Each year for the past 33 years, the Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation has recognized Canadians who have developed and successfully marketed their breakthrough ideas. This year’s four winners, unveiled exclusively at Macleans.ca, hail from diverse backgrounds. But they all are responsible for innovations that could affect the world in big ways.
Here are this year’s winners of the Manning innovation awards, who will receive their awards at a ceremony in Ottawa on Oct. 22:
Paul Santerre for his work reducing blood clots caused by medical devices in patients
Tigran Galstian, who developed liquid crystal technology to replace the mechanical focus in camera phones
Charles Deguire for developing a robotic arm that’s changing the lives of people with limited mobility
Glenn Cox, who found a new way to quickly plug dangerous leaks in tanks before they cause environmental damage
Surface modifying macromolecules
$100,000 principal award
One of the biggest influences on Paul Santerre’s drive to invent wasn’t a fellow doctor or researcher—it was a patient. In 1982, Barney Clark captured the world’s attention when he became the first recipient of an artificial heart. While the transplant was a milestone, Clark died after 112 days, during which he suffered multiple strokes and blood clots caused by the foreign plastic in his body.
A few years later, Santerre was studying the way blood and plastics interact while he was at McMaster University earning a Ph.D in chemical engineering. Riveted by Clark’s story, he wondered if there was a way to help patients like him—and do it in an affordable way.
Santerre was born in Campbellton, N.B., the son of a high school teacher and a driving school examiner. He had a passion for science, amazed that, by putting together atoms “like Lego blocks,” materials could be formed that could send people to space. While doing an Honours B.Sc. in chemistry at Dalhousie University in Halifax, he spent a summer program studying the reactions of DNA to plastic, piquing his interest in polymers, biology and biomedical engineering.
Santerre was passionate about applying chemical engineering to serious medical problems. Inspired by Clark, he began working on a solution to the clotting problem caused when foreign plastics are introduced to blood. Blood clots that form on the surface of plastics, such as catheters, can become deadly if they break off into the bloodstream and plug a blood vessel, where they can cause heart attacks or strokes. Scientists had found that coating the surface of a polymer after manufacturing prevented blood platelets from reacting, but the process was costly. Over the next decade, Santerre worked to develop a way to modify the plastic’s surface during the manufacturing process, so that an added step would no longer be necessary—cutting costs immensely.
“I’m an engineer,” says Santerre. “You make things that work, as cheaply as possible.” In 1995, he patented Endexo surface-modifying macromolecules, an additive that stabilized the inside and outside of a PICC (peripheral inserted central catheter) to reduce clotting during in vitro testing by 87 per cent, a claim supported by subsequent clinical tests. The BioFlo PICC catheter, invented by AngioDynamics, became the first medical device to use Endexo technology and has sold thousands in Canada and the U.S. following Health Canada and FDA approval in 2011 and 2012, respectively.
He hopes it will help future Barney Clarks. Complications related to PICC clots are estimated to cost the U.S. health care system $1 billion and 50,000 deaths per year. Santerre, now a professor at the University of Toronto’s faculty of dentistry and the Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering, is currently working with vendors to drive costs down even lower—a must in today’s cost-sensitive health care climate. Sarah Barmak
Tunable liquid crystal lens
$25,000 David E. Mitchell Award of Distinction
As advanced as smartphones have become, many still rely on simple electo-mechanical motors when it comes to focusing their camera lenses. Known as voice coil motors, they are made up of tiny bundles of copper wire that create a magnetic field when electricity is applied, causing physical parts in the camera lens to move. It’s a costly and inefficient process that is one of the barriers to making smartphones more affordable.
Enter Tigran Galstian and the tunable liquid crystal lens, a technology poised to make the mechanical focus in camera phones and other devices obsolete.
Liquid crystals are already widely used in liquid-crystal display (LCD) TVs, but the technology’s potential is far from tapped. It’s not crystal. And it’s not liquid. Instead it is a state of matter that looks like something between the two, says Galstian. “Like glass.”
The defining characteristic of a liquid crystal is that its molecules are naturally aligned in the same direction. It is this alignment that makes them ideal for the job of focusing a lens. When electricity is applied to the glass-like matter, its molecules reorient in a non-uniform way, causing the liquid crystal to layer and focus light. Different voltages change the molecular orientation, modifying the focal distance of the lens. “If we realign the molecules of liquid crystals, it can become a ‘molecular’ lens or prism, like if a piece of glass would suddenly start to focus or steer light,” says Galstian, professor at the centre for optics, photonics and laser at Laval University.
Galstian was born in Armenia and was convinced by a team of touring researchers to continue his university training at the Moscow Engineering Physics Institute. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Galstian moved to France; from there he moved his family to Canada, joining Laval 19 years ago.
Galstian became interested in liquid crystals as a potential lens about 15 years ago, when, after observing researchers work on new liquid crystal materials, he saw how one such material showed the potential for molecular reorientation. But electronically tunable liquid crystal lenses were considered “laboratory curiosities” in the physics world before Galstian developed the technology into something reliable and affordable to manufacture.
Galstian’s work caught the attention of optical systems specialist Thomas Killick, who saw the product’s mass-market potential in smartphones and other devices. In 2006, Killick and Galstian, with the help of tech startup maven Derek Proudian, founded LensVector in Silicon Valley. Under the guidance of Howard Earhart, LensVector’s CEO, the company’s products are entering the marketplace. The technology is used in some webcams for auto focus and has won awards for its silent and low-power focus performance.
Now some smartphone companies (their names aren’t being disclosed at this time) are looking to integrate the technology. The liquid crystal lens is currently circulating in test phones in China, and Galstian hopes it will be approved for mass production shortly. The technology is also being tested as a way to improve eyesight, with contact lens and intraocular lens companies exploring whether it can help the eye better focus on different distances. It’s also being looked at by health professionals for use in endoscopic procedures.
Galstian believes none of what he has achieved would have happened had he not come to Canada. “I’ve lived in many countries,” he says. “And I sincerely believe that my success in research and development work, including liquid crystal lenses, is because I live in Canada.” Toban Dyck
$10,000 innovation award
Inventor of a robotic arm for those who can’t move on their own, Charles Deguire named it after his late great-uncle Jacques Forest, an inventor in his own right afflicted with muscular dystrophy. Deguire grew up in a family of entrepreneurs and business owners who instilled in him a passion for inventing and working for himself.
As a boy, he’d spend summers at the family’s house in Bonaventure in Gaspésie, on Quebec’s coast near New Brunswick. There, he would visit his mother’s three uncles, all of whom had the disease. Every summer, he says, he looked on as they lost more of their ability to do simple tasks like move around, open doors and eat meals. One of them, Jacques (or Jaco, as everyone called him), who had lost his ability to walk by age 18, had an ingeniously inventive mind. One summer, using materials he had at hand, including the bendable arm of a desk lamp, the brake cables from a bicycle and motors taken from a windshield wiper, he designed Manipulo, an artificial arm for himself that extended from the back of his wheelchair.
Deguire remembers the day the mechanical arm allowed Jaco to give something back to the family that washed and fed him every day. “One of his first tasks was to get a rose in the yard and offer it to his sister,” he says.
Deguire studied at École de technologie supérieure in Montreal, earning a bachelor degree in electrical engineering and a certificate in robotic electrical engineering. One year before he finished his degree, he realized that he wanted to devote his knowledge to finishing what Jaco had started.
“It struck me that we were sending robots to space, and there was still no solution for people like my uncle to drink a glass of water on their own,” he says. He partnered with his friend and fellow student Louis-Joseph Caron L’Écuyer in founding Kinova Inc., and set about designing a six-axis, three-finger robotic arm that could be manipulated by someone with limited mobility. Deguire says the Jaco—as he named his invention—works because he designed it to do the specific, real-world tasks that people need, such as opening drawers and lifting forks. Launched in 2010, the Jaco’s customers include individuals as well as 27 universities, companies and research labs in 16 countries, including NASA, Toyota and the Netherlands’ health authority.
Deguire says the Jaco is used by more people in the Netherlands, where it is covered by insurance, than it is in Canada, where it costs $35,000 out of pocket. Deguire is now trying to get his invention covered by Canadian public health care insurers. Sarah Barmak
See the Jaco arm in action:
$10,000 innovation award
In the mid-1990s Glenn Cox was an RCMP officer on Vancouver Island when he was dispatched to an overturned tanker on a remote highway. As diesel fuel gushed onto the road and into a ditch from a two-inch puncture in the tank, neither the police nor firefighters on the scene had any way to stop it. It took another three hours for a special emergency crew to arrive. Cox watched as they mixed powder and water together to create a putty-like substance. After applying it to the gash, the crew then used a shovel to hold a piece of plywood over the area until the spill was reduced to a trickle. By then most of the environmental damage had been done. “There’s got to be a better way,” he thought at the time, but then largely forgot the incident.
More than a decade later, in 2007, Cox was working in the risk-management division of an insurance company when he was reminded of the diesel spill. While attending a seminar on remediating spill sites, Cox realized crews were still using the putty-plywood method to plug leaks. Spill technology had stagnated.
Cox, an FBI-trained forensic artist, sat down and sketched out his idea for a solution, drawing on materials he knew could be found at the local dollar store. The result was Rupture‑Seal, a silicone-based product that can plug a hole or gash in seconds—just tear open the package, insert the zip-like cord into the hole and then pull it tight, pressing the silicone pad over the gash. “It’s able to plug ruptures in chemical tanks, fuel tanks, anything that has a leak,” says Cox, president and CEO of Zengo Innovations, the company he launched to market his inventions. “Even the hull of a ship.”
Since its launch in 2012 RuptureSeal has become a favoured tool for spill-response crews and is now deployed in 33 countries. The devices are manufactured in Canada using Canadian-made components. Among the largest users are federal environment agencies in Canada and the U.S., as well as the Royal Canadian Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard.
Cox initially conceived of the RuptureSeal to fix holes two inches or larger. But after consulting with the fire department in Charlottetown, Cox learned that the vast majority of spills they responded to involved punctures of two inches or smaller. Cox listened, and now kits come in three sizes of the hand-held sealers.
Cox is happy to know his invention is helping to save lives and the environment. “I’ve always been passionate about the environment,” he says, attributing this love in part to his time as a young Boy Scout. “Life, safety and environmental protection are far too important for us not to do everything we can to protect them.”
There are more products coming down the pipeline for Zengo, but Cox is keeping the details to himself for now. Besides, Rupture-Seal keeps him busy enough, touring trade shows and convincing the market that rather than spend heavily on spill cleanup after the fact, it would be better to invest upfront to stop leaks before they get worse. All it takes is a few seconds. Toban Dyck
See the RuptureSeal in action:
The deadline for nominations for the 2015 awards is Dec. 1, 2014. For submission details, go to manningawards.ca.