Chris Kozak, an associate professor with the Department of Chemistry, is the newest Terra Nova Young Innovator. The award recognizes, promotes and supports innovative new faculty researchers whose work impacts positively on their departments and has the potential to be of significance to society at large.
For his research, Dr. Kozak will receive $50,000 from the Terra Nova development, an offshore oil field operated by Suncor Energy. The award will fund his work on developing a catalyst for making plastics from inexpensive, renewable starting materials.
“Most modern plastics are made from petrochemical sources, which are quickly becoming depleted and are expensive,” explained Dr. Kozak. “Our research uses carbon dioxide as a starting material for the synthesis of biodegradable polycarbonates.”
Polycarbonate-based plastics are extremely useful because of their versatility. However, those currently used are under scrutiny because they are made using bisphenol A (BPA), which has been argued to be a hormone disruptor. Furthermore, BPA-based polycarbonates are synthesized using highly toxic substances.
“We’re trying to make polycarbonate plastic that doesn’t use bisphenol A and that is biodegradable and biocompatible,” said Dr. Kozak. “Our compounds are made up of nontoxic materials and degrade into nontoxic materials as well. Hopefully, with this injection of funds from Suncor, I’ll be able to move ahead much more quickly.”
“The Young Innovator Award is focused on encouraging exciting and innovative research, right here in Newfoundland & Labrador,” says Sandy Martin, vice president East Coast for Suncor Energy, operator of the Terra Nova development. “As this year’s recipient and those before him show, there is outstanding research happening here at home and we are very proud to be supporting it.”
“We greatly appreciate industry’s continuing support of promising young researchers like Dr. Kozak,” said Dr. Gary Kachanoski, Memorial University’s president and vice-chancellor. “At Memorial, we value research for its contribution to the advancement of knowledge, and to the well-being of the people of the province and the world. We depend on and welcome collaboration and support from industry partners such as the owners of the Terra Nova development to help grow our research profile.”
Dr. Kozak and his students will work towards using renewable sources of starting material in the creation of polycarbonate plastic that may also help remove some of the carbon dioxide accumulating in our atmosphere.
An event to recognize Dr. Kozak will be held in May.