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.

 

2022 Winners

 

Project Title:The effects of urban stressors, road salt and heat, on mosquito-vectored disease transmission probability

Student: Sherry Du

Sherry Du

Supervisor: Prof. Rosalind Murray 

Project Description: De-icing road salts are important for maintaining transportation on roads and walkways in cold climates. Recently, road salts have emerged as a persistent year-round contaminant in Canadian freshwater environments. Salt pollution frequently disrupts ecological communities through species decline and loss. However, for more salt-tolerant species, like mosquitoes, these opportunistic disruptions can decrease predation and competition pressure and allow them to thrive. Importantly, increased mosquito populations in urban areas with high human density have implications for transmission of vector-borne human disease. A potential mitigation strategy is sexual dimorphism: female and male mosquitoes exhibit differences in behaviour, physiology, and/or appearance at various life stages. Female mosquitoes require a blood meal to develop their eggs, while males consume plants as their only adult food source. Because of this difference, adult females are directly dangerous to humans because they can transmit deadly diseases when obtaining their blood meals. Patterns of male-biased adult emergence have been observed across many mosquito species. One hypothesis for this skewed sex ratio is that larger female mosquitoes spend more time as aquatic larvae than smaller males and may be more susceptible to aquatic stressors during this prolonged juvenile period. Additionally, because larval body size can carry over to affect adult size, heightened temperatures (caused by the Urban Heat Island effect) may reduce the body size of adult females. This may further decrease the likelihood of disease transmission as smaller females tend to feed less frequently. This research will investigate the sex-specific impacts of heat and road salt on emerging mosquitoes. By understanding the mechanisms of these stressors influencing mosquito sexual dimorphism, we will be able to target disease-carrying female mosquitoes in our human disease-control efforts in Canadian cities. Ultimately, this research will inform public health and urban planning agencies on preventative strategies against mosquito pests and their potentially deadly human diseases.


Project Title: Effect of Urbanization on Chlamydomonas algae

Student: Scott Ford 

Scott

Supervisor: Prof. Rob Ness

Project Description: The majority of humans now live in cities and this incredible and rapid urbanization has transformed landscapes across the globe. These newly urbanized environments represent a major shift from the preexisting environments, to the extent that cities are more similar to one another than they are to their surrounding landscape.  These new and replicated urban environments are changing both the ecology and evolution of the species that live in cities. What little we know about how urbanization has affected natural microbial communities suggests that they lose biodiversity and converge in complexity. These results suggest the free living microbial communities that underpin many ecosystems are likely heavily impacted by changes to the urban environments. Combined with microbes’ capacity for rapid dispersal and evolution, it is reasonable to predict that cities will drive both the composition and evolution of microbial populations. This project will investigate the following questions: (1) Has urbanization altered the species composition of Chlamydomonas algae and (2) Are urban populations of the model C. reinhardtii less genetically diverse and isolated than those found in surrounding habitats.The continued persistence of urban ecosystems is critical to both the function of cities and to the quality of life of their citizens.  This project seeks to gather foundational knowledge at one of the most important but underrepresented scales in biology and will be a basis for further research.


Project Title: Comparing Canadian Municipal Urban Forest Management Plans

Student: Jackson Jung

Jackson

Supervisor: Prof. Tenley Conway

Project Description: Urban forests have the potential to provide an array of ecosystem services that support healthy communities and people. As a result, many Canadian municipalities have adopted urban forest management plans (UFMPs) to support long-term strategic management of urban trees. A 2013 analysis of these plans compared the 14 existing plans better understand the direction of urban forestry and shortcomings of current efforts). This project will use a content analysis of UFMPs to investigate their visions, objectives, and actions to better understand trends and patterns in municipal urban forest management foci and strategies. The overall objective of this research is to examine all of the plans adopted by the 100 most populous municipalities in Canada. The content of plans adopted at different points in time will be compared to determine if there are shifts in management foci and/or if the shortcoming associated with older plans have been addressed in the more recently adopted UFMPs.  Plan content by the municipalities’ location, will also be compared considering differences within and across provinces to see if there is evidence of idea sharing amongst nearby municipalities, and by ecozone, to identify ecologically oriented location-specific strategies (e.g., do municipalities in the Prairies have different visions and objectives than those located in the Pacific Maritime or Mixedwood Plains Ecozone).


Project Title: Plant evolution in response to urbanization

Student: Isabella Vessio 

Isabella

Supervisor: Prof. Marc Johnson

Project Description:With a rapidly increasing global population, the expansion of land use for the development of cities has led to the worldwide phenomenon known as urbanization. Urban areas around the globe have resulted in increased human-ecosystem interactions, influencing both biotic and abiotic conditions of environments. Populations within communities are forced out of the city into rural areas or pressured by natural selection to adapt to the rapidly changing environment, leading to numerous changes in the patterns of biodiversity, species abundance, and phenotypic traits. The Global Urban Evolution Project (GLUE) is the first initiative that assesses environmental and evolutionary change in response to urbanization on a global scale. The GLUE project is a global collaborative effort in which researchers from cities around the world will collect data to assess whether a single model plant, white clover (Trifolium repens), is adapting to urban environments. As part of GLUE, this project will contribute to answering two questions: (1) Is parallel evolution caused globally by urbanization? (2) What is the role of herbivores in driving the adaption of plants to urban environments? These results will be important for developing strategies to preserve biodiversity and ecosystems services as Earth becomes increasingly urbanized.


Project Title: Investigation of Urban Environmental Effects on Type-2 Diabetes: A Case Study in Toronto

Student: Hao Xuan (Peter) Ge  

Peter

Supervisor: Prof. Jue Wang

Project Description: The rising number of diabetes cases worldwide is emerging as one of the most extensive global health care emergencies. Taking Canada as an example, an estimated 3.4 million (9.3%) Canadians were diagnosed with diabetes in 2015. The senior population is at more risk of developing type-2 diabetes, the type accounting for 90% of the total cases. However, there has been an increasing trend among young adults recently due to physical inactivity and poor diet. Diabetes also causes the highest number of deaths among non-communicable diseases. Moreover, urbanization decreases physical activity and changes dietary habits increasing the prevalence of type-2 diabetes. Therefore, it is essential to prevent and reduce the risk of diabetes by studying its relationships with urban environments and socioeconomic. The objective of this research will investigate urban environmental effects on type-2 diabetes and to what extent the effects may vary by age groups (i.e., young and senior) at the neighborhood level in Toronto. The findings from this study would support health care systems to design better community-based intervention programs and provide beneficial suggestions to control and reduce the increasing rate of diabetes in Toronto. The research findings will be shared in the ArcGIS community through story maps and presented at the next annual meeting hosted by the American Association of Geographers.

 



2021 Winners

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

 

Lauren

Student: 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

2020      

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 Hanif

Project 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. 


2019

Project Title: Managing Stormwater Runoff in Urban Catchments

 

Student: Zarin Mom         

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.