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l’actualité chimique canadienne canadian chemical news ACCN

july/August|juillet/aoÛt • 2010 • Vol. 62, No./n o 7

The Science of Fireworks Can global supply chains be safe? 

Where chemical engineering and medicine intersect

AChemical PublicationInstitute of the Chemical Institute of Canada and its Constituent Societies / Une publication de l’institut de chimie du canada et ses sociétés constituantes of Canada

july/August|juillet/aoÛt • 2010 • Vol. 62, No./n o 7



12 The science behind fireworks By Andrea Ozretic

Pour obtenir la version française de cet article, écrivez-nous à

27 13 Departments 5

From the Editor De la rédactrice en chef


Guest Column Chroniqueuse invitée

30 engineering and embryonic development 16 Chemical Pour obtenir la version française de cet article, écrivez-nous à

By Christina Smeaton


Chemical News Actualité chimique

Society News 27 Nouvelles des sociétés



By Joe Schwarcz

21 Can the chemical industry ensure safe global supply chains? By Peter Topalovic and Gail Krantzberg

From the editor De la rédactrice en chef

ACCN Executive Director/Directeur général Roland Andersson, MCIC Editor/Rédactrice en chef Jodi Di Menna Graphic Designers/Infographistes Krista Leroux Kelly Turner EDITORIAL INTERN Andrea Ozretic Communications manager/ Directrice des communications Lucie Frigon Marketing Manager/ Directrice du marketing Bernadette Dacey


here are few things more gratifying to an editor than to have a writer or an interview subject convey in eloquent terms how they feel about a particular subject, and in the objective world of science and engineering those admissions are sometimes hard to come by. Imagine my delight when I read Christina Smeaton’s first draft of the Guest Column for this issue. I confess that her evocative recollection of her experience teaching youngsters in Nunavut about chemistry made me well up just a little. I hit the jackpot again when, during an interview with Elizabeth Jones for this month’s Q and A, the chemical engineer described for me her passion for microscopy and the beauty of watching a rodent embryo develop. Also in this issue, we break down the science behind fireworks, summer’s big chemistry show in the sky. The writers of our third feature story use a tragic case study to pose the question of how to better protect consumers when supply chains are increasingly global. ACCN

Staff Writer/rédactrice Anne Campbell, MCIC Awards and Local Sections Manager/ Directrice des prix et des sections locales Gale Thirlwall Editorial Board/Conseil de rédaction Joe Schwarcz, MCIC, chair/président Cathleen Crudden, MCIC Milena Sejnoha, MCIC Bernard West, MCIC Editorial Office/ Bureau de la rédaction 130, rue Slater Street, Suite/bureau 550 Ottawa, ON K1P 6E2 T. 613-232-6252 • F./Téléc. 613-232-5862 • Advertising/Publicité

I hope you enjoy the read!

Subscription Rates/Tarifs d’abonnement Non CIC members/Non-membres de l’ICC : in/au Canada CAN$60; outside/à l’extérieur du Canada US$60. Single copy/Un exemplaire CAN$10 or US$10. ACCN (L’Actualité chimique canadienne/Canadian Chemical News) is published 10 times a year by the Chemical Institute of Canada / est publié 10 fois par année par l’Institut de chimie du Canada.

Jodi Di Menna Editor

Write to the editor at

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. Recommandé par l’Institut de chimie du Canada, la Société canadienne de chimie, la Société canadienne de génie chimique et la Société canadienne de technologie chimique. Les opinions exprimées ne reflètent pas nécessairement la position officielle de l’Institut ou des sociétés qui soutiennent le magazine. Change of Address/ Changement d’adresse Printed in Canada by Delta Printing and postage paid in Ottawa, Ont./ Imprimé au Canada par Delta Printing et port payé à Ottawa, Ont. Publications Mail Agreement Number/ No de convention de la Poste-publications : 40021620. (USPS# 0007-718) Indexed in the Canadian Business Index and available online in the Canadian Business and Current Affairs database. / Répertorié dans le Canadian Business Index et accessible en ligne dans la banque de données Canadian Business and Current Affairs. ISSN 0823-5228

Guest Column Chroniqueuse invitée

Northern Exposure


o say that my experience in the north is minimal is a major understatement. I am a young(ish) white PhD student living in the most southern part of Canada. But sitting in my air-conditioned office on a day when the humidex reads 40 degrees Celsius, I reflect on my short (and colder) time in the Arctic. In April 2009, I was given the amazing opportunity to travel across Nunavut as a member of Memorial University’s “Chemistry is Everywhere” team, along with team leader, professor Geoff RaynerCanham, and student colleague, Laura Griffin. When I tell people about this trip, I am always asked “Why?” to which I respond “Why not?” Most science outreach focuses on students living in or near urban centres and excludes students in rural and remote areas. Some of these students are an untapped pool of potential scientific talent. Memorial’s Corner Brook campus has done chemistry outreach across Labrador and other remote communities in eastern Canada for the last eight years with great success, so we decided to take the excitement of chemistry further north to Nunavut. This was neither easy nor cheap. Luckily, we had multiple sources of funding including NSERC PromoScience, the CIC Chemical Education Fund and the Government of Nunavut. Still, travelling to the north brings its own set of logistical nightmares, particularly the weather. Our schedule was ambitious because we wanted to visit at least one community in each of Nunavut’s three geographical regions within a school week. Our final schedule consisted of four communities — Iqaluit, Baker Lake, Gjoa Haven and Cambridge Bay — eight schools and 14 shows: A total return trip from Newfoundland of 7,600 kilometres over nine days. To accommodate our tight schedule and the large amount of supplies and chemicals required for the show, we chartered a small six-seater Piper Navajo, flown by two top notch professional bush pilots from Labrador who are trained to fly under adverse conditions.

Christina Smeaton At first, I felt conflicted about what we were trying to accomplish. On one hand, I felt that chemical education is important, on the other hand I worried that we would be seen as preachy and culturally insensitive. I learned quickly that regardless of cultural background, a child is still a child and children enjoy learning and these kids sure loved chemistry! In fact, the responses were remarkable. During one presentation that we did in the middle of a blizzard in Gjoa Haven, I noticed that, as the show progressed, students, parents and teachers inched closer and closer to our demonstration tables until it was standing room only. The energy in the classroom was palpable, rivalling that of any Justin Bieber concert, and it was all for chemistry! Later in the trip, in Cambridge Bay, a Grade 11 student from Kiilik High School approached us at the local restaurant to show us the chapter she was reading in her worn, highlighted and post-it-note-filled Science Encyclopaedia. Her enthusiasm reminded me that it wasn’t our job to bring chemistry to the north, it was already there in text books and displayed on bulletin boards. It was our job to excite the students about chemistry and to explain how it influences their lives. At the end of every show we talked about climate change and urged each student to continue their science studies so they might become the scientists who help make the informed decisions that directly impact their future. I realize that northern affairs is a touchy subject fraught with cultural and political issues which cannot be solved through chemistry shows. But I believe that the key to Nunavut’s future was sitting (or standing) in those classrooms and their culture coupled with their education will be their greatest defence against an uncertain yet promising future. ACCN Christina Smeaton is a PhD student in environmental science (biogeochemistry) at the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research at the University of Windsor. She recently won the Reg Friesen Award for Best Graduate Student Oral Presentation in the Chemical Education Division at the CSC Conference.

Want to share your thoughts on this article? Write to us at

july/august 2010 Canadian Chemical News  7

Chemical News Actualité chimique

Electron Dance

The Canadian­ Chemical News is online.

Visit our new website at View the latest edition. Browse our back issues. Interact with us.

Scientists have captured the first images of electrons that appear to take on extraordinary mass under certain extreme conditions, thus solving a 25-year mystery about how electrons behave in metals. The discovery could help with the design of new materials for hightemperature superconductors. “When electrons interact in materials unpredictable things can happen,” says Graeme Luke, professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at McMaster University. “Heavy fermion behavior — where electrons behave as if they weigh 1,000 times or more their actual mass — is one of the most fascinating examples of these phenomena. In this case, they were doing a kind of wave-like dance that changes the form and very nature of the electrons.” Using properties in a crystal composed of uranium, ruthenium and silicon the effects of heavy fermions began to appear as the material was cooled below 55 Kelvin (-218 °C). But an even more unusual electronic phase transition occurred below 17.5 K. Using a technique developed specifically for their experiment known as spectroscopic imaging scanning tunneling microscopy (SI-STM), the team was able to track the

May 2010

8   L’Actualité chimique canadienne

juillet/AoÛT 2010

arrangement and interactions of electrons in the crystals, and watch how they react at different temperatures and see what happens when they passed through the mysterious phase transition. “For 25 years we have known that there’s a phase transition occurring in this material but we’ve never been able to identify what kind of order was occurring. It wasn’t magnetic order or superconductivity,” says Luke. “We didn’t know if it was related to the way electrons were behaving in a group or whether it was the result of interactions between individual electrons and uranium atoms. The microscope, however, allowed us to actually see a change in the microscopic electron states.” McMaster University

Fertilizer Defence The Canadian Association of Agri-Retailers (CAAR) wants $100 million from the Canadian Government to help pay for ramped up physical security, including fences, security guards and surveillance cameras at storage sites. The request comes following a security scare in June when a man bought 1,625 kilograms­ of fertilizer — enough to

 Continuing

make a bomb as big as the one used in the Oklahoma City bombing — without identification. His purchase has since been deemed non-threatening. “Explosive precursors are of greatest concern,” said David MacKay, CAAR president. “Ammonium nitrate is the one most discussed because it is most readily available and easy to adapt into an explosive.” MacKay argues that better protection of agricultural chemicals is in everybody’s best interests. “It’s an investment in food security as well as a critical component to the Canadian economy.” -Andrea Ozretic

Erie’s Mercury Woes Continue Despite regulations curtailing mercury emissions, levels of the heavy metal in Lake Erie’s walleye fish are increasing following a steady decline over the last 20 years, according to research conducted by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, the University of Toronto and Environment Canada. The increase is likely due to a number of factors, one being a change in the foodweb since the invasion of round goby and dreissenid mussels. The research used data from 5,807 fish samples collected from the Great Lakes between the 1970s and 2007. Since monitoring of mercury in fish in the Great Lakes began in the mid 1970s, levels have dropped in both Lake Huron and Lake Superior while Lake Ontario has seen a leveling off. -A.O.

International Wire Questions about the environmental impact of the chemical dispersants used to clean up the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico have been aggravated by recently uncovered flaws in the data used to determine their safety. In late May, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered a new round of tests on the chemicals after huge variability was observed in the safety test results from different manufacturers. As of mid-June, the tests had not yet been completed and more than 3 million litres of dispersants had been sprayed on the oil at the sea’s surface and more than 1.5 million litres had been used at depth where the oil gushed from the leaking well. A non-toxic, recyclable agent that solidifies oil on salt water, allowing it to be scooped up like the fat that solidifies at the top of a cold pot of soup, has been developed by a team of chemists at The City College of New York. The development could be used to recover oil from the British Petroleum spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The researchers added a sugar compound mixed in alcohol to diesel oil floating on a saline solution. They reported that within five minutes, the oil had gelled into a thick substance which could be scooped up. Using a vacuum distillation process, the team separated 80 per cent of the oil from the gel. An international team of researchers is developing a “self-medicating” bandage, laced with nanoparticles, for burn victims. The bandage would detect harmful bacteria and secrete antibiotics. Fifty per cent of deaths from burn injuries occur as a direct result of infection. Since harmful bacteria produce toxins that dissolve cell membranes, the key was to create an antimicrobial-loaded vesicle that would rupture when it came into contact with the toxins. The tiny vesicles would also contain a dye that, when released, would alert hospital staff to the presence of the bacteria. ACCN

Education for Chemical Professionals

indoor air qualitycourse

2010 Schedule

October 14 –15, 2010

Burnaby, BC

Registration fees

$247.50 BCIT Faculty $495 CIC members $695 non-members $75 Students


he Chemical Institute of

Canada (CIC) and the Canadian Society for Chemical Technology (CSCT) are presenting a two-day course designed to enhance the knowledge and working experience of chemical technologists and chemists. This course will provide a range of material which will enable the participants to understand the transformations that take place in air when pollutants are present, and to familiarize themselves with the analytical techniques currently used for air testing. Upon completion of this short course, the participants will be able to perform some of the laboratory analyses for the major atmospheric contaminants as required by engineering consulting firms, private laboratories, and government laboratories involved in pollution analysis.

For more information about the course and locations, and to access the registration form, visit  july/august 2010 Canadian Chemical News  9

Canadian Society for Chemical Engineering

Nominations are now open for

The Canadian Society for Chemical Engineering

2011AWARDS Act now!

Do you know an outstanding person who deserves to be recognized?

The Bantrel Award in Design and Industrial Practice is presented to a

The Process Safety Management Award is presented as a mark of

Canadian citizen or a resident of Canada for innovative design or production activities accomplished in Canada. The activities may have resulted in a significant achievement in product or process design, small or large company innovation, or multidisciplinary designdirected research or production. The achievement will relate to the practice of chemical engineering and/or industrial chemistry whether in research and development, process implementation, entrepreneurialism, innovation, production or some combination of these. It may be via a well-known, long-standing reputation for translating chemical engineering principles into design and industrial practice and, through this, contribute to the profession as a whole. Sponsored by Bantrel. Award: A plaque and a cash prize.

recognition to a person who has made an outstanding contribution in Canada to the Process Safety Management (PSM) Division of the Canadian Society for Chemical Engineering recognizing excellence in the leadership and dedication of individuals who have led Canada in the field of process safety and loss management (PSLM). Sponsored by AON Reed Stenhouse Inc. Award: A framed scroll and a cash prize.

The D. G. Fisher Award is presented to an individual who has made substantial contributions to the field of systems and control engineering. The award is given in recognition of significant contributions in any, or all, of the areas of theory, practice, and education. Sponsored by the department of chemical and materials engineering, University of Alberta, Suncor Energy Foundation, and Shell Canada Limited. Award: A framed scroll, a cash prize and travel expenses.

The Syncrude Canada Innovation Award is presented to a resident of

10   L’Actualité chimique canadienne

The R. S. Jane Memorial Award is presented to an individual who has made new significant contributions to chemical engineering or industrial chemistry in Canada. Sponsored by the Canadian Society for Chemical Engineering. Award: A framed scroll, a cash prize and registration fee to the CSChE Conference.

Canada who has made a distinguished contribution to the field of chemical engineering while working in Canada. Nominees for this award shall not have reached the age of 40 years by January of the year in which the nomination becomes effective. Sponsored by Syncrude Canada Ltd. Award: A framed scroll and a cash prize.

juillet/AoÛT 2010


The deadline for all CSChE awards is December 1, 2010 for the 2011 selection.

Nomination Procedure Submit your nominations to: Awards Canadian Society for Chemical Engineering 130 Slater Street, Suite 550 Ottawa, ON K1P 6E2 Tel.: 613-232-6252, ext. 223 Fax: 613-232-5862

Nomination forms and the full Terms of Reference for these awards are available at

Chemical News Actualité chimique  Continuing

Industrial Briefs Merck & Co. announced in July that it will close the Merck Frosst Centre for Therapeutic Research in Kirkland, Que., which employs 180 people, by the end of 2010. This follows the company’s previously announced plans to lay off 15 per cent of its staff (nearly 16,000 employees) after last year’s acquisition of Schering-Plough. Merck is ending its research at eight sites in North America and Europe and will phase out production at eight manufacturing sites globally. With $115 million invested annually in Canada, Merck Frosst has been among the country’s top 20 research and development spenders. Even before the merger, the expiration of patents on several important drugs forced the company to trim its scientific work force by more than 7,000 beginning in 2008. According to C&E News, Merck’s cutbacks are part of a larger trend in the ­pharmaceutical industry which is under pressure from declining numbers of new drug approvals, tougher generic competition and changing prices for medicine. Cuts at several drug companies will result in the loss of tens of thousands of jobs in research and development in the coming years. Biovail, a Canadian specialty pharmaceutical firm, will buy California-based Valeant Pharmaceuticals for $3.3 billion. The resulting company, to be known as Valeant Pharmaceuticals and based in Mississauga, Ont., is expected to have combined annual revenues of $1.75 billion. It will specialize in central nervous system therapies, dermatology treatments and generic drugs and will focus on Canadian and emerging markets. The firm plans to reduce its combined workforce of 4,400 by 15 to 20 per cent. Sud-Chemie AG, a German chemical manufacturer is investing more than $78 million in Phostech Lithium, its Candiac, Que.-based subsidiary, to support new lithium iron phosphate (LFP) production. This will be the first industrial production plant that uses a new “wet chemistry” process — known to produce a more stable product — to make LFP, a high performance energy storage material used in batteries for electric vehicle drives. Commercial production will begin in 2012. ACCN

Education for Chemical Professionals

Laboratory Safety course

2010 Schedule October 4 –5, 2010

Calgary, AB

Registration fees $550 CIC members $750 non-members $150 student members


he Chemical Institute of Canada

(CIC) and the Canadian Society for Chemical Technology (CSCT)

are presenting a two-day course designed to enhance the knowledge and working experience of chemical technologists and chemists. All course participants receive the CIC’s Laboratory Health and Safety Guidelines, 4th edition. This course is intended for those whose responsibilities include improving the operational safety of chemical laboratories, managing laboratories, chemical plants or research

C CMembership

facilities, conducting safety audits of laboratories and chemical plants. During


the course, participants are provided with an integrated overview of current best

•N  etwork with fellow science and engineering professionals.

practices in laboratory safety.

• Exchange cutting-edge information. •P  articipate in the enhancement of your profession.

For more information about the course and locations, and to access the registration form, visit

• Engage the next generation.

 july/august 2010 Canadian Chemical News  11

CHEMISTRY: pyrotechnics

Fire art

A guide to the science behind fireworks, the grandest display of chemistry in the sky. By Andrea Ozretic


ireworks and long summer holiday weekends go together like gunpowder and metal salts: one is so much more spectacular when paired with the other. This year, while you’re taking in the great show in the sky, feed the analytical part of your brain with the intricate science behind the dazzling display.

The Anatomy of an Aerial Shell: Aerial shells are the most common type of firework. Cylindrical or spherical in shape, they act as packaging for black powder and “stars” — the key ingredients for a fireworks show. Black Powder: Black powder, also known as gunpowder, is a low explosive typically composed of 75 parts potassium nitrate, 15 parts charcoal and 10 parts sulphur and is a staple in all fireworks. It is packed both in the centre tube of the firework and in between the black lumps known as stars, helping them to ignite. The finer the powder, the quicker the fireworks will burn. Using a coarser grain and not blending the ingredients too much creates a display that hangs longer and brighter in the sky. This is because when the ingredients are not blended well and the grain of the black powder is coarser, the fuel and oxidizer do not combine or burn as easily. For fireworks that are really sparkly, big grains approximately 1,000 microns in size are used.

12   L’Actualité chimique canadienne

How Fireworks Work: Basic Firework Design BuRstinG CHARGE black powder stars Stars: Unlit, the show’s headliners appear to be simple black lumps. Hundreds of these “stars” are packed into the average firework and once lit, they create the dazzling colours and lights seen in the sky. Firework experts make them by hand by combining an oxidizer, fuel, binder and compounds that produce colour (usually metal salts). The oxidizer is included to speed up the burning time. Potassium nitrate is the most commonly used oxidizer. When decomposed it becomes potassium oxide, nitrogen gas, and oxygen gas.

2 KNO3

K2O + N2 + 2.5 O2

Small amounts of chlorates — which are highly volatile — are sometimes used as the oxidizer, creating very explosive fireworks. Since this presents a manufacturing hazard, perchlorates, which have a much higher ignition temperature, are more commonly used. The fuel in stars is most commonly charcoal and the binder used is most commonly dextrin.

juillet/AoÛT 2010

Very temperamental, stars can easily explode if they are hit hard and workers must wear cotton head to toe because synthetic materials may generate electricity which could set off the shells and stars. The casing: Multibreak shells provide more variety in the show and have a more complicated shell design. They can be constructed with multiple sections, each with their own fuses. One section bursting triggers the next one to burst. Each section produces a distinct effect such as different colours or levels of brightness and sparkle.

A fireworks show is the best chemistry experiment you can have. It’s chemistry in action. All the colours, all the effects are produced by chemical reaction.

– John Conkling, firework expert and professor of chemistry at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland

SOME HISTORY: There are at least two legends behind the invention of fireworks. One story takes place roughly 2,000 years ago in China, when a cook happened upon the recipe for black powder. Mixing charcoal, sulphur and saltpeter, all common ingredients in the kitchen at the time, an amazing explosion occurred. Another story credits a monk named Li Tian, who lived in China 1,000 years ago, with the invention of the firecracker. Legend has it that he filled bamboo shoots with gunpowder and the result was a loud sound and explosion. At the time the loud sound produced was the more desirable effect as it was believed to ward off evil spirits. A temple in Liuyang, China is built in Tian’s honour. Marco Polo is believed to have brought fireworks to Europe in the thirteenth century, after bringing the black powder recipe back from China. In Europe, fireworks were being used for military purposes by the fourteenth century and were a popular form of entertainment by the seventeenth century. Both Germany and Italy took the lead in innovation. Germany focused on scientific innovation, and Italy on elaborate fireworks shows. Fireworks came to North America as early as the seventeenth century when Captain John Smith (from the story of Pocahontas) set off fireworks in the Jamestown Colony (present day Virginia) to try and impress the Powhatan tribe.

THE END PRODUCT Brightness: Brightness of the firework is dependant on how high the temperature gets, and the characteristics of the materials used. Sparks happen when the metals found inside the mixture or at the burning surface are heated to temperatures at which they incandesce. The size of the fuel particles is what determines how big the sparks will be.

Shape: The pattern in which the stars are packed into the aerial shell determines the shape you see in the sky when the firework explodes. It is hard to control the orientation of the shell when it shoots into the sky. To correct this, experts are trying to control the tendency of the fireworks to rotate in the sky once launched. One expert proposes securing a light rope onto the bottom of the shell in order to keep the firework down. This might make spelling something in the sky possible.

Shape : Willow Description: Long burning stars fall into the shape of willow branches.

Shape: Chrysanthemum Description: Sphere-like shape appears in the sky resembling the flower and leaving a trail.

Shape: Pistil Description: This looks like the chrysanthemum, but with a middle that is different colours from the outside. Shape: Serpentine Description: Bursts into small tubes that make random paths, may have exploding stars at the end. july/august 2010 Canadian Chemical News  13

Colours: The variety of bright colours that are seen at fireworks shows were not always available. Fireworks once came in very basic orange hues because they were made with charcoal. Once other elements were added to fireworks, a variety of colours started appearing in firework displays. Fireworks produce colour through both incandescence and luminescence.

The Illusive Deep Blue There are medium quality blues, but there is no chemical species discovered that emits an intense blue colour. The element copper produces blue but not an intense one because it’s not stable enough at the high temperatures that produce intensity of colour. At a high temperature, copper continues to burn but washes out and becomes white. The launch: Traditionally, shells are launched from steel tubes called mortars, into which the fireworks are snugly packed. The steel tubes, which are usually placed in sand, are the same diameter as the firework but three times longer. Inside the mortar is black powder, known as the lifting charge. When lit it explodes, causing the shell to launch while at the same time lighting the shell’s fuse. The more black powder packed into the mortar tube, the higher the firework will launch. The larger the shell, the coarser the grain of powder used for the launch, since larger grains help to build the pressure up slowly to burst the shell. Obtaining the desired altitude requires a lot of trial and error in order to develop the appropriate type and amount of powder. Now, fireworks can be launched using compressed air and then detonated in the sky using an electronic timer. This eliminates the need for a fuse and allows the explosion to be more exact, and as a result, shows can be coordinated to music.

Colour Red Orange Gold

Compound Strontium, Lithium Calcium Iron with carbon








Strontium and copper


Aluminum,titanium, magnesium

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT Fireworks have been linked to elevated levels of perchlorates in the environment. A 2007 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study examined perchlorate levels in an Oklahoma lake that held fireworks every fourth of July. The study found that fourteen hours after the show, the perchlorate levels had risen 1,000 times past their natural levels. This is problematic because perchlorates have been linked to thyroid problems. Perchlorates have also been viewed as a threat to aquatic ecosystems, as fish living in waters considered contaminated have been found with several thousand parts per billion of perchlorates in their heads, and hundreds of parts per billion in their fillets. These fish have also been found to have thyroid conditions including follicular hyperplasia, hypertrophy, and colloid depletion. Another environmental problem chemists are trying to reduce is smoke emissions from fireworks. Some success was achieved using carbon compounds instead of salts which produce a lot more smoke. There is ongoing research to produce bright colours that are a lot less smoke-producing than current technology. ACCN

Fireworks and weather:

Can the Show Go On? Wind is worse than rain for fireworks. If it rains, you can cover the tubes with aluminum foil and still shoot the shells. Strong wind could be a show-stopper since dangerous drifting may occur. Want to share your thoughts on this article? Write to us at july/august 2010 Canadian Chemical News  15

Chemical Engineering: biomedical


Elizabeth Jones

Watching Life Form

By applying chemical engineering principles to the first stages of life, Elizabeth Jones hopes to shed light on how our vascular system forms.

Elizabeth Jones


Q & A with

Seen at 100 times magnification, new blood vessels sprout from two dorsal aortas during early vascular development of a mammalian embryo.


hen a mammalian embryo starts to develop, the heart and blood vessels emerge as the first functional organs. Blood begins to circulate as early as the fourth week of pregnancy, creating shear stress and mechanical strain on the vessel wall. With so much medical research focused on the biology and genetics behind cardiovascular health and disease, the role of these forces in the development of the embryo is not well understood. The tiny system of “pumps and pipes” poses a problem that calls out for the expertise of a chemical engineer. ACCN spoke with Elizabeth Jones, assistant professor at McGill University’s Department of Chemical Engineering,

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juillet/AoÛT 2010

to find out how her work straddles the intersection of medical research and chemical engineering.

ACCN: What’s the overarching thrust of your research? E.J.: I look at blood vessel development and the role of fluid dynamics in how blood vessels form and develop. The model that I look at is the embryonic vasculature that’s forming and the first heart beats in the embryo and how blood flow changes effect that development. So the engineering part is the fluid dynamics and the bio part is the vasculature.

ACCN: How did you land on that?

ACCN: Do you have a specific end goal in mind?

E.J.: It was a bit of a weird journey. In undergrad I wanted to do bio research and I fell totally in love with microscopy. So when I went to grad school, I joined the lab of the main microscopist on campus and he had a mouse where the embryo had fluorescent red blood cells. He was a biologist interested in fluid dynamics in the embryo.

E.J.: I don’t think we’ll understand everything about blood vessel

ACCN: Did you say you’re “totally in love with microscopy?”

E.J.: A lot of people look at genes and genetics and often put aside the environmental factors like the fluid dynamics. I think that’s only looking at half of the picture. For any of these therapeutics, if you blindly ignore half of it, then you’re going to miss important things. It’s important to look really at the whole physiology of it. I don’t think the fluid dynamics on its own is going to answer it, just like the genetics on its own isn’t going to answer it. So hopefully working together we can start figuring out how things are interacting.

E.J.: Yeah. ACCN: Tell me why. E.J.: When I was in high school I wanted to be an architect because I wanted to mix science and art. Microscopy actually gets back to that because, although you’re taking images of scientific samples, the way you frame it, what you highlight with dyes to bring out different cellular structures, the image you produce — if you’ve framed it right and if it highlights what you’re trying to show — then visually people understand it and believe it more easily. There is that whole artistic part of it of trying to bring attention to a certain aspect of what you’re imaging, and there’s the science, obviously, of doing microscopy.

ACCN: Are you an artist? E.J.: Not recently. Microscopy is my art. ACCN: What are the potential applications of the work you’re doing on blood vessel development? E.J.: Though I study the embryo, the stages we’re looking at in development aren’t ones where we could treat a pregnant woman. We look at it because a lot of different tissues need to be vascularized, or in cases like cancer, you want to stop them from vascularizing. So understanding how the embryo does it might mean we can try to recreate it or stop it from happening in disease. That’s the main application. It’s very far down the line, but that’s why people study embryonic blood vessel development. It’s a question of us understanding the basics of how a blood vessel forms so that we can either do it intentionally in something like a tissue engineering construct or stop it in something like diabetes. A lot of diabetics go blind because they have too many blood vessels grow at the back of their eyes. But also cancers can’t grow unless they have blood vessels to give them nutrients. So if we understand the basic blood vessel development and what’s important, then we can either induce it or stop it. The field of new blood vessel growth is called angiogenesis and it’s a very important therapeutic target in general.

development in my lifetime.

ACCN: Is there something that motivates you professionally?

ACCN: Do you feel like you’re having success? E.J.: Some days. Every vascular biologist will say that fluid dynamics is very important to vascular development, but it’s a very difficult question to ask because the tools aren’t really there and the results are really hard to interpret, so we’re tackling difficult questions. You don’t just want vasculature to form, you also want it to mature. These are things for which fluid dynamics are important.

ACCN: Is this a relatively new area of research? E.J.: It’s well-known in the adult but everything in the embryo is about 1,000 times smaller. Doing these things in very small vessels — that’s where the tools don’t exist. So we do know a fair bit about the role of blood flow in the adult, but applying it to small vessels that might be 50 to 100 microns in diameter is not well established. I do have some projects that are trying to develop these tools to be able to quantify flow dynamics in really small vessels. ACCN: It sounds like you’re pushing a frontier. Do you feel that way? E.J.: The basic technology was developed by others. My supervisor Scott Fraser in graduate school was in some ways the inspirational side for this but he didn’t necessarily develop the technology itself. He was well known because he was the first one to take this technology and actually apply it to answer a real question. So the physicist would come up with some new microscope and be focused purely on development of new technology. Scott was good at transitioning from the technology to the application. I’m july/august 2010 Canadian Chemical News  17

Chemical Institute of Canada

The Chemical Institute­ of Canada­ has a

new website. Visit

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not actually developing the initial technology, but I’m trying to be the same thing, the first person to actually transition it to the application.

your work as a chemical and biomedical engineer is striking. What do the two have in common?

ACCN: Is there something that motivates you personally?

E.J.: You can always think of an organism as a small factory with pumps and pipes and different facilities. You’re just applying the same principles. But what’s really interesting, that I’ve been realizing more and more lately, is that many of the things that we learn in school — like for diffusion we learn Fick’s law and for fluid dynamics we learn Poiseuille’s law — all of these people were actually physicians or physiologists. A lot of the super important equations that were developed for chemical engineering were actually developed for medicine. In some ways I’m more of a traditional chemical engineer because it’s going back to the original root of what developed these physical theories that are being applied in chemical engineering. It’s amazing how many of these, when you look up the name of the guy who developed whatever equation that we’re learning, at least in transport phenomenon are developed by people who were actually studying the body.

E.J.: Initially I didn’t want to do embryology, but if you watch embryos, they’re beautiful and watching life forming is pretty amazing, so you quickly get obsessed. I find it very inspiring to watch an embryo grow. It starts as an amorphous blob of cells and you can essentially watch the body shape and form and then you see the heart beginning to beat. It’s inspiring and it’s beautiful. The fluid dynamics part: Fluids was always my favourite part of chemical engineering, it’s the part that inspired me the most. It’s complex but it’s also beautiful. So I like those two interactions. ACCN: Your dad is a chemical engineer. E.J.: My brother as well. ACCN: How does a whole family become chemical engineers? E.J.: I always tell people it was fate because me and my brother and my father were all born on the same day.

ACCN: What are the chances of that? So it was written in the stars. E.J.: Well, actually, when I was going to university I thought I was going to go into chemistry and my dad told me that chemistry and chemical engineering were the same thing and that I’d just be more likely to get a job as an engineer, which is a total lie. So my father tricked me into following in his footsteps. ACCN: Are you glad you did? E.J.: Definitely. ACCN: Is there one specific research question that is top of mind?

ACCN: Still there’s a perception that biomedical engineering is a new branch of chemical engineering. E.J.: Oh definitely, and these people who developed the equations that we use weren’t chemical engineers at all, they wanted to understand how the body worked. Poiseuille was trying to understand blood flow but blood was too complicated so he started out his experiments just with water. Biomedical is a new word, but if you look through the published papers, chemical engineers have for a long time been involved in biomedical. It’s just a higher percentage now who are doing it.

ACCN: Any idea why? E.J.: As a society we’re putting more effort into health care and so there’s more grant money and more research and more new and exciting things are coming up. I think as a society if you go back to the 1940s, there was more interest in industrialization and production, whereas now health and developing new medications is more at the forefront than it used to be. ACCN: Looking at that intersection between medicine and chemical engineering, what in your mind is the most promising or unexpected area?

E.J.: Right now I’m starting to look at the interaction of the immune system with blood vessel development. That’s the thing that’s exciting me the most right now. Looking at a system in isolation, I think the fluid dynamics are attracting the immune cells and this is involved in new blood vessel formation.

E.J.: I think a lot that is going on with materials holds huge promise. Things like different physical forces — strains, fluid dynamics, shear stresses — are areas that biologists wouldn’t necessarily think to apply and yet we don’t live in a bubble. We’re affected by our environment. ACCN

ACCN: The words “chemical engineering” traditionally evoke an image of big industry, like oil and gas, for example. The contrast between that notion and

Want to share your thoughts on this article? Write to us at july/august 2010 Canadian Chemical News  19

Chemistry: XXXXX

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industry: responsible care

Broken Link With supply chains strung across the developing world how can the chemical industry ensure that the end product is safe? By Peter Topalovic and Gail Krantzberg


n 1996, 80 Haitian children died from ingesting cough syrup tainted with diethylene glycol (DEG), a chemical commonly found in antifreeze. An investigation conducted by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), found that Pharval, a local company who produced the cough syrup products, Afebril and Valodon, did not contaminate the product at their site. Instead, a supposedly pharmaceutical grade shipment of glycerin, a key component in the most widely prescribed cough syrup in the country, was contaminated at its source in China. However, the Haitian company was under the assumption that the chemical was produced in Germany from chemical giant Helm AG, parent of VOS BV, and as such, [according to a 1997 article in the World Press Review], felt that it did not have to implement any quality controls on the imported European product. Issues surrounding product stewardship, supply chain management, quality control, politics, and legal responsibility are at the heart of this disaster and combine together to create a complicated web of interactions leading to negative implications for all the parties involved. In the aftermath of this disaster many of the companies in the supply chain engaged in finger pointing, lawsuits and denial of responsibility. [In a paper recently submitted to the journal Environment, Development and Sustainability we address] questions that arise from this disaster in the context of Responsible Care (RC). We test the hypothesis that the magnitude of this crisis would have been reduced if some or all of the companies along the supply chain subscribed to Responsible Care principles and codes. [Here, we provide an overview of the tainted cough syrup tragedy in Haiti as a case study.]

“Issues surrounding product stewardship, supply chain management, quality control, politics, and legal responsibility are at the heart of this disaster.”

[In 2007, the New York Times reported that] the US Food and Drug Administration’s investigation of the cough syrup incident indicated that the pharmaceutical manufacturing and testing facilities at Pharval laboratories did not meet international standards. This was due to a variety of factors, including the fact that Haitian regulations are not as strict as those in other countries. Furthermore, the maintenance costs for clean rooms, proper HVAC systems and high-tech testing equipment are too high for most companies in developing countries. Even if the facilities were clean and properly maintained, Pharval would not have access to the technologies required to test for diethylene glycol. The investigation of the glycerin suppliers leads to some disheartening conclusions related to the management of international supply chains in China, the Netherlands, and Germany, especially where developing countries are concerned. In the Haitian case, no company along the supply chain was found to be directly responsible for the problems that occurred. Some

denied responsibility, others covered up mistakes and in the case of the contamination source, it was never determined which Chinese company was responsible. However, [according to a 2007 issue of Pharma-Brief Special, a newsletter put out by the German pharmaceutical-watchdog group BUKO Pharma-Kampagne], it is believed to be Sinochem, based in Peking. The investigation of VOS BV by the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Economic and Social Council of the Commission on Human Rights found that the company knew about the contaminated glycerin after it sent the shipment to Haiti, but did not alert authorities. VOS BV sent a sample of the Chinese shipment to an independent testing laboratory, and falsely marked the barrels of glycerin as 98 PCT USP, pharmaceutical grade. Kevin J. McGlue, a board member of the International Pharmaceutical Excipients Council, [told the New York Times] “where there is a loophole in the system, a frailty in the system, it’s the ability of an unscrupulous distributor to take industrial or technical material and pass it off as pharmaceutical grade.”

“Where there is a loophole in the system, a frailty in the system, it’s the ability of an unscrupulous distributor to take industrial or technical material and pass it off as pharmaceutical grade.” july/august 2010 Canadian Chemical News  21

Chemistry: XXXXX 

Chemical Institute of Canada

Get Involved in IYC 2011 now! Share your ideas with the Chemical Institute of Canada Contact your Local Section Talk to your local industries and to departments at universities and colleges Touch base with your local high schools Think of media in your area that might be interested For details about IYC in Canada, visit


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industry: responsible care

[The UN investigation found that] a certificate of pharmaceutical quality also accompanied the barrels, which was taken from the certificate that originated from China. It is common practice to re-use certificates when a product changes hands from manufacturer to supplier and onward to the destination customer. The identification of the source contamination and the FDA inspection of Pharval laboratories clearly established that the glycerin was contaminated at the source and not along the supply chain. It was a lack of product stewardship policies and a lack of due diligence across the supply chain that lead to the disaster. In both Haiti and Panama, a country which [more recently] experienced DEG contamination, the factory’s original certificate of analysis for the glycerin containers did not accompany them as they moved across the supply chain. Instead, a copy of the original was used and stamped with the receiving company’s information each time the container exchanged hands. Helm AG, one of the largest chemical companies in the world and the parent company of VOS BV, declined to comment on the case, given that the contamination occurred outside of Germany. Helm AG has been associated with other issues involving the transport of materials to the third world, according to the German media. The Chinese government also denied any responsibility since the glycerin was not shipped directly to Haiti from China. According to [Ms.] Pendergast [first name not provided], a private lawyer and consultant, China has the most to answer for. “Everybody else is just reacting to initial failures … It needs to take steps to protect not just its own consumers but also consumers all around the world,” [she told the New York Times]. No international supply chain management regulations exist to solve problems such as this one; however the European Union’s Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemical Substances (REACH) legislation and Responsible Care’s supply chain management policies may have a positive effect. This issue has received major coverage over the last ten years since the Haitian disaster occurred. In the Haitian case, there were many organizations responsible for transporting the glycerin across international boundaries and therefore, it is very difficult to lay blame. However, after the details of the case were sorted out, some litigation proceedings were undertaken in the Netherlands, Germany and Haiti. Pharval settled with the Haitian families whose children died from DEG exposure for $10,000 USD per family. They also filed a civil suit against VOS BV in the Netherlands, jointly with the families. The litigation against the companies involved focused on VOS BV, since they knowingly sent DEG-contaminated glycerin to Haiti. Eventually a civil suit was settled outside of court with the Dutch company for the same amount as Pharval had settled with the parents. In the aftermath, the affected families were compensated, yet no company accepted full responsibility for the tragedy. VOS BV was also prosecuted by the Dutch government, found guilty of the coverup and fined $250,000 USD. Although both these companies were partly to blame, both Pharval and VOS BV (now Helm Chemicals BV) remain in business today. Other attempted litigation has generally failed to produce a favourable outcome for the plaintiffs. The Chinese government and corporations would not work with the U.S. FDA, who assisted Haitian officials with the investigation, to find the source of the contamination, denying responsibility and moving glycerin operations away from the site of contamination, [the New York Times reported]. David Mishael, a lawyer in the United States who has spent the last ten years since the Haitian disaster representing Haitian parents, has unsuccessfully pursued legal claims against Helm AG and VOS BV. In terms of the economic and social effects of the disaster and the ensuing litigation, very little change occurred and a minimal amount of punishment was received by all the parties involved. The costs associated with non-compliance were $250,000 USD and very little transparency or accountability was

demanded in the aftermath. Policies on supply chain management remain largely unchanged worldwide, with the exception of the European Union’s REACH legislation. Evidence of a policy and regulatory gap is clear in the past ten years of repeated DEG contamination in developing countries throughout the world. In many cases, the source of this contamination continues to be from poorly regulated Chinese suppliers. Panama experienced a tragedy similar to that of Haiti, in 2006, with DEG being the contaminant in a government manufactured cough syrup, resulting in hundreds of deaths. Over the years, other countries such as Bangladesh, Argentina, Nigeria, China and India have also been affected by DEG poisoning cases. The latest case in Panama clearly illustrates that the proper steps have not been taken to minimize this preventable disaster. After the Haitian experience, an inexpensive DEG testing kit was developed to assist regulators in identifying contaminated shipments; however, [according to an article in the journal Public Health Reports] this is not in widespread use. [In 2007, the International Herald Tribune reported that] DEG poisoning [had] become a global problem with a preventable death toll in the thousands. China has recently taken action against drug counterfeiters, but when the role of pharmaceutical companies in the disaster in Panama was examined, it was found that no laws had been broken. Many developing countries, including China and India need tougher regulations in order to meet safe standards [reported the Tribune]. After the Haitian incident, world health experts recommended improving the

“Evidence of a policy and regulatory gap is clear in the past ten years of repeated DEG contamination in developing countries throughout the world. In many cases, the source of this contamination continues to be from poorly regulated Chinese suppliers.” july/august 2010 Canadian Chemical News  23

Leaving a legacy

From one generation to the next Do you want to ensure that the next generation will contribute chemistry solutions to tomorrow’s global challenges­? Do you want to be part of their discovery of the wonders of chemistry? Through the CSC Legacy Fund, you can now leave a gift, either outright or deferred (in a will), to support projects­and initiatives that help the Canadian Society for Chemistry pursue its mandate of education­-related projects. Find out how you can make a gift by visiting

The CSC Legacy Fund is a charitable fund initiated by the CSC and created in collaboration with the CIC Chemical Education Fund (CEF). It is held and administered by the CEF.

industry: responsible care

certificate of authenticity system to provide a clear path of the material flow through the supply chain from source to destination. It also stressed that transparency and accountability should be enforced through regulations and investigations within and between international borders. [The Tribune article pointed out that] as long as counterfeiters do not fear prosecution, there is no incentive to improve the quality of their products. The issues surrounding global supply chains which originate and terminate in the developing world have continued to plague the chemical industry since first making news in Haiti and continuing to make news into the new millennium in countries such as Panama. In North America, issues with lead-poisoned toys, DEG-tainted toothpaste and other dangerous products mimic the problems encountered in developing countries; however, in most situations, tainted products are identified before they reach the end customer. [According to the 2007 Pharma-brief report], tough North American regulations and industry standards, which are not usually present in developing countries, may be responsible for successfully identifying dangerous products. [In our recent paper we examine] events in which DEG poisoning and drug counterfeiting have continued to be an issue in developing countries since the 1996 Haitian disaster. A mix of national and international regulations, along with corporate voluntary initiatives are assessed as a way to determine whether the public can be better protected from these poisonings and tragedies. The central question of this case study asks: Would Responsible Care, appropriately applied throughout the supply chain, have averted the crisis experienced in Haiti and other developing countries?

“In North America, issues with lead poisoned toys, DEG-tainted toothpaste and other dangerous products mimic the problems encountered in developing countries.”

What is Responsible Care? Responsible Care is an environmental management system which compliments regulations and drives a company’s performance beyond the minimal standard. It was developed in the 1980s to meet the threat of costly new regulations and a decreasing public trust in the chemical industry. It consists of an ethical set of principles as well as management system of codes and practices which aim to address environmental, ethical and social concerns of chemical manufacture over the entire lifecycle.

Global supply chains, stakeholder trust, due diligence and corporate culture are the key topics examined [in our recent paper] in the context of three main theories which lead to the conclusion that Responsible Care, as implemented by the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada, would have mitigated or averted the crisis. These are: 1. The companies involved did not internalize the concepts of product stewardship and the cradle to cradle philosophy that Responsible Care advocates. 2. The loss of business and reputation through erosion of trust was not a major consideration in the decision-making processes of the companies involved. 3. The major players involved in the case study did not embed the philosophies of the Responsible Care ethic or create a corporate culture of protection of all stakeholders. [In our examination of this case study, we concluded that] Responsible Care needs to better promote preventative, rather than reactive approaches to risk assessment and risk management. Responsible Care’s product stewardship principles can do more to encourage the substitution of the most dangerous chemicals. This approach would better demonstrate the industry’s commitment to its principles and avoid claims that the industry has incongruent political and environmental goals. A related opportunity for the improvement of Responsible Care is the full integration of the principles of sustainable development into its mandate. A move to a more transparent and accountable process would most likely include an emphasis on sustainability and the principles of industrial ecology. Overall, Responsible Care’s commitment to continuous advancement will help capitalize on the opportunities for improvement identified and continue to ensure safe and equitable global supply chains in the future. ACCN

“Would Responsible Care, appropriately applied throughout the supply chain, have averted the crisis experienced in Haiti and other developing countries?”

This text has been excerpted from a paper that, at the time of publication of this magazine, had been submitted to the journal Environment, Development and Sustainability. Contact us at to find out how to obtain the full article.

Want to share your thoughts on this article? Write to us at july/august 2010 Canadian Chemical News  25

Canadian Society for Chemical Technology

Nominations are now open for

The Canadian­Society for Chemical Technology

2011AWARDAct now!

Do you know an outstanding person who deserves to be recognized?

The Norman and Marion Bright Memorial Award is awarded to an individual who has made an outstanding contribution in Canada to the furtherance of chemical technology. The person so honoured may be either a chemical sciences technologist, or a person from outside the field who has made a significant and noteworthy contribution to it advancement. Award: A certificate and a cash prize.

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The deadline for this CSCT award is December 1, 2010 for the 2011 selection. Nomination forms and the full Terms of Reference for this award is available at

Society News Nouvelles des sociétés Conferences

Diverse Offerings With 2,411 attendees and 1,965 presentations that ranged in focus from biological and medicinal chemistry, through industrial applications to materials and surface science, this year’s Canadian Chemistry Conference and Exhibition was once again a success. The four-day meeting which ran from May 29 to June 2 in Toronto, began with engrossing talks by Nobel-prize winner John Polanyi and celebrated discoverer of the drug Lyrica ®, Richard Silverman. Other highlights included a forum on research integrity that frankly addressed questionable practices in research as well as a panel discussion of the challenges of getting accurate and palatable science stories into the mass media.

Clockwise from left, conference participant Tom Woo from the University of Ottawa, Tom Ziegler, Plenary Speaker from the University of Calgary and Joseph Francisco, president of the American Chemical Society mingle at the CIC and CSC Awards Banquet held as part of the 93rd Canadian Chemistry Conference and Exhibition held in Toronto in June.

Subject Divisions

Attendees at the 2010 B.C. Inorganic Discussion Weekend at Quest University in Squamish, B.C.

B.C. Inorganic Chemists Meet in Squamish By Daniel Leznoff, MCIC Nearly 100 inorganic chemists from the University of Victoria, the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University (SFU) met at Quest University's campus in spectacularly scenic Squamish, B.C., from May 7–9 for the 2010 B.C. Inorganic

Chemistry Discussion Weekend. A wide breadth of inorganic chemistry research in B.C., particularly by younger faculty, was clearly seen in the topics discussed by the plenary speakers. Talks on the photoactivation of surface-modified gold nanoparticles

(Byron Gates, SFU), organometallic radical chemistry and bronze patina formation (W. Stephen McNeil, UBC-Okanagan), and new insights into ruthenium anti-cancer drugs through magnetic resonance techniques (Charles Walsby, SFU) were all presented. As with previous meetings (last held jointly in 2009 with Alberta inorganic chemists in Kelowna, B.C.), emphasis was placed on participation by all registrants, particularly the students. The attendees were divided into groups of 10 or 11 each, and nearly four hours was set aside for group meetings. At these meetings, each participant gave a 15 to 20 minute informal chalk-talk on his or her current activities. In addition, everybody had a chance to mingle and discuss inorganic chemistry during the poster session. Prizes for particularly noteworthy posters were also awarded. The Vancouver CIC Local Section and the CSC Division of Inorganic Chemistry each sponsored poster prizes, as did the journals Heteroatom Chemistry (published by Wiley) and Dalton Transactions (RSC). Cash prizes were won by Julien Dugal-Tessier (UBC), who was also awarded a one-year subscription to Dalton, Wen Zhou and Jordan Sanders (UBC-Okanagan), Edwin Wong (SFU) and Kate Waldie (Victoria). Further general sponsorship from the UBC and SFU Departments of Chemistry were greatly appreciated. In addition to the stimulating technical sessions, the friendly atmosphere, good food and beautiful venue ensured that the attendees left the meeting with good memories. july/august 2010 Canadian Chemical News  27


Gladiators of Science ‘What are the characteristics of a good model? It should be simple and concise, but most importantly, it must demonstrate convincingly how the underlying theory exploits the real world observations. It is worth noting that the question of “truth” is not one often uttered in scientific discourse: never should we ask of a model, “is it true,” but rather, “does it work?” The VSEPR model, first proposed by Ronald Gillespie (a professor at McMaster University) and Ronald Nyholm, has all the characteristics of a good model. It is simple enough to be understood by the dullest chemistry student, it does not require any complicated tables of values determined through painstaking observation, it is broadly applicable to the phenomenon it seeks to explain, and its theoretical foundation is so apparently plausible that many are likely to have remarked of VSEPR theory as Thomas Huxley did of Darwin’s theory of evolution: “Why didn’t I think of that?”’ — Excerpted from Brian Bi’s Canadian Chemistry Contest exam paper. Eloquent answers like this one won Bi the top ranking out of 678 students in Canada who participated in the contest in 2010. The 17 year-old is a student at the Woburn Collegiate Institute in Scarborough, Ont. At the time of publication, he was in Tokyo representing Canada, along with three other students at the 42nd International Chemistry Olympiad.

Letters I was disappointed to find Lloyd Alexander Munro, Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, Queen's University, missing from your recent celebration of 65 years of ACCN and its successors (May 2010). To redress this omission I attach a portion of my obituary of Munro: The Department of Chemistry invites applications for a tenure-stream appointment at the Assistant Professor level in the area of Organic Chemistry with research interest in development of new, innovative materials. Of particular interest would be an individual whose research builds on existing departmental strengths. Further information about the Department and the University can be found at our website: The successful candidate will have a PhD, post-doctoral experience in a relevant area, an outstanding research record and must be eligible for prompt appointment to the Faculty of Graduate Studies. The successful candidate will be expected to develop a strong, externally-funded research program and to contribute to teaching Organic Chemistry at the undergraduate and graduate levels. The position will be available January 1, 2011. All York University positions are subject to budgetary approval. York University is an Affirmative Action Employer. The Affirmative Action Program can be found on York's website at or a copy can be obtained by calling the affirmative action office at 416736-5713. All qualified candidates are encouraged to apply; however, Canadian citizens and Permanent Residents will be given priority. Please mail curriculum vitae, a detailed research plan, a description of teaching philosophy, summary of research publications, and have three references sent directly to: Chair, Search Committee, Department of Chemistry York University, 4700 Keele St., 124 CB Toronto, Ontario M3J 1P3 Fax: 416-736-5936 E-mail: Complete applications must be received by September 15, 2010.

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The formal organizational structure of chemistry in Canada dates from 1902, when the first Canadian section of the Society of Chemical Industry was organized in Ontario. In 1919, the first Dominion Convention of Chemists was held in Ottawa. This led, two years later, to the chartering of a Canadian Institute of Chemistry. However, the Institute encountered constant organizational and financial problems because of the continued existence of other, rival, bodies. At the Kingston Convention in 1935, Munro had participated in the organization of a symposium devoted to the problem, but the Chemical Institute of Canada, as we know it today, did not become a single national organization until January 1945. It was quickly recognized that the unification would benefit greatly from the creation of a national journal and news magazine, and this task fell to Munro. Almost single-handedly, he undertook the work of assembling, editing and publishing the Chemical Institute News during the critical formative period from June 1944 until June 1946, when he became chair of the editorial board. The journal was renamed Chemistry in Canada, at Munro's suggestion, in 1948. Saul Wolfe, FCIC Simon Fraser University

Society News Nouvelles des sociétés Recognition

Upcoming Events

CSChE and CSCT 2010 Award Winners

August 15-18, 2010, 3rd International IUPAC Conference on Green Chemistry, Ottawa, Ont. |

The 2010 winners of the CSChE awards are: Donald F. Weaver, FCIC, Dalhousie University: Bantrel Award in Design and Industrial Practice for his research in the design, optimization and development of new chemical entities as therapeutics for chronic neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s dementia and epilepsy. Fraser Forbes, MCIC, University of Alberta: D.G. Fisher Award for his research on the use of optimization methods in process operations and control, real-time optimization, and control of distributed parameter systems. Brian Kelly, MCIC, consultant: Process Safety Management Award for advancing the principles of process safety management and risk assessment during his 20 years-plus work , particularly with respect to accident/ incident investigations. Douglas W. Reeve, FCIC, University of Toronto: R. S. Jane Memorial Award for his research and advancement in chemical recovery within the pulp and paper industry as well as his contributions to engineering education. Ying Zheng, MCIC, University of New Brunswick: Syncrude Canada Innovation Award for her research in the area of catalytic reaction engineering.

The 2010 winner of the CSCT’s award is: Perry Nelson, MCIC, Association of Science and Engineering Technology Professionals: Norman and Marion Bright Award for over 20 years of promoting and furtherance of chemical technology through his association work, accreditation program involvement and work in industry.

October 4-5, 2010, Laboratory Safety Course Calgary, Alta. | October 6-8, 2010, Western Canadian HAZMAT Conference, Saskatoon, Sask. | October 14-15, 2010, Indoor Air Quality Course Burnaby, B.C. | October 24-27, 2010, 60th Canadian Chemical Engineering Conference, Saskatoon, Sask. | October 29, 2010, Colloque annuel des étudiants et étudiantes de 1er cycle en chimie Université de Sherbrooke, Sherbrooke, Que. December 15-20, 2010, The 2010 International Chemical Congress of Pacific Basin Societies (Pacifichem,) Honolulu, Hawaii | November 14–16, 2011, Interamerican Congress of Chemical Engineering, Santiago, Chile |

In memoriam The CIC wishes to extend its condolences to the families of H.M. Banfill, MCIC, Francis L. Chubb, FCIC, Donald W. Hughes, MCIC, W.G. Linkert, FCIC, Michael Pollard, MCIC, Stephen M. Sumka, MCIC and George H. Tomlinson, FCIC. ACCN

Other Awards Philip Jessop, MCIC, Queen’s University won a 2010 Killam Research Fellowship to help fund his research on switchable materials (which change their properties on command) in order to reduce the environmental impact of human activities. Donald Weaver, FCIC, Dalhousie University, was also awarded a 2010 Killam Research Fellowship for his research on the design of a curative drug to halt the progression of Alzheimer’s dementia. Just eight outstanding Canadian scientists and scholars were awarded the distinguished prize. Leonardo Simon, MCIC, University of Waterloo, Department of Chemical Engineering was named one of Canada’s Top 40 Under 40 for his work using nanotechnology to create sustainable and lightweight materials for use in manufacturing, which resulted in the world’s first lightweight sustainable hybrid plastic created with wheat straw being used in the 2010 Ford Flex. Pik Kwan (Peggy) Lo, MCIC, McGill University, Department of Chemistry and Nick Virgilio, École Polytechnique de Montréal Department of Chemical Engineering are this year's winners of the Macromolecular Science and Engineering Division’s LANXESS Graduate Award in Polymer Science. Margaret-Ann Armour, FCIC, University of Alberta, Leo Behie, FCIC, University of Calgary and Gordon Moore, FCIC, University of Calgary were each awarded a 2010 Summit Award from The Association of Professional Engineers, Geologists and Geophysicists of Alberta.

july/august 2010 Canadian Chemical News  29

Chemfusion Joe Schwarcz


Saucey Sham

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’ll admit to not being a huge fan of soy sauce. It just wasn’t something I grew up with. Recently though I have developed a taste, at least for its chemistry. It was all triggered by a question I was asked about “chemical” soy sauce. Well, the terminology — aren’t all things made from chemicals? — may be a little confused, but there is something to the “chemical” soy sauce story. As it turns out, there are two ways to make soy sauce. There is the traditional fermentation method, and then there is the “chemical” method. Real soy sauce may just be the world’s oldest-produced condiment, dating back at least 2500 years. The original Chinese method involves fermenting a mixture of soybeans, salt and grains with a mould from the Aspergillus family, either Aspergillus oryzae or Aspergillus soyae. These moulds produce enzymes that break down the proteins, fats and carbohydrates in soybeans into simpler, flavourful compounds, many of which are amino acids. One of these is glutamic acid, a widely used flavour enhancer in the form of its salt, monosodium glutamate. The mould enzymes, however, do not break all the soy proteins down to individual amino acids; some of the products are peptides that contribute subtly to the taste. Salt-tolerant yeasts and lactic-acidproducing bacteria are subsequently added to the fermenting mixture to bring out more taste by converting some of the mould products into molecules that attenuate the flavour. As an added bonus, fermentation produces a number of antioxidants. Indeed, real soy sauce is far richer in antioxidants than red wine on a weight per weight basis, but this doesn’t mean much practically because we consume soy sauce sparingly. And anyone hoping to reduce menopausal symptoms with soy sauce will be disappointed, because unlike other soy products, the sauce does not contain estrogen-mimicking isoflavones. It takes weeks, or even months, to produce traditional soy sauce, driving up expense. The cheaper “chemical” version can be produced in a day simply by adding hydrochloric acid to a defatted mash of soybeans, followed by neutralizing with sodium carbonate. But this is a brutal method that breaks proteins down to individual amino acids and the resulting flavour and aroma are quite different from

juillet/AoÛT 2010

fermented soy sauce. Undesirable compounds such as dimethyl sulphide and formic acid are also produced. Absent, though, is the brown color produced by fermentation products, and this is solved by the addition of caramel colouring. Sometimes the “artificial” sauce is blended with fermented sauce to produce a more acceptable product. There may be another issue with the “chemical” soy sauce, other than just the muddled flavour. Hydrochloric acid breaks down some residual fat in the soybeans into fatty acids and glycerol. The glycerol in turn reacts with the acid to form chloropropanols, specifically 3-chloro-1,2-propanediol (3-MCPD) and 1,3-dichloropropane-2-ol (1,3DCP). And here is the glitch. These chloropropanols are suspected of having nasty effects, including carcinogenicity and the triggering of genetic damage that can be passed on to offspring. Some soy sauces produced by the acid method imported from Asian countries have been found to contain thousands of times more chloropropanols than is permitted. Most North Americans do not consume enough soy sauce for the chloropropanols to be a problem, but the salt concentration of any soy sauce is high enough to limit consumption. We can’t leave soy sauce without reference to a story going around that some “chemical” versions are made from hair. Yup, hair. According to some accounts a Chinese factory was caught using hair as a source of amino acids to make a version of soy sauce. Whether this really happened or not is debatable, but chemically keratin, the main hair protein, can be broken down to amino acids and once the amino acids are purified, at least from a scientific perspective, their source is not relevant. Still, traditional fermented soy sauce does sound more appealing. Until you consider that every tablespoon has about 1100 milligrams of sodium, roughly equivalent to half a teaspoon of salt. ACCN

Joe Schwarcz is the director of McGill University’s Office for Science and Society.

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ACCN, the Canadian Chemical News  

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

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