Faster than the speed of science

New technology targets the renewable energy, health, and environmental sectors

Jennifer Pascoe - 12 October 2017

Many aspects of the lives of Canadians depend on innovative materials, such as solar cells, rechargeable batteries, scratch- and crack-resistant glass, and even medical implants, designed over generations of research.

But what if there was a way to reduce the time required to bring these materials to life?

Think of it as a critical spark to Canada's global impact in materials science, something to push our economy forward not only in renewable energy materials but also advanced health materials. Armed with this new tool, called DNP NMR (dynamic nuclear polarization nuclear magnetic resonance), Vladimir Michaelis, assistant professor in the University of Alberta's Department of Chemistry, is determined to push the next-generation of materials science, targeting the renewable energy, health, and environmental sectors.

"DNP-NMR allows us to examine atomic-level structure and to adapt the surface of materials needed to create products like solar cells and medical implants," said Michaelis. "Applying dynamic nuclear polarization to traditional NMR gives us 100-fold gains of sensitivity, which in turn gives us up to 10,000-fold time savings. What this means is that if an experiment would normally take 365 days, with this new technology, we can now do it in one day."

Pioneering research

"DNP will be the single most critical tool equipping us with unprecedented capabilities for innovation and discovery to accelerate Canada's global impact." -Vladimir Michaelis

Michaelis started at the University of Alberta just last year, following a postdoctoral fellowship at MIT where the DNP technique was pioneered. Returning to Canada, he had one clear focus. "The goal was always to come back to Canada, but I wanted to bring something innovative with me. This is the next big thing for our field of magnetic resonance. It took decades to get going, and now everybody needs one. DNP will be the single most critical tool equipping us with unprecedented capabilities for innovation and discovery to accelerate Canada's global impact," said Michaelis.

And now armed with the only DNP NMR in Canada dedicated to materials science, Michaelis and his collaborators from a variety of disciplines across the University of Alberta and Western Canada are targeting three areas with their work: healthy, energy, and method development to continue pushing the technology forward.

In addition to potential health applications including developing more adaptive biomaterials for bone implants as well as identifying new biological tags to track sensors through a body, the instrument will also allow scientists to push the boundaries of renewable energy, such as in the development of catalytic biomass conversion and photovoltaic materials, critical as federal and provincial governments remain focused on diversifying Canada's energy portfolio.

The purchase of the new DNP NMR infrastructure to be housed at the University of Alberta in the Canadian High Polarization Magnetic Resonance Centre is being supported by $2.6M from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation and an in-kind contribution from Bruker Biospin, the company who manufactures the instrument.