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Researcher honoured for industrial ceramic coatings breakthrough

Jason Tam was presented the award for Outstanding Innovation–International in Ottawa Nov. 26 by Mitacs.


Emmanuel Kamarianakis, director general, Investment and Innovation at Global Affairs Canada, presents the Mitacs Award for Outstanding Innovation – International to Jason Tam of the University of Toronto. Photo: Mitacs

TORONTO — Can ceramic forms of rare earth oxides be used as water repellent coatings in industry? A researcher at University of Toronto has shed light on this question and has been honoured for his work with a Mitacs award.

Jason Tam was presented the award for Outstanding Innovation–International in Ottawa Nov. 26 by Mitacs, a not-for-profit organization that fosters growth and innovation in Canada.

Tam’s research is the first to show the ability of ceramic coatings derived from rare earth oxides to repel water is not naturally occurring. He found coatings become more water repellent when they are exposed to ambient air, and they lose their ability to repel water when exposed to high temperatures.

His discovery, which arose during his Phd research, refutes findings of earlier studies that suggested such ceramic coatings had the potential for widespread use in applications such as steam turbines, power generation heat exchangers and aircraft engines, all of which require extreme water repellency under harsh conditions. Ceramic coatings held promise because they are stronger and more durable than the thin polymer coatings used today that eventually wear.

“The initial study, completed in 2013, generated a great deal of buzz in the industry because it concluded that rare earth oxide ceramics should find widespread applicability as robust water repellent surfaces,” Tam said. “It was considered a step forward but it soon became a fundamental science problem because in order to safely and efficiently apply the ceramic coatings, engineers needed to know more about the origin of those water repelling properties.”

During a two-month research internship at Professor Hiromichi Ohta’s laboratory in Hokkaido University, Japan, Tam used specialized equipment to fabricate atomically smooth ceramic surfaces from rare earth oxides in a high vacuum environment. His experiments revealed their water repellent qualities were not innate.

“We now know that there are many more factors to consider before we can reliably apply ceramics as water-repellent coatings on a large industrial scale,” he said.

The Mitacs award is presented to an undergrad, a graduate student or postdoctoral fellow who has made a significant achievement in research through international collaboration during Mitacs-funded research.

Mitacs fosters innovation from academic institutions at home and around the world. It’s funded by the Government of Canada and the provinces, as well as university and industry partners.

This is an edited version of a longer article submitted on behalf of Mitacs.

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