U of A re­ceives $18.6-mil­lion fed­eral in­fra­struc­ture grant

Edmonton Journal - - CITY - HINA ALAM ha­lam@post­media.com

Trees in par­tic­u­lar and na­ture in gen­eral has fas­ci­nated and in­spired many a sci­en­tist for gen­er­a­tions. And sci­en­tists are once again tak­ing a leaf out of na­ture’s book.

“In the case of a leaf, ev­ery­one knows that chloro­phyll ab­sorbs light but you ac­tu­ally have a very com­pli­cated struc­ture that ab­sorbs the light and con­verts that into chem­i­cal en­ergy,” said Jil­lian Buriak, chem­istry pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Al­berta and Canada Re­search Chair of Nano­ma­te­ri­als for En­ergy.

“In the same way in nan­otech­nol­ogy we now have the tools to go in and con­trol mat­ter, any mat­ter, at that same length scale — very tiny. So we get things right.”

She was speak­ing at an of­fi­cial cer­e­mony at the Univer­sity of Al­berta where Amar­jeet Sohi, fed­eral min­is­ter of in­fra­struc­ture and com­mu­ni­ties, an­nounced $18.6 mil­lion in in­fra­struc­ture fund­ing to the univer­sity through the Canada Foun­da­tion for In­no­va­tion.

“Sci­ence, in other words, is part of the mix of eco­nomic, so­cial, health, gen­der and di­ver­sity ev­i­dence that we rely on to in­form our de­ci­sions — de­ci­sions that pro­tect the health and safety of Cana­di­ans and grow the econ­omy in a way that cre­ates op­por­tu­ni­ties for the mid­dle class and those work­ing hard to join it,” Sohi said.

Buriak re­ceived $6.2 mil­lion from the fund to build ad­vanced in­te­grated man­u­fac­tur­ing for mi­cro/nano sys­tems in the Cen­tre for Nanofab­ri­ca­tion.

“Nan­otech­nol­ogy is just be­ing able to con­trol mat­ter in very small di­men­sions,” she said. “It’s called the nano scale … on the atomic level. By hav­ing that con­trol, in­stead of deal­ing with big pro­cess­ing rocks and big chunks of metal, when you con­trol things at that level the ma­te­ri­als can do many dif­fer­ent things. You can teach old dogs new tricks. It’s very in­spired from na­ture.”

The fund­ing will al­low re­searchers to move their dis­cov­er­ies from the lab into the mar­ket­place, she said.

Some of these dis­cov­er­ies in­clude de­vices for quan­tum com­put­ing, which may be the next revo­lu­tion in com­put­ing, be­ing able to print so­lar pan­els like news­pa­pers so they can be stuck on top of build­ings and used as cur­tains or sun um­brel­las, Buriak said.

The Per­mafrost Archives Sci­ence Lab re­ceived $1.6 mil­lion in fund­ing.

Per­mafrost, which makes up more than half of Canada, is that part of the frozen Earth that peo­ple ac­tu­ally live on and build in­fra­struc­ture on.

Com­mu­ni­ties in Canada’s Arc­tic are built on per­mafrost, roads are built across per­mafrost, there are pipe­lines and all kinds of in­fra­struc­ture on per­mafrost, said Duane Froese, pro­fes­sor and Canada re­search chair at the Univer­sity of Al­berta’s de­part­ment of earth and at­mo­spheric sci­ences.

“At mi­nus-five-de­grees Cel­sius, per­mafrost has the prop­er­ties of con­crete,” Froese said. “At zero-de­grees Cel­sius it turns into soup.”

The lab will have state-of-the-art equip­ment for the char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of per­mafrost, he said. That means it will help un­der­stand the age of per­mafrost, the dy­nam­ics, the mi­crobes found in per­mafrost, the role of those mi­crobes, and how a lot of those ele­ments will change as thaw pro­gresses, he said.

Other projects funded by the Canada Foun­da­tion for In­no­va­tion in­clude the Heart Fail­ure Trans­la­tional Re­search Cen­tre, multi-scalar nanoscopy for ad­vanced cell bi­ol­ogy, Fu­ture Smart Grid Tech­nolo­gies Lab and Cana­dian High Po­lar­iza­tion Mag­netic Res­o­nance Cen­tre.

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