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Excitement was in the air at the 2024 Capstone Design Symposium as Chemical Engineering students showcased their Fourth-Year Capstone Design Projects! Students applied their knowledge, skills, and creativity toward solving real-world problems.

Beyond the classroom, Capstone Design Projects have the potential to make a real difference in the world. Some projects were developed in collaboration with industry partners or community organizations. This allowed students to address real-life challenges and potentially contribute to positive change. This year’s winning teams are excellent examples of such projects. Many were aimed at advancing UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Developing sustainable and long-lasting solutions to meet our energy demands while preserving the quality of our environment is one of the grand challenges that society faces today. An essential part of attaining this goal is efficiently storing and releasing clean energy using rechargeable batteries and related technologies.

To this end, Professor Linda Nazar and Professor Michael Pope, researchers at the University of Waterloo, will build the Ontario Battery and Electrochemistry Research Centre (OBEC). This centre will be a hub for the vast battery and electrochemical researchers both at Waterloo and across Southern Ontario which houses the densest talent pool in Canada while enabling these researchers to effectively collaborate with the growing EV battery supply chain. This includes battery materials production, recycling, and advanced manufacturing.

Evercloak Inc., a start-up co-founded by Chemical Engineering Professor Michael Pope has secured $2 million in funding to expand the production of its energy-efficient building cooling membranes. Evercloak, a Velocity-based company, aims to significantly reduce energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions associated with building cooling.

Pope co-launched Evercloak with University of Waterloo alumna and now Evercloak’s CEO Evelyn Allen, based on innovative technology that he and his team designed in 2015.  Pope, Evercloak’s Chief Scientific Officer, utilizes 2D nanofilms to improve energy cooling systems thereby increasing their efficiency and sustainability. 

The ubiquitous nature of plastic pollution in our environment is an alarming concern. The breakdown of plastics into smaller sizes, ranging from micro- to nano-sized material, raises concerns about their toxicity to the environment and humans. The impact of nanoplastics, which are a thousand times smaller than microplastics on fish, marine life and human life is under intense investigation, however, mitigating options are quite limited.

A team of researchers led by Chemical Engineering Professor Tizazu Mekonnen, at the University of Waterloo, have leveraged their expertise in polymer engineering to tackle this critical challenge. Mekonnen’s research is in polymer sustainability, and it endeavours to reduce the carbon footprint of the plastics industry.

Nanotechnology Engineering alumna CT Murphy (BASc ’23) created CELLECT, a new start-up which aims to improve access to cervical cancer and HPV screening. CELLECT's technology uses nanomaterials in menstrual products to diagnose HPV and cervical cancer using menstrual blood, potentially eliminating the need for Pap smears.

Murphy’s fourth-year design project served as inspiration for their Masters thesis under the supervision of Chemical Engineering professor Marc Aucoin. Murphy was awarded the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology (WIN)-Velocity scholarship for the project. They also received funding from Velocity’s Up Start Program and Cornerstone Program.

Researchers at the University of Waterloo have developed a unique technique to create the Janus structures in liquids. Chemical Engineering Professor Milad Kamkar in collaboration with the University of British Columbia leads the first research to achieve this duality with liquids.

This breakthrough can be utilized in a multitude of applications. It could be used in environmental remediation, to clean up oil spills in water or for wastewater treatment. One side could be treated with super absorbent nanomaterial to soak up the oil, while the other side might contain catalysts to degrade the pollution.

The third Sustainable Future Perspectives' discussion was held in November and hosted by the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology (WIN) and the Department of Chemical Engineering. The November event centered on how research and training at the University of Waterloo can contribute to several vital areas in the circular economy. These areas include recycling battery materials, researching new materials to create better batteries, and developing proactive solutions to mitigate delays in setting up new mines.

Professor Mark Matsen is set to receive the Polymer Physics Group Founders’ Prize. Only 11 scholars have been awarded this prize since its inception in 2001. Matsen, who holds a joint position as a Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering and in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, is being honoured for his remarkable work on molecular self-assembly in polymeric systems involving block copolymers.