York University receives $1M gift from Carswell Family Foundation for graduate student scholarships

On Tuesday, May 31, York University announced and celebrated a $1-million gift from Professor Emeritus Allan Carswell and the Carswell Family Foundation. The donation will create a permanent endowment and an expendable fund to establish Carswell Scholarships for graduate students in the Faculty of Science and the Lassonde School of Engineering.

Addressing the more than 100 guests in attendance at the announcement, York University President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri spoke about the importance of the gift. “In his role as a professor here at York, Allan experienced firsthand the significant contributions that students make to the research enterprise, as well as the financial challenges of being a graduate student,” said Shoukri. “He also understands the challenges of being a faculty member trying to recruit great students. This gift will go a long way to addressing those challenges so that our students and faculty members in the Faculty of Science and the Lassonde School of Engineering have the support they need to continue to conduct groundbreaking research.”

The gift will allow York University to start awarding Carswell Scholarships as early as this September. The endowed component of the donation has been matched by the University with the support of the Provost and the Dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies to ensure that the Carswell Scholars program continues over the long term.

“This is a very special occasion and opportunity for the Carswell Family Foundation,” said Carswell. “It’s a win-win-win situation: a win for not only students, but also for the professors and their research activities, as well as more broadly for the advancement of science and engineering. The foundation is extremely pleased to be a part of this.”

This is not the first gift that Carswell and his family have made to York University. In 2004, Optech, a global company founded by Carswell during his tenure at York, became a significant supporter of research at the University with a donation of $125,000 to establish what is now called the Optech Lab. To this day, the Optech Lab at York continues to stage a unique-in-Canada course on experimental techniques in laser physics and atom trapping.

At the gift announcement, Ray Jayawardhana, dean of the Faculty of Science, and Janusz Kozinski, dean of the Lassonde School of Engineering, spoke about the impact Carswell’s gift will have for their students moving forward.

“As a pioneering scientist and a long-serving physics professor, Allan understands the transformative potential of research and the vital role that graduate students play in the research enterprise,” said Jayawardhana. “He appreciates that graduate students are not only the `scientists of tomorrow’, but also of today… I can’t wait to see the exciting discoveries and meaningful contributions that Carswell Scholars will make at York and beyond.”

“With this gift we can guarantee that more of our young talent will have the resources and the support to get started on their journeys into the unknown,” said Kozinski. “It will be up to them to show the courage, the skill, the perseverance and the will it takes to get to the top of their fields. We have no idea where their journeys will take them or where they will end. What we do know, is that for many of them here at York – thanks to the Carswell Foundation – it started here today.”

This gift comes at an opportune time in the University’s journey, particularly with the launch of Impact: The Campaign for York University, a $500-million fundraising and alumni engagement campaign. This Campaign celebrates the University’s impact on the world – past, present and future – and acknowledges alumni and donors, like Carswell and the Carswell Family Foundation, whose financial support has contributed to this remarkable success.

“On behalf of York University and all of our students, faculty and staff members, I wish to thank Dr. Carswell and the entire Carswell family for this incredible contribution towards our students and our future,” said Shoukri.

Ministry grant aims to create new Ontario climate change projections

ESSE professor Peter Taylor is part of a York team which recently received a grant to improve climate risk assessment in the province.

Huaiping Zhu, professor in the Department of Mathematics & Statistics, Faculty of Science, and his team have received a grant from the Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) to improve climate risk assessments in the province.

The team will be the first in Ontario to consolidate the large number of existing province-specific climate projections into a common set of scenarios.

“Climate data experts and government recently expressed an urgent need for coordinated and easy-to-use projections for climate change in Ontario,” explains Zhu, also director of the Laboratory of Mathematical Parallel Systems at York University. “Given our group’s expertise in mathematical modelling, we were selected to take the lead on this initiative and we’re thankful to the MOECC for supporting this work.”

Zhu’s team members include professors Neal Madras, Xin Qiu, and Peter Taylor; post-doctoral fellow Ziwang Deng; and research associate Xiaolan Zhou.

The team will develop climate projections for the 2050s and 2080s using data from various Canadian and international agencies. They will account for a number of average and extreme variables related to precipitation and temperature and use statistical methods already developed in their lab to consolidate the data.

“Our new projections will enhance climate research and help to inform government planning and policies in Ontario,” says Zhu. “Climate change has so many implications, such as for agriculture and how we build our homes and infrastructure, and having reliable climate predictions will help us plan and adapt appropriately.”

In addition to creating new projections, the team is also working on re-designing their Ontario Climate Change Data Portal to make the data easy to use and access.

Zhu has held funding from the MOECC since 2011. He is regularly consulted by local, Canadian and international governments, agencies, and research teams for his expertise.

NSERC awards $1.65 million to York-led research partnership

ESSE’s own John Moores is part of a group of eight researchers in Canada that have been awarded $1.65 million as a part of a program focusing on professional-centered, collaborative learning for students and postdoctoral fellows.

An academic-industry partnership led by York University has received a total of $1,650,000 through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada‘s (NSERC) Collaborative Research and Training Experience (CREATE) Grants Program.

Ray Jayawardhana, dean of the Faculty of Science and a professor in the Department of Physics & Astronomy, is the principal investigator of the successful Technologies for Exo-Planetary Science (TEPS) program, which has been allocated $1.65 million over six years.

This innovative program will take full advantage of Canada’s major investments in such breakthrough facilities and missions as the James Webb Space Telescope, the OSIRIS-Rex Asteroid Sample Return and the Thirty Meter Telescope, as well as Canada Foundation for Innovation grants to co-applicants on the Canadian Planetary Simulator and the SPIRou infrared spectrometer projects, to position TEPS trainees at the forefront of the rapidly developing and exciting field of exo-planetary science.

The program will offer students and postdoctoral fellows innovative and collaborative training environments, incorporating internships, student mobility and professional training to address scientific challenges associated with Canada’s strategic research priority in Advanced Manufacturing. The program will also provide trainees with the breadth and depth of expertise and skills required to fill gaps in job markets, specifically in the key industrial sectors of robotics, aerospace, optical technologies and space exploration.

The co-applicants on the project team include eight researchers at seven Canadian universities –including John Moores, assistant professor in the Department of Earth and Space Science and Engineering at York University – as well as 16 other academic collaborators and seven non-academic partner organizations. The program will contribute to the training of 80 students and postdoctoral fellows over six years.

“We are delighted to provide a world-class training environment in the field of exo-planetary and planetary science through this program,” said York’s Vice-President Research & Innovation, Robert Haché. “The NSERC CREATE program supports industry-academic collaborations and provides an important opportunity for students and postdoctoral trainees to receive mentoring from leaders in the field.”


New cause of exceptional Greenland melt revealed

A new study by researchers from Denmark and York University, published in Geophysical Research Letters, has found that the climate models commonly used to simulate melting of the Greenland ice sheet tend to underestimate the impact of exceptionally warm weather episodes on the ice sheet.

Researchers service one of PROMICE’s automatic weather stations on the Greenland ice sheet that was used in the study. Photo by William Colgan, York University

The study investigated the causes of ice melt during two exceptional melt episodes in 2012, which occurred from July 8 to 11 and from July 27 to 28. During these exceptional melt episodes, which can be regarded as an analogue to future climate, unusually warm and moist air was transported onto the ice sheet. During one episode, the researchers measured the ice sheet melting at more than 28 cm per day, the largest daily melt rate ever documented on the ice sheet. While the two brief melt episodes only lasted six days combined, or six per cent of the melt season, they contributed to 14 per cent of the total melt.

Using the Programme for Monitoring of the Greenland Ice Sheet (PROMICE) automatic weather station data, the researchers ranked the energy sources contributing to surface melt during 2012 at twelve PROMICE sites around the ice sheet periphery. While ice sheet melt is usually dominated by the radiant energy associated with sunlight, the researchers found that the energy associated with air temperature and moisture content, rather than radiant energy, was responsible for more melt during the 2012 exceptional melt episodes.

As Robert Fausto of the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, lead author of the study, says, “When we were analyzing our weather station data, we were quite surprised, that the exceptional melt rates we observed were primarily caused by warm and moist air, because ice sheet wide melt is usually dominated by radiant energy from sunlight. “

This finding has implications for how the scientific community projects future ice sheet melt using climate models. In the study, the researchers also show that while the models presently used to project ice sheet melt can accurately simulate melt due to radiant energy, models tend to systematically underestimate melt due to the non-radiant energy processes they document.

“Glaciological instrumentation capable of automatically recording the daily rate of melting in exceptional melt circumstances, where the ice surface lowers by close to 10 m in a few months, has only emerged in the last decade or so, thanks to PROMICE. The detail of PROMICE observations is permitting new insights on brief, but consequential, exceptional melt events,” says William Colgan of the Lassonde School of Engineering at York University, a co-author of the study.

Fausto adds that, “Exceptional melt episodes dominated by non-radiant energy are expected to occur more frequently in the future due to climate change. This makes it critical to better understand the influence of these episodes on ice sheet health.”

William Coglan

Lassonde ESSE alumna contributes to detection of Gravity Waves

Lassonde alumna Dr. Susan McCall’s work played a significant role in the process behind the detection of gravitational waves by Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO). This detection, announced last week, was touted as one of the most important scientific discoveries of our time, cementing Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity and ushering in a new era in science.

Gravitational waves are ripples in the fabric of time and space and are produced by massive objects such as stars and planets.

Dr. Susan McCall received her M.Sc. and Ph.D. from the department of Earth and Space Science and Engineering at York University in 1992 under the supervision of Professor Gordon Shepherd.

Dr. Susan McCall received both her M.Sc. and Ph.D. from York University

Currently, Dr. Susan McCall is the founder and president of Stellar Optics Research International Corporation and a specialist in optical black surfaces/materials and optical scatter data. She also recently founded the York University Science Alumni Network.

Dr. McCall was contracted by Breault Research Organization to provide a list of candidates, glossy black materials and coatings for long-term, vacuum compatible use in the LIGO chambers while meeting the challenging optical scatter requirements of having Bidirectional Reflectance Distribution Function (BRDF) scatter values of less than 0.001, at large backscatter angles, for 0.6328 micrometers.

In addition to these challenging optical requirements, the materials had to be of reasonable cost and easy to install, given that there were to be 100 to 200 panels as large as 12 cm by 383 cm. Dr. McCall provided these samples for the Breault Research Organization and LIGO, thus contributing to the detection of gravity waves.

“The experience I gained from studying black surfaces for extreme environments, York U’s emphasis on multidisciplinary research, my brilliant mentors Dr. Gordon Shepherd, Dr. Robert Breault, and Dr. J. A. Dobrowolki were the essential keys that paved the way for SORIC’s products, contracts and sales with major companies, space agencies, and astronomical observatories around the world,” said Dr. Susan McCall about her time studying at York University.

Lassonde research team selected by NASA to provide support to the Curiosity mission

Lassonde Professor John Moores and his research team have been selected by NASA to provide scientific and operations support to the Mars Science Laboratory Mission (Curiosity).

The team is comprised of Moores, MSc student Jake Kloos, Postdoctoral Fellow Christina Smith and PhD Student Casey Moore.

From left, Jake Kloos, Professor John Moores, Christina Smith and pictured in front is Casey Moore

The Lassonde team will be part of the mission through 2020 as they help plan out what the $2.5 billion Rover will do each day.

“We’ve been amazed by everything the rover has sent back, but the whole of our team here at Lassonde is looking forward to where Curiosity takes us over the next four years. Who knows what discoveries are still out there over the next ridge line, just waiting to be made,” said Moores.

A total of 28 proposals were selected out of nearly 100 submitted proposals from researchers around the world.

Curiosity is a car-sized robotic rover exploring Gale Crater on Mars as part of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission. As of February 16, 2016, Curiosity has been on Mars for 1255 sols (1289 total days) since landing on August 6, 2012. Self-portrait of Curiosity located at the foothill of Mount Sharp (October 6, 2015). Image: NASA

“It’s amazing to be a part of the MSL team and to see your work realized on such a large project. I can’t describe the feeling of hearing that your contributions are ‘Go’ to run on Mars!” said Smith.In addition to their work with Spacecraft Operations where they represent environmental science in many of the daily planning sessions, the team also makes videos of the movement of clouds and looks at the motion of dust within the Gale crater.The research team has put out five papers on this topic recently, two of which were helmed by the graduate students.

Detection of gravitational waves, and one of our graduates!

What are some of our ESSE graduates doing now? Dr. Susan McCall, an ESSE alumni has done work useful to LIGO, which has recently been in the news for the detection of gravitational waves.

Stellar Optics Research International Coporation’s (SORIC) Founder and President, Dr. Susan McCall is a specialist in optical black surfaces/materials and optical scatter data. She was contracted by a USA Corporation to provide a list of candidate, glossy black materials and coatings for long-term, vacuum compatible use in the LIGO chambers while meeting the challenging optical scatter requirements of having Bidirectional Reflectance Distribution Function (BRDF) scatter values of less than 0.001, at large backscatter angles, for 0.6328 micrometers. In addition to these challenging optical requirements, the materials had to be of reasonable cost, and easy to install, given that there were to be 100 to 200 panels as large as 12cm by 383 cm. Dr. McCall, in her 1995 report, “Unconventional Baffle Materials for the LIGO Experiment”, used SORIC’s internal databank of black surfaces used in aerospace, defense, and astronomy, and selected nineteen practical suggestions encompassing glossy black: flexible films, fabrics and foils; solid glasses and a paint, and provided samples, all for the USA Corporation and LIGO to consider for further study, who then performed experiments for verification and final selection.

Sun dogs versus Rainbows

A Sun Dog captured in Bolton, featured on the Weather Network.

On Friday, our department’s own Dr. Lee witnessed a Sun Dog on her way to York, an atmospheric phenomenon that Dr. Klaassen explains,  “…they form about 22 degrees on either side of a bright sun, due to refraction by ice  crystals. If you are looking at a rainbow, the sun is behind you”.


A Sun Dog as photographed by ESSE’s Dr. Gary Klaassen.


York U researchers help create first map of Greenland ice sheet movement

York U researchers are among a team of scientists that has created the first map showing how the Greenland ice sheet has flowed over time, revealing that ice in the interior is now moving more slowly toward the edges than it has, on average, over the past 9,000 years.

Greenland’s ice sheet

In comparing this paleo-velocity map to modern flow rates, researchers from York University and The University of Texas, as well as other institutions, found the ice sheet’s interior to be moving slower now than it was during most of the Holocene, a geological period that began at the end of the last glacial period roughly 11,700 years ago and runs to the present.

The findings, which researchers said don’t change the fact that the ice sheet is now rapidly losing mass and contributing to sea level rise, was published in the Feb. 5, 2016 issue of the journal Science.

Along Greenland’s periphery, many glaciers are now rapidly thinning. However, the vast interior of Greenland, as it moves more slowly, has been gradually thickening over millennia. This new study documents and describes why this is happening.

“We found three reasons for this gradual slowing and thickening of the ice sheet in the Greenland’s interior,” said William Colgan of York University’s Lassonde School of Engineering, second author of the study.

An increase in snowfall over the last 9,000 years and a gradual stiffening of the ice sheet, are two reasons, he said.

“The ice that formed from snow that fell in Greenland during the last ice age is about three times softer than the ice being formed today,” said Colgan.

This is causing the ice sheet to slowly become stiffer and, as a consequence, flow slower and get thicker over time. This is especially the case in southern Greenland, where higher snowfall rates have led to rapid replacement of ice from the last glacial period with more modern Holocene ice.

“But that didn’t explain what was happening elsewhere in Greenland, particularly the northwest, where there isn’t as much snowfall,” said lead author Joe MacGregor of The University of Texas at Austin’s Institute for Geophysics (UTIG), a research unit of the Jackson School of Geosciences.

It’s the third reason that seems to have had the largest impact in northwest Greenland, said Colgan, citing the collapse of an ‘ice bridge’ that connected Greenland to Ellesmere Island at the end of the last ice age – some 10,000 years ago.

The collapse led first to acceleration in the northwest, but ice flow there has since decreased to a slower pace. These changes affect how the Greenland ice sheet is understood today.

Scientists often use GPS and altimeters aboard satellites to measure the elevation of the ice surface to estimate how much mass is being lost or gained across the ice sheet. But, when correcting for other known effects on the surface elevation, any leftover thickening is often assumed to be due to increasing snowfall. This study shows that that may not be the case.

“The recent increases in snowfall do not necessarily explain present day interior thickening,” said Colgan. “So if you’re using a satellite altimeter to figure out how much mass Greenland is losing, you’re going to get the answer slightly wrong, unless you account for these very long-term signals that are evident in its interior.”

The study builds on earlier UTIG-led research that developed a database of the many layers within Greenland’s ice sheet. Using this database, scientists determined the flow pattern for the past 9,000 years, in effect creating a “paleo-velocity” map.

“Scientists are very interested in understanding how ice sheets flow and how that flow may have been different in the past. Our paleo-velocity map for Greenland allows us to assess the flow of the ice sheet right now in the context of the last several thousand years,” said MacGregor.

The study was supported by the National Science Foundation’s Arctic Natural Sciences Program, the Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets and NASA’s Operation IceBridge.

Colgan is also a guest researcher at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, where a portion of this research was undertaken.

Lassonde is home to Esri Canada GIS Centre of Excellence

Lassonde School is Engineering has been selected by Esri Canada as a GIS Centre of Excellence. The partnership with Esri Canada means that students will benefit through experiential learning using the ArcGIS platform and faculty will have the opportunity to conduct innovative research.

“The Centre will help our students develop valuable entrepreneurial skills and create new products and services for spatial data management and analysis. As well, it will promote teaching excellence and collaboration with the other GIS Centres of Excellence,” said Costas Armenakis, associate professor, Geomatics Engineering.

Costas Armenakis

The Centres will also provide access to scholarships, conferences and competitions for students.

To enhance further their GIS skills, students from member Centres can participate in an annual app development challenge that focuses on the use of open government data and Esri technology.

The addition of the University of New Brunswick and York University to our network will further strengthen the community of researchers using GIS to create innovative applications and solve problems.”
The addition of the University of New Brunswick and York University to our network will further strengthen the community of researchers using GIS to create innovative applications and solve problems.”
The addition of the University of New Brunswick and York University to our network will further strengthen the community of researchers using GIS to create innovative applications and solve problems.”
The addition of the University of New Brunswick and York University to our network will further strengthen the community of researchers using GIS to create innovative applications and solve problems.”
The addition of the University of New Brunswick and York University to our network will further strengthen the community of researchers using GIS to create innovative applications and solve problems.”

Launched in 2014, Esri Canada GIS Centres of Excellence in Higher Education are aimed at encouraging innovation in GIS research and promoting teaching excellence in spatial data management and analysis in higher education across Canada.