Unique fire research facility one of many CFI successes
When firefighters enter an energy-efficient home during a fire, they’re prepared for a large surge of flame that can be caused by the burst of oxygen flowing in. Understanding scenarios like this helps firefighters predict how a fire will behave and the safest way to get everyone—including themselves—out.
This understanding, as well as the most effective way to combat fire, is the premise behind the University of Waterloo’s Fire Research Facility. Founded 15 years ago by Elizabeth Weckman and Allan Strong, professors in the Department of Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering, it’s the only academic facility in Canada with a wind generation system to support fire research, including collaborative research with industry partners, while answering questions like, “how do various materials react in different fire conditions?”
“The performance of materials during fires and how firefighters approach each situation could mean the difference between life and death,” Weckman says. “If firefighters understand how a structure and its contents will behave while engulfed in flames, they’ll know how much time they have before the blaze escalates and can choose the best approach to get the fire under control.”
-million contribution from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) was fundamental in developing the facility and has played a major role in advancing fire safety practices. It’s one of more than 300 projects funded since CFI was founded 20 years ago. The long history between Waterloo and CFI includes more than $130 million to support research infrastructure. As CFI celebrates its 20th anniversary of funding research infrastructure across Canada, a series of podcasts and videos outlines an evolution of Canadian research.
Using the knowledge generated at Weckman’s fire research facility through a variety of experiments and testing, spanning small-scale pool fires to large-scale house fires, researchers collaborate with local fire departments to improve public safety. The facility’s 20-foot wall of fans is often used in experiments to control the speed and direction of wind and determine the effect it has on fire.
The Fire Research Facility was the first academic centre in North America to offer scalable testing services to industry partners, and remains unique in the breadth of services available. Product developers can determine the fire-retardant abilities of products as small as a piece of foam and scale the experiments up to something as large as a room full of furniture or a wall. This can mean savings of hundreds of thousands of dollars for companies by avoiding materials that fail the fire-retardant certification process.
“The infrastructure funding provided by CFI over the last 20 years has been essential in providing Waterloo researchers and collaborative research partners with the equipment and facilities they need to address a wide range of global challenges with transformational research,” says D. George Dixon, vice-president, university research. “CFI funding has made a significant contribution to the world-class research at Waterloo and, in turn, a deep impact on the world we live in.”
Dixon leads research at Waterloo, including the Office of Research, a team of almost 100 staff members who provide support to researchers across campus. That support includes the facilitation of funding beginning with the identification and communication of funding opportunities to faculty, application support, management of funds, ethics review, research partnership development, and commercialization of innovations through Waterloo’s unique IP policy.
Biology co-op student “steels” herself for unfamiliar work
By: Christine Nhan
In fall 2011, Nahanni Steel Products hired their first Waterloo co-op student. Right away, they saw that co-op students would be intergral to their company’s future development.
“Waterloo has been part of our business plan for years now,” says Darrin Wiegard, a plant engineer at Nahanni. “Our company size is around 70 associates, yet we have hired 135 co-op students in the last five years.
Lauren Hummel, a fourth-year biology student, completed her first work term with Nahanni. In her role as a production worker, she worked in quality control ensuring the integrity of products. At first, she wasn’t sure if she had the skills to tackle the job.
“Being out of my element and having a lack of background knowledge in mechanical engineering made my entire experience at Nahanni a great challenge,” admits Hummel.
But the mentorship provided by her supervisor and colleagues helped her succeed. “Nahanni fosters an environment designed for students to learn and build their skills,” she says. “Everyone at the company was extremely eager to help out if I had questions, which made learning the job much easier.”
Hummel was surprised to discover that the skills she learned in an industrial environment would be so relevant to her future work. She says this experience prepared her for her next work term at Princess Margaret Hospital.
“Nahanni taught me how to adapt to unfamiliar situations and work in environments I never expected to be in,” Hummel says. “During my second co-op work term in a cancer research laboratory, I was already comfortable with being uncomfortable in a fast-paced environment.”
Wiegard says Waterloo co-op students like Lauren are an asset to his team. He says that students from all years perform exceptionally well, but he loves to see what a student in their first work term can accomplish. “It’s rewarding to see junior students surpass the goals we set for them, and do so with a successful combination of enthusiasm, commitment and passion,” says Weigard.
Water Institute names seed grant winners
Global water issues are becoming increasingly complex and often require a collaborative approach across a breadth of disciplines. In order to facilitate collaboration and promote innovative and interdisciplinary water research, the Water Institute awarded four teams a combine total of $75,680 during its most recent Seed Grants Program application round.
The program awards a total of $150,000 annually, with competitions generally held during the fall and winter terms. The goal is to catalyze interdisciplinary collaboration, facilitate interaction with international authorities, and to encourage the development of research proposals.
“Our Seed Grant program is a true reflection of the Water Institute’s core mission of promoting relevant, impactful, collaborative, interdisciplinary research in the water sector,” said Roy Brouwer, executive director of the Water Institute.
Project teams must be led by a Water Institute member and demonstrate an interdisciplinary approach, involving a minimum of three departments or two faculties per team.
Grant recipients for winter 2017 include:
Polymer/graphene nanocomposite membranes to enhance demineralization of waste water
- Pu Chen (Chemical Engineering)
- Alireza Zehtab Yazdi (Chemical Engineering), Juewen Liu (Chemistry), Mohtada Sadrzadehz (University of Alberta)
Integrated assessment of agricultural best management practices and phosphorus runoff
- Peter Deadman (Geography and Environmental Management)
- Johanna Wandel (Geography and Environmental Management), Merrin Macrae (Geography and Environmental Management), Derek Robinson (Geography and Environmental Management), Roy Brouwer (Economics), Stephen Murphy (Environment, Resources and Sustainability)
International symposium on the development of government, insurance and building code policies to support innovation in flood damage reduction
- Elizabeth English (Architecture)
- Brent Doberstein (Geography and Environmental Management), Carrie Mitchell (Planning), Shona van Zijll deJong (Laurentian University)
Stormwater management and nutrients control in extreme events: Mobilization of knowledge on the reduction of nutrient loading from urban non-point sources under climate change
- Mahyar Shafii (Earth and Environmental Sciences)
- Philippe Van Cappellen (Earth and Environmental Sciences), Chris Parsons (Earth and Environmental Sciences), Fereidoun Rezanezhad (Earth and Environmental Sciences), Bryan Tolson (Civil and Environmental Engineering)
The winners of the fall 2016 term were announced in November.
On Monday, the Daily Bulletin listed a number of Food Services operations that were running with reduced hours this week. Food Services would like to clarify that it is ML Diner that is closed, and not the adjacent Tim Hortons location, which remains open this week and through the summer from 7:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. on weekdays.
Employers on campus next week hosting employer information sessions include: Wish, Sun Life Financial (Technology), DAC Group, Asana Presents: Choosing Your First Startup, Uken Games, Work Market, Flipp and Bazaarvoice. Visit the employer information sessions calendar for more details.