ISEAD & MIAE join proud list of Engineering Faculty institutes

Fall 2010

Two institutes were established recently in areas of strategic importance to the Faculty of Engineering: the Institute for Sustainability in Engineering and Design (ISEAD) and the McGill Institute for Aerospace Engineering (MIAE). Among other things, the institutes enhance teaching, improve employment opportunities for students and serve as windows on the world for McGill Engineering. Here is an overview of the two institutes and their raisons d’être:

Engineers in the year 2010 must be adept in a broad range of skills and techniques to tackle increasingly complex technological, social, economic and environmental challenges. One of the most important skill sets is the ability to function in the multidisciplinary teams that are now routinely assembled to design and build major projects.

Promoting interdisciplinary curiosity and cooperation has become a major goal throughout McGill Engineering, and nowhere more so than in our two newest institutes.

A window on the world

Both the Institute for Sustainability in Engineering and Design and the McGill Institute for Aerospace Engineering are distinct from the five departments and two schools that nourish them, and yet are integral to the teaching and research process.

“We need structures that cut across boundaries, that promote networking, that expand critical mass and that serve as central points of contact for people and organizations outside McGill,” says Engineering Dean Christophe Pierre. “Institutes do all of this and more, serving as important windows on the world.”

ISEAD and MIAE join a proud list of Faculty of Engineering institutes and centres established over the decades to develop and improve teaching and research. Among others, they include the McGill Institute for Advanced Materials; the Brace Centre for Water Resources Management; the Centre for Advanced Systems and Technologies in Communications; the Centre for Intelligent Machines, which is celebrating its 25th Anniversary this year; and the McGill Metals Processing Centre.

ISEAD: Making the planet greener through engineering

Finding sustainable solutions to the complex challenges that societies face demands a concerted and collaborative effort to ensure that the technologies we adopt and the infrastructures we use are sustainable in terms of energy, materials, water, food and the production of waste.

“Engineers, architects and urban planners play an essential role in creating these technologies and infrastructures,” Professor Pierre says. “They help to ensure that energy and natural resources are used efficiently, with minimal waste and with acceptable social, environmental and economic impacts.”

“The Institute for Sustainability in Engineering and Design that was established this past summer helps to ensure that today’s students have a thorough understanding of sustainability and the many issues associated with it,” he says. “We want them to graduate from McGill with the knowledge they need to incorporate sustainable engineering and design principles in their day-to-day work.”

ISEAD Director Geza Joos, a specialist in renewable and alternate energy at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, says ISEAD was formed to harness the full potential of the many excellent, but somewhat unconnected teaching and research activities related to sustainability at the Faculty of Engineering.

It will also serve as the driving force to propel McGill to the forefront of teaching, training and research in the field.

The institute addresses universal problems, such as energy, climate change, water, resource scarcity and infrastructure degradation.

“It has a two-pronged mandate,” Professor Joos adds, “to embed a culture of sustainability at the Faculty of Engineering ― and across McGill ― and to work with academic, industry and government partners to promote sustainable principles and practices.”

Inside McGill, ISEAD is forging research and teaching links with units such as the Office of Sustainability, the McGill School of Environment, the Brace Centre for Water Resources Management and faculties such as Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Law, Management and Science.

A leadership role

Externally, ISEAD promotes an exchange of best practices and ideas. It also strengthens industrial and government partnerships to ensure that McGill teaching and research respond to these stakeholders’ needs.

School of Architecture Director Michael Jemtrud, whose students and professors form part of the “design” component in ISEAD’s name, says that sustainability and interdisciplinarity are integral to architects’ work. “In fact, there isn’t a class we teach here that doesn’t touch on sustainability.”

Professor Jemtrud says he hopes the new institute will serve as a catalyst to bring McGill people, projects and industry together, and present exciting new options and opportunities for research.”

“Sustainability is one of the key challenges of our time,” adds Professor Joos. “The possibilities for progress in this vitally important sphere of human endeavor are enormous. If ISEAD succeeds, we will help to contribute to a better quality of life.”

Part of the funding for the new sustainability institute was provided through generous gifts from alumni Ram Panda, MEng’71, MBA’77, and Lorne Trottier, BEng’70, MEng’73, DSc’06. Both are members of the Faculty of Engineering Advisory Board.

MIAE: Linking student, research and industry needs

by Patrick McDonagh

Like ISEAD, the McGill Institute for Aerospace Engineering (MIAE) has a two-pronged mandate: to help students develop the knowledge and skills necessary in aerospace engineering and to create strong networks among faculty researchers and industry representatives. Along the way, it is redefining McGill’s local, national and international aerospace engineering profile.

Jeff Bergthorson of the Mechanical Engineering Department says one of MIAE’s great strengths is “starting conversations” between academia and industry.
“In my case, my research network was established ad hoc — the result of a chance conversation between my department chair and someone in industry. But we shouldn’t be running a system based on chance. There should be a proactive aspect to this, and MIAE will supply that.”

“It will get industry people together and find common ground. It will track who is doing research at McGill Engineering, then go out and talk about it, saying to industry, ‘This is what we can do for you; what are your needs?’”

Professor Bergthorson is currently part of major aerospace industry collaborations exploring alternate fuels: one with Pratt & Whitney Canada, the other with Rolls Royce Canada.

MIAE researchers are developing methods to predict vibration and noise in large-scale, complex structural systems. Above is a three-dimensional model of a misaligned stacked disk rotor assembly for a jet turbine engine. The misalignment causes imbalance and an undesirable vibration.

For fellow Mechanical Engineering professor Marco Amabili, Canada Research Chair in Vibrations and Fluid-Structure Interaction, the conversations are already paying dividends. Much of Professor Amabili’s work focuses on thin-walled shell structures, such as airplane fuselages or rocket casings. Largely due to meetings that MIAE helped sponsor, he has just committed himself to a project called “superpanels” which brings together Canadian, Italian, Belgian, United Kingdom and New Zealand researchers to develop strong, resilient panels that could be used in building air and space craft.

Mathieu Brochu of the Mining and Materials Engineering Department points out that MIAE provides particular benefit to younger researchers like him who don’t usually start with many industry connections. The institute has already linked Professor Brochu to companies in Quebec, arranged meetings with visiting delegations from abroad and organized symposiums — one last month with aerospace industry and government representatives from the German state of Bavaria and another this month with Indian researchers.

“MIAE clearly has an international vision,” he says. “Its activities are growing and the institute is really putting out the word that McGill is doing high-quality aerospace research.”

Students benefit the most

MIAE’s key beneficiaries, though, are McGill Engineering students. Working with the Montreal Aerospace Institute, an umbrella organization that includes partner groups at Concordia University, École de technologie supérieure and École Polytechnique, MIAE is successfully organizing internships for students in the local aerospace industry. Students are selected both for academic achievement and leadership qualities.

The internships normally last 500 hours — about four months of work — but many of last year’s students had their projects extended.

And after graduation, these students will be at the head of the queue for job hiring.

“These are high-level projects, so the internship is like a five-hundred-hour job interview,” says MIAE Director Stephen Yue, Chair of the Department of Mining and Materials Engineering and Lorne Trottier Chair in Aerospace Engineering.

Paul Axais, a fourth-year mechanical engineering student, is MIAE’s student president and serves as an informal liaison and resource point between the institute and its 60 students.

He interned last summer with Rolls Royce Canada, streamlining the process for identifying and coordinating the connection specifications for a turbine engine that had six variants. The experience was obviously a success for him and the company because Axais will return on a second Rolls Royce Canada internship next month.

“The ultimate goal is to get your foot in the door,” Axais says, “and then to get a fulltime position when you graduate. The program opens opportunities for jobs you might otherwise never be exposed to.”

Reaching out to industry

“Our students are our best ambassadors,” adds Pascal Hubert, another of MIAE’s Mechanical Engineering researchers. “Students tell industry engineers about the work their professors do and that helps us to create a network.”

Professor Hubert spent much of a recent sabbatical year working with industry professionals at Bombardier. “When CVs were being circulated among staff, they would come to me and say ‘What do you think of this student?’ I’d say, ‘Oh, I know him or her, that’s a good choice.’ So you can see the mechanism is working.”

Professor Hubert, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Advanced Composite Materials, is pursuing research that is fundamentally interdisciplinary, involving mechanical, materials and chemical engineering in areas that are central to aerospace engineering. “Every company is interested in this,” he says, noting that the decision to spend his sabbatical working with Bombardier was guided by a desire to understand the interest better. “I wanted to see how industry sees us and to learn how we could correct anything we need to correct.”

Professor Hubert says a formal research institute creates a tool that has much more force than a single professor. “MIAE means we can reach out to industry to show them all the good things we can do. It also encourages greater internal communication and exchange among professors at McGill.”

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