This month, dozens of U of T Engineering students boarded planes to spend four months conducting research or taking courses abroad. Some of these exchanges are organized by the Centre for International Experience, others are facilitated through the Engineering Science International Summer Research program, and some have been arranged individually by students and principal investigators at partner institutions around the world.

Five of these students shared their stories with U of T Engineering News:

Anston Emmanuel (Year 3 MechE) — Singapore

Anston Emmanuel (Year 3 MechE) testing the robustness of the attitude stability controls of a robotic manta ray at the National University of Singapore. (Photo courtesy Anston Emmanuel)

Emmanuel is part of a team building a robotic manta ray under the supervision of Professor Chee-Meng Chew in the Control and Mechatronics lab at the National University of Singapore. “I will be developing a robust localization solution for the aquatic robot, which will allow it to accurately track its relative position in its environment at all times,” he says. “This is very difficult to do in an underwater environment as GPS signals and typical modes of wireless communication onshore are not effective underwater.”

One possible solution is to use a flow rate sensor that tracks how quickly water flows over the underside of the robot. Emmanuel is experimenting with this approach to provide a better estimate of the robot’s location. Manta rays are naturally ultra-efficient swimmers, so applications for a manta-like robot include offshore ocean monitoring, surveillance, remote water pollution detection, and even deep-sea searches.

In his spare time, Emmanuel is looking forward to immersing himself in Singaporean culture and community. “I’m excited to try the diverse food, and to travel to other locations in Southeast Asia when I get a chance,” he says. “I’ve been surprised by the alternative form of English spoken here, locally referred to as ‘Singlish.’ I’m still getting the hang of it!”

Liu-Yi (Jamie) Wu (Year 3 EngSci) — Hamburg, Germany

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Liu-Yi (Jamie) Wu (Year 3 EngSci) in front the ARGUS detector, part of a de-commissioned particle physics experiment on display at the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron in Hamburg, Germany. (Photo: Jeffrey Qiu)

Wu is spending her summer at the Max Planck Institute at the University of Hamburg. Her research project, supervised by Dr. Wesley Robertson and Dr. Andreas Rossos, involves developing an analytical tool known as an ultra-high sensitivity mass spectrometer. Creating this device which would be able to detect single proteins and other biomolecules directly from biological materials could provide unprecedented insight into cellular biology. By optimizing the detector and its associated techniques, Wu also aims to enable faster and more accurate analysis and interpretation of cancer biopsies and other samples from human patients, which could potentially detect diseases earlier.

“I am thrilled about meeting and working with the people at the University of Hamburg and living in Germany,” says Wu. “I love learning about different cultures both and being immersed in both the research and the country in general.” After she returns, Wu hopes to continue her studies in biomedical systems engineering. “This project is particularly exciting to me as it falls in the realm of biophysics and instrumentation/assay development, which will contrast well with my previous research experience,” she says.

Charlie Yang (Year 2 EngSci) — Haifa, Israel

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Charlie Yang (Year 2 EngSci) overlooking the city of Haifa, Israel, where is living while conducting research at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. (Photo: Daniyar Akhmedjanov)

Following his second year in Engineering Science, Yang is spending the summer at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. There he will combine his passions for data science and the environment, helping to build a server that consolidates information from environmental sensor networks around the country under the supervision of Professor Barak Fishbain. By making the processed data available via a web interface, the project aims to empower industry, policymakers and the general public to detect and deal with pollution in the air, water and land.

Outside of the lab, Yang plans to take some time to see the sights. “I am very much looking forward to travelling around the country and visiting all the famous places that I have only read about in books, such as Jerusalem and Dead Sea,” he says. “I am also looking forward to making new friends, whether they are local or international like me. Israel is known for its advanced technology and I think I will be able to learn a lot there.”

Katherine Bancroft (Year 2 CompE) — Zurich, Switzerland

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Katherine Bancroft (Year 2 CompE). (Photo: Kevin Soobrian)

Selected from more than 1,000 applicants from around the world, Bancroft will spend her summer with 13 other participants at ETH Zurich’s inaugural Student Summer Research Fellowship Program. She chose to apply to the program because of the school’s central location in Europe and the university’s strength in data science, an area of interest to her. She intends to pursue practical research on neural nets and natural language processing in the Data Analytics Lab under the supervision of Professor Thomas Hofmann. Making artificial intelligence sound more natural in its interactions with people could open up new applications for the technology, such as using chatbots for therapy sessions.

While in Zurich, Bancroft plans to do plenty of hiking and sailing on the lake, travel the rest of Switzerland and hopes to see parts of Germany, France and Italy. But she expects the greatest gains will come from the interpersonal side of the exchange: “I am really excited to connect with other engineering and computer science students from around the world doing research there this summer,” she says. “I’m also looking forward to the potential for mentorship and to develop lasting global connections.”

James Xu (Year 1 EngSci) — Singapore

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James Xu (Year 1 EngSci) on Sentosa island in Singapore. (Photo: Cindy Ding)

Xu is spending his summer on a research exchange at the National University of Singapore. Working in the lab of Professor Adrian Koh, an expert in soft electroactive polymers, Xu will be helping to develop a soft material energy harvester. These machines have the potential to capture energy from alternative and renewable sources, such as ocean waves, and are more resistant to wear and catastrophic failure than current options. “My supervisor highlighted the possibility of filing a patent following the development of this harvester, so I’m thrilled to potentially be a part of that,” says Xu.

Xu is also looking forward to capitalizing on his time in Southeast Asia to do some travelling. “I can foresee a large number of my weekends being spent exploring Singapore and nearby countries,” he says. “On my first few days, I’ll visit the S.E.A. Aquarium and I plan to travel to Batam, Indonesia as well.”