Sentinel North

THEMATIC PROJECT 2
Light as a driver, environment, and information carrier in natural environments and human health

 
 
 
 

Thematic Project 2: Light as a driver, environment, and information carrier in natural environments and human health

 

Light is an essential vector of energy on Earth. The exploitation of the remarkable potential of light by humans has led to profound transformations of our societies in multiple areas, including: health and safety, renewable and green energy, networking and communications, and the exploration of the multiple environments of our planet. In the North, major seasonal variations in photoperiod, vegetation, snow cover and ice cover lead to significant variability in the availability and quality of light affecting ecosystems and societies.

This thematic project brings together nearly 50 Université Laval professors from 7 faculties and 13 departments, working with their collaborators on 8 complementary subprojects using a transdisciplinary approach. Using new optical sensors and technologies deployed in a northern context,  their main objectives are to: investigate the propagation of light through space and matter; study the influence of light on physiology and biorhythms; detect climatically active compounds; and generate sustainable energy.

 
 
 

2.1 Optimizing biophilia in extreme climates through architecture

 
Research team and project summary
 

Principal Investigators
Claude Demers, Marc Hébert

Co-Investigators
Myriam Blais, Tigran Galstian, Louis Gosselin, André Potvin, Geneviève Vachon

Collaborators
Pierre Blanchet, Carole Després, Line Rochefort

Collaborators outside U. Laval
Ellen Avard, Mylène Riva, Claude Vallée

Project summary
Biophilia defines the innate attractiveness of humans towards nature, daylighting being its primary vector. This research project proposes to optimize biophilia by creating a living environment adapted to the limited availability of natural light in extreme climates. As a genuine extension of the body, architecture stands between nature and humans and expresses the tangible meeting point of climate, biology and technology. Architecture integrated to its environment and cultural context expands the space of the biological and social balance point and secures a favourable environment for productivity, health and well-being while minimizing negative impacts on the environment. In the context of limited light and resources, occupants or temporary workers of the North depend on a highly technological building culture to adapt to often hostile environments. However, inhabitants of the North –especially Inuit communities- have developed a rich architectural culture intimately adapted to the biosphere, which has gradually subsided in contact with Southern lifestyles and access to resources.

The project proposes to meet the biophilic needs of both cultures through the following research activities:

  • measurement of the availability of natural light and its impact on human well-being, energy demand of buildings, and potential for vegetalization
  • development of optical technologies (LED, Smart Windows, Optical Fiber) to optimize the well-being of users, minimize the energy intensity of buildings and promote ecological restauration
  • integration of optical technologies to architectural and building components to auxiliary spaces or 'biophilic prostheses' to existing buildings (communal and/or residential spaces)
  • and validation of the effectiveness, applicability and cultural acceptability of the solutions by architectural design solutions
 

2.2 Innovative optical systems to track winter life in the cryosphere

 
Research team and project summary
 

Principal Investigators
Gilles Gauthier

Co-Investigators
Martin Bernier, Steeve Côté, Florent Dominé, Tigran Galstian, Sophie Larochelle, Xavier Maldague, Simon Thibaullt, Warwick Vincent

Collaborator
Benoit Gosselin

Collaborators outside U. Laval
Laurent Arnaud, Pascal Hagenmuller, Ghislain Picard; Dominique Berteaux, Dany Dumont; Christian Dussault; Alexandre Langlois; Rolf Ims, Nigel Yoccoz

Project summary
Winter has been traditionally considered a «dormant» period for life in the Arctic but events occurring in winter can still play a vital role for living organisms. Changes in the condition of the snow, a universal defining feature of winter at high latitudes, and its effects on transmission of light have cascading effects on organisms living in the North and affect ecosystem services. However, our knowledge of those processes is minimal due to the difficulty of studying this environment in winter and represents an emerging great frontier of Arctic science. Our project will use recent developments in optical systems to study arctic ecosystems in winter. Our overall objective is to develop and apply new optic-based technologies under the harsh arctic conditions to improve our understanding of snow properties and their impacts on living organisms. We propose to:

1) develop novel optical technologies to measure in situ key snow properties,

2) develop new optical tools to track the activity of small animals living under the snow

3) use large moving animals equipped with optical devices to monitor snow and environmental conditions and

4) develop optical systems to measure light transmission and biological processes in the water column under the ice.

Our project will lead to scientific and technological breakthroughs in our understanding of arctic ecosystems during winter. For this project, we will develop instruments using innovative technologies (e.g. resistance to cold, ability to operate under low light intensity, low energy consumption) that are bound to find many applications beyond this project. A close collaboration among researchers with unique expertise in disciplines as diverse as biology, chemistry, photonic and electrical engineering is essential to achieve our goals. This project will provide a unique training environment for graduate students by combining diverse expertise in the laboratory and in the field in the Arctic.

 

2.3 The use of diatom microalgae for improving the treatment of the light-driven dysfunctions of the biological clock in Arctic human populations

 
Research team and project summary
 

Principal Investigator
Johan Lavaud

Co-Investigator
Marc Hébert

Collaborator
Marcel Babin

Collaborators outside U. Laval
Angela Falciatore

Project summary
In the Arctic, the biological activity, from the diatom microalgae to humans, is strongly constrained by light which shows extreme seasonal and daily variations in irradiance and in spectrum. The strong blue vs. red light spectrum experienced by diatoms in sea-ice and water is opposite to the human eye sensitivity (high for red and low for blue light) arguing for a relevant blue-light responsive biological model. Diatoms and humans have evolved circadian clocks regulated by sophisticated molecular devices for synchronizing their physiology with their light environment. The regulation of their biological rhythms shows striking common features (‘convergent evolution') like blue- and red-light photoreceptors, and clock component with animal features in diatoms. The deleterious effects of the light climate on human mental health (seasonal affective disorder, etc.), especially in the North, are well-known. Artificial blue:red lighting (i.e. luminotherapy) is an innovative approach to ‘trick' the biological clock and boosts the circadian rhythm. Testing new light regimens on statistically relevant human populations is difficult while this is more feasible in Arctic diatoms. The aim of this project is to use Arctic diatoms to study the effect of photoperiod and light spectrum on the circadian rhythmicity of physiology in order to propose new blue:red light regimens with positive effect on the biological clock. It will subsequently facilitate their application in Northern populations (and beyond, i.e. night workers, miners, etc.) with increased probability of mental health and behavior dysfunctions. It will potentially generate new patent(s) for non-invasive medical light treatment (LEDs, glasses with filters). In parallel, the project will 1) deepen our knowledge of the fundamental regulatory processes behind the light-driven ecophysiology of diatoms, the sentinels of climate changes in the Arctic, 2) open on bioprospection of added-value molecules beneficial to human health, i.e. carotenoid pigments and polyunsaturated lipids found in Arctic diatoms.

 

2.4 A better understanding of light-matter interaction: bridging the gap between micro and macro scales, and developing new devices and approaches for the North

 
Research team and project summary
 

Principal investigator
Pierre Marquet

Co-Investigators
Daniel Côté, Philippe Després

Collaborator
Marcel Babin

Collaborators outside U. Laval
Pierre Francus

Project summary
The accurate knowledge of light distribution in diffusive media is invaluable to understand how light shapes our environment (e.g., photosynthesis in the oceans) and helps us decipher it (e.g., diagnosis with light). Yet, despite years of advances in the field, models of light propagation in diffusive media often rely on approximations that neglect details of the microscopic structure of matter. Therefore, our models aiming at providing a comprehensive understanding of important phenomena resulting from these light-matter interactions in diffuse media fail in different situations. For example, light distribution under the ice cap would enable a better understanding of marine ecosystems. In addition, with the design of ever smaller optical probes operating in non-diffusive regime, the shortcomings of the current light transport models become apparent and amount to a lost opportunity: better models would provide more accurate tissue characterization. Considering that these modeling shortcomings result noticeably from a lack a data concerning the structural organisation of these diffusive media, we propose a strategy aiming at

1) collecting structural data with relevance to optics from both sea ice as well as biological tissues

2) feeding different radiative transfer models with these relevant structural parameters and

3) developing cutting-edge computational modeling strategies that take these microscopic parameters into account.

These new radiative transfer models will pave the way to gain substantial information about the impact of climate change on marine ecosystems, and to develop efficient miniature instruments for rapid diagnoses concerning in particular dermatological issues and circadian rhythm disorders for Northern populations.

 

2.5 Printed solar cells for small remote instruments

 
Research team and project summary
 

Principal investigator
Mario Leclerc

Co-Investigators
Paul Jonhson, Jean-François Morin, Simon Thibault

Collaborator outside U. Laval
Ian Hill

Project summary
The project proposed herein aimed at developing a printed energy device that could be installed on small remote devices requiring low electrical power such as optical sensors, imaging tools and communication devices. The purpose of this technology will be to supply energy on-demand without the use of heavy battery that required frequent recharge and on-site maintenance. To achieve this goal, a team of two materials scientists (M Leclerc and JF Morin, Department of Chemistry, ULaval), one computational chemist (P Johnson, Department of Chemistry, ULaval), one physicist (S Thibault, Departement of Physics, Physics engineering and Optics, ULaval), one external collaborator (Ian Hill, Dalhousie) and one industrial partner (ICI - College Ahuntsic) will team up to develop and integrate all the parts of the device. Leclerc and Morin will develop light-harvesting semiconducting materials, based on the design and calculations made by Johnson, and proceed to their integration into solar cells. Thibault will develop concentrators to increase sunlight harvesting efficiency. Hill will be responsible for the prototyping of the solar cells while ICI will print all the components of the device onto flexible substrate, including the batteries to store the energy produced by the solar cells. The printing technology allows fabrication of very thin, lightweight and flexible devices that could fit any electrical devices geometry while being unaffected by mechanical deformations. These are all significant advantages over the classical silicon-based solar cells technology whose heavy weight, brittleness and poor mechanical properties make such devices inappropriate for applications in harsh environmental conditions like those found in the Arctic.

 

2.6 BOND: Beacons Of Northern Dynamics – Developing light-based sensing technologies to monitor climate active gases in a mutating Arctic.

 
Research team and project summary
 

Principal Investigators
Réal Vallée, Guillaume Massé

Co-Investigators
Michel Allard, Martin Bernier, Mario Leclerc, Maurice Levasseur, Younès Messaddeq, Michel Piché, Jean-Éric Tremblay, Warwick Vincent

Collaborators
Martine Lizotte, Vincent Fortin

Collaborators outside U. Laval
François Babin, Martin Chamberland, Pierre Tremblay, Sangeeta Sharma, Knut von Salzen, Patrick Lajeunesse

Project summary
The impetus underpinning the BOND project lies in the urgency to monitor the fast-pace changes in the Arctic environment. Ongoing climate shifts are provoking profound modifications in the atmosphere as well as in physical landmarks and most prominently within the cryosphere comprised of sea ice, lake and river ice, glaciers, ice caps, ice sheets and permafrost. Important changes in the rate and timing of freshwater discharge are also expected. These wavering northern environments are hosts to diverse and complex ecosystems, within which biogeochemical cycles of major elements such as carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and sulfur drive the overturning and exchanges of climate active (CA) gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and dimethylsulfide. Gaining insight into the abiotic- and biotic-driven kinetics of these CA gases requires high-frequency measurements of fluxes and reservoirs: a challenging endeavour in these remote areas. Various optical approaches will be explored in order to meet the challenges related to real-time and remote detection of CA gases in the atmospheric boundary layer and soils as well as aquatic environments themselves. To address the challenges of atmospheric and aquatic gas detection, BOND will build upon and further achieve technological advancements on photonic devices. Atmospheric gas detection will rely on specially designed mid-IR coherent sources whereas underwater probing challenges will be tackled through the development of optode sensors based on the synthesis of new chelating fluorescent complexes. In-house development of these monitoring systems will first be achieved, followed by their in-situ deployment in the Arctic environment. Parallel laboratory experiments implementing novel bio-reactors coupled to high resolution mass spectrometry (MIMS) analysis will allow fine-scale resolution of the processes driving CA gas kinetics. Together, these pioneering approaches will materialize BOND's main objective: the implementation of leading-edge optical monitoring devices acting as the early warning Beacons Of Northern Dynamics.

 

2.7 Observing Arctic Substrates: Unveiling ice, water column, and benthic physical and biological properties using laser remote sensing from autonomous underwater vehicles and unmanned aerial vehicles.

 
Research team and project summary
 

Principal investigator
Philippe Archambault

Co-Investigator
Michel Piché

Collaborators
Marcel Babin, Simon Girard-Lambert, Jose Lagunas-Morales, Eric Rehm, Ladd Johnson

Collaborators outside U. Laval
Fraser Dalgleish, Jens Ehn, David Fissel, Georges Fournier, Patrick Gagnon, Kevin Heany, John Headley, Patrick Lajeunesse

Project summary
The physical and biological properties of Arctic ice and coastal benthos remain poorly understood due to the difficulty of accessing these substrates in ice-covered waters. A Light Detection And Ranging (LiDAR) system deployed on an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) can interrogate these surfaces in three dimensions for physical and biological properties simultaneously. Using the absorption, inelastic scattering (fluorescence), and elastic scattering properties of photosynthetic micro- and macro-algae excited by lasers, we propose to quantify the physical features of the substrate (ice, benthic assemblages, geology) as well as biomass from an AUV.  We propose a modular, incremental instrument development approach, starting with a single-wavelength, continuous wave system already developed for ice detection. Through radiative transfer modeling and source and/or detector wavelength changes, fluorescence and differential absorption capabilities will be developed. Adding time-response pulsed laser capability (true LiDAR) will allow depth resolution of ice draft, bottom ice algae and benthic algae and water column microalgae.  Finally, scanning or structured illumination techniques can be added to create three dimensional images of the substrate, significantly increasing the sampled area.

 

2.8 Development, implementation and use of miniature portable technologies for the prevention, assessment and treatment of chronic diseases in Northern areas

 
Research team and project summary
 

Principal investigator
Laurent Bouyer

Co-Investigator
Andréanne Blanchet, Benoit Gosselin, Marc Hébert, Philippe Jackson, Younès Messadeq, François Routhier, Jean-Sébastien Roy

Collaborator
Philippe Archambault, Charles Batcho, Alexandre Campeau-Lecours, Bradford McFadyen, Catherine Mercier

Collaborator outside U. Laval
André Plamondon

Project summary
Current transformation of the North caused by global warming is leading to a rapid development and diversification of human activity and work. With these rapid changes occurring in challenging and less known environments, safety and health of northern populations (local and workers) represent areas of concern. The purpose of this project is to develop, deploy and validate new portable technologies (fiber-optic-based movement sensors and low-power miniature physiological sensors) to remotely monitor in real-time motor skills, mobility, and vital metabolic variables. These technologies will be used to evaluate and guide treatment for individuals with chronic diseases and / or physical disability (work-related or not). In addition, the data collected will later be used to develop predictive models to prevent the development of such diseases/disabilities. Due to the novelty of the technologies and the wealth/complexity of the collected data, this project will lead to the creation of new intersectorial collaborations between Université Laval's researchers, the members of 3 provincial research networks (rehabilitation, pain and technology), and a private partner in remote collection/processing of health data. Experts in human rehabilitation, work risk assessment, software and hardware engineering, data processing (predictive modeling / epidemiology), psychology and motor control/neuroscience, will tackle together the challenge of quantifying human behavior in a real-world challenging environment and to relate it to health indicators.

 
 
 

Steering Committee for Thematic Project 2

Members of the steering committee:
Réal Vallée, Director
Department of physics, physical engineering and optics
rvallee@copl.ulaval.ca

Philippe Archambault
Biology department

Claude Demers
Department of architecture

Coordonnator
Jérôme Lapointe
jerome.lapointe@copl.ulaval.ca
418-656-2131, ext. 3807

 
 
 

Research Themes

 
 

1- Complex systems: structure, function and interrelationships in the North

 
 

2- Light as a driver, environment, and information carrier in natural environments and human health

 
 

3- Microbiomes: sentinels of the northern environment and human health

www.ulaval.ca