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Opt!ons

Division of Engineering Science Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering University of Toronto Volume 8, Issue 1


Opt!ons is the alumni magazine for the Division of Engineering Science. The magazine’s name refers not only to the eight different majors EngSci students may choose from but also the wide range of career paths available to our graduates. By showcasing the leadership and innovation of EngSci students and graduates, Opt!ons intends to engage with our community and the engineering world at large.

Volume 8, Issue 1

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A Message From the Chair Dream Big, Create Bigger — Interview with Raffaello D’Andrea AER201: Fundamentals of Reality Lift Off! NΨ Spotlight: Putting Classroom Knowledge Into Design Silicon Valley North & South Engineering Science Research Opportunities (ESROP) Honors & Accolades Where Are You Now NΨ? Here are NΨ’s Class of 1T3 Upcoming Special Events

Division of Engineering Science Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering University of Toronto

Publisher Mark Kortschot (EngSci 8T4)

Bahen Centre for Information Technology 40 St. George Street Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5S 2E4

Editor Deborah Peart

Tel: 416.978.8634 Fax: 416.978.0828 engsci.utoronto.ca

Contributing Editors Sharon Aschaiek Gina John Christopher Jones Jennifer Lancaster Hana Lee Fiona Tran (EngSci 1T6 + PEY) Mark Witten

Design Mark Neil Balson R.G.D. Illustration Paul Dotey Printing Flash Reproductions


A Message From the Chair

In Engineering Science, we focus our full attention on the quality of undergraduate education. Of course, we continue to deliver a challenging and rigorous academic curriculum, but in recent years, we have also responded to the explosion of interest in innovation and entrepreneurship. Today, many of our students see entrepreneurial activity as a viable and desirable career path, and we are supporting this aspiration in significant ways: • Our program has a renewed emphasis on engineering design, with key courses in each year of the curriculum. One of the design courses we highlight in this issue is AER201. • The Faculty is fundraising for a large new building to centralize design and light fabrication facilities for undergraduates. The building will also house designrelated centres and some student club space. • The Faculty has launched the Hatchery, a co-curricular program to support our entrepreneurially minded undergraduate students with funds, facilities and extensive mentorship. Engineering Science students will make heavy use of the new Centre for Engineering Innovation & Entrepreneurship when it is built in a few years. They have already made good use of the Hatchery, with an Engineering Science student

being a member of the top group to win the Lacavera Prize for Entrepreneurship from this year’s cohort of budding entrepreneurs. I believe that our program, with its combination of breadth and rigour, provides an ideal platform for the innovation that will drive the economy over the next 100 years, and this issue of Opt!ions is focused on some of our most innovative students and alumni. Last year, I encouraged graduates of our program to reconnect with Engineering Science in a meaningful way, and I am pleased to say that this message was well received. We were able to dramatically expand our international exchange program for summer research positions, and to advertise nearly 40 new job opportunities directly to our students. I see this as a win for both students and employers/ academic supervisors, and I will continue to work on expanding the NΨ Network so that it becomes a key benefit of our program. If you have not connected with us recently, please join our LinkedIn group, or email me directly to take advantage of a pipeline to some of Canada’s top students, graduates and alumni.

Mark Kortschot (EngSci 8T4), Professor & Chair Volume 8, Issue 1 / 3


Dream Big, Create Bigger Feature by Mark Witten As a boy, Raffaello D’Andrea (EngSci 9T1) was fascinated by science and the physical world. His idea of fun was to put himself into his own scientific experiments and discover how things worked — or didn’t — through hands-on experience.


“I love to create. It’s in our nature to build new things and I love to make things that have never been built before”

He learned about water pressure by leaping into a swimming pool with bricks attached to his legs and a garden hose attached to his mouth. His experiments with fireworks, flammable liquids and gunpowder gave him some unplanned haircuts and an appreciation for the incredible energy stored in chemical bonds. After performing one of his DIY stunts, D’Andrea was motivated to read as much as he could to understand the underlying physical principles that would explain what had gone right or wrong. “I was really curious. I liked to explore and I wanted to know how things work,” says D’Andrea, Professor of Dynamic Systems and Control at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich, Switzerland. He is also co-founder of Kiva Systems, a robotics and logistics company that develops and deploys intelligent automated warehouse systems which was acquired by Amazon for $775 million US in 2012. But his greatest interest and passion was in learning how to fly. At 11, he gained firsthand knowledge of aerodynamic instability by using a lawn umbrella to jump off the rooftop of the family bungalow in Whitby onto the grass. “When I was a little older, I went into this phase of lucid dreaming, which is a kind of dream where you know are dreaming. I could fly when I had a lucid dream and I trained myself not to wake up,” recalls D’Andrea, who is also a member of the 2013–2014 Division of Engineering Science Board of Advisors. His passion for flying and devising new ways to control aerodynamic instability has continued ever since. Since his boyhood flights of fancy, D’Andrea has been working as an academic researcher, entrepreneur and artist with a focus on pushing the boundaries of what dynamic autonomous systems, such as flying and mobile robots, can do.

He set up the Flying Machines Arena at ETH as a “sandbox” research environment for developing and testing his autonomous flying robots and the amazing feats they perform. Fleets of acrobatic quadrocopters learn to execute increasingly complex manoeuvres doing high-speed flips, juggling balls, playing badminton, balancing, tossing and catching poles, and performing choreographed dance to different pieces of music. Within a few years, the flying machines may be used in construction, the arts and entertainment industry and other settings. A California company called Matternet, for example, is exploring the use of unmanned flying vehicles for inspection and humanitarian purposes. In a futuristic project with ETH architects Fabio Gramazio and Matthias Kohler, D’Andrea demonstrated a radical approach to building complex structures, brick by brick, using autonomous quadrocopters, which they call Flight Assembled Architecture. This could eventually lead to new ways of building everything from homes to skyscrapers, and was exhibited as the first art installation to be built by flying machines at the FRAC Centre in Orleans, France, in 2011. Born in Italy and raised in Canada, this Renaissance engineer, inventor, entrepreneur and artist is guided and motivated by a single mantra: “I love to create. It’s in our nature to build new things, and I love to make things that have never been built before,” says D’Andrea, who combined his love for science with the need to create by studying Engineering Science with an option in Electrical Engineering at U of T, where he received the Wilson Medal as the top graduating student in 1991. He valued the program’s rigorous theoretical training in physics and mathematics, directed towards applying that knowledge. “Engineering science offered the best Volume 8, Issue 1 / 5


Dream Big, Create Bigger

of both worlds. I wasn’t just learning theory; it was always tools to do something with that knowledge. I learned the way the world works, and got the tools that allowed me to use that knowledge to create new things,” says D’Andrea. His most powerful learning experience was in AER201, where he led a team of four students and was responsible for the software and system architecture in developing a voice-controlled robotic crane. There were some hairraising moments and many long nights after D’Andrea realized he had to take over computer-building responsibilities from another team member. He improvised by using his own Commodore 64 computer, figuring out where the code should run and how to interface the computer to the rest of the system to get the project to succeed. “That was an incredible, eye-opening experience and a confidence builder. The crane was controlled with my voice and it worked the first time,” says D’Andrea, whose girlfriend at the time, Leanna Caron, (his wife today and president of Skate Canada, following a successful biotech career) stayed up all night reading out computer code symbols to him to meet the deadline. D’Andrea has used his EngSci education and hands-on project design experience as a springboard to making intelligent robotic systems that can do things that haven’t been done before in the worlds of academia, business and the arts. After receiving his PhD in Systems and Control at the California Institute of Technology, D’Andrea joined the Cornell University faculty and established robot soccer —  an international competition featuring fully autonomous robots, with no human operators — as a flagship, multidisciplinary project. “The students were wildly excited about it, and I got the best and the brightest,” says D’Andrea, who had played soccer for Engineering and New College at U of T. His “Big Red Bots” introduced various innovations including omni-directional vehicles, dribbling, and trajectory generation algorithms for agile robot motions. Because of their superior movement capabilities, the 6 / Opt!ons

upstart Bot squad trounced its rivals 13–0 in Cornell’s first year competing in 1999. D’Andrea led the team to four world championships at RoboCup competitions in Sweden, Australia, Italy and Japan. “You need an appreciation of the dynamics of the game. Soccer isn’t like chess, it’s a fluid sport. The robots move in an arc, not in a straight line,” he explains. In the first week of a sabbatical at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2003, D’Andrea was contacted by Mick Mountz, an MIT- and Harvard-educated entrepreneur who became fascinated with videos of RoboCup after he conceived the idea of using a fleet of mobile robots to move and manage warehouse inventory more efficiently. After three days of intensive discussion, D’Andrea was hooked and had the shortest sabbatical ever. “I was extremely impressed with his business model and said, ‘Let’s do it!’ Mick had learned the hard way from an earlier venture, Webvan, that distribution was a tough problem,” he says. As one of three co-founders of Kiva Systems, D’Andrea and his team designed a novel navigation and control system that enabled as many as 1,000 robots to fulfil orders three times as fast as a conventional warehouse conveyor system, with one-third the number of people per shift. “Being entrepreneurial requires a willingness to take calculated risks and to not be bogged down in the way other people have done things in the past. I hired former students, people involved in RoboCup, to help with this problem. They understand time pressures and being pragmatic,” he says. When Amazon acquired Kiva last year, its many customers included Walgreens, Staples, the Gap, Saks and Toys “R” Us, with more than 30 warehouses across North America and Europe. For the man who choreographed this elegant and innovative business solution, seeing a fleet of 1,000 robots in action is scientifically and artistically appealing. “To me, it’s just beautiful, like a dance,” he says. Today, D’Andrea is pursuing his boyhood dream of unconstrained flight. In an audacious project that draws inspiration from Icarus, Leonardo da Vinci’s designs of


hang gliders and helicopters, and the first man-on-themoon missions, he and his team are developing an actuated wingsuit that can be controlled by the human flyer. They are building on existing wingsuit technology and leveraging research on novel sensors and actuators, non-equilibrium aerodynamics and algorithms for control of dynamic systems to make it happen.

D’Andrea demos flight of a quadrocopter at TEDGlobal. Photo by James Duncan Davidson.

The goal is to allow individuals to take off and land at will without parachutes, to gain altitude, even to perch, while preserving the intimacy of wingsuit flight. An experienced pilot is gathering data for the wingsuit project on test flights in the Swiss Alps. Throughout his multi-faceted career, D’Andrea has moved freely and easily between academia, business and the arts on a global stage. As an advisory board member, and as a mentor to U of T EngSci students doing placements at his Flying Machines Arena lab in Zurich, he is encouraging and inspiring the current generation of students to spread their wings through hands-on design experience and push the boundaries of what engineers can do. “Universities are a place where you should be unconstrained and have the freedom to create new things. My career has been one design project after another. EngSci gave me the tools to solve almost any problem involving physics and use that knowledge for change,” he says. Volume 8, Issue 1 / 7


I’ll never forget in high school when an upper-year Engineering Science student introduced me to AER201. “You’ll design a fully autonomous robot… did I mention you’ll have three months to do it in?” I had no prior experience in robotics, but I did have the drive and determination to take on AER201: Engineering Design, the cornerstone of the year two Engineering Science program. AER201’s ability to challenge students with real life problems that require effective solutions is what has kept it in EngSci’s curriculum since 1970. Professor Mark Kortschot (EngSci 8T4), Chair of the Division of Engineering Science, took what was then known as CED201: Engineering Design. “The course allows for more hands-on exposure to the implementation side Volume 8, Issue 1 / 9


Fundamentals of Reality

“AER201 is a key piece in the secondyear curriculum, complementing first-year Praxis by providing exposure to a both conceptual- and task-oriented project.”

of engineering. It’s then that you start to realize it takes time to translate ideas into the physical realm, and it’s all a part of the experience as a real-life engineer.” He adds, “AER201 is a key piece in the second-year curriculum, complementing first-year Praxis by providing exposure to a both conceptual- and task-oriented project.” The course requires that students arrange themselves into groups of three, and after a series of technical workshops and lectures about mechatronics design, they are assigned the task of designing and building an autonomous robot. Engineering students repeatedly joke about the storied “second year EngSci” course load, and the tremendous stress and difficulty meant only for the strong-willed. Needless to say, it appeared to me as though AER201 was at the crux of this witticism. As EngSci students, our limits are often tested, and building the circuits for my team’s robot was no different. Our outcome was not disastrous, but the robot itself did not perform up to our expectations. I learned quite a bit about myself from AER201, and oddly enough the biggest lesson was that I actually like circuits. This epiphany clarified my decision to specialize in the Energy Systems Option. I often find myself passing by the familiar AER201 labs on the fourth floor of the Sandford Fleming Building. The worn wooden workbenches are not only a landmark to EngScis who have labored over their robotic creations, but are symbolic of a time that we can all share, and a challenge that ties us together. Indeed, second year was the most demanding year of my life, but those setbacks made me resilient, and I know I can push myself that much further. I took that challenge, and looking back as a fourth-year student, I am proud to have done so. 10 / Opt!ons

Alumni answered: What do you remember about AER201? “I remember writing an assembler program to control our chess computer hardware that, when printed and stretched out on the floor, was 60 feet long. At the beginning of the course, I remember thinking, “We have to do what?!” I had no idea how to build hardware or program it. At the end of the course, I realized that with some effort, we could do anything we set our minds to. Great memory!” Gary Saarenvirta (EngSci 8T8) CEO of Makeplain Corporation “It was like a part time job. I must have spent 20 hours a week on it and a good portion of that soldering. I should have passed on from lead poisoning. Fortunately I survived and went on to a promising career in electrical engineering. It was one of the few courses where I felt truly engaged. It was also one class that my classmates and I have often reminisced about with a mixture of humour, horror and hilarity. All in all, it was a fun course — despite the occasional mishaps — which encouraged collaboration, gave students a different way of learning, and a sense of what “real world’ engineering problems would be like and how to tackle them, and finally allowed room for a lot of creativity and ingenuity.” Howard Jung (EngSci 9T9) Senior Applications Engineer at Xilinx “Soldering circuit boards in the dining room the night before it was due, only to find that I had burnt a hole through my mom’s fine lace tablecloth…”


Malvika Rudra (EngSci 1T1+PEY, MASc candidate at U of T) “In our robot (battery sorter), the batteries were fed into the machine via an aluminum ‘ramp’. Night before demo, we realized we’d used the ramp so much that the batteries actually cut grooves into the aluminum, which increased friction to the point where the batteries would just stop halfway down. We didn’t have any extra aluminum lying around, so we had to somehow lubricate the ramp. All our cooking oils were already packed away because we were about to move out (it was exam season), so we ended up taking a piece of leftover chicken, cutting off the skin, and cooking it until the chicken fat melted from the skin. We rubbed melted chicken fat all over the aluminum until it was working properly again.” Song Yang (EngSci 1T2+PEY) Junior Engineer at Hatch “Finishing up our ‘3D printer’ (actually a 2.5D milling machine) 20 years ago. It was 10 p.m. at night at my house 2 days before deadline when we got the hardware and electronics done, and I started to work on the software. My team was scared because they thought I should have done it weeks ago, but I cranked out the device drivers and a simple Quick Basic program in 20 minutes to carve a sine wave in a pine board. When we saw the good quality of the cut, my friends grabbed the board and started laughing hysterically for a few minutes. We knew it had worked.” Hasan Murtaza (EngSci 9T6) Senior Engineer at AMD “… bread board, wire wrap tool, burning and erasing eproms, LEDs and pushbuttons for the UI, spending way

more hours on the project than planned. The biggest takeaway: That’s what deadlines are for — cut features, or work more hours, but deliver something. One of my favorite courses, and likely one of the best learning experiences.” Gary Bauer (EngSci 8T7) Owner of Mobile Innovations Corporation “The only time I’ve ever pulled an all-nighter finishing up the lab reports before the morning deadline! I think I remember it with more frustration at the time, and more fondness as time passed — time heals all wounds as they say…! Excellent exposure to hands-on work…” Gerald Manuelpillai (EngSci 9T1) SR&ED Advisor for Scientix Consulting Services Ltd. “I remember our Mars Rover started squealing on demo day. We couldn’t figure out why, except that the squeal coincided with it breaking down. We had to kick it across the finish line! My teammates weren’t impressed.” George Babu (EngSci 9T9 + PEY) VC at OMERS Ventures “Bittersweet memories; after the first year of torture in EngSci, I wasn’t even sure if I could be an engineer. But after AER201, I realized that I CAN PROGRAM! What an interesting discovery... and I CAN be a good engineer. Wow, cannot believe that!” Jing (Jane) Ge (EngSci 1T2) Founder and President at Sustainable Engineers Association Volume 8, Issue 1 / 11


Lift Off! They Said It Could Never Be Done by Terry Lavender

An aerospace team with strong EngSci connections has made history by winning the $250,000 AHS Igor I. Sikorsky Human-Powered Helicopter Prize, for the first-ever sustained flight of a human-powered helicopter.


“The project offered a rare opportunity to work at the leading edge of engineering on an incredibly challenging and engaging project.”

The American Helicopter Association, which established the Prize in 1980, confirmed that AeroVelo Inc., founded by EngSci graduates Todd Reichert (EngSci 0T5, UTIAS PhD 1T1), and Cameron Robertson (EngSci 0T8, UTIAS MASc 0T9), has successfully met the prize’s rigorous conditions: a flight duration of 60 seconds and reaching an altitude of 3 metres, while remaining in a 10-metre square. The prize was awarded on July 11, 2013 at the Ontario Soccer Centre in Vaughan, where AeroVelo had made the historic flight a month before. While accepting the prize, Reichert and Robertson thanked the University of Toronto for its support, but also paid tribute to U of T’s engineering students, many of them from Engineering Science, who helped out on the project. “Without their energy, hard work and innovation, the flight would not have been possible.” Reichert said. Many teams have tried, and failed, to win the prize since it was established in 1980. AeroVelo had been working on their helicopter named Atlas since May 2012. Thirteen months later on June 13, 2013, they made history when Atlas rose to an altitude of roughly 3.3 metres, maintained flight for approximately 65 seconds and drifted no more than 10 metres. “We came into this very confident that we were capable of winning this prize.” said Reichert who piloted the recordbreaking feat. “At every step we realized that the prize was a lot more difficult than we originally anticipated, but at every step we were able to overcome the difficulty and get even closer and closer to the prize.” Reichert said that one of AeroVelo’s goals is to provide opportunities for engineering students to experience realworld applications of engineering practices and theories.

Many of EngSci students have worked with AeroVelo on the Atlas project over the past few years, in roles that range from vehicle repair, to designing and testing components, to actually flying the craft. “Working with AeroVelo is the best job that I have had.” said Sherry Shi (EngSci 1T5), who helped repair Atlas after a previous crash and was the team’s photographer/ videographer. “When I heard the horn signaling the threemeter altitude, I was extremely nervous and anxious because the last two flight attempts failed around this point in the flight. As I watched it descend, I could feel the excitement building up. “When it landed safely, it was one of the happiest moments in my life.” Calvin Moes (EngSci 1T3+PEY) was responsible for the design and construction of some of the craft’s components. He also actually got to fly Atlas, performing most of the low-altitude test flights. He said that working with AeroVelo was challenging but enjoyable. “I always felt that my contributions were every bit as critical to the project as anyone else’s, and I never got the impression that I was just another set of hands.” U of T Engineering Science Chair Mark Kortschot also congratulated AeroVelo. “What an achievement! We are incredibly proud of, and impressed by, the Atlas helicopter team,” he said. “Todd and Cameron worked with a team that included many engineering undergraduates. The team has shown the knowledge, skill and ingenuity to do something truly inspirational. We have a strong emphasis on engineering design and entrepreneurship in our Faculty, and the Atlas project is a fantastic example of both.” Volume 8, Issue 1 / 13


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Volume 8, Issue 1 / 15


NΨ Spotlight: Putting Classroom Knowledge into Design by Hana Lee


“breadth of materials covered in the third year of the Energy Systems Option gave a fantastic starting point for their design”

Cassie Rosen (EngSci 1T4+PEY) has recently returned from Beijing, China, where she put forward new ideas to design clearer skies, and in doing so, successfully earned third place in the International Collegiate Design and Innovation Competition (ICDIC). The ICDIC is a unique four-day design competition, sponsored by the Beihang University of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Sixty top undergraduate engineering students from more than ten countries were invited to participate in its inaugural year. From a highly selective application to time-sensitive design processes, contestants were constantly challenged to think beyond the scope of their classrooms and push new solutions to mitigate real-world problems.

its transportation sector. Drawing on everyone’s expertise, Rosen’s team produced an extensive report listing their analyses of alternative transportations options, ranging from biofuels to hybrids, as well as their recommendations. These recommendations included implementing an oilelectric hybrid and social and economic policies to support this change. Recalling her third place win, she compares this project to her earlier experience when redesigning the City of Toronto in her Praxis II class. According to Rosen, the best part of her experience was the opportunity to meet and work with many bright students from different countries. She was fascinated by the varying range of perspectives on the same topic, and those additional viewpoints empowered her to consider approaching ideas from more than one angle. Rosen is “really grateful for this amazing experience and I believe that the Energy Systems Option has well prepared me to tackle similar energy problems like this.”

Rosen was not a novice when it came to forming design teams in a fast-paced, high-pressure environment. She was familiar with similar demands from her experiences in the first year (Praxis I and II) and second year (AER201) design projects, where students gain important explicit and tacit knowledge and skills such as project management, communication, and engineering design topics. Rosen’s specialized training in the Energy Systems Option over the last year provided even further preparation for this energy focused competition. Rosen claims the “breadth of materials covered in the third year of the Energy Systems Option gave a fantastic starting point for their design” during the competition.

Rosen has recently finished her third year in the Energy Systems Option, and started her Professional Experience Year at the Ontario Power Generation’s Pickering Nuclear Plant. An active member of Engineering Without Borders’ U of T Chapter, she is highly intrigued by the field of engineering and technology from a policy angle, and is hoping to pursue graduate studies in a related field.

Putting her classroom experience to practice, Rosen’s design team consisted of top undergraduate students from automotive, energy systems, environmental, and jet propulsion engineering backgrounds. They focused on the biggest contributor to the city’s air pollution:

If you are interested in participating in the ICDIC or have questions about this or similar opportunities, please email engsci@ecf.utoronto.ca for more information. Volume 8, Issue 1 / 17


S   ilicon Valley, N   orth  & S   outh by Deborah Peart

Yuri Sagalov & Sep Seyedi teach us that there is more than one direction when getting started!

Yuri Sagalov (EngSci 0T9) Co-Founder and CEO, AeroFS Yuri Sagalov’s road to success may very well be attributed to the gift of a listening ear, and the 11,443 kilometres between Toronto and China. Sagalov met his now business partner Weihan Wang (Co-founder & Chief Technology Officer) while enrolled in the Masters of Applied Science program in U of T’s The Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering. Wang had been trying to develop a solution to share photos with his family back home, but the syncing systems available at the time limited the amount of data that could be transferred. When Sagalov and Wang looked to the ‘clouds,’ they found a gap between the needs of consumers and business. Public cloud storage solutions like Dropbox did not provide the security required by big business. Acting on this insight, they founded AeroFS in 2010, and the need for a data storage system independent of a third-party server proved to be a necessity. Q: Yuri, what sets AeroFS apart from other data storage companies? Data security is on the mind of every CIO and CTO. Our customers come to trust that unlike other data storage companies, we don’t store any of the data on our own servers. We provide software that allows businesses to sync and collaborate their most important data, without having to give up their privacy and security. Q: When did you discover that software development was what you wanted to do? I wanted to be a software engineer from a very young age. I was fascinated with how computers worked and

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“EngSci is one of the few programs that expose students to an incredible range of subjects and topics.”

how writing something with your keyboard made your computer perform a “function.” By the age of 8, I discovered a programming language called Logo and started doing very simple programs. By the age of 12, I was taking private lessons in computer science, focusing on C++ and Windows programming. Q: Name three things that studying Engineering Science has taught you about life. 1. Learning from first principles. Very few things in EngSci are just “given” to you as fact. Instead, we usually learn them from the first principles, leading to a better understanding of the subject matter. I think this type of education actually teaches us how to learn. 2. The importance of team work. Most first year EngSci students will tell you just how many problem sets they were able to solve on their own and the answer usually converges to zero. The same is true for life in general. Very few projects can be done in isolation without help from other people. 3. Breadth of education pays off. EngSci is one of the few programs that expose students to an incredible range of subjects and topics. This broad approach in the first two years makes us appreciate the challenges and opportunities available... when starting AeroFS, my education was helpful when deciding which markets and businesses to target. Q: Who was your most influential Faculty member and why? Professor Cristiana Amza taught two courses called Computer System Programming and Distributed Systems. These courses influenced my decision to apply to grad school and study distributed systems, which ultimately led to my meeting Weihan Wang. Q: How did you end up in San Francisco, and why did you decide to stay there? When we started getting serious about AeroFS, we wanted to build the company in Toronto, but even though everyone was very kind, it was clear they did not understand what we were bringing to the table. At the same time, I had been following YCombinator (YC) and explained the idea

to Weihan. We decided to apply, and once accepted, we moved down to the San Francisco Bay area for the summer. From there, it just made sense to stay. In a lot of ways, Silicon Valley is considered the place to be for computer science/engineering graduates. Because of this, when hiring in Silicon Valley, we are truly able to recruit from all over the world, including Toronto. Q: Tell us about YCombinator, and how it helped your start-up. YCombinator is a three-month startup “accelerator” program. You exchange (on average) 6% of start-up equity for a small amount of money, and a lot of advice and support. I strongly believe that without YCombinator, AeroFS would have a much lower probability of existing today. YC opened a lot of doors for us early on when very few people understood what we were trying to build. Through the program we were introduced to some of the best investors in the valley, and ended up raising both our seed and series A investments with YC’s help. Q: What is the biggest tip you can offer when finding investors for a start-up, and is it different in the U.S.? YC’s motto is, “Make something people want.” Investors are interested in funding start-ups that will be incredibly successful. Success does not mean how much money you’ve raised, but rather how much value you can add to the world, and how much money that can translate into. The gap between what investors in Canada and the U.S. are willing to invest in is shrinking, and certainly the advice of building something people need/want is relevant in both cases. Q: What are you most proud of, and what does the future hold for data storage and AeroFS? I am most proud of the team of people I get to see every day in the office. Beyond everything else, I don’t think we would be where we are today if it was not for those people. As for the future of AeroFS, I think right now we’re at an incredibly exciting point for the company. We’ve just come out of private beta in the past few months, and are now doing large scale enterprise deployments with select customers. Where will we go from here? Only time will tell. Volume 8, Issue 1 / 19


Silicon Valley, North & South

“I was always interested in creating and developing products that could change the way the average person interacted with them and simplify their lives.”

Sep Seyedi (EngSci 0T3) Founder and CEO, Plastic Mobile While working for various digital agencies globally as a technical lead, Sep Seyedi had a realization that would affirm his path as a software developer, and lead him to discover a niche in the market not yet fully utilized. While working on government mobile tools for NASA, Seyedi envisioned the true potential for mobile technology. He chose to make his vision a reality, and in 2007, founded Plastic Mobile, which builds mobile experiences. No longer considered a start-up, Plastic Mobile has established itself as an award winning agency that builds first-in-kind mobile and tablet experiences for top tier clients such as Rogers, Pizza Pizza, Air Miles, ING and Beyond the Rack. Q: Sep, what sets Plastic Mobile apart from other mobile application developers? From Plastic’s inception, we have seen the great potential that mobile can offer brands looking to build their businesses through digital marketing and mobile apps. So, when we first created Plastic’s business plan, we knew we wanted to create what we call a “full-service” offering. That means that we do it all — from the strategy and conceptual planning, through to the design, development and right to the marketing and distribution of our mobile applications and websites. 20 / Opt!ons


Q: When did you discover that software development was what you wanted to do?

people will take notice. So be confident in whatever you do, do it well, and don’t sell yourself short.

I was always interested in creating and developing products that could change the way the average person interacted with them and simplify their lives. In school, my favourite assignments involved building and experimenting with software and hardware to see how we could manipulate and change them. For example, in AER201, we worked on a project building robots that were supposed to achieve various challenges. My milli-robot navigated a maze from end to end, exiting through a narrow, one-centimeter space. Today, this navigation technology is similar to that used in the Roomba Vacuum.

Q: Where do you see software development heading in Toronto?

Q: Name three things that studying Engineering Science has taught you about life. 1. Anything is possible 2. The best way to learn is to try it yourself 3. The field of Engineering Science has a lot of brilliant minds to learn from Q: Who was your most influential Faculty member and why? Professor Zvonko Vranesic was my professor for Digital Logic and was the Chair of Engineering Science during my time at the University. He was instrumental in helping me make the transition into Engineering Science from another engineering program and supported me throughout my university career. Q: What is the most important tip you can offer when looking for investors in Toronto? I think the first thing that start-ups need to do, is assess whether or not they need investors in the early stages. From there, I’d suggest finding investors who have more than just money to offer. Find someone in your area of expertise who comes with a network of contacts to leverage, as well as dollars to help fund your initiative. Ultimately though, it’s been my experience that if you do good work,

Our Toronto headquarters put us right in RIM’s backyard and gives us access to its melting pot of talent. Toronto is definitely growing as a hub for talent and there are many incubator programs to support start-ups. Even Apple and Google are now looking to Toronto and surrounding areas for the next, best start-ups, and Microsoft, Twitter and Amazon, among others, scout students in Toronto for their development teams. I think Toronto is shaping up to be the next Silicon Valley North. Q: Tell us about the opening of your New York office, and why you felt it necessary to head south? Being entrepreneurs, we are always interested in capitalizing on new market opportunities. As well, the U.S. is simply larger, with nearly 10 times the population of Canada, and it is home to companies that have tremendous appetites for creating great mobile experiences. New York serves as our gateway into the U.S. so that we can repeat our winning formula south of the border. Q: What are you most proud of, and what does the future hold for mobile applications and Plastic Mobile? My proudest moment is probably when we won our first Webby Award, beating out big players like Gilt Groupe, Target and Walgreens with our Pizza Pizza iPhone Ordering App. But, truly I’m proud of all of our accomplishments. We have been the creator of numerous mobile ‘firsts,’ such as the first food-ordering app. These innovative ‘firsts’ have really helped us push the boundaries and become leaders in the mobile space. Today, we have taken our passion for innovation one step further by creating an “Innovation Lab”; a concept and experimentation zone where engineers, designers, project managers, strategists and marketers work together to explore new software and hardware, connecting mobile with our everyday lives. Volume 8, Issue 1 / 21


Engineering Science Research Opportunities by Deborah Peart

The Engineering Science Research Opportunities Program (ESROP) was created to harness and channel the enthusiasm that Engineering Science (EngSci) students have for research, due in large part to the broad-based education they receive in the Foundation Years 1 and 2. The ESROP program provides students with global opportunities to work with faculty members on researchbased intellectual collaborations over the course of the summer. EngSci students join established research groups, gain an understanding of the research process, and take part in intellectually vibrant research activities. Here are just a few of their experiences from 2013. Jacob Ritchie (EngSci 1T6) at the University of Toronto This summer, I had the chance to work at the Intelligent Assistive Technology and Systems Lab (IATSL) at the University of Toronto. The lab is cross-disciplinary, consisting of engineers, therapists and computer scientists working to create advanced technologies that solve problems in the field of occupational therapy. I was tasked with taking over a dormant project, creating a new version of the Age-Friendly Communities Assessment App (Age-CAP), a cross-platform mobile application that had been created by researchers at the lab in 2012. The app is meant to facilitate the involvement of senior citizens in their communities by allowing users to rate how the seniorfriendliness of different locations within a city, based on simple scales adapted from the World Health Organization. It was decided that the best approach would be to rebuild the app from the ground up. In doing so, I had the opportunity to research and employ many of the newest, most interesting HTML5 technologies, gain knowledge on the fundamentals of good mobile and web development, and develop new proficiencies in useful programming languages. 22 / Opt!ons

I’m tremendously grateful to have been given the opportunity to immerse myself in a research setting, and to meet so many interesting and inspiring people coming from such diverse backgrounds. In particular, the EngSci alumni at the lab were always eager to share their own experiences and offer advice on the options available to those in the program. After a summer spent at IATSL, I’m much more confident about the path I want to take in my university education — it was an overwhelmingly positive experience. Judy Hanwen Shen (EngSci 1T6) at the National University of Singapore My research aimed to recreate great moments in physics through designing easily replicable models of important physics concepts. In a group of three, I worked both at the Innovation Lab at the National University of Singapore and at the Center for Research and Applied Learning in Science at the Singapore Science Center. Our assignment was to create demonstrations that teach high school and university students important physical concepts that are easily recreated through household or readily available materials. Throughout the two months, we learned about, designed, built and refined three projects: a pendulum clock, a vacuum pump and chamber, and a miniature steam engine. The pendulum clock concept was originally invented by Christian Huygens and uses gravitational potential energy to keep time. We used LibreCad to design the escapement and Python code to generate the gears of the clock. Friction was a large obstacle in this project; we eventually overcame it though using ball bearings. We were trained to use the laser cutter, and used the machine to cut the precise clock parts. The vacuum pump was built as a tool to create vacuum chamber experiments, namely, Galileo’s feather guinea experiment, which showed that all objects accelerate at


the same rate towards the earth regardless of their mass. Using PVC tubes and O-rings, we built and designed an airtight one-way valve and vacuum chamber. The third project was designed to be a model of the steam engine. To simplify the energy source, our engine used the air pressure of a can of compressed air. Working on my research project on the other side of the world in Singapore was definitely an amazing experience. Along with a handful of other first-year students, we learned the culture and the customs of the extravagant, multicultural island nation. We explored not only Singapore but also Malaysia and Indonesia. The journey was an incredible opportunity to build deep and lasting friendships with others in the program. We began as strangers but completed our journey as best friends. Sherry Shi (EngSci 1T5) at the University of Toronto This summer, I had the opportunity to work as an intern with AeroVelo Inc., a company founded by Todd Reichert (EngSci 0T5, UTIAS PhD 1T1), and Cameron Robertson (EngSci 0T8, UTIAS MASc 0T9). The main focus of the company is high-profile, thought-provoking and unconventional engineering projects, working with leading edge technology in lightweight structures and materials with a goal of inspiring creativity, innovation and sustainability. Currently, AeroVelo is concentrating on speed bikes —  recumbent bicycles with an aerodynamic fairing — in hopes of breaking a land speed record of 133 km/hr. At such high speeds, the bike’s performance can be greatly improved by the absence of a viewing canopy, which can disturb laminar flow and add extra weight. This motivates the implementation of an electronic vision system. Such systems have already been successfully employed by other speed bikes. Designing and fabricating such a system was the goal. Working on the electronics system for the AeroVelo speed bikes has been very rewarding. It not only allowed me to gain experience and a deeper understanding of my field (Electronic and Computer Engineering), but also gave me the opportunity to be a part of such a rare and unique project, one that has the potential to set a new world record. Furthermore, this internship allowed me to gain

more experience with the engineering design process. In particular, it made me realize the importance of testing and iteration, and repeating this process in a strategic and efficient manner to achieve the optimal end product. Theofilos Sotiropoulos-Michalakakos (EngSci 1T5) at the University of Cambridge This summer I had the privilege to work on a project that studied capillary rise in porous media at the BP Institute for Multiphase Flow at the University of Cambridge. The BP Institute is an independent academic institution at the University of Cambridge that conducts research on surfaces, particles, and fluid dynamics. The institute consists of a diverse group of post-doctoral researchers, undergraduate summer students, masters and PhD students who are working on projects with topics spanning over five different departments (Earth Sciences, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Engineering and Applied Mathematics). My supervisor, Dr. Jerome Neufeld (EngSci 0T1) currently holds the position of Junior Research Fellow at St. Catherine’s College, Cambridge. Dr. Neufeld’s research focuses on analyzing geophysical systems using analytical, experimental and numerical techniques. The research topic relevant to my project is geological carbon dioxide sequestration, which is the capture and storage of large volumes of CO2 in porous rock. My interest in this topic stems from my concern for climate change and how it will affect people and ecosystems. This experience has taught me that research involves encountering problems and issues that, as students, we are not exposed to in solely a classroom setting. In our studies we are given problems which we are certain to have answers to. However, when conducting an experiment it is imperative to ask precise questions based on observations, because often, you might not get the results you expect. Cambridge is a wonderful place for study and research. The rich history of the campus is evident everywhere you look, whether it was the several hundred year old books at the library or walking by Stephen Hawking’s office on my way to eat in the same dining hall as Watson and Crick. The highlight of my stay there was getting to see the many different colleges all with their own unique architecture and history. Volume 8, Issue 1 / 23


Honors & Accolades by Jennifer Lancaster

Congratulations Engineering Science’s New Members to the Hall of Distinction

Professor Donald R. Sadoway (EngSci 7T2, MMS MASc 7T3, MMS PhD 7T7, D.Eng 2013)

The Hall of Distinction is an assembly of extraordinary alumni, selected for membership by their peers for their lifelong accomplishments. The careers of the members stand as examples and add a sense of reality to the aspirations of successive generations of engineering students. This year, the Division of Engineering Science is proud to announce the induction of Professor Donald R. Sadoway and Professor David S. Wilkinson to the Hall of Distinction.

Identified as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2012 by TIME, Sadoway’s passion for energy storage research and teaching is captured by this quote: “In a battery, I strive to maximize electrical potential. When mentoring, I strive to maximize human potential.” Armed with a U of T Metallurgy & Material Science doctoral degree in 1977, Sadoway was able to translate a fellowship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) into an Assistant Professor posting in less than a year. In his 35 years as a brilliant and innovative teacher at MIT, he has never lost his interest in sharing with first-year students. He taught Introduction to Solid State Chemistry countless times and generously shared his insights and advice on undergraduate curriculum as a member — and later chair — of U of T’s Department of Materials Science & Engineering Advisory Board. He has also presented lectures about his teaching practices to U of T Engineering faculty. Sadoway’s research into the use of liquid metal and molten salt in batteries to more effectively store renewable energy is what captured TIME’s attention. He developed the battery with a student team and the success of their work was the subject of a TED conference lecture he gave in 2012. The video of his chalkboard talk has been viewed over 1.5 million times.

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Professor David S. Wilkinson (EngSci 7T2, MMS MASc 7T4)

Congratulations to Engineering Science’s 2013 Arbor Award Recipients

It is unusual and indeed remarkable, to carve out a reputation through prolific contributions in two quite distinct fields of materials engineering: ceramics and metallurgy. Wilkinson has done just that, adding to it an impressive career in academic leadership with McMaster University.

Established in 1998, this award recognizes volunteers for their outstanding personal service to the University of Toronto. Once again, EngSci’s volunteers have demonstrated their dedication, generosity, and loyalty to our program and community by substantially improving the quality of the EngSci experience.

His pioneering work on the deformation and fracture characteristics of composites that include ceramic particles is just one of the ways he has used modelling and experimentation to raise the understanding of damage and stress on materials. Work he did with General Motors helped to enable the development of alloys that could effectively withstand the stamping process on the assembly line.

George Vinodh Babu (EngSci 9T9, MBA 1T0, JD 1T0)

The results of his research have been published in more than 230 papers in the world’s leading metallurgical journals, and he is a frequent contributor to international conferences. Wilkinson is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, the Canadian Academy of Engineering, the American Ceramic Society and the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum. Joining McMaster University in 1979, Wilkinson became a department chair eight years later. In 2008, he was appointed Dean of Engineering, and since last year, is Provost and Vice-President (Academic). Many young engineers who now occupy leading positions within academia and industry have been positively influenced by Wilkinson’s teaching, work and example.

George’s enthusiastic work for the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering has amplified alumni engagement in the job shadowing program and increased attendance at events. He also contributed to the strategic plan for the International Fellowships and the Faculty’s capital project, the Industry Presence Suites. Kenneth Carless Smith (EngSci 5T4, ElecE MASc 5T6, PhD 6T0) K.C. is one of the most active and dedicated alumni of the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering. His work for the Division of Engineering Science has contributed to the growth of the international internship program. K.C. has served on the EngSci Board of Advisors and secured fundraising support for numerous scholarships.

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Where Are You Now NΨ? Xavier Snelgrove (EngSci 1T1) while pursuing a master’s degree in Computer Science, co-founded the start-up Whirlscape Incorporated, where he currently serves as the chief technology officer. Whirlscape produces the text-entry technology called Minuum. Since launching their flagship Android application, they have grown to over 20,000 users! Justin Tan (EngSci 9T7) recently departed Blackboard, the e-learning technology company where he served as an executive for almost a decade. During that time, Blackboard grew to become a global leader in education technology, making a positive impact on education in over 70 countries around the world. Tan has now joined Digital Signal Corporation, which has developed the world’s most advanced long-range

Here are NΨ’s Class of 1T3 The members of the EngSci class of 2013 are headed all over Canada and the world. From top graduate school programs to top employers — and even a few start-ups — here is where you can find our most recent graduates. Approximately 40% have landed positions with highly sought-after employers, including the following companies: Google, Bombardier, Microsoft, Scotiabank, IBM Canada, Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), Amazon.com, Hatch. Just over 50% of 1T3 grads entered graduate school programs in Canada and abroad. Approximately 35% are headed to prestigious Canadian programs

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facial recognition technology. Tan, who also serves as an advisor and investor to tech start-ups, adds, “In your career, find and embrace those opportunities where the growth potential seems limitless.” Dr. Steven Zan (EngSci 8T4) is Director Research and Development — Aerodynamics, The National Research Council. He oversees the long-term technical and business development of Canada’s national wind and icing tunnels, as well as the complementary numerical modelling capabilities. Zan and his staff are working with Canadian and foreign industry on new aircraft and ground vehicle programs, and provide other government departments with technical advice in support of policy and operational issues. During his career he has worked on the aerodynamics of business and regional jets, rotorcraft, Olympic athletes and some of the world’s major structures. His career has taken him all over the world, and if EngSci taught him anything, it is to be prepared for the unexpected.

like the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS) and the Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering (IBBME) with the University of Toronto. Another 15% made the transition to prestigious programs in the U.S. and Europe, including: MIT, Stanford, Yale, University of Chicago, Cornell, University of Cambridge, Swiss Federal Institute. These are just a few of the exciting destinations that Engineering Science grads are choosing. Be a part of the EngSci Success Story! Consider hiring EngSci students for their Professional Experience Year (PEY), or advertise vacancies for summer, full-time or part-time work. Write to engsci@ecf.utoronto.ca to participate, and help us grow the ΝΨ Network!


Upcoming Special Events 14th Annual Engineering Science Alumni Dinner Friday, April 4, 2014 Hart House, Great Hall 6 p.m. Reception, 7 p.m. Dinner EngSci 2014 Spring Reunion Luncheon Saturday, May 31, 2014 Bahen Centre, Second Floor, Atrium Noon to 2 p.m. Visit our homepage at engsci.utoronto.ca in the new year to register for all Spring Reunion events.


Division of Engineering Science Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering University of Toronto Bahen Centre for Information Technology 40 St. George Street Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5S 2E4 Tel: 416.978.8634 Fax: 416.978.0828 engsci.utoronto.ca


Opt!ons Alumni Magazine 2013