Three ChemE students win University of Toronto Excellence Awards

Please join us in congratulating Michael Chan, Cassidy Tan, and Bella Zhang, who have each received a University of Toronto Excellence Award (UTEA) in the Natural Sciences & Engineering category. The funding provided through the award will allow them to continue their current research projects throughout the summer.


Photo of Michael ChanMichael Chan (ChemE 2T5)

Microplastics are present everywhere in the world and can affect human and ecosystem health. Better understanding the types of microplastics present in urban environments can assist in the development of bio-retention cells – filters, which help clear microplastic contamination present in stormwater.

This is the focus of Michael Chan’s research titled, Source and fate of microplastics in urban stormwater runoff and conducted under the supervision of Professor Elodie Passeport. By examining the composition and concentration of microplastics collected from stormwater samples, Chan aims to identify relationships between different kinds of road and parking lot pavements and microplastic generation.

“After collecting water samples, microplastic particles were separated from the inorganic compounds via density separation. Organic digestion was then employed to dissolve any organic matter present, followed by filtration, sample weighing, resuspension, and sample counting. Developing a retention cell is a step towards protecting the environment and downstream communities from the chronic effects of microplastic ingestion. Limiting the release of microplastics will help mitigate the amount of microplastics ingested by organisms in downstream ecosystems,” says Chan. “Success would produce a natural ‘filter’ (retention cell) that cleans stormwater.”


Photo of Cassidy TanCassidy Tan (ChemE 2T4)

One of the challenges with preclinical anti-cancer drug testing is recreating an accurate tumor microenvironment (TME). Traditional 2D cell culture models lack both the 3D structure and extracellular matrix (ECM) present in vivo, which contributes to the low clinical success rate for anti-cancer drugs.

Cassidy Tan has been conducting research on this topic under the supervision of Professor Alison McGuigan. Tan’s work, titled Optimization of a Semi-Automated Pipeline for Creating 3D Cultures, is focused on improving drug-based cancer treatment research in the preclinical drug testing phase by automating the seeding of cell cultures with an innovative technique utilizing a pre-programmed robotic system called Opentrons OT2.

In order to provide a more accurate cell environment for research, U of T’s McGuigan Lab developed a 96-well 3D cell culture model that relies on a time-consuming cell seeding process that is carried out manually. Tan’s work is focused on automating this process by utilizing the Python coding language to create instructions for the robotic Opentrons OT2 pipetting system to help seed cell cultures more quickly, replacing the manual seeding process with a semi-automated one.

“To characterize the effectiveness of our manufacturing process, cell proliferation and the homogeneity of the cell seeding will be assessed across multiple cell types and ECMs. These metrics will be quantitatively analyzed by image analysis using a high throughput microscope and the Alamar Blue assay. Additionally, the pipeline will be assessed for time efficiency to preserve cell viability during this process.”

Tan hopes this research will enable the high-throughput construction of 3D cancer models with various TME conditions, creating new avenues for anti-cancer drug discoveries.


Photo of Bella ZhangBella Zhang (ChemE 2T2)

Catalysts are important tools for initiating chemical reactions. Everywhere you look, from your desk to your fridge, you’re likely to find a product, material, or food item that relies on one. Metal oxides, like the molybdates MMoOx (M=Fe, Co, Ni), are often applied as catalysts in the petroleum and plastic refinement processes with the conversion of hydrocarbons. They have novel structural properties that can provide superior catalytic activity or selectivity, traits that determine the speed, efficiency, and final result of catalytic reactions.

For her project, titled Temperature Programmed Reduction System of Metal Oxides, Bella Zhang is working with Professor Cathy Chin to investigate the behaviour and property of the oxygen sites of MMoOx, as well as explore their periodic trend using the Temperature Programmed Reduction (TPR) method. The oxygen sites on these bimetallic oxides are critical to their activity and selectivity.

The TPR method involves reducing the metal oxides with hydrogen flow while increasing temperature linearly in time. By monitoring their reaction with the hydrogen, the temperature needed for the complete reduction can be determined along with the activation energies needed for the reduction. Additionally, the research will provide further information on the reduction mechanism.

“Having a better understanding of the characteristics of these metal oxides will then support the search for better and more effective catalysts,” says Zhang. “The better catalysts will direct the reaction to produce more desired products (ethylene in this case) and improve the efficiency of the process. This can lead to far-reaching impacts in energy saving, economic benefits, and sustainable development.”