It is no small task to reinvent post-secondary education to tackle such 21st century challenges as climate change, widespread water pollution, dwindling fossil fuels, and increasingly urbanized populations. But this is the task Catherine Mulligan set for herself and her colleagues when she proposed a new research unit that has just been launched by Concordia University.
On November 2, Senate gave unananimous approval to the proposed Concordia Institute for Water, Energy and Sustainable Systems. Mulligan, Associate Dean of Research and Graduate Studies for the Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science, will be the Institute’s inaugural director. Students will be able to apply for the new, innovative and multidisciplinary program immediately and projects could begin as early as January 2013.
“The three challenges that pose the highest risk to human life on this planet are the quality and quantity of water available to us, the availability of energy, and climate change,” says Mulligan. “This Institute will broaden the knowledge about the systems underlying these challenges and equip students with the theory and skills they need to help provide solutions.”
Earlier this year, the proposed Institute received a major boost when the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) gave $1.64 million to train graduate students in the area of sustainable systems. It was the first grant under the CREATE (Collaborative Research and Training Experience) program ever to go to Concordia University and only one of three grants given in 2012 to a Quebec university.
It is already easy to see the Institute’s principles in action at Concordia. Mulligan is an acknowledged world leader for her research into water, particularly its treatment by industry, and she has worked with companies across Canada on improving their environmental processes. Concordia is also a leader on research into renewable energy. The university is the headquarters of the NSERC Smart Net-Zero Energy Buildings Strategic Research Network, a nationwide research effort that brings together 29 Canadian researchers from 15 universities to develop smart net-zero energy buildings, which can generate as much energy as they consume.
At Concordia’s Loyola Campus, a potential Institute project is already in the planning phase. James Bambara, a PhD student, will renovate Concordia’s Solar House so that it will include an anaerobic digester, a system that uses natural microorganisms to break down organic waste and create fertilizer, heat and electricity. The digester will be housed in a new greenhouse so that occupants of an attached dwelling could “grow their own food and energy,” according to Bambara.
“It’s what I’d call ‘deep concept’ thinking,” says Bambara, “because it forces you to go back to to the basic science that explains the cycle of life, and to think about how you use that science to develop new technologies and integrated systems that have never been used before.”
Mulligan wants the new Institute to train students to be at the forefront of sustainable development practices and to promote research into new systems, technologies and solutions for water, energy and resource conservation. While the Institute’s home base will be at the Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science, its activities will include all of Concordia’s four faculties and will provide opportunities for collaborations with industry and communities.
Mulligan, like many at Concordia, is delighted to see her proposal finally become a reality.
"This is the culmination of many years of hard work and the start of an ambitious new era for our Faculty, and indeed, for all of Concordia,” said Robin Drew, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science.
• Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science
• Concordia Senate