Thomas Thundat

Thomas Thundat

Canada Excellence Research Chair in Oil Sands Molecular Engineering

University of Alberta

“Thomas Thundat bridges basic research and industry application with an impressive track record of commercialization. He is a terrific addition to the University of Alberta team researching energy and environment.”

― Indira Samarasekera, president, University of Alberta


Thomas Thundat is a world leader in the study of molecules and nanoscale structures at interfaces. He has pioneered new techniques for detecting molecules on surfaces, even in trace quantities, and has developed new sensors that have tremendous potential applications for oilsands processing.

Before becoming Canada Excellence Research Chair in Oil Sands Molecular Engineering, Thundat was a corporate fellow and leader of the Nanoscale Science and Devices Group at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. He was also a research professor at the University of Tennessee and a visiting professor at the University of Burgundy, France. Thundat holds a PhD in physics from the University at Albany, State University of New York, and a master’s from the Indian Institute of Technology in Madras, India. He has more than 300 publication credits in leading international journals and textbooks, and holds 32 patents.

Internationally recognized for his work, Thundat has received several awards, including the Young Scientist Award from the US Department of Energy, the Pioneer Award from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the Nano50 Award, and the Scientific American 50 Award. He was also twice named the Oak Ridge National Laboratory Inventor of the Year.

Developing Sustainable Techniques for Oil Sands Recovery

The massive landscapes of Alberta's oilsands represent a multi-billion dollar economic operation. And yet, the key to whether the oil they hold can be successfully extracted and refined lies in micro-scale chemical processes, such as the complex interaction of water and bitumen, and of sand and clay. If scientists can understand more about the complex processes happening both underground and during oil recovery, they will be able to develop cheaper and more energy-efficient methods of extraction.

Thomas Thundat, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Oil Sands Molecular Engineering, is developing new detection and extraction technologies to improve the overall efficiency of how Canada’s oilsands are processed. These tools will help establish a basic understanding of oil sands interfaces and will eventually lead to extraction processes that are more energy-efficient, use less water, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

His research program will enhance the University of Alberta’s existing expertise in oilsands research, and will bring together leading-edge researchers in nanotechnology, biomedical engineering, information communications technologies, and natural and energy resource management.

The work being done in Thundat’s lab is leading to more sustainable techniques for oil extraction and refinement, greatly reducing the environmental impact of the oil industry and helping Canada better meet its emissions reduction targets.



Release date

October 11, 2011

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Read the Transcript

Thomas Thundat, University of Alberta

The goal of my research is basically to understand the fundamental processes involved in the oil sands, mainly oilsand interface.

So we will be developing tools and techniques to understand the mechanisms. Also, it will help to develop better suppression techniques.

This research will lead to developing techniques and tools for efficient separation techniques that will be energy efficient, also less polluting.

The career achievement that I have is developing nano-mechanical sensors, which are miniature micro-fabricated sensors that can be used for bio-sensing to chemical sensing to environmental sensing to even to homeland security.

What attracted me to the University of Alberta is the people there. They have stellar faculty who's doing amazing work. And also the facilities. They have many resources.