The Impact of Transformation
Video description: Dr. Nemy Banthia’s first-person narration on growing up in India, finding his calling as a civil engineer and coming to teach at UBC where he now leads IC-IMPACTS as CEO and Scientific Director.
Dr. Nemy Banthia's elegant, refined gesture and dignified speech are an interesting counterbalance to his work in an industry known more for 'blasting and extraction' and where manufacturing and construction is less about leading-edge sustainability than it is about meeting production deadlines for big business.
Modest by nature, Dr. Banthia likely won't mention that he is one of the world's leading experts on safe and sustainable infrastructure or that he is a pioneer in the development of 'green' concrete. He won't itemize his impressive list of academic achievements (Senior Canada Research Chair, Professor of Engineering and Distinguished University Scholar at UBC) or that his process of structural repair using sprayed fiber-reinforced polymers is used in structural rehabilitation around the world.
He will, however, happily discuss his work as CEO and Scientific Director of the India-Canada Centre for Innovative Multidisciplinary Partnerships to Accelerate Community Transformation and Sustainability (IC-IMPACTS). As he talks, it quickly becomes clear that this project has deep and important roots in Banthia's life.
From his own experience growing up in India and having lived and taught in Canada for 22 years, he is uniquely qualified to see the potential for the international research and collaborative partnerships that, via IC-IMPACTS, can be created to ignite real change in the world.
We need to have more engagement with India. I think it is a stroke of genius to think that engagement can come from university-to-university contacts.”
In 2011, when the Canadian federal government announced it was seeking proposals to create the first Canada-India Research Centre of Excellence (CIRCE), the idea of a joint proposal between UBC, the University of Alberta and the University of Toronto began to emerge. Building on the existing relationships between the universities — in particular between UBC President Stephen Toope, University of Alberta President Indira Samarasekera and past University of Toronto President David Naylor — the tri-university collaboration seemed like a natural choice for the three universities to pursue. All three universities also had relationships in India, both in the private and public sector, as well with other IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology). When combined with research expertise in three core themes — safe drinking water, reliable infrastructure, effective prevention and treatment of infectious and water-borne diseases — it made for a powerful joint partnership.
The Canadian federal government recognized this synergy and awarded $15 million to create IC-IMPACTS, the first International Network Centre of Excellence in the world (prior to this, any Network of Centre of Excellence had been strictly national).
Banthia was instrumental in leading the writing of the proposal, which won the intense competition against 18 other Canadian universities. Now funded for $30 million, the IC-IMPACTS mandate is to develop technologies for application in communities in India and Canada alike, ultimately bringing together researchers from different disciplines at universities in both countries to tackle some of the most pressing issues the world is now facing.
There is no precedence. The moment you have another country that is 23 hours away, it gets challenging.”
Click on the map below to discover the international projects researchers with IC-IMPACTS are working on in various parts of India and Canada.
Every IC-IMPACTS project is required to have an Indian and a Canadian principal investigator. The joint international scope of IC-IMPACTS is seen not just in the diversity of research projects but in the partnerships the participating universities have created across multiple industries in India and Canada and that support the centre's funding and continued development.
The intention, buttressed by the Canadian federal government's interest in increasing trade with India and defined by the joint proposal from the three universities, was from the outset committed to developing technologies that could positively impact low-resource communities in both countries. It was identified that there were similar challenges around infrastructure, water safety and public health and that the integration of the three themes would have the greatest transformative effect for the people most afflicted with the day-to-day challenges these themes present.
Millions of assumptions are made every moment about water. We turn on the tap, we assume the water is clean; that it doesn't contain bacteria to make us sick or worse, have the potential to kill us. Yet many communities in Canada and India do not have the luxury of assuming their water is safe to drink. What most of us take for granted, these seemingly simple and what should be universal assumptions about water safety, are also made about infrastructure — bridges, buildings, roads, dams, sewers. Yet for much of the world, this is where the deterioration begins and what is at the root of a community's health challenges.
The current IC-IMPACTS research projects in partner communities in BC and Alberta (Pangnirtung, Nunavut; Dene Tha, Northern Alberta) and in India (Nagpur, Roorkee, Faridkot/Bathinda region and Thondebavi) rely on a network of university and public and private sector partners to work hand-in-hand on mobilizing technologies in the short-term to support sustainable, long-term research to help low-resource communities.
But water issues are urgent, as are infrastructure and public health in both countries.
In other words, there isn't time to wait. The window for IC-IMPACTS is short in research terms — only five years to prove success in the field — with the renewal of the centre’s funding dependent entirely on the track record the researchers and partners create together during that time. Given the scope of the challenges, it's a daunting task.
IC-IMPACTS is unique. There is nothing like this happening in other countries, including the United States. Congratulations to the Government of Canada for this progressive thinking and to UBC leadership for going all out to create and host this exceptional and futuristic centre.”
The integrated nature of the three core themes means that the effectiveness of the research at the community level needs to be assessed simultaneously.
In short, the reality for people living in low-resource areas is that infrastructure, water quality and public health challenges are intrinsically linked. In response to the complex interdependencies of these issues, IC-IMPACTS takes a multidisciplinary approach towards what are global challenges but looks to solve them in rural settings to provide opportunities for developed technologies to get scaled up in a global context.
Banthia gets directly to the point when he describes the state of India and Canada's infrastructure: “There are several structural failures a year in India and in Canada fifty-nine percent of infrastructure is more than fourty years old.”
For example, the Quebec Overpass Collapse in 2006 where there was a structural failure — despite the bridge being inspected on the very same day. This is the kind of failure Banthia and his research group are set on preventing through improved monitoring and the development of new and sustainable strengthening technologies.
Negar Roghanian, a PhD student in the Advanced Materials Research Group, Civil Engineering Department at UBC shares Banthia’s ambition to find solutions for these vulnerabilities in infrastructure in order to improve the public health of communities where contamination of the water supply is an ongoing challenge.
Roghanian is working on nanotechnology to improve the longevity of infrastructure, specifically concrete water pipes but made to be environmentally friendly and made from sustainable material that has antibacterial properties.
Research Solutions for Safer Infrastructure Using Advanced Sustainable Materials
One of the research goals of IC-IMPACTS is to find solutions to the key challenge of safer and more sustainable infrastructure. One of the ways that is being explored is using advanced and sustainable materials in order to extend the service life of structures and strengthening them against damage and corrosion.
Due to the ease of installation and local availability of concrete and asbestos, cement pipes represent a significant percentage of municipal sewage, water and storm collection systems in Canada and India.
Sewage provides a corrosive environment for concrete pipes which is also conductive to the excessive growth of sulfur-oxidizing bacteria that convert sulfide gas into sulfuric acid. Prolonged exposure of the surface to this corrosive environment causes severe concrete deterioration which leads to reduction in structural strength and durability. Concrete biodeterioration is gradual but is a severe threat to the environment and infrastructures and has an enormous economic impact when replacement or repair is required.
Considering the fact that a significant percentage of the pipelines exceed their 50-year design life and need to be replaced or repaired with more durable material, developing corrosion resistance, environmentally friendly and sustainable material with antibacterial properties could improve concrete pipes durability, extend the infrastructure’s service life, as well as decrease the risks associated with infrastructure failure and contamination of the surrounding environment.
According to Banthia, the global cement industry creates nearly eight percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. A major challenge is replacing cement, which itself is so damaging to the environment, with more sustainable materials that have a lower carbon footprint. One of the candidate substitute materials is a byproduct produced by thermal power plants: fly ash.
For every ton of cement we produce, we produce a ton of carbon dioxide.”
IC-IMPACTS researchers will look at how to increase the cement industry's use of fly ash, as well as other fibers (e.g. cotton and agricultural waste) already present in the partner communities in India, and thus help cut down on rampant CO2 emissions. Clearly, the research has global implications not only in terms of process but also in terms of more sustainable infrastructure by using ‘green’ concrete in construction.
The focus of the Safe and Sustainable Infrastructure theme goes beyond research on sustainable materials. It also examines ways to improve structural health through sensing and monitoring and the conservation of heritage infrastructure.
India has a long history and appreciation of water-related infrastructure and cost-effective conservation. Banthia is encouraged by what India will contribute to Canada, given India's breadth of experience and existing research.
Developing new technologies to address these infrastructure challenges is what inspires Banthia to continually grow the network, influence key stakeholders to invest in the centre and forge partnerships with academic institutions, business and government agencies in both nations to build momentum and achieve the centre's goals.
Video description: The environmental challenges of the cement and concrete industry are complicated. Watch this animated process of cement production, integrating fly ash into the creation of ‘green concrete’.
IC-IMPACTS is focused on two areas in improving water quality: water monitoring which looks at developing, testing and implementing new sensor technologies to monitor water quality and; water treatment, which looks at wastewater infrastructure and what is an ongoing critical concern for communities where aging infrastructure results in water contamination.
Dr. Pierre Bérubé, Professor of Civil Engineering at UBC, has been involved in an advising capacity since the IC-IMPACTS proposal was first developed. From the very beginning, he and Dr. Banthia's collaborative relationship has helped IC-IMPACTS in the area of integrated water solutions.
“When I look at this village of eight thousand [people], it doesn’t care about ‘trade’, it doesn't care about ‘business’, it doesn't care about ‘research’ — all it cares about is a clean glass of water,” says Banthia.
Dr. Bérubé became a sounding board for Banthia during the preparation of the joint proposal and their collaboration is a “perfect example of the interdisciplinary nature of the research,” says Bérubé. It also helps that they work on the same floor in the Civil and Mechanical Engineering Building at UBC.
“Nemy is the instigator of the whole thing and his office is only four doors down,” explains Bérubé. “So we often chat about water and I indirectly ended up advising him as the proposal was being developed.”
With the assistance of several student researchers, Bérubé is now leading one of the water theme projects focused on the development of technologies to treat water for small rural communities and to do it at lower cost and with increased accessibility.
Designing water-delivery systems to rural communities is a challenge that researcher Patricia Oka, an MSc candidate at UBC, is tackling through the study of water filtration using membrane systems.
In urban environments, complex water filtration systems are common but adapting these advanced technologies to the constraints of small systems can be daunting. In July 2014, Oka and Bérubé will be in India to test her filtration design and it's hoped the design will rise to the challenge. The National Environmental Engineering Research Institute of India will assist with monitoring and GE India will provide a full-time operator for the system once Oka and Bérubé return to Canada.
Over 37.7 million people in India are affected by water-borne diseases due to contaminated drinking water.”
Passive Membrane Filtration for Small Communities
Passive membrane filtration is a simple technique adopted to operate an otherwise advanced treatment system of shallow hollow fibre ultrafiltration (SHFUF), which is able to treat water up to 4-log removal of virus and pathogens. Common operations of SHFUF are often expensive due to their complexity and high demand for skilled personnel as well as power input. This makes the technology inaccessible for small communities, where water-borne diseases are still a challenge to overcome. My research, under the supervision of Dr. Pierre Bérubé, examines the feasibility of a novel SHFUF designed to operate passively, with limited mechanical complexity and energy requirements, making it more readily available for remote use. The prototype born from this research is hoped to provide water at a community scale (up to 20 households).
The research has three objectives and each addresses a different critical operations aspect of SHFUF, without the cost of water quality. The first objective questions the need of physical cleaning of the membranes which is commonly done through a periodic backwash. The second objective questions the system’s dependency on pumps to extract treated water, while the third objective questions the need of continuous aeration for membrane maintenance in the system. Preliminary results indicate that the system is viable to operate long term without any periodic backwashing, permeate pumps and continuous aeration. Results to date have also confirmed that the technical complexity and energy requirement of SHFUF can be substantially reduced, making these systems feasible for use in small or remote communities.
This is an ideal case study for the kind of integrated opportunities IC-IMPACTS is creating in an international context for students and the private and public sector partners.
In response to the urgent water challenges in India and Canada (according to IC-IMPACTS some small communities in Canada have been under a boil-water advisory for more than 20 years) IC-IMPACTS requires researchers to “have something in the field by the end of the second year.”
In research and implementation terms this is a remarkable, if not aggressive, timeline but Patricia Oka is stepping up to the challenge.
Developing a new model for an international NCE (Networks of Centres of Excellence) does not come without its own set of unique challenges. The complex nature of the challenges within each theme is further complicated by the equally distinct challenges existing in IC-IMPACTS' partner communities in India and Canada.
Banthia isn't fazed. He sees it as an opportunity to “take innovative research and apply it directly in communities where research can be explored in a living laboratory that has, at the heart of its purpose, community transformation.”
It's also an opportunity that offers a unique, hands-on learning environment where students can see real progress in action with their research projects.
I have very strong ongoing ties with India, so we have Indian students and faculty come to UBC all the time and it is very gratifying to see that happen. They always bring a kind of thinking we might not have here and conversely, when we go there, we contribute a new perspective. When you have a large training program like IC-IMPACTS, you need graduate students on both sides, so there is an exchange of grad students between India and Canada over the life of the Centre.”
Collaborative, multidisciplinary India-Canada research is a core requirement of the IC-IMPACTS centre. According to John Hepburn, Vice President, Research & International at UBC, the network won’t support a project that isn’t ready to begin work with researchers in India. The centre not only supports UBC's international strategy but also provides a tangible benefit for students' research. Hepburn affirms: “It improves the student training as they can then sample different expertise with other research and disciplines in an international context.”
In turn, Banthia notes that the living lab concept, integral to the sustainability strategy at UBC, could be applied to the work done in the field with IC-IMPACTS. With an ambitious target of training 700 student researchers by the end of its five-year mandate (with the hope it will be renewed), the call for HQP (highly qualified personnel) is a top priority for the centre.
Marc Parlange, Dean of the Faculty of Applied Science at UBC, sees IC-IMPACTS as a rich learning environment that offers “extraordinary opportunities for student learning and development”. An example is the recent partnership between the University of Alberta’s Engage North organization and IC-IMPACTS to create the Community Engagement Fellowship program. Parlange says this program offers undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to “work with northern First Nations and Inuit communities on community-identified applied projects aimed at tackling a key challenge facing a community's overall health, sustainability and prosperity. This community-based learning experience enables students to develop an awareness and understanding of the unique challenges faced by northern and indigenous communities in Canada. This learning will have a profound impact on student development.”
The 'knowledge mobilization' IC-IMPACTS is fostering is largely dependent on an exchange of students in the field in both countries. Mitacs, a national, not-for-profit research organization, has partnered with IC-IMPACTS to provide the critical support and framework necessary for students to be successful in their research.
Dr. Arvind Gupta, CEO and Scientific Director of Mitacs explains that the partnership with IC-IMPACTS and Mitacs “signifies the importance of building an international, collaborative research network between researchers in Canada, at leading academic institutions like UBC and India.” He cites the Mitacs Globalink program, which has established international research partnerships with more than 600 undergraduate researchers from India over the last six years, as an integral part of the support system for the centre.
With the IC-IMPACTS model, graduate students have the opportunity to identify the context for research and assess whether there is an existing technology that could help with the particular problem in a community. This could then lead to a call for proposals across the network.
Students have a tremendous influence and contribution to make in developing the road map to technologies being successfully adopted. Sue Roppel, CEO and Network Manager for IC-IMPACTS, says that the centre is creating “test-bed environments where students can bring existing technologies and newly created technologies to demonstrate the effectiveness of their research in a community context.”
According to Roppel, IC-IMPACTS would like to become a “go-to-centre for India to connect to the network of excellent researchers across Canada.”
Dr. Banthia's academic accomplishments, demonstrated experience leading multi-pronged research projects, and innovative mindset makes him an exceptional leader, teacher and researcher in both his capacity as CEO/Scientific Director for IC-IMPACTS and as a Senior Research Chair and professor at UBC. He truly understands and embraces the notion of building international linkages at all levels: academia, industry, and government. ”
The complex nature of the challenges in each theme is further complicated by the distinct challenges found in the partner communities in both India and Canada. But for IC-IMPACTS researchers, it is exactly this complexity that offers a rich learning environment for students.
Stewart Aitchison, Associate Scientific Director Theme Lead for the Public Health theme, says there is an international aspect to the training that provides students with an added globalization to their degree. Aitchison notes another benefit to the students — the multidisciplinary view on the challenges: “IC-IMPACTS brings different perspectives together so, for instance, you don’t have just engineers looking at a particular problem, you also have health researchers bringing their lens to it.”
An example of a commonality between the themes is the idea of 'sensing'. “You need to measure the infrastructure to see how it is performing,” continues Aitchison. “You need to measure the water to see if it's clean and you want to measure the spread of infection.” Plans for a sensing workshop for students and researchers are underway with the hope these cross-sector workshops will be a “fertile area to discuss new research.”
Back in his office, Banthia says the hope and emphasis is for the centre to produce “educators of the future” to carry on the work and be the “next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs in areas of high priority for India and in emerging technologies.”
IC-IMPACTS brings together diverse areas of work into one common thread: community transformation. Community needs infrastructure, community needs water, community needs health.”
The work of transformation
I think through this program, if we are actually able to deliver highly efficient water treatment processes, highly efficient durable infrastructure, and create a sustainable understanding of material health in the communities we are working with, we have set in motion a process that can be replicated. At the very least, we will have tried to make a difference.”
Each research theme is designed to naturally leverage and build upon one another — this is the real strength of the IC-IMPACTS model. The model serves the integrated nature of the partner community’s complex challenges and responds to these challenges through a unique approach to training, research, partnerships and resources.
On the industry side, there is a deliberate pursuit of business development that will increase the chances of these technologies being applied at the community level and with the hope that these supported technologies will find funding and thus potentially have much wider distribution and a greater effect around the world.
Projects that are given the IC-IMPACTS green light are ones that have a solid chance at affecting partner communities with no less than a ‘transformative’ result to the people living in it. It is a high-reaching goal but one that is embedded into every project the centre commits to.
Dr. Banthia recently gave a presentation on IC-IMPACTS at the UBC Faculty of Applied Science where he spoke at length about the pillars, themes and vision for IC-IMPACTS. He talked about his home country with an obvious affection while revealing the sobering reality of the staggering challenges that lie ahead.
But Banthia is clearly brimming with optimism about the potential of the research and is working shoulder-to-shoulder with students, researchers, staff and leaders in both Canada and India to bring real-world solutions that will “accelerate community transformation” and bring long-term exchange of knowledge and technologies between the two countries.
Scholar, researcher, pioneer, Dr. Nemy Banthia leads with the compassion, integrity and insight hallmark of a truly effective global citizen. By stewarding IC-IMPACTs from a mere concept to a successful team mobilizing new technologies for improved water quality, increased safety and sustainability of critical civil infrastructure, and improved health, Dr. Banthia addresses critical challenges affecting millions of people in India and Canada. He is poised to make a tremendous difference in our world.”
From his days as a young boy just imagining himself as someone who would one day give back to his country, Dr. Nemy Banthia has arrived as someone who is.
On March 21, 2014, Dr. Banthia delivered a presentation for the Faculty of Civil Engineering at UBC on the history of IC-IMPACTS, the current projects underway and the future direction for the centre. For more on IC-IMPACTS and Dr. Banthia’s work, his fellow researchers and theme leads, please visit the IC-IMPACTS website. If you are interested in a Collaborative Research Project with IC-IMPACTS please see the project application page.