Research by teaching-stream faculty transforming engineering education

Over the last 10 years, many universities across Canada have started to hire teaching-stream professors. There is often a misconception that this ‘new breed’ of professors focuses solely on teaching at the expense of research. The three teaching-stream faculty members within the Department of Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry (ChemE) dispel this stereotype.

Jennifer FarmerProfessor Jennifer Farmer, who joined ChemE in 2016, is studying the effectiveness of virtual labs and the best process to implement them. “Prior to the pandemic, there was lots of discussion around replacing in-person labs with virtual labs. My research has shown that while virtual labs can be used to complement the hands-on learning experiences students receive in the lab, they should not replace them entirely,” notes Farmer.

Using the analogy of baking a cake, Farmer explains that you learn best by doing instead of watching. Furthermore, it is through doing that one is able to add to the ‘recipe’ and create innovations. Keeping this in mind, Farmer designed and implemented virtual labs, as pre- and post-lab assignments for her second-year labs. She created a web-based framework including short, narrated animations aimed at explaining content and theory related to each experiment before they are physically performed by students. Justifications around experimental procedures were also included. This complementary combo improved the learning outcomes of ChemE undergraduate students who expressed increased awareness and motivation.

Ariel ChanProfessor Ariel Chan, who joined ChemE in 2017, is developing virtual reality learning technology to assist students with hands-on operational competency while supporting more inclusive and individualized learning experiences. “My research group are utilizing data science and taking a data-analytic approach to study how gender and math preparedness affects students’ performance and how these factors affect different engineering programs and students’ lifelong-learning competency,” explains Chan.

Findings from Chan’s research will help universities and programs make data-evident decisions and develop best practices in supporting students. Her research group is also conducting process simulations to assess industrial and pilot-scale chemical process units to ensure operational safety across academia and industry.

Daniela GalatroProfessor Daniela Galatro, who joined ChemE in 2021, is developing methodology to characterize point sources of groundwater contamination by combining methane, water quality, and geophysical information through machine learning tools. She is also using data analytics for prediction, control, and optimization of chemical processes.

“The first project is a collaboration with the Department of Mechanical & Industrial Engineering (MIE) and involves students from both MIE and ChemE. It is my hope that through interdisciplinary teamwork, students receive a better grasp of non-conventional applications and applying non-conventional tools,” says Galatro. “Regarding the second project, ChemE’s curriculum does not include any dedicated undergraduate course covering this important subject. Students stand to gain applicable knowledge in integrating data analytics with process engineering.”

The research projects of Farmer, Chan, and Galatro have significant impact! It is through exceptional education that ChemE students are able to combine scientific and engineering principles to develop new innovations and processes that contribute to growth and advances in our fast-changing world. “Our students are tomorrow’s leaders, innovators, and inventors. Helping them develop deeper learning gives them the tools necessary to be successful,” says Farmer.