Industry Partnerships


The UAlberta/National Research Council of Canada (NRC) Collaboration is a long-standing partnership focused on nanotechnology research. Through the NRC/UAlberta Nanotechnology Initiative, we aim to expand Canadian expertise in this field and foster breakthrough research. The initiative includes a $10M investment over 3 years, supporting 7 projects aligned with NRC priorities. If you're interested, the next call for proposals is anticipated in 2023.

Phase 2 Projects

Currently, we are in Phase 2 of the initiative, which involves collaborations in key research areas at UAlberta. These areas include biomedical nanotechnologies, nanosensors and automation, and developmental and analytical microscopy. The collaborations started on October 1, 2021.

For more information about the NRC's Nanotechnology Initiative and to stay updated, please visit their website.

Atomic scale manufacturing

UAlberta lead: Robert Wolkow | NRC lead: Jason PittersUAlberta and NRC have recognized the significant commercial potential of simple atomic circuits. While these circuits have been demonstrated to function in a low-temperature scanning tunneling microscope (LT STM) environment, further testing beyond the LT STM is necessary. Additionally, research efforts are required to advance the circuit elements and transition them from the LT STM to an independent test setup. Key areas of research include:

1. Advancement of atomic circuit elements such as single electron transistors, gates, and wires.
2. Development of input/output strategies to establish connections between the macro world and atomic structures.
3. Implementation of silicon preparation techniques to optimize circuit control and facilitate integration with complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) technology.
4. Design of circuit encapsulation methods for transitioning circuits from a vacuum environment.
5. Development of specialized tools such as linear scanners and lithography probes to enhance circuit element yields and enable new measurements.

These research challenges are integral to the development of atomic circuits and have broader implications for future advancements in nanoscience and atomic-scale technologies.
Controlled release and adsorption from gel-based nanomaterials

UAlberta lead: Michael Serpe | NRC lead: Darren Makeiff

Gel-based nanomaterials have garnered significant scientific interest for their potential in small molecule encapsulation, release, and selective adsorption. This project aims to design, synthesize, and characterize new stimuli-responsive gel-based nanomaterials. By incorporating functional groups, these materials will exhibit responsiveness to stimuli such as light, heat, and pH.

The project involves the development of hybrid gel nanoparticles, known as nanogels, which combine a chemically cross-linked, polymeric hydrogel network with a stimuli-responsive physical hydrogel network formed from low molecular weight gelators (LMWGs). A key objective is to investigate the interpenetrating network formation of a stimuli-responsive physical hydrogel within the chemically crosslinked polymeric core of the nanogels. This unique structure will enable controlled release of small molecules, including drugs, in a triggered and potentially synergistic manner.

The synthesis of such materials presents a novel approach that holds promise for applications in drug delivery, water purification, and other fields. By harnessing the stimuli-responsive properties of these gel-based nanomaterials, more efficient and effective systems can be developed for targeted drug release and purification processes.

Deployment of membrane nanodiscs to develop native‑state antigens and therapeutic antibodies

UAlberta lead: Michael Overduin | NRC lead: Joey Sheff

Researching the complex field of membrane-bound receptors, which play a vital role in translating extracellular signals for cellular function, is crucial for understanding and addressing various disease states. However, the preparation and characterization of these receptors pose challenges due to stability and solubility limitations.

This project aims to tackle these challenges by focusing on receptors associated with central nervous system disorders. By developing innovative tools and utilizing nanoparticle technology, targeted antibody-based interventions can be designed to address these disorders. This research not only aims to develop potential therapeutic antibodies and drug leads but also provides valuable insights into critical disease targets.

Overall, this project combines cutting-edge techniques with a focus on neurological disorders to improve our understanding of disease mechanisms and develop effective interventions.

Hybrid optical and electron spectroscopy of diamond for nanophotonic extreme‑ultraviolet radiation sources: Phase II

UAlberta lead: Frank Hegmann | NRC lead: Marek Malac

The development of compact laser light sources in the extreme ultraviolet (EUV) region holds tremendous potential for various applications, including chemical sensing, pathogen suppression, and computer processor lithography. The availability of compact EUV sources can revolutionize data processing and information storage by enabling compact and fast technologies in the field of photonics.

In Phase I of this project, significant progress has been made in the study of materials for EUV and device fabrication. Through rigorous research and calculations, key materials and physical phenomena that can generate EUV light have been identified. Furthermore, the existence of EUV plasmons in silicon, germanium, and diamond has been conclusively demonstrated through advanced techniques such as momentum-resolved electron energy loss spectroscopy (qEELS). The stability of these materials has also been validated through high-temperature characterization, overcoming various challenges in materials science.

Simultaneously, Paul Barclay's team has expanded their expertise in diamond nanofabrication to include photonic crystals. These capabilities, developed in collaboration between the Nanotechnology Research Centre and UAlberta's NanoFAB, play a pivotal role in enhancing and engineering EUV emission, which will be a primary focus in Phase II. The integration of diamond nanostructures in photonic crystals offers a platform for investigating EUV properties and opens avenues for future applications of the unique "quasi isotropic" etching technique to fabricate devices from other materials like germanium. Some of the materials investigated by qEELS in Barclay's lab have effectively bridged the gap between theoretical predictions and materials characterization.

Phase II of this project will concentrate on the fabrication and characterization of EUV devices, leveraging the knowledge gained in Phase I. This phase aims to further advance the understanding of EUV emission mechanisms and optimize device performance.

Quantifying nanoparticle evolution via in‑operando electron microscopy

UAlberta lead: Jonathan Veinot | NRC lead: Michael Fleischauer

Nanomaterials hold the potential to make a tremendous impact across various sectors. While static interrogation of nanomaterial structure and composition has provided valuable insights, it is essential to acknowledge that nanomaterials are dynamic systems that undergo changes when exposed to external stresses. Consequently, there is an increasing need to develop new in operando characterization methods that enable the direct evaluation and characterization of nanomaterials in action.

Our team is uniquely positioned to meet this challenge, given our extensive expertise in nanomaterial design, preparation, characterization, and application. We possess access to powerful instrumentation, empowering us to lead groundbreaking advancements in the field.

One area where we aim to showcase our capabilities is in the design of state-of-the-art nanoparticle assemblies for improved energy storage systems and light-emitting devices. For instance, the utilization of emerging lower-dimensional materials, such as 2D van der Waals compounds (e.g., silicane, germanane, functionalized reduced graphene oxide), presents a compelling avenue for high-performance energy storage devices. Establishing new microscopy methods that probe the in operando evolution of nanomaterials, while complementing existing ex situ interrogation methods, will facilitate the development of novel functionalized nanoparticle and nanosheet assemblies. Moreover, it will enable the establishment of structure-property relationships, ultimately leading to improved high-performance clean energy storage devices.

Terahertz ultrafast transmission electron microscope

UAlberta lead: Frank Hegmann | NRC lead: Marek Malac

The objective of this project is to demonstrate the proof of principle for ultrafast electron beam generation, electron wavepacket manipulation, and analysis using terahertz (THz) pulse electromagnetic fields. The primary focus is to investigate the fundamental science behind electron wavepacket control in THz fields and develop proof of principle instrumentation.

The successful implementation of this project will pave the way for a compact, terahertz ultrafast transmission electron microscope (THz UTEM). Such a THz UTEM would enable the observation of samples with temporal resolution comparable to atomic vibrations. This breakthrough could potentially introduce new electron spectroscopy modes capable of identifying materials based on their vibrational spectra at high spatial resolution.

To achieve our goals, we will employ a continuous electron beam that is manipulated by THz electric and magnetic fields. While this approach has been recently demonstrated using radio frequency fields, harnessing the power of high-intensity THz pulses offers several advantages. These include higher peak electric and magnetic fields, reduced size of the THz waveguide and resonator structures, and enhanced stability. These factors contribute to the feasibility of implementing our solution in 100 to 300 kilovolt electron microscopes, thereby enabling widespread applicability and impact.

Immunoglobulin E to target mast cell proteases in protein misfolding and neurodegeneration

UAlberta lead: Valerie Sim | NRC lead: Marianna Kulka

Prions are infectious agents that can lead to devastating diseases such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, chronic wasting disease, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. The transmission of these pathogens occurs orally, with prions entering the body through the mucosa of the gastrointestinal tract. Unfortunately, there are currently no effective treatments available for these fatal diseases. However, there is a promising avenue of research focused on immunotherapy, specifically utilizing antibodies to target and clear prions from infected tissues.

Developing antibodies for prion clearance poses significant challenges due to the unique nature of prions. They are misfolded versions of a normal protein (PrP) that the body does not recognize as foreign, resulting in a limited antibody response. Furthermore, antibodies face obstacles in penetrating tissues and binding to prions with high affinity.

Traditionally, the focus has been on Immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies, despite the immune system producing five different antibody types. We propose that IgGs may not be the most effective antibody for targeting prions. They are naturally selected to function optimally in the bloodstream, have a short half-life, and exhibit limited efficacy at mucosal surfaces. In contrast, Immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies, primarily associated with allergic reactions, have demonstrated effectiveness at low concentrations for extended periods. They possess the ability to recognize and eliminate pathogens in the gastrointestinal tract.

Through reverse engineering, we have successfully developed an anti-PrP IgE antibody. This antibody has exhibited binding to FceRI, the high-affinity receptor for IgE, on human mast cells. Consequently, it triggers the release of proteases from mast cells, which can degrade PrP. This proof-of-principle study demonstrates the feasibility of a novel immunotherapeutic approach for acquired prion diseases, offering new possibilities for treatment.

Phase 1 Projects

Adaptive self-assembled materials for manipulating mast cells
Mast cells, vital in the innate immune response, rapidly release proinflammatory mediators upon stimulation. Previous research demonstrated human mast cell activation through direct contact using a self-assembling peptide matrix. This project aims to design a responsive material releasing mast cell-modifying drugs upon activation. The material will communicate with immune cells, enabling site-specific and chronological responses. It offers a promising approach for targeted drug delivery and enhanced understanding of mast cell biology in immune-related conditions.
Graphene in all-new nanodevice technologies (GIANNT)
This project aims to explore the potential of graphene-based nanodevices enhanced by plasmonics. The primary objective is to develop techniques for seamlessly integrating nanostructured plasmonic gratings or other nanoscale architectures onto nanoscale electronic structures, such as graphene field-effect transistors. By combining these elements, novel materials, and devices can be created, harnessing the unique and evolving properties of graphene. The research endeavors to unlock new avenues for advanced technologies and applications.
Hybrid optical and electron spectroscopy of diamond for nanophotonic extreme-ultraviolet radiation sources
The project focuses on exploring the physics underlying the development of extreme-ultraviolet coherent light sources (EUV). By employing momentum-resolved electron energy spectroscopy within a transmission electron microscope, the research aims to gain insights into the fundamental properties of materials crucial for the fabrication of nanostructures required for EUV sources. This investigation plays a pivotal role in advancing our understanding of the physics behind EUV technology and lays the foundation for future advancements in this field.
Immunoglobulin E (IgE)-based immunotherapy strategies for prion disease
The researchers involved in the project argue that IgG antibodies alone may not be the optimal choice for targeting prions. To test this hypothesis, they will focus on developing innovative anti-prion IgEs. These antibodies will be thoroughly examined for their interaction with both normal cell-surface glycoproteins and misfolded prion proteins, specifically the scrapie isoform. Furthermore, their capacity to initiate the clearance of infectious prion proteins will be assessed through in vitro experiments conducted within cell cultures. The outcomes of this research endeavor will serve as proof-of-principle, demonstrating the viability of novel immunotherapeutic approaches for the treatment of prion diseases.
In-operando characterization of nanostructured energy storage materials
The characterization of nanostructured electrodes presents a significant challenge despite its crucial role in advancing electrical energy storage. To address this challenge, researchers at the NRC and the University of Alberta are leveraging their existing expertise and resources to develop and integrate a comprehensive set of in-situ characterization tools. By employing these tools, they will be able to measure, analyze, and elucidate the changes in properties exhibited by nanomaterials during the operation of energy storage devices. The primary objective of the project is to differentiate and isolate properties that are dependent on the techniques employed for material preparation and measurement. By achieving this, the research will provide valuable insights to support in-silico investigations and facilitate the commercial development of energy storage technologies.
Nano-optomechanical devices for ultrasensitivity and quantum information
The field of mass spectrometry represents the pinnacle of modern chemical analysis, offering remarkable capabilities for scientific investigations. Now, envision harnessing this analytical power beyond the confines of the laboratory and into the palm of your hand, enabling on-the-go breath analysis for disease detection and diagnosis. This transformative vision could become a reality with the advent of nano-optomechanical devices that possess the remarkable ability to sense at the level of a single Dalton (equivalent to one atomic mass unit). To achieve this level of sensitivity, the researchers behind this project will capitalize on the extraordinary power density exhibited by quantum-enabled diamond nano-optomechanical systems. Furthermore, they will leverage an exciting recent discovery that higher damping leads to enhanced sensitivity, propelling them closer to the goal of ambient sensing with unprecedented precision.
Organic and hybrid photovoltaics - Computation- and machine learning-driven discovery and optimization
The field of organic and hybrid perovskite solar cells holds tremendous promise for revolutionizing solar energy by enabling low-cost manufacturing of highly efficient devices. However, these technologies face several challenges, including the selection and optimization of materials, ensuring long-term stability, scaling up production, refining processing techniques, and integrating the devices into practical applications. To address these obstacles, the researchers in this project employ a multidisciplinary approach that combines the power of machine learning and advanced computational methods developed at the NRC with strategic experimental design and efficient device assembly. This synergistic combination allows for the rapid exploration and identification of optimal photovoltaic architectures and compositions, which can then be swiftly synthesized and tested. By leveraging the strengths of both computational modeling and experimental validation, this project aims to accelerate the development of high-performance, scalable, and reliable organic and hybrid perovskite solar cells.
When physics strengthen chemistry: Designing molecular junctions with novel electronic functions
The project combines expertise in theory, experiments, and commercial applications in molecular electronics, which represents a new class of electronic components with distinct characteristics from conventional semiconductors. The key objective of the collaboration is "rational design" of molecular electronic devices with behaviors and functions difficult or impossible with existing electronics.