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Yiheng Qin, Ph.D. '17

Nanofabrication project earns research award

A tiny size doesn’t mean a tiny impact.

It’s a point that Yiheng Qin makes by noting that nanometer-scale (10 to the power of -9 meter) transistors are currently being used by billions (10 to the power of +9) of people around the world in their electronic devices.

The applications of micro and nano engineering are also almost boundless, says Qin, who earned his PhD in Electronics Engineering in 2017.

“This area gives me endless opportunities to explore the beauty of multiple disciplines, including physics, materials, electronics, optics, mechanics, chemistry and biology,” he says.

That cross-disciplinary approach helped Qin develop a sustainable solution to the global problem of water contamination, earning him the 2019 Douglas R. Colton Medal for Research Excellence.

As part of his PhD work, he researched the nanofabrication of novel materials to develop low-cost, real-time, portable technologies to monitor water quality. Developed using readily available and affordable materials, the user-friendly devices provide an alternative to more expensive and complicated water monitoring systems.

“The system was developed for people in resource-limited areas where drinking water quality is problematic,” says Qin. “But even in cities, where water treatment and distributing systems have been in use for decades, drinking water quality is not always ideal.

“I hope the easy-to-use, low-cost, and accurate water quality monitoring system can be deployed at water taps in everyone’s home and at every public drinking water station, so people can be certain what they are drinking and avoid consuming bottled water.”

The commercial potential of his work attracted industrial collaborators Xerox Canada, Voltek Energy Inc., KIK Custom Products Inc. and biomedical giant ChroMedX Ltd.

The Douglas R. Colton Medal, established in 1994 to honour the founding president of CMC Microsystems, recognizes excellence in microsystems research.  The annual award includes a medal and a monetary prize of $4,500.

Qin is currently a senior R&D engineer with ExVivo Labs Inc., a Waterloo-based startup developing next-generation allergy testing devices.