Photo: Entropy Labs co-founder Mark Zaidi in the Koivisto Lab for Advanced Solar Design & Innovation. Photo: Clifton Li

Photo: Entropy Labs co-founder Mark Zaidi in the Koivisto Lab for Advanced Solar Design & Innovation. Photo: Clifton Li

Two great minds, one powerful substance


Innovative student startup takes shape at the Science Discovery Zone

It’s been a busy year for undergraduate students Mark Zaidi, Biology, and Leslie Capobianco, Biomedical Science – the pair became friends, joined the Science Discovery Zone and started a business called external, Entropy Labs. They have discovered a more economical and sustainable method to produce aerogel – an insulating substance that is three times more expensive (per gram) than gold. Although Entropy Labs is in the research and development phase, they have already won $20,400 in awards and grants to support growth and experimentation.

Aerogel, a silica-based substance, is the third-lightest material ever made and is the world’s best insulator. First developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Labs in the 1930s, aerogel is currently used to line rockets, space suits and collect comet dust. Beyond space exploration, Entropy Labs saw numerous applications for the substance, but because cost was a barrier, they set out to harvest their own aerogel at a fraction of the cost.

“After every iteration in the lab, our aerogel is getting more and more transparent – which is evidence of its quality and purity,” said Zaidi. “The cheaper synthesis pathway that we’ve discovered has no carbon footprint, uses minimal energy and has reduced the cost of aerogel from $134 to $2 per gram.”

This past spring, Entropy Labs won a external, Sheldon and Tracy Levy Aspiring Innovators Fellowship, the Undergraduate Interdisciplinary Research Opportunity Grant, the RSU Sustainability Research Grant Award, and the external, G. Raymond Chang – Sheldon Levy Partnership Award for Zone Learning. The funding has been used to continue research and development and patenting, which should wrap-up by the end of summer.

“With the cost of aerogel reduced, there are so many practical usages for the substance – from window insulation to concrete – we’re even talking with hospital researchers about insulating organ transport containers,” said Capobianco. “The Ryerson community and beyond have been incredibly supportive of Entropy Labs, and as more and more ideas transpire, we’re amazed at the positive reaction we received and people’s willingness to discuss opportunities and collaborate.”

Entropy Labs is working with Professor Umberto Berardi, Building Science, to explore how aerogel can improve building materials. They are also receiving support from Bryan Koivisto, professor, Faculty of Science, and director of the Science Discovery Zone. Zaidi and Capobianco hope to connect with other zones, startups, students and faculty throughout the year to tap into Ryerson’s entrepreneurial culture and discover other innovative applications for aerogel.

“At the Science Discovery Zone, we understand that members do not always think of themselves as entrepreneurs, but they have a curiosity to explore, experiment and innovate,” said Koivisto. “The zone encourages teams to take risks, make mistakes and build relationships in order to move their ideas forward. Entropy Labs is one of many success stories at the zone, proving the impact that evidence-based design thinking can have on two motivated students with one really big idea.”

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The Science Discovery Zone is part of Ryerson’s zone network.  Discover what it takes to create social change, contribute to a big idea or launch a startup with zone learning.

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