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Innovative and groundbreaking solutions to today's greatest challenges

We live in a world that is more complex and interconnected than ever before, and together we face extraordinary challenges.

The University of New Brunswick is facing these challenges head on.


Building healthy and secure communities

Ensuring safe and sustainable water

Developing energy systems for the future


Since 1785, UNB has been attracting world-class researchers and forming invaluable partnerships with government and industry partners. We invite you to explore how research at UNB is changing our world for the better.

Energy

Powering our future with small modular reactors 

New nuclear technology helps support renewable energy in the fight against climate change

“Nuclear is poised to be a major part of North America’s energy future,” says Dr. Willy Cook, a professor of chemical engineering and director of the Centre for Nuclear Energy Research (CNER) at UNB.

“For years, leading climate scientists have been telling us that to rapidly decarbonize and halt a two-degree global temperature rise; that we need to aggressively ramp up both renewables and carbon-free nuclear in the power grids of the world’s major energy producers.”

Dr. William Cook

Because of this, says Dr. Cook, countries with northern climates like Canada, with advanced or growing industrial power needs, or those investing in high-efficiency district heating and electricity infrastructure, are looking to small modular reactors (SMRs) to back-up their variable renewable energy supplies.

SMRs are smaller than conventional nuclear fission reactors, manufactured at plants and assembled on-site. They allow for less on-site construction in addition to increased construction efficiency and shorter timelines. Nuclear power plants are the only non-carbon emitting power plants capable of providing the production capacity required to maintain the grid and balance the intermittent loads of the renewables.

“SMRs may complement or replace current infrastructure,” says Dr. Cook. “Communities in the far North and remote locations are engaging with us since SMRs could replace their reliance on diesel-fired generators while providing significant opportunity for district heating. Heavy industry could benefit from SMR deployment for process heating that currently requires combustion of natural gas or heavy oil.”

Listen: Dr. Willy Cook on why nuclear power is vital in fighting the climate crisis.

UNB has had a dedicated nuclear research centre since 1992, working with both industry and academic institutions around the world on applied research projects that are then implemented in the field. Along with graduate students, full-time chemists, engineers and instrumentation and controls experts, UNB-CNER has established research and development facilities with fully automated test loops that simulate the heat transport systems of nuclear reactors.

In March 2020, UNB signed a letter of intent with Bangor University in Wales to work together on the development of SMRs. CNER also has integrated ties with other Canadian universities who are actively involved in nuclear research and teaching.

“New Brunswick has long been a contributor to Canada’s nuclear supply chain,” says Dr. Cook. “We have a well-established supply chain for nuclear components and a well-educated, well-trained work force at the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station. Point Lepreau is ideal for integration of SMRs to feed New Brunswick’s energy needs with potential for export to the US market.”

$10M invested in R&D cluster for small modular reactors

Both the federal and provincial governments have recognized New Brunswick’s importance in a carbon-free power market. In 2018, New Brunswick committed $10 million to create an R&D cluster for SMR development. Two leading SMR developers — Moltex Energy and ARC Clean Energy Canada Inc – established offices in Saint John and each contributed an additional $5 million to the research cluster. The University of New Brunswick is participating in the cluster as a centre for advanced nuclear engineering research and teaching.

In 2019, UNB-CNER received $2 million for R&D activities and teaching from the New Brunswick SMR R&D Cluster, which included $500,000 each from Moltex Energy and ARC Clean Energy Canada Inc. The contribution forms the basis of the collaborations initiated with these leading SMR companies and championed by the Government of New Brunswick in the summer of 2018.

In recent decades, international research and development efforts and private companies have produced SMR designs that are inherently safe to operate and propose to re-use legacy fuel from the current generation of reactors to power them, reducing the need for thousands of years of nuclear waste storage to hundreds.

“Many of us equate nuclear power with large capital costs, licensing and engineering challenges, long lead times, cost overruns and the legacy of used fuel that remains radioactive long into the future,” says Dr. Cook. “But SMRs are not the reactors we grew up with. It’s those very drawbacks that SMR developers are making great strides in addressing.”

“The fight against climate change represents the biggest economic and social challenge of our times. But it could also represent one of our biggest economic opportunities,” says Dr. Cook. “We need to adapt and accept the growing place of nuclear energy in a carbon-free world. It’s time for Canada’s nuclear industry to get the attention it deserves if we’re serious about climate change and economic development.”

Health

Monitoring children’s rights across the globe

New Brunswick to be the first jurisdiction in the world to pilot the GlobalChild platform

One UNB researcher and her team of experts are putting New Brunswick on the map as a leader in children’s rights advocacy and policy development.

Dr. Ziba Vaghri, senior research associate in the Department of Psychology on UNB’s Saint John campus, has over 20 years of international experience in child health, development and rights. Her appointment supports the growing field of health research on UNB’s Saint John campus, particularly the interdisciplinary Bachelor of Health, as a part of and the Integrated Health Initiative (IHI) a unique program offering curriculum that integrates arts, business and science, and future graduate programs.

Dr. Ziba Vaghri poses for a photo on the university campus.
Dr. Ziba Vaghri

With Dr. Vaghri’s arrival, UNB is now the home of GlobalChild, a comprehensive child rights monitoring platform. The project, funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and grounded in the principles of human rights and child development, has been created in collaboration with the United Nations and nine Canadian and 19 international universities and agencies. The platform will support the implementation and monitoring of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN CRC).

Listen: Dr. Ziba Vaghri on why New Brunswick is emerging as a leader in the field of children's rights.

As principal investigator, Dr. Vaghri has led the research and development of the program, including building the child’s rights indicators based on the UN CRC. The platform has been populated with the finalized indicators – which were reviewed by over 100 child rights experts, including six former chairs of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and is now ready to be piloted in French and English.

'A very powerful tool for child’s rights'

“GlobalChild, using indicators, will collect data on a variety of rights; for example, a child’s right to education. The platform will help us understand what kind of programs, budgetary allocations and policies are in place to support this right, and their impact on children’s educational outcomes. It will tell us what children, with the current systems in place, are tracking and who are left behind.

“We have developed a very powerful tool to monitor every right of all children," says Dr. Vaghri.

In 2018, the Kingdom of Morocco signed an MOU with the GlobalChild team to be the first pilot site of the tool, however, the planning was halted due to the pandemic. New Brunswick will be the first jurisdiction in the world to pilot the GlobalChild platform. “New Brunswick is very progressive in terms of child’s rights advocacy and awareness and there’s a high concentration of child’s rights activities in place,” says Dr. Vaghri. “This is huge for our province. There will forever be the stamp of New Brunswick as the first place in the world to implement a platform that will eventually become the child rights monitoring tool across the globe.”

The data collected from GlobalChild will be invaluable for researchers and policy makers and will be useful in identifying the province’s strengths and weaknesses. “It will provide a good institutional self-assessment and serve tremendously for data driven policy, planning and development,” says Dr. Vaghri.

“I invite government officials and NGOs to participate in this pilot. It’s an amazing opportunity not just for the province but for Canada. GlobalChild has been built in collaboration with the UN and a vast international team of experts, but it’s a Canadian ingenuity built relying upon Canadian public funds” says Dr. Vaghri. “A first pilot in Canada makes total sense to me.”

The post-New Brunswick pilot plan is to continue piloting the platform in one country from each of the world’s five regions and then work towards its global deployment as the single CRC report-writing tool for all 196 countries. “This will shine a huge spotlight on this beautiful province while also creating jobs and other exciting opportunities. The pilot will confer an advisory capacity to the participants of the N.B. pilot during the subsequent pilots,” says Dr. Vaghri.

Data to provide UNB with new research opportunities

As signatories submit data to the platform, GlobalChild will also provide new opportunities to enhance UNB’s leadership role in data research. The resulting pool of data will provide opportunities for data research and security collaboration within UNB and across Canada.

“New Brunswickers are dedicated to their province,” says Dr. Vaghri, “and when I see a small place like this make such huge progress in child’s rights advocacy, I am so inspired. This is not a solo journey, but for my part, I am going to move heaven and earth to make sure the New Brunswick based pilot is a success.”

Security

Canadian Institute for Cybersecurity generates dataset to help thwart malicious cyberattacks

A new dataset to support the development of real-time cyberattack detectors has been released by the Canadian Institute for Cybersecurity (CIC) at the University of New Brunswick.

The cybersecurity dataset, named CICDDoS2019, will be used to benchmark Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack detectors.

DDoS attacks aim to exhaust the target networks with malicious traffic. While many statistical methods have already been designed for DDoS attack detection, developing a real-time detector with low computational overhead has been one of the major challenges faced by cybersecurity researchers.

Dr. Ali Ghorbani

 “DDos is one of the most formidable cyberattacks out there. It has brought down large organizations by making their services unavailable,” says Dr. Ali Ghorbani, director of the CIC. “So not only is the organization in trouble, the individual who might not be able to access or use their credit card, for example, is also impacted.”

Dr. Ghorbani says that cybersecurity used to be recognized solely as an IT problem, but that it is clear it’s much more than that. “It’s a business problem and it’s every person's problem,” he says. “The CIC addresses cybersecurity from this perspective. We’re attending not only to the technical aspects of the problem, but also to the human elements of the problem.”

Listen: Dr. Ali Ghorbani on the "critical" importance of the Canadian Institute for Cybersecurity's AI-generated data sets, which are used by thousands of researchers around the world.

The CIC is a comprehensive multidisciplinary training, research and development, and entrepreneurial unit that draws on the expertise of researchers in the social sciences, business, computer science, engineering, law and science.

The institute’s program on the science of cybersecurity focuses on enabling the development of information and network security solutions for the evolving data-intensive cyber domain by focusing on the value and meaning of security data. The focus of the program is on development and implementation of novel approaches for addressing the timely security challenges in cyberspace, addressing practical security problems that cyberspace infrastructure face in ensuring their survivability, reliability, and performance objectives under malicious and uncertain environments.

'Practical solutions for practical problems'

Based at UNB, the CIC is the first of its kind to bring together researchers and practitioners from across the academic spectrum to share innovative ideas, create disruptive technology and carry out ground-breaking research into the most pressing cybersecurity challenges of our time.

“The CIC is a pioneer in creating cybersecurity solutions for industry and training,” says Dr. Ghorbani. “We create practical solutions for practical problems.”

The existence of well-designed datasets is a vital part of the ongoing evaluation of new detection algorithms and techniques. The latest dataset contains up-to-date, benign versions of common DDoS attacks, allowing researchers and developers to test their solutions.

“CICDDoS2019 is a huge dataset, which means researchers can use parts of it for training, validating and testing their algorithm,” says Dr. Ghorbani. While the dataset does not stop attacks outright, it helps developers ensure their system works.

CIC datasets have been cited more than 4,000 times

Since 2009, the CIC has generated 19 datasets that assist in training and protecting against varying malicious attacks. Each have been made freely available for researchers to test their database and systems. The CIC’s datasets have become increasingly popular in recent years and have been cited by over 4,000 researchers and scholars.

The latest dataset generated and released by the CIC protects against Darknet, a quickly growing attack that identifies individual IP addresses.

“Without cybersecurity, it’s like there are no locked doors,” says Dr. Ghorbani. “Like a lawless society, anyone can enter and do whatever they want. With CIC's efforts, plus government regulations and policies, we are making sure that we have a society that is as protected as possible against malicious attacks that threaten the security and wellbeing of individuals and organizations alike.”

Water

Exploring new ways to measure the health of North Atlantic right whales

Aerial drones capture infrared and high-resolution images

Graduate student Gina Lonati followed whales to UNB’s Saint John campus; now, she’s following them with drones to better understand the relationship between body temperature and health.

“In 2017 I attended a conference in Halifax where I learned that there are only 350 North Atlantic right whales left,” says Gina. At the time she worked at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in St. Petersburg, Florida. “I was at a point in my life where I wanted to go back into academia, ask questions, find answers, and make something good happen.

Photo of whale taken from a hovering drone camera.
Pictures from the drone's cameras are used to measure the temperature of the blow-hole and assess the body condition of a whale.

“I felt called to this work,” says Gina who was drawn to UNB in 2019 when a job opening with UNB assistant professor in biological sciences Dr. Kimberely Davies gave her an opportunity to become involved in the mission to protect right whales. “Dr. Davies' students and colleagues are informing real-world management decisions about whales in Atlantic Canada,” says Gina, “and it's an honor to be a part of this diverse team that is dedicated to making a difference.”

“We know what is killing and leading to the declines in reproductive rates of North Atlantic right whales and most of it is due to human activity,” says Gina. “Because they’re so critically endangered, it’s important that we have ways to understand how the population is doing.”

Listen: UNB PhD student Gina Lonati on the excitement and importance of studying the North Atlantic right whale.

'Matty' the drone lets researchers explore whales up close

Last summer, Gina embarked on a month-long fieldwork trip in the Bay of Fundy, working with supervisor Dr. Davies; Natasha Hynes, whale laboratory technician in biological sciences; and “Matty,” a drone equipped with stable hovering capabilities and multiple cameras.

“Matty’s” two cameras – thermal and high-resolution – are used to measure the temperature of the blow-hole and assess the body condition of a whale; both of which are indicators of the whale’s general health. “You can’t catch a right whale, take it out of the water and put it back,” says Gina. “Drones open up this whole new avenue for exploring whales up close without disturbing them.

“We first want to know what their temperature is. Does it change? If a whale has less blubber does it mean it’s colder? Does a calf have a different temperature than an adult? Does their temperature vary when in the Gulf of St. Lawrence compared to when they’re in in Florida?”

Researcher on the deck of a boat prepares a drone to fly.
Gina Lonati prepares to launch her research team's drone in the Bay of Fundy.  

Measuring the length of the whale relative to its width gives the research team an idea of the whale’s body condition. “This data will supplement our thermal data,” says Gina, “helping our ability to use blowhole temperature as an indication of health.”

The high-resolution camera also allows the team to check for entanglements or injuries to inform rescue intervention as needed. Matty’s aerial perspective can help the rescue team know where to cut ropes and where to approach the whale.

Theoretically, the use of drones is less invasive than other methods. To quantify that research, Gina and Dr. Jack Terhune, professor emeritus in biological sciences at UNB, are investigating Matty’s noise measurements and whether they can be heard by the whales.

“There are more people working on this North Atlantic right whale issue than there are right whales,” says Gina. “Being at UNB has afforded me the opportunity to engage with the people who are making management decisions. I hope it’s not too little too late, but I also hope we will find a solution that works before these whales go extinct.” 

Indigenous research supported by UNB

Mi’kmaq-Wolastoqey Centre researcher combining Indigenous ways of knowing with Western science and knowledge

With the guidance and support of elders from different Indigenous Nations in Canada and abroad, a University of New Brunswick researcher is working to improve collaboration and transdisciplinary research between Indigenous and non-Indigenous researchers and communities.

Dr. Juan Carlos Rodriguez Camacho, assistant professor at the Mi’kmaq-Wolastoqey Centre and Faculty of Education, has developed a multidisciplinary approach to knowledge sharing and research with the aim of exploring the “togetherness of current challenges.”

Dr. Juan Carlos Rodriguez Camacho

Under a community-based approach, Elder Albert Marshall’s Two Eyed-Seeing perspectives and the complex dynamic systems perspectives, Dr. Rodriguez is inviting academics from faculties and departments across UNB, Indigenous and non-Indigenous community members to engage and collaborate in this new dialogue.

Relatuhedron

This process, referred to as Relatuhedron, is a neologism that emerged from this shared practice. “It represents the need for a place and a process to inspire and promote multilevel, multi-perspective, and multidisciplinary knowledge-action to better understand our complex and constantly evolving societal systems,” says Dr. Rodriguez.

Relatuhedron is rooted in the English word relat from relat-ionship, the Latin hedra, meaning shape and together meaning the “shape of relationships.” Relatuhedron has multiple meanings; as a structure, it can be built by organizing triangles in the shape of a wigwam, a maloca or “ue”, thus honouring the Indigenous homes where social gatherings with relatives and friends are common.

Listen: Dr. Juan Rodriguez on the concept of Relatuhedron, and how the UNB-developed framework is supporting reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.

As a place, the Relatuhedron is where sharing knowledge is expressed by art, diagrams, data, values and narratives. Dr. Rodriguez and his team plan on building a Relatuhedron on UNB’s Fredericton campus that will serve as an interactive art installation for visitors and academics alike.

Dr. Rodriguez conceives this approach as a “mangrove tree,” sustaining and protecting rich environments between different kinds of waters and storms. In the Relatuhedron, the systemic-holistic perspective to research and resolve problems results in more flexible and powerful values-based outcomes.

Building new opportunities

“I am looking to build new opportunities, a machine of possibilities, based on differences and commonalities respecting both Indigenous and Western cultures,” he says, “like effective solutions guided by equality, sharing, collaboration protecting relationships between human-culture and nature.

“It is a space to work revising the systems values of our age, on many dimensions of health and wellbeing, happiness, and productive lives. These are not utopic ‘good things to do,’ but practical and realistic good ways to resolve small everyday problems, learning together how to share and practice our knowledge and shared possibilities.”

The Relatuhedron is also a place to review our understandings and skills on collaborative work. “In a competitive world, there are few opportunities to learn how to collaborate in a supportive way. Competitive attitudes are promoted by the culture as a way to succeed, while collaborative alternatives are less valued. I can see this in all areas of society.” says Dr. Rodriguez.

“Relatuhedron is a place and a mindset where that collaboration can safely be explored. It is a non-judgmental space where the open process of discovering and developing news ways to interconnect and work trans-disciplinarily might flourish. Relatuhedron invites participants to challenge problems and discover their own understanding of what it is practical implication of the intention to collaborate.”

UNB’s Relatuhedron experience under development at the Mi’kmaq-Wolastoqey Centre

Dr. Rodriguez, who teaches quantitative research analysis, Indigenous perspectives in science, and Indigenous education within the university’s Faculty to Education, has fostered an interdisciplinary team at the Mi’kmaq-Wolastoqey Centre that is in the process of researching and developing UNB’s Relatuhedron experience.

The team receives the guidance of Elder Imelda Perley; Elder David Perley; Elder Albert Marshall; Natasha Simon, Director of the Mi’kmaq-Wolastoqey Centre; Jen Rowett, counselling and leadership professor in the Faculty of Education; Andrea Belczewski, senior teaching associate at the Mi’kmaq-Wolastoqey Centre; and David Danto, program head of psychology at the University of Guelph-Humber.

The team is currently exploring funding research sources to include opportunities for both undergraduate and graduate students at UNB and community members. Dr. Rodriguez aims to develop a course on this practice and share this methodology with teachers on topics of interrelated curriculum, so that they may learn collaborative skills helpful in addressing future challenges within the provincial curriculum.

Dr. Rodriguez is also in the process of finalizing two books on his experiences with the Relatuhedron in Canada and abroad, sharing lessons learned from this methodology. Those works are expected to be shared for publication and release between 2021-2022.