Water Testing: From Research to Kickstarter

One focus of my research group’s efforts over the past 10 years has been collaborative R&D with small and start-up companies.  They often have some very interesting ideas and needs, but lack the facilities and technical team to do the work in-house.  So this is a perfect opportunity for us to help them out with creating new businesses and for my students to get some “real-world” research experience with commercialization projects.

One major effort has been in the development of nanotechnology for rapid water quality testing, in particular for bacterial contamination.  Traditional laboratory methods require 3 to 7 days to complete, which is a rather long time to wait if you’re concerned about your water quality.  Through our collaborative R&D projects, we’ve developed a test method that can give an answer in a few minutes.  This rapid feedback allows people to make informed decisions about what to do next, whether to treat the water further, or send samples to a lab for more extensive testing, etc.

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Prototype ExactBlue water testing system.

One recent development is the creation of a more automated, smart-phone based system that’s suitable for regular consumer use.  A prototype model is shown in the photograph.  We’ve been testing the prototype devices with our nanotechnology-based reagent (which goes into the test tube), and doing validation and calibration work.  Everything is looking good and everyone has been pleased with the results.  It’s reliably and quickly detecting microbial contamination in our water samples, and there are some other water tests under development that will be able to use the same platform.

To get to the next stage, which is production of the first batch of devices for sale, the company has just launched a Kickstarter campaign.  Have a look at their Kickstarter website to see much more information about the technology and where they are headed.

University of Waterloo students make a big splash in the 2017 AquaHacking semi-finals | Water Institute

An interesting competition event showcasing environmental water quality innovations by student groups.  Sponsored by the Water Institute at Waterloo, one of the research centres I belong to.

The AquaHacking 2017 semi-final competition unfolded last week at CIGI. By the end of the evening, five teams were chosen to move on to the final competition at Waterloo on September 13. It was a difficult decision for the five judges, as all 17 teams that competed offered innovative ideas that tackled the challenges and opportunities facing Lake Erie.

Source: University of Waterloo students make a big splash in the 2017 AquaHacking semi-finals | Water Institute

Amazon partners with Waterloo to support AI research | Waterloo Stories

A link below to an interesting development, where Amazon is providing Waterloo Engineering and 3 other U.S. universities with support and Alexa-enabled devices  for use in teaching, research and student design projects. 

Photo: cofoistome/iStock/Thinkstock

Recent advances in the fields of human-machine interaction and artificial intelligence (AI) have been so swift that even experts like Fakhri Karray shake their heads in amazement.

Source: Amazon partners with Waterloo to support AI research | Waterloo Stories

University of Waterloo | IDEAS Summer Experience

(The following is a brief description and link to a nice summer enrichment program, for students from outside Canada finishing Grade 10 and 11, or equivalent.  It combines the elements that we strive for in Engineering education, namely hands-on experience, interdisciplinary thinking, and creativity/innovation.  For more information or to consider participating see the link below.  Prof. Bill Anderson)

IDEAS: A summer enrichment program for international high school students Poverty. Global warming. The digital divide. It takes big ideas to solve problems like these. Join high school students from around the world at IDEAS Summer Experience, and use your big ideas to try to solve some of society’s most serious challenges.

IDEAS is a 2-week summer enrichment program at the University of Waterloo, ranked as Canada’s most innovative university for the past 25 years.

With help from our award-winning professors and IDEAS mentors, you’ll learn to look at global problems in new ways, use hands-on activities to develop your research and communication skills, apply problem-solving techniques from the fields of engineering, health sciences, the humanities, and more. You may not solve the world’s problems in 2 weeks. But you will learn valuable skills, experience what it’s like to study and live at one of Canada’s top universities, and make friends from other countries.

Source: University of Waterloo | IDEAS Summer Experience

Waterloo researchers help launch autonomous car

(interesting story about a hot topic)  Source: Friday, January 6, 2017 | Daily Bulletin

A research team at the University of Waterloo played a key role in the development of a highly autonomous vehicle that Renesas Electronics America unveiled this week at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

Using sensors and powerful computers, the car is capable of detecting and responding to other vehicles, stop signs and traffic lights to provide a safer driving experience. For example, vehicle-to-infrastructure communications allow the vehicle to detect in advance when a traffic light will change. Continue reading

Capstone Design Projects 2016

It’s that time of year when senior, final-year students complete and present their “capstone design projects”.  These are group design projects, usually based on industry problems or student innovation ideas.  The projects are meant to be completely open-ended (i.e. there is no obvious, single, correct solution) and require students to pull together concepts from a variety of topics they have learned over the years.  The projects are not assigned, it is up to the student groups to come up with ideas, either on their own or through faculty or industry connections.  This is where co-op education really helps, because most of our students already have pretty good ideas based on what they have seen in their 2 years of work experience during university.

The design project results are presented in “Design Symposia” for each program, and there is a website which lists the dates in mid to late March.  These are open to the public, so anyone can drop by and see what’s up.  By clicking on each program, you can also find a brief description about each project.  For example, here is a list of projects in my department, Chemical Engineering.  I highly recommend that high school applicants and future prospects take a look at all these program listings.  These are the best source of information on all the different types of things that students can do, and the wide range may surprise you.  For example, many people think that Chemical Engineering is just about oil & gas, but when you look at the list you’ll see electric vehicle batteries, rooftop greenhouse design, biodegradable orthopedic implants, and controlled release antibiotics, among many other things.  Anything that involves materials and energy transformations is a possible chemical engineering project.

I like looking at the Management Engineering projects too.  These projects nicely emphasize that Management Engineering is not a business program (a frequent misconception with some applicants), but it is an engineering program full of math, statistical and data analysis, and optimization.  The project on “Reducing Distribution Costs for Canadian Blood Services” looks quite interesting to me (stochastic modelling is always interesting!).

I haven’t had a chance to look through all the different programs and their projects yet, but I’m sure a few will soon end up as start-up companies, if they haven’t already.  These capstone design projects have probably been the biggest single source of Waterloo start-ups in the last decade, I suspect.  There are now quite a few sources of financial support and design awards for the most innovative of these projects, as listed on the webpage, together with the support offered through the Velocity entrepreneurship and Conrad BET Centre programs, and others.

Mentions in the News

There were a couple of unexpected mentions of Waterloo on the international stage recently.  In the first one, our Prime Minister Trudeau used Waterloo as an example of Canadian creativity and innovation, at the World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland.  A video clip from that part of his speech is below.  The Prime Minister points to our high intellectual standards, focus on entrepreneurship, and diversity.  (I should clarify that when he says that 50% of our graduate engineering students are international, he’s referring to our Masters and PhD students.  As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, we have only a bit less than 15% of our available undergraduate spaces available for visa students.)

In his speech, the Prime Minister refers to Sam Altman, President of Y Combinator, a Silicon Valley startup funder and mentoring program.  Here is a video interview he did to explain why he is so interested in Waterloo students.

In another mention, British actress and UN Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson mentions the HeForShe IMPACT Scholarships Waterloo launched last year, in support of increasing math and engineering gender balance.

Overall, it’s always nice for universities to attract attention for good reasons.

 

Leapfrogging ahead of competition with engineering research partnership – Waterloo Engineering

I’ve always intended to write about some research work, but never find the time.  However, here is a link to a write-up by one of our staff writers.  And a picture of me with a couple of my graduate level (i.e. Masters) researchers.

Waterloo Engineering’s chemical engineering research gives manufacturer a global advantage.

Source: Leapfrogging ahead of competition with engineering research partnership – Waterloo Engineering

What’s New in Nanotechnology?

There is some impression out there that “nanotechnology” (and our Nanotechnology Engineering program) is all very research-oriented, with no practical applications or career prospects yet.  Graduates can only look forward to doing lab research or a PhD degree.  Those are certainly potential paths, but not the only ones by any means.

Nanotechnology has been around for about 30 years (see it’s history).  In many ways, it’s just a specialized way of approaching Materials Science/Engineering, and there are already over 1,500 products on the market that incorporate nanotechnology.  Making products requires more than just lab research, and one of the reasons we launched our Nanotechnology Engineering program was in response to industry needs for people with this expertise.

It also seems that the nanotechnology area is one where there is a lot of room for innovation and entrepreneurship by our undergraduate students.  Here are a few recent examples (mainly based on senior design projects) that have led to start-up companies:

It’s interesting to see what creative new ways that nanotechnology can be used to make new products or improve existing ones.  In my own research lab we are working with companies to develop novel test methods, based on nanotechnology, for detection of water contamination, and this is on the verge of commercialization.  Some day soon I’ll finish a post on that topic.

So for a high school student thinking about different career paths, don’t exclude Nanotechnology Engineering if you’re interested in materials and commercial product development.  It’s not all theory, lab work, and graduate research.