Talking Mars in Montréal

Sandy Selfie Sent from NASA Mars Rover (Photo Credit: NASA)

From July 17-19, three members of Prof. John Moores’ Planetary Volatiles Laboratory – PDF Dr. Christina Smith, MSc. Candidate Charissa Campbell and Undergraduate Researcher Brittney Cooper – attended the semi-annual Science Team Meeting of the Mars Science Laboratory Rover (better known as Curiosity). For the first time since Curiosity’s successful landing in August of 2012 the meeting was back on Canadian soil at the CSA’s headquarters in St. Hubert, just outside of Montréal. Over 400 scientists work on the $2.5 Billion mission, supporting daily operations, designing experiments using the spacecraft’s 10 primary instruments (plus 12 engineering cameras) and analyzing the data returned. More than 100 of these researchers from around the world made the trek out to the CSA to attend in person.

While the majority of the scientists who work on the mission have a geological focus, there are a few of us who specialize in the modern Martian environment. The particular speciality of the PVL group is atmospheric imaging using the rover’s Engineering Cameras.  Presentations by the York-based group on our results discussing clouds, dust, winds and the chemistry of the atmosphere were well received by other members of the Team. We also identified ways in which the atmospheric scientists and the geologists can work together to enhance our understanding of Martian processes, past and present.

Five years and 17 km into its mission, the rover remains healthy despite some dents, tears and a patina of dust. While the robot is showing its age, with that age comes wisdom. To date, we have published nearly 300 papers including several dozen in high impact venues such as Science, Nature and Geophysical Research Letters. For a sampling of these results, click here. Even as these results continue to pour in, there are still important discoveries that await us as we climb higher still along the flank of Aeolus Mons.

By: John Moores

An Interview: Sandra Sinayuk

img_7472What are your professional aspirations?

As you know, I am going to be starting my MClSc in Audiology this September at Western! I’m not sure yet if I will want to specialize, but I want to work in a hospital setting after I graduate.

What do you like the most about York?

The potato wedges from the Bluemont Bistro. I like all of the friends I’ve made and all of the really nice people that I’ve met in my 4 years here.

Favourite building at York?

The Lassonde building, because it has a Freshii.

Which Lassonde Engineering program would you do if you had to?

Civil, my Mom did Civil ages ago, so she could help me!

Where would you like to travel?

AUSTRALIA – I’ve been in love with it since 1st year and haven’t yet been able to go. Specifically: Brisbane, Sunshine Coast, Gold Coast, Cairns, Melbourne, and Adelaide. The UK would be really cool too, because of all the castles.

If you were a breakfast cereal, which would you be?

A healthy nutty one, because I’m such a health nut! (haha)

If you were an animal, which would you be?

I would be a quokka, because they are endemic to Australia, so that would basically guarantee me Australian citizenship. They’re cute, so no one would want to hurt me and they’re marsupial, which is basically nature’s C-section.

Three items you would bring on a deserted island (no boats allowed)?

Seeds for fruits and vegetables, sunscreen, and some kind of water desalination system.

What’s your top business idea?

Starting a haunted house with optical illusions in Melbourne (where they don’t have any, according to my Aussie friend) with a cafe dungeon serving all vegan food and drink. Realistically though, I’d rather open a non-profit animal sanctuary because there’s a really big need for those.

What’s your pet peeve?

When people are late, and when I’m late. Also, when people in front of me walk extra-slowly.

Favourite movie: It’s a tie between Cowspiracy (environmental documentary) and What the Health, both are on Netflix!

Favourite fictional character: Fred and George Weasley, they’re hilarious and we would be best friends.

What’s your Harry Potter House? Gryffindor, according to Pottermore.

If you could create a Harry Potter House, what would it be called and which 5 traits would be associated with it?

Deerfox: resilient, honest, curious, sarcastic, fair.

Favourite book (that isn’t Harry Potter): “How not to Die” – it’s a nutrition book.

Favourite tree: The kind that gives me food.

Favourite food/cuisine: Cuisine: vegan food. Dish: the green poutine at Fresh restaurants (french fries, steamed baby bok choy, kale & swiss chard, roasted mushroom gravy, ‘cheese’ sauce, green onions & sunflower seeds)

Crown dish: Nice-cream (non-dairy ice cream).

Favourite quote: “When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That’s the message he is sending.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

Instagram: @sanachkaa  tumblr: theherbivore

Ketchup/Mustard/Relish   Mac/PC   Summer/Winter   Coffee/Tea   Sweet/Savory   Heels/flats





WINDII Airglow Observations of Wave Superposition and the Possible Association with Historical “Bright Nights”

Gordon Shepherd and Young-Min Cho recently submitted to Geophysical Research Letters a paper entitled “WINDII Airglow Observations of Wave Superposition and the Possible Association with Historical ‘Bright Nights’” which appeared on July 4th. Bright nights is the name given to those nights which should be dark, with no moon, and yet they are bright enough to allow observers to see their surroundings, or distant objects, or even read a newspaper. These have been reported from Roman times, for example by Pliny the Elder, who wrote, “The phenomenon commonly called “nocturnal sun”, i.e., a light emanating from the sky during the night, has been seen during the consulate of C. Caecilius and Cn. Papirius (~ 113 BCE), and many other times, giving an appearance of day during the night”. These reports continue in the European literature up until World War I, but afterwards fade away as the use of artificial light increases. Limited scientific observations began then, during which the name “bright nights” was applied, but there has never been an explanation of their origin.

The Wind Imaging Interferometer (WINDII) was launched in 1991 and it was seen immediately that the 557.7 nm atomic oxygen airglow was extremely variable, from place to place and one night to the next. This “airglow” emission is caused by the photo-dissociation of O2 in the daytime by solar ultraviolet radiation, followed by the recombination of the atomic oxygen during which the energy released emerges as green line photons. Some years later it was recognized that there might be a relation to “bright nights”, but without any obvious explanation of the mechanism. However, in the meantime there were WINDII studies of the longitudinal wind and airglow intensity variations, leading to a resolution of longitudinal waves 1, 2, 3 and 4, where the number indicates the number of waves around the Earth at a given latitude. Early this year Young-Min discovered that from time to time the peaks in these propagating waves could coincide, causing a large peak in intensity at a given longitude, and that this could explain the bright nights. WINDII observed such events 7% of the time for the whole Earth, but at a given limited location the probability would be only 10% of this, and allowing for full moon periods means that the bright nights would be observed only once per year. The fact that they were reported so frequently centuries ago can be accounted for by the fact that the whole population was living with dark nights and so when a bright night occurred anywhere over land, it would be reported.

Geophysical Research Letters identified this as an article of public interest and created a press release that has kept Gordon busy on the phone and in e-mails since then. The story was picked up by the New York Times, the CBC, and from them by The Guardian, as well as in many other places such as the India Times and Korean newspapers. He also heard from individuals, one in particular who told the story told to him by his grandfather, who was playing football with his friends after dinner in 1908. They played and played and when the grandfather got home he was chastised by his parents for staying up until midnight. He protested that he didn’t know it was midnight as he didn’t have a watch, and it was still light. This experience stayed with him for decades as he didn’t tell it to his grandson (the writer) until much later. Gordon confirmed with the grandson that it was almost certainly a bright night.

The Guardian article can be found here.

The article includes a beautiful photo of the sky (see featured image) at night taken from the Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan, near where Gordon was born – but it is not a bright night. The whole experience has been a surprise to the authors and a bit of a puzzle as to why there is such public interest. Probably it is the historical part, which has a human content, and the fact that bright nights are no longer being seen (at least not reported) owing to the environment change of artificial lights. Like some animal species, perhaps they have gone forever, for the public.

By: Gordon Shepherd


An Update from Ian McDade (2)

Ian McDade is now officially retired with the status of “Senior Scholar”; loving living in Stratford and still using the same email address (


Geomatics Engineering Program Receives Level-2 CBEPS Accreditation

We just received the Canadian Board of Examiners for Professional Surveyors (CBEPS) final report. We are pleased to announce that our Geomatics Engineering program awarded a Level-2 CBEPS accreditation in meeting the CBEPS national syllabus subjects. CBEPS establishes, assesses and certifies the academic qualifications of individuals who apply to become land surveyors and/or geomatics professionals in Canada, except for Ontario and Quebec.

Professional cadastral surveying in Canada is regulated by individual statutes in the ten Canadian provinces and by the Canada Lands Surveys Act for Canada Lands. In general, Canada Lands consist of the Northern Territories, Indian Reserves, National Parks and Canada’s Offshore areas. In order to practice cadastral surveying at the professional level in Canada, an individual must be commissioned and/or licensed by the provincial surveying association in the province where one wishes to practice, and in the case of Canada Lands, by the Association of Canada Lands Surveyors (ACLS).

To get their CBEPS Certificate of Completion, graduates from our Geomatics Engineering program will have to write the CBEPS examinations C10 (Land Use Planning and the Economics of Land Development) and C12 (Hydrographic Surveying).

By: Costas Armenakis

An Interview: Prof. Jinjun Shan

Prof. Jinjun Shan (Photo credit: Lassonde School of Engineering)

Prof. Jinjun Shan
(Photo credit: Lassonde School of Engineering)

What is your educational background?

I have obtained all of my degrees – B.Eng., M.Eng., and Ph.D. – from Harbin Institute of Technology in China. Prior to coming to York, I worked as a PDF at University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace studies (UTIAS).

What is your most memorable project?

It is definitely the balloon flight (two flights actually – in Sweden and Australia). I’m a space engineer, mostly working on theoretical topics. The balloon project was the first time I developed and flew an actual instrument in a real space mission.

If you could create any course at York, which course would you create?

I’d create an advanced dynamics control course. When I was a graduate student, I had to take two courses on this topic; UofT students take two courses as well. Similarly, in my undergrad, I had a whole year course on dynamics control of spacecraft. Yet, at York, we only have 1 term of dynamics and control for Space Engineering students – this is definitely not enough. In addition, we only teach classical control systems, but it is just the first step – we need to add modern control systems to the curriculum.

Which part of teaching is most exciting to you?

I’m happy if I can teach a student something “hands on”, and they can solve a problem with something they learned from the class – whether it is dynamics, control, or electronics.

What do you like/dislike about York the most?

Like: York gives me an opportunity to do my own research.

Dislike: It is too slow: the processes are too slow; if you need something, you have to ask for it too many times; we don’t have concrete policies for many things.

What do you like/dislike about York the most?

Like: York gives me an opportunity to do my own research.

Dislike: It is too slow: the processes are too slow; if you need something, you have to ask for it too many times; we don’t have concrete policies for many things.

Favourite building at York?

Petrie, because my office and lab are here. It is also better than most buildings in terms of the size and air conditioning.

Favourite quote?

“The journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” – Chinese Proverb

Favourite Lassonde color?  Yellow

Favourite food?  Noodles

Favourite movie? I like “Transformers” – I have watched all of them with my son.

Favourite book? My favourite book is Three Kingdoms.

What do you do in your free time?

I like playing badminton.

If you could be any age, which age would you choose and why?

My son’s age, 10-12 years old, because you don’t have to worry about anything and can simply enjoy your life.

Where would you like to travel to?

I have travelled a lot for my work. Previously, I wanted to go to Australia the most, but I have already travelled there for the balloon flight. Now, I’d like to go to South America (Brazil, Argentina), since I have still never been there.

Bucket list items?

I want to travel as much as possible.

Choose one:

Summer/Winter Apple/PC Star Wars/Star Trek Ketchup/Mustard

Mr. Salman Chaudhury receives a Faculty of Graduate Studies 2017 Thesis Prize

Salman Chaudhry Receives a Faculty of Graduate Studies 2017 Thesis Prize

Mr. Salman Chaudhry from Earth and Space Science receives a Faculty of Graduate Studies 2017 Thesis Prize for his MSc entitled “On the characterization of elastomer’s at highstrain rates”.

Photo taken at FGS Thesis and Dissertation Prize Luncheon, June 14th 2017.

Present: Professor Alex Czekanski (Thesis supervisor), Mr. Salman Chaudhry (recipient), and Dr. Fahim Quadir (Interim Dean, FGS).

Denis Hains Talks about the Oceans Protection Plan of Canada

By: Costas Armenakis

On May 9th, 2017, Denis Hains, Director General, Canadian Hydrographic Service, gave a presentation on  the Oceans Protection Plan of Canada. He addressed how this investment of the Government of Canada is a great opportunity that can benefit Academia, HQP and YorkU’s participation to the Canadian Ocean Mapping Research & Education Network (COMREN). Geomatics Engineering / Science programs and YorkU are one of the eight  academic signatories of the MOU.

On the photo right to left:  Dr. Costas Armenakis, Associate Professor & Program Director Geomatics Engineering-Department of Earth, Space Sciences & Engineering-Lassonde School of Engineering, York University; Dr. Spiros Pagiatakis, Associate Dean Research & Graduate Studies-Lassonde School of Engineering, York University; Denis Hains, DG DFO-Science Canadian Hydrographic Service (CHS), Ottawa Office; Dr. Richard Hornsey, Interim Dean – Lassonde School of Engineering, York University; George Schlagintweit, Manager National Projects, CHS Burlington Office (BO); and, Tom Rowsell, Acting Director CHS, BO (Photo Credit: Costas Armenakis)

Aaron Boda Receives 2017 Esri Canada GIS Scholarship

Lassonde’s Geomatics Engineering student Aaron Boda was awarded the 2017 Esri Canada GIS Scholarship for his “Interactive Map for the Athenians Project.”

Congratulations to Aaron on his award! (Photo Credit: Aaron Boda)

Congratulations to Aaron on his award! (Photo Credit: Aaron Boda)


The objective of the award-winning project is as follows:

In present day, the Athenians Project deals with the digitization of the (writings on stone, pottery and metals), prosopographical (biographical data on the residents of ancient Athens) and topographical (locations on maps of Athens and Attica). Primarily, the project is admired for its relational database of prosopographical information from ancient Attica with 22 volumes containing over 100,000 entries. The idea is to modernize the project by creating an intuitive and user-friendly digitized database that can be utilized by university libraries worldwide as a resource for classics enthusiasts. The scope includes a 3D interactive map to provide a visual interface and a geographic information system (GIS) which can support the findings of the Athenians Project.”


More information on the project can be found here.

Lassonde Students Win Geomatics App Challenge

Originally posted on YFile News website

Three of York’s Lassonde School of Engineering Geomatics students – Stephen Kosmachuk, Justine Abdelshahid and Benjamin Brunson – have been selected as the winners of the 2017 Esri Canada Centre of Excellence (ECCE) App Challenge.

The App Challenge is an annual event for students studying at higher education institutes that are members of the ECCE program.

Lassonde students Stephen Kosmachuk, Justine Abdelshahid and Benjamin Brunson (Photo Credit: YFile News)

Lassonde students Stephen Kosmachuk, Justine Abdelshahid and Benjamin Brunson
(Photo Credit: YFile News)

The primary objective of the event is to challenge students to use their technical Geographic Information Systems (GIS) knowledge, creativity and ability to innovate and work together to produce a relevant and functional app using the Esri platform. This year’s theme was sustainable transportation.

Deteriorating transportation infrastructure is becoming an increasingly important issue in aging cities. Lassonde’s team developed an app that seeks to satisfy the need to gather and analyze crucial traffic hazard data on a continuous basis.

This will provide the public with a means to report traffic hazards to city officials and to provide urban planning experts with a means of intuitively organizing and analyzing the crowd-sourced information. Their app can be accessed here.

The three Lassonde students have won a trip to the 2017 Esri User Conference in San Diego.

The team profile can be viewed here.