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January-February 2017

INNOVATION - Ryerson University Research & Innovation Newsletter

Issue 25: January/February 2017

Image: The Ryerson Urban Water team stand along the Lake Ontario shoreline. They are an interdisciplinary team of researchers providing sustainable solutions to urban water issues. Photo credit: Mark Blinch


Feature Stories

Partner in Innovation


Funding Announcements

Around Campus


Water is the source of all life. When Ryerson recently hosted Barbara Sherwood Lollar for her Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada (NSERC) Foundation Lecture, she demonstrated how water that is over one billion years old continues to support life kilometres under the earth's surface, far from the sun and other life-giving sources.

Despite its resilience, water and the many ecosystems that exist within it can be disrupted or damaged. Our actions as human beings threaten the steady supply of clean water and, by extension, our survival.

In a county rich in water, it is difficult for Canadians to envision a time when we might not have enough water, but climate change is upon us and our researchers are ringing alarm bells.

Now is the time to act to preserve this precious resource and ensure its continuity, not only for us as humans but for the rest of the planet. We have the power to preserve the source and availability of clean water for future generations.

In this issue of Innovation, we feature projects by researchers at Ryerson Urban Water that highlight our role as stewards of this precious resource. We feature Claire Oswald’s work in addressing road salt and its inevitable run-off into streams and rivers; Lynda McCarthy’s project that is trying to find a viable crop to repopulate Toronto’s wetlands and serve as a filter to stem the production of algae along the shores of Lake Ontario; Kernaghan Webb and his students, who are taking a close look at the municipal management of wastewater and how some municipalities are challenging the status quo; and John Shiga’s work on how humans are impacting ocean life through audible interference like sonar. We also meet a team of researchers who have created a water bottle capable of filtering out impurities, rendering non-potable water drinkable.

Additionally, we look at a unique partnership with Ryerson and the National Ballet School of Canada to help promote dance interventions for Parkinson’s patients. As always, we hope you enjoy this issue, where we bring together and showcase some of the exciting work being undertaken at Ryerson University.


Usha George
Vice-President, Research and Innovation (Interim)



Road salt a hazard to aquatic life

As a standard road de-icer, road salt is having a negative impact on aquatic ecosystems in small streams flowing through urbanized areas.

Geography and environmental studies professor Claire Oswald and biology professor Lynda McCarthy are examining how the seasonal application of chloride salts in Ontario, and their consequent run-off into groundwater and streams, is impacting water quality and the abundance and diversity of aquatic biota (living organisms). This research project is funded by Environment Canada’s Lake Simcoe/Southeastern Georgian Bay Clean-Up Fund and is conducted in partnership with the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority and the Nottawasaga Valley Conservation Authority.

Three main watersheds were studied during the project: Mimico Creek, as an example of a watershed in a highly urbanized area; the East Holland River, as an example of a watershed in an area that is becoming increasingly urbanized; and Willow Creek, a watershed in a rural/agricultural area.

As expected, the greater the urbanization and road density within a watershed, the higher the chloride concentrations measured in the stream and shallow groundwater. “As soon as the snow melts, chloride concentrations in the streams shoot right up,” said Oswald. Groundwater is not impacted in the same way, the studies have shown, but rather increases steadily through the winter and spring period into the growing season. This is an important concern for biota living in the stream, from small invertebrates to large fish, who may not be able to tolerate heightened levels of salinity.

Oswald is also examining if the locations of roadways have an impact on the quality of the water in the streams. “We will be looking at the spatial distribution of impervious areas in relation to the stream and whether or not that influences the transport of chloride from roads to waterways.”

With all of their measurement equipment now in place, the team will be measuring the spring run-off to wrap up this project for 2017.


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Wetlands may be solution to Lake Ontario’s beach water quality in Toronto

Co-founder of Ryerson Urban Water (RUW) Lynda McCarthy says that, responding to recent evidence of climate change locally, Toronto is in the process of planning mitigation efforts for extreme weather events alongside organizations such as RUW. One impact from massive rainstorms is the subsequent run-off that transports nutrients from the land into aquatic environments, which can create troublesome algae blooms along Lake Ontario shorelines.

With the help of wetlands, McCarthy is examining how to mitigate the impact of stormwater run-off by containing the nutrients from farmlands, which can flow quickly after major weather events like storms and impact larger bodies of water like Lake Ontario.

“After the storm of  [July] 2013, where we saw more rainfall in a one-day period than we did during Hurricane Hazel, it became clear that climate change was here and would result in more extreme weather events,” said McCarthy. “We learned that we will continue to see nutrients wash off from farmers’ fields into the lakes. We can either put up concrete walls to stop this run-off, or plant wetlands to decrease the impact to the water.”

In nature, much of the shore lands would be bordered by wetlands. However, urbanization of the Lake Ontario shoreline has all but eliminated the wetlands that acted like a filter for undesirable elements in the water. As a result, we see contaminated beaches in the summer, in particular after a major storm.

First attempts at improving shorelines through the introduction of plants to create wetlands were less than successful. The wetland grasses introduced became invasive and grew too quickly. Researchers now think that the key to reducing run-off impact may be an ancient crop grown for generations by the indigenous peoples of Canada, said McCarthy.

McCarthy and her team, including Master’s graduate student Francesca Fernandes and research colleague Vadim Bostan, have been in touch with an indigenous wild rice farmer from Peterborough to discuss how the grain could be used to create wetlands that would retain and filter the nutrient run-off along Lake Ontario shorelines.

“When we experience run-off, we see the algae growth explode and we get bad water quality very quickly,” she said. “If the project is successful, we could further examine the project to see if the crops yielded can be harvested for biofuel.”



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Wastewater management a work in progress for Ontario municipalities

Ontario municipalities have adopted a patchwork of regulated standards for the management of drinking water, stormwater, and wastewater according to research currently being conducted under the supervision of Kernaghan Webb in Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management.

Drawing on the standards of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), Kernaghan Webb and his PhD student Edgar Tovilla have been looking at how federal, provincial and municipal governments are variously addressing municipal water regulation.

“What we are seeing is an interesting convergence taking place,” said Kernaghan. “The rules being applied by municipalities represent a blend of rules from the province, federal government, and the private sector.”

Through a Mitacs Accelerate grant in partnership with SAI Global, a risk assessment and management firm, Webb and Tovilla are examining how and why the governance of water management systems is evolving.

Following the tragedy in Walkerton, where a number of illnesses and deaths were attributed to poor management of drinking water, the province implemented new water management standards to bring municipalities in line with industry standards for quality management and food production to ensure clean drinking water. This initiative has combined the ISO standard for quality management, known as ISO 9001, and the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) for the food industry to establish the Drinking Water Quality Management System (DWQMS) for drinking water in Ontario.

In their research, Webb and Tovilla have seen that while the province expects drinking water quality to be within specific management guidelines, the management of wastewater and stormwater is not specifically spelled out. Despite this lack of provincial enforcement, Tovilla has identified a small number of municipalities that are not only taking on ISO standards for drinking water but also the ISO standards for environmental management of wastewater and stormwater, known as ISO 14001. What is particularly noteworthy is that those municipalities implementing ISO standards for wastewater are some of the most densely populated in Ontario, including the City of Toronto as well as York, Durham, Peel, and Halton Regions.

“What has transpired over the last ten years is the adoption of non-state standards for wastewater management,” said Tovilla. “We are looking at the role of ISO standards and what externalities are affecting the decisions of municipalities to improve these systems.” He noted that external pressures such as court decisions can be a catalyst for change, as judges have been favouring “creative sentencing” by requiring the adoption of ISO standards in their judgements for environmental violations. “We are seeing a departure from what is the minimum requirements of the province and what the municipalities are proactively adopting and using,” said Tovilla.

Tovilla is a civil engineer who works in wastewater management for the Region of Peel. His experience gives him a unique perspective on the problem. “I have been able to see firsthand the benefit of the DWQMS and the fact that municipalities have been cross-training on many different levels, bringing benefits from one sector to another sector,” said Tovilla. Adherence to such standards may decrease the likelihood of environmental violations taking place. When violations do occur, those municipalities that have implemented ISO 14001 may be able to raise a due diligence defence.

Webb says this work sheds light on new methods of governance that are emerging in light of increasingly complex issues we face as a society. He refers to the emerging approach as “sustainable governance.”

“In order to address the complex environmental, social, and economic problems that we face in the 21st century, it’s not possible to rely exclusively on government, the private sector, or civil society,” said Webb. “But each component has important contributions to make to the overall effective regulation of water protection and Edgar’s work is really an illustration of that.”


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Does the benefit of ocean noise pollution outweigh its environmental impact?

The impact that humans have on water, and in particular the ocean, can’t always be measured in terms of contaminants and debris. In his studies into the evolution of sonar — from a means of detecting ice floes to conducting warfare, industrializing ocean waters, and studying marine life — professional communications professor John Shiga hopes to open a dialogue about the impact of introducing noise into the oceans. He also seeks to explore the social responsibilities surrounding human intrusion into this space.

Shiga’s project Audible oceans: Sonar and the history of ocean noise delves into decades of using sonar and aims to provide sound maps of sonar usage, as well as evidence-based data on sound events to engage the public on the topic of ocean noise.

The uses of sonar are varied. According to Shiga, the military became interested in using sonar during the First and Second World Wars: “With underwater warfare, it becomes of great national importance to figure out how sound behaves underwater.” Particularly during the Cold War, missiles were being hidden and deployed underwater. “This is where you begin to see the development of global sonar networks,” said Shiga.

Based on these uses, non-governmental organizations and the Canadian government began to assess the issue of human-introduced sound into the ocean.

Shiga explained that the impact of sonar is far-reaching and we don’t fully understand the negative effects. What is apparent is that the reverberations of sonar interfere with navigation and communication for creatures who live beneath the sea. Moreover, the use of sonar or air guns that send huge blasts of air to the ocean floor to assess the space using reverberations has been shown to upset marine life. “For behaviours like mating and searching for food, it’s disruptive,” said Shiga. In his research, he has also come across studies that indicate a correlation between whales “beaching” themselves and large acoustic events (such as the use of air guns). “Those large charismatic mega fauna, such as whales, tend to get a lot more attention than the smaller creatures that we don’t see,” said Shiga. “They helped bring attention to the cause.”

While there are primary effects on marine life that we as humans are only beginning to understand, the secondary effects of using sonar include rapidly growing and expanding a sea-based shipping industry, assisting in off-shore drilling for oil and minerals, and generally increasing human presence in the water, whether it be for commercial or recreational uses.

Shiga aims to publish a book on his findings and engage the public in a discourse on the subject. “There are a lot of scientists who have a foot in both circles,” said Shiga. “There is a lot of interesting overlap between ocean science and the military. I want to contribute to the understanding of the long history of not only moving through ocean space but altering it in some key ways. And to show how the research of well-meaning, well-intentioned scientists has unintended consequences down the line.”

Ryerson Urban Water

This issue of Innovation features researchers from Ryerson Urban Water (RUW), a centre with the collective expertise of more than 40 researchers across 6 faculties and 13 departments who collaborate on sustainable solutions for water management and stewardship in urban settings. From green roofs and urban forests, to low-impact development and sustainable master planning, to engineered wetlands and wastewater technologies, RUW researchers apply an intensive, community-informed approach to address the needs of Canada’s largest urban centre and its adjacent waterways and lakes in today’s changing climate. Driven by a mandate of sustainability, RUW integrates research, education, and policy implementation to promote a healthy urban water cycle and healthy, resilient cities, now and in the future.

For more information on water research at Ryerson, visit Ryerson Urban Water, opens in new window.


Dance intervention aims to get people with Parkinson’s moving

Despite a growing body of evidence pointing to the benefits of dance for people with Parkinson’s disease, those being referred to dance remains low.

Nursing professor Jennifer Lapum and doctoral student Rachel Bar are examining how arts-based interventions can bridge the knowledge gap with the help of Canada’s National Ballet School, in order to encourage more physicians and other health care providers to recommend dance and get more people with Parkinson’s moving. Bar’s doctoral research is grounded in this initiative under the supervision of Lapum and psychology professor Michelle Dionne.

“We are trying to use dance as a method of arts-based knowledge translation,” said Lapum.

For people with Parkinson’s, the benefits are many. “Research has shown that dance can improve gait, balance and a whole host of other symptoms related to Parkinson’s disease,” said Lapum. “But practice isn’t where it needs to be.”

Lapum, whose most recent project was a large-scale art installation that allowed participants to immerse themselves in the experience of open-heart surgery patients, is passionate about using the arts to disseminate knowledge.

The pair hope to engage clinicians in the process and convey the firsthand benefits of dance through two separate Canadian Institutes of Health Research-funded events, one at Toronto Western Hospital (home to Canada’s largest movement disorder clinic) and one at Canada’s National Ballet School, where Bar once trained to be a professional dancer.

Both events will feature panels including health care professionals, people with Parkinson’s, and dance experts discussing the role of dance in the treatment plan of people with Parkinson’s. The event held at Canada’s National Ballet School will also be live-streamed so that it can be viewed across the country, or even in different parts of the world.

According to Bar, her interest in this line of research was sparked when she was studying how learning new choreography impacted the brain of dancers. With researchers from York University, she discovered that one of the areas of the brain that was accessed in acquiring new routines was the same area of the brain that was affected by Parkinson’s. There are many benefits aside from clinical benefits, such as improved mood and socialization, that are not always quantifiable. She has witnessed these benefits at Canada’s National Ballet School, where she helps run weekly dance classes for people with Parkinson’s.

The events will take place April, 2017 as part of Parkinson’s Awareness Month, opens in new window.


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An innovative portable water solution

Addressing one of the planet’s most pressing issues, chemical engineering professors Huu Doan and Ali Lohi are working with their postdoctoral research associate Amira Abdelrasoul to successfully patent her work, creating a bottle that can purify water and overcome the shortcomings of bottles available on the market.

Building on a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Discovery Grant project on wastewater ultrafiltration by professor Doan, Abdelrasoul applied these findings and that of her own PhD research to create the water bottle project using a novel filter system that is cost-effective and chemical-free. Her innovation in the field has earned her Norman Esch Engineering Innovation & Entrepreneurship Awards in 2015 and 2016.

“The most frequently occurring serious health concern worldwide is caused by contaminated drinking water, and the development of an efficient solution is the most critical issue in global health priority areas,” said Abdelrasoul, who is currently a lecturer and postdoctoral research associate in the Chemical Engineering Department at Ryerson.

“The bottle has the ability to filter out suspended solids, bacteria, and microbiological organisms, thus providing healthy, purified drinking water,” said Doan.

Because of its versatility, the water bottle can be used in a variety of scenarios and locations.

“It allows treating a wide variety of water types including tap water, water from lakes, wells, rivers, and partially treated water. It will also be marketed for military personnel and First Nations in rural areas,” noted professor Lohi.

In underdeveloped countries and disaster-affected areas that have suffered events such as earthquakes or flooding, where drinking water scarcity and water filtration are of high priority, this novel solution has the potential to save lives.

“Currently, I am exploring commercialization collaboration opportunities with an international investment company looking to acquire this filtration invention after the full patent registration is completed. That will allow us to develop a new water technology that can meet the challenges of the world’s water problems,” Abdelrasoul said.


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Congratulations to the Ryerson faculty who have recently received grants in support of their research programs.

The list below includes a selection of recent grants awarded, where Ryerson is the principal grant holder and publication of the award is approved by the corresponding granting agencies.

Principal Investigator

Award /Program

Kathryn Underwood (Early Childhood Studies) SSHRC Knowledge Synthesis Grant
Shelagh McCartney (Urban and Regional studies) SSHRC Knowledge Synthesis Grant
Lesley Campbell (Chemistry and Biology) NSERC Collaborative Research and Development Grant
Atefeh Mashatan (Information Technology Management) OCE VIP I
Wey Leong (Mechanical and Industrial Engineering) OCE VIP I
Kaamran Raahemifar (Electrical and Computer Engineering) OCE VIP I  
Kaamran Raahemifar (Electrical and Computer Engineering) OCE TalentEdge


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Medical Technologies for Diagnosis and Therapy Mixer

Wednesday, March 8, 2017
12-2 p.m.
Ryerson's Oakham Lounge (2nd floor), Oakham House, 63 Gould St, Toronto

Industry representatives and Ryerson faculty across various disciplines undertaking research in the fields of medical technologies for screening, diagnosis, and therapy are invited to network with other R&D professionals who share similar research fields. The interactive session will include: brief introductions from academics with expertise in biomedical optics and photonics; biomedical signals and systems; ultrasound, microbubble-mediated therapeutic applications; synthesis and testing of nanomaterials for biotechnology and biomedical applications; and tissue engineering.  Industry professionals will be given the opportunity to provide a description of their organization and highlight R&D opportunities they are interested in exploring.


More Info, opens in new window


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