University Rover Challenge 2017: Ryerson Rams Robotics (R3) in Hanksville, Utah

By Michel Kiflen, R3 Science Lead, Undergraduate student in the Biomedical Science program

“Life, in it’s most fundamental sense, is a good design of polymers”, was how I started my 2017 University Rover Challenge (URC) presentation at the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) in Utah desert.

Backtrack to the middle of summer 2016, I received a recruitment email from the Ryerson Rams Robotics (R3), a group of engineering students interested in building a Mars rover for the submission to the international URC competition.

One of the main requirements for the rover was to extract and analyze a soil sample to give a strong argument for the evidence of life. As one of the Science Leads of R3, I was given the responsibility to work with other engineers on the team to solve this. It turned out to be a greater challenge that I anticipated, since the URC committee required the whole process to be done in 20 minutes. Nonetheless, our team developed new protocols and systems to combat this problem in under 5 minutes. As far as we know, no one in the scientific community has been able to do this using traditional methods.

After the rover and corresponding tests were complete, we flew to Salt Lake City, Utah and drove south to the MDRS, located in Hanksville, Utah. This region is one of the closest representations of the red planet. Reaching the MDRS is impossible without a vehicle. The entry is barred with many peaks and hills, with a single path intertwined between the terrain. It is easily one of the most remote, and extreme places I have visited.

There is no cellphone service for kilometres and the closest clinic is a 90-minute helicopter ride away. Temperatures reach upwards of 40 ºC, making everyone vulnerable to severe heat exposure.

Nevertheless, we setup our mobile lab in the back of our trucks, whether we were in the arid desert or in the parking lot of our hotel, continuously practicing and timing our tests days leading up to the competition…

“Life, in it’s most fundamental sense, is a good design of polymers.”

***

            After a series of questions and comments from the judges, we scored 11th place, worldwide.

I believe our success at the URC was because all of us, engineers and science students, are truly passionate about the programs we are in. We received direction and advice from Ryerson faculty, and had a keen interest to apply our learnt skill sets from the classroom to applications such as programming, building, and experimenting. I anticipate extending my knowledge even further as I continue to grow and undertake more projects.

As we packed our Rover back to Ryerson University and conducted a postmortem of our scores, I looked back at how participating in a challenge this large affects one’s learning. I have a strong biological research background, however, I lacked dexterity in robotics almost entirely. Joining this team allowed everyone, including myself to work in an interdisciplinary manner where our strengths were amplified.

I learnt many engineering concepts such as in materials physics when the team researched different building materials for the Rover. Additionally, working on this Rover under R3 is the largest project and leadership role I have undertaken in terms of work output and number of collaborators.  I learned to keep a more rigorous calendar and schedule to ensure I was in sync with all four sub-teams under R3.

For my concluding remarks, I would like to mention that if you have the opportunity to participate in activities that come with huge challenges, you definitely should – you must.

The experience of meeting students outside my faculty, let alone students from universities all around the world, put common interests and central themes into perspective.

As for the URC, it is Mars and its eventual colonization. Mars is the future. My motivation to write an email to R3 was because I believe Mars is the next challenge that we need to tackle, and opportunities such as these contribute to the larger goal that is bigger than all of us. We should strive for boundless human endeavour. From the dawn of human existence ~300,000 years ago, there has always been an intrinsic feeling, a motivation to explore and a craving to seek beyond the horizon. It is this ‘essential instinctual element’ that allowed us to disperse out of Africa and later cross the Beringian land bridge. Mars’ mystery represents fascination, excitement, and incalculable opportunity that extends beyond anything anyone has done.

“Maybe it’s a little early. Maybe the time is not quite yet. But those other worlds promising untold opportunities — beckon. Silently, they orbit the Sun, waiting.”

– Carl Sagan

fin.

Six months in the New York Public Library’s Photography Department

By Cassandra Tavukciyan, Master’s Student in Photographic Preservation and Collections Management

Greetings from New York City! For the past five months, I have been completing an internship at the New York Public Library’s Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs. This internship is a residency requirement for my Master’s degree in Photographic Preservation and Collections Management at Ryerson. As an intern with a focus on photographic preservation, I have been able to gain hands-on training and experience in archiving and managing photographic collections of a major research library. Ryerson International and the RIWEF Award further assisted me in this pursuit with minimal amounts of financial constraint thus ensuring I complete my internship to a high standard.

The New York Public Library (NYPL) is a public library system in New York City. With nearly 53 million holdings, the NYPL is the fourth largest public library in the United States and the fourth largest in the world.  Established in 1895 with 88 branches and four research centers, the NYPL provides free and open access to a variety of materials including rare books, films, videos, maps and more.

The NYPL’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, widely known as the Main Branch, is the flagship building in the NYPL’s system and a prominent historic landmark in Midtown Manhattan, housing research collections in the humanities and social sciences as well as a circulating children’s collection. Located on 42nd and Fifth Avenue, the Library is surrounded by Bryant Park and in close proximity to the International Center of Photography School (ICP) and Grand Central Station.

My main responsibilities in the Photography Collection include assisting in research, supporting and enhancing cataloguing practices, managing the re-housing and organization of photographic collections and maintaining digital records through the library’s database. I have additionally supported staff in assisting and registering patrons with external research requests and appointments in the Prints and Photographs Study Room. The internship is additionally the basis of my thesis work in Ryerson’s MA Program, where I am researching cases of misattribution in the context of Ottoman-Armenian photography. Through these initiatives, I have achieved a high degree of fluency in navigating and organizing archival spaces and my thesis work has additionally attuned me to the particularities of specific objects and how they fit into archival collections.

In addition to the work experience and my thesis research, I am also taking advantage of being in one of the most diverse and exciting cities in the world.

During the evenings and weekends I’ve enjoyed participating in local cultural events, film screenings, and concerts and visiting the city’s incredible selection of cultural institutions such as the Morgan Library, the Met, The Brooklyn Museum, the Tenement Museum and much more.

I also had the opportunity to attend a conference in Watertown, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston where I got to meet and connect with individuals who share similar research interests with me. 

On the whole, my experience in New York City has been very valuable for both my academic and career goals. This wasn’t my first international placement, but it was certainly a memorable one. Living here for six months allowed me to become familiar with my surroundings and the institution.

While at times, living in this expensive and high energy city can be very stressful and challenging, I am confident that the skills I have acquired and the relationships I have formed with my colleagues will allow me to succeed in my future professional pursuits.

International Conferencing as an International Student

By Desislava Stefanova, Masters Student in the Environmental Applied Science and Management Program

MIT Campus

Last April, Ryerson International awarded me with the International Conference and Research Support Fund (ICRSF) to represent the university at the AAG International Conference in Boston, Massachusetts.

As an international student here at Ryerson, I was thrilled not only to present my research, but also to explore a new city on this side of the pond.

Boston

It was my first time attending an international conference AND my first time presenting my own study. Although I was super excited, I was also somewhat sceptical that people wouldn’t find my work interesting.

My research examines how tree canopies impact traffic noise within a streetscape. In other words, I discovered that trees in front of my house attenuate traffic noise, making my life more peaceful.

Upon arrival at the conference, I put up my poster and waited. Soon after, the first person stopped to inquire about my research. At first, I lacked confidence and thought to myself: “Am I saying the right words? Is it at all important? …” But the woman was pretty interested so we kept talking and exchanging information. In fact, it turned out that some people came specifically to see my poster!

I met professors who study noise effects on human health; I met professionals who evaluate noise measurements; I met students who work on noise mitigation. It was great for networking!

Fenway Park

In addition to the conference, I had the opportunity to be a typical tourist. To get into the real Bostonian spirit – my colleagues and I went to a Red Sox game at Fenway Park. Bostonians are furiously enthusiastic about their team!

MIT Campus

In order to get inspiration for a PhD, I visited MIT and Harvard University! The “smell” of intelligence was all around.

The experience of traveling to Boston for this conference helped grow my confidence, network, and public speaking abilities. And most importantly, it brought me joy from a job well-done!

I would like to thank the Environmental Applied Science and Management Master’s Program, the Geography and Environmental Studies Department and Ryerson International for the International Conference and Research Support Fund (ICRSF). None of this could have been possible without your support!

 

 

Hello from New York City!

 

By Olivia Wong, Master’s student in Film and Photography Preservation and Collections Management

Hello from New York City! I am currently completing a six-month internship at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, as a residency requirement for my Master’s degree at Ryerson. This hands-on experience and international training on how to archive and manage a circulating audio-visual collection has been extremely valuable to support my career as a professional film archivist. This international placement required a lot of planning, but with the support of Ryerson International and the RIWEF Award, I felt confident that I could undertake this exceptional internship.

[New York Public Library for the Performing Arts entrance]

The New York Public Library (NYPL) is the United States’ largest public library system. It was founded in 1895, and has 88 neighborhood branches and four research centers. The NYPL provides free and open access to materials such as books, films, videos, educational resources and much more. The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts is one of the NYPL’s research centers, and the archive focuses on preserving materials related to dance, music and motion picture. Located in the Upper West-Side’s Lincoln Plaza, the library is surrounded by arts institutions such as The Met Opera, the New York City Ballet, Juilliard School, the Film Society of Lincoln Center as well as several museums.

My main responsibilities at the NYPL include processing and cataloging 16mm film prints to add to their collection in order to make them accessible to library users. I love working with a circulating audio-visual collection because anyone with a library card can borrow 16mm films to either watch on-site or to take home if they have their own projector. The films are also shown in theaters across New York and occasionally are requested for festivals internationally. For instance, the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s cinematheque recently screened a selection of the NYPL’s rare archival films for the series “One Way or Another: Black Women Cinema, 1970-1991”.

The research and work I am completing at the NYPL is extremely beneficial to my academic and professional development. What drew me to the library initially was the amount of films they have from independent filmmakers, often from communities underrepresented in archival holdings. Having access to the NYPL’s collection has allowed me to expand my thesis on the Young Filmmaker’s Foundation, an organization that gave youth film cameras as part of the participatory media movement in the 1960s and 1970s. Watching these works is a wonderful way to view the city through the lens of youth capturing their neighborhood on their own terms, and I am grateful to be able to visit the same locations where these films were shot several decades later.

[A “cool” place to work – The on-site cool storage vault]

In addition to the work and thesis research I am conducting at the library, I am taking advantage of this international placement to participate in local cultural events and visit New York’s well-known museums. I have explored a lot of the larger cultural institutions, such as the Natural History Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Modern Art. That being said, there are just as many small and community-oriented museums in the city, for instance I visited the Museum of Food and Drink which held an exhibition on the history of Chinese American cuisine.

[Everyone in New York commutes by using the Subway system]

Overall, this placement has been a fantastic professional experience and academic cultural exchange. I would highly recommend completing an international placement for anyone interested in working in cultural heritage institutions or conducting academic research on a specialized archival collection. New York is not for everyone, it is a fast-paced and busy city, but the amounts of historical and culturally significant events constantly happening make it worth it!

[Taking a break to visit New York City’s tourist attractions]