CUE Undergraduate Research Award

The Centre for Urban Environments (CUE) is a proud supporter of undergraduate research at the University of Toronto Mississauga. Every year, CUE allocates funding to ensure that students can pursue independent and cutting-edge research alongside leading scholars in urban environmental studies. This funding is provided on a competitive basis, with a total of two to four awards provided annually based on academic excellence, research experience and the fit between a student’s proposed project and CUE’s mission to be a leader in research, training, community engagement and policy on urban environments issues.

The total value of each award is $8,000. Students from both the natural and social sciences or humanities are encouraged to apply alongside a faculty sponsor of their choosing. Successful students will have the opportunity to work full-time under the supervision of their chosen mentor from May 1 to Aug. 31, with at least half of this time committed to independent research. This work can take place at either the University of Toronto Mississauga or in the field, depending on the requirements of the project.

More information about CUE’s Undergraduate Research Awards, including the formal application requirements is available here. Interested students are also encouraged to review the list of previous winners to learn about the diverse projects CUE has funded in the past.

For a list of potential student advisors, please see the list of CUE members.


2021 Winners

Project Title: Illuminating the Role of Sunlight as a Prospective Driver of Indoor Photochemistry 

LaurenStudent: Lauren Ead                   Supervisor: Prof. Matthew Adams 

​Project Description: Despite traditional beliefs that indoor systems are mostly devoid of high energy ultraviolet (UV) photons, recent works show that indoor irradiance of UV light (340-400nm) can reach one-third of outdoor levels in direct sunlight. This threshold of UV light (340-400nm) operates within the photolysis threshold (≤ 398nm) for nitrogen dioxide (NO2), where the formation of ozone (O3) occurs within our troposphere. Recent studies theorize that NO2 photolysis may be an important source of O3 to the indoor environment, nonetheless, indoor oxidation processes and their estimated reaction products remain poorly characterized. The potential for sunlight to elevate O3 levels within the indoor atmosphere is of great concern amid the ongoing Coronavirus-2019 pandemic, as short-term elevated exposure to O3 can impair immune resistance to viral respiratory infections, including past human coronaviruses. The objective of this research is to assess the impact of sunlight on the photochemical formation of O3 indoors and how this varies over space and time. To evaluate this, the wavelength of incoming solar light over different timescales will be characterized using a spectral irradiance meter while simultaneously assessing changes to indoor O3 and NO2 levels using passive air samplers. These measurements will be paired with continuous monitoring of indoor and outdoor gas-phase chemicals that influence the formation and elimination of O3.

Project Title: The sources and quantity of deposited trace metals on roadside vegetation

Student: Simran Persaud  Simran

Supervisor: Prof. Matthew Adams

Project Description:  The surface adherence of particulates varies by vegetation species and exposure to rainfall. Location is a factor in deposition rates as well, measurements located closer to major transportation sources were found to have higher concentrations. The toxicity of transportation related pollutants can pose a risk to the survivability of vegetation. For example, if particulate matter is accumulated on vegetation, it can impede the vital function of photosynthesis .The biomonitoring properties of plants are a critical feature that can help identify trace metals as they collect air particulates that reside on their leaves. This collection of pollutants can be analyzed to determine its source's origin. Vegetation samples will be collected from near-road locations. Each sample plot will be characterized by its species, distance to the road, and vehicle counts. Sample times will be characterized by amount of rainfall within the previous week and previous day. Variation in species diversity will be investigated in the select region to determine the difference in species type and their accumulation of particulates. A trace metal analysis will be conducted to quantify concentrations on the leaf and provide evidence to suggest the sources of the deposited particulates. Samples will be collected both before and after rain fall events to investigate the effect of precipitation on the accumulated pollutants. Once the selected leaf samples have been collected, they will go through an acid digestion and microwave heating in preparation for an ICP mass spectrometry analysis. This analysis will produce a chemical breakdown in which the origin of the different particulates can be identified and further investigated.

Project Title: Actions to Mitigate Emissions from Hong Kong’s Aviation Sector

Student: Nikki Wong            Nikki

Supervisor: Prof. Laurel Besco

Project Description: Emissions from the aviation sector are a serious global challenge to regulate due to its international nature and limitations in current technologies. For these reasons, sufficient mitigation strategies are lacking. Current attribution of aviation emissions to countries are from domestic flights while emission-intensive international flights are not the responsibility of any particular country. With aviation emissions excluded in the UNFCCC, it does not provide strong incentives for countries to mitigate these emissions. As the demand for air travel is anticipated to grow post-pandemic, it is important for aviation emissions to be managed when global aviation currently accounts for >2% of anthropogenic emissions (IATA, 2020).

Hong Kong (HK) is one of the busiest and most efficient international ports in the world, ranking first in air cargo traffic since 2010. Within the past two decades, HK air traffic and its emissions have doubled and contribute to most of the aviation emissions in the Greater Bay Area of China. To address this issue, this research will examine HK’s travel and aviation growth projections, and review new aviation infrastructure plans, aviation emission related-scientific research, and any existing regulatory actions in mitigating aviation emissions. This project also seeks to provide feasible options in devising more efficient reduction strategies for aviation emissions, that bridge the gap between science and law and policy. The research consist of two parts: (1) comprehensive literature review: done remotely (2) Key informant and expert interviews.

Project Title:  Residents' attitudes towards, knowledge about, and opinions on coyotes in their neighbourhood.                       Fatima

Student: Fatima Tasabehji

Supervisor: Christoph Richter

Project Description: Working with Vaughan Animal Services this project seeks to develop a survey that would investigate residents' attitudes towards, knowledge about, and opinions on coyotes in their neighbourhood. It also include questions relating to the residents’encounters with coyotes and their expectations as to how coyotes should be managed in their area.

Project Title: Sustainability and the Scared

Student:  Chloe Kapanen     Chloe

Supervisor: Stephen Scharper


Project Description: Often discourses surrounding sustainability focus on the environmental impacts of destructive behaviors. While this is critical to the progress of environmental justice, “Sustainability and the Sacred” seeks to expand the notions of sustainability to include not only the problems with environmentally destructive behaviors but also the underlying worldviews that inform such practices. To ensure that sustainability efforts do not translate to further developmental paradigms focused on profitability, sustainable solutions must address the root problem which has led us to this point: worldviews that have forgotten the sacred value in the environment, in other species, and our own communities.  In response, “Sustainability and the Sacred” offers a holistic view of sustainability as not only encompassing ecological wellbeing but also the wellbeing of all species, including but not limited to, humans. This research examines various worldviews which connect the sacred to sustainability. From various religions such as Judaism, Hinduism, Christianity, and Buddhism which have reinterpreted sacred texts through an ecological lens; to Eco-Feminist theory, and Indigenous Worldviews, the project amplifies critical voices of those deconstructing the class-based, race-based, and gender-based hierarchies laden within environmental degradation. Incorporating case studies, ethnographies, and the personal experiences of researchers and environmentalists, the research focuses on practical applications of the sacred in sustainability. From cities and urban environments to forests, rivers, and oceans, at the heart of this project is an exploration of a question of what truly matters to us and why. What values do our current practices reflect and what do we want our values to reflect? Most importantly, how we rediscover and reconnect to the Sacred of the world and all living things within it to ensure a sustainable future for all living things, grounded in spiritual values and connection?




Previous Winners


Project Title: The case for a waste-diversion offset scheme: Application to Markham’s and the NACTR’s textile recycling program.

Carina Suleiman

Student: Carina Suleiman 

Supervisor: Prof. Barbara Murck 

​Project Description: Within waste management, the issue of textile waste presents a significant challenge, accounting for five to seven per cent of waste in landfills. Addressing this issue is a prominent proposal for achieving environmental sustainability. In Canada, the City of Markham became the first North American municipality to ban all textile waste from landfills. In this research Carina will seek to understand how collaboration of municipal and charitable organizations can help solve the environmental challenge of textile waste management. The project seeks to develop a carbon offset scheme that will include data from the National Association of Charitable Textile Recycling (NACTR, 2020). Through this scheme, this project expects to aid industries wishing to offset their emissions in collaboration with the NACTR, whose aim it is to nationally increase textile waste diversion, and Canadian municipalities who want to reduce carbon emissions.

Ahmed HanifProject Title: Novel Molecular Mechanisms in Tree Resistance to Urban Stresses 

Student: Ahmed Hanif 

Supervisor: Prof. Katharina Braeutigam 

Project Description: Urbanization can have substantial effects on our natural environment including increased levels of air pollutants, changes in water quality and altered levels of soil pH, compaction and toxin content. It is thus critical to understand the effects of such anthropogenic stressors on living organisms at the mechanistic level. Urban trees likely experience a number of stresses over their long life span. Nevertheless, much remains to be learned about tree responses to stressors typical to urbanized environments. Ahmed will look at tree response to urban stressors such as road salt exposure, increased soil pH and soil compaction. This work will be conducted in native deciduous trees of the genus Populus. The results from this research will provide the opportunity to contribute to our understanding of longterm stress exposure in trees, molecular coping mechanisms (and their limits) and yield critical information applicable to urban forest health. 


Project Title: Managing Stormwater Runoff in Urban Catchments

Zarin Mom

Student: Zarin Mom

Supervisor: Prof. Xiaoyong Xu

Project Description: Due to the impacts of climate change, the frequency of extreme meteorological and hydrological events is expected to rise. The high levels of stormwater that often accompany these events can cause adverse environmental effects, such as residential damage, degrading water quality and the destruction of creek channels. Zarin Mom’s project reviewed the impact of various controls (such as grass swale and ditches) in preparing for, and managing, this storm water runoff. Integrating both storm-water management modelling and remote sensing imagery, Zarin’s project provided an innovative method for diagnosing and troubleshooting drainage issues in municipalities around the world. Zarin was able to leverage the unique technologies available at the Centre for Urban Environments to create an innovative evaluative approach. Her findings were presented at Smarti Gras, UTMs summer research day for undergraduate students.

Project Title: Residential Yards and Green Infrastructure

Shefaly Gunjal

Student: Shefaly Gunjal

Faculty Supervisor: Prof. Tenley Conway

Project Description: For many of us, a back yard can be a place of relaxation, socialization and beauty. But it is also part of a larger ecosystem. Trees, gardens, green roofs and other vegetation can contribute to storm water attenuation, microclimate regulation, air pollution reduction and physical and physiological well-being. Understanding residents’ perspectives when it comes to their yards, and the differences in perspectives across cities, is therefore useful in understanding the development of Green Infrastructure. Alongside Tenley Conway in the Department of Geography, Shefaly Gunjal’s project explored this question through the surveying of residents in Toronto, Philadelphia and Malmo. From these surveys, Shefaly was then able to formulate tangible policy recommendations for municipal governments of all sizes. Their findings were presented at Smarti Gras, UTMs summer research day for undergraduate students.

Project Title: Precipitation Trends in the GTHA

Kaitlin McNeil

Student: Kaitlin McNeil

Faculty Supervisor: Prof. Kent Moore

Project Description: Climate change and rapid urbanization have combined to increase the average temperature of Toronto and its surrounding area. Understanding the implications of these changes for weather and precipitation is important, as an increase in precipitation in the GHTA could lead to more frequent flooding and infrastructural damage. Using data from as early as 1840, collected from archival resources available at the University of Toronto, Kaitlin McNeil explores potential correlations in temperature and precipitation changes, finding that changes in both appear more erratic after 1960 compared to any time previously.

Her findings were presented at Smarti Gras, UTMs summer research day for undergraduate students. Building on this project, Kaitlin is currently exploring the relationship between these urban trends and potential changes measured in rural areas across Ontario.

Project Title: Urban Greenspaces and Bluespaces: How cities can use them to encourage community building

Juan Sebastian Alvarez Salinas

Student: Juan Sebastian Alvarez Salinas

Supervisor: Prof. Laurel Besco

Project Description: Green infrastructure is a well-defined term in the environmental studies literature, yet 'greenspaces' lack an accepted definition across disciplines. Likewise, 'bluespaces' is a recent term focused on identifying eco-water features to ensure policymakers and researchers are considering water resources. This project cultivated definitions of these emerging terms and examined their relationship to ecosystem health, economic growth, public health and recreation. From this, Juan developed four critical considerations for integrating green and blue spaces into community development: (1) maximizing space efficacy and value to the local community; (2) the role of residents in blue and greenspace intervention; (3) the role of these spaces in a sense of security, social cohesion and place of attachment; and (4) their role in promoting social interactions within a community. His findings were presented at Smarti Gras, UTMs summer research day for undergraduate students.