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Past Winner
2007 Innovation Challenge Award

André Arsenault

Chemically Tunable Colloidal Photonic Crystals

University of Toronto

André Arsenault is shedding important new light on colour generation through a pair of innovations based on research into photonic crystals. A PhD graduate in polymer and materials chemistry at the University of Toronto, Dr. Arsenault invented new ways of creating and manipulating colour across a virtually limitless array of commercial applications, from large-scale colour displays to anti-counterfeit protection.

In his research, Dr. Arsenault focused on coaxing the glass microspheres in photonic crystals to self-assemble using chemical techniques. Employing that approach, he infused selected components into the crystals to create smart, composite materials that shift colour when they are exposed to stimulus or an environmental cue. The end result is photonic crystals that are tunable, yielding a rich assortment of colours across the entire spectral range of ultraviolet, visible and infrared light waves.

In honour of his discoveries and subsequent innovations, Dr. Arsenault is this year’s winner of an NSERC Innovation Challenge Award, presented annually to the postgraduate researcher who presents the best ideas for applying the results of his or her research to real-world applications.

One technology emerging from his research, called Photonic Ink (or P-Ink), is a crystal composite containing a specialized, electrically active polymer. When incorporated into an electrochemical cell, the colour of the P-Ink material can be tuned or altered electrically. As a low-power, high brightness and easily scalable solution, P-Ink is considered ideal for large-scale advertising displays on store fronts and road-side billboards.

The other innovation with promising commercial potential is called Elastink, a soft and elastic crystal whose colour is responsive to mechanical forces, such as thumb or finger pressure. This material, which combines the glass microspheres with synthetic rubber, has been demonstrated as a highly sensitive and accurate fingerprint sensor. With immediate applications in forensics, biometrics and security devices, Elastink could supply viable solutions to an increasingly security-conscious world.

To accelerate the commercialization of P-Ink and Elastink, Dr. Arsenault co-founded a company called Opalux Inc., in which he serves as Chief Technology Officer. Opalux has successfully attracted world-class advisors from different industries, and funding from government sources, industry partners and private equity funds.