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Partnering on a platform of research innovation

NSERC has awarded 4 research teams more than $1.7M for targeted areas that could strongly enhance Canada’s economy, society and/or environment within the next 10 years.

February 13, 2012
By: Danelle D'Alvise, Research Communications

The research involves concepts that are at the forward edge of their respective fields, with the potential to transform industry processes and practice. The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) has recognized the important early-stage work of four McMaster researchers with Strategic Project Grants that total more than $1.7M to help their industry partners succeed in the discovery of new materials, the investigation of new resources for broadband access,  the enhancement of solar cells, and the development of safety-critical software.

“These Strategic Project grants recognize what McMaster scientists and engineers do well – research that addresses our country’s scientific and technological priorities,” said Mo Elbestawi, vice-president, research and international affairs.  “The innovative work that is taking place in their labs provides a platform for industry to launch new products and more efficient, safer processes. Their research excellence will not only benefit the Canadian economy and environment, but will also provide 21 of our graduate and undergraduates students with rich skill sets as a result of the academic/industrial interactions inherent in each project.”

For David Emslie, his partnership with Calgary's NOVA Chemicals is a mutually beneficial one that capitalizes on "what we're good at and what they're good at". The associate professor of chemistry and his research team is particularly good at determining the unique properties of materials as diverse as metals and plastics, testing their stability under extreme temperature and observing their reactivity to a variety of processes. Emslie's research team will undertake the preliminary screening of materials -- a research phase best done with the group's facilities and equipment. Their research results will then be passed on to NOVA, who will test the materials under industrially relevant conditions, evaluating potential product quality performance and simulating processing conditions.

Emslie can't say enough about the importance of NOVA's in-kind contribution, noting that this type of complementary research "completely expands what our research group can do. If we were to invest in the equipment to do this next phase of research, we'd be looking at upwards of $500,000."

Steve Hranilovic, associate professor, computer and electrical engineering will be tackling the 'spectrum crunch' -- the unrelenting and ever increasing demands we make of our broadband systems each and every time we reach for our smartphones, stream movies or surf the Internet via a wireless connection. His solution? Tap into the unused resource of energy efficient LED lighting, augment it with visible light communications (VLC) and develop a wireless communications network that is as ubiquitous as the LED lighting that is now replacing less efficient incandescent light bulbs around the world. 

The potential for this novel technology has drawn the support of industry partners who range from an LED lighting design and manufacturing firm (Divvali LED Lighting and Design) to a SmartGrid specialist (Corinex Communications), from an LED communication system design company (Plaintree Systems) to major corporations such as Research in Motion (now Blackberry) and Texas Instrument. McMaster Institute of Automotive Research and Technology (MacAUTO) is also a key participant, providing the testing and demonstration of the project's prototypes in an automotive context. 

Hranlovic's research team -- including 8 graduate and four undergraduate students -- will have the opportunity to access Blackberry's extensive lab facilities to test and manufacture the project's prototypes. The students will also have the opportunity to participate in exchanges with UBC (a co-applicant on the project) to work on PLC prototypes at the facilities there.

Tom Maibaum will lead an international research team comprised of software engineers from McMaster, the University of Waterloo, two leading research centres in France -- Verimag  and INRIA - and Ottawa-based QNX for a project that will deliver new model-based code generation techniques to support the delivery of software applications, with particular attention to dependability, productivity, correctness, and performance.  Maibaum, a professor in the computing and software department and Canada Research Chair in Foundations of Software Engineering, will work closely with the main industrial collaborator, QNX, to get feedback on the research team's results from an industry partner who specializes in dependable, safety-critical systems and products for air traffic control, railway, medical equipment and nuclear power plants.

 Ray LaPierre, associate professor, engineering physics, will lead a project whose goal is to develop a new solar cell or photovoltaic (PV) technology based on semiconductor nanowires, which will be more efficient and significantly reduce manufacturing costs.  McMaster is equipped with the necessary instrumentation, synthetic infrastructure, and characterization tools that are of a prohibitively high cost to the project's industry partner,  Cleanfield Energy -- an innovative Canadian technology company focused on the research, development and distribution of renewable energy solutions for the urban environment. Cleanfield can, however, provide LaPierre's research team access to its scientists and engineers during the development process to ensure that practical concerns, such as device stability, lifetime and manufacturability are addressed -- a research "win - win". Ultimately, the goal of the project is that the technology developed in LaPierre's labs will be integrated within Cleanfield's product portfolio.

Awarded Projects

The project titles, $ award, number of undergraduate and graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows (PDFs) who will be hired, as well as the project partners for each one of McMaster's four NSERC Strategic Project Grants are listed below: 

David Emslie, High-temperature rare earth polymerization catalysts, $329,968; 1 PDF, 2 graduate and 1 undergraduate student; Industry Partner: NOVA Chemicals

Steve Hranilovic, Turn on the lights - visible light communications for indoor and vehicular networks, $452,005; 8 graduate and 4 undergraduate students; Industry Partners: Corinex Communications, Divvali LED Lighting and Design, Plaintree Systems, Research in Motion (now Blackberry ) and Texas Instruments Canada; plus MacAUTO; Project co-applicant: University of British Columbia

Ray LaPierre,  Development of a nanostructured high efficiency two-junction solar cell $330,000.00; 3 graduate students, 1 PDF; Industry Partner: Cleanfield Energy

Tom Maibaum, Rigorous Automated Implementation of dependable distributed Real-time Systems (RAIDR), $592,500 ;1PDF; Industry Partners: Verimag, INRIA, QNX; Project Partners: University of Waterloo.

“Our Government’s top priority is creating jobs, economic growth, and long-term prosperity,” said Minister of State Goodyear at the February 8 announcement. “Fostering a strong research environment and supporting partnerships are fundamental building blocks for a modern competitive economy. This funding will allow companies to increase their research and development activities in Canada by maximizing the expertise and knowledge of our researchers.”

A complete list of the NSERC's Strategic Project Grants awarded on February 8, 2013 can be found here.