NSERC Synergy Award celebrates decades of collaboration on nanoscale electron microscopy and robotics

Nanomanipulation System

U of T Engineering and Hitachi High-Tech Canada partnership has led to scientific discoveries and commercialized products

A long-standing collaboration between researchers at U of T Engineering and Hitachi High-Tech Canada (HTC) has been recognized with a Synergy Award for Innovation from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

The Synergy Awards recognize examples of collaboration that stand as models of effective partnership between industry and colleges or universities. Key principal investigators from U of T Engineering involved in the collaboration include Professors Yu Sun (MIE), Jane Howe (MSE/ChemE), Tobin Filleter (MIE) and Doug Perovic (MSE). 

The roots of the collaboration stretch back decades. More than 30 years ago, Perovic and HTC established a research partnership to develop advanced electron microscopy techniques.

That partnership strengthened the Ontario Center for the Characterization of Advanced Materials (OCCAM), a unique facility that contains leading-edge equipment for imaging, analyzing and manipulating materials with nanometre-scale precision.

“HTC’s contributions have been critical in turning OCCAM into Canada’s premier tandem electron microscopy/surface characterization research centre,” says Perovic. “At the same time, HTC can draw on the practical challenges that users are trying to address to develop new technologies, instrumentation and procedures. It is very much an intimate two-way partnership that has always superseded typical client-vendor relationships or university-industry collaborations.”

Since 2008, HTC has provided nearly $5 million in direct and indirect support for OCCAM, including two full-time staff engineers. Analysis carried out on OCCAM’s equipment helps researchers from across U of T — as well as from many external companies and organizations — understand the natural world and design better devices, from dental implants to solar cells.

Addressing the challenge of physically manipulating nano-scaled samples under electron microscopy imaging has been a particular focus for Sun.

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