Media Releases

University of Toronto researchers win two Killam Prizes

April 9, 2014

TORONTO, ON – Two Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to researchers – physi­cist Sajeev John and engi­neer Andreas Man­delis – have each won a 2014 Kil­lam Prize, one of Canada’s most pres­ti­gious schol­ar­ly awards.

The Kil­lam Prize rec­og­nizes out­stand­ing career achieve­ment by schol­ars active­ly engaged in research. Admin­is­tered by the Cana­da Coun­cil for the Arts, only five prizes are award­ed annu­al­ly and each comes with a $100,000 prize.

Pro­fes­sor John, from the Fac­ul­ty of Arts and Sci­ence, is being rec­og­nized for his ground-break­ing work on the local­iza­tion of light and the inven­tion and devel­op­ment of new Pho­ton­ic Band Gap (PBG) mate­ri­als. His lead­ing research, in which the flow of light is manip­u­lat­ed in much the same way that elec­tric­i­ty is steered through micro-elec­tron­ic cir­cuits, may enable the devel­op­ment of pho­ton­ic com­put­ers using laser light to car­ry infor­ma­tion instead of elec­tric cur­rent. The result would be faster, less expen­sive and more ver­sa­tile tools in the com­put­er and telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions indus­tries. Oth­er appli­ca­tions include nov­el fibres for laser surgery and light-trap­ping in thin films for effi­cient solar ener­gy har­vest­ing.

Pro­fes­sor Man­delis com­bines applied physics and engi­neer­ing for entire­ly new appli­ca­tions of lasers in mate­ri­als sci­ence and bio­med­ical engi­neer­ing. From U of T’s Fac­ul­ty of Applied Sci­ence and Engi­neer­ing, he is a world leader in the field of dif­fu­sion-wave and pho­to-acoustic sci­ences. His cur­rent research involves cre­at­ing new tools that use light for the non-inva­sive diag­no­sis and man­age­ment of dis­eases like breast can­cer and dia­betes. He is also devel­op­ing more effi­cient meth­ods of qual­i­ty con­trol in the man­u­fac­tur­ing and use of opto­elec­tron­ics, met­als and coat­ings.

Pro­fes­sor Paul Young, U of T’s vice pres­i­dent, research and inno­va­tion, con­grat­u­lat­ed John and Man­delis on behalf of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to com­mu­ni­ty.

“We are immense­ly proud of them and thrilled that two of our own have been hon­oured with the pres­ti­gious Kil­lam Prize,” said Young. “Both of these sci­en­tists are con­duct­ing research that has a clear and very pos­i­tive impact on soci­ety today.

“By award­ing the Kil­lam Prize to Sajeev and Andreas, the Cana­da Coun­cil is rec­og­niz­ing decades of research, inno­va­tion and com­mit­ment on both their parts. This is a great day for them and for U of T.”

John’s the­o­ret­i­cal frame­work for light local­iza­tion PBG mate­ri­als was laid out in his Har­vard PhD the­sis in 1984 and fur­ther refined through the con­cep­tion of PBG mate­ri­als in 1987 while he was an assis­tant pro­fes­sor of the­o­ret­i­cal physics at Prince­ton. The­o­ry became real­i­ty over the next two decades in major lab­o­ra­to­ries around the world.  After join­ing U of T in 1989, John began work­ing with U of T chem­istry pro­fes­sor Geof­frey Ozin, U of T physi­cist Hen­ry van Driel and a team of sci­en­tists from Spain to build the first self-assem­bled sil­i­con-based PBG mate­r­i­al in 2000. Since then, John and fel­low researchers have refined the­o­ry and tech­nique to cre­ate PBG mate­ri­als that are eas­i­er and cheap­er to man­u­fac­ture.

John said the con­cept of trap­ping light fas­ci­nat­ed him as stu­dent at Har­vard.

“No one else believed it was pos­si­ble at the time, but I felt it was very fun­da­men­tal and could have major con­se­quences,” he said. “When the pho­ton­ic band gap con­cept dawned in my mind, I real­ized the dream could come true.”

John said the result­ing field of “pho­ton­ic crys­tals” has sur­passed all expec­ta­tions.

“It allows us to tai­lor the fun­da­men­tal elec­tro­mag­net­ic force,” he said. “It enables micro-manip­u­la­tion of laser light for opti­cal com­put­ing, trap­ping of sun­light for thin film solar cells, and local­iza­tion of light for med­ical diag­nos­tics and ther­a­py. The future looks bright for the con­trol of light.”

Pro­fes­sor Man­delis’ ground­break­ing research puts him at the inter­sec­tion between the excit­ing fields of engi­neer­ing and applied physics – a com­bi­na­tion that attract­ed him because of its wide poten­tial for appli­ca­tion.

“Being able to do the sci­ence is very impor­tant to me, while at the same time apply­ing engi­neer­ing prin­ci­ples and see­ing it mate­ri­al­ize in new tech­nol­o­gy for areas that need it, like breast can­cer tumour detec­tion,” he said.

By blend­ing these two research fields, Man­delis and his team are able to see small dif­fer­ences in the human body or man­u­fac­tur­ing mate­ri­als that have gone pre­vi­ous­ly unde­tect­ed.

“For exam­ple, when a tumour starts to grow, it is accom­pa­nied by the growth of new blood ves­sels,” he explained. “Lasers can spot these blood ves­sels ear­li­er than ultra­sound machines because blood absorbs light dif­fer­ent­ly. This allows for ear­li­er detec­tion of tumours.”

Pro­fes­sor Man­delis is direc­tor for advanced dif­fu­sion-wave tech­nolo­gies in the Depart­ment of Mechan­i­cal and Indus­tri­al Engi­neer­ing. He is also cross-appoint­ed to the Insti­tute for Bio­ma­te­ri­als and Bio­med­ical Engi­neer­ing (IBBME) and The Edward S. Rogers Sr. Depart­ment of Elec­tri­cal & Com­put­er Engi­neer­ing (ECE).

Pre­vi­ous U of T Kil­lam recip­i­ents include com­put­er sci­en­tist Geof­frey Hin­ton, physi­cist Richard Pelti­er and lin­guist Keren Rice.


For more infor­ma­tion, con­tact:

U of T Media Rela­tions
Tel: 416–978-0100