Congratulations to Chemical Engineering Faculty who will receive funding of $840,000 from the Bruce Mitchell Research Program to support 6 new PhD students. This highly competitive fund will allow Queen’s research groups to expand doctoral trainee enrollment beyond the traditional complement and offer a competitive PhD salary of at least $35,000 per year for a 4-year term.

Left to right: Rachel Baker, Dominik Barz, Michael Cunningham, Cao Thang Dinh, Carlos Escobedo and Marianna Kontopoulou.

Michael Cunningham (PI): A New Generation of Plastics with Enhanced Degradability. Partnering with co-applicant Philip Jessop from the Department of Chemistry, Michael is proposing a new approach to the design of plastics to make them degradable in the environment, particularly marine environments. In previous research, they have designed plastics whose properties can be reversibly “switched” from hydrophilic to hydrophobic, simply by using carbon dioxide gas as a “trigger” to enact the switch. These polymers offer significant environmental benefits, including for example replacing solvent-based paints and coatings with water-based paints, while retaining the property advantages of the superior solvent-based systems. The plan for a new PhD trainee is to design plastics that synergistically combine the environmental benefits of switchable polymers with the added design feature of being degradable in the environment.

Cao Thang Dinh (PI) and Rachel Baker (Co-applicant): Metal nanocluster catalysts for sustainable fuels production. Partnering with Cathleen Crudden from the Department of Chemistry, Cao and Rachel will aim to advance electrochemical CO2 and biomass conversion technology through the development of metal cluster catalysts. To achieve this goal, this program will train 3 new PhD students who will focus on three areas that require innovation: (1) synthesizing metal clusters with controlled compositions, sizes, and surface ligands; (2) gaining fundamental insights into the relationship between the metal cluster structures and their electrocatalytic properties; and (3) comprehensively characterizing the catalytic performance of metal clusters under practical operating conditions. The insights gained from this project will provide guidance for developing more efficient catalysts, thus advancing the conversion of CO2 and biomass into sustainable fuels and chemicals. 

Carlos Escobedo (PI): Microphysiological platforms for the development of new ligand-binding domains immunization strategies and advancing the knowledge on cholerae infection. Partnering with Peter L Davies from the Department of Biomedical and Molecular Sciences, a newly recruited PhD will aim to establish advanced assays to understand V. cholerae (which kills 100,000 people each year and is rapidly developing resistance to common antibiotics) pathogenicity in humans and recapitulate bacterial motility in response to chemotactic cues to investigate bacterial swimming strategies. They will also leverage the developed chemotaxis platforms and intestinal models to test the efficacy of new treatments against V. cholerae infection. Once established, this system can be used to study how to block colonization of human cells by other bacterial pathogens.

Marianna Kontopoulou (PI) and Dominik Barz (Co-applicant): Novel graphene-based technologies for energy storage devices. The long-term objectives of the proposed research are to prepare energy storage devices and other relevant components using newly developed graphene nanoplatelets (GNPs) that are environmentally friendly, solvent-free, clean, efficient, and industrially feasible to produce. The newly recruited PhD student will develop GNP hydrogels that can be used in supercapacitors, supercapacitor-battery hybrids and lithium-sulfur batteries. Especially, they want to develop functionalized hydrogel electrodes, which enable much better performance in supercapacitors, and sulfur-graphene composite electrodes, which are highly conductive and suppress the polysulfide shuttling by anchoring the sulfur in its pore structure.

For more information and full list of winners: