Patty Wellborn

Email: patty.wellborn@ubc.ca


 

A photo of a young man using a smartphone at night.

UBCO researchers are testing reconfigurable intelligent surfaces—smart surfaces—that can serve as reflectors to improve cell service with existing wireless networks.

It’s happened to anyone with a cell phone—dropped calls or dead air because suddenly there is no service available. Or worse, the location pin drops on the navigation app.

Researchers at UBC Okanagan are looking at ways to improve cell phone connectivity and localization abilities by examining “smart” surfaces that can bounce signals from a tower to customers to improve the link. A smart surface involves installing reflective elements on windows or panels on buildings in dense urban environments.

The goal, says Dr. Anas Chaaban, is to improve wireless services for millions of Canadians. Currently, he says, there are more than 12,000 wireless antenna towers. And yet, a lack of cell service is a common problem.

“The increasing use of mobile technologies across the world is necessitating research that unlocks potential new approaches within our existing infrastructure,” says Dr. Chaaban, an Assistant Professor at UBC Okanagan’s School of Engineering. “Even though cellphone towers line the rooftops of major cities, and handle the data and phone traffic of millions of Canadians each day, there are still gaps in service.”

Dr. Chaaban and his team at UBCO’s Communication Theory Lab have developed transmission schemes that would incorporate reconfigurable intelligent surfaces—smart surfaces—throughout urban centres to serve as reflectors within existing wireless networks.

A reconfigurable intelligent surface (RIS) is a panel of many individual reflective elements, each of which can modify an incoming signal and reflect it. This modification can be controlled with an electrical signal, which enables the RIS to improve the connection or generate signals that are useful for locating users in the network.

The researchers developed a new localization system where an RIS can work as a satellite to improve accuracy. By making a surface smart, it can bounce signals to cell phones which in turn can use these signals to generate an accurate estimate of location, he says. An accurate location estimate is not only useful for location services but also to improve transmission from the tower to the phone using optimized location-aware transmission schemes that also leverage the RIS.

“Users never expect to have a call drop, and they also expect lightning-fast data speeds,” he says. “But to accomplish this, the networks require constant updating.”

The researchers tested their theory using multiple modulated RISs that allow for the simultaneous localization of multiple users with low complexity for each RIS. They also developed and tested RIS-enabled transmission schemes that outperform existing schemes.

“We simulated the proposed localization protocol and demonstrated its effectiveness in an urban micro-cell street canyon scenario as an example,” he explains. “And the protocol works for multiple users simultaneously. Even in areas with intermittent service, data can be shared and users can be located and enjoy a reliable connection.”

Dr. Chaaban and his team have published several papers on this work, which appear in the IEEE Communications Letters, IEEE Open Journal of the Communications Society, and IEEE Transactions on Wireless Communications.

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A photo of a researcher holding up a clean glass of water

UBCO researcher Haroon Mian has developed a framework that can help water distributors supply safe drinking water, while dealing with issues of climate change and sustainability.

While residents in California are still dealing with damage from last month’s floods—after years of devastating droughts—UBC Okanagan engineers are looking at better ways to manage the delivery of safe drinking water to homes.

Things to consider include a changing climate, costs and sustainability.

Dr. Haroon Mian, a Postdoctoral Research Associate with UBCO’s School of Engineering, says municipalities and water utilities all have drinking water management strategies to ensure the water they provide is safe and plentiful. However, a natural disaster, a breach in the supply or contamination at the treatment plant can put water supplies—and human health—at risk.

“Freshwater is essential to sustain ecosystem health and our survival,” says Dr. Mian. “But Earth’s once plentiful freshwater resources are now under increasing pressure due to population growth, urbanization and climate change.”

As water supplies become more threatened, not only is providing safe water a priority, but suppliers must also ensure that doing so will have low environmental and economic implications.

“The quality of drinking water is contingent on several important attributes such as water extraction, treatment, delivery, cost and the disposal of used water,” says Dr. Mian who conducts research in UBC’s Life Cycle Management Lab. “Those factors can all be impacted by climate change. And they have a significant environmental influence in terms of natural resource depletion, waste generation and greenhouse gas emissions.”

Dr. Mian and his fellow researchers have developed an integrated assessment framework that combines water quality with lifecycle assessment techniques. Working with data from small and medium-sized communities, they provided a way to assess the long-term applicability of water systems that can provide safe drinking water to people.

According to Dr. Mian, the framework provides a different lens into a more holistic view of drinking water management and its components.

“We measure factors such as water quality, changes to the environment and potential costs to determine performance data and benchmarking, thereby providing important tools to ensure these systems experience long-term effectiveness and sustainability,” he adds.

By considering these key factors, water can flow to a community at a reasonable cost while conserving natural resources and ensuring environmental protection.

The study evaluated the overall performance of several water distribution systems by combining the above-mentioned criteria. Water distributors can apply the framework to determine the best distribution management system that will provide safe drinking water to their consumers with minimal environmental and economic costs.

The framework continues to be tested to ensure it is flexible based on any setting, community or system.

“There are no perfect decision-making techniques. The results often vary based on the available data and assumptions,” Dr. Mian adds. “But this framework can be useful for all water distributors.”

The research was conducted in the School of Engineering’s Life Cycle Management Lab in collaboration with Universite Laval with funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. It was published in the January edition of the Journal of Environmental Management.

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Gas piping entering a building

UBCO engineers are conducting research using ultrasonic sensors to examine buried residential gas lines.

A team of UBC Okanagan researchers is investigating a new method to monitor underground gas pipelines with high-tech sensors that can make it easier to find weaknesses, discrepancies and even a diversion in residential natural gas lines.

While there has been considerable research into diagnosis methods for steel pipes such as radiography, ultrasonic testing, visual inspection and ground penetrating radar, Master of Applied Science student Abdullah Zayat says little has been done on the commonly used high-density polyethylene (HDPE) pipe, which carries natural gas to homes.

“Early detection of structural degradation is essential to maintaining safety and integrity. And it lowers the risk of catastrophic failure,” he explains.

Zayat and his supervisor Dr. Anas Chaaban, Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering, tested a technique that allows for the inspection of HDPE pipes with ultrasonic sensors—which transmit ultrasound signals through the pipe.

The new monitoring method limits the likelihood of gas diversions—where gas is siphoned to an unmetered location for unmeasured consumption.

“This tampering with the pipe poses many risks since it is unrecorded, violates pipeline quality standards and can lead to potential leaks and possibly explosions. This can pose a significant risk to public safety, property and the environment in the vicinity of the altered gas line,” says Dr. Chaaban. “Such diversions have been discovered in the past through word of mouth, leaks or unexpected encounters with an unrecorded natural gas pipe in a construction site.”

Previous research has studied the inspection of metallic structures using ultrasonic-guided waves (UGWs). But this type of testing has not been done to inspect non-metallic structures such as HDPE pipelines.

“Given the concealed nature of underground pipes, it is very challenging to inspect them. Existing solutions include ground penetrating radar and endoscope cameras, which are both invasive and expose inspectors to potential risk from the suspects. As a result, it is better to use non-invasive methods to inspect pipes.”

This method enables the inspection of buried, insulated and underwater pipelines using ultrasonic sensors. It also provides a larger range of inspection than traditional ultrasonic testing because it uses the structure of the pipe itself as a waveguide, explains Zayat.

“UGW sensing is getting a lot of attention from the industry because of its long-range inspection capabilities from a single test location. They can inspect more than 100 metres of pipeline from a single location,” he adds.

This type of detection system is unique because the sensors clamp onto the exposed portion of the pipe and connect to the section of pipe that emerges above the ground where it connects to the metre.

While the technology is still in the early stages, Dr. Chaaban notes the majority of this current research involved the development and assessment of a deep-learning algorithm for detecting diversions in pipes. The results suggest that the method has 90 per cent accuracy when one receiving sensor is used and nearly 97 per cent accuracy when using two receiving sensors.

Future use of the sensors may include the inspection of buried, insulated and underwater pipelines.

“By combining classical signal processing with machine learning, we can more efficiently and accurately determine if there is an issue,” adds Dr. Chaaban.

The research appears in the latest edition of the journal Sensors, and was funded in part by Fortis BC and Mitacs.

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A photo of students working on a concrete tobacco

UBCO’s concrete toboggan, before decorated in its theme for the year, gets tested on the slopes at Big White to ensure it’s ready to perform.

While research at a university can take on many shapes and forms, students, faculty and staff with UBC Okanagan’s School of Engineering have found a way to combine winter sports and the thrill of competition into their daily work.

This year, UBCO’s School of Engineering is hosting the Great Northern Toboggan Race—a multi-day, student-led event where universities from across Canada race their hand-built concrete toboggans down steep hills. UBCO also hosted the event in 2015.

Though the competition is heavily focused on the design and manufacturing aspects of engineering, faculty supervisor Dr. Ahmed Rteil says lots of learning and professional development takes place during the design, construction and eventual race event.

“There is a lot of business and logistics planning that goes on behind the scenes so the teams recruit students from other areas of study,” he says. “The experience of participating in this event has helped students make connections with industry and round out their resumes which will potentially help them find employment after graduation.”

So, what exactly is a concrete toboggan?

It’s not completely concrete, says event co-chair Kyle Lessoway, who is working on his doctorate in mechanical engineering. In fact, the only parts of the toboggan that must be concrete are the actual runners that contact the snow during the downhill race.

Competing teams must design and build a custom-made toboggan capable of steering, braking and, most importantly, able to safely carrying five people down the mountain. The toboggan with concrete skis, metal roll cage, and steering and braking mechanisms must weigh in at less than 350 pounds, explains Lessoway.

“The competition is unique compared to other engineering competitions in that it adds a spirited side to the event with themes designed into the toboggans,” he says, adding UBCO’s toboggan this year has a cow theme. “The event also allows competitors to also practice their soft skills such as communicating with industry partners and members of the public who are not engineering experts.”

For months the students have been preparing budgets, writing funding proposals and engaging with stakeholders. Even getting the team, and the sled, from their home to the competition city is a massive undertaking that a lot of undergraduate students don’t have experience with, explains co-chair and UBCO alumna Janessa Froese. She joined the team while studying sciences at UBCO.

“The skills I developed while I was on the concrete toboggan team were the reason I got my first job when I completed university,” she says.

First established in 1975, the Great Northern Concrete Toboggan Race is the largest and longest-running engineering student competition in Canada. This year, there are 15 competing teams, plus four non-competing teams, meaning there will be more than 385 participants arriving in Kelowna this week. Events kick off with a competitor interaction day where the students will participate in downtown tours including the heritage museums along with some events on campus.

Students will also participate in a concrete testing demonstration at UBCO’s campus and the Tech-Ex display at the host hotel the Delta Hotels by Marriott Grand Okanagan Resort on January 27. Race day takes place January 28 at Big White’s Tube Town.

Before hitting the slopes, each toboggan will be judged on a number of categories, such as the design of the toboggan as a whole, the level of ingenuity and innovation as well as how well it performs on race day. Each toboggan must pass a safety inspection prior to racing and any entries that fail will not be permitted to race.

The UBCO team has a track record of success in the event, including podium finishes at several events and placing second overall the last time the competition was held in Kelowna.

More information about the 2023 Great Northern Concrete Toboggan Race can be found at: www.gnctr2023.ca

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What: Fifth annual Life Raft Debate
Who: UBC professors compete to win a role to lead society
When: Wednesday, January 25, beginning at 7 pm
Venue: COM 201, Commons building, 3297 University Way and over Zoom

As the Okanagan winter progresses some people might dream of being cast away on a deserted beach.

But a few UBC Okanagan professors have now landed on a fictional island and have their work cut out for them.

Each year UBC Okanagan’s Society of Scholars hosts a Life Raft Debate, pitting faculty against each other as they maintain why they alone have the skills to help save the world and therefore deserve the last seat on the life-raft.

The premise for the fifth annual Life Raft Debate involves faculty who have crash-landed on a fictional tropical deserted island, explains Society of Scholars spokesperson Aimee Davarani. Recognizing the necessity for governance in their new home, the survivors must hold an election to determine who will become their leader and last hope for a civilized society.

“This is their chance to campaign as the new leader of the island,” she says. “With all the resources provided to stay alive, the chosen one must take on the challenge of forming a new culture that can be sustained for the future. Because who knows when help will arrive? But first, they must win the debate.”

“The members of the audience are the ones who will vote for their new leader, making this an entertaining and interactive evening,” Davarani adds, a third-year psychology student.

This year the debating professors include Dr. Jordan Stouck from the Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies, School of Engineering’s Dr. Alon Eisenstein and Dr. Renaud-Phillippe Garner from the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

“We invite people to come and watch the professors from different faculties debate against each other to prove that their discipline is superior to all others when it comes to creating and maintaining a new society,” adds Davarani.

To add intrigue to the evening, the final debater, Dr. Matthew Nelson, will play the role of Devil’s Advocate. The biology professor will campaign that none of the academic debaters deserve to be in a leadership role and the fate of society should rest with the audience as a whole.

“We really encourage our community to come watch our faculty members as they deal with this unique twist on defending their expertise,” says Davarani. “The annual Life Raft Debate has become a fun and entertaining way to help people discover how different points of view and areas of expertise can work together, or against, improving our society.”

More information and registration can be found at: students.ok.ubc.ca/life-raft

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UBCO experts suggest wrapping gifts in reusable bags or boxes as one of several ways to keep the holiday season sustainable.

Regardless of what, or if, you decide to celebrate at this time of year, it’s hard to stay in budget and keep the holiday season sustainable.

A group of UBC Okanagan experts has some tips on how to keep the green in your pocket while ensuring it’s a green holiday for the planet.

Bryn Crawford, Research Engineer, Program Manager, PacifiCan-MMRI Accelerating Circular Economy

It’s all about the packaging. Think about how something is packaged before you buy it. Is the packaging recyclable or reusable? Also, when it comes to wrapping, keeping and re-using gift-wrapping paper is a great way to reduce waste. Look for gifts that don’t use materials that would persist in landfill or would divert waste from landfill.

“I suggest people look for gifts that are composed of natural, untreated materials such as wood, paper, cotton, or highly recyclable materials such as aluminum or steel. Also look for items made from upcycled waste, try to shop at stores that allow you to bring in a bottle or container to refill, or look for merchants that sell items in bottles or packages that are made from 100 per cent recycled plastics.”

Nathan Pelletier, Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science/Faculty of Management

Every Christmas there is inevitably a debate regarding the sustainability of real versus artificial trees.

So, which is better? Unfortunately, Dr. Pelletier says there is no simple answer.

Relative impacts and benefits will be influenced by production practices and location, transportation distances—including your own. Spending half a day searching for a tree in a pickup truck will definitely weight the outcome. And use behaviours should also be considered. An artificial tree used for 15 years will have a fraction of the impact of one that is only used for five years.

Also important to keep in mind are the specific aspects of sustainability that we consider, and how we prioritize among them. For example, carbon footprints versus biodiversity impacts, or jobs versus landscape aesthetic value.

“Comparisons are always complicated and perhaps distract from simple, powerful strategies like giving the gift of time to those we love and focusing on quality over quantity.”

Eric Li, Faculty of Management

Be present and give fewer presents. Use your time generously and think about volunteering at a local organization or providing your time to do something with someone, even if it’s a neighbour or acquaintance.

“We all live in a busy world, so perhaps the gift of your time is something another person might really appreciate. A key component of the season is about being with family and friends, so make a point of doing that.”

By all means, give gifts, but think about the material products. What’s really necessary. Maybe buy less this year. And try to buy local. Also think of where the packaging this gift is coming from and where it might end up.

Ross Hickey, Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Donations to registered Canadian charities are on sale this year, as always. Giving to charities on behalf of others can help people give a gift that lets the recipient know how much the giver truly knows the recipient. Also, giving to registered religious organizations and advocacy groups can help others in a variety of ways. You’re giving a gift twice, to the charity and also to the recipient.

A fan of the 1905 classic tale the Gift of Magi, Dr. Hickey says shoppers should keep that story in mind while shopping.

“The story is about a young couple who each sell their most prized possessions to buy a gift for each other,” explains Dr. Hickey. “While they both ended up with gifts they couldn’t use, the theory is a gift that comes from self-sacrifice and love is what really matters. When it comes to overspending, I think that story says it all.”

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An aerial view of homes surrounded by flood waters

UBC engineers have consulted with 22 Okanagan communities to develop recommendations and best practices to improve flood resilience which could limit potential damage.

While infrastructure clean-up and repairs continue across the province after the extreme weather events of 2021, UBC Okanagan researchers have created measures to help municipalities mitigate damage from future climate-related disasters.

“Communities across British Columbia have established strong policies and strategies to prepare and limit damage due to these extreme events, but policies related to post-disaster management are still in their infancy,” says Sadia Ishaq, a doctoral candidate in UBCO’s School of Engineering and lead author of a new paper that examines municipal risk management strategies.

Climate change is attributed to anthropogenic activities and is characterized by a rise in temperature, rainfall and drought, explains Ishaq. The effects of climate change are a precursor for a large number of natural disasters, particularly floods, which can cause substantial damage.

In Canada, flooding is the costliest natural disaster and insurance damages from floods exceed $1 billion a year.

In BC, floods are recognized as one of the most common hazards and municipal authorities have the primary responsibility for flood risk management, Ishaq says. That risk management includes establishing flood resilience through infrastructure, mitigation and preparation measures.

Ishaq, working alongside Civil Engineering Professor Rehan Sadiq’s team of researchers, reviewed the policies and local regulations of 22 organizations in the Okanagan Valley. The goal was to develop recommendations and best practices to improve flood resilience of these communities.

“Being flood-resilient when it comes to policy-making means these organizations are becoming more effective when they need to implement a communities’ adaptation and recovery from unexpected disasters,” she says. “This allows them to focus their efforts on people as well as infrastructure in the moment.”

Together with partner municipalities, regional districts and First Nations communities, the researchers examined opportunities to strengthen flood resilience through policy-making.

They determined that local regulations for many Okanagan communities include extensive flood prevention measures, but not flood recovery.

For example, many municipalities are proactively addressing looming flood risks and are enacting essential policy measures to strengthen resilience through spatial planning, building construction setbacks, enhancing natural environment, protecting riparian areas and stormwater management.

Regions across the country are sharing best practices when it comes reducing damages and risks through building up flood resiliency. However, Ishaq suggests that communities in the Okanagan could do a better job of collaborating and information sharing.

While the paper’s findings have specific implications for the Okanagan Valley, they can be effective for regions around the world facing the same challenges.

“Governments must continue to integrate sustainable watershed management, adaptive strategies for land use planning, zoning bylaws, and infrastructure development plan with low-impact development in order to address these challenging circumstances,” Ishaq says.

The research builds upon a larger project prepared earlier this year for the Okanagan Basin Water Board (OBWB) entitled Analysis of Flood (Resilience) Policy/Planning Tools in the Okanagan Valley. It was supported by the OBWB and UBCO’s Green Construction Research and Training Centre.

This research work was conducted in the UBCO’s Life Cycle Management Lab and appears in the November edition of the Environmental Reviews journal.

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artistic firebowl outside EME

An artistic fire bowl titled For Future Matriarchs was installed at UBCO last week. It will be lit each December 6 in memory of the 14 women killed in the École Polytechnique massacre. The piece was created by internationally recognized Syilx artist Krista-Belle Stewart and Secwépemc artist Tania Willard.

What: 14 Not Forgotten memorial ceremony
Who: UBCO students, faculty, staff, members of the public
When: Tuesday, December 6, 3:30 to 5 pm
Where: Outdoor EME amphitheatre, 1138 Alumni Avenue, UBC Okanagan

UBC Okanagan’s School of Engineering is hosting its annual 14 Not Forgotten memorial ceremony on December 6 to remember the 14 women whose lives were lost in the École Polytechnique massacre.

“The ceremony is held each December not only as a way to remember the young victims but to also commit to action to end violence against women,” says School of Engineering Director Dr. Will Hughes.

On December 6, 1989, an armed man walked into an engineering class at l’École Polytechnique de Montréal. After forcing the men to leave, the gunman began shooting—killing 14 women and injuring ten more.

In response to this tragedy, Canada established December 6 as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women. This day serves as a reminder of the gender-based violence against women in Canada and around the world that persists today.

UBCO’s 14 Not Forgotten Memorial commemorates the École Polytechnique tragedy and also honours the lives and legacies of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, including LGBTQ and Two Spirit people.

This year as part of the ceremony, a new art installation will be unveiled as a permanent memorial outside the Engineering Management and Education (EME) building.

“The memorial will serve as a visible symbol of the School of Engineering and UBC’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion,” adds Dr. Hughes. This artwork accommodates a fire that will be lit during the annual 14 Not Forgotten ceremony, adding a highly impactful performative aspect to the installation.

The piece, titled For Future Matriarchs was created by an internationally recognized Syilx artist Krista-Belle Stewart and Secwépemc artist Tania Willard, who is an Assistant Professor of Visual Arts in the Creative Studies department.

This fire bowl uses symbolic design elements including the blue flag iris which is the floral emblem of Quebec, traditional plants for Syilx people and Interior Salish basketry aesthetics. The piece was funded by the School of Engineering and will become part of the UBC Okanagan Public Art Collection.

The ceremony will take place on Tuesday, December 6 from 3:30 to 5 pm at the outdoor amphitheatre behind the EME building. A self-guided memorial will be inside and there will be space for reflection and refreshments after the ceremony.

artist firebowl at dusk

The firebowl was funded by the School of Engineering and will become part of the UBC Okanagan Public Art Collection. Photo by Nasim Pirhadi.

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A photo of a researcher working with a thermal manikin.

UBCO researcher Dr. Farzan Gholamreza gets Newton, a thermal manikin, ready for a sweat test in his outdoor exercise gear.

Weekend joggers, competitive athletes and people keeping fit in the gym can say goodbye to sweaty armpits and clingy damp garments after a tough workout.

Thanks to a new collaboration with Lululemon, UBC Okanagan researchers and their partners are working to develop a next-generation fabric that will keep a person warm, dry and comfortable regardless of temperature and level of exertion.

Creating a functional material that can address thermophysiological comfort—maintaining thermal regulation by the exchange of heat and moisture from the skin to the environment—has long been a goal of activewear companies, explains Dr. Farzan Gholamreza, lead author and coordinator of UBCO’s Cluster of Research Excellence in Comfort Enhancing Technologies.

“Over the past few decades, significant advances have been made in the sportswear industry to develop athletic apparel that has numerous characteristics to enhance comfort,” Dr. Gholamreza adds. “Our latest research seeks to identify some key fabric properties that will bolster human comfort levels in active wear.”

Dr. Gholamreza and a team of researchers at the UBC Materials and Manufacturing Research Institute, along with researchers from the University of Alberta, University of Toronto and the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, are investigating better ways to analyze how fabric systems react to body heat and moisture.

“Understanding how a material responds to the heat generated by the body is a vital component to developing fabrics that transfer sweat to the environment and cool the body,” says Dr. Abbas Milani, Professor of Mechanical Engineering and UBCO Principal’s Research Chair in Sustainable and Smart Manufacturing.

A physically active person generates heat that needs to be dissipated into the environment to maintain thermal balance. Perspiration also protects against overheating by dissipating heat from the skin through evaporation.

Failure to dissipate heat and moisture from the body may result in heat stress or heat exhaustion which can affect health and performance.

To take this research to the next level, testing devices such as sweating hot plates, cylinders and thermal manikins have been developed. Compared to human wear trials, these devices save time and money to calculate the thermophysiological comfort of textiles since the work is done in the lab, not on people.

With the help of a “sweating torso” UBCO researchers developed a numerical model to accurately measure heat and moisture transfer between the fabric and the user. This formula provides a basis to better understand how a fabric’s properties, environmental conditions and physiological parameters can work together to enhance overall comfort levels.

“Mathematical models combined with the simulation of the sweating torso have demonstrated that the model could help predict the comfort properties of fabrics including initial cooling, sustained cooling, cooling delay, moisture uptake and the drying time,” says Dr. Gholamreza. “Overall, the model is a helpful tool that can be widely used to predict how fabric systems protect the comfort of users under moderate to intensive physical activities.”

The research was published in the journal Materials and supported through the UBC Eminence Program.

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A photo of the Wilden net zero home

The newly constructed net zero home will be open for the public to explore Sunday, November 20 starting at noon. Built to the highest energy-efficient standards, once occupied this house will produce as much energy as it uses in a year.

A unique, made-in-Kelowna collaboration to create an energy-efficient, high-performance home is taking the goal to the next level. And that goal is zero.

UBC Okanagan, Okanagan College, the Wilden Group, AuthenTech Homes and FortisBC launched the Wilden Living Lab project in 2016 when two homes were constructed side by side in the Wilden community. One is called the Home of Today and was built to regular specifications and codes. The other, called the Home of Tomorrow, was constructed with advanced materials and systems that made it an energy-efficient home.

While the homes were built by AuthenTech Homes and the Wilden Group, with help from Okanagan College trades students, UBC Okanagan Professor Dr. Shahria Alam and his team conducted research to compare the energy use and costs of the two buildings once occupied. An extensive monitoring system consisting of temperature, humidity and power sensors, was utilized to collect, analyze and compare energy and cost variations in the two homes. After the initial three years, the comparative results show that the Home of Tomorrow used 67 per cent less energy and had 99.6 per cent fewer carbon emissions than its neighbour.

“Sustainable energy usage and homebuilding practices are important issues for our community,” says Dr. Alam. “UBC Okanagan is pleased to lend its research expertise to a project that will encourage sustainable development here at home and provide tools for others around the world to follow in our footsteps.”

Now, the collaboration is going further with the construction of a third next-generation home, built to the BC Energy Step Code’s highest level, Step 5. The house—with a high-tech building envelope that is airtight and is complete with an efficient solar photovoltaic system, top-notch energy recovery and storage systems and highly efficient mechanical systems—will achieve net zero energy, meaning it will produce as much, or more energy than it uses in a year.

The provincial government is requiring that by 2032 all new buildings will be constructed to Step 5 conditions. With only a few years to go, there is a major push to educate construction practitioners about the BC Energy Step Code, says Dr. Alam, who teaches in UBCO’s School of Engineering.

With this new code, the building industry must follow tactics to reduce the total energy requirements of new buildings, Dr. Alam explains. This is done by creating high insulation wall systems and airtight envelopes, installation of highly energy-efficient windows and mechanical systems, use of heat energy recovery systems and renewable energy systems.

However, with the exception of the appliances, the elements of a high-performance home are often invisible to the homebuyer, says Dr. Andrew Hay, Provost and Vice President Academic for Okanagan College.

“The Wilden Living Lab is a superb initiative that can help move us forward to understanding the best approaches for energy-efficient residential construction projects that considers conservation from a wide perspective,” says Dr. Hay. “By assessing how better buildings can function in the real world, we will continue to learn and adapt new design parameters. In time, with this information in the hands of those designing, constructing and purchasing new homes, we hope to continue to demonstrate the best of BC approaches to residential construction and create momentum in the industry for green construction at its best.”

That’s why the public is being encouraged to explore the home, which will be open for daily tours, complete with interactive displays, for the next six months.

“We’re excited to open this house to the community. We want people to come and walk through the home and experience the difference of a net zero house,” says Karin Eger-Blenk, CEO of the Wilden Group. “For us, the Wilden Living Lab is a place where we can make homeowners familiar with future-proof building practices and have new technologies tested out for them. The goal is to encourage everyone who’s building a home in Wilden or elsewhere to invest in energy efficiency.”

The project is a clear example of how industry and post-secondary schools can work together to make a difference for the future, says Carol Suhan, Manager, Community Programs, Conservation and Energy Management at FortisBC. The project combines academic research, experiential learning for trades and contractor training students, ongoing energy monitoring and the creation of an electronic contractor decision support tool led by UBCO.

“This project brings energy efficiency to life and is a great opportunity for the industry to demonstrate what a Step 5 and net zero home is all about,” says Suhan. “We want to invite the community to come to the home to see, touch, feel and hear the benefits of the materials and techniques that contribute to a Step 5 home. This is a great opportunity for people to learn how energy-efficient construction saves energy and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. It will help our customers make informed decisions when it comes to their home’s energy use, comfort and long-term affordability.”

Phase 2 of the Wilden Living Lab project is open to the public starting Sunday, November 20, at noon. The home will remain open to the public to explore weekly, Saturday through Thursday, noon to 5 pm until May 18, 2023.

Note: The media is invited to a private tour of the home on the morning of Nov. 16 and attend the experiential show home campaign kick-off starting at 1 pm. The home is located at 215 Echo Ridge Drive, Kelowna. To learn more, please visit: wildenlivinglab.com

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