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Professor Ariel Chan (ChemE) is an expert in chemical process scale-up and safety analysis. (Photo: Tyler Irving)

Professor Ariel Chan (ChemE) has been chosen as the 2023 recipient of the University of Toronto Northrop Frye Award. The award honours a faculty member who has undertaken a teaching and learning project within the last five years that has significantly enhanced the undergraduate learning experience.  

Chan, who is cross-appointed to the Institute for Studies in Transdisciplinary Engineering Education & Practice (ISTEP), is being recognized for creating new problem-based, industry-relevant lab projects and developing virtual-reality lab and training materials to facilitate individualized experiential learning for students.  

As a teaching stream professor, Chan is the primary instructor for two key courses that consolidate lab components from all third-year ChemE core courses. Since joining U of T Engineering in 2017, she has completely redeveloped these courses so that the labs integrate concepts that students have learned in the classroom to date. She also pivoted from traditional ‘recipe-driven’ lab exercises to open-ended, problem-based projects.   

Chan has created more than 40 inquiry-based lab projects covering five major chemical engineering concepts. These are based on real-world consulting assignments, projects co-developed with industrial partners and field trips. She also incorporates computer-aided design and drafting software, familiarizing students with engineering tools they are likely to use in their future careers.   

Watch: What’s Your Story? Ariel Chan

Another focus of this project has been the creation of a laboratory resources website to support self-directed learning.   

When the University shifted to online learning during the pandemic, Chan and her team mapped out the entire Unit Operations Laboratory space to create a virtual lab tour that can be accessed by mobile devices and virtual reality headsets. This allowed students learning remotely to replicate the experience of conducting an experiment in the Unit Operations lab, right down to donning a lab coat and gloves.  

Chan also developed a series of experiments that can be done at home, such as drainage piping investigation, stove/cooktop heat transfer modelling and bioethanol production through yeast fermentation. Combined with her online virtual lab tools, these experiments provide unique at-home learning opportunities for students, which emphasize that engineering is all around us.   

In 2019, Chan received ChemE’s Diran Basmadjian Teacher of the Year Award for Small Classes. She has also garnered a Dean’s Emerging Innovation in Teaching Professorship and a Technology Enhanced Active Learning (TEAL) Fellowship. Most recently, she received the 2022 Wighton Fellowship, a national award recognizing excellence in the development and teaching of lab-based engineering courses.  

Professor Ariel Chan’s leadership of the Unit Operations Laboratory modernization project has revitalized both the facility and the chemical engineering laboratory curriculum,” says Christopher Yip, Dean of U of T Engineering.  

“On behalf of the Faculty, congratulations to Professor Chan on this recognition of her work to strengthen our undergraduate learning environment.” 

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