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Waste not

Terra Nova Innovator turning waste into high-value products


By Jackey Locke

One of three stories recognizing Memorial’s newest Terra Nova Innovator Award recipients. Read them all by following the related content links below.

Dr. Heloise Therien-Aubin’s research typically focuses on designing new materials, their structures, how to make them and proof of principle.

For one of Memorial University’s latest Terra Nova Innovator Award recipients, receiving the award means she and her team can push further in their design of functional products.

“We are targeting two applications: smart coatings and water reclamation,” said Dr. Therien-Aubin, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Science. “We will make coatings to protect metal surfaces that are able to self-repair and filters able to remove organic contaminants and heavy metals from wastewater.”

Ubiquitous and versatile

Dr. Therien-Aubin says polymers are fascinating because they can be soft or as strong as steel.

They have also become ubiquitous in modern society because their chemical and physical properties can easily be controlled.

That’s what she and her team plan to do: develop new chemical processes to convert industrial wastes into new and valuable polymer materials tailored for specific applications.

“The goal is to improve our understanding of how nanoconfinement affects polymer synthesis and provide innovative solutions to fully utilize natural resources by developing new materials with valuable applications from industrial by-products,” said Dr. Therien-Aubin.

One of the chemical processes she is researching is polymerization in a nanoconfined environment.

Dr. Heloise Therien-Aubin stand in her lab wearing a striped shirt.
Dr. Heloise Therien-Aubin says her research will turn industrial waste produced in Newfoundland and Labrador into high-value products.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

It involves trapping chemicals in nanocontainers that are 10,000 times smaller than the thickness of a hair to enable typically non-reactive molecules to react.

The process will convert sulfur produced by the oil industry and wood bark generated by the forest industry into high-value materials, such as protective metal coatings and water decontamination filters.

“The final outcome is the creation of polymer particles that can be used to prevent rust formation on metal surfaces or sulfur polymer sponges to make water filtration membranes for decontaminating wastewater,” Dr. Therien-Aubin said.

Canada a leader

She adds that the interdisciplinary nature of her research program, including synthetic, characterization, theoretical and application challenges, will provide her students with highly marketable skill sets.

“Not only will they develop commercially viable products from industrial wastes, they will also be helping Canada to become a leader in these fields,” she said. “The research results are expected to attract interest from industry partners, providing a platform to valorize industrial waste produced in Newfoundland and Labrador into high-value products.”

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