Nine innovative projects backed by NSERC Strategic Partnership Grants

$4.1 million in funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) will advance McGill research in next-generation nanomaterials, infrastructure solutions to support the Internet of Things, novel technology to detect marine toxins, and more.
Top row, l to right: Kirk Bevan, George Demopoulos, Yaijing Liu and David Juncker. Bottom row, l to right: Thomas Szkopek, Odile Liboiron-Ladouceur, Roderick Guthrie and Xinyu Liu.

$4.1 million in funding from NSERC will advance McGill research in next-generation nanomaterials, infrastructure solutions to support the Internet of Things, novel technology to detect marine toxins, and more

By Meaghan Thurston

During an announcement at the University of Ottawa today, 94 research projects in universities across the country were awarded funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Strategic Partnership Grants program. Nine McGill projects are together receiving more than $4.1 million from the funding envelope to partner with a supporting organization on strategic research, including highly innovative research in green energy storage.

George Demopoulos, Chair, Mining and Materials Engineering, was awarded $564,000 to assist research in the development of light-chargeable lithium ion batteries (LIBs), the “invisible” technology powering portable electronics such as mobile phones, media players, tablets, laptops, and increasingly, hybrid and electric vehicles. With NSERC’s support and in collaboration with Hydro-Quebec, Prof. Demopoulos will pursue an alternative strategy towards the improvement of the energy and power characteristics of LIBs, research which may help curb global warming emissions through increased electrification of transportation.

“Strategic project grants are an opportunity for university researchers and industry and government agency partners to work together, each contributing their unique strengths to new ideas and approaches for the benefit of Canadian society and economy,” says Rosie Goldstein, McGill’s Vice-Principal, Research and Innovation. “These nine research projects represent McGill’s bold innovations for improving energy efficiency and reducing the environmental impact of processes in manufacturing, extraction and energy production, as well as a variety of other applications. We are very grateful for the support shown by NSERC in awarding these grants.”

The McGill researchers chosen by NSERC for a Strategic Project Grant are:

Kirk Bevan, Department of Materials Engineering

Engineering manufacturable next generation photocatalytic nanomaterials for high efficiency hydrogen fuel generation

Three years, worth $513,000

To address growing global energy needs, new cost effective manufacturable technologies are needed that are both environmentally safe and provide the necessary energy density for automotive transportation.  Manufacturable solar energy nanomaterials represent a major opportunity to address rapidly growing worldwide energy demands and climate trends, and an important manufacturing export market opportunity for Canada. It is the goal of this project to develop a systematic engineering design approach to produce manufacturable photocatalytic oxide nanomaterials based on lower cost elements (rather than expensive noble metals) possessing high hydrogen fuel generation efficiencies.

George Demopoulos, Department of Mining and Materials Engineering

Development of light-chargeable lithium ion battery devices

Three years, worth $564,000

Lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) are the enabling “invisible” technology behind the unprecedented proliferation of all portable electronics such as mobile phones, media players, tablets and laptops. Now LIBs are powering plug-in hybrid (PHEV) and electric vehicles (EV). This project pursues the development of light-chargeable LIBs, i.e. solar-powered rechargeable batteries. This research is undertaken in collaboration with Hydro-Quebec (HQ), a world leader in LIB R&D, and leverages McGill’s recent advances in the areas of dye-sensitized solar cell and LIB research.

Roderick Guthrie, Department of Materials Engineering

Lightweight multi-layer composite metal sheet products for the automotive industry

Three years, worth $500,500

This project will explore the production of a new lightweight multi-composite metal sheet product for the automotive industry. The multi-layer product, a combination of light metal alloys, aluminum and magnesium sheets, with (or without) an interior thin sheet of light-weighted steel (HSHD), is to be used for auto Body in White construction (the stage in automobile manufacturing in which a car body’s sheet metal components have been welded together), providing lightweight strength for crashworthiness. The new composite properties will be fed into the Integrated Computational Materials Engineering (ICME) database of the Ford Motor Company, together with our modelling of the microstructure and properties, for comparison, and for validation.

Yaijing Liu, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences

Induced earthquake source process imaging and groundwater chemistry monitoring in the Western Canada sedimentary basin

Three years, worth $676,955

In the past five years, there has been a drastic increase in the number of earthquakes potentially induced by fluid injection during unconventional oil and gas extraction in North America, including in previously seismically inactive areas. This project will incorporate innovative geophysical, hydrogeological and geochemical monitoring techniques and numerical tools to quantitatively image and model induced seismicity source processes at two hydraulic fracturing wells and one disposal well in northeastern British Columbia and in western Alberta. We will provide unbiased scientific knowledge for public policy making by our supporting organization, the Geological Survey of Canada, as well as regulatory policy adjustment by provincial oil and gas commissions.

Thomas Szkopek, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Advanced manufacturing of InN/Si nanowire tunnelling transistors for energy efficient electronics

Three years, worth $375,000

Since the dawn of modern computing, the energy efficiency of computation has been a driving force for change. It is estimated that 10 per cent of global electricity production is consumed on electronics, primarily on cloud computing. This project aims to address the problem of energy efficiency in electronics through the development of a scalable advanced manufacturing process for low-voltage InN/Si tunnelling field effect transistors (TFETs). The increased energy efficiency of a TFET would permit higher speed device operation. Supporting industry partners, Canadian companies Crosslight and Meaglow, will be ideally positioned to stake out a role in the integration of TFET technology into the $300 billion / annum semiconductor industry, in the specific domains of technology computer aided design (TCAD) and InN growth technology respectively.

Ultra-high quality transition metal dichalcogenide synthesis by molecular beam epitaxy for integrated light emitting diodes and ion sensitive transistors

Three years, worth $343,000

2-D materials are a new class of materials that exist as atomic monolayers, and which possess a wide range of useful physical properties. While graphene is the most well-known of the 2-D materials, it is a conductor that is unsuitable for electronics, spurring a decade of research into the development of semiconducting 2-D materials. Partnered with NanoAcademic Technologies, leading experts in nanoscale device modelling, this project aims to address this advanced manufacturing challenge at the intersection of nanotechnology and quantum materials. This work will enable the development of a scalable manufacturing process for 2-D semiconductors, will train highly qualified personnel in next generation semiconductors, and will provide our Canadian corporate partners with economic opportunities that can be realized from an international leadership position in 2-D materials development.

Odile Liboiron-Ladouceur, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Software-enable energy-efficient hardware infrastructure for next-generation data centres

Three years, worth $484,200

This project strategically addresses the challenges related to the urgent need for scaling data centres to support cloud computing and the emergence of Internet-of-Things (IoT), both of which have given rise to an exponential growth in the transmission and storage of data. Two investigators, Prof. Odile Liboiron-Ladouceur (McGill) and Prof. Glenn Cowan from Concordia University are merging their expertise in photonics and electronics to strategically target the need for an infrastructure solution to support IoT. They are teaming up with three Canadian industry partners from the hardware supply chain for data centres: Intengent, Reflex Photonics and Huawei Canada. This project will also train a total of 11 students with invaluable skills for the benefit of Canadian industry.

David Juncker, Department of Biomedical Engineering

Aptamer-based enrichment system and capillary chip for low-abundance water contaminant detection to ensure aquaculture safety and quality

Three years, worth $552,000

Aquaculture, the farming of fish, shellfish and aquatic plants in fresh or seawater, is a rapidly growing Canadian industry. There is a great need for highly sensitive, rapid and user-friendly field deployable monitoring tools for detection of trace amount of contaminants in natural water systems, as well as for tools to conduct water quality surveys, identify and assess source of point and non-point pollution, establish concentration limits and classify harvest areas based on the analysis. This project will develop a portable detection system combining an aptamer-based analyte enrichment mechanism, and a microfluidic chip for hands-off processing, integrated with a sensitive graphene-based sensor. The project will establish a novel analyte enrichment and detection technology that is capable of ultra-high sensitivity, reaching detection limit not achievable by current field deployable methods.

Xinyu Liu, Department of Mechanical Engineering

An Ultrasensitive Microfluidic Biosensor Based on Vertically-Aligned MoS2 Nanolayers

Three years, worth $486,400

Next-generation biosensors that exploit highly-sensitive, two-dimensional (2D) nanomaterials could provide superior analytical performance and enable rapid, ultrasensitive tests for a variety of applications in areas such as molecular diagnosis, environmental monitoring, and food safety inspection. The microfluidic design of our biosensor also allows easy device operation, multiplexed assay, and low sample consumption.  As the first demonstration, we will apply our FET-biosensor to rapid, ultrasensitive detection of brain injury protein markers for constant monitoring of patient brain conditions during cardiac surgery.  This research will offer a powerful VAMN-based biosensing platform, which could find many important applications where ultrahigh sensitivity and very short array time are desired.

Read the NSERC press release