Physics students at Concordia will have some company in their laboratories over the next three years, thanks to a new, provincially funded collaborative project with École Polytechnique de Montréal and Collège Ahuntsic, which aims to encourage Cegep students to study nanotechnology.
Nanotechnology — the manipulation of matter on a molecular level — is a cutting-edge, fast-growing field that offers careers in a wide variety of industries, including forensics, aerospace, medicine, fashion, biotech, and the military. Nanotechnology’s applications are far-reaching: nanoparticles, which are a fraction of the width of a human hair, can help paint last longer, make cement dry faster, reinforce lightweight construction materials and get light-collecting solar cells to produce more electricity.
Quebec’s Ministry of Education, Leisure and Sport (now known as the Ministère de l’Enseignement supérieur, de la Recherche, de la Science et de la Technologie) recently granted the three schools $299,500 to implement the joint project, titled Transfert d’expertise et initiation à la recherche universitaire dans l’enseignement de la nanotechnologie et des sciences associées au collégial.
The funds will be split between the three schools and will enable Collège Ahuntsic students to have structured physics labs at Concordia and École Polytechnique. Some of them will be paired up with undergraduate and graduate students to conduct experiments, for which they will receive course credit. Concordia students will gain valuable mentoring experience by working with the Cegep students.
Physics professor and department Chair Truong Vo-Van is coordinating Concordia’s part of the project, and says the goal is to train the Cegep students through hands-on, structured research projects.
“Instead of having a conventional approach to teaching, we’d like to introduce them to the various tools used in nanotechnology research, and expose them to different aspects of the research conducted at our two universities,” says Vo-Van.
“We want them to look at the whole picture of nanotechnology and, in particular, the objectives of our research projects, in terms of applications. At Concordia, for example, we’re interested in nanoparticles. We study their basic properties with respect to interaction with light or with different electromagnetic waves and related things like that, because we’re interested in curiosity-driven research. At the same time, we also look at the different applications. We can use nanoparticles to increase, for example, the efficiency of solar cells, which transform light into electricity, and to design new biosensing devices.”
The project is also supported by Technologies Nanomundi, a Quebec nanotech company, and NanoQuébec, a non-profit organization that fosters nanotechnology innovation related to sustainable economic growth in Quebec.
“They’re supporting our project in terms of logistics: they’re organizing student visits to industry for us, because they have a large industrial and institutional network,” explains Vo-Van, who also hopes this project will forge better relationships and cooperation between Concordia and francophone Cegeps.