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Rejuvenated uOttawa Faculty of Engineering gears up for the future

In 2017-18, the faculty has welcomed a new dean, overhauled its research themes and will open a new state-of-the-art facility

A rendering of the new STEM Complex
A rendering of the new STEM Complex

It’s well-known that the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Engineering is at the forefront of Canadian innovation.

What many may not realize is the investment the school makes to prepare students for careers in entrepreneurship.

The university is currently gearing up for the opening of its new STEM Complex this September, which will provide a new home for the Faculty of Engineering’s civil and mechanical engineering students as well as regroup all of its existing prototyping facilities.

“Our goal is to provide them with support, but let them explore their imaginations, their creativity,” says Jacques Beauvais, the freshly minted dean of the faculty who’s taken on the role of champion for many of the school’s recent initiatives.

In addition to the new and improved space, the Faculty of Engineering also recently announced its five new research themes. The impact of this new focus stretches from the school’s top academics to students, many of whom are taught by researchers.

“These new themes will allow us to present a much better picture of what we’re doing,” says Beauvais.

STEM complex

When construction wraps on the new STEM Complex, it will be the largest building on the University of Ottawa campus. While impressive, it’s what is going inside the facility – and how it will change the way students learn and work – that most excites the project’s proponents.

Along with research areas and teaching labs, the STEM Complex will also host an entire floor of prototyping and manufacturing facilities along with collaborative spaces. These will facilitate students’ innovation, enabling them to not only design but also build new technologies.

“We’re bringing in the capacity to design, to make, to build things,” says Beauvais. “I call it a 21st century workshop.”

Hands-on learning is a well-established part of the school’s DNA. Engineering students have worked on an ever-growing list of projects for organizations ranging from hospitals to community groups to high-tech firms, making a real impact in the community.

In just one example, Beauvais says students designed and built a prosthetic hand for a child with a physical disability. Other projects include accessible designs to improve the lives of people with reduced mobility, robots, which are entered in competitions around the world, and so-called “super-mileage cars,” which compete annually for the title of most fuel-efficient.

The new complex will increase the capacity of students to tackle such real-world problems with creative and innovative thinking.

“It’s going to take us to a completely different level,” says Beauvais.

Jacques Beauvais

New leadership

The dean is a relatively new addition to the Faculty of Engineering, having only moved into his role last summer.

Prior to that, Beauvais hadn’t been back to the University of Ottawa since the ’80s, when he completed both his undergraduate and masters degrees in physics. At that point, the school offered engineering courses, but didn’t have a dedicated faculty for it. “We didn’t talk about entrepreneurship back then, either,” says Beauvais.

“We would tend to make things on our own, but we had nothing like this to be able to tinker around and develop ideas. We didn’t have that kind of support.”

Having lived and worked in both Sherbrooke and Glasgow, Beauvais is excited to be back in Ottawa, where opportunities abound for engaging with innovative local companies.

“That’s the best way to train our students and to develop new ideas.”

The uOttawa Faculty of Engineering’s five research themes are:

Enabling technologies for health care & augmented life

Under this research branch, several departments come together in an effort to improve the state of health care. Examples include virtual reality technologies and data science, which are used to help analyze complex imaging data in health contexts.

Technology for the digital transformation of society

This research theme largely falls under the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, which houses two of the fastest growing programs offered by the Faculty of Engineering: software engineering and computer science. This is an important area for the school’s researchers and instructors to stay at the forefront of. An example of a University of Ottawa technology that falls under this theme is an AI designed to learn natural languages, with an ultimate goal of being able to analyze them.

Sustainable & resilient infrastructure

This research area will build on the strength of the faculty’s strong civil engineering department. Much like the move in recent years towards ‘smart home’ technologies, which enable greater customization and engagement with our homes, there is an ever growing demand for ‘smart cities.’ Examples of research that falls under this theme is the civil engineering department’s work on improving water management in urban centres.

Emerging materials: design & development

Work under this research area largely falls to the faculty’s mechanical and chemical engineering departments. As the name suggests, it focuses on the invention of new materials, as well as the amelioration of existing ones. An interesting example of a technology developing in this area is polymer compound that creates organic LED light.

Photonics for devices, networks & energy

This research theme covers a range of technologies, from telecommunications to solar energy and beyond. Currently, University of Ottawa researchers are looking for ways to reduce the overall cost to install a solar power system. While the technology is decidedly better for the environment than fossil fuels and largely self-sustaining, it also comes with a high price tag.