Christine Chan's research challenges her to apply her own field of expertise, informatics, to real-life problems in the environment and energy sectors.
"Informatics should be made useful and what it is useful for is helping industries, helping people do their jobs more easily, making life easier," says Chan, a professor in Software Systems Engineering.
Chan is a Canada Research Chair (Tier 1) in Energy and Environmental Informatics. Her appointment, made in 2006, supports her work in developing ways that industry can use artificial intelligence (AI) in roles such as monitoring systems, analyzing options and finding remedies to problems. Much of her work has involved developing ways to use AI in the petroleum industry.
For example, one project involved designing software that can be used to help people in the petroleum industry decide which remediation technology they will use to clean up a work site contaminated by petroleum. Another project involved automating some of the tasks at oil batteries, the sites where oil is pumped from the ground, then processed.
"In that processing stage, what kind of task can be automated?" she says. "One such task might be a monitoring system to keep track of how the processing has been going, whether things are functioning as you expected or whether some problems arise that you need to remedy. So the system would help you detect such abnormal situations and suggest remedies to deal with it."
She has also collaborated with the International Test Centre for Carbon Dioxide Capture (ITC) at U of R to create an automated computer system to monitor its processing system and detect any abnormalities. When problems are detected, the program makes suggestions, but it's the operator who decides what to do.
"We don't go as far as connecting the computer system to the actual plant because that would mean you don't need any human input and I don't believe in that, frankly," she says. "I think it is always good to have the human element in it because the computer is not always right."
Other projects in the works involve developing models to obtain more information from the data generated in the CO2 capture system, and a new project that will involve selection of landfill covers.
In addition to research on applying informatics to energy and the environment, Chan also works on software and knowledge engineering issues related to building intelligent systems more effectively and efficiently. For example, she is building decision support tools for ontological engineering.
Chan says the Canada Research Chair funding has been important to her research program because it focuses her work on energy and environmental informatics and provides guaranteed funding. She notes that energy and environment, as well as informatics, are areas the University of Regina has targeted as strategic research areas.