Organizers and nanotechnology engineering students (l-r) Tom Storwick, Irene Lau, Akshayaa Govindan , Alisha Bhanji, Jatin Patil and Mayuran Saravanapavanantham pose with keynote speaker Vladimir Bulovic of MIT at WUNC 2016.

Student organizers (l-r) Tom Storwick, Irene Lau, Akshayaa Govindan , Alisha Bhanji, Jatin Patil and Mayuran Saravanapavanantham pose with Vladimir Bulović of MIT at their 2016 nanotechnology event.

Work is already underway to build later this year on two successful nanotechnology conferences staged by students at the University of Waterloo.

Launched in 2015 to help provide exposure to the latest advances in the field, the Waterloo Undergraduate Nanotechnology Conference (WUNC) doubled attendance at the Mike & Ophelia Lazaridis Quantum-Nano Centre to more than 200 undergrads and high school students in its second year in the fall.

“It takes a lot of work and a lot of dedication, but it’s worth it,” says Jatin Patil, a third-year nanotechnology engineering student now involved in recruiting new organizing committee members for the 2017 edition of the conference.

Katarina Ilic of Voltera spoke and hosted a booth at the 2016 nanotechnology conference.

Katarina Ilic of Voltera spoke and hosted a booth at WUNC 2016.

It was standing room only in November when Vladimir Bulović, the associate dean of innovation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology School of Engineering, quickly revved up the audience with talk of revolutionizing medicine, energy, information technology, manufacturing and more.

According to Bulović, the future will be measured in nanometres – a message that resonated with Patil.

“Nanotechnology is really where every field has to head to make advancements,” he says. “That’s what I love about it.”

Most conferences are aimed at researchers and industry professionals, but Patil and five of his peers at Waterloo Engineering wanted to create an event where undergrads could connect with experts and get career insights.

Attendees in 2016 came from different faculties and from various schools and universities across southern Ontario. One keen conference-goer even made the trek from Calgary.

Sessions reflected the full spectrum of nanotech opportunities, with speakers from multinational companies such as 3M, up-and-coming enterprises including Nicoya Lifesciences and Voltera, and university labs.

Many of the presenters were Waterloo researchers or alumni — not because they were easier to book, but because they represent the leading edge of nano-innovation. As Bulović acknowledged in his keynote address, this region is creating global impact.

The conference’s lunchtime poster session provided strong evidence that Waterloo will continue to spawn game-changing innovations. Poster after poster showcased the results of undergraduate research in everything from 3D printing and micro-robotics, to human biosensors and drug-delivery mechanisms.

Planning starts early for nanotechnology event

Pulling together an event of this size requires plenty of planning. Patil and his team start work early each year to line up speakers, book venues and get the word out.

They have plenty of support within the University, however. The faculties of Science and Engineering, the Office of Research and the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology all backed the 2016 initiative.

Judging by the buzz between sessions, as well as online feedback, WUNC 2016 was a big hit.

Some participants came away inspired to pursue opportunities in industry or launch their own enterprises. For others, the conference reinforced an interest in academic research.

Patil, meanwhile, is happy to make it happen again in 2017.

“Organizing such an event really makes it feel like I’m contributing to the community of Waterloo,” he says.