In less than 10 days, Canada’s biggest chemistry conference will kick off in beautiful Québec City. The theme of this year’s conference, to be held May 26-30, is “Chemistry Without Borders.” It reflects the increasing trend of researchers from different backgrounds, nationalities, and areas of expertise working together to solve humanity’s problems. With over 2200 delegates from around the world and a technical program that includes more than 1400 scientific presentations spread across 71 symposia, from polymers to pharmaceuticals to green chemistry, CSC2013 is sure to provide something for everyone. Here are just some of the highlights to look forward to.
As I mentioned in a feature article last fall, the lines between chemical engineering and industrial biotechnology are becoming blurred. One area where interest has exploded over the last decade is the large-scale production of microalgae, known to some as pond scum. These tiny photosynthetic organisms take up CO2 and use it to produce biomass which can potentially be processed into renewable fuel. Today, the National Research Council (NRC) announced a new collaboration with Alberta-based oil and gas producer Canadian Natural Resources Limited (Canadian Natural) and Ontario-based Pond Biofuels that hopes to take advantage of the two-for-one nature of microalgae.
As you may have noticed, the May/June issue of ACCN, the Canadian Chemical News is now available to our subscribers. One of this blog’s many purposes is to act as an extension of the magazine, a home for extra material that we couldn’t fit into the print version due to space or technological limitations. Below I’ve provided some goodies from the latest issue.
For the chemists and engineers that work at Canada’s National Research Council — or in collaboration with it — the last two years have been a period of significant change. Under the leadership of President John R. McDougall, the nearly 100-year-old institution has refocused itself on helping to grow Canadian industry by providing the scientific research and development infrastructure and expertise that many companies seem to lack. Today, the NRC announced that it is officially “open for business.” In this post, I’d like to invite our members and readers to respond.
This week, the internet has been abuzz with the story of Kiera Wilmot, a 16-year-old high school student in Bartow, Polk County, Florida, who was arrested by police after performing an unauthorized chemistry experiment that resulted in a small — essentially harmless — explosion. Many science-minded folk have been outraged, accusing the school and the police of grossly overreacting; a number of online petitions have been spawned. In this post, I’d like to gauge the reaction from Canada’s chemistry community, and see what lessons we might learn from this unfortunate incident.
Biochemists and chemical biologists: are you having trouble remembering — or more likely, getting your students to remember — the intricate steps of the citric acid cycle? If so, University of Ottawa student Wilson Lam has got the solution for you: a catchy, scientifically accurate rap that is well on its way to becoming a YouTube sensation.
Environmental chemists track pollutants in ecosystems the world over, but in Canada there are few locations that attract as much public attention as the Athabasca river and its watershed, which cuts through the centre of Alberta’s oil sands. In recent years, the quality of the region’s air, water, sediment and snow have come under extreme scrutiny as the extent of current and future environmental impacts of oil sands extraction continue to be debated. Today, the Canadian and Alberta governments fulfilled a 2012 promise by launching a joint website that makes all of their environmental monitoring data from the Athabasca available to anyone who cares to see it. The move is unlikely to quell the debate over oil sands development, but it is nevertheless an interesting experiment in ‘open science’.
Chemistry is often called in to help solve ‘cold cases,’ and they don’t come much colder than that of the Franklin expedition, the ill-fated 1845 search for the Northwest Passage that ended in the loss of all hands. Over the last 150 years, more than two dozen separate teams have gone searching for traces of the lost voyage; some have recovered artifacts and human remains. These in turn have led to a few intriguing theories, one of the more popular of which asserts that the lead solder used to seal tinned provisions played a key role in the demise of the crew. But according to a recent paper published by Canadian and American researchers, that theory is hard to justify in the face of the latest analytical chemistry techniques.
In chemistry, there’s a simple truth: no matter what you’re trying to do, chances are that Mother Nature did it first, and better. That’s certainly the case with photosynthesis; so far no man-made molecule can turn sunlight into stored chemical energy in quite the way that plants, algae and cyanobacteria do. But many chemists, including the University of Toronto’s Greg Scholes, are working hard to learn nature’s tricks, and a paper published last week in Science shows they’re getting ever closer.
How can Canada leverage its expertise in chemistry and business to build a greener, healthier and more prosperous future? That was the question addressed yesterday in Toronto as SCI Canada, the business forum of the Chemical Institute of Canada, held its third annual “Green, Clean and Sustainable” chemistry seminar. The afternoon event was followed by a gala dinner celebrating excellence in Canadian chemistry. The attendees — over 100 in all — included everyone from promising young students to decorated veterans of both industrial and academic chemistry. Here are some highlights: