Infrastructure for innovation: Prof. Frank Gu one of seven U of T Engineering researchers receive CFI funding for upgrades and equipment

Professor Frank Gu (ChemE) is among seven U of T Engineering researchers who received infrastructure funding by the CFI JELF.

Digital technology has globalized engineering design and collaboration: a new product can be prototyped in Toronto, assessed in Amsterdam and manufactured in Shenzhen.

But Professor Alison Olechowski (MIE, ILead) says that many of the best practices used in industry have not kept pace with this reality. Her new digital design studio, set to be installed in the Myhal Centre for Engineering Innovation & Entrepreneurship, will change that.

“There is so much potential for process innovation by gaining a better understanding of the new, dynamic and complex reality of engineering design work,” she says. “But that can only be done with the input of interdisciplinary perspectives — and tools.”

Olechowski’s Design Observation Studio, a first of its kind in Canada, will contain powerful computer-aided design (CAD) workstations and digital fabrication equipment. With these tools, Olechowski and her team will observe and collect data on controlled experiments to research how today’s designers collaborate and make technical decisions at each phase of the product life cycle: conception, modelling, prototyping and testing.

By gaining a better understanding of how multidisciplinary and international collaborations inform the design process, the team aims to develop new best practices that can boost productivity and enhance quality at design firms worldwide. They will also generate new teaching strategies and learning modules to prepare the next generation of engineers and product developers.

Olechowski’s design studio is among seven U of T Engineering projects receiving funding through the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s (CFI) John R. Evans Leaders Fund (JELF), announced today by the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science and Sport.

The fund will help equip researchers with state-of-art tools and infrastructure, catalyzing research discovery and innovation. Funding was awarded to 32 projects across U of T — more than any other Canadian university — totalling $9.1 million.

“These investments in our research infrastructure ensure we retain world-class researchers, and that our faculty and students have access to leading-edge tools and facilities to conduct crucial work that addresses some of the most complex challenges of our time,” says Ramin Farnood, U of T Engineering’s Vice-Dean of Research.

For Olechowski, the funding will provide a powerful boost to a critical area of research.

“I’m excited for my team to address new research questions through this cutting-edge studio,” she says.

The U of T Engineering CFI JELF recipients in this round are:

  • Frank Gu (ChemE), Automation and intelligent design of nanostructured materials
  • Patrick C. Lee (MIE), Multi-material characterization system for developing and testing micro-/nano-layered composites and foams
  • Xinyu Liu (MIE), Infrastructure for Advanced Microfluidic Nano-biosensing
  • Michael Garton (IBBME), Expanding cell capabilities to sense their environment for therapeutic applications
  • Andreas Mandelis (MIE), Facility for advanced non-destructive testing/imaging instrumentation development
  • Alison Olechowski (MIE, Troost ILead), Design observation studio
  • Yu Sun (MIE), Infrastructure for image-guided magnetic micromanipulation of cells and tissues