U of T team hacking health care in a refugee camp

They hadn’t even been at the refugee camp a whole day when the first of only two power adapters blew up.

Researchers Ryan Fobel, his brother Christian Fobel, Alphonsus Ng and Julian Lamanna had been feverishly working toward this day for months. They’d pulled all-nighters, designed, redesigned and debugged circuits, mixed reagents and buffers, put out literal fires, built their portable lab, taken it apart and built it again. They and their lab mates were still making changes the night before boarding the plane.

The Agency fosters social innovation at U of T

University of Toronto graduate student Tricia Jose is helping Canadians learn to save money so they can reduce financial vulnerability.

Vicis, the financial technology company she founded with U of T students David St. Bernard and Christopher Villegas-Cho, has its roots in the social innovation movement.

“Social innovation means you’re making an impact beyond the bottom line,” says Jose, who is studying biomedical engineering.

“The really exciting thing is that our generation is really focused on impact and brands with purpose. More and more people want to give back. They want to do things that serve a greater purpose.”

GM Canada president: “The tree of artificial intelligence was planted in Toronto”

The automotive industry is going through a period of profound disruption – the most since the car replaced the horse – but Canadian universities like the University of Toronto have what’s needed to help automakers leapfrog ahead of the competition, says the head of GM Canada.

That’s what drew Steve Carlisle, president and managing director of General Motors Canada, and his team on Tuesday to U of T’s downtown Toronto campus where they met some of the University’s world-leading researchers involved in artificial intelligence, deep learning, robotics and systems control.

U of T startup Nanoleaf moves light beyond the bulb with Aurora modular smart panels

aurora6For over 100 years lighting options for consumers have largely remained the same.

Now, U of T startup Nanoleaf is changing the way we look at light.

“We’re moving people away from that old way of thinking where light comes out of a bulb, a single point and source,” said Gimmy Chu, U of T engineering alumni and co-founder of Nanoleaf.

Their newly launched product, the Aurora, is the first ever modular smart lighting kit with panels that can be assembled in a variety of different shapes and can emit an endless spectrum of vibrant colours.

“We wanted to create a product where you can put something up on your ceiling or your wall and that entire surface is filled with light. You don’t necessarily know where that light’s coming from, it’s just very gentle and comforting.”

Inspired by nature’s greatest light show, the Aurora Borealis, the product aims to enhance the everyday lives of their customers by recreating the soft and ambient lighting that we experience in the outdoors.

“The whole concept of light animation is sort of like music for your eyes,” said Chu.

“I think the closest thing to that is watching sunsets as the colours move and change. If we can recreate the sky inside then I can’t imagine how light can get any better than that.”

However the triangular LED-light panels are assembled in the physical world, they will also be mirrored on the Nanoleaf Smarter Series app that lets the user choose their lighting effects and even schedule time triggers for the Aurora to turn on or off remotely.

“If you’d like to wake up to the sunrise you could create a lighting animation that looks like the sunrise and every morning, say at 8 am, even on the darkest winter mornings you could have the sunrise in your room.”

While completely customizable, the Aurora will also come with four lighting presets: a romantic setting featuring red and pink hues; disco party with alternating colours at varying speeds; waves, with light and dark blues floating across the panels; and Northern Lights, a nod to the startup’s Canadian roots.

No longer just a means to an end, lighting can now be a design statement, an environmentally friendly choice, or, with the help of Nanoleaf, both.

All Nanoleaf’s products, including their Smarter Series and their dimmable bulbs that work without a dimmer are energy efficient and sustainable tech. The Aurora’s LED panels provide up to 25,000 hours of light, compared to a traditional incandescent bulb’s lifespan of approximately 1,200 hours.

The Aurora is now available for sale online or in person at 300 Best Buys across Canada and the United States. The nine-panel starter pack retails at $199, with three to 30 panel expansion packs available for purchase. They are compatible with Apple HomeKit, Android and Amazon Alexa.

U of T researcher receives the Mitacs Award for outstanding innovation

As a protein engineer, Wei Zhang gives old molecules new tricks. And now, he’s transformed a single human protein into a virus-crushing arsenal that could lead to long-sought treatments for deadly infections.

On Tuesday, Zhang received the Mitacs Award for Outstanding Innovation for his work on creating molecular antidotes against viruses that cause Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic Fever (Congo Fever). His patent-pending research was crucial to the launch of a new Toronto-based company called Ubiquitech, which will further commercialize his work so it can be used in a clinical setting.

Google Doodle celebrates U of T’s Sir Frederick Banting and the discovery of insulin

Today’s Google homepage Doodle celebrates the legacy of one of U of T’s most renowned researchers Sir Frederick Banting.

The Nov. 14 Doodle commemorates World Diabetes Day and what would have been Banting’s 125th birthday. Banting was a physician who along with Charles Best discovered insulin at the University of Toronto in 1921, forever changing the way people live with diabetes. Banting was also a Canadian soldier in the First World War.

U of T Magazine published a story in 2014, detailing Banting’s experience in the war and the discovery of insulin when he returned home.

Thinking like an entrepreneur

When Bin Liu first approached the Impact Centre – the University of Toronto’s accelerator for startup tech companies – he had little more than, as he describes it, “the stereotypical drawing on a napkin.”

Liu, whose father has glaucoma, dreamed of developing technology to help the visually impaired.

“I was kind of idealistic,” he admits, “because most people who apply to the Impact Centre are PhD or master’s students with some form of research already done.”

Nonetheless, Liu, who is 25 years old and holds a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, managed to convince the Impact Centre’s director, Prof. Cynthia Goh, to give him a chance.

Two years later, in 2014, Liu co-founded his own company, Toronto-based iMerciv Inc. His “dream” has since evolved into a wearable ultrasonic sensor device, dubbed the BuzzClip, currently in the process of being sold and distributed in Canada and the U.S.

RBC helps bring top innovative entrepreneurs to U of T

Sometimes all it takes to tip someone thinking of the next big thing into acting is being inspired by someone who’s been there: someone who accepted the risks, took the plunge and created their own innovation success story.

On Tuesday, the University of Toronto will host the inaugural RBC Innovation and Entrepreneurship Speaker Series event with Canadian-born Wall Street provocateur Brad Katsuyama. (Tickets are going fast so reserve your seat now for the 11:30 a.m. event at rbcspeaker.eventbrite.ca.)

The event, supported by Canada’s largest bank, is designed to engage and inspire U of T students to embrace a more entrepreneurial spirit as they work on their studies. In total, RBC will help bring 15 top entrepreneurs to speak at the university over the next five years.

Additionally, the Impact Centre is launching Entrepreneurship 100 with a series of three events, starting Nov. 17, for those who are looking for even more entrepreneurial-focused talks.