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Nicholas VukoticNicholas Vukotic is UWindsor’s new Industrial Research Chair in X-ray Diffraction and Crystalline Materials.

Industrial Research Chair to develop new materials

A new $3.7 million research partnership between the University of Windsor and a local company that develops scientific testing instruments aims to create new research tools and advanced materials the world has never before seen.

Nicholas Vukotic, principal scientist at Proto Mfg., is UWindsor’s new Industrial Research Chair in X-ray Diffraction and Crystalline Materials. He will join the Advanced Materials Centre of Research (AMCORe) in UWindsor’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, where he will work with researchers with complementary interests in synthetic chemistry, catalysis, materials chemistry, materials characterization, and materials applications.

“I am thrilled about joining the exceptional group of researchers within AMCORe at the University of Windsor,” Dr. Vukotic said. “This research partnership is all about synergy and brings together two great organizations, which I am proud to be part of.”

Vukotic’s five-year position is funded jointly by the University, the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), and Proto Mfg., a multinational company headquartered locally that manufactures X-ray diffraction instrumentation and provides laboratory services to companies around the globe.

The position comes with nearly $3.7 million of funding, of which $2,354,000 is cash provided by NSERC, Proto Mfg., and the University. In addition to the cash contribution, Proto Mfg. is providing $1 million of in-kind support towards the development of advanced scientific instrumentation, and the university is contributing in-kind support of nearly $284,000.

Proto has a long-standing relationship with the University of Windsor, said company president Michael Brauss.

“Over the past several years, we have significantly benefited from working with several professors from the University of Windsor, and many of their graduates have become employees of our company,” he said.

“Proto prides itself on its innovative products, quality, customer service, and pursuit of excellence, and these traits will only be strengthened by having an Industrial Research Chair at our local university with a close proximity to our base of operations.”

Industrial research chairs are designed to create mutually beneficial collaborations between Canadian universities and partners outside academia. The idea is to develop research in new fields of science and engineering, making advancements that will benefit Canadian society. Graduate students and postdoctoral fellows get the chance to do ground-breaking research and develop expertise that will help their careers.

Vukotic specializes in X-ray diffraction (XRD) and the development of advanced crystalline materials. XRD is a non-destructive method to get information about materials, including their chemical make-up and molecular structure. It has applications in the pharmaceutical industry, mining and geology, and in construction and manufacturing. It can be used not only to identify and test the purity of materials, but to test the structural integrity of materials used in the manufacturing of cars, airplanes, power turbines, and in the construction of bridges and buildings.

“To spur the development of new commercial products — allowing Canada to retain a competitive advantage in the global market and an increased quality of life for all Canadians — new technologies and materials are required,” NSERC said in announcing Vukotic as UWindsor’s latest industrial research chair.

“This research partnership between Proto and the University of Windsor will create an environment that fosters the pursuit of knowledge, innovation, and the development of new technologies and materials within Canada.”

Vukotic is a UWindsor grad with a doctorate in chemistry and biochemistry. He has brought numerous patented XRD products to market. The position will give him the opportunity to develop new scientific research tools and create new advanced crystalline materials with industrial applications as nanoporous adsorbents, chemical sensors, and drug-releasing biomaterials.

K.W. Michael Siu, UWindsor’s vice-president, research and innovation, said Vukotic’s Industrial Research Chair holds great promise.

“I am absolutely delighted that NSERC and Proto have chosen to invest in an Industrial Research Chair position at the University of Windsor,” Dr. Siu said.

“Congratulations to Dr. Vukotic for his success, and I certainly look forward to hearing and reading the wonderful and innovative research results that he and his team will produce in the not-too-distant future."

UWindsor currently has one other Industrial Research Chair — Ming Zheng from the Department of Mechanical, Automotive and Metals Engineering. Dr. Zheng is the NSERC/Ford Industrial Research Chair in Clean Combustion Engine Innovations.

Vukotic said he wants to create a high-energy and diverse research group. He is recruiting four graduate students, three post-doctoral fellows, and senior undergraduate researchers to join his lab in September. Interested candidates can learn more at vukgroup.com.

—Sarah Sacheli