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March-April 2016

INNOVATION - Ryerson University Research & Innovation Newsletter

Issue 20: March/April 2016

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Feature Stories

Partner in Innovation


Around Campus

This publication is made possible, in part, with the support of the Research Support Fund.


Green commerce, green energy, green tech — these phrases dominate the political and economic landscape right now. We have reached a point as a country where our brightest future lies in the development of cross-disciplinary, eco-friendly solutions to our everyday problems.

We need to develop clean energy, reduce greenhouse gases, protect our most precious natural resource (water), and discover new ways to accommodate population growth without further encroaching on the Ontario Greenbelt, where we grow our food. From electric cars to energy storage, Ryerson has researchers who are up to the task. We are weaving green into every aspect of our lives, from how we grow our food to how we vacation.

Our researchers are not only championing green energy — they are also innovating on the technology front and establishing sustainable practices to further advance our green economy.

The creation of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Energy Storage Technology (NEST) network is facilitating a nation-wide initiative that will help store energy generated through green alternatives. Energy storage is vital for renewable energy sources, like sun and wind, to sustain the power grid throughout periods of decreased availability. Thanks to academic director of the Centre for Urban Energy, Bala Venkatesh, the storage of renewable energy will be vastly improved throughout the country.

Chemistry and Biology professor Bryan Koivisto is working on thin film photovoltaics, and his research has driven the creation of intense sun-like LED lights that use very little power. This innovation not only allows for testing of photovoltaics, but also has many potential applications from hothouse growing to light therapy for mood disorders.

Our Great Lakes are the world’s largest freshwater basin and one of our most precious resources. How we manage that resource on a shared border with our American neighbours is crucial moving forward. Politics and Public Administration professor Carolyn Johns is creating a cross-border network to examine how we can become better stewards of these lakes.

In order to protect greenspaces, we need to find land for the construction of housing and commercial spaces without further destroying farm land. That’s why director of the School of Urban Planning, Christopher De Sousa, is looking at ways to encourage brownfield development, shaping policy in a way that will make it more appealing to developers.

Corporations need to be accountable for all the stakeholders in the communities in which they operate. Environmental stewardship and working with non-governmental organizations is a key component of that accountability, as professor of Global Management studies Deborah de Lange explains in some of her recent work.

The future is now when it comes to green energy, and if we are not innovating, we will be left behind. At Ryerson, we continue to push the limits of what green can truly be.


Wendy Cukier
Vice-President, Research and Innovation


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Ryerson research team recreates sunlight with LEDs

Bryan Koivisto can unleash the power of the sun with the flip of a switch.

Koivisto, a professor in the Chemistry and Biology Department at Ryerson, ran into an obstacle while designing next-generation photovoltaic technologies: how can we test these technologies against degradation caused by the sun’s rays?

Next-generation photovoltaics consist of a transparent, thin film that uses a light-absorbing dye to harness the energy of the sun. Koivisto is currently researching the lifespan of these dyes against sustained exposure to the sun in order to create more stable dyes. Since this research needed constant sunlight, the solution was to create a new solar-simulating light source based on light-emitting diode (LED) technology.

With the help of a Canadian industry partner, the scientific instrument company Sciencetech, and with funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), Koivisto and his team, which includes a number of undergraduate students, were able to create the sun-mimicking LED light source. “It was a project that wasn’t really in my wheelhouse, but it was just outside of it,” Koivisto said. “We had the right students to do the job, so we put together a team and it worked.”

According to Koivisto, LEDs are currently the best lighting technology available in terms of energy efficiency. “The output of LEDs is amazing. It’s just pure light,” said Koivisto. “The lifetime is also superior. They will outlive you. So the environmental impact is lowered.”

Recreating the sun’s spectrum meant using a combination of differently coloured LEDs. The biggest challenge of the research was to find a way to homogenize the light and create a single-point source out of 17 different LED lights all tuned to different frequencies. Using software, optical diffusers and mirrors, the team met that challenge.

The light source matches not only the light spectrum of the sun but also its intensity, said Koivisto.

Using multiple LEDs allows the team to create different lighting conditions by varying the different wavelengths of the LEDs. For instance, they can mimic overcast diffuse sunlight or bright daylight simply by tuning the power of the individual LEDs to produce the appropriate spectrums.

The invention, affectionately known as “RyerSun,” is now being developed for commercial applications with partner Sciencetech. Koivisto said that among its many potential applications, the technology could also be used for indoor hydroponics or for light therapy to treat mood disorders.


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Saving farmland and greenspace through the reuse of previously developed lands

The remediation of brownfield lands provides many community benefits, including pollution reversal, neighbourhood rejuvenation, as well as new development and employment, according to Christopher De Sousa, director and professor at the School of Urban Planning.

De Sousa is researching ways to improve the reuse and redevelopment of land in urban centres. The reuse of this land means that developers rely less on existing green spaces and instead choose to remediate sites that may otherwise have contaminants, or may be an eyesore to the community.

Although remediation is becoming more common in urban centres, where land is at a premium, there remains a reluctance by the construction industry to redevelop brownfield sites due to the increased time and costs associated, said De Sousa. In related research funded by Ryerson's Center for Urban Research and Land Development, De Sousa is researching how to make brownfield development more accessible and more appealing to developers.

“In Toronto, we have a desire to clean up brownfield sites, and a provincial plan to encourage growth on existing developed land,” said De Sousa. “The stronger the market, the more brownfields are redeveloped. In Toronto, we have had over 1,000 sites redeveloped over the last decade.”

Currently, there are some provincial incentives for developers, but De Sousa feels that there is a disconnect between government efforts to incentivize developers and efforts to preserve the environment, which is hindering the process.

In his research, De Sousa interviewed developers about barriers to taking on a brownfield site for development. The most common were institutional barriers such as delays in planning approvals, slow regulatory reviews and stringent remediation requirements. Conversely, developers rated measures such as protection for future liability, municipal rezoning for more desirable use, and lowering of land acquisition costs as strong incentives for taking on brownfield lands.

While De Sousa believes Ontario is lagging behind the U.S. in brownfield redevelopments, he feels Canadian cities have much more potential. He noted that some U.S. cities have neighbourhoods with little to no market value, as they are perceived as poor or lower class, but that the appeal of the strong real estate market in Canadian cities applies regardless of neighbourhoods. “Even places like Regent Park, the Distillery District and Parkdale are all hot neighbourhoods now.”

De Sousa aims to help inform policy to encourage the development of brownfields in cooler real estate markets, in order to continue to preserve green space and farmlands.


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Social Science needed for health of Great Lakes

Restoring the Great Lakes to a healthier state will take more than just rejuvenation efforts, says Carolyn Johns, professor in the Department of Politics and Public Administration. Johns said her research is showing it will take input from the social sciences to create awareness about policy outcomes and stewardship from the general public.

“The public needs to know a lot more about the current state of the great lakes,” said Johns. “There have been policies for decades, but serious challenges remain.”

In very basic terms, the goal for the health of the lakes would be that they be “fishable, swimmable, drinkable waters,” said Johns. “Those goals sound very basic, but we are not achieving them.”

As the director in the Great Lakes Policy Research Network (GLPRN), Johns has been conducting research using a framework developed by the International Joint Commission (IJC), the organization which oversees the stewardship of the boundary waters between the U.S. and Canada. Johns and the GLPRN are examining why, despite ongoing policy efforts and scientific tracking of the lakes’ health, the implementation, governance and engagement of the general public remain ongoing issues. In order to improve policy outcomes and the health of the lakes, social science and policy research is critical said Johns.

“There needs to be behavioural change,” said Johns. However, Great Lakes governance is complex. “There are a lot of actors and organizations involved,” she said, noting that there are thousands of cities, hundreds of Indigenous communities, several states/provinces and two distinct countries involved in trying to address many issues such as climate change, invasive species, and the re-emergence of severe water quality issues in Lake Erie.

While scientists regularly assess and report on the quality of the water in the Great Lakes, it is rarely broken down in a way that the average individual would understand its broader impact on their community or their own lives.  Social scientists focus attention on the value of the Great Lakes and how we are doing as a society in protecting this global freshwater resource.

Johns’s research is also showing that the government “needs high-level indicators that the public can understand of whether progress is being made or not.” Her research shows that the involvement of social scientists in applied policy research can help policy makers and the public break down complex issues and translate scientific findings and policy implementation challenges into relatable terms for the general public in order to advance stewardship.

In a recent report published by Johns and other GLPRN members for the IJC, Testing a Framework for Assessing the Effectiveness of Programs and Other Measures under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, participants surveyed noted that standardized indicators and basic data, such as the number of days beaches are closed and the causes for the closures, could help increase public access to information that matters.


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Corporations can work with NGOs toward sustainability

Are we holding businesses accountable for being good corporate citizens? When do companies start seeing their negative impacts on communities as their own losses?

Ted Rogers School of Management professor Deborah de Lange explores sustainability from a corporate responsibility standpoint and how businesses need to be considered part of the environment they operate in.

While corporations have been traditionally profit-driven, de Lange argues that true profit takes into account direct and indirect costs to stakeholders as a result of corporate actions.

“The way most business people have been trained is that making money is the focus, no matter the consequences of their actions,” said de Lange.  “But when you do that, the profit isn’t real. When you are a part of a community, you don’t have the right to leave people behind. Whether that is destroying the air or the water, or leaving people without good wages or with social problems.”

In her recently published article, From Foe to Friend: Complex Mutual Adaptation of Multinational Corporations and Nongovernmental Organizations, de Lange explores how multinational corporations and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) can work together to create more responsible governance.

“NGOs represent civil society, often holding vastly different views than multinationals,” said de Lange, adding that NGOs have the power to influence corporations, despite the latter’s dominance. However, she advocates for a collaborative approach.

The old dichotomy of NGOs taking a confrontational stance against corporations in order to drive change isn’t always the most effective approach, said de Lange. It closes doors rather than opening up communication channels for constructive interactions. Her study included instances where NGOs cooperated successfully with multinationals so as to delve into how these interactions had become effective. She applied complexity theory to an inter-organizational context, different from previous research focusing on organizations from within. She concluded that NGOs and multinationals adapt to each other so as to adopt mutual strategies and resolutions that advance the goals of each organization in a sustainable way.

“The way you solve problems is working cooperatively with people,” said de Lange.  “NGOs are full of brilliant people. They have intelligent, long-term visions.”


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A national partnership to build the future of energy storage

As clean energy is being produced more readily, the possibility of creating grid-scale solutions to produce, store and deliver this energy to consumers could be a not so distant reality.

Harnessing the desire to drive clean energy, Ryerson’s academic director of the Centre for Urban Energy (CUE), Bala Venkatesh, has created the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Energy Storage Technology (NEST) network with the help of a $5 million partnership grant from NSERC.

Venkatesh has extensive expertise in energy storage and has worked on several industry partnerships, including the creation of microgrids to test energy grid solutions for PowerStream. Since his appointment as the inaugural academic director of CUE in 2010, the staff and faculty have completed projects worth over $9.9 million, in addition to an initial $7 million investment from founding sponsors Hydro One, Toronto Hydro and the IESO. Many of the solutions have already been commercialized by Canadian utilities. “Our research helps to bring clean energy to society and also helps to create a next generation in support of clean energy in the economy,” said Venkatesh. “Ryerson is on the move, building clean energy solutions.”

NEST is a cross-Canada network involving a multi-disciplinary, multi-sector alliance made up of 27 Canadian researchers from 15 universities and eight provinces, as well as industry and government partners, to drive innovation in the creation of energy storage for renewables in Canada. NEST will develop, test and ultimately commercialize new technologies such as lithium-ion batteries, flywheels, compressed air energy storage, thermal storage and other hybrid energy storage models. Through the network, new scientific knowledge will be generated and mobilized, students will receive skills training in fundamental areas of energy storage technologies, and Canada’s economy will be bolstered with the creation of new jobs. The focus of the research will be on energy storage technologies with the potential to reach the market in the next five years.

The NEST network also includes policymakers to develop codes and standards that will help accelerate the adoption of grid-scale energy storage, which has not yet been incorporated into the Canadian energy landscape.

Throughout the creation of the NEST network, industry will be involved in pushing forward the commercialization of these new technologies, helping to propel the solutions to market at a faster rate. Confirmed partners include utilities such as PowerStream, Hydro-Quebec, Veridian, and Oshawa PUC; industry such as Schneider Electric, Siemens, eCamion, Temporal Power, Opus One Solutions, and Hydrostor ; and academic institutions across the country.




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Appumentary style story-telling pushes creative boundaries

To explore the evolving relationship between humans and technology, RTA School of Media professor Ramona Pringle creates interactive digital narratives that push the boundaries of what we know as entertainment.

Pringle has a name for this methodology of story-telling creation: open agile media. Borrowing from the software industry’s agile development model to push out software in early iterations and keep developing as they go, open agile media will allow public opinion to shape the story-telling.

To develop these stories, she engages test subjects to interact with the storyline and software as she creates it. The end goal is to create a seamless integration of storytelling and technology. “There are layers of choice but they can’t overshadow the experience, or the narrative,” said Pringle.

Viewers can engage with the story in several ways, including in “lean back” movie mode, actively playing with the narrative in interactive mode, or enjoying the story as a rich media e-book. They can also dig deeper by accessing the “hot spots” of the storyline to open up new scenes or hear from experts along the way.

“A project like this is rooted in research,” explained Pringle, noting that the inclusion of test subjects in her studies helped shape the functionality of the prototype along the way. “We do a full review of best practices in terms of user experience.”

Developing this new genre of storytelling requires a lot of foresight, said Pringle, but it is worth the effort to challenge the status quo of how we interact with entertainment. “When the motion picture was first invented, they used to roll film just in one long shot,” said Pringle. “It wasn’t for decades that they learned you could move the camera around. Technology alone doesn’t push the medium forward. We need creators to make the change.”

After the success of her first appumentary, Avatar Secrets — funded by the Canadian Media Fund, TVO, the Ontario Media Development Corporation and the Bell Fund Pringle continues to evolve her storytelling methods. Part graphic novel, part feature film, Avatar Secrets is currently available for  iPad and a new release will soon allow it to be played on iPhone and through the website Vimeo; as a digital series, it has been recognized by the Rockie Awards, the Digis Awards, and the Canadian Screen Awards. Pringle also has a number of new projects in the works, one of which is a new interactive feature titled Love War + Robots, which will be previewed at the Sheffield festival in the U.K. this June, where she is also exhibiting Avatar Secrets.

For Pringle, technology allows us to see things in a new light. According to her, the interactions she sees through online gaming and virtual worlds, like her appumentary, are not indicative of an obsession with technology, but rather a much more basic truth: “It’s not that we’re addicted to technology,” said Pringle. “We’re addicted to each other.”


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Food Research Mixer

Monday, April 25, 2016 | 4:00pm - 6:30pm
Oakham Lounge, 55 Gould St.

Hear from Ryerson Faculty across various disciplines undertaking food related research and for an opportunity to network with other R&D professionals within the food-based landscape. Industry professionals who opt to present will provide a description of their company specific problem. Ryerson staff and representatives from funding agencies will be on hand to answer any questions.

More Info, opens in new window


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