Cynthia Goh, a professor of physical chemistry in the Faculty of Arts & Science’s Department of Chemistry, and Department of Chemistry alumnus Darren Anderson of VIVE Crop Protection, are co-recipients of the distinguished Synergy Award for Innovation from the National Science and Engineering Research Council (NSERC).
The honour is bestowed in recognition of the thriving partnership between Goh and Vive, a developer of leading agricultural products. The collaboration has resulted in breakthrough science that has enabled the precision delivery of pesticides to enhance production while reducing environmental impact.
“I’m thrilled to be a co-recipient of this honour and excited to share it with my former PhD student, Darren,” says Goh.
“Vive complemented our research into nanomaterials, and the knowledge and insight we gained helped them launch and grow successfully. This has also been a great example of a partnership with industry that’s led to economic development and innovative ideas. It’s also been an opportunity for students, for both training and employment. It’s been an excellent symbiotic relationship.”
Goh’s expertise as founding director of U of T’s renowned Impact Centre — one of Canada’s first entrepreneurship centres — was pivotal to successfully spinning off her nanoparticle research. The award also underlines her extraordinary leadership of the centre over many years, the success of which has ultimately led to its expanded mandate to serve the breadth of the Faculty of Arts & Science under its revised name, the Centre for Entrepreneurship.
In 2004, the Goh research group discovered a simple approach to making nanoparticles based on her fundamental research into the control of polymer structures in solution. This breakthrough means that a wide range of nanomaterials — metals, alloys, oxides, quantum dots, photocatalysts and more — can now be produced in water and under regular temperature and pressure conditions.
In 2006, Goh and her students created Vive — then called Northern Nanotechnologies — to build on and harness the original research. The startup, led by Anderson, raised funding and grew independent of Goh’s lab. The collaboration saw Goh’s lab focus on fundamental research; while Vive focused on developing new products that aligned with its “precision chemistry” approach, which aims to make existing chemical and biological active ingredients better, more effective and more targeted.
“Vive was built by student entrepreneurs in my lab to whom I taught entrepreneurship,” says Goh. “It literally is a result of the first entrepreneurship class I held, in 2004.”
The company launched its first product incorporating Goh’s research in 2017, and its success made Vive one of the fastest growing companies in Canada by 2020. Since then, the partners have obtained 34 additional patents for products developed jointly and seven products currently available in the agricultural market that are used on well over a million acres around the world.
The collaboration has also proven to be an inspiration for innovation. Goh has guided the early phases of over 140 student-led start-ups using her success with Vive Crop Protection as a model.
“There is a history of chemistry research leading to technological advances that provide practical benefits and commercial success,” says Robert Batey, chair of the Department of Chemistry. “The richly deserved award for Cynthia and Darren underscores the importance of research and training in the chemical sciences and how this enables innovation and entrepreneurship. Their research was able to translate fundamental observations into technology development and ultimately marketable products that are addressing an important need in the area of crop protection.”