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Dr. Seyyedarash (Arash) Haddadi

Dr. Seyyedarash (Arash) Haddadi

Polymer Engineering, PhD, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of British Columbia, Okanagan Campus

Sometimes necessity is the mother of invention. The need to protect people from COVID-19 inspired researcher’s innovation in face mask coatings.

In March 2020, Dr. Seyyedarash (Arash) Haddadi was pursuing postdoctoral research at the University of British Columbia (UBC)’s Okanagan Campus on anticorrosion coatings for metallic parts. Then the pandemic hit — prompting him to shift his thinking. “I wanted to help in the fight against COVID-19 and do something to help keep people safe,” says Dr. Haddadi.

So, he redirected his initial graphene research from metals to fabrics — devising an antiviral coating for face masks from a graphene oxide-silver combination. “I wrote a proposal for a project on the application of coatings to different materials and after getting approval, I moved to Ontario to work on the project with a company called Zentek,” says Dr. Haddadi.

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Funding under Mitacs Elevate program enabled innovation

Dr. Haddadi received funding for this project under Mitacs’ two-year Elevate program, which he learned about from his supervisor at UBC. Mitacs is a Canadian non-profit research organization that partners with industry, academia, and government to provide research and training programs related to industrial and social innovation. The Elevate program includes a management training program and a postdoctoral fellowship. “UBC remained my academic partner and Zentek became my industry partner,” says Dr. Haddadi.

The result of nearly one and a half years of exploration, trial, and error was a face mask coating that is low cost to make and more than 99.9 percent effective against the transmission of both person-to-person airborne pathogens and surface pathogens of the COVID-19 virus.

Mitacs helped me commercialize my research in two important ways . . . First, as a university graduate from Iran, Mitacs introduced me to research and industry in Canada. And secondly, the stipend Mitacs provided enabled me to focus on my research and discovery.

Mask coating granted Health Canada approval

In September of 2021, the first mask using this coating received approval from Health Canada, and Zentek (formerly ZEN Graphene Solutions) subsequently made its first commercial sale, marketed as ZenGuardTM to TreboRX Corp., an Ontario-based company.

Zentek has also responded to the anticipated demand by investing $15 million to scale up production to reach 800 million antimicrobial masks per month. In addition to achieving a robust number of sales of his product in short time, Dr. Haddadi received the prestigious 2021 Mitacs Award for Commercialization, awarded by the National Research Council (NRC).

Dr. Haddadi is grateful to Mitacs for the experience. “Mitacs helped me commercialize my research in two important ways,” says Dr. Haddadi. “First, as a university graduate from Iran, Mitacs introduced me to research and industry in Canada. And secondly, the stipend Mitacs provided enabled me to focus on my research and discovery,” he says.

Additionally, as part of the Elevate management training component, Dr. Haddadi learned valuable business skills such as project management, how to write business proposals, and how to apply for a patent.

Haddadi’s success is an example of how Mitacs’ academic and industry partnerships empower Canadian innovation. Founded in 1999 with an original focus on applied and industrial mathematics, Mitacs today supports a wide range of disciplines, from STEM to social innovation, working with college and undergraduate students, as well as new graduates and postdocs like Dr. Haddadi.

We know that partnerships are key to Canada’s innovation success . . . The collaboration between Dr. Haddadi and Zentek which has led to the development and commercialization of a new antiviral coating for face masks is a perfect example of how academic expertise and a willing industry partner — brought together by Mitacs — can work to create innovations that benefit all of us.

“We know that partnerships are key to Canada’s innovation success,” says John Hepburn, CEO of Mitacs. “The collaboration between Dr. Haddadi and Zentek which has led to the development and commercialization of a new antiviral coating for face masks is a perfect example of how academic expertise and a willing industry partner — brought together by Mitacs — can work to create innovations that benefit all of us,” he says.

For his part, Dr. Haddadi is hoping to apply his existing innovation to solving other problems. “We are still working to optimize this coating and test it in other applications, he says.

By building a world-class, diverse community of innovators through its collaborative model, attracting and deploying top talent to industry, and matching need with expertise, Mitacs is helping to create ambitious solutions to real world challenges.

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