Forestry professor Sean Thomas is investigating the impact of biochar — specially-made charcoal — on northern forests, one of 10 projects newly funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada. (Forestry photo)

Research that offers 10 ways to improve society, the economy and the environment

NSERC strategic project grants support environmentally-friendly plastic and light sources that make computers 1,000 times faster

University of Toronto research with a direct impact on improving life on Earth – and the planet itself -- got a huge boost Feb. 13 with $4.2 million from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC).

The funding comes through NSERC’s Strategic Project Grants (SPG) program, which is designed to enhance Canada’s economy, society and environment in the next 10 years. 

The grants encourage collaboration among academic researchers and industry and government partners and are in line with four target areas:  Environmental science and technologies; information and communications technologies; manufacturing; and natural resources and energy. 

“Our researchers have the talent and ingenuity to help global society deal with so many challenges, but they need the financial support so they can take their research further,” said Professor Paul Young, U of T’s vice-president (research). “The strategic project grants program is perfect for this kind of applied investigation.  We are extremely grateful to the Government of Canada and NSERC for this important investment.”  

The U of T faculty and projects supported through the program are:

  • Uwe Erb, Materials Science and Engineering
    This project addresses needs of Canadian manufacturing industries in the area of new material systems for corrosion/wear/erosion-resistant coatings. It is expected that this technology can be transitioned to generate revolutionary new coating solutions for parts used in automotive, aerospace, electrical, electronics, energy, forestry, green technology, construction, consumer products and many other applications.
  • Amr Helmy, Electrical and Computing Engineering
    This project focuses on the development of a new class of coherent sources of light that can make present-day computers nearly 1,000-times faster.
  • Glenn Hibbard, Materials Science and Engineering
    This project will use manufacturing breakthroughs from the Canadian nanotechnology sector to create a new class of ultra-lightweight nanomaterials that will permit a significant decrease in the weight of structural components in aerospace vehicles. This innovation will, in turn, allow for larger payloads and/or smaller launch vehicles, creating an important strategic advantage for the Canadian aerospace sector.
  • Olivera Kesler, Mechanical and Industrial Engineering
    Kesler is working on overcoming some of the barriers to creating bigger solid oxide fuel cells and designing manufacturing processes that can be scaled up. Solid oxide fuel cells are potentially a low-emission, efficient source of power.
  • Alexander McLean, Materials Science and Engineering
    This project will focus on making the raw materials that are used to manufacture solar cells less expensive, thereby making solar energy a more viable and cost-effective alternative.
  • Andreas Moshovos, Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE)
    Smart phones have moved far past their original voice calling function and now offer features such as image-based searching, speech recognition and translation.  Moshovos, Natalie Enright Jerger of ECE and Kyros Kutulakos of computer science will identify the opportunities that exist for creating next generation smartphones and tablets with a primary target of applications that acquire, manipulate and use images and video.
  • Chul Park, Mechanical and Industrial Engineering
    This project will develop plastics technology that will lead to lightweight automotive parts, building products with excellent thermal insulation and environmentally-friendly packaging. 
  • Yu Sun, Mechanical and Industrial Engineering
    The project will develop technologies for characterizing electrical and mechanical properties of nanomaterials and using nanomaterials to construct high performance devices.
  • Sean Thomas, Forestry
    Investigating the impact of biochar — specially-made charcoal — on northern forests. Biochar may increase the ability of the forest to store carbon, which would help mitigate climate change.
  • Andrei Yudin, Chemistry
    Peptides and proteins have attracted an increasing interest as drugs because they are made of amino acids, which humans naturally have, and are therefore less likely to cause unwanted side effects. This strategic grant supports a collaborative effort between Yudin and Professor Aaron Wheeler of chemistry and should lead to a wealth of drug-like molecules for therapeutic applications in a wide range of diseases and health conditions, such as cancer and inflammation.
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