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Lab Manager Emily Hopkins adjusts the Vici HPLC in the Aspuru-Guzik laboratory. (Photo by Johnny Guatto)

The University of Toronto has launched the Acceleration Consortium (AC), a new global coalition of academia, industry and government that will use artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics to accelerate the design and discovery of materials that don’t yet exist. These advanced materials will make technologies more affordable and eco-friendly with applications ranging from renewable energy and consumer electronics to drugs.

By leveraging the power of AI, robotics, engineering and chemistry, the AC will make U of T a global centre for materials science innovation. Using materials acceleration platforms (MAPs), also known as self-driving laboratories, the AC will rapidly design and discover the materials needed to build a more sustainable, prosperous and healthy future. The AC is led by Professor Alán Aspuru-Guzik with support from the Faculty of Arts & Science, in partnership with the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering and the Division of the Vice-President, Research and Innovation.

“AI is changing the way we do science,” said Aspuru-Guzik, Director of the Acceleration Consortium, Canada 150 Research Chair in Theoretical Chemistry in the Departments of Chemistry and Computer Science at U of T and Canada CIFAR AI Chair at the Vector Institute. “The Acceleration Consortium’s self-driving laboratories will revolutionize advanced materials innovation by reducing the time and cost to develop new materials from an average of 20 years and $100 million, to as little as one year and $1 million.”

New advanced materials with superior performance characteristics are required for renewable and clean energy storage, sustainable polymers and packaging for consumer products, biomedical applications, drugs and therapeutics, lighter and stronger building materials, quantum computing, communication technology, eco-friendly transportation, and a host of other applications.

“Global issues require a global response. U of T is proud to launch the Acceleration Consortium to drive materials innovation through collaboration between experts across the University and around the world, including government, industry and emerging companies, and our academic peers,” said Christine Allen, associate vice-president and vice provost Strategic Initiatives.

The AC is U of T’s latest Institutional Strategic Initiative and bringing together over 50 top researchers from across the University of Toronto and round the world to tackle key issues.

“With a primary focus on materials design in the areas of energy, the environment, structural and biomedical applications, this cross-disciplinary partnership epitomizes knowledge transfer and collaboration across scholarly expertise at U of T,” said Chris Yip, dean of the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering.

“We take pride in a legacy of innovation and discovery that has changed the way we think about the world and respond to society’s most pressing social, economic and environmental questions,” said Melanie Woodin, dean of the Faculty of Arts & Science at U of T. “I am excited to participate in this enterprise that will advance us in new areas of scientific inquiry.”

The Acceleration Consortium will focus on three objectives:

  • Driving the design of MAPs to accelerate the discovery of new materials and make fundamental breakthroughs in AI, robotics, computational and materials science;
  • Establishing a global network of academic institutions, tech companies, and entrepreneurs dedicated to materials innovation;
  • Creating a nationwide training program for the next generation of researchers.

Together, these activities are intended to foster a robust and agile innovation ecosystem. AC members will capitalize on shared knowledge, commercialize technological breakthroughs more easily to address real market needs and create a talent pipeline that drives industry, launches start-ups, and attracts venture capital. AC initiatives will include workshops, conferences, hackathons, postdoctoral fellowships, a Master’s program and a laboratory facility to provide training and access to self-driving laboratories for all AC members.

Current partners include Chemspeed, CIFAR, Creative Destruction Lab, National Research Council of Canada, Natural Resources Canada, SLAS and the Vector Institute. Within the ecosystem, the AC is also part of a Global Acceleration Network that includes A3MD, Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) – Materials and Manufacturing Directorate, Centre for Computer Assisted Synthesis, Institute for Digital Molecular Design and Fabrication (DigiFAB), Materials Innovation Factory, Molecular Maker Lab Institute, and Open Reaction Database.

“By creating these new materials, the Acceleration Consortium will help improve the lives of Canadians by addressing challenges in health, climate change, urbanization and economic development,” said Ed Clark, Board Chair, Vector Institute and former President and CEO of TD Bank Group. “The AC’s efforts will also directly support our country’s post-COVID-19 economic recovery by generating commercialization opportunities, onshoring manufacturing, increasing productivity, and even sparking the creation of companies and industries that do not yet exist.”


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