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Graphite illustration of an airplane with a propeller in mid-air
Illustrations by David Sparshott

150 Years of Firsts

To mark an important milestone, U of T Engineering looks back at some of its boldest thinkers

Did you know that alkaline batteries and touchscreens can trace their origins to U of T Engineering? The faculty is celebrating its sesquicentennial in 2023, marking a century and a half of innovation. Here we look back at some of the bold, compassionate thinkers who helped imagine a better future. Visit to learn more.


Graphite illustration of two radio towers with an orange radio wave running between them

As an undergraduate, Edward S. Rogers creates the first all-electric radio station and is the first Canadian amateur radio operator to transmit a signal across the Atlantic.



Black and white photo of Elsie MacGill holding and examining a section of a pipe.
Photo courtesy of Ingenium (CAVM-16035)

Elsie MacGill (BASc 1927) is the first woman in Canada to graduate from electrical engineering. As the world’s first female aircraft designer, she earns the nickname “Queen of the Hurricanes,” after a plane she helped produce.




Coloured graphite illustration of the first car radio, showing an octagonal wood-framed speaker next to a metal box with the lid off to show the inside of the radio

Frank Henry Ralph Pounsett (BASc 1928) designs the first car radio for General Motors Canada.




Black and white photo of George Klein sitting in an electric wheelchair
Photo courtesy of the National Research Council of Canada

George Klein (BASc 1928) invents the first electric wheelchair.






Four alkaline AA batteries
Photo by

Lewis Urry (BASc 1950) develops the first commercial alkaline battery, spurring a revolution in consumer electronics. Time magazine named it one of the 100 greatest gadgets ever.



Black and white photo of Ursula Franklin wearing dark plastic-framed glasses and a patterned, collared shirt
Photo courtesy of University of Toronto Archives

Ursula Franklin becomes the faculty’s first female professor. In 1984, she is the first woman to receive the title of University Professor — U of T’s highest academic rank.





Graphite illustration of a hand with the index finger extended toward the screen of a box-like monitor with beige coloured sides and top

Prof. K.C. Smith, of electrical engineering, develops the origins of touchscreen technology.


Close up of an Oscar award trophy resting on top of a red pillow, with gold-coloured curtains in the background
Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images
Entertainment via Getty Images

William C. Shaw (BASc 1951) and his three co-inventors of the IMAX projector win an Oscar for Scientific and Technical Achievement.





Black and white graphite illustration of an Instant Pot, with the display and centre four buttons in colour.

Co-created by Dongjun Wang (BASc 1995), the Instant Pot debuts. With millions of units sold, the appliance quickly becomes a staple in kitchens around the world.



Prof. Brendan Frey of electrical and computer engineering co-launches Deep Genomics, the first company to combine deep learning and genome biology to study mutations linked to genetic diseases.


Inioluwa Deborah Raji, wearing a blue headband and a black T-shirt with the words "AI TIL U DIE" printed on the front, is standing with her hands on her hips in the front lobby of the Bahen Centre for Information Technology.Inioluwa Deborah Raji (BASc 2019) is named a Top Innovator Under 35 by MIT Technology Review for her research on racial and gender bias in facial recognition technologies.



Close up of the Reeddi solar-powered battery, with a black leather handle at one endA portable solar-powered battery made by Reeddi, a startup headed by Olugbenga Olubanjo (MASc 2019), is named one of Time magazine’s 100 best inventions of the year.


Coloured graphite illustration of the human heart

A multidisciplinary team led by Milica Radisic, a professor of chemical and biomedical engineering, grows a small-scale model of a human left heart ventricle in the lab.

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  1. 2 Responses to “ 150 Years of Firsts ”

  2. Ed Mizzi says:

    Thanks for this article. Sometimes Canadians (myself included) underestimate our ability to change the world, so we are pleasantly surprised to see just how creative, resourceful and ingenious we are. These are amazing accomplishments.

  3. Sue Prior Chiarot says:

    Who knew! Just another of the many reasons to be so proud of my alma mater!