Behind the buzz and beyond the hype:
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Posted: Nov 03, 2006
Nanotechnology research in Canada
(Nanowerk Spotlight) R&D activities in nanotechnology in Canada are spearheaded by the federal government, provincial governments, as well as universities and national institutes. At the federal level, 9 institutes of the National Research Council (NRC), are conducting R&D in nanotechnology, while the major concentration of both research and industry can be found in Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec. Most of these provinces have already established or will establish province-wide consortiums to promote economic development through nanotechnology. Currently, there are between 50 to 200 companies engaged in nanotechnology-related businesses, with numbers varied depending upon the definition of “nanotechnology”.
The opening of the National Institute of Nanotechnology (NINT), a joint venture of the federal government, the University of Alberta, and Alberta provincial government, is the latest development in Alberta to promote and support nanotechnology research and economic development. The University of Alberta, independently has also spun off several companies in small technologies.
The Micromachining and Nanofabrication Facility (NanoFab) is key in assisting the local MEMS industry and nanotechnology researchers. Established in 1999 on the University of Alberta campus, over 90 research groups from six universities, 17 University of Alberta departments, three research institutes, and 17 companies have used the facilities at Nanofab.
The University of British Columbia research activities in materials science and especially in metallurgy are well known for their world-class levels. The Advanced Materials and Process Engineering Laboratory (AMPEL) is the center of this material science research, equipped with a nanofabrication center that offers Class-1000 clean rooms. At AMPEL, cross-disciplinary research has been conducted in fields from bio-materials, metal materials, to photonics.
In addition, a consortium to support nanotechnology related, Nano TechBC, was recently established.
The province of Ontario has a large concentration of nanotechnology research. A total of 5 research institutes of the National Research Council conduct nanotechnology-related research in the province: The Institute for National Measurement Standards (INMS), The Steacie Institute of Molecular Science (SIMS), The Institute for Microstructural Science (IMS), The Institute for Aerospace Research (IAR), and the Institute for Chemical Process and Environmental Technology (ICPET).
The CANMET Materials Technology Laboratory (CANMET-MTL), a division of Natural Resources Canada, is another key research institute currently located in Ottawa, Ontario. CANMET-MTL has nanotechnology projects in the areas of hydrogen storage and noxious gas sensors. Expansion of this activity into other aspects such as coatings, nano-composites and bulk structural nano-materials is being considered in a new Strategic Plan for the laboratory. This expansion would be augmented greatly by the proposed relocation of the laboratory from Ottawa, Ontario to McMaster University's McMaster Innovation Park in Hamilton, Ontario. The C$6-million project would enable new equipment to be bought and specialized facilities to be built, and would assist collaboration with area universities like Toronto and Waterloo as well as with McMaster.
The University of Toronto is well known for its excellence in many science areas, and nanotechnology is not an exception. The Energenius Centre for Advanced Nanotechnology at the University of Toronto was the first nanotechnology specific research center in Canada, established in 1997. Its research areas are nanophotonics and nanoelectronics.
The University of Waterloo, located in Waterloo, Ontario, offers the only undergraduate program specialized in nanotechnology engineering in Canada. The university is going to establish the Quantum Nano Center by 2010, investing C$ 70 million. The center will house 500 undergraduate students as well as 125 master students.
NanoQuebec is a consortium consisting of 6 universities and research centers in Quebec, established in 2001. This consortium aims at the establishment of a nanotechnology cluster by improving competitiveness of the Quebec industry in nanotechnology R&D. Thus far, NanoQuebec has invested C$3 million in 18 research projects and $8 million in research infrastructures to provide technology support to local small and medium sized enterprises.
In Quebec, there are two NRC institutes conducting nanotechnology related research. One is the Industrial Materials Institute (IMI), and the other is the Biotechnology Research Institute (BRI). Research and development in materials has traditionally been very active in Quebec, where there are large aerospace and auto-parts clusters as well as several production sites for aluminum (Canada is the 3rd largest producer of aluminum in the world.). NRC-IMI is one of the powerhouses of materials research in the province. Many companies from Canada and abroad have commissioned research at the institute, as the institute provides technology support to the local and international companies.
Of note, the Montreal region is the world’s 4th largest bio-cluster, where there is a concentration of research in nano-bio related technologies.
NRC- National Institute for Nanotechnology: NINT
Canada’s public research activities are conducted at both the federal and the provincial levels. The flagship research organization at the federal level is the National Research Council (NRC). NINT, (the 19th institute of NRC, established in Edmonton, Alberta in 2001) is a joint initiative of the federal government of Canada, the provincial government of Alberta, NRC and the University of Alberta. The concept of establishment of NINT is to provide, for the first time in Canada, a one-stop-shop of a vast range of research equipment to all researchers in nanotechnology across Canada.
The city of Edmonton is located on the most stable bedrock of North America called the Canadian Shield. NINT takes full advantage of this environment by creating a research space that has the least possible interference from vibration and electromagnetic waves. During the construction of the NINT facilities many architectural features were incorporated to avoid possible interference in the laboratories. For example, upon entering the NINT building one has direct access to the administrative side of the building where there are conference spaces. One appears to have uninhibited access to the experimental areas but these two spaces are in fact, two separate buildings, connected only by rubber seal to avoid the vibration caused by people walking in the administrative areas from affecting the experimental areas.
Overview of Research Activities
Currently, there are 140 research-related staff at NINT and the number is expected to grow to 200 by the year 2008. A number of those researchers are funded by the Canada Research Chair Program which was initiated in 2000 to establish 2000 research professorships—Canada Research Chairs—in universities across the country by 2008. The Canada Research Chairs Program invests $300 million a year to attract and retain excellent researchers in Canada. Thanks to this program and others dedicated to providing first class equipment, NINT is attracting some of brightest minds in the field to its facilities. Almost 70% of the 140 NINT researchers are cross-appointed at the University of Alberta.
NINT’s main areas of focus are: life science, ICT, materials science and energy. In the field of life science, projects are underway to develop rapid, point-of-care diagnostics, and non-invasive treatment of medical conditions. In ICT applications of nanotechnology, NINT researchers conduct research activities to develop integrated biological and traditional information systems, molecular scale devices and systems, and ultra-thin films for electronics and photonics. In the areas of energy and advanced materials, ongoing projects include the development of nano-particles for energy storage and conversion, heterogeneous catalysis, nano porous media, and so forth.
Scientific Groups at NINT
With the completion of the new building of NINT, all researchers moved into their new spaces from their previous laboratory spaces on campus of the University of Alberta. This section introduces a few research activities out of five research groups and several subgroups at NINT.
The Theory and Modeling Group at NINT has been developing theory, modeling, and simulation of nanosystems on multiple length and time scales. Their approach integrates electronic properties, molecular simulations, molecular solvation and system functioning. They use integral equation theory to provide realistic physical and chemical descriptions of solutions, complex liquids, and other disordered systems, including nanoporous materials, solid solutions, and defects in crystals.
The Molecular Scale Device group explores device concepts, molecular structure, adsorption dynamics and the electrical transport properties of tailored organic-silicon interfaces. Their group’s aim is the realization of molecular devices utilizing hybrid structures. An example application would be to mount organic molecules on silicon. To achieve that goal, they study the process that enables rapid auto-assembly of molecular structures.
NINT is also one of the key organizations in Canada which studies social, legal, health, and ethical aspects of nanotechnology R&D. Lori Sheremeta from the Health Law Institute at the University of Alberta is a NINT researcher focusing on the regulatory issues regarding nanotechnology. She has been an active researcher as well as advocator for the importance of ethics as well as regulations concerning health and environmental safety of nanotechnology, as well as other technologies such as life sciences.
Business Development and Common Use Facilities at NINT
Ensuring that the results of R&D have a positive impact on the local economy is an important part of NINT’s mandate. In past two decades, there have been almost 80 spin-off companies generated from University of Alberta. These companies are mostly biotechnology, health sciences or MEMS related. To accelerate this positive trend in the region, NINT is equipped with facilities that are available to industrial or academic researchers as well as local companies. On the 4th floor of NINT is the NINT Innovation Centre, which includes 15 rental units of office and lab space that can be configured for biological, wet lab, or dry lab research.
There are a variety of ways that clients can access facilities, people, or space at NINT. Clients can choose between contracting for equipment or lab time, collaborating with NINT researchers or sharing space with NINT by leasing lab and office space in the NINT Innovation Centre. "There is considerable interest from local and international collaborators." says Mr. Rick Brommeland, Director of Business Development and External Relations. "Industrial and academic researchers are keen to take advantage of this state-of-the-art facilities at NINT."
Adopted from an article in the 76th issue of Japan NanoNet Bulletin with permission of Nanotechnology Researchers Network Center of Japan (Nanonet); Author: Katsuko Kuroiwa, Trade Commissioner (Technology), Embassy of Canada in Japan