A look at the fascinating work of Audrey Laventure, professor and researcher in materials chemistry and now a member of UdeM’s new Institut Courtois.
The University of Montreal’s Institut Courtois, created with a donation from the Fondation Courtois, brings together leading researchers in chemistry, physics and IT. Its aim is to harness artificial intelligence (AI) to accelerate scientific advances and the development of new materials.
It was only natural for Audrey Laventure, a professor in the Department of Chemistry at UdeM, to join the institute. She holds the Canada Research Chair in Functional Polymer Materials and specializes in materials chemistry and physical chemistry.
Among other things, she is interested in 3D printing of complex functional materials, a field that sounds like science fiction.
To begin with, could you explain what materials chemistry is?
It is the study of matter through the lens of chemistry. Materials chemistry deepens our molecular understanding of matter in order to explain its behaviour and then to control and predict its properties.
In greater detail, materials chemistry encompasses everything related to the design and synthesis of new materials, as well as all new materials manufacturing processes and techniques for characterizing the properties of materials.
You have set up a lab for 3D printing of multifunctional materials. What concrete applications do such materials have?
First of all, I should say that 3D printing is an emerging field in materials science.
3D printing is a manufacturing process that is used to shape materials, and the functional materials produced in this way can have many applications. They can be used in optoelectronics, in photovoltaic devices that convert light energy into electricity, in light-emitting diodes [LEDs], in thermoelectric devices that convert heat into electricity, and so forth. All the functions I’ve mentioned derive from the same property, the ability to carry an electrical conductivity. The materials that do this are called “active.”
All material properties depend on the arrangement of molecules, which is dictated by the manufacture and structure of the material. The molecules of a new material that presents a new structure or has been produced through a new manufacturing process will be organized in a specific way, which will determine its properties, which in turn will determine how well it carries a charge and hence how well it will work in a photovoltaic device or an LED.
The Institut Courtois harnesses expertise in chemistry, physics and AI. How does AI apply to your research?
AI enables us to design more sophisticated and powerful tools with which to analyze our data. It facilitates the analysis of the material properties yielded by various manufacturing processes, allowing us to adjust several parameters at once and to see what properties the changes will produce. So we can move more efficiently towards more optimal preparatory conditions that will lead to the desired property or function.
What do you hope to accomplish at the Institut Courtois?
The Institute is really a meeting place, a unique environment that didn’t exist before for collaboration between departments in the Faculty of Arts and Science, particularly in materials science. I hope this teamwork will serve to create, strengthen and maintain partnerships between chemistry, physics and computer science.
I believe the Institut Courtois will propel us into a digital environment where we can make the discoveries we are hoping for more quickly and push back the frontiers of matter and of fundamental knowledge.