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SFU materials and particle science attract government funding

The federal government through one of its research-funding agencies, the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), is investing about $8.7 million in new funding in two major national research projects involving Simon Fraser University.

One is the Prometheus Project: BC's Multi-Institution Advanced Materials Science and Engineering Initiative, receiving $7.7 million. The other is the Upgrade to the ATLAS Tier-1 Data Analysis Centre, receiving $1 million.

Backgrounder #1 The Prometheus Project:

Led by Neil Branda, a Canada Research Chair in Materials Science and SFU chemistry professor, The Prometheus Project is destined to become a research hub for materials science and engineering innovation, and commercialization globally.

It brings together 10 principal researchers, including Branda, co-founder of SFU's 4D LABS, and 20 other scientists at SFU, University of British Columbia, the University of Victoria and the British Columbia Institute of Technology. They will create new materials science and engineering (MS&E) technology innovations, which will trigger and support sustained economic growth by creating, transforming and making obsolete entire industries.

Working with internationally recognized industrial, government, hospital and academic collaborators, scientists at the Prometheus partners' labs, including 4D LABS, a $40 million materials science research institute, will deliver innovations in three areas. The labs will:

  • Develop new solar-industry related materials and devices, including novel organic polymers, nanoparticles, and quantum dots, which will be integrated in low cost, high efficiency solar cell devices. The goal is to create a new generation of efficient solar cells that can compete in terms of cost with non-renewable technologies, surpassing older ones in terms of miniaturization and flexibility.

  • Develop miniaturized biosensors that can be used by individuals in clinical settings or at home to allow early detection of disease and treatment monitoring. They will be integrated into flexible electronic skins, allowing health conditions to be monitored in real-time.

  • Develop spintronics (magnetic devices) and quantum computing and information devices that will enable new approaches to significantly improve encrypted communication and security in financial transactions.

"This project will allow B.C.'s four most research intensive institutes to collaborate on fundamental materials research projects with a wide range of potential commercial applications," notes Branda. "By engaging with a large community of industry, government and NGO partners, we will move this research out of the lab and into society to solve current and future challenges in important areas such as energy, health and communications."

The Prometheus team already has a strong network of potential end users of resulting technologies. It is based on its members' relationships with many of more than 25 companies in BC commercializing solar, biomedical and quantum computing devices.

Researchers and industries worldwide will be able to access Prometheus's new capabilities on an open-access basis.

Backgrounder #2 Upgrade to the ATLAS Tier-1 Data Analysis Centre:

Led by Mike Vetterli, a physics professor at SFU and TRIUMF, this project involves collaborating with scientists internationally to upgrade a component of a global network of always-on computing centres. Collectively, they form the Worldwide Large Hadron Collider Computing Grid (WLCG).

The Canadian scientists collaborating with Vetterli on this project are at several research-intensive universities. They include Carleton University, McGill University, University of British Columbia, University of Alberta, University of Toronto, University of Victoria, Universit de Montral, and York University, as well as TRIUMF. It's Canada's national lab for particle and nuclear physics research.

The grid, which has 10 Tier-1 centres internationally, is essentially a gigantic storage and processing facility for data collected from the ATLAS experiment. The new CFI funding will enable Vetterli and his research partners to purchase equipment to upgrade the Tier-1 centre at TRIUMF in Vancouver, where the equipment will remain.

ATLAS is a multi-purpose particle detector inside a massive atom-smashing collider housed at CERN, the world's leading laboratory for particle physics in Geneva, Switzerland.

More than 3,000 scientists internationally, including Vetterli and many others at SFU, use ATLAS to conduct experiments aimed at furthering global understanding of how the universe was physically formed and operates.

The detector's fame for being a window into nature's true inner workings was redoubled last year. It helped scientists, including Vetterli and others at SFU, discover a particle that has properties consistent with the Higgs boson.

Peter Higgs, a Scottish physicist, and other scientists theorized in 1964 about the existence of the long-sought-after particle that is central to the mechanism that gives subatomic particles their mass.

Scientists now need to upgrade the WLCG to accommodate the massive volume of data they're reviewing to confirm that the newly discovered particle is the Higgs boson. If it is, it will revolutionize the way we see mass in physics.

"This project will enable Canadian scientists to continue to play a leading role in ATLAS physics analysis projects such as the Higgs boson discovery," says Vetterli. "Much more work and data are required to learn more about the Higgs-like particle and show that it is indeed the missing link to our understanding of the fundamental structure of matter."

Contact: Carol Thorbes
Simon Fraser University

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