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: