Old Research Plan

Contents

Research Philosophy

The department believes that the long term interests of students, faculty, the university, and the community are best served by excellence in fundamental research. Research addressing a broad range of fundamental issues is critical to maintaining the ongoing health and intellectual quality of the department. This research is supported by a high level of NSERC Discovery grant funding and contributes significantly to MemorialÂ’s national and international reputation as a research institution. It provides students with experience at the cutting edge of science and prepares them very well for high-level employment, including further research at the top scientific institutions in the world.

The department also recognizes the importance of applied areas of research, and particularly those areas of importance to the province as described in MemorialÂ’s research plan. From a university perspective, contributions to applied research are most beneficial when they are linked to advances in fundamental research. Otherwise, training can become too narrow and discovery and innovation can be constrained.

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Current Areas of Research Strength

The Department of Chemistry is nationally and internationally recognized for strength in the areas of

synthetic chemistrymaterials chemistrymarine/
environmental chemistry
computational/
physical chemistry
G. Bodwell
P.Georghiou
C. Kozak
F. Kerton
P. Pansare
L. Thompson
. Zhao)
F. Kerton
E. Merschrod
P. Pickup
K. Poduska
D. Thompson
L. Thompson
Y. Zhao
J. Banoub
C. Bottaro
R. Helleur
C. Parrish
Flinn
D. Keefe
T. Fridgen
P. Mezey
R. Poirier
C. Rowley
P. Warburton

 

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Areas of Continuing Research Strength

The departmentÂ’s research plan consists of interlinked areas of fundamental and applied research. The areas of strength that will be maintained and further developed are outlined below.

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Fundamental Research Areas

Analytical Chemistry

Over the last few decades, revolutionary advances in instrumentation and materials science have led to huge growth in analytical chemistry research, and widespread use of analytical technologies for routine and innovative applications. Analytical chemistry at Memorial has kept pace with this growth, carrying out relevant, interesting and important research, while assembling a suite of instrumentation that is arguably unrivaled in Atlantic Canada. Our research programs advance the use of mass spectrometry, separation science and microfluidic devices, sensing-systems, electrochemistry, and spectroscopy for applications in biomedical sciences, biological sciences, industrial process control and health protection systems, as well as in the study and protection of aquatic and atmospheric environments.

The growing complexity of many scientific problems requires interdisciplinary collaboration; here the expertise of analytical chemists in developing and selecting appropriate technology, devising and troubleshooting analytical methods, and interpreting results is vital. This idea is captured in the summary of the applied research areas, where our researchers have contributed to progress in many fields of study including Medicine, Earth Sciences, Environmental Science, and Engineering. For students with an undergraduate degree in chemistry, their knowledge of chemistry is often applied as an analytical chemist. The knowledge provided by courses in analytical chemistry together with skills gained working in the research labs of analytical chemists are valued in industry and government research labs or in service labs. Graduates from our undergraduate and graduate programs have gone on to academic positions and industry labs throughout the country.

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Organic Chemistry

Synthetic organic chemistry is at the core of each of our four organic chemistry research groups. As such, our organic chemists form what is certainly the strongest center for synthetic organic chemistry in Atlantic Canada. The synthetic targets are structurally diverse and reach levels of complexity that rival those of any research group in Canada. Fundamental research has, among other things, led to the discovery of new methodology and contributed to the understanding of basic phenomena. Our organic researchers are involved in numerous applied projects, including the development of sensors for environmental monitoring, devices for solar energy conversion, biomedically active molecules, and sustainable methodologies. As each research group broadens its fundamental base, new opportunities for applied research will be identified and pursued. A significant number of high-calibre MSc and PhD graduates in organic chemistry have moved on to make substantial contributions to their field as doctoral or post-doctoral researchers in top-flight universities in Canada and abroad. Renewal in the area of organic chemistry will focus primarily on candidates that are best positioned to excel in any area of fundamental research that has the potential to contribute meaningfully to any of the areas of application outlined in this plan and the universityÂ’s research plan.

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Inorganic Chemistry

Our inorganic chemistry research includes both synthetic and physical facets of the discipline and spans a variety of research areas ranging from biomaterials (Merschrod), magnetic materials and coordination chemistry (L. Thompson), photochemistry (D. Thompson), crystallography (Dawe), catalysis (Kerton and Kozak) and electrochemistry (Pickup). Researchers at all levels (undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral) from our inorganic research programs have gone on to further studies or professional programs, and positions in academia, industry or government. Though there is a strong emphasis on fundamental research, applications of this research are also being developed including fuel cell innovations, biomedical implants and polymerization catalysts.

The inorganic research groups also possess an exceptional suite of specialized instrumentation for the synthesis and characterization of materials, catalysts, and new inorganic compounds including state-of-the-art inert atmosphere workstations, magnetic property measurement systems, microwave synthesizers, and spectrometers. Inorganic faculty also make extensive use of instrumentation within the University-wide CREAIT network (X-ray diffraction analysis, multinuclear NMR spectroscopy, MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry, SEM and ICP-MS).

Renewal of inorganic faculty will focus on candidates that complement our existing strengths in both fundamental and applied research as outlined in the research plans of the department, faculty and university.

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Physical Chemistry: experimental, computational, and theoretical

The department has a long and continuing tradition of excellence in physical chemistry, with strengths in methods development on the experimental and computational/theoretical sides. We attract top-quality graduate students and post-doctoral fellows, with over twenty researchers currently supported among our laboratories. We provide access to cutting-edge instrumentation in spectroscopy, imaging, and high-performance computing, including participation in ACEnet and WestGRID. Many of our members also support the interdisciplinary Computational Sciences MSc programme through student supervision and service on the Board of Study (Merschrod, Poirier, Warburton).

With hires over the past decade, including the recently-renewed Tier I Canada Research Chair in Scientific Modeling and Simulation, Prof. Paul Mezey, we have solidified a concentration in biophysical chemistry, including the addition of a new graduate course on the subject. Ongoing research probes the structure and reactivity of a range of systems, from small biological ions and clusters to multiscale studies of proteins and nucleic acids (Flinn, Fridgen, Merschrod, Mezey, Poirier, Rowley, D. Thompson). We also apply physical chemistry techniques to study systems of importance to the pharmaceutical (Fridgen, Poirier, Rowley, Warburton) and energy (Fridgen, Rowley, D. Thompson, Warburton) sectors, and several of us are involved in molecular informatics (Mezey, Poirier).

We are able to tackle questions at the forefront of research because we are continually developing new methodology. This includes software design (MUNgauss, a robust computational chemistry software package, was developed and continues to be expanded by the Poirier group), theory development (Mezey, Poirier, Warburton), new experimental methods for assessing biomechanical response (Merschrod), and the development of spectroscopic techniques for gas phase molecules (Fridgen).

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Applied Research Areas

Sustainable Chemical Processes

Newfoundland and Labrador is a resource rich province whose economic health has relied on harvesting these resources for export. Technological sustainability requires the transition away from a resource based economy to the creation of a knowledge based economy. Research in the department provides new knowledge and methodologies that have the potential for technological innovation that will minimize environmental impact. Such technologies utilize the conceptual framework provided by "green chemistry". Leadership in low environmental impact chemistry is being provided by Kerton and Kozak who have already made substantial contributions in the development of new methodologies in metal-mediated catalysis in this area.

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Renewable Energy and Chemical Resources

There is a critical need to refine and optimize current renewable energy technologies such as fuel cells (Pickup) and to develop new alternative energy resources based on conversion of renewable energy (solar, wind, hydro, etc.) to high-energy chemicals/fuels (D. Thompson, Bodwell, Pickup and Zhao), and on the use of renewable biomass for liquid fuel and valuable chemicals/materials (Helleur, Kerton).

In this area, Helleur will continue to investigate the important mechanistic steps into the thermal conversion of biomass (i.e., wood, algae, municipal and fisheries waste) to valuable chemicals, liquid fuels and biochar. Mass spectrometric and separation techniques will be developed for whole sample analysis whereby detailed thermal decomposition reactions for biomass fractions (i.e, lignin, cellulose etc) can be studied. Kozak will continue to develop several projects: (a) non-precious metal catalyzed transformations for organic synthesis (e.g. iron-catalyzed cross-coupling and epoxidation); (b) carbon dioxide activation and co-polymerization; and (c) polymerization reactions controlled by transition metals (e.g. metal-mediated radical polymerization and ring-opening polymerization). Kerton will continue to develop several projects in this area: (a) transformation of renewable feedstocks using catalysis and (b) atom-efficient synthetic methodology development focusing on transformations of alcohols and amines. In (a) and (b), “green” solvents and recyclable catalysts will be studied where possible. Pickup will develop catalysts for the efficient utilization of renewable fuels in fuel cells.

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Materials Chemistry

Materials chemistry is intimately linked with emerging technologies. The Department of Chemistry has extensive research programs in the chemistry of materials. L. Thompson has a world class research program in inorganic nano-materials directly applicable to molecular magnets, switches and molecular electronics as well as storage media. Materials chemistry research relevant to health sciences, such as the development of a fundamental understanding of the molecular architecture of hierarchical substances such as bone and cartilage (Merschrod and Poduska) and designing nanoscale “lab on a chip” devices for use as molecular sensors for environmental sensing applications (Merschrod, Bottaro) are actively being investigated. New nanoscale materials for improved fuel cells performance (Pickup) and catalysis (Kerton and Kozak) are being developed, and nanoscale mesoporous metal oxide assemblies are being used as a basis for artificial photosynthetic devices and light induced C-H activation and catalysis (D. Thompson). Organic molecules and materials with technological applications are also being investigated (Zhao and Bodwell). Catalytic synthesis of polymers (Kerton and Kozak) using renewable materials (see also Environmental Sustainability, below) and controlled radical polymerization reactions (Kozak) using non-precious metal catalysts are being studied. Our efforts in materials chemistry have led to Strategic Grants (NSERC) and to collaborations with companies in the province and elsewhere in Canada.

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Health and Medicine

Much of the research conducted by our organic chemistry focuses on areas of importance to medicine, such as asymmetric catalysis (Pansare) and natural product synthesis (Bodwell, Georghiou, Pansare), on the synthesis of biologically active materials relevant to pharmaceutical companies (Bodwell, Pansare, and Georghiou). Additionally, molecular sensors with potential applications in health care and artificial tissues are being developed. A member of the inorganic division (Dawe) also holds a cross-appointment with the School of Pharmacy and has a collaboration working on the characterization of antibacterial agents.

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Environmental Monitoring

The Bottaro group has focused on development of methods for rapid analysis of aquatic pollutants for robust quantification of key targets, but also to develop methods of analysis that can be applied in the study of the how process parameters influence speciation and environmental impact. With better understanding of these factors, processes can be optimized to minimize the production of key species and develop better treatment and mitigation strategies. This research is integrated with research in the Faculty of Engineering (Hawboldt, Kahn, etc.), combining system modeling and fundamentals of process optimization with the data from the new analytical approaches to provide new insights into perennial problems. Methods based capillary electrophoresis separations are being developed for analysis of very polar organic pollutants (e.g. nitrosamines), polar pharmaceuticals and sulfur anions associated with the milling and hydrometallurgical sulfidic minerals.

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Environmental Sustainability

Global concerns regarding climate change, sustainable sources of energy, and environmental pollution are ever increasing - expertise in this area will continue to be needed and the field will continue to be one of the most rapidly growing areas of modern chemistry. In response to this need, analytical method development with reduced environmental impact (Bottaro, Merschrod), environmental monitoring (Bottaro), the development of biomass applications (Helleur, Kerton), synthesis of biodegradable plastics (such as polylactide and new polycarbonates) from renewable feedstocks (Kerton and Kozak) and the use of CO2 as a chemical feedstock (Kerton, Kozak, Pickup) are sustainable research programs already in progress.

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Computational Chemistry. Modeling, Simulations and Cheminformatics

Covering all aspects of theoretical and computational chemistry, modeling, simulations and cheminformatics are a growing area of chemical research. Industry relies on modeling for enhanced throughput and pre-screening of experimental work. This reliance continues to grow as computational power increases, allowing for modeling of ever more complex systems. The Department of Chemistry is perfectly positioned to increase its involvement and impact in this growing field.

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New Initiatives

Artificial Photosynthesis

A research initiative towards artificial photosynthetic devices is currently under development in the department. The investment of oil revenues into alternative energy programs will place the province as a leader in energy sustainability. At present, we participate in an international collaboration with the Energy Frontiers Research center at The University of North Carolina to develop the fundamental science of solar energy conversion. This could ultimately place Memorial as the leading Canadian research center in solar energy research.

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Sustainability and Environmental Monitoring

There are major challenges facing the province the prevention and monitoring of pollutants from industrial expansion, particularly in the mining and oil and gas sectors. A proposed Centre for Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering in Cold Climate Oil Production will design and evaluate methods towards cleaner, more efficient chemical processes of relevance to petroleum research and oil, as well as targeted chemical monitoring methods for oil and gas production, and methods for spill treatment and remediation (Kozak, Kerton, Bottaro, Helleur, Poduska, Rowley and three collaborators in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science).

The Bottaro group is developing a number of collaborative projects on high throughput analytical methods and methods for rapid in situ monitoring. For environmental applications, these sensing systems are intended to be used in distributed arrays for environmental monitoring with real-time or near real-time detection, or for remote sample collection with detection in lab. They focus on sensing systems that incorporate molecularly imprinted polymers with detection by Raman (in collaboration with Merschrod and Broussard, St. MaryÂ’s University, Halifax) and desorption electrospray ionization-mass spectrometery (Wiseman, Prosolia, USA). Micro-fabrication and microfluidic handling components are part of the development of this work, requiring the expertise of other chemists (Merschrod). The applications of this research are varied, with measurements of alkylphenols and PAHs in water (collaboration with Hawboldt), aquatic pollutants (collaboration with Zeigler, Earth Sciences and Hawboldt, Engineering) and relevant compounds in biological fluids (Wiseman).

There are methodological challenges in identification and accurate measurement of airborne protein allergens. The Helleur group will advance mass spectrometric techniques and apply them to occupational health in 1) the East Coast fisheries, in particular, related to the prevalence of crab asthma and its allergens and 2) to airborne allergens in public schools.

The Bodwell group will develop sensors for the continuous detection of PAHs and metal ions in seawater. Sensor will also be developed for monitoring metal ions from nickel production in the province.

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Artificial Tissues

The Merschrod group will develop new methodologies for assessing and modeling hierarchy, with an emphasis on mechanical properties in biomaterials and soft materials. On the applied side, in collaboration with biomedical researchers, they will build with artificial tissue scaffolds, expanding our work on cartilage, bone, and cornea and moving into matrices for cell delivery in cardiovascular and liver systems.

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Contact

Department of Chemistry

230 Elizabeth Ave, St. John's, NL, CANADA, A1B 3X9

Postal Address: P.O. Box 4200, St. John's, NL, CANADA, A1C 5S7

Tel: (709) 864-8000