Nov. 13, 2019

Shared vision

Innovative technology is bringing together biomedical and pipeline engineering researchers to help improve the oilsands
Elise Fear and Ron Hugo
Elise Fear and Ron Hugo Michael Platt

Can a breast cancer detection sensor be used to improve Alberta’s oilsands? A pair of University of Calgary engineers are finding out as part of a technology-first approach to problem-solving.

Electrical and biomedical engineer Dr. Elise Fear, PhD, is leading research in using very low power microwaves to sense different properties in breast tissues. The microwaves don’t heat the tissue, but do make it possible to provide real-time feedback on treatments under progress.

In a basement lab across the street, mechanical engineer Dr. Ron Hugo, PhD, is focused on identifying cracks or instabilities in vast underground pipeline networks to identify problems well before a potential leak can occur.

Together, they’re collaborating to see if the sensor designed to track effectiveness of breast cancer treatments can also measure the steam quality for SAG-D production in the oilsands.

“She is developing the sensor technology and we’re testing it in the multiphase flow facility we have in the pipeline engineering centre. It’s a really nice coupling of different areas that normally you wouldn’t think are compatible,” said Hugo.

“I think it’s amazing,” added Fear. “By collaborating with a team in mechanical engineering, it’s allowed us to get so much further than we would have if we were just working alone in my lab.” 

This CleanTech research project is sponsored by Alberta Innovates and Cenovus Energy Inc.

Embracing digital engineering

This unique research partnership shows the true power of a technology-first approach to research innovation, said Bill Rosehart, dean of the Schulich School of Engineering.

Rosehart wants to see more such collaborations as he works to foster a digital transformation of the engineering school through a new initiative called Zetta.

“Zetta is all about building on our strength as a national hub of engineering excellence to help build Calgary’s emerging e-economy by embracing digital engineering,” said Rosehart.

Instead of developing a piece of technology to meet a single need or problem, Zetta promotes an integrated digital framework where we can develop and merge technologies along a continuum, said Rosehart.

“It’s building a digital ecosystem. How can we sense and capture data, how can we transfer that data so that we can analyze it and then what automated processes can we build to use that data effectively to serve a strategic purpose,” said Rosehart.

Calgary’s need for tech talent

The time is right for this enhanced focus on growing Calgary’s digital economy. According to Calgary Economic Development, there are more than 2000 open tech jobs in Calgary. And that’s only the beginning. The number of tech firms with their headquarters in our city is on the rise.     

The Schulich School of Engineering has been actively working to help meet Calgary’s growing demand for tech talent.

In recent years, the school launched a highly successful Masters of Engineering in Software Engineering program that provides a opportunity for existing engineers to retrain for tech fields. Engineering students with no software background can take the one-year program and graduate with advanced software engineering skills. This past year, the school also launched a new digital engineering minor for undergraduate students to combine tech skills with their chosen major.

The Schulich School of Engineering is also creating a new digital hub that will be an integrated research and learning e-studio. The space will include virtual reality and augmented reality lab, an Internet of Things lab, a software development studio and a digital hive – a dynamic software engineering learning studio.  All of these initiatives are part of the engineering school’s new strategic vision Catalyst for a Connected World.

“From our innovative research to our educational opportunities, the Schulich School of Engineering is focused on being a driving force for high-tech innovation,” said Rosehart.


About Alberta Innovates

Alberta Innovates invests in research, innovation and entrepreneurship to drive provincial economic growth and diversity. We provide technical expertise, entrepreneurial advice and support, opportunities for partnerships and funding to advance the best ideas. We support a broad range of research and innovation activity – from discovery to use. Collaboration is at the heart of what we do, bringing together bright minds and great ideas.
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