U of T team wins McMaster designathon

Undergraduates design method to protect cameras on military aircraft

U of T team wins McMaster designathon

A team of U of T students won first place at the Mac Design League Designathon 2019 hosted at McMaster University in January, with a design for shielding cameras on surveillance aircraft.

The team, dubbed “The Avengineers,” was composed of undergraduate students Nick Bajaikine, Kyle Damrell, Christopher Tong, and Mubtaseem Zaman, each enrolled in engineering programs.

Over a period of 36 hours from January 1920, they competed against 243 other students from across Ontario to solve real-world problems presented by industry sponsors of the event.

McMaster’s designathon was originally created in response to the popularity of hackathons.

Whereas hackathons focus on programming skills, the Mac Design League sought to create a multidisciplinary outlet for students to showcase their talents in mechanics and design. Featured challenges included designing EpiPens and lunar rovers.

The victorious U of T team was tasked with designing a way to shield cameras attached to the bottom of military planes from being damaged in the event of landing-gear failure or ‘soft-crash’ landing. The challenge was posed by aerospace imaging firm L3 Wescam,  an aerospace imaging firm which works with defence and military agencies around the world, posed the challenge to the team.

“Intuitively, the idea that comes in [first] is to make a mechanism that pulls the camera inside the aircraft and keeps it safe, like an elevator mechanism,” said Zaman in an interview with The Varsity. Zaman explained that many of their opponents attempted solutions along these lines. However, the team eventually noticed that such a solution might not be easy to adapt to other planes.

Zaman said that their next idea, which involved releasing the camera when it senses an impending crash landing was also scrapped, due to concerns that the camera might be lost or could injure someone if dropped.

“Then I came up with an idea: how about I roll the camera around the body of the aircraft, to the top, before landing? So you can attach something like a roller-coaster rail around the body of the aircraft, and the camera will go up from the bottom on top to save itself.”

Zaman added that this would not only save the camera in worst-case scenarios, but increase its functionality by allowing for surveillance photography from multiple angles.

This flexible design ultimately netted the team the top prize, as well as additional opportunities from competition sponsors.

The team was invited to present their unique solution to company executives at L3 Wescam’s secure facility, and were each awarded a $300 gift card from sponsor 3D Printing Canada. 

Moving forward, the Avengineers want to bring similar opportunities to U of T for students to showcase their design and engineering skills. “I was so inspired that I decided to make a consulting club at U of T,” said Zaman. “There are a bunch of consulting clubs, [but] they are mostly business consulting clubs. What I am trying to do is to make an engineering design consulting club. Our plan is to ask for problems from different industries and voluntarily, as a student team, solve those problems.”

Plans are also in early development for U of T’s own designathon, to be held next year.

In the meantime, Zaman gave advice for budding designers on the fence about attending competitions: “Even if you don’t have the skills, don’t worry. Just go there. Just participate. You will learn a lot.”

Inside the Myhal Centre for Engineering Innovation & Entrepreneurship

The Myhal Centre will provide students with unique learning and entrepreneurial opportunities

Inside the Myhal Centre for Engineering Innovation & Entrepreneurship

The Myhal Centre for Engineering Innovation & Entrepreneurship exemplifies an architecture that is quiet and understated, so that the focus remains on the activities that will occur within it and not on the building itself.

This was the premise for the Myhal Centre, named after U of T alumni George and Rayla Myhal, which officially launched in May since plans for its construction were first drawn out ten years ago.

Chief architects Robert Davies and Peter Clegg drew inspiration from Canadian-born painter Agnes Martin for the design of the Myhal Centre. Martin’s work drew inspiration from Western and Chinese Classicism, sharing the belief that perfection can only exist in the mind. At first glance, Martin’s paintings aspire to engineering precision, but a closer look reveals freely drawn lines and purposeful imperfections.

In a similar sense, Davies and Chegg designed the Myhal Centre to an idea of engineering precision while encouraging the messy and chaotic activities of human beings.

Most of the spaces in the Myhal Centre are managed by the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, while others, like the classrooms and Technology Enhanced Active Learning (TEAL) rooms, are managed by Academic & Campus Events. As such, many courses that will be taught in the new building this fall not only include engineering, math, and computer science, but also archaeology, kinesiology, and earth science.

Aside from its architectural ingenuity, the Myhal Centre is also one of U of T’s most ‘green’ buildings — it has features like cisterns to collect and recycle rainwater, solar panels, and a green roof.

PHOTO by ROBERTA BAKER (Click to Expand)

The Skule Arena on Level 0 was supported by a $1 million donation from the Engineering Society, the undergraduate student government of the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering. The Skule Arena is an interactive space that will support over 100 clubs and teams U of T Engineering students are a part of. Members of the Human Powered Vehicles Design Team are seen here using the Skule Arena to work on their speedbike.

This level also features a soundproof room, which musical groups and students can use to rehearse, and the Engineering Society Arena, which has garage-style spaces to support clubs and other student activities. Lockers are on this level and other floors for students to store instruments, materials, or projects.



The Skule Arena will support undergraduate teams like the University of Toronto Aerospace Team (UTAT).

From left: Jaden Reimer, Timothy Yeung, Ali Haydaroglu, Mohamed Hirole, Madeline Zhang, Justin Hai, Sandy Fogarassy, David Izatt, and Michael Ding.


A central theme of this facility is that every space is functional and light pours in from every angle. The foyer on the Level 1 of the Myhal Centre is a prime example of this. This is a space where students can study or meet with other students between classes.


The Lee & Margaret Lau Auditorium is a 468-seat technology enhanced auditorium and is the first of its kind in North America. It doesn’t have your typical blackboard, and instead features a wall-to-wall digital array. Instead of rows, this lecture hall has tables to seat six students.The auditorium can be entered from Level 1 or Level 2. As well, a Second Cup is currently being constructed on Level 2.

PHOTO by ROBERTA BAKER (Click to Expand)

Here, U of T Engineering Professor Chirag Variwa is seen teaching a class in a TEAL room. Five TEAL rooms are located on Levels 3 and 4 which have screens on every wall  and movable tables instead of desks. This flexibility is designed to encourage collaboration that isn’t bound by the classroom’s set configuration.

PHOTO by ROBERTA BAKER (Click to Expand)

Level 5 houses various design and fabrication facilities, many of which are open outside of regular classroom hours. Such facilities include the Light Fabrication Facility where students can build parts out of plastic, metal, or wood, and a Prototype Facility that comes with a laser cutter and 3D printers.

From left: students Stephen Dawes, Stephanie McDonald, and Nicholas Chin are seen here creating a prototype in the Myhal Centre for their startup, Hotbox.

PHOTO by ROBERTA BAKER (Click to Expand)

The Norris Walker 5T7 Robotics Lab on Level 5 is an atrium space and will be the new home of the Institute for Robotics & Mechatronics, a cross-disciplinary lab centred on robotics research with applications to real-world problems. Applications of such research include socially assistive robots like those developed from the laboratory of Professor Goldie Nejat, and targeted drug delivery systems like those developed from Professor Eric Diller’s research laboratory.



The atrium on Level 5 is similar to the foyer in that it’s an open space with tables and desks so that students can work between class time.

From left: Chloe Oriotis, Dean of the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering Cristina Amon, and Sabrina Cupryk.



Launched in 2012, the Entrepreneurship Hatchery is one of the largest and most successful startup accelerators at U of T. The Hatchery helps provide startups access to networking opportunities, space, funding, and equipment. Its new space at the Myhal Centre features large, open spaces to facilitate collaboration. Notable startups include Tejo, Knowtworthy, and Column Mods.



Level 7 is home to the Centre for Global Engineering (CGEN) which enables engineers to solve some of the world’s most pressing issues involving nutrition, sanitation, health, and shelter. One of the centre’s ongoing projects is fortifying foods like tea and salt with iron to prevent and treat anemia. To implement innovative solutions like fortified foods, CGEN partners with organizations and academic institutions around the globe.


The CN Tower and the Art Gallery of Ontario can both be seen from the south view of the Dr. Woo Hon Fai Terrace on the eighth floor. The Terrace is a space for students and faculty from across engineering disciplines to meet and take in the panoramic views of Front Campus and the Toronto skyline. This level is also home to the Institute for Sustainable Energy and the Institute for Water Innovation.

Editor’s Note (September 17): This article has been updated to include a more accurate description of Level 5.

18-year-old U of T student drowns at engineering survey camp

Incident took place at Gull Lake in Minden

18-year-old U of T student drowns at engineering survey camp

An 18-year-old male U of T student has drowned at Gull Lake in Minden during U of T’s Survey Camp for engineering students.

Emergency responders were called to the camp on Deep Bay Road around 4:45 pm. Minden is located about 100 kilometres north of Peterborough.

Sergeant Peter Leon, Central Region media relations coordinator for the Ontario Provincial Police, told The Varsity that so far there is nothing to suggest that the death was suspicious.

“My understanding is the individual who is now deceased was with a group of people in the water. For reasons unknown at this time, he became separated from that group. When they commenced the search for him and located him, they immediately removed him from the water and commenced first aid and CPR.”

Emergency services were called and he was taken to the hospital, where he was pronounced deceased.

According to Leon, the student was from the Mississauga area and his family has been contacted. The victim’s name has not been released.

An investigation into the death is currently being carried out and a postmortem has been ordered by the coroner. 

The death was confirmed by a statement from the U of T Engineering Society and the Civil Engineering Club. 

“All of us process tragedies differently and at different times. Do not hesitate to reach out for support,” read the statement. “We express our condolences to all those who have had the good fortune to know the deceased.”

“Today, our attention must be with those affected by this terrible tragedy,” said Cristina Amon, Dean of the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering. “The thoughts of our entire community are with the family and friends of the student who died.”

The rest of the week’s programming has been cancelled and the other students returned home Tuesday night.

The survey camp is meant to train Civil and Mineral Engineering students in land surveying and engineering project management. The facility has been in operation since 1920.

If you or someone you know needs help processing this event, you can visit the Health and Wellness Centre at the Koffler Student Services Centre at 214 College St. or over the phone at 416-978-8070.

Editor’s Note (September 5): This article has been updated to include comment from U of T and Haliburton Police.

This story is developing. More to come.

Long-awaited Myhal Centre for Engineering to open at UTSG

Building open to general public, though some spaces to be engineering-exclusive

Long-awaited Myhal Centre for Engineering to open at UTSG

Ten years in the making, the Myhal Centre for Engineering Innovation & Entrepreneurship will be ready for use this year. Development began as early as 2008, with construction starting three years ago.

Full occupancy of the building is expected by June. The site was previously used as a parking lot, and was chosen for development due to its proximity to the Engineering Annex building on St. George Street.

As with all other U of T buildings, the Myhal Centre will be open to the general public. Certain spaces, however, will be restricted to engineering students only

The university hopes the centre will serve as a positive meeting place for innovation. Catherine Riddell, the Executive Director Communications for the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, told The Varsity that the university hopes the Myhal Centre “will spark collaboration across disciplines and foster creativity among our students, faculty, staff, alumni and industry partners.”

“As a world-class engineering school, our priority is to provide spaces that enable active, experiential learning and collaborative multidisciplinary research,” Riddell said.

Unfortunately, the building’s history is marred by tragedy. On September 8, 2017, an accident at the site resulted in the death of 52-year-old construction worker Tim DesGrosseilliers. One other worker suffered injuries.

Blue skies and solar cars

Student-run Blue Sky Solar Racing team promotes innovation and sustainability

Blue skies and solar cars

Blue Sky Solar Racing has quickly established itself as one of U of T’s leading design teams. Invested in the design, construction, and racing of solar-powered cars, the club is an incubator for innovation. It has attracted more than 100 members and finished 11th out of 35 teams at the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge in October 2017 with its Polaris car.

The Varsity had a chance to speak with Hubaab Hussain, Managing Director at Blue Sky, about how the team goes from the blueprint to a fully functional, solar-powered car. “Our club takes pride in the ability to not only design, but also build the car by ourselves. We see through the entire build of the car from it’s conceptual design to the time it is on wheels,” said Hussain.

An insider’s look into operations and funding

The club’s annual routine can be segmented into six phases: the learning period, conceptual design, detailed design, building, testing, and racing.

Prior to the construction period, club members identify the particular design and features of the car they hope to build. From there, the team routinely meets every week to review potential ideas for a car design that follows this initial guideline.

According to Hussain, all members are invited to critically evaluate the ongoing design proposals for feasibility and whether one excels in key measures like solar collector performance or total mass. The materials required to build the car, often metal and carbon fibre, are acquired from external vendors.

Hussain explained that assembling the parts to form a fully functional solar-powered vehicle is time-consuming: initial assembly commences in September and extends to the next academic year, with completion expected in June.

Once the car is complete, it is tested extensively in open spaces such as race tracks, air strips, and private lots. Because safety is critically important to the club, there is an active board of certified engineers who examine the car before it’s tested.

Despite extensive planning, the club still faces setbacks. “The most challenging component is sticking to a timeline. A majority of our team members are full time engineering students. During the semester many of the leaders of the team spend a considerable amount of time on this project while managing school as well,” explained Hussain.

In recognition of the club’s continuous accomplishments, Blue Sky Solar Racing receives significant financial support from the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering and from numerous student bodies and external sponsors. Summed up, the club receives over $300,000 to for the designing and manufacturing of its cars.

Outlook and opportunities

The club’s underlying value of giving students the opportunity to apply their skills outside the classroom is what has driven the team to succeed.

Blue Sky Solar Racing is always on the lookout for exceptional students, irrespective of their stream, to join the engineering, financial, business, IT, or media teams. For interested students, Hussain said to email him or keep an eye out for volunteer opportunities on the Career Learning Network.

“The experience team members get at Blue Sky is incomparable to what they can get elsewhere” said Hussain.

Faculty of Engineering receives $20 million donation

Donation from the estate of Erwin Hart to fund professorship programs

Faculty of Engineering receives $20 million donation

U of T’s Faculty of Engineering has received a substantial donation from an alumnus.

The estate of Erwin Edward Hart, who graduated with a degree in civil engineering in 1940 and was the Chief Welding Engineer for the manufacturing company Massey Ferguson Ltd, left a bequest of $20 million to U of T’s Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering.

The donation will fund the Percy Edward Hart and Erwin Edward Hart Professorships. Percy was Erwin’s father. Seven faculty members in the first ten years of their career will be nominated from among their fellow faculty members to receive financial support from Hart’s fund. The chosen professors will be given $75,000 annually for three years to conduct research.

Among other departments, this extends to the Department of Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry, the Department of Civil Engineering, and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Furthermore, the donation contributes to the engineering portion of the Boundless campaign for the University of Toronto. Currently, $180 million has been raised for the engineers, with an engineering-specific target of $200 million.

Reaching for the Stars

U of T Aerospace Team seeks student levy

Reaching for the Stars

The University of Toronto’s Aerospace Team (UTAT) is looking to take its funding to the next level. The group will be proposing a divisional referendum concurrent with the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Spring Elections. The levy, if passed, will charge students in the Faculty of Arts & Science and Professional Faculties 85¢  per session. The levy would be collected through the UTSU, an avenue that UTAT has never used before.

One of the university’s largest student design teams, UTAT is composed of students from both the Arts & Science and Engineering faculties. Over the past five years, UTAT has been pursuing increasingly high-flying and complex projects in space and aviation, hoping to add a student-led satellite project to their repertoire. The team hopes to expand all five of its divisions (Aerial Robotics, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, Rocketry, Space Systems, and Outreach) over the next two years.

In pursuing a levy, the team hopes to not only realize larger projects, but also to gain support for more student-powered research and development at U of T as a whole.

Jeremy Chan-Hao Wang, executive director & senior engineering designer of UTAT, explained the need for additional funding: “Our growth will soon outpace that of traditional funding avenues from the University — e.g. grants from offices/departments — and though we make a concerted effort to secure in-kind industry donations wherever possible, — more than 90 per cent of all software and hardware we receive is donated — no one is willing to donate a satellite launch!”

The majority of money from the levy would be put toward a project to launch a satellite into space sometime in late 2018 or early 2019. The UTAT aims for this satellite to be the first satellite in Canada, completely designed and built by students.

“As part of the Canadian Satellite Design Challenge, UTAT is bringing together students from engineering, physics, and life sciences to conduct microbiology experiments in support of astronaut health,” Wang said. “We aim to develop a low-cost, open platform for students around the world to carry out space medicine experiments, using standardized and miniaturized satellite design combined with our microbiology research setup.” Of course, launching a satellite into outer space is costly, and requires greater funding than the team is currently able to receive.

The rest of the money would go toward UTAT’s current projects and equipment, including “multi-purpose quadcopters, fixed-wing drones for environmental monitoring and emergency medical services, sounding rockets for atmospheric research, and the satellite development prior to launch.”

Highlighting the many awards UTAT has received from organizations such as NASA, the UN, U of T, Ryerson in addition to six annual competitions attended by the team, Wang describes the team as “one of many student groups at U of T creating a tangible impact in key technical areas and educational outreach, and redefining what it means to ‘just be a student’.”