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Past Winner
1997 E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship

Ian Manners


University of Toronto

Just imagine... That's what University of Toronto chemistry professor Ian Manners does for a living. Imagination is a key part of his research.

"As a synthetic chemist, I imagine new ways of joining atoms together," says Manners. "Imagination is the critical first step to developing new and interesting materials." And it is a highly successful approach that has recently earned him one of Canada's premier science and engineering prizes - a Steacie Fellowship awarded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.

The atoms that Manners and his research group are most interested in joining together are metals like iron and cobalt. In particular, they want to join them into long chain molecules called polymers.

"Most polymers are made of atoms of one element - carbon," explains Manners. "These polymers have good and useful mechanical properties and are made into a range of materials including plastics and nylon fibres. However they often don't have magnetic, electrical or optical properties that would make them ideal for use in electronic devices, for example.

"If you have metals in the polymer backbone, things get very interesting." Interesting to contemplate, but a way of making metal polymers eluded chemists for many years. Manners' group has gained international recognition for its groundbreaking work in developing new routes that allow the preparation of polymers with metals in the chain.

"When we started this work our idea was to develop a whole new field of chemistry," says Manners. "As we understand the chemistry more, it's becoming easier to see the applications."

Manners already holds patents on several new materials and a number of the synthetic routes. Now, about one half of his research is applied work, much of it in collaboration with industry. One project involves developing a polymer that can be used to measure pressure when testing new aircraft models in wind tunnels. Rather than outfitting the models with solid state pressure sensors, Manners and his team have come up with a new polymer that is sprayed on and measures pressure over the entire surface.

"The things you can do with elements other than carbon never ceases to surprise me," adds Manners. "These inorganic elements behave in much more unpredictable ways and their potential is absolutely enormous. There are many areas of inorganic chemistry where virtually nothing is known. I like delving into these areas and using the chemistry to do something useful."