Home Blog

Remapping and Remembering

As Indigenous elders age, the original placenames used to navigate the land we live on in Canada run the risk of being lost to time.

To ensure this important information is remembered, recorded and shared within Indigenous communities and beyond, Carleton University researcher and alumna Rebekah Ingram created the Atlas of Kanyen’kehà:ka (Mohawk) Space in collaboration with Kahente Horn-Miller,  associate professor in Carleton’s Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies.

The project uses digital technology, drones and other tools to create a map where areas are labeled with Kanyen’kehà:ka placenames, all in an effort to revitalize the language itself and enrich the way we experience and understand these spaces.

A woman wearing glasses and a black tank top poses for a photo near the bank of a river.
Carleton University researcher and alumna Rebekah Ingram (Photo by Brenna Mackay)

Alongside Akwesasne-based community researcher Ryan Ransom, Ingram and Horn-Miller are working in close collaboration with Kanyen’kehà:ka communities. They are speaking with elders and holding summer camps in Akwesasne where local youth can explore the land and add photos, videos, notes and stories to help build out the atlas.

“The kids have so much fun, and so do we,” says Ingram, who received messages from parents after last year’s camp sharing that their children were now proudly able to do things like identify plants using Kanyen’kehà:ka words.

“We get to watch language learning happen in real time.”

Learning Language Through the Landscape

This summer will mark the project’s third youth camp in Akwesasne – a Mohawk Nation territory located at the intersection of multiple international and provincial borders whose very existence demonstrates how most maps fail to accurately reflect – and, more often than not, intentionally divide apart – Indigenous territories.

The idea for the summer camps came from Ryan Ransom, a STEM educator who works with Akwesasne high school students. Ransom says he’s made a habit of collecting and researching Kanyen’kehà:ka words for much of his life.

“It’s a different way of approaching language revitalization in our community,” says Ransom.

“We can use placenames and this project to teach about history, our connection to the land and the surrounding environment.”

A map of indigenous placenames
Screen image of the Atlas of Kanyen’kehà:ka (Mohawk) Space

At last year’s summer camp, researchers, campers and community members used aerial and underwater drones to view the land from different vantage points. This is crucial because Indigenous placenames are contextual to the land itself – a river will be named “Little Fish River” for instance, to indicate that the water is shallow and therefore only contains certain smaller species of fish.

As a result, Indigenous placenames contain information and clues that help us understand how a place was historically and culturally used, what the land itself used to look like, and track environmental changes in flora, fauna and topography over generations.

“Each name is this huge bundle of knowledge that’s at risk of being lost due to language endangerment,” explains Ingram.

“It’s like a ball of yarn and you don’t know what it’s attached to until you follow the trail through historical research, talking to people and going out on the land yourself.”

Importance of Indigenous Data Sovereignty

The atlas itself – which currently contains 198 pins and 188 media files and counting – grew from Ingram’s doctoral work in the School of Linguistics and Language Studies at Carleton.

“Linguistics should be supporting language revitalization work, and traditionally we have not been very good at that,” she explains. “The words on the pages of my thesis just weren’t doing the language and these placenames justice.”

This led to her connecting with Kahente Horn-Miller, an expert in Haudenosaunee-specific research and pedagogical practices and a researcher in Carleton’s Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies.

A woman wearing traditional indigenous clothing smiles while posing for a photo.
Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies Associate Professor Kahente Horn-Miller (Photo by Dave Chan)

“Borders and the reserve system created lines and barriers for Indigenous people,” says Horn-Miller.

“Through this project, as an Indigenous person, you start to see things in a different way, and you begin to better understand our relationship with the land.”

The project also taps into the crucial topic of Indigenous data sovereignty – the right of Indigenous peoples to access, control and own the knowledge generated about their communities and histories.

To ensure data sovereignty, rather than relying on popularly used platforms like Google or Apple Maps, the base map layer featured in the atlas was built from scratch using spliced satellite imagery and the atlas itself is hosted through Carleton’s Geomatics and Cartographic Research Centre.

“Many people don’t know this, but when you input anything into Google or Apple Maps, you can lose ownership of that data,” Horn-Miller explains. “It’s incredibly problematic, because this knowledge inherently belongs to the Kanyen’kehà:ka people.”

With another summer in Akwesasne already on for 2024, the researchers hope to one day bring the youth summer camp model to Horn-Miller’s community of Kahnawake. They also plan to host more workshops with Indigenous elders to continuing sharing and discussing placenames.

“The really incredible aspect of this whole project is that we’re developing a methodology for revitalizing languages that really works and can be applied anywhere in Canada or around the world,” says Horn-Miller.

“It’s all about reinvigorating and preserving our understanding of the places where we live and engage with.”

A street sign that says: Welcome to Akwesasne 'Sekon'
Traffic enters the Akwesasne Mohawk Reservation on NY Rt 37 (Photo by ErikaMitchell / iStock)

Revolutionizing Drones with 5G

A natural disaster that knocks out communication infrastructure, a remote search and rescue operation, or an investigation into the condition of an unstable building – these are just a few examples of challenging situations that could be aided by the use of civilian drones.

Uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAV) can quickly move into and through spaces that are dangerous or remote. These machines are becoming increasingly popular, with one industry report estimating the global commercial drone market will reach a value of $54 billion by 2030.

To date, the range of these drones has been limited by the operator’s direct line of sight. If the drone goes too far or an obstacle like a building or hill gets in the way, the signal is lost and the operator loses control. As a result, the distance of the drone’s flight can be restricted to just a few kilometres – significantly curtailing the drone’s theatre of operation.

To address this problem, Carleton University researcher Michel Barbeau and his team from the School of Computer Science are harnessing the power of 5G and the Internet of Things to revolutionize the control and range of drones.

A man in a black sweater and glasses poses for a photo.
Carleton University researcher Michel Barbeau

“Traditionally, the reach of a drone was limited,” he says.

“Now, with 5G base station technology, it can be anywhere in the world.”

5G Offers New Possibilities for Drones

Barbeau’s research focuses on quadcopter drones, which are agile machines that can fly both horizontally and vertically.

“They can perform many kinds of tasks,” he says. “They can be used to deliver parcels or carry a camera. The machines can hover and stay in one location for a period of time.”

Part of the Ericsson-Carleton partnership to expand experiential learning and research in wireless communications, Barbeau’s project uses 5G technology to expand the range and operational possibilities of civilian drones.

As more drones take to the air and widespread drone-delivered parcels becomes a more realistic scenario, enhancing the operator’s control of UAVs is critical for ensuring public safety.

“With poor network quality, control of a drone could be lost,” says Barbeau.

“In that event, the drone could collide with buildings or vehicles, so losing control could be dangerous.”

The underbelly of technology used to power 5G drones.

The emergence of 5G is opening doors for long range networks as the near instantaneous speed of the bandwidth – known as low latency – allows for real-time control of the drones throughout the wireless network.

Base Station Web Expands Range

The drones are connected through a series of base stations, relaying signals across long distances.

“Before you lose coverage with one base station, it will hand over the communication to another base station – like regular cellular communications,” says Barbeau. “It’s similar to holding a conversation on your phone while travelling along a highway.”

The new drones themselves can act as a base station, further expanding the web of communication. The mobile nature of the drones and their ability to relay messages make the potential communication range almost limitless.

This base station network can have massive impacts when an event like a natural disaster knocks out existing communication networks, or when critical infrastructure – such as a bridge or pipeline – needs to be investigated for structural damage.

“With these drones, you can deploy a base station to cover an area very quickly.”

As drones become more popular, base stations can also support overloaded communications networks during surges in demand.

Three people pose for a photo while holding up a drone.
Barbeau with Carleton students Fatemeh Banaeizadeh and Pravallika Katragunta from the School of Computer Science

“A temporary base station can be added to the network to serve more users,” says Barbeau, noting that the machines are ideal for the urban environment where drone activity for parcel delivery may become the norm.

Global Signal Security with 5G

Beyond speed, 5G offers a high level of security – ensuring that the operator remains in control of the machine without disruption and no matter the location.

As the drones fly over great distances and relay information to users, the ability to maintain confidence in outgoing and incoming communication is essential.

“With 5G, we can guarantee the origin of the control messages, as well as the security of the data that is produced by the drone,” he says.

Secure sharing of data is critical as 5G expands the possibilities of how different machines can communicate using the Internet of Things.

“The previous goal with networks was mainly to provide mobile communications to people,” says Barbeau. “5G connects not only people, but also things such as drones and sensors.”

Three people sitting at a table with a laptop and other electronic equipment in front of them.


More Technology for Good

From Polarization to Public Engagement

As political discourse becomes increasingly fragmented and polarized, public involvement in Canada’s climate conversation is more difficult and contentious than ever.

To improve how we engage with people on climate and energy issues, Carleton University researchers Barbara Leckie and Chris Russill collaborated with civic sector leaders to launch Re.Climate – Canada’s national centre for training, research and strategy around climate change communication.

A composite image featuring a headshot of a man and a woman.
Carleton University researchers Barbara Leckie and Chris Russill (Photos by Brenna Mackay)

The centre brings researchers and professionals together from across the country to share knowledge and train leaders on how to better integrate climate communication into their own organizational and outreach efforts.

“We want to have a better conversation on climate in Canada,” says Chris Russill, a researcher in Carleton’s School of Journalism and Communication. “One that better reflects peoples’ experiences, better connects them to their communities and is more consequential in making a difference in their lives – which means knowing where they are on the issue and working toward improvements each and every day.”

Mapping Canada’s Climate Conversation

In just one year, Re.Climate has grown into a network of over 3,000 members across Canada, offering resources, training and research to professionals, policymakers and a civic sector anxious to know what people across Canada are really thinking, feeling and saying about climate change.

To complicate things, this conversation is happening across multiple geographical and digital spaces, making it hard to follow at any given moment in time.

People watching forest fire in hills above city landscape.
Pedestrians watching forest fire in hills above Penticton, BC, Canada (Photo by Amy Mitchell / iStock)

To address this, the centre takes an integrative approach to understanding these local, provincial and national conversations by looking for points of commonality – rather than division – and hosting working groups with experts from across the country.

These working groups gather research on public opinion, audience segmentation, media content, misinformation and digital engagement, synthesizing this knowledge into timely reports that speak to the needs and concerns of the community.

“There’s a lot of climate research that never makes its way into the hands of policy makers, community leaders and the people doing this important work,” says Amber Bennett, Re.Climate’s executive director. “Part of our job is to bridge that gap.”

The idea for a national centre emerged from parallel discussions among academics and professionals. On one end, the civic sector recognized the need for a Canadian organization able to generate timely research in order to advance public engagement with climate change. Meanwhile, academics in Canada were frequently interacting with climate communication centres in the U.S., U.K, Australia and Europe, but had long realized the limitations in adapting this work to issues closer to home.

“Centres like this exist around the world, but the Canadian context requires unique, region-specific approaches,” says Bennett, explaining how Canada’s west, east, north and south all face different challenges when it comes to changing climates.

“There isn’t a one-size fits all strategy that works per province, let alone for the entire country.”

Expanding and Reimagining What’s Possible

Mapping out the highs and lows of Canada’s current climate conversation is just the first step for Re.Climate – the next is to reimagine what thoughtful, informed and engaged discourse around climate could look like in this country.

According to the centre, the solution is more collaboration with a civic sector to rebuild public trust and a sense of common purpose for the country’s energy transition. Schools, museums, libraries, local media, NGOs and community groups all have a role to play and are why Re.Climate works with leaders all across the sector, including local governments.

Lady with the child on her shoulders marching and chanting in support for renewable energy
Climate change march on the streets of Vancouver, Canada (Photo by Kresopix / iStock)

“How we talk about climate change affects the solutions we can put into action and helps us develop a shared understanding of what’s meaningful to us,” says Barbara Leckie, who co-founded the Carleton Climate Commons and teaches in the Department of English Language and Literature and the Institute for the Comparative Study of Literature, Art, and Culture.

For example, the centre is currently working with cities across Canada, including Ottawa, to support municipal climate programming, in addition to organizing a workshop series for journalists hoping to draw research-based links to climate change in their reporting of extreme weather events.

To imagine a fair and inclusive energy transition, Re.Climate researchers believe we need more conversations that effectively engage people from all backgrounds by speaking directly to the issues they face.

“It can be truly hard for people to imagine what our day-to-day lives could look like without fossil fuels,” says Leckie.

“Humans aren’t solely motivated by neutrally-presented statistics and numbers – which is how scientists are required to present their findings,” she says. “The way you also engage people is by talking about the things they care about, the fears that keep them up at night, and their hopes and dreams for the future.”

Red sunset over Toronto's skyline.
Red sunset over Toronto’s skyline caused by wildfire pollution (Photo by Ron Lee / iStock)

Accelerating Disaster Response

Natural disasters are on the rise in Canada. With climate change contributing to shifts in weather patterns, there is a steady increase of severe weather events.

During a disaster, multimedia content posted on social media platforms can offer a wealth of information, ranging from posts detailing first responder actions and evacuee routes to reports of damaged infrastructure and affected areas. This data holds immense potential for aiding first responders and utility crews in their crucial tasks. However, important insights are often mixed with irrelevant information – obscuring the facts.

Carleton University researcher Marzieh Amini is pioneering an innovative solution to extract important information from the sea of social media posts during disasters in Canada.

Marzieh Amini
School of Information Technology professor Marzieh Amini (Photo by Brenna Mackay)

“Climate-related disasters are becoming increasingly more frequent and severe,” says Amini, an assistant professor in Carleton’s School of Information Technology.

“Our goal is to filter out irrelevant information and distill meaningful insights that can ultimately help save lives.”

Aiding in Disaster Response

Disasters unleash a torrent of information across social media platforms. From eyewitness reports to photos and videos capturing the unfolding chaos, these digital footprints hold invaluable insights. But discerning actionable information from the noise poses a significant hurdle.

“The presence of irrelevant content such as advertisements, political commentary and memes further complicates the process, hindering swift and effective response efforts,” says Amini.

Assorted social media apps, including Threads, X, Reddit, Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok, are seen on an iPhone.
( iStock )

This is where Amini’s work comes in. Her team collects and analyzes text and image data shared on X (formerly Twitter) during crisis situations. They then build AI models to categorize the social media posts into major themes. These include political commentary, warnings and status updates, weather reports, affected infrastructure, accounts of first responder actions and information for evacuees.

Amini is structuring her research off the already existing Crisis Multimodal Data (CrisisMMD) – a dataset that captures and analyzes social media content related to crises and disasters in the United States.

“Our goal is to create datasets tailored to the Canadian context, focusing on disasters such as wildfires, tornadoes and storms,” she says.

Amini says this dataset has the potential to provide first responders with real-time, actionable insights to help them figure out where to go, who’s been affected and what barriers exist for providing help.

“First responder response time can be hindered by roadblocks, unstable buildings, phone lines being down and even traffic jams,” Amini explains. “As a communication tool, social media posts by every day citizens have the power to help.

“But we need to weed out the irrelevant information first,” Amini says.

“We are using AI for real-time analysis of social media data during disaster events.”

Efficient Power Restoration for Faster Recovery

Amini’s work not only aids first responders, it also holds transformative potential to drastically reduce the length of power outages – an increasingly prevalent issue in Canada – by equipping utility crews with critical insights gathered from their social media analysis.

Hydro workers repairing downed power pole snapped by wind in Ottawa after severe storm
Hydro workers repairing downed power pole snapped by the derecho that hit Ottawa in 2022 (Photo by Paul McKinnon / iStock)

In 2022, 1.4 million people across Canada’s East Coast experienced outages for over two weeks due to Hurricane Fiona.

In the same year, the Ottawa region and parts of Quebec were hit with a derecho, causing significant damage to infrastructure and more than 400,000 power outages. Many of these outages lasted for more than ten days.

And in 2019, British Columbia Hydro reported over five million power outage hours caused by storms.

“If workers had access to real-time information on areas experiencing prolonged power outages and obstacles hindering repair efforts, this could allow them to invest their resources accordingly,” she explains.

“The goal is to use technology instead of a crew member.”

Informing Future Policymaking

Amini’s research also has broader implications for policymaking. With better knowledge of what happened during a disaster, policymakers can make informed decisions about infrastructure planning and development, ensuring to reduce risks and address vulnerabilities.

Fireman rescue an old couple from their flooded house with a paddle boat.
A firefighter paddles residents to safety during Montreal’s historic flood in 2017 (Photo by Josie Desmarais / iStock)

Some considerations could include prioritizing upgrades in vulnerable areas, updating building codes and improving emergency response protocols.

“We envision this tool will serve as a valuable resource for decision-makers, empowering them to make informed choices in disaster management and policy,” Amini says.

With funding from the National Research Council of Canada (NRC), and in collaboration with Dr. Isar Nejadgholi, a senior research officer at NRC, Amini’s project is poised to make significant strides in transforming disaster response strategies. As the research progresses, Amini envisions a future where technology plays a pivotal role in facilitating swift and effective disaster response efforts, ultimately saving lives, and mitigating the impact of disasters on communities.

“Technology offers a pathway to efficiency,” she says. “And it has the power to revolutionize and democratize Canada’s disaster response.”

Overview of destroyed homes from extereme weather event.
(Photo by Bilanoi / iStock)

Reducing Renewable Energy Uncertainty

Two of the most important technologies for mitigating global warming, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, are wind and solar power. Both are crucial if we are to wean ourselves off fossil fuels and significantly reduce the amount of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere.

Thankfully, technological advances over the past couple decades have made wind and solar installations much more effective. Yet the inconsistency and unpredictability of these weather-dependent energy sources remains a major hurdle, limiting investment in the sector and making electrical grid managers – and individual Canadians – reluctant to commit.

This is why Carleton University Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering researcher Kristen Schell is using geospatial data, mathematical models and deep learning to develop more accurate weather forecasts about the availability of renewables such as wind and solar.

A woman with glasses and a button up jacket poses for a photo in a narrow hallway.
Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering professor Kristen Schell

Her work as co-director of Carleton’s Alternative Pathways for the Energy Transition (APEX) research group aims to make the essential shift to renewable energy happen faster, allowing wind and solar energy to play a bigger role in the fight against climate change.

“We’re trying to make their power output more predictable, so they can be relied upon,” says Schell.

“If the models are precise enough, wind and solar could replace coal and nuclear as our baseload source of power.”

Making More Accurate Projections

Forecasting the behaviour of natural forces and phenomena is always a challenge – just ask the people responsible for telling you what the weather will be like next week.

Because the “intermittency” of wind and solar is unavoidable – these resources are not available 24/7 and grid-scale batteries can currently only store four hours’ worth of power – more accurate projections are key to their widespread adoption.

“We need supply and demand to match at every instant,” says Schell. “Having this intermittent supply is the biggest reason why there’s hesitancy to invest in wind and solar, despite all their benefits. What we’re trying to do is reduce that uncertainty by creating models that can predict how exactly much power we’ll have and when. If you know that information, then you can plan and schedule it into the grid.”

An over the shoulder view of a graph on a laptop screen.

To make her wind models, Schell considers a long list of factors: topographical maps showing the location of wind farms as well as the arrangement of turbines within those farms; the historical output from these farms; and weather information such as wind speed, temperature and air pressure. She combines large datasets of statistics with physics principles, such as the fluid flow of air, and then feeds everything into deep learning algorithms — which can calculate the power that individual wind installations will generate — to come up with the best possible predictions.

Solar energy forecasting relies upon a similar process and similar equations, since “the main uncertainty with solar is related to the movement of clouds,” explains Schell.

“When you have a lot of cloud cover, or other precipitation factors like snow, that impacts the electricity being produced.”

Most of Schell’s research is based in Ontario and Alberta — the provinces with most wind farms, and the two jurisdictions within Canada in which the electricity systems operate as markets. This setup allows Schell to use market data from the two provinces and compare the actual production of wind farms with what they were forecast to produce, helping her further fine-tune the models.

Two women pose for a phot in a narrow hallway.
Professor Schell with student research assistant Alexandria MacDonald

By approaching renewable energy models from multiple angles, “we’re hoping to develop better forecasting,” she says, “that reduce the error to almost zero.”

A Race Against the Clock

In Canada, wind and solar power have been the least expensive forms of energy to produce – in dollars per kilowatt-hour – since 2014.

“If we look at nuclear and natural gas, the financial and environmental costs are what I would consider unfair for us to be bearing when there are so many cheaper and better alternatives,” says Schell.

“It will be hard to change the fundamentals of our energy system, but we could be one of countries that shows what’s possible, and the up-front capital investment will follow.”

However, these critical infrastructural upgrades to our energy system guided by precise scientific models like Schell’s are needed yesterday.

Case in point: Alexandria MacDonald, a student research assistant working with Schell, is investigating how well our current electrical networks are equipped to handle the incoming spike in demand from electric vehicles.

“We’re lacking infrastructure and we’re going to run out of power very, very quickly because we honestly waited too long to start our transition,” says MacDonald, a fourth-year undergraduate in the Bachelor of Engineering in Sustainable and Renewable Energy program at Carleton, the oldest such program in Canada.

“The demand for electricity is only going to continue increasing, so it’s become a race against the clock.”

A young woman with brown hair crosses her arms as she poses for a photo.

Digitizing History and Culture

From the crumbling tombs of ancient Egyptian kings to Canada’s under-renovation Parliament Hill, heritage sites across the globe are faced with a common challenge: how do we make these historically and culturally important spaces more accessible to all?

To resolve this, institutions are reaching out to Carleton University’s Immersive Media Studio (CIMS), a multidisciplinary lab that collaborates with public, private and not-for-profit partners to find cutting-edge digital solutions.

Led by director Stephen Fai, the studio’s team of researchers use high-tech modeling and image capturing tools to create digital models of heritage sites, allowing anyone to virtually travel through space and time to explore the location.

Internationally renowned for their skills, the studio works with high-profile clients to do everything from creating a 360-degree virtual reality reconstruction of the Senate of Canada building for Canada’s 150th anniversary, to painstakingly documenting the tomb and wall paintings of 14th century BCE pharaoh Tutankhamun or “King Tut” for the Getty Conservation Institute.

A 3D model of a large staircase.
3D model of the National Arts Centre’s Peter A. Herrndorf Place, in Unreal Engine 5. Created by Carleton Immersive Media Studio, based on BIM by Diamond Schmitt Architects, inc.

Most recently, CIMS partnered with the National Arts Centre (NAC) in Ottawa to make an interactive digital replica of Canada’s performing arts hub, with the first phase of the project tentatively scheduled to launch in the fall.

“We wanted to tell the story of this incredible institution and building, and to digitize its archives which aren’t generally available to the public” says Fai, a researcher and professor at Carleton’s Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism.

Creating a virtual version of the NAC ensures that the building and its contents will not only be recorded for posterity, but will give the institution an enhanced online presence.

The driving force behind the project was ‘How do we make these spaces fully accessible to everyone, whether they’re a fine arts student at a local university or a theatre-loving Canadian from across the country?’ says Fai.

The “Endless Possibilities” of Digital Models

During the pandemic, when the curtain temporarily came down on in-person performances at the NAC, CIMS team lead Julia Laninga and her colleagues spent months digitally documenting every corner of the empty building.

These scans were uploaded into the Unreal Engine – a powerful software used to make video games – to create a navigable 3D model of the arts centre.

A young redheaded lady with glasses is seated while posing for a picture.
CIMS team lead Julia Laninga

“We focused on how to bring people into the NAC to experience the space in a way that’s interactive and educational,” explains Laninga, who is also an alumna of Carleton’s interactive multimedia and design program.

Because the team had permission to use elements from and crosscheck their model against one previously developed by Diamond Schmitt Architects for a renovation project, the final product is a hyper-accurate copy of the entire NAC housed within a game engine.

“That level of detail and precision really gives the NAC endless possibilities for future applications,” says Laninga.

These applications could include using the model as a wayfinding map for guests or as a tool for stage designers hoping to see what their sets will look like from any seat in the house.

“By digitally scanning and archiving buildings, we open up a world of possibilities and solutions to future problems we can’t even imagine,” says Fai.

“A similar thing happened with our Parliament Hill project,” he explains. “We started documenting buildings in the West and Centre Blocks to create a heritage record of what they looked like – but those models are now being used by the construction firms contracted to repair those buildings as part of the multi-billion-dollar Parliament Hill rehabilitation project.”

A digitized version of a real costume.
Photogrammetric model of a costume from the 1977 production of Le Songe at the National Arts Centre.

Exploring the Secrets of Canada’s National Arts Centre

Inconspicuously tucked away in the parking garage, the NAC quietly houses one of the largest performing arts archive in the country, containing half a century’s worth of costumes, props and more.

Thanks to the CIMS’s diligent digitizing work, much of the archive and its contents will now be accessible to the public for the first time ever.

In fact, the 3D version of the NAC lets visitors peak into several areas they’d never be allowed to see in person – from the backstage to a special presidential safe room.

“There’s a secret space at the NAC called the Nixon Room, built for US President Richard Nixon at his request,” explains Fai.

“He required that there be a safe room where his security could take him if an incident or assassination attempt occurred while he visited.”

Example of digitizing history - A 3D model of a concert hall.
3D model of the National Arts Centre’s Southam Hall in Unreal Engine 5. Created by Carleton Immersive Media Studio, based on BIM by Diamond Schmitt Architects, Inc.

The CIMS team also produced a series of bilingual interactive tours to accompany their 3D model. Virtual visitors can “walk through” atriums and concert halls guided by commentary from fictionalized characters from different eras across the arts centre’s fifty-year history.

“The same space can hold very different meanings to different people, which helps us tell a fuller story,” says Laninga.


More Social Innovation

AI for Small Businesses

For small businesses, complying with federal and provincial labour code requirements for routine HR processes can be a serious drain on resources.

While some processes are simple – like providing a record of employment when off-boarding an employee – others such as doling out severance or vacation pay depend on individual circumstances and can be complex to calculate, especially for businesses with limited staff, time and money.

As a result, unintentional non-compliance is common with roughly 15,000 complaints related to the Employment Standards Act received by the Ontario Ministry of Labour each year.

Carleton University cognitive science professor, Raj Singh, suggests that non-compliance rates are likely even higher than reported — as many employees don’t file complaints due to unawareness or fear of repercussions.

A man in a blue suit smiles for the camera while standing next to a tree.
Carleton University cognitive science professor Raj Singh

To ensure employees receive what they’re owed and to make it easier for busy business owners to achieve compliance, Singh and his team are creating the first automated digital assistant for off-boarding in Canada.

Revolutionizing Compliance with AI

Singh has partnered with a cloud-based payroll services company PaymentEvolution on the project.

The application leverages state-of-the art artificial intelligence (AI) and cognitive science to answer questions and help users understand their obligations. It even provides a suggested payment amount that complies with labour rules across the country.

The benefit of the platform’s use is significant. Fines can be thousands of dollars, and in severe cases, jail time is possible. It also protects employee rights and saves everyone time, allowing companies to focus on what’s really important: running their business.

A glass door with the logo of digital assistant tool PaymentEvolution engraved on it.

“We want to make compliance easy,” says Singh.

“And we created this tool as a way put the legal knowledge into a machine and teach what the law actually says.”

That’s easier said than done, as labour law is sometimes arcane and often open to interpretation. Each province and territory has its own set of rules and certain professions are federally regulated.

“When you write down the actual code, you get a quantification of how complex this task really is. There is a lot to keep track of. Not just the law itself, but which parts are relevant to the situation,” says Singh. “It is a daunting task.”

Digital Assistant Eliminates Needless Disputes Nationwide

Singh’s application is designed for anyone who could have a stake in the off-boarding process — lawyers, accountants, bookkeepers, human resources professionals, employees and employers. Users input the details, and the digital assistant provides what the payment should be, along with a rationale for why.

“A lot of Canadian small businesses think of HR as a ‘big company’ thing—and almost a dirty word. It’s expensive, and it is a distraction from what they need to do on a day-to-day basis to run their business,” says Sam Vassa, CEO of PaymentEvolution.

But Vassa credits Singh’s Freedom of Information Act request with alerting the company to exactly how widespread non-compliance is. This catalyzed the vision for an automated digital assistant, and PaymentEvolution looked to Singh to help make it a reality.

Singh believes it will eliminate many needless disputes.

“If there is still a dispute, there will at least be a number and report to work with,” he says. “The intent is to help improve the condition for every stakeholder in the game.”

To provide this advice, the digital assistant must interpret the circumstances vis-à-vis the law. Singh and his team looked at the interpretation of labour law in each province and territory to determine what assumptions could be made. But even then, applying this knowledge required judgement.

“Our game is compliance, so our system has to do it right,” says Singh.

“If there were two ways of doing something, we went with the one that affords the greatest benefit to the employee and ensures the employer won’t face legal consequences. We always erred on the side of compliance.”

Student-Led Innovation in Compliance Technology

Establishing trust is a crucial aspect of developing compliance tools. In contrast to typical computer models, this tool offers a transparent audit history, ensuring that both business owners and potential auditors have access to the calculation process details.

“Nothing like this existed before and when you’re developing something for the very first time, you need to write a lot of code,” says Katie Van Luven, a Carleton PhD student in cognitive science who began working on the project in 2019.

A woman wearing glasses poses for a photo outside next to a large tree.
Carleton University PhD student Katie Van Luven

“It took a lot of different skills to do this — computer scientists, accountants and an employment standards lawyer.”

The first versions of the application were clunky and required optimization to reach the launch stage. Some students worked on the project for years, and it has been a launching pad to jobs in AI with students having been hired at PaymentEvolution and others joining industry leaders like IBM.

Singh credits the collaborative nature of the application’s conception for its success.

“This couldn’t have happened but for the team effort,” says Singh. “Everyone believes this is something that should exist. The world would be a better place if workplaces were more compliant and if we see a path for that, let’s make it happen.”

Sounding the Alarm

0

Whistleblowers shed light on problems that would otherwise remain in the shadows, alerting us to dangers to the public and abuses of public funds.

While vital to a thriving democracy, whistleblowing can come at great personal cost, including losing one’s job, getting hit with retaliatory lawsuits and even threats of violence.

Though Canada tends to see itself as a beacon of democracy and justice, legislative protections for whistleblowers are surprisingly slim and lag many other countries in the world.

Carleton University researchers Paloma Raggo and Ian Bron want to change that, and are using research and advocacy to push Canada to catch up to its peers.

A composite image featuring a headshot of a man and a woman.
Carleton University researchers Paloma Raggo (Photo by Bryan Gagnon) and Ian Bron

For Raggo it all started when Carleton graduate student Pamela Forward approached her with a desire to dig into how Health Canada mismanaged a dangerous medication, leading to years passing and numerous casualties before any action was taken.  “It was a story centered around a whistleblower,” says Raggo.

“Whistleblowing is a mechanism for accountability,” says Raggo, the Director of the Charity Insights Canada Project at Carleton.

“It tells you who is responsible for issues, and who should fix them.”

For Forward, whistleblowing wasn’t just a topic of study, it was a passion. In 2019, she spearheaded the creation of the Whistleblowing Canada Research Society (WCRS), which seeks to research, inform, educate and raise awareness about the challenges whistleblowers face in Canada. Raggo was a founding member of WCRS, and currently sits on its board of directors.

“Already, WCRS has had a huge policy impact,” says Raggo. “There has been a private member’s bill and reforms to legislation are in the offing in which WCRS played a major role.”

Changes in Organizational Culture Can Usher in Greater Transparency

While some reforms appear imminent, there are relatively few supports for whistleblowers in Canada. Lawyers often decline whistleblowing cases, and there are no funds available to support their legal cases.

But better awareness of whistleblowing’s benefits could help, and educating people is an ongoing challenge, according to Ian Bron, a PhD graduate from Carleton’s School of Public Policy & Administration and chair of WCRS’s Advisory Board.

“It is an offence to make a reprisal against someone who brings forward concerns, but in practice, this is next to impossible to enforce,” says Bron, whose dissertation identified glaring flaws in Canada’s protections.

“Whistleblowers are often ostracized, denied training or given poor performance reports. They are sometimes even fired or blacklisted.”

Bron lived through reprisals at Transport Canada, where he was ostracized and investigated after blowing the whistle on favouritism in his unit and failures to enforce transportation security regulations in the maritime sector. But Canadians benefit from knowing when regulatory bodies are being unduly influenced, and he believes that educating people about the benefits of whistleblowing could help ameliorate the challenges whistleblowers face. It shouldn’t be viewed as threatening, he argues.

A building with a sign that reads Transport Canada
Transport Canada in Ottawa (Photo by James Wagner / iStock)

“Governments are typically bound by their own institutional norms, and these norms can create barriers to whistleblowing,” he says. “Incentives play a major role. Many executives perceive that if something bad happens on their watch, it will impede their career. As a result, they may give the impression they don’t want anybody stepping out of line, and don’t want to know about problems.”

Civil society groups like WCRS have an important role to play in educating organizations and legislators. Academics can conduct research into whistleblowing, which helps determine what a law should contain.

Bron’s research studied whistleblowing in Canada, the UK and Australia, and he believes that the Australian approach could yield lessons for Canada. In 2005, Australia’s state and commonwealth governments participated in a major study about how disclosures of wrongdoing were handled. And academia and civil society groups played a significant role in shaping its whistleblower protection laws.

“If you can get that level of cooperation,” says Bron, who is also a senior fellow at the Toronto Metropolitan University Centre for Free Expression Whistleblowing Initiative.

“You can work with organizations to change attitudes.”

Disparities and Obstacles Faced by Whistleblowers in Canada

While whistleblower research at Carleton is shedding light on challenges, there is more to be done. WCRS relies heavily on Forward’s tireless efforts and has much more limited resources than civil society organizations in other countries.

In the United States, the Government Accountability Project is a large, well-funded NGO that supports whistleblowers and is led by lawyers. In the UK, the government provides grants to several whistleblower-focused organizations. And in Europe, the 2021 Whistleblowing Directive introduced numerous new best practices.

While there have been some improvements since whistleblowing legislation was introduced two decades ago, Canada has not kept pace overall. This is both alarming and an ongoing threat to democracy.

“It is a difficult area to obtain support and funding,” says Raggo.

“You have to navigate through the credible and the incredible cases, just to find the facts. You’re working with people who have been profoundly hurt by a system. It takes a lot of resources and a lot of time.”

A woman looks at her phone while standing in the shadows. The purpose of image is to depict whistleblowers.
(Photo by stockbusters / iStock)

Protecting Cities from Urban Flooding

As record-breaking rain and snowfall become regular events due to climate change, cities must work quickly to address the increased risk of urban flooding – a destructive new reality for many Canadian homeowners and a multi-billion-dollar challenge for governments.

Urban flooding happens when a city’s hard concrete surfaces and sewers struggle to sop up and redirect large, sudden amounts of precipitation or meltwater.

With nowhere to go, the excess water can cause significant and expensive damage to homes and businesses.

To keep neighbourhoods safe and dry, two Carleton University researchers, Jennifer Drake and Ruth McKay, are working on innovative solutions to the complex problem of urban flooding.

Professional photo of Carleton University researcher Jennifer Drake
Carleton University researcher and engineer Jennifer Drake. (Photo by Chris Snow Video)

Drake, an Associate Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, is improving Canada’s stormwater infrastructure through Low Impact Development (LID) – a technique that mimics the natural environment and allows rainwater to be absorbed where it falls.

McKay, a management professor in the Sprott School of Business, is part of an international team studying how the private and public sectors can more effectively work together on building houses during climate change.

While their approaches differ, McKay and Drake both believe that a mix of thoughtful public policy and improved urban design are key to flood mitigation.

“Urban flooding is a challenge that’s not just about finding technical solutions. What often undoes our infrastructure isn’t a flaw in the original design – it’s poor operation and maintenance due to planning and financial decisions,” says Drake.

A behind view of a pair of feet wearing shoes walking on foliage.
(Photo by Chris Snow Video)

Finding Solutions Through Blue, Green and Grey Infrastructure

As the Canada Research Chair in Stormwater and Low Impact Development, Drake is one of several Carleton researchers focused on engineering solutions to urban flooding.

“Urbanization is a dramatic transformation of our land,” explains Drake. “You need surfaces that are hard and impervious in order to build roads, buildings and parking lots.”

However, the result of that transformation is that water can’t slowly absorb into the ground or be carried away by river systems, leading to large quantities of fast-moving run-off with nowhere to go.

While Canadian cities have manufactured infrastructure to help convey that water – typically a combined sewer which handles both sewage and stormwater – Drake warns that there will always be storms that overwhelm the system.

“Our cities have urbanized for one environment, but that environment is changing. We now have more intense, frequent rainfalls and a significantly changing winter environment,” says Drake.

Because overflow tanks cost billions and rebuilding legacy sewer systems from scratch isn’t viable, Drake advocates for LID projects that re-introduce natural water processes to the urban environment.

Different types of foliage.
(Photo by Chris Snow Video)

These projects – things like rain gardens, green roofs and purposefully “leaky” pipes – are designed to encourage infiltration, evaporation and a more leisurely flow of water across the city.

Drake says the best way to make cities flood resilient is through a combination of green, blue and gray infrastructure.

“Green infrastructure involves vegetation or living components and blue infrastructure is designed to hold, reuse and evaporate water. But gray infrastructure, our traditional urban infrastructure, also has a role to play. We need to make sure all these systems are working together efficiently.”

Reimagining and Regulating Flood-Resilient Housing

McKay is part of a team that includes Carleton researchers Gary Martin and Magda Goemans, the Insurance Bureau of Canada, the Canadian Home Builders’ Association and two engineering firms in the Netherlands. Together, they are conducting a bi-national study on urban development and flood risk.

“We chose the Netherlands because they have a much higher level of climate resilient housing than Canada,” says McKay, noting how Dutch policymakers have a thousand years-worth of water management expertise to draw on because a large percentage of their country is flat and below sea level.

According to McKay, creating climate resilient housing is a two-part adaptation process: retrofit existing homes and ensure new housing is designed with flood resilience in mind. McKay’s research focuses on this second aspect of climate change adaptation, where the first rule is to not build in areas that are known flood plains.

A woman in a white lab coat using equipment tp work with collected samples.
(Photo by Chris Snow Video)

“Housing pressures are new in Canada because there’s always been a lot of land. Ironically, some of our most expensive, sought-after land – waterfront property – is also the most at risk for flooding,” says McKay.

This is where the need for new housing policies becomes apparent, explains McKay. Updated federal flood maps that reflect recent environmental changes and identify trouble areas are in the works, as are changes to how insurers cover flood risk.

“We need a cohesive mindset and plan for Canadian housing across municipal, provincial and federal lines, “says McKay, “as well as a common understanding of climate change’s impact on housing.”

“A simple, obvious solution that we don’t consider enough in Canada is to stop building basements.”

Another solution is to design more houses that sit on top of, rather than beside, their garages.

Until policy catches up to our new climate reality, McKay says, Canadians will be “getting an education” in adaptation each time we face flooding.

Dirt in a large beaker being examined in a lab.
(Photo by Chris Snow Video)

Innovative Self-Powered Coat Design

Prolonged darkness is a reality for residents in Canada’s north. In winter, regions like the Yukon average only four hours of sunlight per day. This lack of light creates challenges for the region’s First Nations communities as limited visibility hampers traditional practices like hunting and trapping, as well as everyday activities like walking dogs and running errands.

In 2023, Sofia Parra, an industrial design student from Carleton University came up with a creative and sustainable solution: the Hesper, a self-powered coat that generates light from body heat.

“The garment is powered from body heat and the cold,” explains Parra, who has since graduated Carleton.

“It uses this little thing called a Peltier device — a small, flat square — and absorbs the outdoor cold on one side and the body’s warmth on the other. This temperature difference is what generates the electricity.”

The Hesper’s lightweight circuit is made of stainless-steel conductive thread and is sewn into a removable inner jacket. When activated, the thermoelectric modules light up the LED lights that illuminate the coat. The wearer can adjust the brightness using a subtle rotating dial in the collar.

“I wanted to create something self-sustaining,” Parra says.

Finding Bright Solutions to Community Challenges

The idea for the Hesper first took shape when Parra visited the Yukon as part of an ongoing research and educational partnership between the Carleton and the Na-Cho Nyäk Dun First Nation. In speaking with several locals, Parra learned about the issues they faced due to the lack of sunlight.

“There are very few streetlights in my neighbourhood,” explains Nikki Hutton, a member of the crow clan in the Yukon and a community service worker with the Na-Cho Nyäk Dun Development Corporation.

“If you want to take your dog for a walk, it’s pitch black until you get to the highway – which is a 20-to-30-minute walk.”

Hutton is part of the Yukon University Makerspace that collaborated with Parra on her self-powered coat project.

A graphic depicting the technology behind a self-powered coat
Parra crafted the Hesper in collaboration with the Na-Cho Nyäk Dun First Nation community

“Safety is a big concern as well, especially for little kids. Having reflectors only does so much – if they turn the wrong way with no light to reflect on them, it’s dangerous,” Hutton says.

Parra worked directly with the Na-Cho Nyäk Dun community when crafting the jacket. This cross-country collaboration was facilitated by Carleton-designed hologram technologies which allowed her to communicate with her partners in the North before physically travelling to Mayo to work with them.

“The First Nations people were extremely welcoming,” Parra says. “It was really beautiful to see everyone working together and pitching in, in whatever way they could.”

The Self-Powered Coat: Weaving Together Tradition and Technology

Parra integrated elements of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun cultural identity into the Hesper’s design. The layered construction, colours and trim all nod to the community’s heritage. Her idea for the coat’s aesthetic was inspired by a constellation Hesperides, often seen up North, it is home to the morning and evening stars. This gave rise to its official name: the Hesper.

Beyond its design, elements of the coat’s construction are influenced by centuries of survival. The scoop design in the back and front accommodates ease of movement, be it walking, climbing, or sitting on a snowmobile. The cuffs and high neck shield, as well as the vent flap in the back, provide protection from the cold weather and blowing snow.

A women sewing parts of a self-powered coat.
The Hesper’s lightweight circuit is sewn into a removable inner jacket which consists of LED lights that illuminate the coat (Chris Snow)

“The creation of the Hesper wouldn’t be possible without the tireless efforts of the community,” Parra says.

Parra’s contributions to the creation of the Hesper speaks to the importance of incorporating traditional knowledges into modern innovations and respecting the legacy of those who have thrived in the North for generations.

“I call it fusion,” says Hutton, who worked hands-on with Parra to create the Hesper. “Projects like this help bridge the generational gap that exists in First Nations communities, while also giving us the opportunity to be part of the technological movement that is rapidly changing our world.”

For Parra, the Hesper represents more than just a design achievement, but also emerges as an economic opportunity for the women in the First Nations Makerspace program. The potential to manufacture and sell these jackets locally and internationally could provide a self-reliant source of income, empowering the Na-Cho Nyäk Dun to share their culture and values with the world through a garment that is both a symbol and a tool. With that in mind, Parra is hoping to have the coat’s unique design patented soon.

“I am just one person, one designer,” Parra says.

“With further collaboration I hope that this technology will one day help improve the lives of people who aren’t afforded the luxury of a well-lit environment.”

An over the shoulder view of someone working on a self-powered coat.
(Chris Snow)

Training Pediatric Surgeons

Laparoscopic surgery, a procedure where long thin instruments are inserted into the abdomen through slits as tiny as two to three millimeters long, has quickly become the go-to approach when it comes to pediatric surgery – and for good reason.

Guided by a narrow wand equipped with a camera and light called a laparoscope, this remarkable minimally invasive technique allows surgeons to take diagnostic images, stitch up tissue and even remove a whole appendix – all with less pain, fewer scars and shorter hospital stays for young patients.

But while the procedure offers significant relief for children, families and our overburdened hospitals, laparoscopic technique itself is incredibly challenging. This is because, unlike in traditional open surgery, surgeons performing laparoscopies can’t directly see where they’re operating. Instead, they must learn to carefully navigate sharp tools around a toonie-sized internal area entirely via video feed.

A man in a blue dess shirt and grey hat poses for a photo in lab.
Carleton University systems and computer engineering professor Carlos Rossa. Photo by Chris Snow Video.

Thankfully, with support from a $150K innovation grant from Ontario Health, two pediatric surgeons have joined up with Carleton University engineering professor Carlos Rossa and a team of engineering undergraduates to develop a cyber-physical simulator that uses machine learning to help surgeons-in-training quickly acquire and hone their laparoscopic skills.

“When performing laparoscopic surgery, you’re looking at a two-dimensional image, but operating in 3D space. The simulator helps surgeons develop that special skillset before moving to real patients,” says Rossa.

While still in the prototype phase, the simulator already shows incredible promise as an effective and accessible teaching tool for the next generation of Canadian pediatric surgeons.

Remote Training Convenience Meets Machine Learning Precision

Some years ago, pediatric surgeons Drs. Ahmed Nasr and Georges Azzie developed a program to train their residents on the fundamentals of pediatric laparoscopy using a combination of in-person supervision and simulated surgery.

When they decided to take the program to the next level, says Nasr, division chief of pediatric surgery and researcher at CHEO, a pediatric healthcare and research centre in Ottawa, “the first place that came to my mind was Carleton University engineering.”

“You don’t want new surgeons learning in the operating room – you want them coming in already as trained as possible,” says Nasr.

A medical professional smiles for the camera while seated.
Dr. Ahmed Nasr, division chief of pediatric surgery and researcher at CHEO. Photo by Chris Snow Video.

In the time since, Rossa and his research team – a talented roster of Carleton engineering students working on the simulator as their fourth-year capstone project – have come up with creative solutions to help trainees build up the dexterity required to master this procedure.

Notably, this year’s cohort of researchers from the biomedical and electrical engineering program have incorporated machine learning algorithms into the simulator. The algorithms assess how well trainees perform fundamental laparoscopic techniques compared to the precise movements of an experienced surgeon.

Using the simulator, trainees maneuver surgical tools within an enclosed box and perform tasks guided by a computer monitor displaying what’s going on inside “the patient’s body”. Each gesture is then recorded, analyzed and assessed using artificial intelligence.

The team is now using machine learning to detect and label gestures – tool movement, hand positioning and force. Then the gestures are evaluated against those of a surgeon, providing the trainee with an ideal performance to match and areas to improve.

A group of students training to become pediatric surgeons posing for a photo.
Carleton fourth-year engineering students Atallah Madi, Esraa Alaa Aldeen, Huda Sheikh and Youssef Megahed. Photo by Chris Snow Video.

As a result, for the first time ever, trainees can practice laparoscopic techniques without in-person supervision from a senior surgeon, saving universities and hospitals time and money.

Engineering Crucial to Future Surgical Advancements

As the team works together towards a final prototype, all parties are confident that a collaborative approach will continue to yield strong results.

“It was a valuable experience to produce something using engineering methods for clinical application,” says Titus Priscu, a Carleton grad who worked on the simulator last year. “We never would have believed that we’d be working with some of Canada’s leading pediatric surgeons in our final year at university.”

“We set up an initial meeting to discuss our wishlist and see what the engineers at Carleton had to offer,” recalls Azzie, program director of pediatric surgery at SickKids Hospital in Toronto.

An over the shoulder view of a student working on a computer.
Photo by Chris Snow Video.

“The results have been fabulous – the students come to the table with problem-solving skills and ideas that would have never crossed my mind.”

“Surgical advancement has very little to do with surgeons themselves and everything to do with biomedical technology. We have the same hands and fingers that we had 1,000 years ago; it’s the tools that engineers give us that help us advance the field,” says Azzie.

Nasr plans on inviting the student researchers into the CHEO operating room, so they can further integrate the realities and details of that space into the simulator.

“I think this sort of collaboration should be available to all physicians seeking to develop medical technologies,” he says, describing how he hopes to see the simulator become part of the national requirements for surgical training accredited through the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons.

“The implications are great, not just for Canada, but especially low-income and resource-restricted countries. We’re dedicated to having this technology open and available to everyone.”

Three men wearing business suits pose for a group photo while standing in front of a stone wall.
Carleton engineering alumni Nathan Mezzomo, Miles Sutherland and Titus Priscu worked on the simulator together as part of their capstone project in 2022-2023. Photo provided by Alumni.

Health and Wellness | Technology for Good

Combatting Eco-Anxiety

Climate change has transformed from a distant concern to an urgent global crisis – drastically impacting ecosystems and human lives alike. Dominating conversations and news headlines, a recent study revealed that 78 per cent of Canadians aged 16 to 25 report adverse effects on their mental health due to climate change, as it causes widespread fear and sadness, particularly among youth.

Recognizing the need for a positive approach, Carleton University psychology professor Stefania Maggi has created an action-adventure video game designed to reduce eco-anxiety and motivate climate action.

A woman in a brown sweater holds a book in a library.
Carleton University psychology professor Stefania Maggi (Brenna Mackay)

“Every day, we have a reminder in the news that exposes us to shock,” Maggi says.

“It causes anxiety that if not addressed adequately, impacts our mental health and also our ability to be part of the solution to climate change.”

Eco-Anxiety and Grief Among Youth

Eco-anxiety is a relatively new school of thought that explores the deep emotional strain individuals face amid the escalating threats of climate change. The continuous onslaught of distressing news, coupled with a heightened awareness of impending ecological challenges, fosters a pervasive sense of helplessness and grief over the potential loss of a sustainable future.

“We grieve the future we may not be able to have because of climate change,” Maggi explains.

“But it’s important to feel this way. It’s not an imaginary problem, and the first thing we need to do is accept the problem as being real.”

Despite its unpleasant effects on people’s well-being, anxiety does have an evolutionary purpose. It acts as a mechanism to signal threats and prompt protective responses. The problem with climate change is that we can’t eliminate that threat immediately or on our own.

Youth are disproportionately affected by eco-anxiety because they have the longest lives ahead of them, and planning for their futures is muddied by a one-sided narrative of a world in distress due to climate change. This one-sided portrayal risks paralyzing them with fear and impeding their ability to envision alternative outcomes. To address this, Maggi says we need a shift towards solution-oriented communication, emphasizing the importance of presenting diverse future scenarios.

“By providing youth with the tools to envision positive outcomes and fostering a sense of agency, we can empower them to develop skills and solutions, mitigating the paralyzing effects of eco-anxiety and inspiring meaningful action in the face of climate change,” Maggi explains.

“Fear is a good motivator, but it needs to be followed up with something else.”

Mochi 4 the Planet

Maggi launched Mochi 4ThePlanet in 2022 as a movement to help re-frame the way we think about climate change. The project is made up of a mixed-methods research branch – which collects data on eco-anxiety and the effects on youth; a social media presence – which aims to mobilize knowledge and elevate spirits and conversations around climate change; and the video game – built to help youth navigate their emotions around climate change in a non-threatening way.

The video game, Kibou – The Guiding Light, is set in a tech-dominated city where relationships take a back seat. The protagonist faces a turning point during a blackout that severs ties with their friend, prompting them to explore the impact of climate change. Players navigate through mechanics, puzzles, and quests to discover emotions, interacting with characters who share insights about the planet.

A woman sitting at a table with her back turned. A video game can be seen on the screens in front of her.
(Brenna Mackay)

The game follows Mochi4ThePlanet’s five tenets – Mindful, Optimistic, Compassionate, Healing, and Innovations – spelling Mochi. A reference to the Japanese rice cake crafted from moldable dough, Maggi says the project’s name is a symbol of adaptation and change.

“Kibou’s ultimate goal is to educate players about climate-related emotions, fostering understanding, normalization and the development of tools for expressing and coping with these emotions, emphasizing the importance of finding meaning and purpose in the face of adversity,” says Maggi.

Kibou is developed by an international team of young professionals. As a research-based youth-centered movement, Mochi4ThePlanet is partnered with organizations in Italy, India and Canada. In addition to the video game, the initiative has also published a children’s book within the game’s world – written by Maggi and McKenna Corvello, a master’s student in Carleton’s psychology program.

Maggi plans for Kibou to complete and the first instalment of a fully playable version by fall of 2024. She is also developing a Kibou-themed virtual reality educational program for the Carleton community and general public.

“My hope for Mochi4ThePlanet is to not only address eco-anxiety but to build a collective that is bound by shared meaning, motivation, and support.”

A hand holding up a children's book with an illustration and text visible.
(Brenna Mackay)