The Backhouse Lab. or Applied Miniaturisation Lab. (AML).
QNC 3508

Group Research (past and present)

  • Biomedical engineering, MEMS/MOEMS and CMOS integration 
  • Quantum devices (High and low Tc tunnel devices, nanobiotechnology-based devices)
  • Lab on chip devices and medical diagnostics
  • Microelectronic and optoelectronic (III-V) semiconductor devices
  • Remote sensing and radio astronomy/astrophysics 

The AML has developed a very wide range of systems, devices and applications over the years. These have ranged from quantum devices for real-time, non-invasive imaging of brain activity, to microfluidic genetic analysis instrumentation. 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. Often a project will go into stasis while we wait for the right person. A developing area of this research is the use of lab-ob-chip devices to explore quantum effects in biological systems. 

Philosophy of Our Approach

In my lab we seek to better understand the key mechanisms of the phenomena and technologies around us, typically as we develop applications of interest to industry. In this way we balance basic and applied research. Although we are interested in some of the big long-range questions, our activities are based on cycles of design, build and test. Our projects have ranged from trying to put a medical diagnostic on a USB key, to imaging brain activity with quantum devices.

  • Some of my research is very practical: how inexpensive can a genetic diagnostic be?
  • Some of my research is fundamental: is the brain a quantum device, and can we test that?
As my longest range research, I am curious about the role that quantum mechanics plays in biology and seek to develop new quantum devices based on nanobiotechnology.

Why most students would not fit in my lab

  • My lab is quite experimental and each student will typically design their own system from first principles, build it, and test it. This usually involves some combination of microfabrication, microelectronics, optics, programming and analytical chemistry or molecular biology.
  • Before you can build anything you need to know the underlying mechanisms and do some designing, often involving some combination of differential equations, simulations or analytical formulae.
  • This is far more work than in a lab based on using pre-existing equipment or that is computationally-based.
  • Those that do well in my lab are usually those that have worked with their hands in some way, such as with a hobby, training as an artisan, work on a farm, fixing a car or with prior laboratory experience. Most people have little hands-on experience and this lack of experience leaves them with little intuition, and no foundation upon which to build intuition.
  • Those that do well in my lab are always those that are bright and have 'grit' - tenacity, commitment and motivation.


For those still reading (!), my lab occasionally has an opening for a suitable graduate student within an existing and ongoing project (typically with an industrial partner). I am interested in exploring possible fits with any student with a scholarship and a strong interest in this kind of hands-on, idea-driven research. This research is often interdisciplinary (but not always). My PhD students have either gone straight into employment or have won postgraduate awards that supported them to go and work where they most wanted to be. Given that the mandate of a Canadian faculty member is to train future researchers in Canada, I am most interested in Canadian or permanent residents. My lab could be a paradise for the right person, but would be a painful experience for someone unless they are willing to work hard with both their brain and their hands.

In my experience, the people best-suited for this kind of research tend to come from a Physics, Electrical Engineering, Engineering Physics, Nanotechnology Engineering, Analytical Chemistry or similar background. That said, my lab works in a very multidisciplinary environment, with clinicians, public health specialists, chemists and biologists, so I would not rule out someone with such a background as long as they had hands-on experience.

However, for those that fit, the experience of working in my lab will be formative. Once a student has sufficient experience, he/she will have a guiding intuition, an understanding of the principles involved, and an ability to design systems that work. At that point the student will likely be building things that have never been made before, and possibly seeing something never before seen.

If you fit these criteria for an opening, please arrange to meet me by sending me a C.V. and cover letter. Please bring something you have designed and built to our meeting! If you have a scholarship then I would like to hear what you would propose to do. I am happy to make suggestions, but most interested in where you would like to take things. If you use email, please use the subject line "ATTN: Grad".


Most of our fabrication is done in our own lab using rapid prototyping methods (laser and CNC milling machines) to build devices at the scale of 10 um or more. We also use the fabrication and training facilities of the Quantum Nanofab, the Giga to Nano Centre, and the Engineering Machine Shop, particularly for smaller feature sizes or unusual needs. Our lab is set up to build MEMS and microfluidic devices as well as the electronic and optical instrumentation to run them. We also have a fairly complete set of equipment and infrastructure for implementing molecular biology protocols, including level 2 biohazard-handling.

People and Gallery

Pictures of our people in Waterloo and Alberta, can be found in our Gallery (see tab).