Creativity Fuels UTM’s Response to Pandemic

October 08, 2020 - Anthropology student Lavania Nagendran scans various specimens using an Artec 3D Spider handheld scanner.
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The world has changed irrevocably over the last seven months, and U of T Mississauga has transformed dramatically as well. Forced to rapidly shift to online learning in March due to COVID-19, the UTM community has demonstrated remarkable innovation, resilience and creativity.

Here is a selection of the many ways UTM has stepped up to meet the challenges presented by the pandemic:

Computerized fossils

Armed with 3D scanners, researchers are digitizing hundreds of anthropology specimens for students who can’t access bone casts and fossils in-person due to the pandemic. The 3D digital models imitate the physical specimens, with students able to turn them, zoom in on points of interest and note surface details.

The newly digitized collection, which can be used as a virtual textbook, will be available to augment hands-on learning when labs re-open. The 3D digital models can also be used by professors for tests and exams, and even by researchers out in the field.

Wearable compost heap

There may come a time when the next shirt you buy is made of rotten bananas or mouldy bread. That may sound gross, but the future of fashion depends on the use of biodegradable and carbon-neutral materials, says Avneet Ghotra, a 2018 UTM alumna and co-founder of ALT TEX, a start-up that is part of UTM’s ICUBE business incubator.

With a recent $30,000 infusion from the Lo Family Social Venture Fund, Ghotra is in the lab, working with discarded apples to create a polylactic acid-based fabric that is strong, durable, decomposable and cost-effective.

Switch to Twitch

Looking to bring energy and connection to the virtual classroom, UTM professor David Samson turned to Twitch. The video game live-streaming platform supports building communities around a shared interest. “One thing I feel makes my in-person classes engaging is my energy, and I was afraid I’d lose that online,” says Samson, who is also a gamer. Samson, who has found live streaming with students enjoyable, has made tweaks to improve the Twitch experience, based on student feedback.

Virtual campus

A small group of students has been working diligently to recreate, in exacting detail, the UTM campus in the popular video game Minecraft for fellow students who miss being on campus. The team has built a virtual replica of Deerfield Hall and is now working on other campus buildings.

Team member Jonathan Ho says it may be some time before students can return to the physical campus. This project provides opportunities for virtual campus events and virtual campus tours. Students might even host a show or fireworks in the virtual environment, he adds. “Anything is possible.”

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