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TMU architectural science professor named Canadian National Champion in the global Frontiers Planet Prize competition

Professor Umberto Berardi moves on to the second round of the international sustainability research competition.
April 22, 2024
Headshot of professor Umberto Berardi. The image reads “Dr. Umberto Berardi, National Champion 2024 Canada” and includes the Frontiers Planet Prize logo.

As cities experience rising temperatures due to climate change, professor Umberto Berardi is examining how architecture and engineering in cities impact health and well-being.

Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) architectural science professor Umberto Berardi has been selected as Canada’s National Champion in the Frontiers Planet Prize global competition. 

The competition recognizes scientists who contribute to accelerating sustainable solutions, allowing humanity to live healthy lives on a healthy planet. Professor Berardi is one of 23 National Champions from six continents competing for three $1 million Swiss francs (about $1.5 million CAD) prizes in research funding support.

As a leading sustainability researcher and the Canada Research Chair in Building Science, professor Berardi studies innovative solutions and new materials for improving energy performance in the built environment, with a particular focus on cities.

“Cities are responsible for energy demand, and there is an urgent need for solutions of urban shape, greenery and building materials that can mitigate the rise of temperatures in cities,” said professor Berardi. “I am working to address rising temperatures through my research with cooling materials and coatings that reflect solar radiation, as well as through my work with provincial parks to understand the impact of Ontario’s greenbelt on temperature.”

Professor Berardi is also examining how architecture and engineering in cities impact health and well-being. He recently worked with TMU postdoctoral fellow Mohamed Dardir to develop a novel, health-informed statistical model to help with decision-making for urban heat mitigation. Their research paper, “Health-informed predictive regression for statistical-simulation decision-making in urban heat mitigation,” was selected by the Frontiers Planet Prize jury of 100 sustainability and planetary health experts.

In his research, professor Berardi measured the correlation between the fraction of light reflected off urban surfaces and morbidity indicators. He used the model to assess the health and economic benefits of enriching urban greenery coverage in York Region. He quantified how intensifying the urban greenery cover would result in significant reductions in ambient temperature, outdoor heat stress and expected temperature-related deaths and emergency department visits. He also quantified the economic benefits, including reduced energy consumption, reduced productivity losses and fewer visits to emergency departments. 

As cities in Canada and around the world experience more instances of extreme heat, professor Berardi’s research is bringing attention to the significant role architecture and engineering can have on health and mortality. His model and proposed framework can be used by policymakers and stakeholders to assess the environmental, health and economic benefits of heat mitigation strategies like greenery cover.

“Congratulations to professor Berardi for this prestigious international recognition,” said Steven N. Liss, TMU’s vice-president, research and innovation. “Climate change is greatly affecting the health and well-being of our people and our cities. Professor Berardi’s research demonstrates an innovative approach to finding practical solutions to reduce temperatures in urban environments around the world.”

Professor Berardi will present his winning research paper at the Frontiers Planet Prize awards ceremony in June of this year. The goal of the prize is to reward and promote breakthroughs in sustainability science that can be scaled globally to regulate the stability and resilience of Earth’s ecosystems.

“It’s nice to get the recognition for the research we’re doing here in Canada. I don’t think people expect us to research heat,” said professor Berardi. “I'm happy that we contributed to this topic that is applicable to other countries and other societies.”

“Umberto Berardi is a passionate building scientist, dedicated to the exploration of alternative solutions to address the ever-increasing effects of climate change,” said Stephen Waldman, associate dean, research and external partnerships at the Faculty of Engineering and Architectural Science. “Our faculty celebrates Professor Berardi's latest achievement, and we are excited for his research to be recognized globally by the Frontiers Research Foundation.” 

Professor Berardi also worked with University of Waterloo professor Jeffrey Wilson on the research paper. Read “Health-informed predictive regression for statistical-simulation decision-making in urban heat mitigation” in Sustainable Cities and Society. (external link, opens in new window) 

Launched by the Frontiers Research Foundation on Earth Day 2022, the Frontiers Planet Prize aims to mobilize science for a global green renaissance. Learn more about the Frontiers Planet Prize. (external link, opens in new window) 

Professor Berardi’s research was supported by Mitacs Canada, Greenbelt Foundation and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.