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Traffic congestion, respiratory viruses and 3D bioprinting

Connaught Program backs diverse array of research

Baher Abdulhai (foreground) and his team in Civil Engineering are using their MARLIN project to develop solutions for urban traffic congestion (Photo courtesy Baher Abdulhai)

University of Toronto research on a huge range of societal challenges is getting a big boost to the tune of more than $900,000.

And the source of the investment is U of T itself – specifically, the Connaught Program, the university’s premier source of internal research funding.

The new awards are through Connaught’s Innovation Awards and Summer Institute program.

Founded in 1972, the Connaught Fund was created from the sale of the Connaught Laboratories, which first mass-produced insulin, the Nobel Prize award-winning discovery of U of T’s Frederick Banting, Charles Best, John Macleod and Bertram Collip. The university has stewarded the fund in the years since, awarding more than $100 million to U of T researchers.

Today, the fund invests $4 million annually in emerging and established scholars from the full spectrum of research and scholarship through U of T.

The Innovation Awards are designed to help accelerate the development of promising technology and promote commercialization and/or knowledge transfer.

A perfect example on the promising technology front is the MARLIN project, which addresses one of the key problems of modern cities – traffic congestion.

Developed by Professor Baher Abdulhai and his research team in the Department of Civil Engineering, MARLIN is an artificial intelligence-based traffic control system that, during research testing, has proved to dramatically improve traffic flow at intersections, streets and roadways while also reducing a city’s traffic maintenance and infrastructure costs.

MARLIN marries machine learning, traffic cameras and computers to create traffic lights that can measure vehicle delay, understand what it means and adapt signal patterns to reduce congestion. Abdulhai says the technology cuts down motorists’ delays at intersections by an average of 40 per cent and more in areas with chronic congestion, as well as reducing emissions.

“Some congestion is a sign of the vibrancy of an urban area,” says Abdulhai. “But too much congestion has many negative consequences. The good news is that there are approaches like MARLIN that can address congestion and ease the problem.”

Abdulhai and his team will use Connaught funding to integrate the MARLIN software with common industrial hardware and conduct field operation testing of the complete solution at a few intersections in partnership with willing municipalities.

Other Innovation Award projects being funded through in this round are:

  • Richard Cobbold, Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE), “PedicProbe: Ultrasound navigation for spinal fusion surgery accurate insertion of screw implants using 3D ultrasound navigation”
  • Richard Hegele, Laboratory Medicine & Pathobiology, “Repurposing of anti-cancer drug for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) therapy and prophylaxis”
  • Shana Kelley, Pharmaceutical Sciences, Biochemistry and Chemistry, “A microchip for the sorting and analysis of circulating tumour cells”
  • Joyce Poon, ECE, “Three dimensionally integrated electro-optic transmitters and receivers”
  • Li Qian, ECE, “High-speed on-demand quantum random number generator”
  • Yu Sun, Mechanical & Industrial Engineering, ECE, “Automated probing of nanoelectronic structures inside scanning electron microscope”
  • Michael Thompson, Chemistry, “A true theranostic approach to medicine: Tandem sensor detection and removal of endotoxin in blood”
  • Xiao Yu (Shirley) Wu, Pharmacy, “Development of nanoparticle formulations for targeted delivery of proteins to the brain”

The Connaught Summer Institutes bring together international graduate students, post-doctoral fellows and other scholars to foster rich interdivisional collaboration and creative new methods for research and innovation. Professors and projects being funded are:

  • Axel Guenther, Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, “3D bioprinting 2.0: Functional tissues, soft machines and manufacturing”
  • Kimberly Strong, Physics, “Connaught Summer Institute in Arctic Science: Atmosphere, Cryosphere, and Climate”
  • David McMillen, Chemical and Physical Sciences, “Connaught Summer Institute on Synthetic Biology: Frontiers and Opportunities”

“The Connaught program was founded as the result of one of the great research discoveries in world history. This spirit drives Connaught today,” said Professor Paul Young, U of T’s vice-president, research and innovation. “All of the work being invested in through these awards shows great potential in making a positive impact on global society. Congratulations to all the award winners.”

Paul Fraumeni is a writer with the office of the vice-president, research and innovation, at the University of Toronto.