And the winning CCOM 206 paper is…

I could not be more excited to be a member of the CCOM 206: Communication in Engineering Writing Recognition Committee, alongside some of the fantastic course lecturers. One of the assignments in CCOM 206 is to write a research paper and the committee had the difficult task of awarding the best paper to one student in the fall term. There were 337 students enrolled in the course and 12 papers were shortlisted for the award by instructors. We carefully considered the originality and practicality of the research question and proposed solutions in each paper, along with the depth of research and academic sources referenced, argument coherency and consistency, and overall clarity and quality of the writing.

The best paper among all those excellent research papers chosen for consideration is “Recycling Carbon Fibre Reinforced Composites: A Market and Environmental Assessment” by Maxime Lauzé.

McGill Library is hosting the winning paper in eScholarship, a digital repository which stores and showcases the publications and theses of McGill University faculty and students. Maxime will also receive a formal certificate from the McGill Writing Centre and a $50 gift certificate for the McGill Bookstore.

Here is the abstract of the winning paper:

Both environmental and economic factors have driven the development of carbon fibre reinforced polymer (CFRP) waste recycling processes. This paper will present the causes of increased use of carbon fibre composites as well as the consequences of such growth. As well, the advantages and disadvantages of three current recycling technologies available are discussed, focusing on fibre quality, commercial flexibility, and environmental impact. Chemical recycling produces best quality fibre with negative environmental impact while mechanical recycling produces bad quality fibre with good environmental impact. As a result, this paper argues that the best recycling method available today is a thermal process called conventional pyrolysis, because it produces good quality recyclate while being very energy efficient, tolerant to contamination and therefore also the best commercial candidate.

On behalf of the Writing Recognition Committee, congratulations to all those who were shortlisted for the award!

Yet Another Engineering Marvel

I am late on the bandwagon, but I recently read in greater detail about the new Maglev train technology, and I can safely say that I am simply marvelled.

Maglev (short for magnetic levitation) trains could truly revolutionise transportation of the 21st century, using the basic principles of magnets and electromagnetic propulsion. There are three components to the system: a large electrical power source, metal coils lining a track/guideway, and large guidance magnets attached to the underside of the train. The magnetic field created by the electrified coils in the walls and the track combine to propel the train. (Side note: Japanese engineers are actually developing a technology called an electrodynamic suspension system, which is based on the repelling force of superconducting magnets, therefore eliminating the need for a power supply. It remains expensive as of now, but looks promising.)

A huge advantage of these trains (apart from higher speeds and low maintenance costs)? The positive environmental impact. Indeed, they lack engines, thus eliminate the need/use of fossil fuels.

The first commercial maglev train made its test debut in Shanghai, China, in 2002. The Shanghai Transrapid line currently runs to and from the Longyang Road station at the city’s center and the Pudong airport. Traveling at an average speed of 430 km per hour, the 30 km journey takes less than 10 minutes on the train (as opposed to an hour-long taxi ride!).

Right now, the best maglev train reaches speeds exceeding 400 kilometres per hour. But Deng Zigang, a professor at Southwest Jiaotong University in China believes that these trains can go even faster (as if that wasn’t fast enough already!). Indeed, much of the energy used to propel the train is wasted battling air resistance. Thus, by placing a maglev train inside a vacuum tube, we could virtually eliminate speed’s worst enemy and allow the train to rocket along guideways at 3,000 km per hour.

Just when we feel like we’ve seen/invented it all, new engineering marvels arise. I am exited to see what the future holds for this train technology.

(Source: IEEE Spectrum July 2014 issue)

The Power of the Mind

EEG headset

Just how far are we away from the mind-powered car? These were my thoughts when I read an article in Prism about Japanese researchers at Toyota who were developing a headset device for wheelchair users that would allow them to control their wheelchairs by simply thinking about where they wanted to go. Toyota’s “Brain Machine Interface” technology uses electroencephalography (EEG) data to enable people with physical disabilities to drive, steer and stop their wheelchairs using the power of the mind. The technology takes some training in order to coordinate the user’s thought patterns and the system’s responses. Researchers claim that the system can “adapt to a particular user’s thought patterns to improve accuracy to as high as 95%… Training on the system for 3 hours a day for a week is enough to have it tuned in to a user’s motor-control thought patterns” (PC World). The applications of such a revolutionary technology seem boundless! Imagine you could just think up what you wanted to have for dinner, mentally going through the various tasks while a robot actually went about preparing the meal. You might not even have to lift a finger in order to sit down to a four-course meal! Even though Japanese researchers are working on applications of this technology for use in controlling robots, we’re not quite there yet.

But now an electronics company called Emotiv has partnered with Hyundai in Australia to market a brain-powered car which uses similar EEG technology to control a vehicle via the mind and researchers in Germany are testing similar technology called BrainDriver that can actually drive a car. At this point, the only technology that has been commercialized is limited to making sure that drivers stay alert as inattentiveness on the road accounts for nearly 50% of fatal vehicle accidents in Australia (Drive.com). The Attention Powered Car will slow down and come to a stop if the driver becomes fatigued. Here it is in action. In terms of implications for road safety, Australians are already headed in the right direction!

This brings me back to my initial question: just how far are we away from a vehicle that not only stops when a driver is fatigued but is actually controlled by the impulses of the brain rather than the touch of the hand? If the work that researchers in Germany, Australia and Japan are doing is any indication, we’ll soon be driving into the future!

Image from Physiological Computing.net

Ode to the Bike Rack

bike2

The best part of my day is my bike commute to and from work.  It energizes me for the workday ahead and gives me time to reflect on the day that’s gone by.  Often it’s a time when creative solutions to the day’s challenges pop into my head like a happy email suddenly appearing in my inbox.  How can we ensure that more McGillians have the chance to partake of this bliss on two wheels that is as good for the body as it is for the soul?  On an already crowded campus, there’s not much room for bikes and it certainly could be a challenge really soon once new and returning students descend on the campus en masse for the start of classes.  One way would be to ensure that there is ample bike parking and this is just what a group of McGill Mechanical Engineering students set out to do a couple of years ago when they designed a space-saving bike rack as part of a class project.

The result is impressive.  Their bike rack is called the VeloCurve and is situated next to the Redpath Museum.  It looks like a work of modern art, resembling part spider, part flower.  The aesthetic component was important as a potential factor in encouraging people to cycle, say the founders in a video clip found here.  The bike rack first appeared on campus last summer and since then the students, who have now graduated, have been busy commercializing their product through their company VeloCyko.  The bike rack is space saving because it stores bikes vertically, saving 40% more space compared to a traditional bike rack, an important feature on this campus and in many other places in our densely crowded cities.  It discourages theft too because when locking a bike, the cyclist stands upright and is visible rather than crouched down and out of sight as a thief would want to be.

If you want more details, check out their website at www.velocyko.com where more innovative designs are on the way.

And once school starts, if you can’t get yourself a spot using the VeloCurve, here is a map of other bike parking on campus.

Don’t Get Bitten by One of These This Summer!

robots

Watch where you’re swimming while on vacation this summer so as not to run into one of these giant jellyfish!  Mechanical engineers at Virginia Tech have been busy developing an autonomous underwater robot that looks just like a jellyfish and acts like one too.  It moves about just like the real thing in all depths and temperature ranges.  The 170-pound robo-jellyfish prototype named Cyro can be used to “monitor ocean currents or enemy combatants, study aquatic life, or map the sea floor” (Prism Magazine).  The project is funded by the US Navy.

Likewise, here at McGill, engineers from McGill’s Mobile Robotics Lab, School of Computer Science and the Centre for Intelligent Machines, along with partners at York University and Dalhousie University, have been busy developing their own autonomous underwater robot called the AQUA Robot that uses its six flippers to swim.  Like Cyro, the AQUA Robot can be used for studying marine habitats.  It “can explore underwater environments and gather data with minimum disturbance of the indigenous marine life” (The AQUA Project).

Watch how it moves here.

Perhaps you’ll have a chance to see the AQUA Robot live in action by participating in McGill’s Barbados Field Study Semester where it is known to swim in the clear, warm waters off the coast of the Bellairs Research Institute in Holetown, Barbados.

Even if your vacation doesn’t take you to any exotic locations this summer, you might still have a chance to spy the AQUA Robot at the McGill Athletics swimming pool where it performs its tests.  And if that’s not enough, you can even buy one of your own!

Happy and safe swimming this summer with or without the underwater robot!

Image from Prism Magazine

McGill Engineering Research Showcase (MERS)

The Faculty of Engineering’s Research and Graduate Education Office will host the first annual McGill Engineering Research Showcase (MERS) on Friday, October 18th, from 3pm to 6pm, in the McConnell Engineering Building lobby. This time MEDA scholars (3rd year plus only), Tri-Council or provincial Masters Award recipients (2nd year only), and Mitacs Masters students (2nd year only) are called to present research posters during the event.

Come, see and learn more about research across all engineering disciplines!!!!!!!!!

SURE and SURE Poster Presentation Fair

McGill Engineering Faculty has a special program, called Summer Undergraduate Research in Engineering, which pairs registered students with McGill scientists and researchers. The admitted students will have a chance to work on a research project under a supervisor during the summer and get a feeling of “research” while earning some income. Click here to learn more about this program.

On Thursday, August 15, 2013 between 1 and 4pm, there will be this year’s SURE Poster Presentation Fair in the Trottier Engineering Building (Cafeteria level) where the students will present their findings from their projects.

21st century engineering challenges

The National Academy of Engineering (U.S.) identified 14 challenges in this century that need engineering solutions.  These challenges are:

FracFocus Chemical Disclosure Registry

Both Canada and the U.S. maintain a national registry for the disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing:

FracFocus.ca
FracFocus.org

FracFocus.ca, built by the BC Oil and Gas Commission and conceived based on the American site, is an up-to-date resource for students and professionals in environmental sciences, earth sciences, and engineering, as well as members of the general public. Visitors to the Canadian site can discover the location of oil and gas wells and the chemicals used at each site in British Columbia and Alberta. From the FracFocus.ca Welcome Page: [FracFocus.ca] is a collaboration between provinces, territories, regulators and industry to provide Canadians with objective information on hydraulic fracturing, what legislation and regulations are in place to protect the environment including groundwater, and transparency on the ingredients that make up hydraulic fracturing fluids. Visit the site(s) to learn more.