiring foreign seasonal workers needed in the agricultural sector resulted in shortages and rising food prices. For many in the country’s urban areas who lost jobs as a result of the pandemic, resorting to food banks for help was a shocking wake-up call.

of children in Northern Canada face food insecurity

Canada’s North presents its own, unique challenges for food security in the best of circumstances. The hard permafrost removes the ability to plant anything in the soil in most places, and limited sunlight in the winter months makes year-round growing difficult. Almost everything appearing on grocery store shelves is imported by air — at considerable expense — as a result.

Several years ago, two Ryerson students set out to address the problem of growing food in northern climates. Stefany Nieto and Benjamin Canning were studying in the Ted Rogers School of Management when they came up with the idea of applying hydroponic growing in a dome-shaped greenhouse. They tested a proof of concept in Naujaat, Nunavut, in 2015. They later built domes in other Nunavut communities and northern Quebec. After graduating, the pair founded the charitable organization Green Iglu, to ensure that the project continued.

a man inside a greenhouse
Green Iglu Co-founder, Ben Canning, working inside the Growing Domes in Naujaat

“The biggest driver behind our operation is ensuring that food production can thrive in regions that typically can’t accommodate agriculture, whether it’s due to the climate or a lack of general agricultural knowledge,” says Nieto, who is now Green Iglu’s executive director, while Canning serves as chief technology officer.

The biggest driver behind our operation is ensuring that food production can thrive in regions that typically can’t accommodate agriculture, whether it’s due to the climate or a lack of general agricultural knowledge.
Stefany Nieto, Executive Director of Green Iglu

The Green Iglu team is currently exploring renewable energy sources for powering lighting and heating systems throughout the cold Canadian winter, while also focusing on educational programming to keep up with their technology.

The incorporation of root vegetables into food production using raised soil beds is another key differentiator.

“The most important factor in all of this is ownership of the infrastructure,” Nieto adds. “The greenhouses are not owned by our organization, but rather the community itself. We simply provide the growing systems, education, training and maintenance, so that the greenhouses can eventually reach independent sustainability and can operate without our direct oversight.”

For all the practical aspects of the venture, it could also see unexpected benefits. Northern produce growers could see their roots and vegetables embraced by southern consumers for their esoteric value. That would help sustain growing operations in the North, and ensure continued food security at its source, where it is needed most.

Economic Development

Sustainable skills and digital literacy will revolutionize the workforce

Economic Development

Sustainable skills and digital literacy will revolutionize the workforce

Canada’s economy is evolving rapidly — and not solely as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. That seismic upheaval added to other factors such as technological disruption, demographic shifts, immigration, climate change and geopolitical uncertainties that were already altering the nature of work in fundamental ways across the country.

The pandemic has, however, intensified concerns around the viability of some sectors of the economy and what comes next for many workers, while highlighting an essential point: Canadians need to feel confident about the knowledge and skills they have to succeed, even as the labour market continues to shift dramatically.

As Canada’s leader in career-oriented education, Ryerson is proud to play a lead role in initiatives focused on preparing Canadians for the workforce of today — and tomorrow.

Building the world’s most highly skilled workforce

Canadians have attained their highest standard of training in the country’s history. We are among the most educated people in the world, and are fortunate that Canada is also a magnet for international talent and immigration from around the globe.

“Canadians, and this wonderful country we share, have an automatic competitive advantage,” explains Pedro Barata, executive director of the Future Skills Centre (FSC), a partnership funded by the Government of Canada’s Future Skills Program and led by Ryerson, alongside The Conference Board of Canada and non-profit research organization Blueprint.”

“However as we move into pandemic recovery, where skill building plays an essential part, we must stay responsive to the changing environment and continue to work hard,” says Barata.

The country continues to grapple with the consequences of a pandemic, but it remains heartening in the larger context of anticipating what the Canadian economy and people who participate in it will need 10 and 20 years from now, while at the same time helping to address the very real challenges we are facing today.

a man in an industrial setting
Sanjiv Uthayakumar, featured here, is part of the manufacturing sector for the Future Skills Centre

Where those two spheres of interest can be seen to overlap is in some of what the Future Skills Centre has accomplished since it was launched in February 2019. Two initiatives in particular are worthy of note.

FSC has provided funding to a new training program to help displaced workers in Alberta’s energy sector transition to the tech sector, which is flourishing and yet has a shortage of digitally skilled workers. Meanwhile in Ontario, it has funded a program to help laid-off auto workers train for jobs in the mold-making and injection-molding trades.

Investment made by the Future Skills Centre for 30 projects to fill skills gaps in the post-pandemic period

The overarching theme is this: there is a need to help workers across a variety of industries shift to training that will lead to success in careers that are — or will be — in demand.

“It doesn’t matter whether you are a young person just entering the labour market, a newcomer to Canada bringing your own particular talent to our economy, a mid-career worker looking for a change or someone who’s moving up in their organization, you will be looking for solutions to help you navigate the future,” Barata explains.

“Our goal should be to take advantage of the assets we have and build the world’s most highly skilled workforce. That means a workforce that is a global leader when it comes to foundational skills and digital literacy, a workforce that is agile and can respond to the shifting needs of employers and industry, and a workforce that is comfortable and confident in a context of rapid change.”

Recent history has shown just how important these three pillars are, but looking beyond the pandemic, the importance of a nimble and skilled workforce is crucial not only future-proof the economy, but to provide the people who comprise it with the agency and confidence to pursue fulfilling careers.

Our goal should be to take advantage of the assets we have and build the world’s most highly skilled workforce.
Pedro Barata, Executive Director of the Future Skills Centre

Closing the skills gap in cybersecurity

Technology permeates almost every aspect of our personal and professional lives. Virtually every industry in the public and private sectors is affected by digital transformation. Data collection has become an almost inescapable part of daily life. Together, those facts underscore why the importance of protecting our digital infrastructure and data has never been greater.

And yet, Canada is facing a significant talent shortage to meet a growing range of cybersecurity needs.

It is estimated an 8,000 additional positions must be filled by next year alone to address a spectrum of gaps that exist within today’s cybersecurity landscape. That number is sure to climb as the nature of work evolves and more companies and organizations pivot to digital-first — and, in many cases, digital-only — business models.

a woman in a hijab smiling in an office setting
Rogers Cybersecure Catalyst seeks to train workers from demographic groups that are currently underrepresented in cybersecurity

At the same time, those pressures also present a series of opportunities. Cybersecurity-related spending is on track to surpass $133 billion by 2022. Canadian companies have an opportunity to compete for a share of that market, but they require support and access to resources and mentorship.

To meet that need, Ryerson along with the federal government, Rogers Communications, the Royal Bank of Canada and the City of Brampton together announced a $30 million investment to support the launch of the university’s Rogers Cybersecure Catalyst in 2019.

The not-for-profit national centre for innovation and collaboration, which is owned and operated by the university, has a mandate to promote the growth of Canadian companies and help create skilled jobs by providing training to workers from demographic groups that are underrepresented in cybersecurity.

Estimated Cybersecurity-related spending is set to surpass this amount by 2022

Its role also includes support for applied research and development, as well as raising awareness of issues around cybersecurity and promoting best practices.

“The Catalyst takes a holistic approach to the cybersecurity mandate with a view towards both the short-term objectives as well as a long-term vision for where we need to evolve and the ongoing work that will be required to stay ahead,” explains Charles Finlay, the centre’s executive director.

Earlier this year, in partnership with Ryerson’s DMZ — the world’s top-ranked university incubator and one of 10 experiential learning zones on campus for startups, causes, projects or ventures — the centre expanded its commitment to making a difference by launching the Catalyst Cyber Accelerator, Canada’s first commercial program specifically designed for scale-up companies in cybersecurity and related fields.

“Cybersecurity depends on collaboration, support, mentorship and access to networks within academic, industry and public sectors. For those reasons and more, the Zone Learning model lends itself to the cybersecurity landscape quite well,” Finlay adds.

With new and emerging cyber risks growing daily, the Catalyst and its companion accelerator are preparing for the future, while working to close the skills gap in cybersecurity with more diverse talent today.

Governance & Social Justice

Self-determination and governance are key to ensuring that Indigenous rights — and lives — are finally respected

Governance & Social Justice

Self-determination and governance are key to ensuring that Indigenous rights — and lives — are finally respected

The two-volume final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls that was released in June 2019 found, as a matter of fact and law, that Canada is guilty of both historic and ongoing genocide.

The National Inquiry found that “Canada’s colonial history provides ample evidence of the existence of a genocidal policy, a manifest pattern of similar conduct which reflects an intention to destroy Indigenous peoples.” 

These colonial underpinnings, the report contends, is directly tied to current practices of violence against Inuit, Métis, and First Nations women, girls, and Two-Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual (2SLGBTQQIA) people.

“This genocide has been empowered by colonial structures, evidenced notably by the Indian Act, the Sixties scoop, residential schools and breaches of human and Indigenous rights, leading directly to the current increased rates of violence death and suicide in Indigenous populations,” the report concludes as part of its call for immediate action. 

The scale of the crisis is staggering. “Thousands of Indigenous women and girls are abused, exploited, disappeared and murdered in Canada every year,” explains Pamela Palmater, a professor and the Chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson, which is supported by the university as part of its commitment to Indigenous education, diversity and social justice. 

Number of family members, survivors of violence, experts and Knowledge Keepers who participated in the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

“My work combines academic research and publishing with public education and advocacy to help empower Indigenous Nations, Canadians and our international allies to push all levels of government to ensure that the human rights of all people in this country are protected.”

Exposing injustices on ‘Turtle Island’

Palmater, a Mi’kmaw citizen and member of the Eel River Bar First Nation in northern New Brunswick, has been engaged in Indigenous issues for most of her life. She has been a practising lawyer for over two decades and, as an author, activist and expert in her field, she frequently hosts or appears as a guest or panelist on radio, television, podcasts and social media to illuminate and discuss matters relating to Indigenous governance and empowerment. 

Pamela Palmater on stage at a podium
Pamela Palmater, Professor and Chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson

In addition to teaching and public outreach, Palmater’s expertise is often called upon for expert interventions at parliamentary and senate committees, international human rights treaty bodies and especially within First Nation governments and grassroots Indigenous organizations “to expose injustices, resist ongoing genocidal policies and encourage resurgence through Indigenous identities, cultures, languages, traditions, economies, laws and governing practices,” as she describes her efforts.

“My focus is mostly on Turtle Island — what others know as Canada and the United States. First Nations and Native American governments are historically connected through kinship, trade, military alliances and treaties, but, our Indigenous struggle is also similar to what is experienced in other colonial countries, such as Australia, New Zealand and Samoa, for example.”

Ryerson has been willing to support Indigenous faculty engaged in social justice work that challenges the status quo, even when it causes controversy or debate. The university is on the leading edge of real reconciliation, and its support of my research is a sign of more good that can follow.
Pamela Palmater, Professor and Chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson

The path to a better future

Education has a crucial role to play in ending what the National Inquiry’s final report described as “persistent and deliberate human and Indigenous rights violations and abuses” that are the root cause of disproportionately high rates of violence against Indigenous women and girls and 2SLGBTQQIA in Canada.

In fact, specific actions for educators were included in the report’s 231 individual Calls for Justice.

Those calls reflect work that Palmater is already doing at Ryerson. Her efforts to promote greater public awareness and intentional learning among Canadians about historical and continuing injustices that result in violence against Indigenous people, and her advocacy for creating education opportunities for Indigenous people by Indigenous people — not just to recognize conditions that can lead to violence, but also around understanding and respecting traditional forms of governance as a path toward greater agency in their lives — are important steps toward a better and more equitable future.

“Ryerson has always had an open mind about how to combine academic education with practical societal benefits,” she says. “It has also been willing to support Indigenous faculty engaged in social justice work that challenges the status quo, even when it causes controversy or debate. The university is on the leading edge of real reconciliation, and its support of my research is a sign of more good that can follow.”

Palmater adds that Canadians are also important strategic partners in what needs to happen. 

“Canadians have the numbers, the wealth, the political influence and access to tools that could be used in partnership to demand change from governments — in fact, to force change from governments. Canadians benefit from the historic and ongoing dispossession of Indigenous peoples and thus have a role to play in advocating and supporting Indigenous self-determination and a fair share of lands, resources and governing power.” 

In the end, she says, that is what we promised each other in our treaties: mutual respect, benefit and protection.

Urban Design & Infrastructure

The future of water is clean, smart and accessible

Urban Design & Infrastructure

The future of water is clean, smart and accessible

Water is essential to our existence, which is why in developed parts of the world we build elaborate infrastructures to gather, purify and deliver it to meet our personal, commercial, industrial and other needs, and then recycle much of it afterwards. 

In under-developed regions, the task of collecting and distributing water is often much more labour-intensive — and time-consuming. The hours in a day lost to collecting and transporting water can easily compromise someone’s ability to hold a job or attend school.

There are opportunities to rethink how we manage the lifecycle of water in our lives, along with a pressing need to address how water scarcity and conveyance affects millions of less-fortunate people. 

Researchers and innovators at Ryerson are facing those challenges and developing solutions that could make a difference in lives today, and well into the future. 

Putting rooftops to better use

Stormwater is a growing concern in large, densely populated areas. Heavy rain or melted snow makes its way along hard surfaces covering much of a city like Toronto, for example, and into drains that lead to wastewater treatment facilities or local waterways. Too much stormwater can overwhelm the complex network of pipes designed to carry it and can lead to flooded basements and poor-quality water emptied into nearby lakes and rivers, while also increasing pressure on municipalities to invest in even more costly infrastructure projects.

Potential cost per square foot of a blue roof (compared with $15+ for a green roof)

For architectural science professor Hitesh Doshi, part of the solution to managing stormwater more effectively comes from not looking down and envisioning more pipes leading to treatment plants, but rather up and to where a lot of rain and snow lands: on the rooftops of houses, apartments and condos, and other buildings. 

“A lot of rooftops are simply collecting water and putting it into the stormwater system — and something needs to be done about it,” Doshi explains. 

Instead, Doshi says that water could be diverted to on-site storage and used to irrigate nearby green spaces or even purified for drinking. Rooftops fitted with solar panels could see more value if some of the energy they provide is used to heat that collected rain and melted snow for use in washing or HVAC systems.

a professor in front of a whiteboard
Architectural science professor Hitesh Doshi

“Another question we have to ask is whether it is practical on certain flat rooftops to grow enough vegetables of a certain type to supply local needs,” he adds. “Looking at rooftops as potential biodiversity zones needs to be explored. We could also use them more to create amenity spaces, or for simply greening to act as heat sinks.” 

As he ponders the multitude of ways that rooftops could be put to work rather than left as vacant spaces, Doshi concedes there will be roles to play by municipalities and governments at different levels to enable some of his ideas to come to life. 

But, he also imagines how forward-looking companies might embrace the notion that their empty rooftops could be as valuable to their business as the large parking lots they provide for customers. If a chain of supermarkets were to sell produce or cut flowers grown and nurtured on its rooftop summer gardens using captured stormwater, for example, it would carry a strong environmental message to consumers — and could turn rainy days into money-makers, as a result.

That would be good for the economy, and even better for the environment.

Our product is driven by the desire to provide everyone access to potable drinking water, reduce water-borne diseases and, in turn, provide a higher quality of life to our users.
Andrew Feldman, Project Lead at WaterG

Access to water — clean water — for everyone

While managing stormwater sensibly is an option in developed countries, finding potable water is an urgent worry in large parts of the world. 

For many — mostly women — in the Gujarat region of western India, for example, each day typically requires walking long distances to fill a variety of containers with unclean water and then carry them back to their villages. 

It’s hard work. Water is heavy.

Similar scenes occur in impoverished areas and war-torn countries around the globe, but it was to the Gujarat region that several students from Ryerson went in 2015 to meet with government officials, entrepreneurs and investors and conduct field research that would help improve a water-purifying and transportation device conceived to alleviate the water woes of millions of people.

They were there as one of three winners of the university’s Global Innovation Challenge, which asked teams of students and alumni to develop ideas to improve social conditions for those in need. It was an example of learning beyond the classroom at Ryerson.

Amount of bacteria or pathogens the WaterG device eliminates

The device the students were promoting is essentially a wheeled barrel with a handle that when pushed generates electricity and kills 99.9 percent of any pathogens or bacteria in the water it is carrying. It also has a battery that can store unused electricity that’s generated, which can be used to power small household appliances.

“Our product is driven by the desire to provide everyone access to potable drinking water, reduce water-borne diseases and, in turn, provide a higher quality of life to our users,” explains Andrew Feldman, who was the concept creator and is now project lead with the startup WaterG that emerged from the team’s early efforts. Those were aided in part by experience with Zone Startups India, a collaboration between the BSE Institute (a subsidiary of the Bombay Stock Exchange), Ryerson University’s Digital Media Zone and Simon Fraser University, among others.

“I think in the next decade it would be possible to have our product in hundreds of communities globally,” he contends. “Our hope is that where our product is introduced, we’ll see a decrease in fatalities from water-borne diseases, as a result.”

That’s a noble aspiration, with global implications for the future.

Urban Design & Infrastructure

The green building revolution will start from the ground up

Urban Design & Infrastructure

The green building revolution will start from the ground up

Over-reliance on fossil fuels is one of the most significant barriers to achieving a more sustainable future. If we hope to achieve the limits to rising global temperatures set out in the 2016 Paris Agreement, our cities will need to be built in such a way that fossil fuel usage is decreased drastically.

Space heating consumes immense amounts of natural gas in urban centres around the world, for example, and is one of Canada’s largest sources of CO2 emissions. Implementing more sustainable alternatives could make an enormous difference in the fight against climate change.

At the same time, we need to find more innovative ways to distribute power within buildings. One of the best ways to do this is to apply greater intelligence and automation to the use of electricity. Today, too much energy is lost to inefficient conversion systems.

It’s precisely these types of challenges that Ryerson researchers and innovators are tackling to create a more sustainable future in Canada and beyond.

Unlocking the potential of geothermal

Geothermal — using the crust of the earth to heat and cool buildings — has the potential to revolutionize the HVAC industry. Not only is it energy-efficient and environmentally clean, but it can also be one of the most cost-effective space conditioning systems available. However, to drive more widespread use of geothermal, work is needed to refine the design of systems so that they can be incorporated directly into the components of a building’s foundation.

an overhead shot of a geothermal system on a farm
Geothermal HVAC has the potential to revolutionize the heating and cooling industry

Ryerson researcher Seth Dworkin is focused on helping to take geothermal to the next level in terms of efficiency and scalability. In countries such as Sweden and Switzerland, as much as 75 percent of homes use geothermal systems, but there’s huge potential for an increase in North America and in commercial buildings all over the globe.

of homes in Sweden and Switzerland use geothermal systems

“We are creating, refining and combining geothermal technologies to be deployed in new commercial building developments, and in retrofits for older buildings,” Dworkin explains. “We are also studying more compact systems for application in the single-family residential market, which is still mostly untouched by sustainable alternatives, and in remote northern communities.”

The practical applications of his research, which involves working closely with industry partners, will be most beneficial where there is a low- or zero-emitting electricity generation mix. Electricity is needed for the exchangers that circulate the hot and cold air in buildings.

“If coal or natural gas is being used to generate electricity, running the geothermal heat pumps will still contribute indirectly to emissions,” Dworkin adds. “If, however, most or all of the electricity is being generated by some combination of hydro, wind, solar and nuclear, the technology will end up being much better for the environment.”

In the next 20-30 years I think we could develop, test and validate a whole suite of sustainable technologies for building energy.
Seth Dworkin, Professor, Mechanical and Industrial Engineering

Indeed, while there are still challenges ahead, Dworkin is confident his work will make a difference.

“In the next 20-30 years I think we could develop, test and validate a whole suite of sustainable technologies for building energy. Those technologies would use solar energy and geothermal heat storage to provide completely sustainable heating and cooling to all building types — in all regions — without the need for fossil fuel consumption.”

Such progress would represent a major step forward in efforts to diminish our reliance on fossil fuels and create a greener future.

Smarter buildings are greener buildings

Alongside developing sustainable ways to make interior spaces comfortable year-round using alternative energy sources, researchers and innovators at Ryerson understand there is a need to reassess how power within modern commercial and residential buildings is distributed and managed, so they are more environmentally friendly.

That’s where Argentum Electronics enters the picture. Founded by Ryerson student Bolis Ibrahim, Electrical and Electronics Engineering ’19, the company was developed at the university’s Clean Energy Zone, one of 10 on-campus incubators in which students apply their degree coursework to real-world startups, causes, projects or ventures. For Ibrahim, the zone proved to be “a phenomenal growth partner,” by providing access to grants, expertise, networks and other invaluable resources.

a man touching an electrical equipment
Bolis Ibrahim, Founder of Argentum Electronics

Argentum is focused on developing intelligent direct current (DC) power distribution along with an easily reconfigurable Internet of Things (IoT) backend that connects devices, such as LED lighting and HVAC systems, to wireless sensor networks and automates how they interact.

“The reality today is that DC devices account for about 90 percent of power consumed in a building, yet power distribution is still based mainly around alternating current (AC). The conversion from AC to DC is on average only 80 percent efficient, which means that a building loses 20 percent of what it spends on that electricity,” says Ibrahim. “On the IoT side, buildings need an easier way to remotely control DC-powered devices using sensors that are more affordable.”

of energy is lost in most buildings to AC/DC conversion, leaving significant room for greater efficiency

Now, energy that is captured as direct current, such as solar, or converted to DC can be distributed and managed through Argentum’s award-winning micro-grid system that relies on Power-over-Ethernet (PoE). With PoE, a single cable provides both a secure data connection and power to DC devices.

“Our micro-grid system can easily be retrofit without major infrastructure changes in buildings, and instantly those buildings will realize significant energy savings,” Ibrahim explains.

“For the everyday user, it could mean seeing fewer AC wall outlets and more USB sockets,” he adds.

Behind the scenes, the implications are more profound: a system such as the one Argentum is developing could result in buildings that are much smarter and more energy-efficient.

The faceplates on our wall outlets would be a daily reminder that we’re living in greener buildings and contributing to a more sustainable future, which benefits everyone.