Strange but true: Talking Pill Bottles? Self-Assembling materials?

by, Paul Smith, director, Xerox Research Centre of Canada

I love my job as research center director of Xerox Research Centre of Canada (XRCC).  Why?  I am a certified nerd who loves science.  I’m also able to let my creative side run wild as I work with top-notch scientists researching new technologies that will change our world.

 A couple of examples: XRCC scientists can now print silver in a diameter smaller than the diameter of a human hair.  What’s even more amazing is that we  created new materials that will let us “print” a fine line of silver from an inkjet printer onto a piece of plastic, opening up a host of “Star Trek” type applications. Take packaging; for example, imagine what it would be like to have a pill bottle remind you when it’s time to take your prescription? Or, what if that same bottle could automatically report to your pharmacist or concerned family member when the medication was taken, saving you the trouble of writing it down?

Another promising project is the self-assembly of molecules. In nature, atoms and molecules can stitch themselves together to become perfectly organized; for example, when forming a diamond, or DNA.   We are working on being able to mimic this kind of control over chemistry enabling us to place molecules in such a way that the resulting materials have the exact properties that we need.  In January, scientists at XRCC obtained the first patent in this new and important field. 

So what will it do for us?  These innovations are also helping the parts our printers last longer  which translates into more sustainable products.  A number of opportunities exist for these new materials including creating low-cost solar cells with robustness comparable to silicon solar cells.

XRCC is home to innovative and motivated scientists who have the ability and ambition to create innovative new materials that do make the world a better place – one cool and crazy new material at a time!  I’ll keep you posted on future materials innovation. 

When Paul’s not in his office in Mississauga, Ontario leading the research taking place at XRCC, he’s traveling all over Canada giving talks about innovation, R&D and helping to promote science and IT throughout the country.

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