Team takes top design honours

The team: Seven fourth-year students from civil, environmental and systems design engineering. The challenge: Design a portable, low-cost system to concentrate microorganisms from pond water for microbial testing. The reward: Representing the university at the 20th annual International Environmental Design Contest in New Mexico.

For eight months the team worked to develop a three-step FLAMInGO system that separated microbes from sediments, captured both bacteria and viruses and concentrated the microbes into a final sample. Each step involved rigorous analysis. “We tested everything,” recalls team memberEmily Vance, left, who at the time was a fourth-year 

environmental engineering student.

Their one oversight? Lead/acid batteries weren’t allowed on the flight. When the replacement battery they bought in New Mexico failed, they were forced to hook up FLAMInGo to their rental car.

The unconventionally powered system impressed judges with its robustness and processing power. Waterloo won first prize, beating out competitors from across the continent. “All that work paid off,” says team leader and environmental engineering student Alex Chik. “It shows what can result when a team is dedicated to a project.”

Emily Vance and Alex Chik showing their environmental engineering design project



  • Doctoral candidates Abdelbaset Ali and Mohamed Shawky Abdel-Monem took first place honours in the 2010 AECOM/CSCE’s sustainable management research paper competition.
  • Master’s student Vicky Lounder was honoured as a Woman of Influence by the Ontario University Athletics Association. Lounder, who is studying fluvial hydraulics and river mechanics, plays for the university’s field hockey team.

Bringing insight to embryo development

For thousands of years, biologists have puzzled over what drives the formation of organs and tissues within a growing embryo. Ironically, it took a civil engineer to resolve the debate.

As a doctoral student in Manitoba Wayne Brodland became intrigued with the issue when a biologist came looking for someone who could create a computer model of the process.

Brodland agreed to take on the job. “I was interested in applying engineering principles to just about anything,” he explains. Now, two decades into a project he thought might take two years, the civil and environmental engineering professor has finally arrived at a solid solution.

Together with a team that includes grad students and technicians Brodland was able to digitize images of a developing fruit fly. Next, the team pinpointed each movement and then mathematically quantified the tug of war between cells and cell components that generates that movement.

The result of the research is a tool that can be used to understand serious birth defects such as spina bifida, cleft palate and congenital heart problems which affect millions of babies around the world each year. “This has the real potential to impact people’s lives,” Brodland points out.