Clear vision with nanotechnology

For Canadian soldiers fighting in hot, arid conditions, a case of severe dry eye can mean the difference between life and death.

Frank Gu in chem labThat’s why Frank Gu is working with Waterloo’s School of Optometry to develop new eye drops using non-irritating nanoparticles. Unlike today’s drops, Gu’s would be used only once a day.

“Can you imagine our troops doing patrols and every 15 minutes they have to stop and administer eye drops?” asks Gu, a chemical engineering professor. “Hopefully these drops can medically improve the productivity and safety for the men and women struggling in war zones.”

Gu began his drug delivery research at MIT and Harvard Medical School converting conventional cancer drugs into targeted “smart bombs on a nanometer scale.” It was exciting work then, but he says his team of dedicated students and collaborators at Waterloo makes all the difference. “These are complex, highly disciplinary projects we’re working on at Waterloo, and to have access to students trained in nanotechnology is an absolute thrill for me.”

Highlights

  • Faculty member Leonardo Simon was awarded Canada’s prestigious Top 40 Under 40 honour. Simon is a lead investigator with Ontario’s BioCar project.
  • Melanie Snow, a third-year undergraduate student, was honoured with the Canadian Engineering Memorial Foundation’s 2010 AMEC Aboriginal Scholarship. Snow, a member of the Wikwemikong band, is described as a strong role model for aboriginal Canadians.
  • Ivan Kantor, a doctoral candidate in chemical engineering at Waterloo, received a prestigious Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship awarded by NSERC.

Bright future for organic electronics

For decades, the electronics industry has depended on silicon, the semiconductor that lies at the heart of televisions, computers and solar cells. But Yuning Li wants to change that. The future, the new chemical engineering professor says, lies in organic electronics.

It’s no secret, Li explains, that certain carbon-based polymers can act as semiconductors, which, in many ways, trump silicon. Polymer electronics can be printed and therefore are much less expensive than their silicon counterparts. Plus, organic electronics are flexible, ultra-thin and light-weight. The downside? The big challenge is performance, says Li. When it comes to transistors, for example, single crystal silicon is still thousands of times faster at relaying electric charges. But, he continues, organic versions have greatly improved over the past decade.

As the performance keeps getting better, more applications become viable. It is predicted that organic LED displays will hit store shelves this year, while organic solar cells will follow suit by 2016.

After seven years working on organic electronics in industry and government labs, Li joined Waterloo this year. He praises Waterloo Engineering’s innovation-friendly policies for being among the best in Canada. “This is a wonderful place for researchers from different disciplines to share ideas and create cutting-edge technologies together,” he says.