Media Releases

IndyCar driver makes U of T pit stop for $20M lab opening

July 17, 2014

Futuristic lab to engineer state-of-the-art materials with applications in health, energy, environment and more

TORONTO, ON – When three-time Indy 500 winner Hélio Castroneves accelerates around the track at this weekend’s Honda Indy races, he’ll be driving a racecar propelled by decades of materials research that makes him faster, safer and more efficient.

On July 17 – two days before the first race – Castroneves visits the University of Toronto’s Engineering Faculty to kick-start a new phase of materials innovation, unveiling the $20-million Ontario Centre for Characterization of Advanced Materials (OCCAM).

Funded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation (MRI) and Hitachi High-Technologies Canada Inc., the lab enables the exploration and development of novel materials that could be used in electronics, renewable fuels, construction, disease treatment and even futuristic racecar design.

Complete with a nano-scale ribbon cutting ceremony, the opening celebrations include lab tours and demonstrations, as well as 1:1 media interviews with U of T researchers and Hélio Castroneves – a member of the Hitachi-sponsored Penske IndyCar racing team and 2007 winner of the American reality TV show Dancing with the Stars­.

The pioneering facility offers a set of highly specialized tools, such as powerful electron microscopes, that enable researchers to understand and manipulate matter at the atomic scale.

Over 350 different research programs are expected to use OCCAM annually from across academic and industry groups, including both entrepreneurial spin-off companies and larger established firms.

“Through multidisciplinary and collaborative research focus, OCCAM is a shining example of how U of T Engineering, in partnership with industry and government, is pursuing innovative solutions to some of world’s greatest challenges in health, city life and energy,” said Cristina Amon, Dean of the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering at U of T. “We are profoundly grateful to CFI, MRI and Hitachi for their contribution to the creation of this unique world-class facility.”

“Our government is making record investments in science and technology to create jobs, increase prosperity and improve the quality of life of Canadians,” said the Honourable Ed Holder, Minister of State (Science and Technology). “Materials research undertaken at this state-of-the-art facility will give Canadian business and research a competitive advantage by applying new knowledge to a variety of innovations.”

“New and innovative materials are key to advancing the development of novel technologies in sectors such as energy, healthcare and communications,” said Dr. Gilles G. Patry, President and CEO of the Canada Foundation for Innovation. “The tools and facilities funded by the CFI will enable researchers at U of T, along with their academic and industrial partners, to engineer new products that will give Canadians a competitive advantage in variety of disciplines and industries.”

More information:

What:            U of T Opening – Ontario Centre for Characterization of Advanced Materials (OCCAM)

Date: Thursday, July 17, 2014


  • 1:00 – 1:40pm – Opening Remarks
  • 1:40 – 1:55pm – Guest Remarks: Hélio Castroneves
  • 2:00 – 2:30pm – Lab tours


Research Teasers:

1.      Car accidents that no longer kill people

“We have the technology today to make vehicles so safe that car accidents no longer kill people,” explains engineering professor Doug Perovic. But if we have the means, why aren’t we using it? According to Perovic, the answer is cost – cost of materials and cost of manufacturing. That’s why, through OCCAM, he’s partnered with Toronto-based Integran Technologies to develop newer, inexpensive methods of boosting vehicle safety. Integran is the only company in the world that can coat plastic and carbon fibre with nanometals – making any material significantly stronger, and hopefully soon with a lower cost.

2.      Stopping blood clots with nonstick nano-materials

Blood clots are essential in healing cuts, but they can be deadly for those needing catheters – tubes that carry medicine or drain fluids in the body. Clots can form around the tube in a process called thrombosis. U of T professor Paul Santerre and researcher Roseita Esfan have designed a method of producing catheters with a nano-coating of fluorine – the same molecule that makes frying pans nonstick – that reduces clot formation. Their invention is already on the market through the spin-off company Interface Biologics. “OCCAM gives us access to tools and expertise that a small lab like us wouldn’t normally have,” says Esfan. “That is what helps us bring our products from the bench to the market.”

3.      Solar fuels – If trees can do it, we can do it

Professor Ben Hatton and a collaboration of multidisciplinary researchers are making use of OCCAM’s advanced tools to design inorganic nano-materials that mimic the photosynthetic processes of plants. “If trees can do it, we can do it,” he says. By turning carbon dioxide into useful energy, the technology could reduce, and even reverse, the detrimental impacts of fossil fuels. Hatton’s dream is to produce large, low-cost “leaves” that enable households and communities to produce their own energy.

Highly visual event:

  • Nano-ribbon cutting – Witness an ion beam slicing through a nano-scale ribbon smaller than a human hair. The ribbon is printed with the name “OCCAM” using nano-lithography.
  • Lab shots – Get a behind-the-scenes look at OCCAM’s state-of-the-art equipment, such as sofa-sized electron microscopes (with peek holes) and surface probing machines that x-ray and beam molecules.

Interview opportunities:

Media contact:

RJ Taylor
Communications & Media Relations Strategist
Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, University of Toronto
Tel: 647-228-4358  |  Email: