“I’m currently working on my technical paper for the winter semester and I’m having trouble deciding on a topic for the paper. Are you the right person to talk to about this?” I have received this kind of question many times over the past few years. Finding a topic can be tricky! Here are some of my favourite ways that you can use to decide on an engineering topic to research for a course. Whether it’s for WCOM 206, CIVE 432, CIVE 664, MECH 532 or any other engineering course, hopefully some of these tips can help you hone in on a topic that will work well for you!
Look up research areas of some of the professors in your department. Every engineering department has a list of professors and you’ll find links to their research areas from those lists. For example, here is the list of Civil Engineering professors: https://www.mcgill.ca/civil/people and if you click on any of their names, you will often see their research areas and/or a list of their publications.
To get an idea of what other WCOM 206 students have done before, check out papers that have won the best paper contest here. They will give you ideas for how narrow a topic a good paper should have and possibly point you to topics of interest.
I often get inspiration from this magazine on engineering education called Prism. Each issue has a section called “First look” where they talk about cool new engineering technologies.
The Royal Academy of Engineering, the UK’s National Academy of Engineering, has put together a website on how engineering is addressing the UN Sustainable Development Goals https://raeng.org.uk/sdgs. There is a wealth of great research topics on those pages.
It’s always good to pick a topic that you have a personal interest in. Have you done an internship already? If so, you could pick something related to that. If you haven’t done an internship yet, that’s okay. You can check out the kinds of internships that are available to McGill students and pick a topic related to one that sounds interesting to you. You’ll find internship opportunities for McGill students in MyFuture here. Similarly, even if you’re not ready to look for a job yet, you can look in MyFuture for jobs of interest. The kind of work that employers are hiring for could give you ideas for research topics you might want to learn more about.
If there is a broad area of research you are interested in, you could skim a book on the topic, especially looking in the chapter headings to see if any of the narrower topics covered in the book interest you. You can find books on a topic by searching words in the library catalogue here and narrowing the results to books only.
Similarly, if there is a broad area of research that interests you, you can search the topic in Compendex here. It’s normal that you will get thousands of results. Next, use the “Refine” limits on the left-hand side of the screen to select “Controlled vocabulary” à “View more”. A pop-up window will open with all the “tags” that have been assigned to the articles in the results list. As a way of narrowing your topic, check out what the tags are and select one or more that interest you.
Check out past blog posts on this blog, the Turret! There are even some past student assignments posted that might give you some ideas.
I hope these suggestions will help you. If you have other ideas for ways of coming up with a research topic, I would love to hear about it! You can contact me at taradotmawhinneyatmcgilldotca .
If, after reading this, you could still use some guidance, please know that the engineering librarians at Schulich Library are always happy to meet with you for a research consultation where we can discuss with you further. You’ll find the engineering librarian for your department listed at: https://www.mcgill.ca/library/contact/askus/liaison.
Thanks to WCOM 206 professor Terry Newman for her thoughtful feedback on this blog post.
Please join me in congratulating the WCOM 206 Excellence in Communication Award winner for Winter/Summer 2022, Gabriel Lacroix, and Fall 2022, Sophie Allard. Their papers were chosen as the best among their peers across all sections of the Communication in Engineering course. Well done!
The full text of their papers have been added to the McGill Library repository, eScholarship.
The temperature of cities during summer keeps increasing due to climate change and the urban heat island phenomenon. These temperatures lead to increased mortality rates, discomfort, energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to deteriorating air quality. To alleviate the effects of this phenomenon, many effective mitigation strategies have been developed. In the highly urbanized areas where the urban heat island is the most problematic, roof area is abundant, making mitigation strategies like green roofs and cool roofs attractive. This paper compares the effectiveness of green and cool roofs at mitigating the urban heat island effect by evaluating the temperature reductions they provide, the lifecycle costs associated with them, and the added benefits from implementing them. This comparison found that green and cool roofs provide similar temperature reductions with cool roofs being more cost-effective and green roofs providing valuable added benefits.
Power generation through the combustion of fossil fuels produces most of the world’s electricity; however, this results in considerable carbon dioxide emissions and harmful environmental effects. As global energy demands continue to rise, researchers have begun investigating strategies to mitigate emissions by fossil fuel-fired power plants and carbon capture and storage has emerged as a feasible and effective method of doing so. This paper provides a comparative analysis of three methods of carbon capture: post-combustion, pre-combustion and oxy-combustion capture. Post-combustion capture refers to the process of separating carbon dioxide from the flue gas produced by combustion through absorption in a solvent. Pre-combustion capture involves removing the CO2 from the fuel prior to combustion through a series of isolated reactions, leaving pure hydrogen to be burned for power generation. Oxy-combustion capture involves the combustion of fossil fuels in an environment of pure oxygen, such that the flue gas produced can easily be condensed to isolate the CO2. While these three systems are effective emission reduction strategies, pre-combustion capture is associated with the highest efficiency. However, given the high cost of implementing and running pre-combustion and oxy-combustion capture systems in coal or natural gas-fired power plants, post-combustion capture was determined to be the best solution, based on practicability, efficiency and economic feasibility. Through the employment of carbon capture, the emissions from fossil fuel-fired power plants could be significantly reduced in order to mitigate the alarming effects of climate change.
Not only is the Schulich Library open for business and has it just finished celebrating its grand reopening earlier this week, but now the Waitz system is up and running in the library! Some of you may already be familiar with Waitz from the McLennan-Redpath Library Complex where it’s been in place since 2020 (with a little pause called Covid-19 that put the service on hold while the libraries were closed). What you might not know is that Waitz was founded by university students in 2018 who were tired of the crowds in their campus library at UC San Diego. The Waitz system is now being used in other types of locations like gyms, campus buildings and companies. You’ll find more information here on the company, which is now called Occuspace.
So how does it work? There are sensors on each floor that capture radio signals from Bluetooth and WiFi in the area to estimate how many people there are in the spaces. There is no personally identifiable information stored in the system and the information Waitz gathers is 80-95% accurate. You’ll find lots more details about how Waitz works at McGill Library here.
And how do you use it? You can simply go to the McGill Waitz page for real-time data on how busy it is in Schulich Library or you can download the app here: https://waitz.io/. Pro tip: the 1st floor (otherwise known as the basement) in Schulich Library is almost always a good bet. Now you know all you need to know before you go!