Good chemistry

 

Although she didn’t start her undergraduate degree intent on pursuing a career in research, Kori Andrea is happy it’s where she is today. In 2018, she received the prestigious Vanier Scholarship, valued at $150,000, enabling her to complete her PhD in Chemistry without the financial burden of pursuing higher education. Her focus is in green and inorganic chemistry, and she hopes her work will provide society with a means of continuing to use the plastics we rely on every day, but without the adverse effects on the environment.

Where are you from?
I’m from North Sydney, N.S.

Are you the first person in your family to go to grad school? If so, how did that shape your graduate experience?
I am the first person in my family to attend graduate school. Both of my parents are teachers in the public school systems home so the importance of education was always enforced growing up with my brother and I. However, the idea of graduate school was new, especially being involved in research. So it has been a learning curve for both myself and my family but I love taking on new challenges and opportunities.

Where, and in what area, did you do your undergraduate or previous graduate work?
I completed my B.Sc.(Hons.) in Chemistry at Cape Breton University (CBU).

Why did you choose to pursue a graduate or postdoctoral degree?
I first became involved in research after the first year of my undergraduate degree. Since then I have absolutely fell in love. Research has been so rewarding both from an academic and social standpoint. I have had opportunities to travel to many countries both for exchange semesters and conferences. I have also met so many brilliant minds along the way. So, the decision to continue my research career by perusing a PhD was an easy decision for me.

Why did you choose Memorial for graduate or postdoctoral studies?
I actually had the opportunity to visit/tour the Department of Chemistry at Memorial during the spring of 2016, before making my final decision to come here. I was awarded a NSERC CGS-M through Memorial for my first year. As well, I had previously met my PhD supervisor Dr. Francesca Kerton (through one of my professors at CBU) at a conference during my undergrad and I think we developed a nice connection that has continued to flourish during my past two years here. I was keen on joining a smaller research group. This has allowed me to have a lot of one-on-one contact with Dr. Kerton, allowing further development of both research and leadership skills in this setting.

How would you describe your experience as a graduate student at Memorial?
My experience thus far at Memorial has been excellent. The overall community at Memorial is very welcoming and warm. People will go out of their way to help you and make you feel at home. You are more than just a number at Memorial, and there are many opportunities for cross-disciplinary collaborations.

What is your degree program and area of specialization?
I am currently completing a PhD in Chemistry with a focus on both green and inorganic chemistry. Each year over eight million tons of plastic enters the ocean, and only five per cent of the plastic manufactured is recycled. As Canadians, we encounter plastic in some shape or form every day and it is essential for our day-to-day lives. Growing levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere are another environmental concern. The goal of my research will be to produce plastics using CO2 as a cheap, abundant building block and ultimately design plastics that can degrade and not pollute our oceans. Although CO2 is an attractive starting material it is very stable and often in industry extreme conditions such as high temperatures and pressures must be used to make it react and create the product of interest. The use of a catalyst is often critical to allow these reactions to occur as it lowers the amount of energy needed for the reaction to proceed.

Specifically, I have been studying a metal-free catalyst that is commercially available and capable of performing just as well if not better than the traditionally used metal catalysts. My project will involve further modifying this catalyst to improve its ability to control the type of polymers (plastics) being produced and eliminate the possibility of metal contamination in the products. Our hope is that we will provide society with a means of continuing to use plastics essential to our lifestyles without the adverse effects on our environment.

Why did you choose this research question/topic?
I always loved inorganic chemistry during my undergraduate degree, but never had the opportunity to work on a research project in this field. In addition to this, I had an interest in learning more about green chemistry so I liked the idea of being able to combine the two.

How do you work with your supervisor? Does your work involve other students?
Dr. Kerton and I have a great relationship. We typically have weekly one-on-one meetings and weekly group meetings with the other grad students. I think we make a great team. She is more than just a research supervisor, she is a wonderful supporting and caring individual which makes being away from home and my family much easier.

Any recent awards/honours?
I was most recently awarded a NSERC Vanier Graduate Scholarship (May 2018) and the Cape Breton University Young Alumni of the Year (November 2018). In addition, just before the Christmas holidays I was informed I was awarded a NSERC Michael Smith Foreign Study Supplement that will allow me to travel to Oxford University this coming June for a six-month research exchange in the group of Dr. Andrew Weller.

Are there any difficulties in life that you’ve overcome to pursue graduate studies?
Presenting your work to others (conferences, etc.) is important in the sciences. When I first became involved in research I strongly disliked having to present and be critiqued. But over the years with lots of practice I have become more confident, and now I actually really enjoy it.

What are you planning to do after you complete your degree?
I’m still undecided I love teaching so I could definitely see myself pursuing a career in academics, but I also am interested in the opportunity to carry out a career in the chemical industry.

Do you have any advice for current and/or future graduate students?
My main point of advice would be to follow your heart. Make connections and develop strong relationships with your professors and supervisors. Take advice from others but remember to succeed, especially in graduate studies you really have to enjoy what you are doing and hard-workers are rewarded.

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