Professors Molly Shoichet and Tim Bender receive U of T Connaught Innovation Awards

Professors Tim Bender (ChemE) and Molly Shoichet (ChemE, IBBME) are among six U of T Engineering researchers and 10 U of T researchers to receive U of T Connaught Innovation Awards to advance their promising technologies. This year, researchers are sharing up to $500,000 in support of research that has socio-economic and commercial potential.

We are proud of the cutting-edge research carried out at U of T Engineering and congratulate all the recipients of the Connaught Innovation Award,” says Ramin Farnood (ChemE), Vice Dean of Research at U of T Engineering. “In an evolving global marketplace, industry leaders continue to embrace the ingenuity we offer, as we work to develop solutions and maximize our impact on society.” 

""Timothy Bender: Next-generation materials for brighter, more flexible displays

Organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) are a group of chemicals that emit light upon stimulation with electricity. They lie at the heart of next-generation visual displays, and can be found in everything from smartphones to flat-screen TVs.

Professor Tim Bender (ChemE) and his team have partnered with U of T Engineering spinoff company Amber Molecular to commercialize a new and unique set of OLED materials.

The unusual chemical structure of the new compounds grants them a rare combination of electro-optical properties. They are valuable for their high-colour purity, highly efficient energy transfer, and high chemical stability.

Bender and his team have also demonstrated that their electrical properties can be carefully controlled through the addition of substituent chemical groups.

“These materials could be used as a drop-in solution in combination with existing OLEDs to enable richer colours in screens of all kinds,” says Bender.

Molly Shoichet: A biomimicking substance that better treats retinal detachment

Led by postdoctoral fellow Alexander Baker (ChemE PhD 1T9), under the supervision of Professor Molly Shoichet(ChemE, IBBME), Shoichet’s team has invented a biodegradable material that mimics the properties of vitreous, the gel-like substance that fills 75 per cent of the eye, helping to maintain its round shape.

As people age, the consistency of the vitreous, which adheres to the retina, changes. This can lead to the vitreous peeling off and tugging on the retina, creating a tear. Left untreated, the gel substance could leak through the tear and into the space behind the retina, causing detachment and blindness.

Current treatment involves inserting a gas bubble into the eye to keep the retina flat. Following the procedure, patients must lie face-down to maintain head position for several days, which is known as posturing. For complicated detachments, silicone oils are used to repair the detachment.

“Our vitreous replacement hydrogel will neither blur patient vision nor require posturing or a second surgery, as required with oils,” says Shoichet, who is collaborating with vitreoretinal surgeon, Dr. Robert Devenyi.

The Connaught Innovation Award funding will go towards advancing the work of Shoichet’s vitreous substitute. The non-toxic and biocompatible hyaluronan-based hydrogel would be used to flatten the detached retina, with minimal swelling.

“The socio-economic benefit is clear,” she adds. “With our product, patients will be better served, return to work faster, and the cost to the health-care system will be lower.”

To read more about the U of T Engineering recipients, visit: