Q & A with Michael Helander
Michael Helander

Michael Helander | Department of Materials Science and Engineering, PhD candidate

Recipient - Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship | Granting Agency: NSERC |
Research Proposal: Fullerene: device physics and applications for high-performance organic optoelectronic devices

1. Can you tell us a little bit about your research?

My research work focuses on the development of organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs) for solid state lighting. OLEDs are the ultimate "green" technology. Not only can they have efficacies much higher than standard incandescent or compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), but they also contain no toxic heavy metals such as mercury or cadmium found in CFLs and traditional inorganic light emitting diodes (LEDs).

One of the key challenges for realization of OLED based lighting is the ability to manufacture devices on flexible plastic substrates. Flexible plastic substrates would allow for roll-to-roll manufacturing, similar to the way paper is printed, which as you can imagine is extremely cheap. Currently the selection of materials for making the electrode contacts in OLEDs is extremely limited, which until now has precluded the use of plastic as sunstrates. In my research I use C60 (bucky ball), a new allotrope of carbon discovered in 1985, to enable a much wider selection of materials as electrodes. Through careful engineering of the electrode/organic contact I am able to fine-tune the OLED characteristics such that nearly any conductive material can be used as an electrode.

2. How does this scholarship help you?

By far the most significant benefit of receiving a Vanier is the freedom to focus on my research as a result of the financial security that the award provides. Obviously receiving a Vanier also provides academic recognition of my work, however, I think that the monetary value of the award is significant enough that it places "real world" value on the research that I am doing.

3. Why did you decide to take Engineering at U of T and/or why did you choose to perform your research at U of T/Canada?

I chose U of T for my undergraduate Engineering education solely based on the reputation of the Engineering Science program. I chose to stay at U of T for my graduate studies due to the vast research resources that are available on campus. In particular, the current laboratory that I work at is the only facility of its kind in Canada, and one of only a handful of such facilities worldwide.

4. Educational/work/research background

I am a hometown boy. U of T Engineering Science (Nano option) 0T7 graduate, currently a PhD candidate in MSE; I bypassed the MASc degree this spring.

From 2005-2007 I worked at the Aerospace Undergraduate Laboratory (AeroLab), part of UTIAS, as a research assistant. Since 2007 I have been a full-time RA in the Lu Group in MSE.

My research work at the AeroLab (which later became the topic of my BASc thesis) focused on the design, development and implementation of a remotely accessible set of laboratory experiments that could be performed by undergraduate Engineering students anywhere in the world over the internet. For my BASc thesis I studied the pedagogical implications of remote labs as a teaching tool in undergraduate Engineering education. My current research focus is as discussed above (response #1).

5. What kind of music do you listen to when you want to relax?

Personally I don't listen to music when I want to relax, I prefer dead silence.  My lab is very loud due to the constant buzzing of equipment, so after a long day of work silence truly is golden.

6. Who do you admire most?

Einstein, not only a great scientist, but also had crazy hair.

7. What inspires your research?

I would have to say that above all else fun inspires my work. I love the work that I do. I wouldn't be here if I didn't wake up every morning happy to go to work. Research to me is like the ultimate kids playground. Everyday I get to go to the lab and play with something new. What other job gives you the freedom to do that.

8. If you had not chosen a career in Engineering, what else would you have done?

Astrophysics! In high school I was very interested in black holes and warped space time. However, when the reality set in that astrophysicists are not in high demand in the job market I decided to do something more practical, hence Engineering.

9. What are you currently reading?

A pile of papers ~ 30 cm tall, which has occupied the corner of my desk for the last six months. Every once in a while I also dig out a textbook at the bottom of the pile, Fundamentals of Quantum Mechanic, for some light reading. Not much time for anything else really.

10. Last words?

I appreciate the recognition by the Faculty.


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