Combatting COVID-19 and ensuring environmental protection are the goals of two University of Guelph technologies that received the University’s Innovation of the Year Award for 2020.
Dr. Keith Warriner, a professor in the Department of Food Science, and post-doctoral researcher Mahdiyeh Hasani received the award for repurposing their food disinfection technology to clean personal protective equipment (PPE) during the pandemic.
Dr. John Lindsay, a professor in the Department of Geography, Environment and Geomatics, won the award for his open-source mapping tool, Whitebox.
“The innovations we are honouring this year are the epitome of what the University of Guelph stands for,” said Dr. Malcolm Campbell, vice-president (research). “These are the types of innovations that have the potential to change our world and improve life.
“They aim to solve problems that impact people and communities everywhere, whether it is by ensuring a safe supply of protective masks and other personal protective equipment for our health care workers or creating a predictive tool with the potential to avert environmental degradation.”
Warriner initially developed the “clean flow” technology with the company Clean Works to sanitize fruits and vegetables. He and Hasani adapted the technology during the pandemic to decontaminate N95 masks along with other PPE. The process combines ultraviolet light, hydrogen peroxide and ozone to make compounds that kill pathogens.
Warriner was motivated while listening to a radio interview with a distraught nurse about the lack of PPE for health care workers.
“We talk a lot about research grants and papers, but I think every researcher’s desire is that their research will make a difference. It is really good that this is helping us in the fight against COVID-19 and protecting front-line workers,” he said.
For Hasani, this was her first experience combining science and business.
“I see this award as an acknowledgement from the University that I am an innovator in a field the University of Guelph is a world leader in,” she said.
Lindsay, who leads U of G’s Geomorphometry and Hydrogeomatics Research Group, developed an advanced geospatial data analysis engine called WhiteBoxTools now used around the world. Applications include siting potential wetland restoration projects, monitoring wetland drainage, modelling habitat for beaver and other aquatic species, and siting tailings facilities and hydroelectric dams.
So far, WhiteBoxTools has been downloaded by users in almost 900 cities in 116 countries.
“I always like to see the number of countries where it’s being used and enjoy hearing the different ways people are using it,” he said. “It’s very encouraging and one of the motivators for carrying on.”
Lindsay is currently using the software to understand how people with accessibility difficulties are affected by vegetation and landscaping encroachment on sidewalks.
The Innovation of the Year Awards recognize and celebrate U of G innovations with the potential to generate value for Canada.
U of G is among the top research universities in the country and produces about one innovation for every $800,000 of research funds spent.
In 2019-20, 175 innovations were created at U of G. As well, 25 new licence agreements were granted, 13 patents were issued and the Research Innovations Office supported three new start-up companies.
The Research Innovation Office is funded partly by the Research Support Fund.