Posts Categorized: News 2014

Celebrating our Scholars and Leaders


Our annual Scholars & Leaders Reception was held on Nov 26, 2014 at Massey College in celebration of the outstanding academic success of our students and the continued support of our dedicated alumni.

Over 100 undergraduate and 70 graduate students received scholarships and awards this year, a reflection of their excellence within and outside of the classroom.  A number of these awards are made possible by the generous support of our alumni and friends, who provide not only financial support but invaluable mentoring and professional development to our students.

To see photos from the event, visit our Flickr photostream.

New $5-million NSERC Strategic Network

A major new Canadian initiative on the use of enzymes for environmentally sound manufacturing processes was announced today and will be led by ChemE Professor Elizabeth Edwards

The Industrial Biocatalysis Network (IBN) is a 5-year, $5 million project involving nine researchers from U of T, Concordia University and the University of British Columbia, as well as six industrial partner from manufacturing sectors as diverse as animal feed, forestry, oil and gas, and commodity chemicals. 

The IBN includes ChemE Professors Emma MasterRadhakrishnan MahadevanAlexei Savchenko and Alexander Yakunin, who will bring their bioengineering expertise to bear of the task of discovering new enzymes for use in industrial processes. Their goal is to develop bio-based processes that will reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and decrease our environmental footprint.

Read the full story about this exciting new initiative here.

The IBN team:  front row - Elizabeth Edwards (ChemE), Vincent Martin (Concordia), Emma Master (ChemE), Adrian Tsang (Concordia); back row - Justin Powlowski (Concordia), Alexander Yakunin (ChemE), Alexei Savchenko (ChemE) and Harry Brumer (UBC); not pictured - Radhakrishnan Mahadevan (ChemE).

The IBN team: front row – Elizabeth Edwards (ChemE), Vincent Martin (Concordia), Emma Master (ChemE), Adrian Tsang (Concordia); back row – Justin Powlowski (Concordia), Alexander Yakunin (ChemE), Alexei Savchenko (ChemE) and Harry Brumer (UBC); not pictured – Radhakrishnan Mahadevan (ChemE).

Researchers Take On Grand Challenges

ChemE researchers are bringing their expertise to two recently announced Grand Challenges Canada grants that address urgent health issues in the developing world.

Professor Yu-Ling Cheng (Director, Centre for Global Engineering) and collaborators in Bangladesh will harness the power of the sun to provide clean drinking water using a technique called Enhanced Solar Disinfection (eSODIS). 

PhD student Scott Genin is part of a multidisciplinary project called “Mother’s Milk” that will provide mothers working in garment factories in Dhaka, Bangladesh, with a way to express, pasteurize and store breast milk while at work, thereby combatting infant malnutrition.

Read more and watch videos of the projects.

Grateful for Graditude

Each year ChemE undergraduate students raise money to support student activities through the Graditude campaign. The funds are a parting gift from the graduating class and are matched by alumni donations that greatly enhance their impact. Thanks to the outstanding efforts of the 2014 Graditude team and our generous alumni, this year the Graditude campaign was able to present Chem Club and the CSChE’s Toronto Student Chapter with a total of over $3,000.

From left to right:  Mehraz Khan (Vice-Chair, Chem Club), Praneet Bagga (Chair, CSChE Toronto Student Chapter), Ishan Gupta (Chair, Chem Club), Larissa Rodo (2014 Graditude campaign representative), Sonia De Buglio (Director, Alumni Relations, FASE) and Grant Allen (Chair, Dept. of Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry).

From left to right: Mehraz Khan (Vice-Chair, Chem Club), Praneet Bagga (Chair, CSChE Toronto Student Chapter), Ishan Gupta (Chair, Chem Club), Larissa Rodo (2014 Graditude campaign representative), Sonia De Buglio (Director, Alumni Relations, FASE) and Grant Allen (Chair, Dept. of Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry).

“Following tradition, we plan to use these funds for the Iron Ring celebration in March,” said current Chem Club Chair Ishan Gupta.  “The success of last year’s Graditude campaign will help to make the night an especially exciting and memorable one.  It is great to see students and alumni giving back to student activities.  It speaks volumes about the tight community and sense of camaraderie we have in our department.  We would like to thank everyone who contributed.”

“CSChE is extremely grateful for the donations provided by the ChemE Class of 1T4 and to our generous alumni for their matching contribution,” said the current Chair of the CSChE Toronto Student Chapter Praneet Bagga.  “Their support motivates us to continue to work hard to ensure that students have ample opportunities to develop professionally, academically and socially.  The funds raised will be used to enhance our Chem-Connect Mentorship Program and will allow us to put on more student events.“

ChemE Professor to lead U of T’s science and engineering engagement activities

Shoichet MProfessor Molly Shoichet has been named as U of T President Meric Gertler’s new senior advisor on science and engineering engagement. In this new role, she will help researchers share their exciting discoveries with the public through initiatives like the Science Leadership program for faculty members and Science Literacy Week. Professor Shoichet is known not only for her groundbreaking research in regenerative medicine but also for her outstanding skill as a communicator of science and engineering. Read more here.

ChemE Welcomes Two New Faculty Members

The Department of Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry is pleased to welcome two new faculty members, Dr. Gisele Azimi and Dr. Elodie Passeport, who joined the department as Assistant Professors on August 1, 2014. 
Azimi and Passeport

Dr. Gisele Azimi is an expert in hydrometallurgy, electrochemical processes and advanced materials, and holds a joint appointment between the Departments of Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry and Materials Science & Engineering.

Dr. Azimi will head the Laboratory for Strategic Materials where she will pursue multidisciplinary research on rare earth elements.  These compounds have become essential components in the production of advanced electronics and other technologies, but their extraction and processing are challenging, inefficient and expensive.  Other research areas will include techniques to separate sulphur from mineral processing waste streams to reduce environmental impact, and also the development of new advanced materials with controlled properties for use in solar energy generation, desalination and other sectors.

This collaborative work will complement the Department’s research in hydrometallurgy and advanced materials, and our newly established Ontario Centre for Characterization of Advanced Materials (OCCAM).

Before joining our Department, Dr. Azimi completed postdoctoral appointments at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with Professors Kripa Varanasi in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Donald Sadoway in the Department of Materials Science & Engineering.  Her work focused on molten oxide electrolysis and advanced materials.  She received her B.A.Sc. and M.A.Sc. from Sharif University of Technology (Iran) in 2000 and 2002, respectively, and her Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Toronto in 2010, where she worked with Professor Vladimiros Papangelakis in the field of hydrometallurgy.

Dr. Azimi has published 17 journal papers and refereed conference papers, and has presented her research internationally at 20 conferences.  She is also co-inventor in 5 patent applications in the US and has received awards for teaching and research excellence, including the Helmholtz Award of the International Association for the Properties of Water and Steam.

Learn more about Dr. Azimi and the Laboratory for Strategic Materials.


Dr. Elodie Passeport brings a multidisciplinary background in hydrology, chemical engineering and environmental engineering to her research on pollutants in natural and engineered aquatic systems.  She is jointly appointed to the Departments of Civil Engineering and Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry.

Dr. Passeport’s work is focused on the fate of emerging chemical contaminants in watersheds and the development of remediation technologies for their removal – a particularly urgent issue in Canada, where 89% of drinking water comes from surface water sources.  Her work also involves ecological engineering practices, which include constructed wetlands and bioretention cells for contaminant treatment.  She has expertise in the use of compound-specific stable isotope analysis, an important analytical tool for understanding the fate of contaminants in the environment.  Her work is an excellent complement to the Department’s research on bioremediation and the development of sustainable and environmentally sound technologies.

Dr. Passeport holds a Ph.D. in Water Sciences from the National Research Institute of Science and Technology for Environment and Agriculture (irstea) and AgroParisTech (France), where she worked with Dr. Julien Tournebize and Professor Yves Coquet.  Her thesis on the use of an artificial wetland to remove pesticides garnered her the Best Ph.D. Thesis Award from the French Group on Pesticides (Groupe Français des Pesticides).  She received her M.Sc. in Chemical Engineering in 2006 from the National Institute of Applied Sciences (France), and a second M.Sc. from the Department of Continental Environments and Hydrosciences at AgroParisTech (France) in 2007.  More recently, she completed postdoctoral fellowships in the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology at UC Berkeley with Professor Norman Terry and in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Toronto with Professor Barbara Sherwood Lollar.  She has published 15 peer-reviewed articles and presented at many international conferences.  

Learn more about Dr. Passeport and her research.

Tiny Ribbon Cutting For Large New Facility — The Ontario Centre for Characterization of Advanced Materials (OCCAM)

Hélio Castroneves knows how much materials research matters.  When the three-time Indy 500 winner screams around the corners at this month’s Indy races in Toronto, he’ll be relying on decades of materials research that have helped make his racecar faster, safer and more efficient.

Hélio Castroneves with a poster of his racecar (Photo: Roberta Baker).

Hélio Castroneves with a poster of his racecar (Photo: Roberta Baker).

On July 17, Castroneves joined U of T Engineering to unveil the Ontario Centre for Characterization of Advanced Materials (OCCAM) – a high-tech facility in the Wallberg Building that enables researchers to explore and develop novel materials for use in electronics, renewable fuels, construction, medical devices and even futuristic racecar design.

All material properties are governed by forces at the atomic level.  Studying these interactions is the key to developing innovative new materials, no matter the ultimate application.  OCCAM’s new $20-million facility, funded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation (MRI) and Hitachi High-Technologies Canada, creates a collaborative one-stop-shop for advanced materials research at the atomic scale. The centre is co-led by Professors Charles Mims (ChemE) and Doug Perovic (MSE) and houses a collection of advanced analytical instruments for surface and structural studies that was described as the best in Canada and very unusual in the world by an external reviewer.  “This new facility will put our Departments, Faculty and the University of Toronto on the leading edge of surface characterization that will impact our research, education and industrial collaboration in fields ranging from sustainable energy to next generation biomedical devices,” said ChemE Chair Grant Allen.

OCCAM grew out of collaboration between Mims’ highly successful Surface Interface Ontario facility and Perovic’s electron microscopy facility, and brings a unique and powerful combination of cutting-edge technology to the University of Toronto.  Together, they have worked with hundreds of researchers studying materials from teeth to fruit flies to electrical conductors to meteorites.  New equipment includes major upgrades of surface capabilities critical for biological and electrical surfaces, and the addition of long-needed frontline microscopy tools.  A close partnership with Hitachi High-Technologies Canada has brought five new cutting-edge instruments to the facility.

To celebrate OCCAM’s launch, faculty members, partners, staff and students watched what may have been the world’s tiniest ribbon cutting that demonstrated the powerful capabilities of the lab’s new high-power electron microscopes. Castronoves, who’s racing team is sponsored by OCCAM partner Hitachi, helped etch the centre’s name into a tiny “ribbon” at the nano-scale, with each letter nearly 1,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair.

Not your average ribbon cutting. Indy champ Hélio Castroneves (left) and  Professor Doug Perovic carve the name of U of T’s newest lab on a ribbon at  nano-scale (Photo: Roberta Baker).

Not your average ribbon cutting. Indy champ Hélio Castroneves (left) and
Professor Doug Perovic carve the name of U of T’s newest lab on a ribbon at
nano-scale (Photo: Roberta Baker).

Though it is housed in the Departments of Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry and Materials Science & Engineering, the centre is open to users from throughout the Faculty, U of T, nine affiliated hospitals, and external partners.  The emphasis is on collaborative and multidisciplinary projects, with over 350 different research programs anticipated annually involving academic researchers and private companies.  “This is expensive equipment to purchase and operate, but the new centre makes it available to everyone, from industry to academia,” said Mims.  “What I am most excited about is the breadth of the impact this research will have, from studying fruit fly abdomens to space materials.”

See photos from the event here.

Three big (and small) ideas enabled by OCCAM:

1. Car accidents that no longer kill people

“We have the technology today to make vehicles so safe that car accidents no longer kill people,” shared Professor Perovic. But if we have the means, why aren’t we using them? According to Perovic, the answer is cost – cost of materials and cost of manufacturing. That’s why, through OCCAM, he has partnered with Toronto-based Integran Technologies to develop newer, inexpensive methods of boosting vehicle safety and efficiency.

Integran is the only company in the world that can coat plastic and carbon fibre with nano-metals, allowing them to make virtually any material significantly stronger with one coating. While they are continuing to find ways of reducing cost, Integran’s technology has the potential for impact beyond the auto industry, from better spacecraft to lighter and more durable bicycles.

2. Stopping blood clots with non-stick nano-materials

Blood clots are essential in healing cuts, but they can be deadly for those requiring medical catheters (tubes that carry medicine or drain fluids in the body). Dangerous clots can form around the tubes in a process called thrombosis – an affiliction that leads to approximately 50,000 deaths in the United States each year.

To reduce the risk of blood clots, Professor Paul Santerre (IBBME), Jeannette Ho (ChemE/ IBBME MASc 9T7) and a group of other medical scientists and engineers have designed a method of producing catheters that include fluorinate oligomers, the same molecules that make frying pans non-stick. Already commercially available through licensing from Santerre’s spin-off company Interface Biologics, their invention has shown to reduce the rates of thrombosis by up to 75 per cent.

“OCCAM gives us access to tools and expertise that a small lab like us wouldn’t normally have,” said Roseita Esfand, director of research and development at Interface. “Collaborations such as this will help us to bring our technologies and products from bench to human.”

3. Solar fuels – If trees can do it, we can do it

Professor Ben Hatton (MSE) and group of multidisciplinary researchers are using OCCAM’s advanced equipment to design nano-materials that mimic the photosynthetic processes of plants. While plant photosynthesis uses the sun’s rays to produce sugars and carbohydrates, Hatton’s lab is hoping to make materials that produce methane and other gases.

This technology could be used to power vehicles, houses and more – and to store energy we aren’t using for later consumption. In doing so, they could reduce, and even reverse, the detrimental impacts of fossil fuels. “We’re still in early development stages,” explained Hatton. “But we’re excited by the advances and resources that OCCAM will provide, and we look forward to making our technology better and more efficient.”

“If trees can do it,” he said, “we can do it.”

Lights on for OLED Research

LEDCongratulations to ChemE PhD student Andrew Paton who is part of Professor Tim Bender‘s research group and has received one of this year’sHeffernan Commercialization Fellowships for his innovative work on improving the energy efficiency and cost-effectiveness of LED lights and solar cells using organic semi-conductors. The fellowship program supports students whose work holds promise for commercialization, and provides financial support and mentorship to help them develop their ideas into viable businesses. Read more about this year’s recipients.

Remembering Professor Robert Jervis

Professor Robert Jervis

The Department of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry is sad to announce the passing of Professor Emeritus Robert E. Jervis on his 87th birthday on May 21st.  Professor Jervis was a highly accomplished and respected member of our Department, truly a Canadian pioneer with international impact in the field of applied nuclear chemistry.  More than that, he was a kind and generous man who led by example with compassion for everyone he met.  His genuine love of science and engineering inspired his students and colleagues alike.  He will be missed by those who had the pleasure of working with him and learning from him.

Professor Jervis was born in Toronto and raised during the depression years.  He attained an undergraduate degree in Math, Physics and Chemistry in 1949, an M.A. in 1950 and a PhD in Physical Chemistry in 1952, all from the University of Toronto.  He subsequently worked at the Chalk River nuclear research facility pioneering novel methods of trace element analysis in the environment by applied nuclear chemistry.

Professor Jervis joined the U of T Department of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry in 1958, where he continued his research in applied analytical and environmental chemistry for the next five decades.  His work focused on the peaceful use of nuclear energy in industry, life sciences and forensic sciences.  He gained significant national and international recognition for his work on human exposure to heavy metals, which increased awareness of their environmental and health impacts.  He also played a dominant role in applying activation techniques in Canada and abroad.  

A field in which Professor Jervis was a pioneer was the use of trace elements to identify sources of pollution and to assess the environmental impact of fossil fuel combustion.  He also developed this technique for use in forensics, using trace elements in hair as bioindicators of exposure to environmental pollutants.  This technique was used to study arsenic levels in gold miners, mercury in aboriginal people and lead in urban children.

His work took him around the world lecturing and consulting with scientists and scientific bodies and as a visiting professor at the University of Tokyo, University of Cambridge and University of Kuala Lumpur. He published over 250 scientific papers.

Professor Jervis demoProfessor Jervis received numerous awards and honours: the Lewis Medal, Canada’s highest nuclear scientific award; the international Hevesy Medal, for radioanalytical chemistry; the American Nuclear Society’s Emmon Medal; and he was the first foreign recipient of the Russian Academy of Science’s Ressovsky Medal. He was a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, the Canadian Nuclear Society, the Canadian Society for Chemistry and an honourary fellow of the Atomic Energy Society of Japan and the Indian Academy of Sciences.  His deepest professional satisfaction came from instilling first year students with a love of science.  As a testament to the impact he in the classroom, in 1992 a group of his former students established the R.E. Jervis Award in his honour, which each year recognizes a graduate student for outstanding work in nuclear engineering, with support from the Canadian Nuclear Society.

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