Professor Elizabeth Edwards (ChemE) has been named among this year’s Killam Prize winners. Presented by the Canada Council for the Arts, the awards honour eminent Canadian scholars and scientists actively engaged in research.
“It’s a recognition of a really wonderful story that I just happened to be part of,” says Edwards, one of just five recipients for 2016. “There were so many people helping, collaborating and working with me along the way. Together we were able to do really great fundamental research and at the same time start using our discoveries in the field.”
Edwards, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Anaerobic Biotechnology, is an expert in bioremediation, a field that applies micro-organisms to degrade and destroy toxic pollutants in soil and groundwater. In particular, her work focuses on chlorine-containing solvents, chemicals used as solvents in dry cleaning, industrial glues and various other commercial applications.
“When we think about growing bacteria, we typically think about providing a lot of oxygen to make them grow faster,” says Edwards. But adding oxygen deep in the ground is difficult and energy-intensive. Edwards and her collaborators found another way. “It turns out there are all kinds of anaerobes — organisms for whom oxygen is poison — that can do wonderful biochemistry and actually degrade these harmful compounds.”