Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials

Nanotechnology and advanced materials involve manipulating and controlling atoms and molecules to create useful materials, devices and systems that have new and different properties from what we normally see in our everyday world.

Nanotechnology has made possible the smallest man-made objects ever created. They measure less than 100 manometers (mn). To put that into context, one eyelash is about 100,000 mn wide!

Examples of nanotechnology can be seen all around us, including in: airbags, video games, clothing, sunscreen, pacemakers, tennis rackets, hearing aids, LCD displays

Key concepts in nanotechnology include:

  • Nanoparticles: Clumps of atoms or molecules that are less than 100 nm on one side.
  • Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS): Tiny 3D devices that combine mechanical components with integrated electronic circuits. The most popular MEMs devices today are sensors, lab on a chip devices and optical switches.
  • Lab on a Chip: Integrates multiple laboratory function in to a single chip.
  • Carbon Nanotubes: A tube made of carbon atoms. Carbon nantubes are among the stiffest fibers known.

Advanced materials have superior properties to conventional materials (e.g. increased hardness, durability, and elasticity), and include substances such as:

  • Advanced ceramics: Inorganic non-metallic materials formed by the action of heat that are engineered with superior performance properties such as high resistance to abrasion.
  • Thin films: Semiconductor electronics and MEMS are made using thin films. Thin films are thin layers (from fractions of nanometers to several microns thick) of materials like metals, semiconductors and insulators.
  • Silicon nanophotonics: Instead of transferring data on an electronic chip using electricity, data is transferred using light.

Alberta has had significant success in the commercialization of nanotechnology and advanced materials with leading companies in the areas of:

  • design and manufacturing of nano/micro scale devices and MEMS and in the fields of circuits/chips, calibration systems and bio-detection
  • Films/Coatings, including medical coatings
  • nano-biotechnology
  • metals
  • ceramics
  • polymers

The main strengths of the nanotechnology and advanced materials industry in Alberta include a powerful university-based research capability and innovative companies.
The University of Calgary and University of Alberta are home to amazing nanotechnology and advanced materials research facilities.

Research at the University of Alberta

Research at the University of Calgary

  • Advanced Technology Information Processing Systems (ATIPS Labs): ATIPS Labs at the University of Calgary leverage highly advanced and emerging computing technologies to conduct research into the development and implementation of information processing systems, including: bio-engineering devices; information security systems; wireless networking components; high performance digital signal processors; opto-electronic sensors and processors; streaming video processors; arithmetic intensive processors; and machine vision systems.
  • Nanoscale Technology and Engineering Laboratory (NTEL)
  • AMIF - Advanced Micro and nanosystems Integration Facility, University of Calgary

Innovative Alberta companies

A strong community of industrial adopters in the region have turned research into commercial products.

For profiles of Alberta’s nanotechnology and advanced materials companies see: Cool Companies: Alberta’s Advanced Technologies (2013 issue)


nanoAlberta works with industry, researchers and investors to help build Alberta's nanotechnology industry and apply the benefits of nanotechnology in the energy, environment, medical, agriculture and forestry sectors.