David Bidwell

Email: david-bidwell@news.ok.ubc.ca


A photo of two KSS students working on an electrical engineering project.

Reema Abdullah and students from a Kelowna Secondary School Engineering 12 class demonstrate their mechatronics project at UBCO.

A unique partnership between UBC Okanagan’s School of Engineering and Kelowna Secondary School (KSS) is helping students in Grades 11 and 12 kickstart their engineering education. The course, Engineering 11/12, led by KSS teacher Jim Strachan, sees UBC faculty and graduate students visiting KSS or hosting KSS students at UBCO to discuss an array of topics across civil, mechanical, electrical and manufacturing engineering. This year, 17 students participated in the course. They went to UBCO to showcase their projects and toured the university’s engineering labs during a symposium to celebrate the program’s completion. “As an educator, it’s very rewarding seeing students develop an interest in engineering, connect with professors and be inspired to come to UBC Okanagan,” says Strachan. “Some of the students who have pursued an engineering education originally had no interest in the topic. It’s wonderful to see how this partnership opens students’ eyes to the opportunities. It inspires them and shows them they can do it.” Students explore topics like construction materials, building structures, sustainable infrastructure, sensors and radars, solar power, SolidWorks (computer-assisted design), fluids and thermodynamics, water quality and treatment, renewable energy systems, mechanical heart valves, engineering ethics and more. Among the 17 students who participated this year was Reema Abdullah, who graduated from KSS this month and will start at UBCO’s School of Engineering this fall. “I loved the practical, hands-on nature of the course,” explains Abdullah, who has enrolled in the Bachelor of Applied Science and Master of Management dual degree program. “We built concrete boats and learned the science and processes behind so many of the things in our world that engineers study, build and improve.” Abdullah says lessons on mechatronics sparked an interest in both electrical and mechanical engineering. “Between the supportive, inspiring faculty and the course content, I knew this was the path for me. I’m very excited to start my studies at UBCO this fall. My advice to any student thinking about taking this course would be not to be afraid. Step out of your comfort zone. Try it, and see if this field is for you.” That message is echoed by Dr. Claire Yan, Coordinator of the program and Professor of Teaching in Mechanical Engineering at UBCO’s School of Engineering. “The School of Engineering is always looking for ways to inspire students to step into the classroom or the lab and just get a sense of what the pathways are,” says Yan. “Whether or not students pursue an engineering degree, they will come away with some invaluable problem-solving and teamwork skills—and a desire to better understand the world around them. This will serve them well as engineers or whatever field of study they choose.” View a photo gallery of the engineering symposium at UBCO at: flickr.com/photos/200160808@N07/albums/72177720317888014. The post KSS and UBCO help engineer brighter futures appeared first on UBC Okanagan News.
A photo of the decorative stone entrance to the UBCO campus.

A group of UBC Okanagan School of Engineering students are fundraising to reach the World Conference on Earthquake Engineering in Milan, Italy, this summer.

A dedicated group of engineering students at UBC Okanagan is willing to move heaven and earth to reach the World Conference on Earthquake Engineering in Italy this summer.

The students belong to UBCO’s Advanced Structural Simulation and Experimental Testing Group (ASSET) in the School of Engineering, which is guided by Associate Professor Dr. Lisa Tobber. They’re eager to present alongside Dr. Tobber in Milan, but need financial support to do so.

“ASSET is looking to challenge and expand the current understanding of earthquake engineering,” says Mahya Moghadasi, a graduate research assistant. “Each contribution to the journey is more than just financial support; it invests in safer, more resilient communities worldwide.”

It’s also a personal journey for Moghadasi, who experienced a 6.3 Richter earthquake as a high school student growing up in Iran. Like her classmates, she arrived at UBCO to further her understanding of how we can make buildings safer during natural disasters.

“That moment was a turning point,” she says. “The earthquake was a terrifying experience. The ground shaking left me feeling afraid and vulnerable. As we evacuated our apartment, I recall vividly questioning the structural integrity of the buildings around me amid the uncertainty of the situation.”

Nations in the region from Turkey to Iran straddle significant tectonic plate boundaries and have experienced some of the most devastating earthquakes in human history; however, ASSET’s research projects are widely applicable and can inform disaster resiliency and modern construction policy from Vancouver to Venice.

Vancouver, for example, rests near the Cascadian Subduction Zone and is especially susceptible to earthquakes.

The conference is a vital opportunity for ASSET to share its innovative approaches with the international engineering community. ASSET aims to convene a session at the Milan conference about cost-effective resiliency solutions in reinforced concrete structures.

Dr. Tobber is convening a technical session at the conference with a focus on recent advances in cost-effective resiliency solutions for earthquake engineering. She’s to cover economic and sustainability considerations of innovative techniques for seismic resilience.

The session would allow ASSET to demonstrate how seismic safety can be achieved more affordably, Moghadasi says. As the conference date approaches, the group’s participation hinges on the support of donors and sponsors.

“Attending this conference is crucial for us to exchange ideas with the world’s leading experts and bring back knowledge that can benefit British Columbians.”

Learn more about the students at crowdfundraising.ubc.ca/projects/ubco-asset.

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Students in lab coats and protective glasses, wearing latex gloves, perform science experiments using test tubes and pipettes.

High school students have until May 17 to register for UBC Okanagan’s SEED program.

UBC Okanagan engineering student Gurnoor Chawla knew she’d chosen the right educational path after an inspiring summer learning experience at the university while in high school.

Chawla is now a third-year Electrical Engineering student in UBCO’s School of Engineering (SoE), and she encourages the next cohort of high school students to follow in her footsteps and register for the Stewards in Engineering Education (SEED) Program this July.

“I’d been looking into engineering as a potential career,” Chawla says. “I enjoyed how realistic and hands-on it was. Connecting closely with professors and graduate students helped me learn skills and understand research in the field.”

Participants join in cutting-edge research projects with world-class researchers and graduate students in state-of-the-art facilities, all under the supervision of SoE hosts.

The free program is designed to be a springboard for students planning their education. Chawla is now a student ambassador for the SoE and speaks highly of the SEED Program.

She says stepping into the radioactive materials lab, seeing the electron microscope and interacting with the radioactive materials lab were among the most memorable moments of her SEED experience.

She especially enjoyed the intensity and the collaborative spirit between the students and says that helped validate her decision to study engineering at UBCO.

“Overall, the SEED program provides a very realistic and intensive understanding of work in university research labs,” she says. “It ensures you’re putting effort into the work instead of simply watching from the sidelines. Anyone interested in engineering should come in with an open mind and a will to explore because this is an amazing opportunity and a great way to create a strong network at UBCO.”

Dr. Jonathan Holzman, an Electrical Engineering Professor and SEED faculty lead, says the program offers students a unique, hands-on opportunity.

“Many incoming students will have never seen—let alone actively experienced—a research lab before. SEED can help them better understand the research environment and the many engineering pathways as they make their post-secondary choices,” he says.

This year’s SEED program runs from July 22 to 26. Applications are open until May 17 and can be completed online.

To learn more about the program, visit engineering.ok.ubc.ca/programs-admissions/outreach-programs

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A photo of an elderly man receiving health care in his home.

UBC Okanagan’s Dr. Amir Ardestani-Jaafari used strategic approaches to research how health-care providers can create robust yet flexible home-care networks to meet future demands.

For Canadians who want to age at home as long as possible, a team of UBC Okanagan researchers is studying how to organize home-care networks to ensure they receive the care they need in the most efficient manner possible.

Led by Master of Science student Pooya Pourrezaie, a team from UBCO’s Faculty of Management and School of Engineering collaborated on the study to examine how to remove some of the unknowns.

“Planning for the future is a challenge for those tasked with ensuring our health-care system can meet our needs as we age,” Pourrezaie says. “Our research doesn’t claim to have all the answers, but it offers a new way to think about and prepare for the future, ensuring Canadians can receive the care they need in their homes, for as long as possible.”

The study focuses on a strategic model that optimizes the placement of home-based health-care facilities. This model is designed to navigate the uncertainties surrounding demand for solutions that are robust yet flexible. By balancing the need for widespread accessibility with the practicalities of health delivery, the team’s work promises to help policy-makers and health-care providers make informed decisions, even when faced with limited information.

“Our findings strike a balance between the need for careful planning and the reality of fluctuating demand,” Pourrezaie says. “We’re showing that it’s possible to plan effectively for home health care, reducing unnecessary expenditures and maximizing the impact of every dollar spent.”

To reach their findings, they relied on strategic testing. They created simulations—virtual experiments—to test their ideas on how to best place home health-care facilities in locations that could benefit the most people in the most economical way feasible.

Then they’d test those networks. They used mathematical models to imagine different scenarios, including how many people might need care and where.

“It connects our academic research with real-world problems,” Pourrezaie said. “It provides a starting point for more responsive and sustainable health-care planning, which we know is so important to Canadians.”

This research is more than just an academic exercise; it’s a blueprint for the future of home care in Canada. As the population ages, the demand for such services can only increase. The insights from this study provide a pathway for delivering care that is both patient-focused and sustainable.

It’s a reminder that with thoughtful research and innovative thinking, we can prepare for the future of health care in a way that keeps Canadians in their homes longer, healthier and happier, Pourrezaie says.

“For Canadians who value their independence, this study is a step towards ensuring that the health-care system will be there to support them, in their homes, for many years to come,” he says.

Pourrezaie worked under the guidance of the Faculty of Management’s Dr. Amir Ardestani-Jaafari and the School of Engineering’s Dr. Babak Tosarkani.

The research appears in the journal INFOR: Information Systems and Operational Research. The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada supported this research.

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A photo of air intake fans of a building.

UBCO research shows that airflow dynamics can reduce pathogens by 85 per cent in a classroom setting.

If you’ve ever wondered why some folks never catch the office or school cold, where they’re sitting might be keeping them from the path of pathogens according to new UBC Okanagan research.

Using a working UBCO classroom as their test lab, the team found that accounting for the airflow dynamics reduced the pathogens by 85 per cent.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, the advice was often just to increase ventilation to the maximum,” says Mojtaba Zabihi, a doctoral student in mechanical engineering and a lead researcher in the UBC Airborne Disease Transmission Research Cluster.

“But the new findings show that understanding the airflow pattern is as important, as the amount of air change per hour. This insight could potentially lead to safer buildings and significant energy savings.”

The study measured and analyzed airflow in a working UBCO classroom to understand its influence on pathogen dispersion. Considering what might be in the room to affect how the air flows—desk arrangement or vent placement, for example—and how we design building ventilation systems could help improve standards and improve indoor air quality, Zabihi says.

“Our research demonstrates that an under-floor air distribution concept combined with the ceiling-distributed exhaust system, which generates local and vertically stretched airflow patterns, can significantly reduce airborne pathogens in classrooms by up to 85 per cent,” he says.

“If building ventilation systems are designed with disease prevention in mind, it could be a critical tool in maintaining our health.”

The research findings, chosen by the editors of the journal Building Simulation for their March cover story, offer promising directions for the design and operation of indoor spaces. Yet, while the study’s implications suggest a new avenue for enhancing public health through building design, Zabihi carefully positions their work within a broader context.

“Our research adds an important layer to understanding how we might better protect indoor environments. It’s a step toward cleaner spaces, a complementary strategy alongside existing health measures,” he says.

Zabihi conducted the work under the guidance of UBCO’s Drs. Sunny Li and Joshua Brinkerhoff, whose expertise in mechanical engineering and fluid dynamics provided a foundation for the project. As the results gain traction, Zabihi said the team is hopeful about the research’s influence.

“Our goal was always to contribute meaningfully to the conversation on public health and indoor air quality. This publication marks an important milestone in our journey,” Zabihi concludes.

“It feels like being on the front lines, making a real difference. It’s not just theoretical; we can see how our findings could significantly affect public health and everyday life.”

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A photo of Dr. Shahria Alam in front of a concrete pillar that has been strength tested and shows lots of wear and tear.

Dr. Shahria Alam conducts research in the seismic analysis and rehabilitation of steel, concrete and masonry. His latest research examines variations in the strength and mechanical properties of rebar to determine if the product meets Canadian safety standards.

A truck, along with hundreds of other vehicles filled with drivers and passengers, rumbles over the Alex Fraser Bridge.

The drivers probably never give a second thought to what is holding up that bridge—what makes it safe. Below, and embedded into the bridge deck and piers, are tens of thousands of pounds of steel rebar. The rebar, a skeleton integrated within the concrete, provides strength to the structure and reinforces the bridge’s seismic integrity.

But how do engineers know how much rebar to use? Should it be thicker? Stronger? Is the bridge protected in case of an earthquake?

“During a seismic event, the rebar serves two purposes,” says Dr. Shahria Alam, Civil Engineering Professor at UBC Okanagan’s School of Engineering. “It helps keep pieces intact during small earthquakes and it ensures safety while sustaining damage during major earthquakes.”

Rebar comes in a variety of configurations based on strength, ductility, length and diameter, he explains. The challenge engineers face is the uncertainties associated with the materials used to make structural designs safe, efficient and predictable.

Concrete, reinforced with rebar, plays a vital role in providing resistance, but variations in the rebar’s mechanical properties can increase uncertainty in the assessment of existing structures and the design of new structures. The production of steel rebar involves several steps, including purifying, alloying, rolling and temperature treatment, which could have an impact on its mechanical properties.

Factors that can affect rebar’s strength include the microalloying stage—when elements such as carbon and manganese are added to the steel to make it stronger—as well as the source of the mill.

“The mechanical properties of steel rebar are reliant on the manufacturing processes within any given mill,” says Dr. Alam. “In this scenario, it’s not only the size but also the tensile strength and the material’s ability to withstand repeated stress and deformation that matters.”

Dr. Alam explains that the Canadian Standards Association sets out requirements in the bridge design code to ensure that all rebar performs predictably. His team of researchers at UBCO’s Applied Lab for Advanced Materials & Structures recently completed a study examining different types of rebar to see if it was indeed meeting North American design standards.

The researchers examined tensile test data, provided by the Concrete Reinforcing Steel Institute to investigate the variability of mechanical properties across a few parameters including mill source, bar size and weight per metre.

The data was also compared to the minimum requirements of the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM)

“Our most recent research sought to investigate the recent variability of mechanical properties, specifically the yield and ultimate tensile strength of steel rebars in North America.”

Their study showed that only a fraction (0.12%) of the strength test results didn’t meet the basic safety standards. This means that if buildings are designed according to the official codes and with extra safety margins built in, the structures will be sufficiently safe.

The research is supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the British Columbia Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure and the engineering consulting firm WSP Canada through an Alliance grant. It was published in the latest edition of the journal Engineering Structures.

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A photo of a person using mobile phone near a 5G communications tower.

UBCO and Drexel University researchers have developed state-of-the-art communication components that have a compatible performance to metal, but are 10 to 20 times lighter, less expensive and easy to build.

In a first-of-its-kind development, UBC Okanagan researchers, in collaboration with Drexel University, have created a new compound that can be used to 3D print telecommunication antennas and other connectivity devices.

These 3D printed products, created by combining a two-dimensional compound called MXenes with a polymer, can be used as an alternative for metallic counterparts and can make a vast improvement in communication technology including elements such as antennas, waveguides and filters.

Waveguides are everywhere, yet most people don’t know what they are, says Dr. Mohammad Zarifi, a researcher in UBC Okanagan’s Microelectronics and Gigahertz Applications (OMEGA) Lab.

Waveguides are structures or pipes that help direct sound and optical waves in communication devices and consumer appliances like microwaves. Waveguides vary in size, but historically they are made of metal due to their conductive attributes.

Dr. Zarifi and his OMEGA team develop state-of-the-art communication components that have a compatible performance to metal, but are 10 to 20 times lighter, less expensive and easy to build.

“In the ever-evolving landscape of technology, waveguides—a foundation in devices we use daily—are undergoing a transformative shift,” explains Dr. Zarifi, an Associate Professor with the School of Engineering. “From the familiar hum of microwave ovens to the vast reach of satellite communication, these integral components have traditionally been made from metals like silver, brass and copper.”

MXenes are an emerging family of two-dimensional materials—with the titanium carbide MXene being a leader in terms of electrical conductivity, explains Dr. Yury Gogotsi, Director of the A.J. Drexel Nanomaterials Institute at Drexel University in Philadelphia

“Think of MXenes as nanometre-thin conductive flakes that can be dispersed in water-like clay,” Dr. Gogotsi says “This is a material that can be applied from dispersion in pure water with no additives to almost any surface. After drying in air, it can make polymer surfaces conductive. It’s like metallization at room temperature, without melting or evaporating a metal, without vacuum or temperature.”

Integration of MXenes onto 3D-printed nylon-based parts allows a channel-like structure to become more efficient in guiding microwaves to frequency bands. This capability in a lightweight, additively manufactured component can impact the design and manufacturing of electronic communication devices in the aerospace and satellite industry, explains Omid Niksan, a UBCO School of Engineering doctoral student and first author of the article.

“Whether in space-based communication devices or medical imaging equipment like MRI machines, these lightweight MXene-coated polymeric structures have the potential to replace traditional manufacturing methods such as metal machining for creating channel structures,” he adds.

The researchers have a provisional patent on the polymer-based MXene-coated communication components. And Dr. Zarifi notes the potential of this equipment is sky-high.

“While there is still additional research to be done, we’re excited about the potential of this innovative material.,” says Dr. Zafiri. “We aim to explore and develop the possibilities of 3D printed antennas and communication devices in space. By reducing payloads of shuttle transporters, it gives engineers more options.”

The research was conducted in collaboration with scientists from Drexel University’s A.J. Drexel Nanomaterials Institute and supported by  the Department of National Defence, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the United States National Science Foundation. It was published in the latest edition of the journal Materials Today.

Omid Niksan is holding up a prototype of a 3D-printed twisted channel structed.

Omid Niksan holds a prototype of a 3D-printed MXene-coated component that can be used as an alternative for metallic components in antennas, waveguides and filters.

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A photo of two students talking in front of a rammed earth wall.

Rammed earth technology, where waste products such as fly ash, are used as sustainable building materials can also be used to make decorative feature walls like this one at UBC Okanagan.

Researchers at UBC Okanagan are revisiting old building practices—the use of by-products and cast-offs—as a way to improve building materials and sustainability of the trade.

A technique known as rammed earth construction uses materials that are alternatives to cement and are often more readily available in the environment. One such alternative is wood fly ash, a by-product of pulp mills and coal-fired power plants, explains Dr. Sumi Siddiqua, with UBC Okanagan’s School of Engineering.

Industry has been trying to find a use for materials like fly ash that predominantly end up in landfills, she explains. Better described as a fine powder, fly ash shares the same strength and texture characteristics as cement, which is often added to concrete to enhance its strength.

“There are many benefits to using this material,” explains Dr. Siddiqua, Civil Engineering Professor and lead researcher with UBC’s Advanced Geomaterials Testing Lab. “Using local soil along with rammed earth products reduces sand exploitation. And just as importantly, this material is not affected by wildfires to the same extent as current wooden structures.”

Together with BC Housing, UBC’s Build Better Cluster is partnering with Indigenous communities to integrate rammed earth into the construction of new homes. With international shortages in construction sand—which is much different than sand found in beaches—builders are searching for cheap, and readily available materials that are equally as strong, for next-generation cement.

“Everything old is new again and that is precisely why we’ve been investigating rammed earth construction,” says Dr. Siddiqua. “By integrating industrial by-products, we’re addressing an increasing need for readily available building materials and being sustainable in the process.”

Under most circumstances, test results show fly ash enhances the structure’s properties and makes it suitable for use in cold and hot climates as load-bearing, non-load-bearing and isolation panel walls. Fly ash also has the added benefit of being available in remote communities while providing increased insulation properties.

Although Dr. Siddiqua doesn’t foresee a huge uptick in rammed earth homes and buildings sprouting up in the short term, the addition of materials like fly ash into composite cements has already begun. And she suggests, it might be the way of the future when it comes to the building trades.

“There is an increasing demand for sustainable building products here in Canada and around the world, and materials like fly ash are just the start of a new and important trend.”

The research was supported by a Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada Discovery and Engage grant. It was published in the latest edition of the Journal Construction and Building Materials.

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