2019 Wall Solutions Initiative Awards

August 27, 2019

Congratulations to the awardees of the Peter Wall Institute’s 2019 Wall Solutions Initiative. The institute approved four new projects, and renewed two projects for one year.

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. 

New Projects:


Dr. Patricia Janssen, School of Population and Public Health, UBC; Trish Thompson, Population Health Services, Interior Health Authority

We propose to develop a cell phone text messaging program (SmartParent) to deliver information to parents of infants (0-1year) in the Interior Health Authority. New parents will receive two SMS text messages each week appropriate for the age of their infant. The messages provide information about infant feeding and development, immunizations, screening and other aspects of health, with links to online resources. We will evaluate uptake of this program and measure effects on parent’s knowledge, confidence, and health-related parenting behaviour, using surveys and focus groups. We will also determine whether SmartParent improves infant health outcomes, for example, reducing use of emergency services and hospital admissions.

VitalVideo: Early identification of critically ill infants using video monitoring

Dr. Guy Dumont, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Faculty of Applied Science, UBC; Dr. Liisa Holsti & Dr. Pascal Lavoie, Faculty of Medicine, UBC; Msandeni Chiume, Kamuzu Central Hospital, Malawi

For parents of a sick baby, it can be hard to decide if and when it is the right time to go to hospital. In countries where healthcare resources are extremely limited, this can be a real challenge for primary health workers too, and this has major consequences with over 4 million infants who die of a major illness before their 28th day. Our goal for this study is to create the first version of a smartphone app that will measure critical vital signs in babies from video images, to provide users with information about how ill a baby is. Our long-term goal is to build a finalized smartphone app that can accurately interpret complex medical information to help parents and doctors make the right decisions about the need for urgent hospital treatment in sick babies.

Biodegradation and ecotoxicity testing of compostable single-use coffee pods

Dr. Zac Hudson, Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Science, UBC; Darren Footz, G-Pak Technologies Inc.

Since the introduction of the Keurig coffee machine in 1998, sales of single-serve pods have topped 41 billion per year, using enough plastic to circle the globe more than 13 times if the pods are placed end-to-end.  Unfortunately, single-serve pods are typically made from polystyrene, and require 500-10,000 years to break down naturally in soil. With the mass of plastics in the oceans set to equal the mass of all fish species combined by 2050, the reduction of plastic waste from single-use packaging represents a major public benefit both in Canada and globally. While bioplastic materials with suitable thermal properties have recently emerged, none exhibit the barrier to oxygen required by the food packaging industry to keep products fresh. In collaboration with G-Pak Technologies and Circular Waste Labs, our aim is to develop a single-serve pod such that the entire product can be composted with regular organic waste after use.

Mapping Linguistic Diversity in a Globalizing World through Open Source Digital Tools

Dr. Mark Turin, Department of Anthropology, Faculty of Arts, UBC; Dr. Ross Perlin, Endangered Language Alliance

The United Nations has proclaimed 2019 the International Year of Indigenous Languages, but linguistic diversity remains under extreme stress. Today, communities who speak increasingly endangered languages are profoundly mobile, often out of necessity. Because languages move with people, language mapping is difficult, whether in print or digital form. Techniques that locate languages as dots on a map are flawed (where would you locate the dot for English?), while polygons don’t accurately represent plurilingual realities. A failure to understand linguistic diversity can manifest in unsuccessful public service delivery and civic engagement, particularly in marginalized communities. Embracing this challenge, the New York-based Endangered Language Alliance is producing popular printed maps of the world’s most linguistically diverse city. Municipal leadership in New York are using this knowledge to shape public policy. Our project will transform these maps into generalizable, interactive digital tools that support community-based language mapping anywhere in the world.

Renewed Projects:

Anti-mosquito recycled paint for economically feasible malaria prevention in impoverished nations

Dr. Kevin Golovin, School of Engineering, Faculty of Applied Science, UBC Okanagan; Dr. Mark Rheault, Department of Biology, Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences, UBC Okanagan; Josh Wiwcharyk, Loop Recycled Products

Malaria ranks as one of the deadliest diseases worldwide. One promising method for combating malaria is the development of chemical additives that kill or deter the mosquitos that transmit the disease. However, many impoverished nations facing a malaria epidemic cannot afford the carriers of these additives. The most striking example is paint.  This project will develop an anti-mosquito technology fabricated from inexpensive, recycled paint. Researchers at UBC Okanagan have teamed up with Loop Recycled Products, an Ontario-based paint company that recycles unused, stagnant paint, and re-sells it at low cost worldwide. Loop recently secured exclusive rights to use Kyzox, an anti-mosquito additive, in North America. The team will optimize the repellency of the anti-mosquito recycled paint, distribute the paint to community partners in Ghana, Nigeria, and the Dominican Republic, and assess its efficacy at curtailing malaria in real-world conditions. All community partners will receive the anti-mosquito recycled paint for free.

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.