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Faculty of Science ‘smart’ materials research gets a boost

New funding for university’s Surface Characterization Laboratory

From left: Faculty of Science materials science researchers Olena Zenkina, PhD, Liliana Trevani, PhD, and Brad Easton, PhD have received new Canada Foundation for Innovation funding for new equipment in the university's Surface Characterization Laboratory.
From left: Faculty of Science materials science researchers Olena Zenkina, PhD, Liliana Trevani, PhD, and Brad Easton, PhD have received new Canada Foundation for Innovation funding for new equipment in the university's Surface Characterization Laboratory.

Where the disciplines of chemistry and physics forge, the study of materials science drives the development of many durable and common consumer products. Metal alloys, glass, plastic and fiberglass are just a few examples of ‘new’ materials created from primary components through the application of temperature, pressure, light and electricity.

Science’s creation of new materials throughout history has supported the evolution of industry, spawned new technologies and changed culture.

At the University of Ontario Institute of Technology researchers explore the development of new ‘smart’ materials, capable of changing their properties when influenced by an external condition. Unlike ordinary materials that have environment-independent properties, changes to smart materials are reversible and repeatable multiple times.

Three researchers in the Faculty of Science (Olena Zenkina, PhD (principal investigator); Brad Easton, PhD and Liliana Trevani, PhD) are developing new materials in the lab that have significant possibilities for commercial application in medical diagnostics, biosensing and potentially in chemotherapy. New funding secured through the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s (CFI) John R. Evans Leaders Fund will support the team’s research and the university’s Surface Characterization Laboratory (SCL).

“We are targeting the creation of innovative smart materials for environmental sensing, catalysis, energy applications and molecular electronics,” says Dr. Zenkina. “We are examining energy-saving smart windows or ‘intelligent’ coatings, and creating dual smart boards able to change colour in the day and glow at night. Other multifunctional materials will be able to catch selectively hazardous metal ions (mercury, lead, etc.) from water. This will help solve a longstanding problem in Ontario with drinking water contamination and prevent future Canadian health problems.”

The research team has a long-standing smart materials collaboration. Drs. Zenkina and Easton recently developed technology for the manufacturing of ultra-robust and atom-efficient electrochromic materials (ECMs) that can reversibly change their colour under applied voltages. These materials have applications for the automotive industry and molecular electronics.

The CFI’s investment will support the purchase of three new state-of-the-art instruments for the SCL (atomic force microscope, profilometer and ellipsometer*) that will reinforce existing research partnerships and help the lab create new connections with industry.

  • Atomic force microscopesprovide pictures of atoms on or in surfaces at the atomic level. 
  • profilometermeasures a surface’s roughness, and dimensions such as curvature and flatness.
  • An ellipsometer measures the refractive index and thickness of semi-transparent thin films.

Quotes

“I want to congratulate all of today’s recipients who will now have access to state-of-the-art tools and research infrastructure that will allow them to explore some of our most pressing questions. The answers they find contribute to the evidence our government needs to build a stronger economy and a more prosperous future for all Canadians.”
-The Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science

“Investing in a new generation of research talent is more important than ever before for Canada. The Canada Foundation for Innovation is making it possible for our brilliant researchers to remain in Canada, to build our economy, and to contribute to solving the problems of the world.”
-Roseann O’Reilly Runte, President and CEO, Canada Foundation for Innovation

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Media contact
Bryan Oliver
Communications and Marketing
Ontario Tech University
905.721.8668 ext. 6709
289.928.3653 (cell)
bryan.oliver@uoit.ca