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Grad student's research project aims to help software go green

By Dana Yates

Professor Ayse Bener and team

Ayse Bener, mechanical and industrial engineering professor, seated, with PhD student Sedef Akinli, right, and visiting professor Akin Kocak of Turkey, team up to help software development industry go green.

Computer software is easy to take for granted. Just buy a new program or operating system and install it. But what's convenient for people is proving to be considerably damaging to the planet.

A major part of the problem is planned obsolescence – that is, replacing older products with new, improved versions. Increasingly, however, the software development industry is under pressure from regulators to go green, and a Ryerson student is studying how to help ease that transition.

Sedef Akinli is a PhD candidate in the Environmental Applied Science and Management program supervised by mechanical and industrial engineering professor Ayse Bener. Akinli is interested in approaches that will help software developers design products that meet customers' needs, require less energy to produce, are longer lasting and can be disposed of in a safe, responsible manner. Akinli is also investigating analytical models that process "big data” or huge, complex data sets.

Currently, software companies are concerned that acting in Earth-friendly ways will reduce product quality and profits, says Akinli. "I'm studying the interrelationships among product quality and sustainability and seeing where the boundaries are so software developers aren't afraid to be more sustainable.”

To advance Akinli’s research, she spent three months last summer in Turkey, working under the supervision of a computer science professor Gulfem Isiklar Alptekin at the Centre for Research in Decision Analysis (CRDA). Based at Galatasaray University (GU) in Istanbul, the centre partners with Bener's Data Science Laboratory (DSL), where Akinli is a research assistant. Her project represented the first collaboration between the research groups.

In addition to meeting with local companies in the information and communications sector, Akinli accessed the CRDA's data repository and tested analytical models. She then presented the team's preliminary work last August at a Requirement Engineering for Sustainable Systems workshop in Sweden. The researchers also plan to submit their work to a peer-reviewed journal.

The project was supported in part by a grant received by Akinli though the Mitacs Globalink research award program. Open to all graduate and senior undergraduate students, the initiative provides students with up to $5,000 in funding to undertake research, broaden their perspectives, build their network and experience life in a different country. 

Ryerson's connections to Turkey have strengthened significantly since Provost and Vice President Academic Mohamed Lachemi visited the nation last summer and Ryerson identified it as a strategic priority country for collaboration. Along with GU, Ryerson has partnered with Ankara University (AU) and Koc University, and discussions are underway with other universities. In early December, Ryerson researchers will be part of a Council of Ontario Universities education mission to Turkey.

Bener, who joined Ryerson from Turkey’s Bogazici University in 2010, has played a pivotal role in building links among Ryerson and Turkish higher-education institutions. Bener's big data-focused lab has hosted a number of Turkish researchers, including entrepreneurship and innovation professor Akin Kocak of AU, math professor Ceni Babaoglu of Istanbul Technical University and computer engineering professor Atay Ozgovde of GU.

As a visiting professor, Kocak worked with Bener to study how big data drives firms to be more innovative and how information technology capabilities affect organizational agility and innovation. Meanwhile, during Babaoglu’s visit, she worked with DSL graduate students to develop mathematical models in their industry-funded projects.

Ozgovde was here for two weeks, discussing future research partnerships with Bener as well as computer science and computer engineering professors. He also delivered a lecture on cloud computing and presented a seminar in the DSL.

“All of these valuable experiences would not have been possible via email or Skype,” he says. “I witnessed genuine interest in research and collaboration.”

To that end, he says, a couple of new research projects have been initiated between Ryerson and GU, and a master’s student in Ozgovde’s lab is planning to apply for PhD studies at Ryerson.

Those outcomes, Bener says, demonstrate the importance of international research partnerships. “Ryerson’s faculty and graduate students need highly skilled researchers to collaborate with, and Turkish universities need to expand their reach in entrepreneurship and innovation. We all learn from each other,” she says.