2017 Wall Solutions Initiative Awards

October 26, 2017

Congratulations to the awardees of the Peter Wall Institute’s 2017 Wall Solutions Initiative.

This program supports UBC faculty members working in collaboration with a community or partner organization to address issues of societal importance through innovative, interdisciplinary and academically rigorous research projects. The goal is to develop and demonstrate innovative research solutions that can be adopted by the end-users or target communities. 

The Institute approved six new projects:

Honey Bees as Bioindicators of Environmental Pollution

Dr. Dominique Weis, Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, Faculty of Science, Pacific Institute for Isotopic and Geochemical Research (PCIGR), UBC; Sarah Common, Hives for Humanity, Vancouver

Urban farming, including community gardens and hobby beekeeping, is quickly gaining popularity as cities densify and demand grows for fresh, local and sustainable food. However, along with this urbanization comes increasing pollution from cars, tankers, and construction. This study will determine the levels of potentially harmful metals (e.g. lead, arsenic) in honey from beehives throughout the Lower Mainland and through time. In addition to establishing the health safety of the honey, this project will investigate the power of the honey bee as a key bioindicator species to trace the sources and impacts of environmental pollution. Because bees forage in a relatively small area (a three-kilometer radius), each hive represents a sample of its local environment. This study will develop a new and innovative geochemical tool and will constitute a case study that can be expanded to other cities worldwide, promoting the use of hives, bees and honey to monitor urban environmental conditions.

Exhumations and Reburial in Colombia: Strengthening Forensic Practices Through Knowledge Transfer

Dr. Pilar Riaño-Alcalá, School of Social Work, UBC; Jose Valencia, Committee for the Rights of Victims of Bojayá, Colombia

During and after mass violence, how can we advance the proper exhumation, identification and reburial of dead bodies in ways that draw on the knowledge of indigenous communities and are respectful of their worldviews? This project takes place in Colombia where between 2006 and 2016 alone, 5,267 mass graves were found and 60,699 persons were identified as missing in the context of a war spanning five-decades. A disproportionate number of these victims were from Indigenous and Black communities. Today, leaders from these communities are leading processes on the rightful ceremonies and practices to exhume, identify, and rebury their dead, at times clashing with forensic scientific teams. This project proposes an innovative approach towards a better understanding of locally grounded meanings and practices surrounding exhumations. UBC researchers will work with the Committee for the Rights of the Victims of Bojayá and the National Center for Historical Memory to document the process of exhumations and reburial, collect information on lessons learned, and produce a best practices toolkit and knowledge transfer outputs (life histories and video letters) to be disseminated at local, regional, national and international levels.

Wildfire 2017: Community-Based Solutions to a Wicked Problem

Dr. Lori Daniels, Department of Forest and Conservation Science, UBC; Danyta Welch, Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM); Jeff Eustache, First Nations Emergency Service Society (FNESS); Jennifer Gunter, BC Community Forest Association

The wildfire season of 2017 is the worst in British Columbia’s (B.C.) history. In response to Firestorm 2003, the previous devastating wildfire season to affect communities, the B.C. government introduced the $78 million Strategic Wildfire Prevention Initiative to counter fire risk. As of 2015, only half of B.C.’s communities had engaged with this initiative and a mere 10% of the 1.6 million hectares of identified hazardous fuels had been treated ‒ most communities remain highly vulnerable to wildfire. We are collaborating with the two key groups facilitating B.C.’s Wildfire Prevention Initiative (Union of B.C. Municipalities and First Nations’ Emergency Services Society), as well as the group conducting many community-level fuel treatments (B.C. Community Forest Association). Our objectives are to: a) identify the barriers to community participation in wildfire prevention and b) to co-develop with project partners, provincial leaders and community members potential solutions to increase participation in preventative wildfire management throughout B.C.

Water to Bricks: Harnessing Fungal Metabolism for Sustainable Biosolids Architecture

Dr. Steven Hallam, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, UBC; Joseph Dahmen, School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, UBC; John Madden, Carole Jolly, Campus and Community Planning, UBC; Laurie Ford, Metro Vancouver Utilities Residuals Management

The project addresses two interrelated areas of industrial ecology, using biosolids produced by wastewater treatment plants as a resource from which to produce biocomposite-based structural building materials. Mycelium biocomposites, composed of mushroom root structures and cellulose, offer similar performance to polystyrene foams but require little energy to produce, cause no harmful emissions to air or water, and are fully biodegradable. Our aim is to develop a system for producing mycelium biocomposites cultivated on biosolids from wastewater treatment operations and to explore new compression technologies to produce structural building materials from biosolid samples. The project will employ emerging research to move materials engineering beyond biomimicry to programmable design and fabrication, using the inherent capacity of wood fungi to transform “water to bricks”. Project outcomes will include a public architectural installation with the blocks produced that simultaneously engages material performance and cultural significance of water consumption and treatment, as well as scientific journal papers describing key technical contributions.

Our Future Community: Engaging Youth on Climate Solutions with a Place-based Videogame

Dr. Stephen Sheppard, Department of Forest Resources Management, UBC; Ron Macdonald, Manager, Energy and Sustainability, Vancouver School Board

Without urgent action to mitigate and adapt to climate change, young people face a challenging and more dangerous future. Research shows that most people have little knowledge of local climate change impacts and schools are not providing substantive education on climate change solutions. Researchers at UBC’s Collaborative for Advanced Landscape Planning (CALP) have demonstrated that an educational place-based videogame on climate change (Future Delta 2.0) can improve climate change literacy and motivate action among students. These findings will be applied to enhance teaching practices on climate change by:

a)  Co-developing an innovative educational videogame template (Our Future Community) that schools can use and customize to their community, exploring local solutions to climate change challenges
b)  Working with teachers to test the game and produce a practical, replicable game package to support wider uptake by teachers and motivate student engagement.

Developing a Portable Dynamic Vision Test for the Aging Population

Dr. Miriam Spering, Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, UBC; Dr. Dinesh Pai, Department of Computer Science, UBC; Mary-Lou Jackson, Vision Rehabilitation Program, Vancouver General Hospital

Vision loss among the elderly is a multidimensional challenge and a major health care problem. In Canada, the direct cost of vision loss is the highest of any disease category. Regular eye examinations are important to help correct visual acuity, and to prevent and treat eye diseases. However, standard vision tests do not measure sensitivity to moving objects, an ability that is critical for everyday tasks such as driving. Dynamic vision tests exist in the research laboratory, but they are lengthy and complicated, and not suitable for use in older adults. We will develop new technology enabling easy and quick assessment of motion sensitivity, using instinctive eye movement responses. This test will be accessible to the aging population regardless of language ability, cognitive, or motor deficits. It will promote vision health literacy, and empower users to be proactive about vision health, thereby boosting an active lifestyle, increasing mobility, and independence.