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September-October 2016

INNOVATION - Ryerson University Research & Innovation Newsletter

Issue 23: September/October 2016



Feature Stories

Partner in Innovation


Funding Announcements


Creative outlets let us explore the world through a new lens.

Whether it is creativity in thought, artistic expression, music, or language, there are many ways to harness our imagination to solve issues facing society.

So how do we create knowledge from all of these colourful expressions? The answer is in how creativity speaks to us. In many ways, it is a universal language. It is about how we perceive the experience and how we are changed by the experience. Creativity pushes the boundaries of what is possible and lets us think in realms that were previously unimaginable.

Our feature stories give us great examples of how real life problems are seen in a new light when we think and act creatively. Children who suffer from type 1 diabetes can explore their condition through games and play with Donna Koller’s (Early Childhood Studies) “My Diabetes Playbox”. Deborah Fels (Information Technology Management) is working with artists to create a new performance art form that transcends the ability to hear. Harald Bauder (Geography) looks at the plight of Syrian refugees from a fresh perspective that involves eliminating borders for safe passage. And Lila Pine (Radio and Television Arts) uses reverberations in water to visualize a contrast between Indigenous languages and English.

In this issue, we also look at how one of our scientists, Andriy Miranskyy (Computer Sciences) is partnering with a cyber safety company to provide analytics that will reduce the length and impact of cyber attacks. And in our spotlight section we feature professor Anton de Ruiter's (Aerospace Engineering) pursuit to build a new international space station remotely from earth to replace the current aging station.


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


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Creating art that transcends abilities

Building on the success of her Emoti-Chair, a sensory chair that lets deaf users experience music through vibrations, Deborah Fels director of the Inclusive Media and Design Centre, is working with an artist to produce an entirely new experience.

While the Alternative Sensory Information Display (ASID) Emoti-Chair was originally designed to amplify theatre experiences, its use in presenting music through vibrations shows the potential for other applications.

In an effort to realize this potential, Fels recently teamed up with David Bobier to found the VibraFusion lab in London, Ontario, which is using vibrations to create time-based media art. Rather than starting from a musical composition, Bobier and Fels hosted workshops for artists to explore the vibro-tactile domain as its own distinct form of expression.

Participants considered many different artistic conventions, for example music, as well as original ideas to create vibrotactile experiences. They also examined the possibilities of creating and consuming an art form that explores senses in new ways and stimulates the audience conceptually, emotionally and physically.

While music composers began experimenting with music as a vibro-tactile experience starting in the early 1900s, this new research examines how sensory experiences can provide the ability for people of all abilities to enjoy artistic expression and to participate in cultural events.

“Artists from many different areas have explored and implemented a wide variety of artistic expressions from heated vibrating water in bowls to new vibro-tactile instruments that were designed for vibro-tactile expression and art,” said Fels. "Not only does this provide new and exciting opportunities for artistic expression, but it is also more inclusive and accessible for artists and audiences with disabilities, particularly those who are deaf or blind.”



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Bauder proposes a borderless world in new book

As a human geographer, Harald Bauder has long been researching how borders affect people, and he believes that borders are currently causing more problems than they’re solving.

Bauder’s book, Migration Borders Freedom, is a critical look at how borders operate throughout the world, whether they are city, state, or national borders. Bauder wrote the book while in Germany after receiving the Konrad-Adenauer Research Award, given jointly by the Royal Society of Canada and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.

Bauder takes Europe as just one example of how the fluidity of interior borders, in this case within the continent, has meant a hardening of external borders. Bauder believes that this hardening is in part to blame for one of the largest human crises in human history—the inability of Syrians to flee conflict to safer lands.

“Thousands are dying at the borders outside of Europe just trying to move across,” said Bauder. “We’ve never had this kind of death count before.” Using figures from the International Organization for Migration, Bauder noted that 4,899 migrants have died while trying to reach their destination since the beginning of this year, 3,654 in the Mediterranean alone. “While the Mediterranean is a current hotspot, the problem is systemic and global. That’s why we need new ideas and visions to overcome the deadliness of borders.”

“Some of these ideas seem quite radical at the national scale but at the local scale, they are already practiced,” said Bauder. He gave the example of the city of Toronto becoming a sanctuary city for non-status refugees and immigrants, allowing them to access services regardless of their status.

While his research shows that improving access to services helps to improve the lives of those living and contributing in Toronto, without legal immigration status, it does not solve the larger issue, said Bauder.

“Canada has illegalized a significant portion of the population living in its territory,” he said. “Providing a pathway to status and citizenship would be the preferred option.”

Toronto’s forward thinking on the subject inspired much of Bauder’s thinking on border freedom and creating a world without borders. Bauder’s thinking is far from mainstream on this subject. He acknowledges that it’s not always a popular opinion.

However, he opines that popularity cannot motivate great thinking. “We need ideas that are groundbreaking,” said Bauder. “I want to do the kind of research that explores new ideas. We need to put these ideas on the table so we can imagine a world that is different.”

While a borderless world is presently far beyond the scope of even his own imagination, Bauder said that it doesn’t mean we can’t embrace borderless thinking.

“Toronto is moving in the right direction,” he said, noting that creating division between people is not helpful. Leveling the playing field eliminates room for the abuse and exploitation of individuals.

Bauder’s book was launched this month at Oakham House and is available through Routledge.



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Empowering children to participate in diabetes self-care

With a growing number of children and youth being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, and the inherent challenges for families when they receive such a diagnosis, Early Childhood Studies professor Donna Koller has developed a creative way to educate and provide support for children with diabetes.

Parents assume most of the responsibility for managing their child’s disease, yet Koller’s research shows that most children want to know more about their illness and how to manage it, creating a need to provide age-appropriate learning resources. With funding from the Network of Ontario Pediatric Diabetes Program and Ryerson University, Koller and research partner Christine Shadd (child life specialist at the Hospital for Sick Children) have developed “My Diabetes Playbox,” which contains interactive games for youth and their families to simplify the knowledge for managing diabetes.

Aimed at kids aged 4 to 8, My Diabetes Playbox includes an interactive book, markers, body tattoos, a bubble blower, and a notepad that allows children to record their daily blood sugar levels. Through the playbox, kids will learn information about how diabetes affects them, receive guidance on self-care, and explore coping strategies to support their emotional needs. It can be used in a clinical setting by health care practitioners or in the home with parents and children working together.

“Educating and supporting children with a chronic illness is important not only for the future but for the present,” said Koller. “Children eventually transition out of pediatric care and into adult care when they reach 18 years of age. In some cases, they are suddenly left with having to care for their disease while also navigating the health care system. My research and that of others has shown that the earlier we start, the better.”

Youth with type 1 diabetes must combine several components to manage their disease including blood glucose monitoring, insulin injections, diet modification and regular exercise in order to minimize the risk of complications. The complications can be severe, resulting in seizures, comas or even death, reinforcing the importance of adherence to their regimen. Several pediatric hospitals across Ontario are now using the playbox in their clinical care and patient education initiatives to help assure the long-term health of people with diabetes.

“In addition to worrying about the future, we want to ensure the well-being of children today,” said Koller. “This means always acknowledging that young children have a right to know what is happening to their bodies, and they have a right to participate in decisions regarding their health care.”

The playbox is available in both Canadian and American versions. An interactive app that helps children engage in self-care has recently been created and is available on iTunes. The app is free with options to donate funds to the Canadian Diabetes Association, the American Diabetes Association, the Child Life Council, and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.




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Why language matters: visualizing the differences

Does our language impact how we think? Lila Pine, a professor of new media, believes that language shapes our thoughts and that thinking in Indigenous languages creates a connectedness lacking in English and other Western languages.

Pine’s project, called “Imag(in)ing Indigeneity in Language,” is funded by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Insight Grant and was conceived, developed and named by both Pine and professor Joanne DiNova. The project is a small part of growing efforts to reclaim Indigenous languages.

Pine found that her initial attempts to visualize languages through written code were unsatisfactory, but then a student pointed her in the direction of the Cymascope, which produces intricate refractions in water when sound is passed through the instrument’s small well. “When I saw the patterns on the surface of the water extend into its depth, I knew this was the right tool,” said Pine. "It brings full circle the idea that language comes from the earth. For me, as an Indigenous woman, water is sacred and to be able to bring it into my research in such an organic way is delightful.”

Pine has begun to use the Cymascope to create groupings of images, showing the refraction of the water for the same word in different languages. The next step is to create a visual dictionary from the images. She hopes to use algorithms to analyze the images to pinpoint differences and similarities between the different languages.

Pine describes verb-based Indigenous languages as “fluid” and “constantly changing”. Objects are named by their function and how they are used at any given moment. Perhaps the verb-based makeup of Indigenous languages stems from their “rootedness in the earth,” said Pine.

Pine hopes this project will inspire young people to connect to their Indigenous languages. “We want to engage youth and have them view and speak their own languages in a new way,” she said.

Pine’s project is one of many that was featured at this year’s Faculty of Communication and Design showcase of scholarly, research and creative activities, RUBIX, on Oct. 31.




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Stopping cyber threats in their tracks

Speed is of the essence when detecting cyber crimes, as delays of even seconds can result in losses of large volumes of confidential data. Computer Sciences professor Andriy Miranskyy is working on the problem of detecting potential threats faster for the company eSentire, which provides medium-sized businesses in the financial, legal, health care, engineering, and technological sectors with cybersecurity solutions.

Through a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Engage Grant, Miranskyy is examining how to create diagnostics that will flag an attack quicker, allowing administrators to shut down servers and protect sensitive data.

Flags for cyber attacks often return several false positives, which in larger organizations can be hundreds or thousands daily. “If you alert the client every time a false positive occurs, they will start ignoring you,” said Miranskyy.

Instead, eSentire has come up with an internal solution by sending these alerts to an analyst who determines whether or not the flag is indeed a real attack. The software that Miranskyy is working on will allow them to make this decision faster and more efficiently, allowing analysts to shut down equipment remotely if necessary in the wake of an attack.

Using big data to draw on large datasets of historical threat patterns, Miranskyy is developing ways to pinpoint attacks and send messages immediately to administrators. He will also be narrowing down which information is needed by analysts to help make quicker decisions, enabling them to shut down systems faster in emergency cases. Due to the large volume and velocity of logs that have to be analyzed by eSentire, Miranskyy is examining these problems with an end goal of  scaling up the system to handle the required volume.

“These days, internet connections are fast and you can copy large amounts of data in very little time,” said Miranskyy. “Minutes can mean gigabytes of data, which is comparable to the amount of text we have in the entire Ryerson Library. That’s why it’s important to detect threats as early as possible before the damage is done.”


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Building robots for deep-space exploration

At Ryerson, in one of the only standalone Aerospace Engineering departments in a Canadian University, Anton de Ruiter is looking at some of the most pressing questions in present-day space travel.

Currently, his research is bolstered by a Canada Research Chair position, as well as a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) of Canada (NSERC) Discovery Grant, as he examines possibilities for asteroid exploration and the remote construction of a space station that would orbit the moon.

With expertise in aerospace navigation and controls, de Ruiter is also studying the dynamics and guidance necessary for developing a deep-space habitat. More specifically, he’s looking at how a space station could be assembled without human assistance in orbit around the moon by using precise navigation and controls. This is a “next step” in building toward examining asteroids and sending a human mission to Mars.

“Near Earth we have GPS, which allows us to navigate very precisely,” said de Ruiter. “But if we want to navigate in the lunar vicinity, GPS is not available.” Using a deep-space habitat could provide a reference point for space exploration further afield.

The International Space Station was assembled by astronauts in orbit, but, due to the extra distance to the moon, a lunar space station would require an unmanned mission and robotic self-assembly. De Ruiter’s team is looking at how to accomplish just that.

“The thing that’s interesting about space is that you can model very well what a spacecraft will do,” de Ruiter said. Without the atmospheric pressures and winds from Earth causing interference, it is easier for engineers to predict how their models will perform in space. “They are very clean models. Mathematically, you can do a lot more,” said de Ruiter.

Although space may seem like a whole different realm, the laws of physics still apply. “When it comes down to it, everything obeys Newton’s laws,” said de Ruiter.


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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 grants, awarded between August and mid-October 2016, where Ryerson is the principal grant holder and publication of the award is approved by the corresponding granting agencies.


Principal Investigator

Award /Program

Ron Babin (Information Technology Management) OCE TalentEdge
Judy Finlay (Child and Youth Care) Ontario Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, Ring of Fire Secretariat
Aziz Guergachi (Information Technology Management) OCE TalentEdge/Bombardier
Goetz Bramesfeld (Aerospace Engineering) OCE VIP I
Jelena Mišić (Computer Science) OCE VIP I
Aziz Guergachi/ Linying Dong (Information Technology Management) Mitacs Accelerate
Kernaghan Webb (Law and Business)
Mitacs Accelerate


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