Pictured: Ada, photographed by Fraser Parlane, PhD Candidate, Berlinguette Group, UBC.

Natural Resources Canada and the National Research Council of Canada announced a partnership with Forschungszentrum Jülich and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany in the formation of the German–Canadian Materials Acceleration Centre (GC-MAC). This new Centre, co-located in both Germany and Canada, will be a joint hub for advanced energy materials development and represents an important milestone for Canadian and German research collaborators in a year where Canada and Germany are celebrating 50 years of science and technology co-operation.

GC-MAC-affiliated researchers will include Curtis Berlinguette, Professor, UBC Department of Chemistry, who will serve as an “Associated Expert” with the project. Berlinguette will bring his leadership and expertise with “Ada”, an artificially intelligent, self-contained, and self-driving laboratory which has given rise to new, complementary initiatives to fast-track thin-film materials research, and which will have direct ties to the GC-MAC.

The primary goal of the GC-MAC is to expedite the development and deployment of new energy technologies, with an aim to meet or exceed Canada’s and Germany’s clean energy targets through the development of efficient, carbon neutral applications. But the development and optimization of new materials for industry can be a lengthy process, and the urgency of finding clean alternatives to existing fuel sources is increasing. Researchers including Berlinguette have been working to accelerate research in thin-film materials through automation.

“Using flexible automation, we are able to readily adapt and expand our platforms for different types of materials and workflows,” said Berlinguette. “This is in contrast to other approaches that use expensive, highly-customized commercial robotic platforms that are rigidly designed for particular tasks. Project Ada is a home-grown example for other materials research projects; the effort to help build self-driving lab capacity began here in Canada with Ada.”

Project Ada launched in 2018 in response to a Mission Innovation call for a global effort to develop self-driving laboratories. Ada is a self-driving laboratory that conducts experiments autonomously and “learns” how to optimize thin-film materials in a continuous loop, refining its process through machine learning. Through this process, materials can be developed, tested and moved to market with less expense and on a much shorter timeline.

Project Ada was first funded by Natural Resources Canada in 2018. By 2019, the Ada team had built the first fully functional Ada platform; they have since authored a milestone proof-of-concept paper showing that Ada can be effective in the search for new material formulations with desirable properties.

Canada and Germany are celebrating 50 years of science and technology co-operation in 2021. This partnership fosters skills training, research exchange and expertise sharing, thriving on access to world-class know-how and infrastructure in both countries.

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