New round of federal infrastructure funding to help nanotechnology go beyond the lab

New nanoFAB manufacturing centre will allow researchers to mass-produce their technologies using inexpensive materials and low-energy processing.


Imagine being able to print off solar panels like newspaper.

Thanks to an injection of infrastructure funding from the federal government’s Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), University of Alberta researchers in the Centre for Nanofabrication (nanoFAB) will soon be able to do just that.

During a funding announcement made by Honourable Amarjeet Sohi, minister of infrastructure and communities, researchers at nanoFAB received $6.2 million from CFI’s Innovation Fund to start work on a project called Advanced Integrated Manufacturing for Micro/Nano Systems.

Other UAlberta projects funded by the CFI Innovation Fund

Jason Dyck, Medicine & Dentistry
$2.9 million

Heart Failure Translational Research Centre

Duane Froese, Science
$1.6 million
Permafrost ArChives Science Laboratory (PACS Lab)

Michael Hendzel, Medicine & Dentistry $3.1 million
Multi-scalar nanoscopy for advanced cell biology

Yunwei Li, Engineering
$2.5 million
Future Smart Grid Technologies Lab

Vladimir Michaelis, Science
$2.6 million
CHIPMARC: Canadian HIgh Polarization MAgnetic Resonance Centre

Chemistry researcher and Canada Research Chair in Nanomaterials Jillian Buriak says this funding will enable the nanoFAB, already one of the “jewels of the university,” to go beyond laboratory-scale experiments, towards scale up and mass manufacturing of next-generation devices and machines.

“The idea is to be able to get the innovations out of the laboratory and make prototypes for start-ups, local, and international companies, to enable them to convert their ideas not only into manufacturable products, but high-tech manufacturable products,” she said.

Solar panels are just one example of the technologies that will be able to be mass produced in the laboratory using inexpensive materials and low energy processing. Buriak explains the wide range of uses will also include quantum computing, the creation of sensors for in-vivo (in-the-body) biomedical applications, pipelines, and clothing, to provide real time information under a variety of environmental conditions. Another example is biomedical engineering professor Robert Burrell’s life-saving antibacterial silver bandages, which will use this new suite of tools to improve upon their properties.

“Manufacturing used to be the straightforward conversion of turning materials into physical products. Technological innovation is, however, rapidly changing both the way manufacturing is carried out, and the products being made,” said Buriak. “This centre looks to enable true diversification of the economy by bridging the gap between the lab and mass-manufacturing of high-tech products, as well as spur economic growth.

Buriak says nanoFAB has also been, and will continue to be an invaluable resource for students.

“I think the biggest product of laboratory work is the training of students—that’s your number one product. Most research dollars go into funding salaries of students so that they can actually learn, but this funding gives them the equipment and the tools that they need.”

She adds this rare opportunity for direct experience is one of the things that makes the Canada Foundation for Innovation grant so important.

“We really hope that by getting all these hundreds, if not thousands of students in this lab with their cool research projects, that they’ll eventually go off and start companies, and seed new ventures—that’s what we hope to see,” said Buriak. “There are very few places in the world where the students can actually get into a clean room and learn these cutting-edge techniques.”

All told, six U of A projects received $18.9 million in funding. The funding envelope was part of a larger CFI investment of more than $554 million in 117 new infrastructure projects at 61 universities, colleges and research hospitals across Canada through the Innovation Fund.