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Dr. Nancy Mathis

Location: Fredericton, NB

Award: Principal Award

Category: Industry

Year: 2003


Developed a unique non-invasive thermal effusivity sensor that determines the heat-transferring characteristics of a wide range of materials. Mathis Instruments Ltd.'s patented sensors are used by major companies around the world for unprecedented quality control of materials in the laboratory, during production and for the testing of finished goods. Read the News Release and Media Backgrounder for additional information.

News Release

Heat Sensor Offers Industries Unprecedented Quality Control

New Brunswick innovator wins top $100,000 Manning Principal Award

Calgary, AB (September 16, 2003) - Mathis Instruments Ltd.'s non-invasive thermal effusivity sensors are providing researchers, manufacturers and quality-control professionals with unprecedented speed, accuracy and flexibility in determining the heat-transferring characteristics of a wide range of materials. Dr. Nancy Mathis, of Fredericton, New Brunswick, has won the annual $100,000 Manning Principal Award for her remarkable innovation, being used in dozens of research and commercial applications in the pharmaceutical, aerospace, automotive, petroleum and electronics industries.

Mathis, President and CEO of Mathis Instruments, developed her sensor technology while doing her Ph.D. in chemical engineering at the University of New Brunswick. Her sensors rapidly and non-destructively measure thermal effusivity and conductivity — unique properties related to a material's ability to transfer heat. "The sensor is almost like a stethoscope in how it measures," Mathis says.

If you touch a piece of metal and a piece of wood that are both at room temperature, for example, the metal feels colder. The sensation occurs because metal has a higher thermal effusivity, so the heat from your hand flows into the metal more quickly than wood. Mathis' patented sensors work just like your hands. They supply the heat source, but they also measure far more subtle changes in temperature and thermal effusivity, to test materials instantly and non-destructively.

Mathis' sensors provide accurate measurements of a material's thermal properties in seconds, compared with conventional techniques and instruments that take hours. Unlike other methods, her sensors don't require meticulous sample preparation or destroy the sample being tested.

These qualities enable Mathis' highly portable and adaptable sensors to be used for quality control of materials in the laboratory, during production, and for the testing of finished goods.

Mathis Instruments has identified dozens of uses for its technology, including the detection of hairline cracks in structural materials, separation of liquids, and contamination in petroleum products. The pharmaceutical industry uses the sensors as an on-line quality control tool, to monitor the uniformity of powder-based medications as they're being blended prior to being pressed into tablets.

Mathis' sensors are used around the world by leading research organizations and major companies, including Wyeth, IBM, Exxon Mobil, Dow Corning, General Electric, Pioneer, Whirlpool, GlaxoSmithKline, and Avery Dennison. Almost 98 per cent of Mathis Instruments' products are exported to customers in the U.S., Britain, Taiwan, China, Korea, Australia, France, Turkey and Brazil.

Dr. Hatsuo Ishida, Director of the NSF Center for Molecular and Microstructure of Composites at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, says: "Nancy Mathis' creative vision is changing the world of quality control."

Mathis has won the $100,000 Manning Principal Award. Since 1982, the annual Manning Awards program has encouraged and recognized leading Canadian innovators with more than $3 million in prize money. This year's four major winners, who will be honoured at the annual gala dinner Oct. 3 in Halifax, will share a total of $145,000.

For more information about the award-winning Mathis Instruments Ltd. Thermal Effusivity Sensor, please contact Nancy Mathis at 1-877-827-7623 or email: nancy@mathisinstruments.com.

For more information about the Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation, please contact Donald Park, Executive Director, at (403)-645-8288 or e-mail: Don.Park@encana.com

Media Backgrounder

$100,000 Manning Principal Award

Dr. Nancy Mathis, Non-Invasive Thermal Effusivity Sensor

When Dr. Nancy Mathis achieved a research breakthrough while working on her Ph.D. thesis, she never dreamed it would lead to her heading a fast-growing, innovative, high-tech company.

Yet today, New Brunswick-based Mathis Instruments Ltd. and its unique thermal effusivity sensors that Mathis developed are revolutionizing the way industries around the world perform quality control of their products and processes.

The company's success is due in large measure to Mathis, who transformed herself from a chemical engineering doctoral student with no previous business experience into the skilled corporate leader her business colleagues describe as the visionary president and CEO of Mathis Instruments.

Her personal "tag line" at the bottom of Mathis' e-mail sums up her vision: "Flexibility, innovation and tenacity define use. Customer support drives us. And our employees make it happen."

In the early 1990s, Mathis was working on her doctoral degree in chemical engineering at the University of New Brunswick (UNB). Dr. Jules Picot, her professor at the time, had conceived an idea for a method to measure the heat-transferring characteristics of materials.

Mathis developed the concept into a working sensor that can rapidly, accurately and non-destructively measure this thermal effusivity as well as thermal conductivity.

She further showed that her sensor can be used in research, manufacturing and quality control for a wide range of products and processes — from making pharmaceutical medications, microchips and military flak jackets, to monitoring for corrosion in natural gas pipelines and aircraft fuselages.

Inspired by the many possibilities, Mathis obtained a U.S. patent on her thermal effusivity sensor.

About the same time, her husband Chris — a mechanical engineer — had completed a program in technology management and entrepreneurship at UNB. In 1995, the husband-and-wife team formed Mathis Instruments to take Mathis' sensor technology to market.

Nancy, as vice-president of research and development at the fledgling company, oversaw the transfer of research-based, prototype instrumentation into marketable production sensors. She helped secure $1.5 million in venture capital financing to keep Mathis Instruments going.

Her infectious enthusiasm and her talent for building strong alliances and developing win-win relationships across many academic and industry sectors impressed the company's board of directors. In the fall of 2000, they appointed her president and chief executive officer.

Shortly afterward, Mathis secured an additional $9.5 million in second-round venture capital financing and government support.

Mathis, 35, says her husband Chris, who is still closely involved in the company on the engineering side, created an environment in the early years of their entrepreneurial venture that enabled her to be innovative and risk-taking and to explore applications for her sensor technology.

She cites as mentors Paul Johnson, partner in Technology Investments Management Corporation, chair of Mathis Instruments' board and an investor, and Robert Samuels, professor of chemical engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. "Few people have the ability and business opportunity to develop the corporate maturity and harness their personal charisma so early in their professional careers," Johnson says of Mathis.

Mathis Instruments' current main market focus for its sensors is the pharmaceutical industry.

To make medications, pharmaceutical companies typically take their active medicinal ingredient and mix it with different powders in machines that are essentially big blenders.

Too much mixing can increase production costs. It can also cause the various particles in the blend to de-mix or separate out of the mixture. Until now, companies have relied on sampling the powder from the blender at intervals, to determine whether the mixture is uniform.

In 1999, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued draft regulations requiring blend-uniformity testing of pharmaceutical powders before they are pressed into tablets. The FDA is currently focusing on process analytical technology initiatives to support the use of on-line measurements during processing — exactly what Mathis' sensors accomplish.

Different powders transfer heat at different rates. This characteristic allows Mathis' sensors — which can be retrofitted on pharmaceutical blenders — to rapidly, accurately and non-destructively monitor the uniformity of medication mixtures during on-line production.

"You can take a measurement in as little as one second," Mathis notes. "All you need is a flat surface."

The Mathis Blend-Tech BT-08TM consists of eight networked sensors that provide relative measurements of the mixture at different locations in the blender as the powders are being mixed. Once all eight sensors report a common thermal value or number, the blend is uniformly mixed.

The result is medications that are uniform, safer and more reliable.

There are an estimated 10,000 primary blenders and 50,000 bin blenders (used for storage and handling) in the worldwide pharmaceutical industry. This represents a market opportunity of over $3 billion for Mathis Instruments.

"The Mathis technology has the potential to revolutionize how blend uniformity is monitored during production," says John DeVivo, director of the process-equipment group at Patterson-Kelley.

Mathis Instruments has identified dozens of potential applications for its sensors, which include a miniaturized new generation of a device small enough to fit on the end of your baby finger.

The company has grown to 25 employees located in a 6,000-square-foot facility. Its technology has won several accolades, including Research & Development Magazine's R&D 100 Award, and has been featured in Atlantic Progress magazine and on CBC and CTV television.

While becoming a captain of industry, Mathis was also a founder of her community's College Hill Daycare Co-op Ltd., a university professor, the first coordinator of a new program providing free help to students to develop their mathematical skills, and she remains an active church member.

Her company recently received $2 million from the Atlantic Innovation Fund to work on an advanced thermal effusivity sensor that could be used to measure segregation in liquids or be laid as a networked web of sensors over large pieces of composite material, such as an airplane fuselage.

Continuous innovation and tenacity are required to succeed as an innovator, Mathis says. "I could not have done any of this without being absolutely tenacious. I won't let go of my vision."

The Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation

This year, Manning Innovation Awards presents $145,000 in prize money distributed among four leading Canadian innovators, as well as $20,000 among eight Canada-Wide Science Fair winners. Since 1982, the Foundation has awarded over $3 million to recognize Canadian innovators.

Media contacts (photos available):

Mathis Instruments Ltd.

Nancy Mathis, President & CEO

Phone: 1-877-827-7623

Email: nancy@mathisinstruments.com

Website: www.mathisinstruments.com

Donald Park, Executive Director

Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation

Phone: (403)-645-8288

Website: www.manningawards.ca