Dr. Christopher James Backhouse, Professor, P.Eng.
Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering and
Waterloo Institute of Nanotechnology,
University of Waterloo,
200 University Avenue West,
Waterloo, Ontario, N2L 3G1, Canada

Phone: 519-888-4567 ext. 31467
Office: QNC 3622

A Brief Biography

Professor Chris Backhouse has developed a wide range of devices and instrumentation, both in industry and in academic research. He received his BSc in Physics at the University of Alberta in 1985 and was awarded the Louis B. Crosby Gold Medal. He received an MSc (Radio Astronomy, 1987), and PhD (Electrical Engineering, 1992) at the University of British Columbia, Canada. Following graduation, he held academic and industrial postdoctoral fellowships in electrochemistry (UBC) and quantum device development for non-invasive medical imaging (CTF Systems). In a subsequent collaboration between Canadian industry and an international partner (Applied Biosystems), he developed large-scale microchips and their fabrication technologies for use in the Human Genome Project. As an offshoot of this work, he led an industrial research team in developing genetic analysis instrumentation that was ultimately sold around the world. In 1999, he moved from industry to the University of Alberta where he was a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering from 1999-2011  as well as being the Director of the Engineering Physics program. In 2011, he moved to the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Waterloo. From 2012-2014 he was  the Director of the Nanotechnology Engineering program.

His research (in his lab, the Applied Miniaturisation Laboratory, AML), is directed to making important technologies more accessible through miniaturisation and integration, and to use these technologies to explore new frontiers. A particular focus is with nanobiotechnologies and medical diagnostics. Now that nanoelectronics (in the form of CMOS) are integral to every aspect of our lives and industry, the impact of doing the same with nanobiotechnologies would clearly be dramatic. Working with industry, this ongoing work has led to the AML's medical diagnostic instrumentation decreasing in cost by a factor of about 5 each year. This work was recognised by the Summit Award for Project Achievement in 2008 and the National Award for an Engineering Project in 2009. Other research areas have involved electrochemistry, radio-isotope manufacture, remote sensing and radio astronomy. Present activities are largely focused upon lab-on-chip devices and applications, often with CMOS integration. A developing area of his research is the use of lab-on-chip devices to explore quantum effects in biological systems.

A Chronology

  • B.Sc. (Physics) at the University of Alberta, 1985 and awarded the Louis B. Crosby Gold Medal
  • M.Sc. (Physics & Radio Astronomy) at the University of British Columbia, 1987
    Studied the supernova remnant G109 and mapped the galactic plane at a wavelength of 6 cm using the 300 ft telescope in Green Bank, West Virginia. The resulting map was used in a SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) project and to study pulsars.
  • Ph.D. (Electrical Engineering) at the University of British Columbia, 1992
    In a quest to understand anomalies in my radio astronomy data I was led to study instabilities in III-V transistors, eventually being able to ascribe the anomalies not to alien civilisations but instead to copper contamination in the GaAs transistors used as RF detectors.
  • Research Scientist at CTF Systems Inc. (Vancouver, B.C.), 1993-1995
    At CTF I worked on the development of high-temperature superconducting devices (SQUIDs). These quantum devices form the basis of a powerful method of non-invasive imaging - magnetoencephalography.
  • Research Associate (Electrical Engineering) at the University of Alberta, 1995-1996
    In this work I developed improved methods of physical vapour deposition for building high-aspect ratio structures in collaboration with industry.
  • P.Eng. Certification (APEGGA, Engineering Physics) 1996
  • Scientist (AMC, now Micralyne), Edmonton 1996-1998
  • Senior Scientist (AMC, now Micralyne), Edmonton 1998-1999
    In those years of the Human Genome Project, at Micralyne I worked closely with Applied Biosystems International (ABI) in the development of what was then the world's largest microchip - a microfluidic array that was over 50 cm long. These arrays were designed to perform the sequencing in the ABI 3700 - the workhorse of the human genome project. In related work, I led the project to develop Micralyne's Microfluidic Toolkit, a system designed to perform lab on a chip electrophoresis. This toolkit has been sold around the world.
  • Associate Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering, U. of Alberta, 1999-2004
  • Adjunct Professor, Biomedical Engineering, Faculty of Medicine, U. of Alberta, 2001-2011
  • Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering, U. of Alberta, 2004-2011
  • Sabbatical at Philips High Technology Centre in Eindhoven, The Netherlands, 2007-2008 (1 year)
  • Director, Engineering Physics Program, Electrical and Computer Engineering, U. of Alberta, 2008-2011
  • Summit Award for Project Achievement, awarded by the Association of Professional Engineers, Geologists, and Geophysicists of Alberta (APEGGA) in 2008
  • National Award for an Engineering Project, awarded by Engineers Canada in 2009
  • Adjunct Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering, U. of Alberta, 2011-present
  • Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering, U. of Waterloo, 2011-present
  • Director, Nanotechnology Engineering Program, Electrical and Computer Engineering, U. of Waterloo, 2012-2014