New funding will help Waterloo chemists improve medical testing and renewable energy management

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

JELF 2019 University of Waterloo winners Janusz Pawliszyn, Parsin Haji Reza, Rodney Smith, Anna Klinkova, and Sushanta Mitra.Today, the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science and Sport, announced more than $39 million for state-of-the-art research labs and equipment through the John R. Evans Leaders Fund (JELF). This investment will support 251 researchers leading 186 projects at 43 universities across Canada, including three Waterloo chemists.

Chemistry professors Anna KlinkovaJanusz Pawliszyn and Rodney Smith all received JELF funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI). Their research will convert greenhouse gas emissions into valuable products, streamline biological testing and help manage renewable grid energy.

Waterloo engineering professors Sushanta Mitra and Parsin Haji Reza also received JELF funding.

“CFI lays the cornerstone for the future by providing equipment that ensures the success of researchers from the very start of their careers," Roseann O’Reilly Runte, CFI President and CEO. "JELF funding creates the conditions necessary for the extraordinary talents in Canada’s universities and hospitals to excel.”

JELF funding aims to help universities attract and retain top talent from around the globe by providing researchers with the highly specialized infrastructure they require to be leaders in their field.

Learn more about the Waterloo Chemistry JELF recipients

Anna Klinkova, Nanocatalyst Characterization and Performance Studies Platform

Anna Klinkova headshotHuman-made greenhouse gas emissions - the most abundant is carbon dioxide - drive climate change and cause extreme weather conditions worldwide. To foster our transition to a low emissions energy economy without compromising quality of life for the growing population, Klinkova's research aims to develop electrocatalytic systems that utilize the excess electricity from renewable energy sources for the electrochemical conversion of carbon dioxide to valuable products.

Pivotal to this technology's success is the development of efficient, selective and long-lasting catalytic materials. Nanotechnology offers unprecedented control over material structure and tunable material design. Despite early promising results, gaps in our understanding of how the structure of nanocatalysts affect chemical reactions are hindering progress in the field.

The $130,000 in JELF funding will provide the infrastructure needed to enable a detailed understanding of how nanocatalyst structure influences chemical reactions by visualizing nanocatalyst structural features and their transformations under reaction conditions. This infrastructure will enable the establishment of nanocatalyst design framework and development of transformative carbon dioxide reduction technologies for industrial applications, while providing excellent training opportunities for the next generation of Canadian scientists.

Janusz Pawliszyn, Triple Quadrupole Mass Spectrometer

Janusz Pawliszyn headshotPawliszyn's analytical chemistry research group focuses on the development and enhancement of sample preparation technologies. His lab aims to streamline the process of analyzing small molecules in biological samples (e.g. tissue, biofluids) through the development of low cost, practical, and quick analysis methods. 

For example, implementing these approaches for monitoring therapeutic drugs will reduce clinical analysis turnaround times, providing healthcare professionals with more accurate and reliable information faster, thereby ensuring more precise drug treatment dosage administration to patients. Moreover, by providing the tools to non-invasively monitor living tissues and organs during surgeries and other medical procedures, his research opens the door for an entirely new facet of personalized medicine.

These tests have the potential to be implemented not only in clinical settings, but also with law, environmental and food enforcement agencies. The $100,000 JELF award will enable the Pawliszyn lab to permanently retain a mass spectrometer with "extreme quantitative performance" which is critical to continuing the discovery of rapid diagnosis tools, and the retention-attraction of HQP and industrial collaborators.

Rodney Smith, Spectroelectrochemical Analysis of Heterogeneous Electrocatalysts

Rodney Smith headshotThe cost of electricity generation from wind and solar energy has approached economically competitive levels in recent years, leaving society struggling to adapt with the generation, distribution and usage problems that arise from the intermittency of these energy sources, and generating calls to develop markets that can accommodate fluctuations in electricity.

Electrochemical synthesis of commodity chemicals is an ideal technology for such fluctuations as electricity is directly used to drive chemical reactions, enabling rapid scaling of output in response to electricity availability. Smith's research investigates solid-state electrocatalysts to expand the limited scope of electrochemical synthesis.

His research extracts chemical information by developing innovative fabrication techniques and spectroscopic methodologies, and exploits the synergy between the two to gain insights into fundamental chemical behaviour. The $130,000 JELF award will help Smith acquire a Raman microscope and help his lab identify and track key structural features as well as study reaction mechanisms.

The advances in fundamental understanding that will arise from this research will guide the development of more selective, efficient and stable reaction systems. Expanding the scope of industrial electrosynthesis will foster growth of the technology in the chemical manufacturing sector, maximizing the value of renewable energy infrastructure and improving Canada's ability to compete in clean-technology markets.

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