Materials that function on a nanometre scale are a practical reality for Vancouver-based STEMCELL Technologies Inc., which relies on them to contain and handle the sensitive cell lines. Dozens of other firms across Canada are also making use of such nanomaterials, setting the stage for new types of commodities making their way into the consumer economy. This emerging industrial sector is already creating a demand for people with expertise in the field, a demand that educators at the University of British Columbia are preparing to meet.

“We’re hoping to create a ground-swell of excellent candidates who are available for the Canadian economy,” says Mark MacLachlan, a chemistry professor at UBC. MacLachlan attained campus-wide support for a proposal that recently earned a $1.65 million grant to create NanoMat: NSERC CREATE Training Program in Nanomaterials Science & Technology.

The funding came from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council Collaborative Research and Training Experience initiative, which is dedicated to enhancing the ability of post-secondary students to attain knowledge enabling them to work in key areas of industry and government. The grant, one of 15 given across the country, provides funding for the next six years. During that time, MacLachlan and his colleagues will work with about 100 students whose activities are spread across seven different departments at UBC. “We are excited about bringing these groups together and having a collaborative effort to train the next generation of students in nanomaterials,” he says.

Participants will take a common set of courses and train on key instruments such as electron microscopes and spectroscopic tools. They will also spend part of their time studying in partner institutions outside of Canada, such as Japan’s National Institute for Materials Science, or working on nanomaterials with one of the program’s industrial partners, such as STEMCELL Technologies. “Our goal is to train the next generation of talent in nanomaterials science and engineering,” says MacLachlan. “Our graduates will be highly valued by Canadian industry or even inspired to develop their own companies using nanomaterials.”