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This flagship series brings together Parliamentarians with experts in science and engineering, showcasing outstanding Canadian research accomplishments. Its purpose is to provide unbiased insight into topical scientific issues, within a non-partisan forum. This prestigious forum represents a unique opportunity for scientists to communicate important findings to a distinguished and influential audience.

The series is organized by PAGSE, an umbrella group of 25 + science and engineering organizations operating under the auspices of the Royal Society, and is supported by NSERC.


October 4, 2001
by Bommy Lee
Carleton University

Prof. Ted Sargent, Canada Research Chair in Nanotechnology, spoke on Sept. 25, in the West Block of Parliament Hill. The event was the first in a series of breakfast meetings this year hosted by the Partnership Group for Science and Engineering, with the aim to bring experts and policy makers together.

Sargent and his team of researchers at the Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Toronto are at the forefront of developing photonic communications systems. They explore ways to create new materials that integrate inorganic formations with organic substances.

"The kind of research that we're doing in my group is literally hybridizing the inorganic and organic in that we're starting to combine materials like silicon with molecular materials that are more similar in their nature and flexibility to you and me," says Sargent.

He uses the term "optopia" to illustrate the possibilities of such research. Optic utopia is a world of faster, cheaper, more efficient network, rather than point-to-point, communication. It is a realm where physically flexible technologies and wireless communication dominate.

Imagine being able to walk around with a computer screen rolled up like a little scroll in your breast pocket, only to take it out when you need to send an email or check the status of the NASDAQ.

Or, envision a jacket that can convert light energy from the sun into electrical energy. Thus, rather than walking around with cell phones and laptops, one could wear an almost unnoticeable tool for connecting to the Internet or conferencing over the phone. Sargent dubs this idea the "power suit."

On a smaller scale, these ideas are already a commercial reality. Some screens in cell phones and displays found in automobiles are now being made out of organic materials.

"Still, I would think that we're talking a time frame of three to six years in order for us to see some of those more fantastical results becoming available to you and me," says Sargent.

The research Sargent and his team are doing has direct implications for the ways in which we use computers to communicate with one another, doing business and even socializing.

"People still hop on planes to go on trips and to meet with people, but as the ways in which we interact with one another become increasingly sophisticated through machines and through networks, physical proximity will become even less important than before."

"I see the capabilities of the current Internet as being wonderful and remarkable but still rather constrained and not as imaginative as they might be," observes Sargent.

The big challenge is to "create a network in which light eases its way through the network through optical routers and makes it to its destination without ever having to be converted back and forth from the optical to the electronic and back into that optical domain."

But Sargent is optimistic about the future of his team’s research.

"In the long run the kinds of innovations in which we’re engaged are providing a basis for the future economic prosperity of this country."