Guest Column - Emily Moore
The future of Canada’s chemical sector is bright
By Emily Moore
The year 2012 is a milestone for me — 20 years since graduating from the Engineering Chemistry program at Queen’s University and the year that I am president of the Canadian Society for Chemical Engineering (CSChE). It’s one of those years where you look back to see how far you’ve come and ahead to try to envision where things will be in another 20 years.
I chose the Engineering Chemistry program because I thought polymers were fascinating. I was intrigued that you could design a material’s properties at the molecular level and also affect those properties by the way that you processed the material. At the time, there were only a handful of professors working in the area at Queen’s. Today there are more than a dozen, and the sophistication of the research area continues to amaze me. Twenty years from now, the polymeric materials and processes that are being developed in labs across the country will be used to improve our health, reduce our energy consumption and preserve our water.
For my doctorate work in the 1990s, I studied reaction kinetics in the physical chemistry laboratory at Oxford. The lasers I used were massive, finicky things. The simulations I ran needed a dedicated workstation; today I could probably run them on my iPhone! The research studied a set of reactions important in atmospheric chemistry. At the time, the ozone hole was a topic of great worldwide concern, but today it seems largely a forgotten problem. The reason for this public amnesia is that the Montreal Protocol, first signed in 1987, has been a huge science-based policy success. Data shows that the world has successfully reduced the amount of ozone-depleting substances in the atmosphere and the ozone layer is beginning to slowly recover. It is nice to imagine that in 20 years we will have been able to replicate that success with the species implicated in global warming.
After my doctorate, I spent more than 10 years as a researcher at the Xerox Research Centre of Canada. During that short time, nanotechnology went from being the latest fad to an established field and “green chemistry” from slogan to a driver of research directions. The pace of change was at times astounding, as young PhDs joined the centre bringing with them the latest thinking from the research frontiers. I learned at that time that people are the only way to drive technology from university to industry — information can be passed easily, but knowledge transfer needs legs!
Today I work for Hatch Engineering, a firm in the mining and metals, energy and infrastructure sectors. I find the issues that we face fascinating: how can we apply the latest technologies to industry’s most pressing needs? In the resources sector, these challenges are fundamentally linked to our social license to operate. One need only look to the high standards that are being demanded of chemical engineers in the oil sands to see that solutions will take partnership, ingenuity and transparency to be achieved.
As the president of the CSChE, I feel I should be proposing some grand vision to direct us. But as I reflect on the past 20 years, I can only conclude that any predictions that I make would be laughable. I could never have predicted the speed of computing, the accessibility of information and the new research areas that have emerged. However, I know that the journey will continue to be an exciting one as we make progress on present challenges and new opportunities emerge. So my vision for Canadian chemistry and chemical engineering is simply that we are a world leader in this field, attracting the best and the brightest, with high levels of collaboration to tackle the challenges that face us: energy, water, food security and human health.
The Chemical Institute of Canada (CIC) must find new ways to catalyze this journey by connecting Canadian chemists and chemical engineers with each other and to the world. In recent years, we have seen exciting developments in our conferences and great improvements in our magazine and website. New topics are emerging and new channels of communication opening up, but we need to continue to work strenuously to connect our industrial and our academic populations and to reach out together to the public. Old models may have to be put aside and new ones developed, but we are blessed to have such a strong foundation to build from. I am sure that in 20 years the CIC will look decidedly different, but I am confident that it will still be here to serve us.
Emily Moore, MCIC, is the president of CSChE and Director, Technology Development, at Hatch Engineering.
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