Research in Action: Research Partnership with mine, a win-win for all parties

Published in The Chronicle Journal Thursday, June 9, 2022


Collaborations between industry, government, and universities are nothing new. But a multimillion-dollar investment involving Impala Canada, NSERC, the province and Lakehead University is yielding benefits both in the mine and in the laboratory.

Thanks to nearly $2-million in contributions, Lakehead researchers led by Dr. Peter Hollings will be working at the Lac des Iles (LDI) mine, northeast of Thunder Bay, helping parent company Impala Canada understand more about the mineral deposits there while also giving the next generation of geoscientists invaluable hands-on training.

Peter Hollings

“I think it’s a really good model of how we can take industry funding and leverage it through government support to do some really amazing research,” says Hollings, the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation (NOHFC) Industrial Research Chair in mineral exploration. “It will help us build Lakehead University and the Geology department into a hub for mineral deposit research. We are building a large team of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in the department, with the LDI group forming the core of that team.”

The industrial research chair was announced in early 2021. The province committed $690,000 from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund, which was matched by Lakehead University, and $375,000 from Impala Canada, as well as matching grants from NSERC to fund Hollings' position and a research team. The industrial chair designation means Hollings can devote more time to the work at LDI mine, and other research projects in Northern Ontario.

Investing in mineral exploration and geological research at Lakehead University is an investment in Impala Canada’s future, says a senior company official.

“Dr. Hollings and his graduate students pursue relevant studies that help us better understand the formation of the Lac des Iles palladium deposits as well as the potential opportunities in the regions in which we’re operating,” states Allison Henstridge, Impala Canada’s vice-president of Technical Services and Projects. “The more we learn about these insights the better we are able to plan for a sustainable future, benefitting our employees, the communities nearby and the surrounding economies.”

In a broad sense, Hollings and the graduate students will try to understand how deposits of mostly nickel, copper and platinum group elements came to be where they are at LDI and other satellite intrusions.

“That will help the company focus and target their exploration, not only around the mine, to expand the life of the mine, but to find new deposits,” Hollings says. “LDI is predominantly a palladium deposit, but when you find palladium you find other platinum group elements.”

Generally, the researchers take samples from the field, and bring them back to the lab to study the geochemistry. They use various techniques to look at trace elements, such as sulphur isotopes, to understand the process by which metals are concentrated.

“We are also looking at some of the other deposits, which to date don’t have enough metal to make them worth mining, to understand why they’re different,” Hollings explains. “Can we come up with signatures that the company can use to very quickly say, ‘OK, this one is not going to work for us, it’s not enough metal, whereas this one maybe will and we should focus our efforts on exploring that particular area.” 

Most of the exploration is centred on the mine footprint. Located off Highway 527, about 85 kilometres from the city, LDI is an open-pit and underground operation that produces palladium, which is used as fuel cells in cars and buses, as well as in jewellery and dental fillings. The mineralization there is described as “rarely visible and unpredictable.”

The early phase of this five-year arrangement is coming to an end, with master’s student Justin Jonsson now completing his thesis. Other graduate students, as well as post-doctoral fellow Wyatt Bain, are working on different projects.wyatt bain

Hollings credits Impala Canada with allowing them onto the LDI property, particularly in light of the stringent requirements at the height of the COVID pandemic.

“Impala Canada has been an amazing partner throughout the project, they have been incredibly supportive of the research, not only with funding but also in getting students access to the mine,” he says. “Even through COVID they’ve worked really hard to ensure the research kept going. They’ve been an excellent partner in that respect.”

Research in Action highlights the work of Lakehead University in various fields of research.


Research in Action: Student builds a rock-solid foundation

 Published in The Chronicle Journal Thursday, June 9, 2022


It seems minerals have been a constant for Justin Jonsson.

He grew up in the aptly-named community of Steep Rock and studied geology at the University of Manitoba. In 2018, he was working at the Lac des Illes mine when an opportunity to conduct research came up that he figured would be a great fit with his career plans.

“I started studying geology due to the opportunity to do scientific research in an outdoor, hands-on setting, and to travel and work alongside a variety of different groups of people,” he says. “Geology is a rapidly advancing field of science and it’s exciting to be exposed to new understandings of how the Earth evolved and continues to change.”

His research at Lakehead University involved collecting samples and drill core analysis at the Lac des Illes site. The samples were then examined under the microscope and submitted for geochemical analysis, including specialized isotope analysis performed by researchers in Vancouver and Perth, Australia. The research attempts to explain the processes by which palladium-rich ore deposits at LDI were formed.

Conclusions from his research are still being worked out, but preliminary results indicate that LDI ore likely formed via separation and mixing of magma (partially molten rock) and that different ore deposits in different parts of the mine formed in similar ways.

Jonsson has finished his classes and hopes to finish writing his master’s thesis this summer. But he’s already moved on to the next step: he’s now employed with the Resident Geologist Program division of the Ontario Geological Survey.

“It’s a good example of how this program has trained a geologist who wants to stay in the region,” says Dr. Peter Hollings, a professor in Lakehead’s Department of Geology and NOHFC Industrial Research Chair in Mineral Exploration, of the unique collaboration with Impala Canada, which operates LDI.

Jonsson credits his graduate experience with allowing him to work alongside other geoscientists in industry, academia and government.

“I have developed skills related to managing a large and complex research project, and have advanced my understanding of concepts related to igneous geology and geochemistry,” he says of the benefits he’s received.


Research in Action: Ultra-sensitive sensors signal a bright future in at-home health care

Published in The Chronicle Journal, Thursday, July 7th, 2022


One of the most promising developments in the medical field centres on tiny sensors that can potentially provide the user with instant information on their health. In terms of heart monitoring, recent advancements in wearable devices are bringing more and more information into the hands of its user.

However, one of the challenges in accessing data from these devices is background noise. But work undertaken by Lakehead University researchers is pointing a way around this problem. By using deep learning-based data-driven models, Dr. Zubair Fadlullah says they have a way to potentially overcome the issue of low frequency noise.

“I would say it’s a very significant achievement,” says Fadlullah, an associate professor in the department of Computer Science. “For the people who fabricate, who manufacture these sensors, it will be a breakthrough for them.”

Dr. Zubair Fadlullah is an associate professor in Computer Science and Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute research chair

Fadlullah, who came to Lakehead in 2019 from Japan, has a background in information sciences. His research focuses on wireless communication systems, the Internet of Things, and smart health technology. As joint Lakehead University-Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute Research Chair, his interest is medical analytics and biomedical computing.

In particular, he is looking at the “resource constraint” of computing devices. These sensors and other biomedical equipment don’t have “local intelligence,” meaning they only monitor and collect data and upload it to be processed and then sent back to the user, for example, a doctor, who will make use of that analysis. “Resource constraint” usually refers to battery power and means the sensor doesn’t integrate with the computer.

“That’s why the sensor collects the data, sends the data out to some remote server -- the Internet or the cloud -- and the cloud does the processing and analysis, gives some result, and then transmits the result back to the owner,” Fadlullah explains. “These conventional sensors typically work like dumb monitors. They are non-intelligent.”

One example is the electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG), which checks heart function by measuring electrical activity. A well-trained technician can interpret the signals to determine if a person has arrhythmia, coronary heart disease or other conditions that require attention. Generally, an ECG involves attaching small, sticky sensors called electrodes to the arms, legs and chest.

“This is intrusive and requires the patient to go to a clinical setting,” Fadlullah notes.

There are now many types of wearable devices that passively monitor heart activity. But they do not offer clinical-grade ECG readings.

“We want to create non-intrusive ECG monitoring without putting additional burden on the user – without them having to put these electrodes on their body or wear some kind of watch all the time that can perform continuous heart monitoring,” he says.

The other issue is the device that monitors the magnetic field that arises from electrical activity of the heart (MCG or magnetocardiography) is large, sits in a magnetically shielded room and requires cooling. The goal is to develop technology that measures electrical activity of the heart in a more compact package, specifically small magnetic sensors.

“If we can do that, we have the potential of generating lots of these sensors, placing them in the residence of users, in hospitals, in clinics,” Fadlullah says. “With such proof-of-concept, patients don’t have to hold these electrodes on their body, they don’t have to keep the wearable devices on all the time. It just makes things much easier for them, to have this non-intrusive cardiac reading.”

The problem is that there are so many magnetic fields around that they create low frequency noise. Working with collaborators at Tohoku University in Japan, Fadlullah and his research assistant used machine learning to combine two AI architectures targeted for magnetic sensors to denoise or clean up this interference.

“The main benefit of this research is that it can pave the way for the future of non-invasive long-term patient monitoring in remote settings,” says Sadman Sakib, the graduate assistant on this project. Sadman Sakib graduated in 2021 with a Master's degree in computer science, with a specialization in AI (Artificial Intelligence).

Sakib, who graduated in 2021 with a Master in Computer Science degree and is now working as a data scientist in Kingston, Ont., believes this research can expand to other areas of medicine, providing faster access to health services, especially in rural and remote communities.

Fadlullah, along with his students and research collaborators, has published several papers to show machine learning-based models can be used to overcome the obstacle associated with specific magnetic sensors in cardiac monitoring.

“Having this kind of small and ultra-sensitive sensor is all good. But if they couldn’t solve the challenge of filtering out these low frequency noises, these sensors wouldn’t be very useful, wouldn’t be very practical,” he says. “Solving this problem of filtering out the low frequency has opened up so many applications for our collaborators. I believe this is almost a breakthrough.”

In the meantime, he has extended the theoretical part of the work to study early warning sensing of cardiac activity. The study involves graduate assistant Mohamed Elshafei and is supported by the Qatar National Research Fund.

Research in Action highlights the work of Lakehead University in various fields of research.

Research in Action: Service gaps might be increasing homelessness

Published in The Chronicle Journal, Friday, August 19th, 2022


A study involving Lakehead University and the district’s primary social services agency suggests a majority of the homeless population in Thunder Bay originate from outside the city. As well, a significant number come from beyond the province.

While the reasons aren’t entirely clear, it seems many people are coming to Thunder Bay for social services.

“One of the elements that we’re seeing here are potential service gaps,” says Dr. Ravi Gokani. 

Dr. Ravi Gokani, an Assistant Professor in Lakehead University’s School of Social Work, leads a study with the District of Thunder Bay Social Services Administration Board to understand why so many of Thunder Bay’s homeless population hail from elsewhere.

“People are travelling to the city for services they would perhaps expect in their home communities.” 

Gokani, an Assistant Professor in Lakehead’s School of Social Work, is leading a study to understand why so many of Thunder Bay’s homeless population hail from elsewhere. The partnership with the District of Thunder Bay Social Services Administration Board (TBDSSAB) also involves Lakehead researchers Dr. Rebecca Schiff, Dr. Vijay Mago and Dr. Travis Hay. They received $22,000 from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada’s Partnership Engage Grant.

The TBDSSAB’s interest is to understand the factors that lead to homelessness among those who migrate to the city, in hopes that by identifying trends they can develop strategies to address the issue and reduce the incidence of homelessness across the district.

“If a clearer picture is realized on why some people come to Thunder Bay and then become homeless, then it opens the door to seeking opportunities to avoid the situation,” explains Ken Ranta, the TBDSSAB’s Director of Integrated Social Services. “It may, for example, involve linking newcomers to the city with supports and developing a plan to support their needs.”
The project stems from the TBDSSAB’s 2018 Point-in-Time count of the homeless population in the District of Thunder Bay. Those numbers suggested two out of three people experiencing homelessness migrated from outside the city; 20-per-cent were from outside Ontario. The university researchers are looking to answer a series of questions using mixed methods, including surveys and interviews as well as machine learning models.

Research assistant Elise Agnor interviewed people staying at Thunder Bay shelters as part of a study on the homeless population in the city.Elise Agnor, a research assistant with Gokani, completed the shelter surveys. She spoke to more than 100 people who were staying at either Shelter House or Salvation Army. That was followed by one-on-one interviews with 18 individuals to ask more detailed questions about why they came to Thunder Bay, whether they planned on staying, and the barriers to returning to their home community.

This project fits with Agnor’s interests during her one-year Honours Bachelor of Social Work studies. She graduated in 2017 from Queen’s University with a science degree, majoring in mathematics, so partnering with Mago’s computer science team was ideal in marrying social work and data analysis.

“This was my first time being involved in academic research, and I grew and learned so much throughout my time on the project,” says Agnor, who was employed in the banking industry before returning to the classroom. “My work on the study aligns closely with my career goals to combine my social work education and analytical skills to raise awareness of social issues and drive meaningful change. When all is said and done I hope that my work on the project will provide insight for the community to make evidence-based decisions about programming and resourcing to support people experiencing homelessness.”

Gokani and his team are working with the TBDSSAB on a report to summarize their research. Preliminary findings indicate many people come to Thunder Bay to seek employment, education or to access health care, and because of connections to family or friends. Many come from First Nations reserves in Ontario where such services are not always available. One revelation from the research is that only 21-per-cent of respondents would have safe and permanent housing if they went back to their home communities.
“Overall, people reported not being in good situations prior to coming to Thunder Bay,” Gokani notes. “Coming to Thunder Bay therefore might be influenced by not having safe and permanent housing in their home community.”
The other issue is gaps in service. People may not be able to access educational opportunities or health care in their home communities, so they go where there are services they can utilize.
The other key takeaway is that about half of the people surveyed stayed in a Thunder Bay shelter 34 days or less, while a quarter of people stayed for 13 days or less. In terms of social policy, shorter is usually better.

“In general, we don’t want people to be experiencing homelessness at all,” Gokani says, “but especially if they’re experiencing homelessness due to service gaps in other areas.”

Research in Action highlights the work of Lakehead University in various fields of research.

Shelter House

Research in Action: Examining the universal applicability of curriculum

Supported in part by a recent $155,252 Social Sciences Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Partnership Engagement Grant, Dr. Gary Pluim, Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Education at Lakehead University, is leading a study that follows the transfer of curriculum between Commonwealth countries in the Caribbean, South Pacific, Eurasia, and sub-Saharan Africa.

g pluim“This is an intercultural education project across several continents,” Pluim said.” Basically, we plan to investigate the implications of educational curriculum being shared between Commonwealth countries.”

The project involves a primary partnership between the Commonwealth of Learning and Lakehead University. It follows a variety of curriculums, such as human rights, mental health, and climate change education, all geared as a foundation for the certification of youth workers.

“The curriculum is produced in one country and then locally curated for use in another country of the Commonwealth," Pluim explained.

The study is focused on small countries with populations of one to two million people or less, Pluim said.

“Similarities between small countries, in many cases small island developing states (SIDS), may make it conducive to share these curriculums.”

In comparative education research, SIDS have been shown to have numerous similarities in relation to political, economic, and environmental issues.

When the curriculum arrives in a new country, a group of local stakeholders seeks to culturally curate the curriculum for relevance in their country. The study uses critical, participatory action research methods involving deep, interpersonal dialogue to uncover local perspectives on the limitations and potentialities of transferred curriculum.

“The research really looks at the extent to which educational programming can be packaged and exported to different countries, the assumptions we make about the nature of knowledge, and the implications of sharing curriculum around the world,” he said.

“We draw on decolonial scholarship to critique a widespread perception that curriculum and knowledge are universal. In this vein we ask, ‘to what extent does place, culture, and nationality matter in education?’”

Pluim’s research will track curriculum as it moves between the Caribbean (The Bahamas), sub-Saharan Africa (Botswana, Eswatini, The Gambia, Lesotho), and Eurasia (Cyprus, Malta, Maldives).

An important focus in a project like this is searching for various types of hidden curriculums.

Through a collaborative, critical deconstruction of the curriculum being transferred, this research gets to the tensions between imported curriculum and local or national values.

“Knowledge and curriculum are laden with values and assumptions, worldviews and perspectives on political economies…even religion and spirituality. Knowledge is connected to power, so one question we ask is whether curriculum transfer serves local purposes or whether it contributes to continued colonialism through education,” said Pluim.

With education increasingly available to people through online platforms – the pandemic has accelerated that momentum – Pluim is also looking at the impact of globalization on curriculum.

“Virtual curriculums are increasingly accessible to learners around the world,” Pluim said. “We are looking to see if there is a balance between transferring it, but with the input of local curation. If there are similarities between the 30 small countries of the Commonwealth, then being able to take a curriculum that’s working in one country—from the South Pacific, for example— and transferring it to another country, say in the Caribbean, might prove to be effective, efficient and practical.”

In examining the commonalities between countries, the study looks to disentangle curriculum said to have universal applicability.

Beyond the primary partnership between the Commonwealth of Learning and Lakehead University, additional local partners include the Southern African Development Community in South Africa, the Commonwealth Centre for Connected Learning in Malta, and the Lesotho Distance Teaching Centre.

Including inputs from all partners, the total project funding is $301,000. This funding will support a three-year project, culminating with a youth work education summit at the Lakehead Orillia campus in 2024.

Research in Action: The future of vital wireless networks


Dr. Waleed Ejaz, Assistant Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering at Lakehead University, recently received a National Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Discovery Grant for his research project titled, Resource Management for Massive Connectivity in Future Wireless Networks.waleed ejaz

It’s Ejaz’s goal to contribute to making 5G and future 6G networks accessible to everyone, regardless of where they live in the world.

“Future wireless networks are expected to provide connectivity everywhere, all the time. One way to accomplish this is through 3D networks. By 3D networks, I mean the integration of traditional terrestrial (earth-based) networks, and non-terrestrial networks such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV)-assisted wireless networks,” he said.

“My major focus is on effective resource management in future wireless networks, which is challenging, because of the large number of devices, diverse quality of service requirements, and high density of heterogeneous devices – networks where devices are made by different manufacturers or computers run different operating systems," Ejaz explained.

In the past, the main focus was to increase the data rate in traditional wireless networks, but now we have a more diverse quality of service requirements for different users and devices, he said.

Another issue Ejaz is encountering is the different experiences between urban and rural living.

“In urban areas we have a high density of heterogeneous devices, but in rural areas that are not very densely populated, we do not have high-quality connectivity, and this is creating a digital divide.”

COVID-19 has magnified these differences as the world has been forced online.

“Connectivity is extremely important. If people in rural areas don’t have good connectivity, they will lag behind people in urban areas who do have connectivity. So, filling this gap is one of the objectives of my project," Ejaz said.

In the last few years Ejaz has been working on communication technologies as they pertain to the Internet of Things (IoT).

“The main emphasis of my research is algorithm design, network architecture development and system-level performance analysis, so how I am going to do this is by proposing new 3D architectures and new algorithms that are low cost and don’t take much time to deploy.”

In order to accomplish his goals, Ejaz is considering different technologies to improve energy efficiency and enhance coverage, including the deployment of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

“My goal is to enhance coverage using the existing terrestrial network, as well as the deployment of UAV networks," Ejaz explained. "Within that there are challenges such as interference, optimization of resources, as well as energy efficiency issues. We’ll be looking at self-sustainable 3D networks which must sustain their resource usage by wireless power transfer and energy harvesting to maintain uninterrupted operations.”

One of the United Nations 2030 sustainable development goals includes universal and affordable access to internet connectivity.

“In 2016, the United Nations declared the internet a basic human right. Similarly, from the Canadian perspective, the government of Canada committed that all Canadians will have the basic internet connectivity of 50Mbps download speed and 10Mbps upload speed," Ejaz explained.

"But if we are talking about rural areas, there are still existing communities where we do not have this reliable connectivity. With COVID, we became even more reliant on the internet," he said.

"Everyone from education to the health care sector are dependent on connectivity. Providing reliable connectivity everywhere will also lift the economy by incorporating everyone’s ability to contribute to wealth.”

Ejaz believes his research will lay a scientific research foundation that will contribute to Canada’s Innovation and Skills Plan in supporting world-class networks and advancement in new technologies and services to Canadians.

Research in Action: Learning from lived experiences

BY: Kari Klassen

Lakehead University and Camphill Communities Ontario have teamed up to do qualitative research on the well-being of residents (also known as companions) of the not-for-profit organization.

Located in Angus, Ontario, Camphill provides adult-centered residential programs for people with developmental disabilities. Camphill is home to a biodynamic farm, garden, herbery, bakery, pottery studio, woodworking shop, and performance hall, and offers day programs, arts and crafts, artistic and wellness activities, as well as social and cultural opportunities for residents.

sonia mDr. Sonia Mastrangelo, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education at Lakehead University and lead researcher on the study, has spent time at Camphill, observing the facilities, engaging the companions, while they are at work or during their own leisure time.

“I was really impressed. I’d heard of the wonderful Camphill program in the past when an adult on the autism spectrum I was working with considered a placement there," said Mastrangelo.

"When you spend time on the property, you get this beautiful feeling of camaraderie. Everyone is smiling; everyone is working the land. It really is a place where they focus on self-determinism and adults have choice as to what their day looks like.”

The study Mastrangelo and her team will be leading looks at a human rights framework where people with disabilities have the right to accessible, appropriate and evidence-based services that enable them to achieve their personal goals and enjoy a good quality of life.

“With our study, what we typically see happening is people in the field do research on individuals with disabilities rather than with them and therefore disempowering starts to happen," Mastrangelo explained.

"Those who are in vulnerable situations, those with disabilities being part of that, almost lose their voice. What we’ve attempted to do is adopt a community-based participatory action research model," said Mastrangelo.

"We looked at what makes an effective partnership between universities and not-for-profits, because that’s really what Camphill is. It’s very different from partnering with a for-profit.”

Companions are going to be heavily invested in the research process to the extent that some of them will be hired to assist in the research project.

“They’ll be co-creators of the research," explained Mastrangelo. "For example, we are putting a documentary together and we are going to invite the companions that are tech-savvy to support the production of the documentary. They’ll be making decisions on what gets screened, what gets included, what the editing process looks like and they’ll be paid out of the grant.”

Mastrangelo and her team will also be conducting video-based observation where they take video footage of the Companions working at different stations and will then conduct video interviews with those Companions.

“We’re going to explore their lived experiences at Camphill and what that looks like. The interviews will include what their roles and responsibilities are, how much choice they have, what their leisure activities are and how much involvement they have with the community," Mastrangelo said.

There are two main goals for the project.

“The big goal is building knowledge and understanding about the well-being of adults with developmental disabilities and figuring out what they need, from both an education and critical disabilities standpoint. The other goal is providing a high-quality research training experience for graduate students, because they’ll be involved in all stages of the research process," she said.

Mastrangelo hopes the Camphill project will become a pilot for how other organizations can draw on some of the strengths of the program.

“What (Camphill) has shared with me is that they get so many phone calls asking how they got started and how others can make this happen in their own communities.”

The team hopes to document outcomes related to both the challenges Camphill experienced as they began to grow, as well as the successes and strengths of the program.

“We hope to mobilize this knowledge to both academic and non-academic audiences, because all too often research happens in a bubble and then it sits on a shelf," said Mastrangelo. "It’s not used. We want other organizations to be able to refer to the Camphill research and therefore we have a wide-reaching dissemination plan. We hope the documentary and the creation of a website does that.”

Mastrangelo’s research is supported in part by funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).

Research in Action: Creating space age technology

By: Kari Klassen

With the world becoming increasingly more dependent on smart devices, the importance of components that can be used by various devices and employed in a variety of applications, at the same time, cannot be overstated.

Imagine a smartphone, for example, with three different antennas for varying purposes. Its unwieldy design would likely render it dysfunctional.


“We can see the result of these innovations happening right in front of our eyes as the size of modern smart gadgets keeps reducing,” said Dr. Farhan Ghaffar, Assistant Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering at Lakehead University.

Ghaffar’s research aims to make our technology more agile by creating adaptable components with multipurpose applications that are intelligent, while providing immense miniaturization.

“The research mainly focuses on the design of smart radio frequency components that can be used in a variety of applications such as autonomous vehicles, the Internet of Things (IoT), cellular communication, etc.,” Ghaffar said. “The fundamental idea of this work is to contribute to the infrastructure development of 5G and IoT communications.”

Ghaffar explains that easily reconfigurable components help in the miniaturization of wireless systems, while also reducing production costs.

“The heart of the research is a novel technology known as Frequency Microwave Substrate (FPMS) that has not been deeply investigated and can work as a platform for a variety of electronic systems and sub-systems. My team and I will try to find theoretical and practical models for this topic that can neatly answer the questions governing 5G communication," he explained.

This work will find its application in various wireless technologies, but to provide an example that readers can more easily understand, Ghaffar points to the driverless car.

“In the near future humans aspire to replace the current automotive technology with self-driven or driverless cars that will be completely capable of maneuvering themselves once they know the final destination," said Ghaffar.

"These cars will follow all the rules of the road. They will come to a complete stop at a stop sign or a red traffic light. They will detect and follow the speed limits, and other traffic laws," he explained.

"The smart wireless sensors proposed in this research will be the eyes and ears of the driverless cars without which the concept cannot be materialized.”

Other than autonomous vehicles or driverless cars, modern applications such as mobile communications, aviation and space technology, and the health care system all rely on intelligent electronic systems that need component level agility and system level adaptability that meet their necessary requirements.

Ghaffar believes the research on this fresh FPMS technology holds the answer to the challenges of all these wireless applications.

Ghaffar was awarded a National Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Discovery Grant for his reconfigurability of microwave devices research. He is also a co-inventor on three international patents with application in the biomedical, automotive radar and manufacturing technology industries, with a fourth one filed in August 2020.

Research in Action : Across the Bay – Working to address climate change

By: Kari Klassen

Dr. Chris Murray, Associate Professor in the Department of Physics at Lakehead University, is in his third year of the Beausoleil First Nation wind and water monitoring project. The main focus of the project is to help the Beausoleil community address climate change and the lack of information around changing weather.

“As an island community they’re isolated,” Murray said, “and they’re very susceptible to changes. The Office of Indigenous Initiatives reached out to me and what had initially interested me was an ice road that was no longer used.”

Residents of the island had previously been able to go back and forth to the mainland from Cedar Point over the ice road, but due to weather changes, they haven’t been able to use it for about a decade. “It’s a function of the unpredictable ice. It might be 20 feet thick on one side of the island, because the wind has piled it up, or it might not be there at all on the other side of the island. It’s just the way things are changing and becoming more erratic.”

Ice used to be measured by drilling a hole into it, putting a stick down and then measuring the depth on the stick, but that can only be done on the shore. It wouldn’t tell anyone how deep the ice is enroute or at the other end. “That was what intrigued me, so I helped develop an ice thickness monitor that is still a prototype, but we haven’t gotten it to a user-friendly version yet,” he said “That’s why I got involved.”

Somewhat unexpectedly, Murray ended up spending much more time on setting up weather stations. “It was a learning experience, for sure, as I am not a field scientist.”

The stations provide information to the community, in real time, about the weather in and around the island. They measure wind speed, wind direction, rainfall, air temperature, humidity, as well as the water level. The information supports the community directly with accurate weather information, but also allows them to track trends, combined in a digital file with their traditional ecological information, which is essentially oral history.

Information from the weather projects is also woven into the education of K-12 students on the island. “I take the research that we’ve been doing for two years and make that into a science outreach project. We’ve been to the elementary school, through Zoom, something like 50 times this semester. Every class has had at least seven visits from me or my students.” Not every class focuses on the weather stations, but many do.

“The teachers are amazing. Everything we’ve asked them to do is enthusiastically embraced. Hopefully this will keep going, year after year, and we’ll eventually get to a point where the community is much more aware of what we’re doing because their kids are coming home and talking about it.”

During Lakehead University’s Research and Innovation Week in 2021, Murray and Nancy Assance, Department of Education at Beausoleil First Nation, were the recipients of the Indigenous Partnership Research Award.

Man wearing blue plaid jacket works from his home garage lab

Research In Action: Developing resiliency against cyber-attacks

By: Kari Klassen

Amir AmeliAmir Ameli, Assistant Professor in the Electrical Engineering department, is an early career researcher at Lakehead University, and is already demonstrating a building capacity in his field that will apply to our local economy, society and beyond.

With the ever-expanding need for more energy to run the systems of our world, cybersecurity becomes an increasingly important concern.

“Cyber-attacks against power systems are growing in their number and complexity,” Ameli said. “Given that power grids are among the most critical infrastructure that societies highly depend on, many attackers have focused their attention on these grids. Targeting power systems can result in severe consequences, such as instability of the grid, or a blackout.”

High-profile cyber-attacks, such as the 2015 BlackEnergy trojan that left about half the homes in Ukraine’s Ivano-Frankivsk region (a population of 1.4 million) without power, show an urgent need for greater vigilance and protection.

“What (the cyber-attackers) do is slowly propagate into the system and gain information about at what point and at what direction they could create the maximum damage,” Ameli said. “It’s the stealthy nature of the cyber-attacks that is the most important challenge, since it makes it difficult for us, as power engineers, to detect cyber-attacks.”

While there are several layers involved in protecting power systems against cyber-attacks, Ameli’s area of research focuses on securing the cyber layer using the physical attributes of the system.

“My research builds the last line of defense to protect the system against those cyber-attacks that have already entered the system from the cyber layer, and tries to detect and mitigate them in the physical layer,” he explained. “What we do is different, but in line with what network security experts do to make power systems resilient to cyber-attacks.”

Ameli was awarded a National Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Discovery Grant valued at $152,500 for his research project and he’s hopeful that several other grant proposals to different funding agencies will award him similar success.

“Immediately after I was hired, I started writing my NSERC DG proposal, which was my first funding proposal ever,” Ameli said.  “Luckily it was accepted with very positive peer-review comments.”

Ameli’s research has also received attention locally. Lakehead and the City of Orillia have solidified a partnership that will see Ameli lead a team to determine the feasibility of Orillia becoming a cybersecurity industry hub. The City of Orillia has earmarked $25,000 toward the project, and a $25,000 NSERC Alliance Grant has also been secured.

“To use my expertise in a way that will benefit the economic development of our community is very satisfying,” he said.

Currently in the process of hiring students to assist him on his projects, Ameli has hired two master’s and one PhD student, and is planning on hiring several more master’s and PhD students.

“There are always open positions in my group for motivated and qualified students who have a background in power system cyber-security and protection. Such students are always welcome to contact me.”

Close up businessman hand typing or working on laptop for programming about cyber security