Mahdi Taha
Mechanical Engineering Student Mahdi Taha, with the prototype Stroke Recovery Sensor Glove that he helped to design.

Promoting interdisciplinary curiosity and industry collaboration

By most estimates, sustainability will be one of engineering’s defining themes in the 21st century. Thanks to a pair of visionary gifts to Campaign McGill from donors Ram Panda and Lorne Trottier, the Faculty of Engineering is poised to provide the blueprint for public policy in the area of sustainable engineering and design.

The new Trottier Institute for Sustainability in Engineering and Design (TISED) will serve as a vibrant interdisciplinary home for the growing number of professors and graduate students from across the Faculty engaged in sustainability research: ranging from guiding the flow of urban traffic and its emissions, to exploring how to use alternative energies such as wind power and bio-fuels, to developing better wastewater treatments.

But the TISED’s work is not confined to the laboratory; it also aims to provide policy-makers and the public at large with objective sources of information on sustainability issues. It will collaborate with a similar Trottier-funded initiative at Montreal’s École Polytechnique dedicated to sustainable energy practices, and also host an annual public symposium that will share the latest knowledge and foster discussion and debate.

The TISED builds on an existing endeavor called the Institute for Sustainability in Engineering and Design (ISEAD), which was launched in 2010 with funding from Panda, MEng’71, MBA’77, a successful businessman and member of Engineering’s Faculty Advisory Board.

Panda’s decision to support McGill was driven by his commitment to reduce our ecological footprint. “We use immense quantities of resources to enjoy things today, but not to build things that will last for the next hundred years,” he says. “And this approach comes at great expense to the earth.”

Panda’s efforts were then bolstered by a $10-million gift from Trottier, BEng’70, MEng’73, DSc’06, a friend of Panda’s and fellow member of the Faculty Advisory Board. The high-tech entrepreneur’s gift allowed the Faculty to incorporate the ISEAD’s programs and activities into the new TISED and further broaden the sustainability think tank’s initiatives. “We need to upgrade our industries and our society for the long term,” explains Trottier. “Sustainable engineering will be a main theme of engineering practices in the coming decades.”

Meanwhile, a $2-million endowed gift from retired engineer William Seath, BEng’52, has established the “Innovations Catalyst in Engineering” (ICE) program, a hub that provides mentorship and guidance for students and professors with creative ideas, and encourages and advises academics and external entrepreneurs alike on the ins and outs of pursuing commercial opportunities. ICE activities include an Industrial Research Development and Engagement Officer who is visiting companies to determine their needs and identify researchers and students who can provide solutions.

As well, the William and Rhea Seath Endowment funds two annual awards that recognize entrepreneurial students or professors who conduct innovative research with potential for commercialization.

“I wanted my gift to benefit not only McGill, but also industry and the economy,” says Seath. “It is my hope that this support will provide the University with the resources to spark new discoveries and then apply this knowledge in concrete ways, rather than simply doing science for the sake of science.”