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January | janvier 2011 • Vol.63, No./no 1

Canadian Chemical News | L’Actualité chimique canadienne A Magazine of the Chemical Institute of Canada and its Constituent Societies | Une magazine de l’institut de chimie du canada et ses sociétés constituantes

Fuel from Garbage How one Canadian company is making the leap to profitability


inside for: • exciting content to celebrate ­ the ­International Year of Chemistry • our revamped news section • more of our new look





Propelling bioaugmentation from the lab to the real world. By Stephen Strauss Special Report for the

International Year of Chemistry

January | janvier 2011 Vol.63, No./no 1


Making fuel - and profit from garbage. By Tyler Irving Pour obtenir la version française de cet article, écrivez-nous à



How to talk about the good work you do. Special Report for the

International Year of Chemistry Pour obtenir la version française de cet article, écrivez-nous à


From the Editor De la rédactrice en chef


Guest Column Chroniqueur invité By Roland Andersson


Chemical News NEW Actualité chimique Reported and written by Tyler Irving


Society News Nouvelles des sociétés


Chemfusion By Joe Schwarcz

We’re evolving online too. Check out to see how we’ve made ­ it eas­ier for you to get all the news from the ­Canadian chemical s­ ciences and engineering scene electronically.

FRom the editor | de la rÉdactrice en chef

Executive Director

Roland Andersson, MCIC


Jodi Di Menna


Tyler Irving

Graphic Designers

Krista Leroux Kelly Turner

Society NEws


t’s January, a time when New Year’s resolutions are in full swing. But in the magazine publishing business, our resolutions for the coming year start months ahead of our press date. This issue marks our relaunch of ACCN, and represents our commitment to bring you a magazine that just gets better and better. This year, we resolve to bring you not just a refreshed look, a spiffy new nameplate on the cover, and an easier-to-read font inside, but also better, more timely news reporting in our “Chemical News” section each issue, more in-depth feature stories and plenty of special content to recognize the International Year of Chemistry. In this issue, we launch a five-part series that profiles Canadian women in the chemical sciences and engineering. When the United Nations decreed that 2011 would be the year to recognize chemistry, they noted that it coincided with the 100th anniversary of when Marie Curie won the Nobel Prize for her discovery of radium and polonium, making it the opportune time to reflect on how women have come into their own in this traditionally male-dominated field. This series is our Canadian contribution to that effort. In our Q and A, we talk to Esteban Chornet, the engineering brains behind a Montréal-based company that’s turning trash into cash by making fuel from the scavenged carbon. And finally, as a way to kick-off IYC2011, Joe Schwarcz and I have put together a communicating how-to guide for chemical scientists and engineers in the hopes that you’ll take up our challenge to get out there and talk about what you know.

I hope you enjoy the read!

Bobbijo Sawchyn Gale Thirlwall


Anne Campbell, MCIC

Marketing Manager

Bernadette Dacey

Marketing Assistant

Luke Andersson


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Angie Moulton

Editorial Board

Joe Schwarcz, MCIC, chair Milena Sejnoha, MCIC Bernard West, MCIC

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Recommended by the Chemical Institute of Canada (CIC), the Canadian Society for Chemistry (CSC), the Canadian Society for Chemical Engineering (CSChE), and the Canadian Society for Chemical Technology (CSCT). Views expressed do not necessarily represent the official position of the Institute or of the societies that recommend the magazine.

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guest column | chroniqueur invité

Scientists as Global Ambassadors

By Roland Andersson


everal years ago I attended a Canada Day reception where I had the opportunity to meet David Wilkins, at that time the U.S. Ambassador to Canada. I told him about Pacifichem, an international congress organized by the chemistry societies of Canada, the United States, Japan and four other countries, which attracts more than 10,000 researchers from 70-plus countries. I described how these chemical scientists and engineers presented their work on global challenges such as energy, climate change, environment, healthcare and security. He was most interested when I stated that despite the many science presentations and sharing of research theorems and ideas, the real value of gatherings of this type is the opportunity for scientists to engage as the “true global­ ­ambassadors” that they really are. I went on to say that even before our electronic, instant internet and email communications, the science community has always been global — and worked beyond its own national borders. Researchers have always wanted to have the opportunity to meet and work with others in their specific fields, and to understand how other countries and their research institutions worked. A significant proportion of scientists have in fact ‘worked abroad’ at various times in their careers. And although the research work provides the primary reason to continue to be together, society gains so much more from the fact that people from different nations and often very different cultures, religions, and government political systems realize that they must respect these differences — and work on common goals and objectives. This was most strikingly illustrated by the sharing of results and setting up of collaborations between scientists even during the height of the Cold War in the 1950s. I asked Ambassador Wilkins if he could name other professions or communities where people routinely work in foreign countries for extended periods of time; at least long enough to get a sense of its peoples and their ways. Certainly, this happens in the arts and cultures, professional sports and even the military, but never in the total global community that research scientists embrace. Research scientists respect great work from wherever it comes. I’m not sure that Ambassador Wilkins agreed with me when I stated that national governments and probably, often, even their media tend to control communiqués and messages for their own national public interest. The point was that I felt even in Canada, we only get the Canadian version of a story — and that this could be quite different from how people in other nations with different cultures see the same story. Case in point, think how you feel as a Canadian about climate change policies such as Kyoto. How might you feel if you were from a developing nation? Before we respectively moved on to meet with other reception guests, Wilkins asked that I send him some information on Pacifichem 2010. I am writing this as I travel to Honolulu for the congress. I am really pleased to say that our congress organizing committee expanded upon its program to bring in 35 young scholars from developing countries. I trust that these new ambassadors for science will all have great experiences meeting with some of the many scientists who will be attending from around the globe. Want to share your thoughts on this article? Write to us at

January 2011 CAnadian Chemical News   7


Glass-Wood Fusion: Beautifully Simple

your new

Chemical News

The unique properties of wood and glass have fascinated sculptors and artisans for centuries. Now, an accidental discovery at the University of British Columbia has led to a new fusion of these materials that could have applications for everything from tinted windows to industrial catalysis. Chemistry professor Mark MacLachlan and PhD student Kevin Shopsowitz were working to find new applications for nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC). NCC is produced by digesting waste wood with acid, and can be easily made on a large scale as a product of the forestry industry. The researchers hoped to use NCC to create a nanoporous material that could be used for hydrogen storage. First, they mixed a glass precursor

(tetramethoxysilane, Si(OMe)4) with NCC in an aqueous solution. After evaporating the water, they heated the remaining glass film to burn out the tiny rod-shaped cellulose crystals, leaving behind pores. To their surprise, the films were colourful and reflective (left). That’s because as the NCC dries, the rods form uniform layers like stacked logs, except that each layer is twisted slightly relative to the first (right). This results in helical pores with a repeating distance (pitch) that is similar to the wavelengths of visible light, resulting in a reflective material. By changing the ratio of silica to NCC, the pitch of the helix can be easily adjusted. This in turn affects the wavelength of light reflected. “We can easily tune it, all the way from the infrared to the ultraviolet,” says MacLachlan. In fact, he has already received requests from companies interested in using his coatings to make windows that reflect infrared light, reducing cooling costs for large office buildings. The material could also be used to separate stereoisomers, catalyse reactions, build sensors, and even as jewelry. MacLachlan notes that the process only works at a narrow pH range, which by sheer coincidence was the one at which the NCC suspension arrived. The discovery came about “almost by our laziness, by not adding an acid or base catalyst to it,” he says. “It makes it beautifully simple.”


Visualizing carbon capture Finding materials that absorb CO2 from smokestack gas is relatively easy; it’s getting them to let go of it that’s the hard part. For example­, liquid aminebased solvents (commonly used for carbon capture) must be heated to over 100˚C in order to release the carbon so they can be reused­. Luckily, new research has provided new insight into how to design­ “easy-on/ easy-off” carbon­capture materials. Metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) are nanoporous materials that can be used for gas capture. By adjusting the substituent components,

8   L’Actualité chimique canadienne

scientists­ can tune the properties of

Woo’s model showed a binding en-

these materials­, including how strongly

thalpy of about 40 kJ/mol, most of which

they bind CO2. “The sweet spot is a bind-

was due to electrostatic forces. Because

ing enthalpy­of about 50-60 kJ/mol,” says

the actual binding sites were visual-

Tom Woo, a University of Ottawa­ profes-

ized, he believes that the MOF can be

sor who worked on the project. His team

rationally designed to work even better.

constructed detailed computer models of

Some problems remain, such as the fact

an MOF that was synthesized by George

that the binding sites can just as easily

Shimizu and his team at the University

be filled by H20 as CO2. “Either­ you have

of Calgary. The model predicted specific

to remove the water before­it gets to the

binding sites for CO2, which were then

MOF, increasing the cost of the process,

confirmed experimentally by x-ray crys-

or you design an MOF that is immune to

tallography. Amazingly, there was an

water. That’s the major challenge that

almost­perfect match.

has to be overcome.”

janvier 2011

Kevin Shopsowitz

Natural Resources

Chemical News | Actualité chimique

Law and Policy

Toban Black

Turning Up the Heat on Chemical Valley Ada Lockridge and Ron Plain have had enough. The longtime members of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation near Sarnia, Ont. have been trying for eight years to change the way air pollution is regulated in their area. Now they’ve teamed up with the environmental law organization Ecojustice to file a lawsuit against the Ontario government. The suit challenges the government’s decision last April to grant an approval­to Suncor Energy Products Inc. to expand its refinery operations in Sarnia. The applicants argue that the decision does not account for what happens­ when Suncor’s pollutants interact with those of other emitters across the region­, which is colloquially known as “chemical valley.” The cumulative­ emissions can exceed healthy levels of various pollutants, and even produce new ones by reacting with each other. Failure to recognize this, they argue, is a violation of section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees life, liberty, and security of the person. Graffiti in downtown Sarnia Although the suit focuses on a specific approval, the general goal is to force government to re-examine its environmental regulations. “What we’re hoping for is a change to how pollution is regulated in hot spots, places like Hamilton and Sarnia, where there are multiple polluters,” says Justin Duncan a lawyer for Ecojustice­ working on the case. “This is what’s done in the U.S., but there aren’t really any good examples in Canada.”


Beep, beep, beep. The chips are done! There’s a new tool in the quest to design ever-smaller silicon circuits: the microwave oven. Researchers at the University of Alberta­’s National Institute of Nanotech­ nology are using microwave heat to speed up the self-assembly of certain block ­copolymers. The ability to do these reactions quickly offers an alternative method of making the intricate templates used in semiconductor manufacturing. Computer chips are typically made by photolithography. Light is used to burn patterns into polymer films which then serve as templates for etching silicon. Certain

features in these patterns can be as thin as 50 nanometres. But the process is becoming prohibitively expensive as scientists try to make even smaller features with more finely focused light. Block copolymers bypass light entirely. These mixtures of two different plastics selfassemble into intricate patterns in much the same way as the two complimentary strands of a DNA molecule. They’ve been shown to be capable of producing the intricate features in chip templates, but the problem is speed. “The time in which these things will spontaneously self-assemble normally takes hours to days at high temperature,” says ­Jillian Buriak, lead researcher on the project. “We do it in a microwave in a minute.” Not only is the process fast and cheap, but Buriak believes it could make even smaller templates, right down to the limits of nature. “People are talking about sub-10 nanometre patterns using self-assembly,” she says. “A nanometer is about four to five atoms. At a certain point, you’re just coming up against numbers of atoms. It’s amazing.”

Climate change

Raining on the Carbon parade Modeling global CO2 cycles, already notoriously difficult, just got a little harder. New research indicates that under certain conditions, even common processes like rain can significantly alter carbon exchange rates in the oceans. Oceanographer Daniela Turk of Dalhousie University and her team used a giant tank to simulate the effects of wind and rain on carbon exchange. She found when lots of rain falls without much wind, it dilutes the ocean surface, lowering the partial pressure of CO2. As it falls, it also absorbs carbon from the air and influences mixing conditions at the air-water interface. Taken together, these effects can be enough to change parts of the ocean from net sources of carbon to net sinks. Turk then looked at data from meteorological buoys in a place called the western equatorial ­warm pool, near Papua New Guinea. Sure enough, the carbon-sinking effects of rain were measurable during tropical storms. While she cautions that more work needs to be done, she is confident that her work will change our understanding of carbon cycles. “Rain effects mostly were ignored in the climate models,” she says. “This pilot study shows that we might need to consider these effects, especially in the tropical areas.”

January 2011 CAnadian Chemical News   9

Chemical News | Actualité chimique


Antimatter Containment: Not Just for Warp Drives Anymore

Maximilien Brice

Experiments to ­create antihydrogen and hold it in a magnetic trap were run on the antihydrogen laser physics apparatus (ALPHA, left) at CERN. The diagrams above show untrapped antihydrogen atoms annihilating on the inner surface of the ALPHA trap.

Fans of Star Trek’s various TV incarnations will recall the fictional antimatter-powered warp drive, which threatened to catastrophically spill its contents about every other episode. As it turns out, real antimatter can indeed be quite difficult to contain, which is one of the reasons it’s so hard to study. Now, thanks to an international research team of 42 scientists, including 15 Canadians, science is one big step closer to getting a good look at antihydrogen. Since antimatter obliterates itself the second it contacts matter, researchers must use powerful magnetic fields to hold it in place. This works well for charged particles like antiprotons and positrons. Antihydrogen, however, is a neutral molecule, with only a weak dipole moment to hold onto. “You have to make them with very, very low energy,” says Scott Menary of York University, who was part of the team. “That’s the real technical challenge.”

The researchers at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) managed to create low-energy plasmas of antiprotons and positrons, cooling them to near absolute zero before bringing them together in a vacuum chamber. Only the most lethargic anti-atoms were caught in the magnetic traps. They stayed there until the fields were turned off, at which point the team detected 38 annihilation events, proving that they had caught their elusive quarry. The team is now working on capturing enough atoms of antihydrogen to compare its properties to normal hydrogen. “There’s not really a limit to how long we can hold it,” says Menary. “At this point, it’s not obvious exactly how many we need. But it certainly isn’t millions; hundreds to maybe a thousand should be just fine.”

Earth Chemistry

Ocean Phosphorus Boom Could Have Sparked ­Animal Life For most of its 4.5 billion year history, the Earth was inhabited by only the hardiest of microorganisms. It was only 580 million years ago that oxygen levels became high enough to support animal life. New research suggests that the trigger for this event may have been fluctuating phosphorus levels in ancient oceans. Kurt Konhauser, a geomicrobiologist at the University of Alberta, and his PhD student Stefan Lalonde, were part of an international team that gathered more than 700 samples of rocks known as banded iron formations (BIFs) spanning almost 3 billion­ years of earth’s history. By measuring the levels of phosphorus in these rocks, the team was able to infer what levels of the element were like in the oceans that surrounded them. “We thought they were pretty much stable through time,” says Konhauser­. “Then we

suddenly saw this big spike, around 700630 million years ago, something we never anticipated.” That spike corresponds to a period known as “snowball earth.” Glaciers almost encircled the planet, grinding down mountains and enriching the oceans with phosphorus from their dust. The extra phosphorus would have caused huge blooms of algae, which in turn would have rapidly raised oxygen levels. “Prior to that there presumably wasn’t enough oxygen in the oceans to allow animals to evolve,” says ­Konhauser. “That event probably kickstarted the evolutionary process.”

January 2011 CAnadian Chemical News   11

8th ECCE

20118 September 25 – 29, 2011 Berlin · Germany

Berlinbilder: © Berlin Partner/FTB-Werbefotografie; Manfred Brückels

8 th ECCE 2011

September 25–29 · Berlin · Germany

1, 2011 y r a u r Feb ne for n! i l d a e D missio b u s t c abstra de


ce20 c e . w w


8th European Congress of Chemical Engineering together with


Advanced process control Assessment of processes sustainability Biorefineries CAPE simulation and control Catalytic processes for the production of semi products and fine chemicals Catalytic transformation of renewable raw materials Chemical reaction engineering Downstream processing and separation science Education and innovation Energy efficient production Energy: storage, fuel cells Fluid dynamics and separation Functional materials High temperature technologies: materials and processes Innovative materials for the construction of apparatus Innovative separation technologies Ionic liquids

Materials and construction – expanding the limits Membrane technology for water production Modelling and simulation in chemical engineering Nanoparticles – formation and formulation technologies Particle technology between product design and energy savings Particle technology in evolving fields PAT in biochemical engineering Plant lifecycle management Process biothermodynamics Process intensification Process-product modelling, simulation and design Reactions in colloidal systems Renewables, biofuels and bioenergy Safety engineering Secondary raw materials Simulation, measurement and control of multiphase systems Structure formation and product design Thermodynamics of chemical and pharmaceutical systems

CONGRESS ORGANIZER: DECHEMA e.V. · Society for Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology · Theodor-Heuss-Allee 25 · 60486 Frankfurt/Germany · Ms. Barbara Feisst Phone: +49 (0)69 / 7564-333 · Fax: +49 (0)69 / 7564-441 · E-Mail:

Chemical News | Actualité chimique


The trouble with DCA Any time the phrase “miracle drug” gets tossed around, there’s bound to be trouble. Such is the case with dichloroacetate, or DCA, a simple molecule which has been touted as a potential treatment for certain cancers. But new research suggests that results with this drug are unpredictable, and in some cases, might actually make things worse. Brenda Coomber and her team at the University of Guelph exposed colorectal cancer cells to DCA in lowoxygen conditions, which are often found in fast-growing tumours. They

found that some of the cancer cells actually grew better in the presence of DCA. When those cells were transplanted into mice, the mice that received DCA treatment had larger tumors than their untreated counterparts. The findings are in contrast to a 2007 study done by Evangelos Michelakis of the University of Alberta that indicated DCA can reduce the size of brain tumours in rats. Though use of DCA for cancer treatment is still in clinical trials, DCA is already available to doctors for the treatment of a metabolic disorder called ­pyruvate dehydrogenase deficiency. In the meantime, some clinics are using DCA “off-label” for cancer treatment. “There are a lot of patients that don’t have a lot of options available to them, because they’ve failed standard treatments,” says Akbar Khan, Medical Director of Medicor Cancer Centres in Toronto. “We believe it is ethically acceptable to use the drug in that case, provided that the patient is fully informed of what the risks are.” Coomber’s work underlines the unpredictable nature of cancer. “There’s no such thing as a cancer cell,” says Coomber. “What happens in one kind of cancer can be very different from another. I don’t think our study says that DCA doesn’t work in some settings; what it says is that this compound can have unexpected effects and we don’t know why.”


Marianne Meadhal, Simon Fraser University

Hand-Held Device­­ Offers Rapid Antibiotic Screening

need to know within a few hours; otherwise you waste too much time.” Parameswaran’s chips are the size of a credit card and made of ordinary plexiglass. A single chip contains a matrix of chambers connected by thin channels. When a bacterial sample is introduced, it passively flows into the chambers, each of which contains a specially formulated mixture of bacterial broth, an antibiotic, and a dye that reacts with metabolic byproducts. A green glow means the bugs survived; no colour indicates an effective drug. The chips are cheap to produce, require no electricity, and are easy to use. Parameswaran Imagine being able to carry around an antibiotic believes they are particularly testing lab in your pocket. Such a thing will soon suited to a country like his nabe possible, and is especially important in places like rural India, where unreliable roads often pre- Simon Fraser University graduate students tive India. “When you go there, Sumanpreet Chhina (left) and Mona Rahbar you see that anything you can vent the transport of patients and equipment. demonstrate microfluidic chips that screen name in high-tech is there. Ash Parameswaran, an engineering scien- multiple antibiotics in hours. At the same time, you go to a tist at Simon Fraser University, and his team of graduate students have developed unique microfluidic ­village where it’s like 50 years behind. From the science devices that are able to conduct an antibiogram. This and from the human perspective, I think this is a techtest rapidly assesses the response of a given bacterial nology that we could actually provide.” strain to several different antibiotics. The Chemical News is reported and written by Tyler Irving. “The need of the hour in a place like India or ­Africa is not to know what bug is causing the problem, but Want to share your thoughts on our news stories? what antibiotic will cure it,” says Parameswaran. “You Write to us at

January 2011 CAnadian Chemical News   13

14   L’Actualité chimique canadienne

janvier 2011

Chemical Engineering | bioaugmentation Special Report for the International Year of Chemistry

Reality Check Elizabeth Edwards has been a driving force in propelling bioaugmentation from pie-in-the-sky lab research to real-world practice.

By Stephen Strauss Photo by Peter Sibbald First in a five part series profiling Canadian women in the chemical sciences and engineering in celebration­of the International Year of Chemistry.


ver the past 17 years a super-energetic, sportsloving University of Toronto professor of chemical engineering has led a revolution in what was previously seen as a fundamentally flawed and over-hyped enterprise — adding bacteria to contaminated sites and then letting natural processes break noxious chemicals down into harmless sub-components. Indeed, until Elizabeth Edwards was able to bridge the chasm between lab science’s promise and field science’s failures, “bioaugmentation” — the term used to describe the process — was routinely followed by the words “snake oil salesmen.” “People would sell you a magic pixie dust that you were just supposed to sprinkle over a site and it would do all the clean up for you,” says Edwards in the midst of a work day so harried that she has had to skip lunch for an interview. “It was just oversold and that is still happening today.” Except, one has to quickly add, where Elizabeth Edwards has become involved. Elizabeth Edwards, professor of chemical engineering at the University of Toronto, holds a bottle of microbial culture inside an anaerobic glove box. The bacteria will be propagated to test how well it can degrade ­chemicals like trichloroethene and its daughter products at ­contaminated industrial sites.

She is today a driving force in a university researcher/environmental consulting company collaboration that has taken the snake oil and pixie dust out of bioaugmentation in which naturally existing microbes are applied to the degradation of tetrachloroethene (PCE) and trichloroethene (TCE). These compounds, which are widely used in dry cleaning and metal cleaning, have become synonymous with the unintended ecological consequences of 20th century chemical engineering. “The notion was that they were completely harmless,” says Edwards who speaks about her work both with a passion and with that most unusual of rhetorical flourishes — complete sentences. “They were inert; they didn’t burn; they didn’t react with anything. So after you cleaned your clothes you just could dump them out in back and let them evaporate.” While TCE and PCE did evaporate a little, what they mostly did is sink into the ground and then contaminate the groundwater underneath them. How Edwards came up with a magic bacterial mix - which breaks the chlorinated chemicals down in the anaerobic world they inhabit - grows out of a life and career path that seemed destined from birth to first get a PhD and then turn research into practical application. She grew up in Montréal, daughter of two McGill University professors. Her own career path was anything but straight forward when she entered McGill. “I liked math and I liked the environment,” she recalls, “and I thought for a while I would go into geology, but what changed my mind at the last minute was a chemical

January 2011 CAnadian Chemical News   15

All In the Family Elizabeth Edwards’ research life and family life are in many ways a meld. She has attempted to collect DNA from fossilized diatoms with her brother Alex who is a professor of paleobiology at the University of Alberta. The word “attempted” is used because so far no DNA has been found. A much more fruitful exchange has taken place with her husband Aled. Edwards says there has been an almost daily exchange of ideas and approaches in that area where modern technologies - particularly as related to genomics - have linked medical research and environmental research. Aled Edwards is particularly technologically savvy because he heads up an international research effort known as the Structural Genomics Consortium which is trying to determine the structure of human proteins and then use that knowledge to speed up the process of drug discovery and development. “He has the wild ideas, and I try to pick those that have legs. We are always talking about each other’s work - very geeky,” Elizabeth Edwards writes in an email about the collaboration and points out that the discussions have led to the pair authoring two scientific papers together. It is a geek familial universe that her children have sometimes found too science-y to bear. “There is a code word my son Trevor invented when he was about eight to signify that we were talking too much science at home. He would say ‘x/3, mum’ which meant ‘I don't understand a word you are saying and get real’,” she jokes and then adds. “We still use it to control the nerd factor in our house.”

16   L’Actualité chimique canadienne

engineering brochure I saw one day which said ‘Versatility is the hallmark of chemical engineering.’ And I thought ‘yeah’ I don’t have to make up my mind, I can just do whatever chemical engineering is.” When she graduated there were no jobs in her field so she did a masters in biomedical engineering. Then she got a job at Seagrams Ltd. in Montréal learning how to grow micro-organisms for brewing processes and that led her to the belief that microbiology — particularly as it related to the environment — was her future. It was also in a way in her then-present, because at McGill she met her husband Aled Edwards, who is now a professor of biochemistry at the University of Toronto. She then went off to get a PhD at Stanford — on the day of the interview she is proudly wearing a Stanford sweater. There her thesis was on the anaerobic biodegradation of toluene, benzene and xylene. Then, what is known in academe as the “two-body problem” arose. Her husband got a position at McMaster University in Hamilton and Edwards decided that it was going to be easier for her take a job in industry rather than seek one herself in an over-crowded academic work setting. So after hearing David Major, principal environmental scientist at Geosyntec Consultants in Guelph, give a talk on the efforts of his company to understand the biodegradation of chlorine compounds, she approached him for a job. But there was also another motivation for going into industry. The born-from-thewomb academic wanted to subject her university research to practical scrutiny. “I wanted to see if there were indications of how it could be used in the field. I wondered, ‘is this really real, can it really happen?’” she says. So in 1992 Edwards found herself in a new city, completing her PhD thesis, working full time, pregnant with her third child, while looking after the other two. “It was,” she explains with a dryness that could make vermouth seem soppy,“a ­challenging year.” And the bioremediation reality she encountered in the field was disheartening. At some sites that Geosyntec was trying to clean up, nature’s chloride degradation biochemistry seemed to be working perfectly. At others nothing was occurring even after nutrients were added to stimulate the bacteria. Edwards discussed the problem with Evan Cox, a consultant at Geosyntec and the two had a mini-eureka moment. The ecological presumption, based on previous experience with hydrocarbon decomposition, was that the chloride degrading microbes existed everyplace on earth. But maybe that wasn’t the case. Maybe what was happening was there were no effective PCE and TCE decomposing bacteria in some locales. To test the hypothesis Edwards took a batch A bottle of growth medium for anaerobic bacteria is sparged with gases to exclude oxygen. of dirt from a site in Ontario where

janvier 2011

Michael Tenaglia

Chemical Engineering | bioaugmentation

Jeff Roberts, SiREM laboratories

Special Report for the International Year of Chemistry

biodegradation was occurring, mixed it with a soil sample from New York State where it didn’t happen. She sealed the bottle, added a bit of hydrogen to make the mixture anaerobic and then observed what followed. Within two days the chlorinated compounds which hadn’t broken down in 200 days were completely dechlorinated. “I thought holy moly, I can’t believe it,” says Edwards “and then I had to spend a lot of time proving to myself that it was true.” What followed was a torrent of scientific research from her and others. There was a search for the most efficient biodegrading microbes. These turned out to be the Dehalococcoides which unlike other dechlorinating bacteria didn’t finish acting until they had completely turned TCE and PCE into non-toxic ethene. The genome for several Dehalococcoides species was also sequenced. This indicated that the Dehalococcoides were niche specialists which only thrived in the deoxygenated environments like those found in contaminated underground water. Even more compelling was the demonstration that their sole food stuff was chlorinated compounds. This understanding combined to allow Edwards to create a bacterial culture specifically designed to rapidly and completely break down chlorinated compounds. She named it KB-1. The initials stand for “kick butt” which was the name her mother gave a beloved red pickup truck. “When I told my mom about what we had done, she said “oh, it’s like a kick butt culture,” laughs Edwards. What flowed from KB-1 has first been a new business enterprise for Geosyntec. It created SiREM, a company which uses bioaugmentation strategies to clean up chlorinated waste sites. Over 200 places in Canada, the U.S. and Europe have availed themKB-1, a bioremediating anaeroselves of SiREM’s services and with a proof in place bic microbial culture created by ­Elizabeth Edwards, is ­injected of the principle of bioaugmentation other firms have into the ground from a beer-kegbegun selling their own dechlorinating bio-cultures. like pressure canister at a site in ­eastern ­Indiana, U.S., which is All of this has combined to create a paradigm contaminated with trichloroethene shift in people’s view of the worth of bioaugmenta(TCE). TCE is the most common industrial degreasing solvent, used tion in general. in all metal manufacturing and in the semi-conductor industries. “I think it sounds hyperbolic to talk about a revolution taking place, but it actually is kind of true,” says Stephen Zinder, a Cornell University micro­ biologist who has worked closely with Edwards. “This is now how we deal with contaminated sites. And Elizabeth really helped us understand how the organisms worked in their environment.”

If Elizabeth Edwards is not solely responsible for bioaugmentation’s 21st century rehabilitation, she has been a key player in making it happen and for a very clear reason. She keeps checking to see if what she is finding in her university laboratory is “really real” in nature. “What she has brought is an appreciation of the needs of the field. How do you reduce what you do to practice, not pure research, not pie-in-the-sky?” says Major. “And she has added to that real data about how the process works, not the bogus stuff people were coming up with before.” So what lies ahead for the mistress of really, real bioaugmentation? “We are looking at other compounds, in particular fluorinated compounds like Teflon. The question is can we do anything to break them down,” she says. Not to mention ways of using anaerobic processes to generate ethene from waste products. What has her journey into a world where biology meets man-made chemicals taught Edwards? “Evolution is our friend,” she reflects. “You have to look at sites or locations or places where whatever transformation you seek has been happening for many, many, many decades or centuries. There you will find microbes which will have evolved to do what you are looking for. The idea is to mine these historically impacted sites.” And that’s a really, real truth. Stephen Strauss is a Toronto-based journalist who was for a long time the science writer at The Globe and Mail. More recently he has written a regular column for and numbers of features and news stories for Nature Biotechnology. Want to share your thoughts on our news stories? Write to us at

January 2011 CAnadian Chemical News   17

Business | gasification

Q A &

Reaping the rewards of rubbish Montréal’s Enerkem turns garbage into fuel and other chemicals.

By Tyler Irving ACCN: Changing garbage into fuel sounds

almost utopian. How does it work? E.C.: Garbage is a very heterogeneous material, so to begin


very day we throw away carbonaceous materials that were originally created from oil or biomass sources at great cost. Montréal-based Enerkem has turned this model on its head. The company uses garbage as a raw material to create chemical building blocks like methanol and ethanol. Currently, in Edmonton, Enerkem is building what will be the world’s biggest waste-to-biofuel conversion plant. Esteban Chornet is professor emeritus of chemical engineering at the Université de Sherbrooke. Ten years ago he co-founded Enerkem with his son Vincent, and he serves as the company’s Chief Technology Officer. ACCN spoke with him to find out more about how Enerkem is making the most of scavenged carbon.

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with, it has to be sorted. Recyclables can be recycled, and some waste can be converted by microorganisms, but there is a third fraction which is not possible to either recycle or treat biologically. This ultimate residue has to be shredded to make a product that is homogeneous and fluffy, a bit like confetti. It’s essentially a mixture of about 60 per cent biomass and some 20 per cent plastics; the rest is inert materials, such as glass remnants, sand and some salts. This is the material that we use for gasification. The material is introduced into a vessel where it is sequentially decomposed and transformed into permanent gases: hydrogen, carbon monoxide, light hydrocarbons such as methane, and CO2. This composition and transformation is conducted in the presence of steam and a small amount of oxygen that provides (by oxidation) the heat for the entire process. This gas could be converted into electricity, but that’s not our main purpose. Our approach is to use the carbon in this gas as raw material to build molecules that are already used in industry and by consumers, and that normally come from petroleum. ACCN: Tell us about the new plant you’re

building in Edmonton. E.C.: This is a model of how a project can be developed with

municipalities. The city of Edmonton has had a plan for many years to progressively reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill. By the end of the 1990s, they were diverting or recycling about 60 per cent of their waste, but they were not satisfied with that. They decided to commission a third party study in order to find a technology that would use the ultimate residue that is being sent to landfill. It was this group

janvier 2011

that, in 2002, came across Enerkem. In 2004, the city of Edmonton came to Sherbrooke, and began discussing how we could work with them to use the ultimate residue. The project was primarily driven by the need to increase waste diversion, from 60 to 90 per cent. We began testing for them in the pilot plant, we obtained the data, we looked at the fate of non-carbon components, and they were then satisfied enough to form a partnership. The partnership is such that they will provide the raw material and we will provide the plant. The city of Edmonton is providing a guaranteed supply of the feedstock, with a small tipping fee, for 25 years. The groundbreaking ceremony took place at the end of August in Edmonton. We are now developing the infrastructure that will host the equipment, which will be coming in after the winter. Eventually, the plant will produce 36-37 million litres of ethanol, but in phase one, we’ll produce methanol only. The phases will be one year apart.

ACCN: Gasification has been around for a long time, but your innovation

is the use of unconventional feedstocks, like municipal waste. What was the research breakthrough that made this possible? E.C.: There are three areas that I think constitute the breakthroughs. The first came

when we understood that, based on the composition of this material, we do not need to go to extremely high temperatures and pressures. Instead, we could do it sequentially, starting at temperatures that are not very high, perhaps 600 to 700 degrees, and progressively go to 850 to 900 degrees to complete the transformation. The second breakthrough came when we developed a system for feeding this fluffy, low-density material into the gasifier. This seems to be banal, but it’s difficult because you have to feed it in a consistent and uniform manner. Enerkem analyzed the engineering and industrial literature, which led to a few design configurations. Prototypes were built, tested, modified as needed, and re-tested. In parallel, Enerkem connected with suppliers who had had experience in feeding fluffy materials. Their solutions were very similar to the one the Enerkem team had found. The configuration selected is part of the proprietary design package developed by and belonging to Enerkem. This was a mechanical breakthrough. The third breakthrough, which I think is the most significant, came when we developed a method to remove the contaminants from the gas. That means recovering all the metals and converting all the organic material into useful carbon monoxide and hydrogen. This gas conditioning technology is not necessarily something we invented, but rather we put together by properly assembling a number of steps and unit operations that are known.

ACCN: Is it true that this is the

biggest waste-to-fuels plant in the world? E.C.: We pride ourselves to say it’s

Enerkem Inc.

so. I’m a scientist, so you know I’m cautious, but I have looked at the world and I think this is the largest alcohols plant from a negative value waste that has ever been built.

A representation of Enerkem’s waste-tobiofuels facility, currently under construction in Edmonton, shows the biomass storage building (large white building, background mid-left), gasifier and gas cleaning modules (pipes in background, middle), wastewater treatment facility (low, rectangular building, background mid-right)

and methanol and ethanol storage

(large green tanks at right).

January 2011 CAnadian Chemical News   19

__________________________________________ Department of Chemistry University of Waterloo __________________________________________ Tenure-Track Faculty Position in Organic Chemistry The Department of Chemistry at the University of Waterloo invites applications for a tenure-track faculty position in Organic Chemistry. This appointment may be made at any of the professorial ranks. Exceptional senior candidates will be considered. Applicants should have demonstrated excellence in research in areas of organic chemistry that complement the existing research activities of the Department. Successful candidates will also have established outstanding teaching records or will be able to provide evidence of potential for high-quality teaching. Postdoctoral experience, in addition to a Ph.D. degree in any area of Organic Chemistry, is essential. The Department has an excellent reputation in organic chemistry, and offers outstanding research and teaching environments, including access to scientific workshops, instrumentation and computational facilities. Inquiries and applications should be directed to: Dr. John F. Honek, Chair Department of Chemistry University of Waterloo 200 University Avenue Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, N2L 3G1 Applicants should submit a complete curriculum vitae, a research proposal (max. 5 pages in length) and arrange for three letters of recommendation from professional references to arrive before March 1, 2011. Additional information about the Department and the University of Waterloo can be found at All qualified candidates are encouraged to apply, however, Canadian citizens and Permanent Residents will be given priority. The University of Waterloo encourages applications from all qualified individuals, including women, members of visible minorities, native peoples and persons with disabilities. This appointment is subject to the availability of funds.

__________________________________________ Department of Chemistry University of Waterloo __________________________________________ Tenure-Track Faculty Position in Experimental Physical Chemistry/Chemical Physics The Department of Chemistry at the University of Waterloo invites applications for a tenure-track faculty position in experimental Physical Chemistry/Chemical Physics. This appointment may be made at any of the professorial ranks. Exceptional senior candidates will be considered. Applicants should have demonstrated excellence in research in areas of experimental physical chemistry or chemical physics that complement the existing research activities of the Department. Successful candidates will also have established outstanding teaching records or will be able to provide evidence of potential for high-quality teaching. Postdoctoral experience, in addition to a Ph.D. degree in any area of experimental Physical Chemistry/Chemical Physics, is essential. The Department has an excellent reputation in physical chemistry/ chemical physics, and offers outstanding research and teaching environments, including access to scientific workshops, instrumentation and computational facilities. Inquiries and applications should be directed to: Dr. John F. Honek, Chair Department of Chemistry University of Waterloo 200 University Avenue Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, N2L 3G1 Applicants should submit a complete curriculum vitae, a research proposal (max. 5 pages in length) and arrange for three letters of recommendation from professional references to arrive before March 1, 2011. Additional information about the Department and the University of Waterloo can be found at http:// All qualified candidates are encouraged to apply, however, Canadian citizens and Permanent Residents will be given priority. The University of Waterloo encourages applications from all qualified individuals, including women, members of visible minorities, native peoples and persons with disabilities. This appointment is subject to the availability of funds.

ACCN: : Clearly these breakthroughs did not

happen all at once. Can you give us a sense of how these ­advances came about? E.C.: My interest was initially in using wood-type mate-

rials. During the 1970s and 1980s, there was a large project in Quebec in which we took forest residues and we began gasifying them. This technology didn’t go far, for a few reasons. Forestry and agricultural waste may be available, but you have to transport them, which can actually be quite costly. They are also rather wet. Finally, the price of petroleum dropped in the 1980s; we had cheap energy and there was no need to develop alternatives. But what we learned during this process was that we could probably apply such technology to more complex feedstocks, if we were able to clean the gas. So, with my team, I took this as a challenge. By the end of the 1990s, we were sure that we could do so, and that is when we put together a company to further develop the technology and eventually commercialize it. The outcome of this was Enerkem, which appeared as a company in 1999, and began operation in 2000. ACCN: You currently have a demonstration plant

­operating in Westbury, Que. How does that plant work? E.C.: We are adjacent to a sawmill which can provide

shredded materials from spent telephone poles. The preservatives stay within three inches from the surface, so the poles are sawn, the internal part is sold and we get the shredded material that has preservatives, both organic and inorganic. We convert the organic contaminants into useful gases, and the inorganic ones are neutralized and eventually used for aggregates or brick manufacturing. We also accept municipal solid waste from different places. We have two feeding systems, so we can switch from one feedstock to the other. We also use spent railroad ties, which have creosote in them. We started the operation in 2009, and we have accumulated a few thousand hours of operation in gasification mode. During this time, the gas was analyzed, and then it was disposed of by flaring. In October 2010, we began using part of the gas to produce methanol. We are very satisfied with the quality of the gas and the methanol we produce. We have planned to do this in three phases:

phase one was the gasification, phase two was the methanol, and phase three is the methanol to ethanol, which will begin in this coming year. ACCN: Are you making money on the Westbury plant? E.C.: The objective of commercial demonstration plants is

to validate the technology at a small commercial scale and to operate on a continuous basis. These demo plants do not represent the economics of the commercial plants and of the company’s business model. Enerkem has the advantage of using a negative cost feedstock for its plants, including its demonstration plant, and has therefore better economics for its demo plant than others. ACCN: Will you make money from commercial

plants, like the one currently under construction in ­Edmonton? E.C.: Production at a commercial-scale level is 10 million

gallons of ethanol for 100,000 tonnes of dry feedstock. The market price of ethanol today is about $1.80 to $1.90 US per gallon (about $0.50 CAN per litre). We’re able to meet this cost, and have a reasonable return on investment, for the sizes of plants that we are interested in. Enerkem has developed a cost-effective plant model and has many cost advantages. Its commercial plants are expected to deliver good returns. ACCN: Would this process make economic sense

if you had to pay for the feedstock? E.C.: Yes. Enerkem has other cost advantages, including its

standardized manufacturing approach where most of the key process equipment is assembled off-site and in-shop by a third-party contractor under a fixed-price contract. ACCN: How is the company funded? E.C.: Initially, it was my family. By 2002, 2003 we obtained our first funding from venture capital. The results were going in the right direction, so in 2005, 2006 we had another infusion of equity capital. You have to do it in funding periods, and we have been successful in attracting interest from both venture capital, and last year from a strategic group,Waste Management Inc. Enerkem is a wellfunded company, however, this is insufficient to take all the risks required to move towards commercialization, so we have had support from the provincial government agencies in Quebec and Alberta, from the federal government

January 2011 CAnadian Chemical News   21

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janvier 2011

agencies, both Natural Resources Canada and Sustainable Development Technology Canada, and also lately from U.S. funding agencies like the Department of Energy. ACCN: What happens to the chemi-

cals that you remove from the gas during the cleaning process? Temperatures ­inside the gasifier (left) at Enerkem’s ­demonstration plant in Westbury, Que. are typically 700° - 800°C. Waste is fed continuously by a feedscrew (bottom right, yellow). The blue module on the top left is a cyclone for the gas cleaning process.

Enerkem Inc.

E.C.: Organics are broken apart into

small molecules that are part of our mix for the synthesis. For instance, we transform creosote into carbon monoxide, methane and hydrogen, which are desirable compounds for us. As for inorganics, we have chlorine, which comes from PVC. It will form hydrogen chloride, and you have to neutralize that by adding lime. We recover it as an innocuous salt, typically calcium chloride. Sulphur is always present, and that can form hydrogen sulphide. We use the same technique; we neutralize the sulphur and produce natural forms of sulphides. Most metals will stay as innocuous oxides, but you could have some that are volatile either by themselves or as salts. For example, suppose someone has thrown a battery or a thermometer into the garbage. Some mercury will form into gas, because mercury is very volatile. At the end of the gas conditioning system, we have a getter, which is functionalized activated carbon that gets this mercury and transforms it into mercury sulphide. That’s how it is found in nature, and it is innocuous. A small amount of innocuous solids are produced in our plants. These salts could be used for additives for cement manufacturing, aggregate materials for construction (that is, in concrete or asphalt), or additives for brick manufacturing or landfilling.

ACCN: How does the amount of energy that it takes to gasify the material

compare to the amount of energy you get out in the form of ethanol? E.C.: Let’s say we go all the way to ethanol. The energy efficiency is typically 40 per

cent. This is the energy contained in the ethanol produced, divided by the energy in the feedstock, plus any other energy that you add to the system. We can operate in two ways: we can import electricity, or we can produce our own electricity. In Quebec, electricity is rather cheap, so we have operated using electricity from Hydro-Québec. In Edmonton, we plan to buy the electricity locally as well. We are now at around 35 to 36 per cent efficiency. Eventually, we’re going to put in an engine that will be able to produce electricity and achieve a self-sufficient system. At that time the efficiency will be 40 per cent. ACCN: The idea of producing fuel from municipal waste is very attractive;

why did it take until now to gain traction? E.C.: I think everything in life has its time. In the fifties and the sixties they asked

“why don’t we get some electricity from waste?” So then incineration came, particularly in Europe and Japan. Today, there are a few visionaries, among them Enerkem, that ask “Why don’t we use carbon for a more valuable application than just electricity?” That’s the new paradigm, to capture the carbon in waste and use it as a valuable resource. Our goal is (and I’ll use the Latin word) to valorize carbon. We want to give added value to carbon in waste, and you cannot do that by only heat or electricity production. You have to go into chemical or biochemical production. Soon, people will talk about making garbage into fibres, or into structures, or into fuels. It’s coming, but society wasn’t ready for it until now. Want to share your thoughts on this article? Write to us at

January 2011 CAnadian Chemical News   23

Chemistry | communication

Talk About What You Know

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” - George Bernard Shaw

A Call to Action and How-to Guide for Chemical Scientists and Engineers to Spread the Word During the International Year of Chemistry About the Good Work They Do

Special Report for the International Year of Chemistry


n the thirty years I’ve spent trying to communicate chemistry to the public, I have often thought of that classic movie line: “What we have here is a failure to communicate ... some men you just can't reach.” Recently, after just finishing a roughly five minute harangue on my radio show poking fun at the ridiculous testimonials on behalf of a product called “Aerobic Oxygen,” I went to the phones to take questions. Marketers of the wondrous product claim that “stabilized reactive ions of oxygen” can cure virtually every disease from bacterial infections to cancer. I backed up my verbal tirade with quite an in-depth explanation about

24   L’Actualité chimique canadienne

janvier 2011

Written and compiled by Joe Schwarcz and Jodi Di Menna the chemistry and biology of oxygen. Despite my efforts, what did the first caller want to know? “Where can I buy this ‘Aerobic Oxygen?’” Failure to communicate. I’ve learned over and over that talking about how the chemical sciences and engineering contribute to the well-being of society can be a challenging task, but who better than us to talk about what we do? And the International Year of Chemistry offers up a wonderful opportunity to hone your chemical communication skills. Here’s a how-to guide to help you take us up on the challenge to get out there and talk about what you know. - Joe Schwarcz

T we



ard? Have you he e Canada is th rgest world’s la supplier

of uranium, about producing of 29 per cent s the world’ e next supply. Th oducer highest pr a with is Australi . 21 per cent

So you’ve bumped into an old friend at the grocery store, or you’re making small talk at a ­cocktail party, and you want to work chemistry into the conversation, but don’t know where to start. Well, here’s a few ­chemical ice-breakers to help keep things lively.

The Ten Commandments of Good Communication

Say, I was jus t ponde ring th fact th e at the f i r st degr able pl adastics were in vented Canada. in In 1968 , U n i versity of Toro nto pro fessor Guillet James discove red tha slightl t by y alter i n g t h ture of e struc polyeth ylene ( 2 and 4 numbers in your recycle it’s po bin) ssible to make a material th at brea ks down direct in sunligh t, but is stab under i le ndoor i llumina tion.

Whether you’re chatting about the latest chemical news with a neighbour over the fence, explaining your work as a chemical scientist to a large audience, or blogging about your area of expertise, knowing how to communicate well can mean the ­difference between being tuned out or heard loud and clear. Here are Science is story-telling. some basicsin to keep mind while you spread the word: This is evident the in way

e use our primary scientific • Translate science into plain English, using everyday instrument, theand eye. The ­examples analogies; eye searches for shapes. • Explain why and how It the science is relevant to people’s lives; • Be open and explain what searches for a beginning, you know and what you don’t; • Think through what you want to communicate; a middle, and an end. • Be concise, but don’t be afraid to elaborate once you’ve

- John C. Polanyi, Canadian, your listener’s attention; 1986 Nobelgot Laureate in Chemistry

• Listen to other points of view. Don’t assume you’re right, but you could be, so don’t be too defensive!; • Empathize with your audience. Find a common ground, a way to relate to each other; • Remember that small talk can lead to bigger things; • Treat public concerns about risk seriously; • Show you care. Adapted from Communication Skills for Engineers and Scientists, Fourth Edition, published in 2007 by the Institution of Chemical Engineers.

January 2011 CAnadian Chemical News   25

ALBERTA SULPHUR RESEARCH LTD. Center for Applied Catalysis and Industrial Sulfur Chemistry Calgary, Alberta, Canada. EXPERIMENTAL PHYSICAL CHEMIST Alberta Sulphur Research Ltd., located within the Department of Chemistry at the University of Calgary, is seeking a physical chemist to join its team of applied chemists.* The appointment will be made at the Research Scientist and/or Project Management position, depending on the experience of the candidate. Candidates must hold a doctorate in chemistry (physical) and, preferably, have knowledge and experience within high pressure chemistry and phase behaviour. In special cases, if the candidate holds an MSc or BSc and has exceptional experience, they will be considered. Interests and experience in sour gas process chemistry, sulfur chemistry, surface chemistry and high pressure physical property measurement will be an asset. ASRL was formed in 1964 and is a not-for-profit research organization that works with ca. 61 companies involved in sour natural gas recovery and processing, sulfur production in gas plants and refineries and in aspects of handling sulfur for the transport and use. ASRL offers a comprehensive benefits package and a state-of-the-art work environment in the University of Calgary Research Centre. Qualified candidates should submit their résumés in pdf format, ­transcripts/courses completed and contact information for three referees before January 31st, 2011. Please view ASRL’s website ( for further information

Canadian Society for Chemical Engineering

LOndon, ontario, Canada

61st Canadian Chemical Engineering Conference

October 23–26, 2011

Innovation, Industry and Internationalization Symposia: Globalization and the Chemical Industry The Chemical Industry—Trend, Need, Lead Innovation: Impact through Practice and Technology Transfer

Talking to the Media Talking to friends and family about the chemical sciences and engineering is one thing. But should you be called upon to talk to the media, it’s a new ball game. Your message will go out to a much bigger audience, and your story will be subject to the constraints of news reporting. Here’s some of what the Science Media Centre of Canada suggests for scientists talking to the media: • Determine what kind of reporter you’re dealing with and therefore what depth of information you are most likely to need; • Decide on a maximum of three key points that you want to get across, and make these points in the simplest language with only the essential details; • Think up striking analogies or metaphors from everyday life; • Develop “sound bites” (10 – 15 seconds); • Ask yourself: “What is significant about my work? What are the implications?” This will help answer the underlying question “Why should the public care?”; • Double-check any factual information and have it handy; • W hile you are explaining things try to make sure the reporter is keeping up; • R epeat what you think is important, underline what is significant; • Avoid jargon as much as possible and spell out any technical terms or words; • Remember you are talking to a reporter because you believe in helping to improve public understanding. Compiled from the Science Media Centre of Canada’s website,

“The lay person may not recognize … that the beauty which a scientist can experience after deriving a simple equation or executing an incisive experiment is just as real as that which the artist may experience in creating a work of art.” -Rudolph A. Marcus, Canadian, 1992 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry

if you ow that n k u o y Did average eak the r b o t e wer ts n into i ody dow b n a m u h d about u‘d fin o y , s t elemen 3 kg of ygen, 1 x o f o g k 50 k or a sac nough f e ( n o b car gen, f hydro , 7 kg o ) l a o c of 1 kg of rogen, 2 kg nit es us trac d vario n a m u i calc s? This r metal of othe d 4 g een 2 an w t e b s include make a ough to n e ( n o of ir s) and of nail couple out orth ab gold (w f o g m 4 0. s). 15 cent

“Communication is like a dance. One person takes a step forward, the other takes one back. Even one misstep can land both on the floor in a tangle of confusion.” - Oprah Winfrey

Have you heard of Ernest Rutherfor d? He’s a New Zealander known for f ormulating th e nuclear theory of atoms. He won a Nob el Prize in 1908 f or work h e did on the chemi stry of r adioactiv e substance s, carrie d out whi le he was a professor at McGill Universit y in Mont réal. Want to shar e your thou gh Write to us at ts on this article? magazine@

January 2011 CAnadian Chemical News   27

Chemistry — Our Life, Our Future Be part of the International Year of Chemistry (IYC2011), a global celebration of achievements in chemistry and its contributions to the well-being of society.

Canadian Chemistry Milestones YouTube ­Contest for High School Students

Chemistry Olympiad Science Rendezvous – May 7, 2011 Global Water Experiment

Special content in ACCN, the Canadian Chemical News

Public Lecture Tours

Canada Post Commemorative Stamp

Learn how to get involved at

28   L’Actualité chimique canadienne

janvier 2011

Chemical Institute of Canada

Society news | nouvelles des sociétés Conferences

Success in Saskatoon June 5-9, 2011 94th Canadian Chemistry Conference and Exhibition (CSC 2011) Montréal, Que., July 27-29, 2011 2nd International Conference on Nanotechnology Ottawa, Ont.

Greg Paterson

September 25–29, 2011 8th European Congress of Chemical Engineering Berlin, Germany,

Some 712 registrants for the 60th Canadian Chemical Engineering Conference in Saskatoon last October 24 to 27 paid no mind to the rain-turned-snow as they engaged in over 500 seminars and poster presentations. Highlights of



the conference included a day-long workshop for students hosted by representatives from some of Canada’s major oil sands producers, a plenary address by process safety expert Richard­ Gowland­ of the European Process Safety Centre, and several well-attended field trips including a visit to Saskatoon’s prized Canadian Light Source facility, and a mucky trip to tour the nearby potash mines. Above, students mingle with exhibitors at Sunday night’s reception.

November 14–16, 2011 Interamerican Congress of Chemical Engineering Santiago,Chile,

Upcoming events


January 27-28, 2011 International Year of Chemistry 2011 — International Launching Ceremony Paris, France, participate/activities/show?id=1

On page 15 of the October 2010 issue, the photo caption stated that “The three storage tanks at Canaport’s LNG Terminal in Saint John, N.B. each hold 160,000 cubic metres of LNG at 162 degrees Celsius,” but should have read “ at – 162 degrees Celsius.” Thank you to all our astute readers who wrote in to point out the missing negative sign.

February 22-24, 2011 Oilsands 2011 Conference Edmonton, Alta., OILSANDS2011

A group of student volunteers from the Science Club at Bell High School in Ottawa make slime with youngsters at a National Chemistry Week (NCW) event last October at the city’s Science and Technology Museum( above ). NCW is a once-a-year, one-week-long celebration of the chemical sciences in all provinces and territories in Canada. It takes place beginning on the Saturday following Thanksgiving and continues for eight days, ending on Saturday. In 2011, it will be held October 15-20.

October 23-26, 2011 61st Canadian Chemical Engineering Conference (CSChE 2011) London, Ont., php?ci_id=1639&la_id=1

March 13-17, 2011 CCPS/AIChE 7th Global Congress on Process Safety Chicago, IL USA, March 24, 2011 SCI/CIC Awards Dinner Toronto, Ont.,

In memoriam

The CIC wishes to extend its condolences to the families of Edward Piers, FCIC and Ahron Batt, MCIC.

May 07, 2011 Science Rendezvous For events in your area see: May 31-June 4, 2011 3rd Georgian Bay International Conference on Bioinorganic Chemistry Parry Sound, Ont.,

January 2011 CAnadian Chemical News   29


The Right Chemistry at Last By Joe Schwarcz


he International Year of Chemistry! What a great opportunity to infect the apathetic multitudes with our passion for the science that ties all the other sciences together. It’s a chance to take a shot at dispelling the myth that chemicals are synonymous with toxins and that the chemical industry is responsible for the ailments of society. It’s also a chance to reflect upon what triggered our interest in chemistry. My first skirmish with the intricacies of the science came in grade four. In those days we wrote with fountain pens. If a mistake was made, there was only one way to correct it: You used an “ink eradicator.” It was a pretty involved process. First, you applied a solution with a little eye dropper and then used a blotter to dry the paper. Then a couple of drops of a second solution were dripped onto the paper and the ink disappeared as if by magic. If you were quick with the blotter you could prevent the paper from yellowing and the appropriate correction could be made. I was amazed by this little bit of chemistry and wondered what was going on. My teacher told me that eventually when I studied chemistry

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in high school, I would understand. Icould hardly wait. Well, high school came and went and I was no closer to understanding ink eradicators. In fact, the classes were uniquely uninspiring. We mostly memorized formulas and drew endless diagrams of flasks, Bunsen burners and gases being collected in “pneumatic troughs.” Where were the discussions of paints, cosmetics and rocket propellants which I had been reading about under “chemistry” in my encyclopedia? These were not topics for high school, the teacher informed me, I would learn about them in university. So I waited for my first university course in chemistry where we would surely get to the good stuff. We didn't. Oh, it's not that the course wasn't challenging. There were plenty of quantum mechanical calculations and determinations of ionization potentials and studies of trends in electronegativity to keep me burning the midnight oil. But not a word about where that oil may have come from or why it burned or why the flame was yellow. Wait till organic chemistry, I was told. And then it finally happened. Professor David Harpp at McGill had the right touch. He talked of blister beetles and antibiotics and insect sex attractants. Everyone in the class just ate it up. But why did I have to wait so long to get to some interesting chemistry? And how many students had been completely turned off along the way? These notions swirled through my mind when I first started teaching. I resolved to tackle the problem.

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I knew that students would become just as fascinated by chemistry as I was if only they could be made to see the connections to their daily lives. So we connected a discussion of freezing point depression to the making of ice cream. We linked the concept of solubility with stain removal. And of course, when we talked about oxidation, we talked about ink eradicators. I'd had the idea of putting all this interesting stuff into a book for a long time. I had long wanted to dispel the image of chemistry as a dangerous, stinky science. I even knew what the book was going to be called. It was going to be “The Right Chemistry.” I liked the ring of that title because it had a positive connotation. I put it all together with a mock-up cover page complete with some stylized chemical concepts. Then I got a call from the publisher. He had been speaking with his salespeople and the consensus opinion was that the title had to be changed. Having the word “chemistry” in the title would not be good for sales. I was not keen to change the title. I  did not want to cater to chemophobia. But I did want to sell books. So here I am, 11 years and 11 books later: Eleven failed attempts to use the title “The Right Chemistry.” I’ll give it another shot this year. After all, it is the International Year of Chemistry. Joe Schwarcz is the director of McGill University’s Office for Science and Society. Read his blog at Want to share your thoughts on this article? Write to us at

 Canada


“ Green, Clean and Sustainable” Seminar and 2011 SCI/CIC Awards Dinner Thursday, March 24, 2011 Hyatt Regency Toronto The Canadian section of the Society of Chemical Industry (SCI) and the Chemical Institute of Canada (CIC) will be hosting an afternoon seminar series followed by the annual awards ceremony and dinner. The seminar will feature leaders from industry who will speak on a range of topics relating to green chemistry and engineering, followed by an awards dinner in recognition of those who have made outstanding achievements in service, industry, and leadership. Featured speakers include Richard Paton and Bob Masterson representing the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada (CIAC); Rui Resendes, GreenCentre Canada; Murray McLaughlin, Sustainable Chemistry Alliance; and Craig Crawford, Ontario BioAuto Council. Join us to participate in the seminar series and to celebrate the success of the 2011 award winners.

To register, please visit For more information, please contact or call Michelle Moulton at (613)232-6252 ext. 229.

Fostering commercialization of green and sustainable chemistry S A R N I A O N TA R I O The Sustainable Chemistry Alliance is a not-for-profit organization established in 2008 to promote growth and prosperity by fostering and supporting innovation, development, commercialization and related business activities and projects in the area of green and sustainable chemistry. SCA is supported by the Bioindustrial Innovation Centre, a Centre of Excellence for Commercialization of Research wit h funding from the Government of Canada.

ACCN, the Canadian Chemical News: January 2011  

Canada’s leading magazine for the chemical sciences and engineering.

ACCN, the Canadian Chemical News: January 2011  

Canada’s leading magazine for the chemical sciences and engineering.