The G. Raymond Chang – Sheldon Levy Partnership Award for Zone Learning is an annual award that recognizes an undergraduate student in their second, third, or fourth year who is a member of one of the Zones at Ryerson University. Looking for undeniable innovation with the potential for growth and substantiated potential for creating change for the better, this year’s winner is Mark Zaidi of Entropy Labs for Aerogel! Congratulations from all of Zone Learning and the greater Ryerson community.

Mark Zaidi is a 2nd year Biology student at Ryerson University, Co-Founder of Aerogel, and a part time researcher at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.  His fascination with unique chemicals led him and his business partner, Leslie Capobianco, to Aerogel. Aerogel is a material originally invented by NASA due to its low density and high heat resistance, making it ubiquitously used as a material for coating spacecrafts.

Gram-for-gram, this material costs more than gold, making it unavailable to the public for experimentation and innovation due to the expense. In fact, gold is roughly $40 per gram, and aerogel is roughly $143 per gram. However, working in collaboration with Dr. Umberto Berardi, professor of Building Science and Dr. Bryan Koivisto, of the Chemistry and Biology department, Mark and his lab partner have created an alternative means of production to synthesize aerogel, decreasing consumer costs to $1.50 per gram.

This is an exciting innovation for many reasons. Currently this team is working with Dr. Umberto Berardi to develop aerogel windows, to prevent heat lost in buildings and to decrease energy expenditure. Mark and his business partner are enrolled in the Science Discovery Zone to further develop and investigate more cost-effective and inclusive uses for Aerogel. Way to go, Mark, for winning this award, and all the best in your team’s further development!

The G. Raymond Chang – Sheldon Levy Partnership Award for Zone Learning is open each year for 2nd – 4th year Ryerson undergraduate students who are also members of a Ryerson zone. This award is “based on the strength of [a student’s] innovation—specifically how their Zone project challenges the status quo and creates something better—and encourages them to further their entrepreneurship endeavours.

For students interested in applying for the 2018 award, applications are accepted in very early spring. This year’s deadline was April 17, 2017.


Aerogel in a beaker