ACCN features exciting new scientific discoveries and innovations. It reports news from the Canadian chemical science and its impact on government, people, companies and academia.
2018 ACCN Lineup
Catalysts go small and make a big mark in the oil patch
A team of Calgary researchers is testing a revolutionary new approach to upgrading oil before it is even out of the ground, which should make life easier for refiners after this product finally reaches the surface. The key is a set of proprietary nanometre-scale catalysts, which could reduce the significant costs and environmental impact of recovering heavy oils.
Dating meets database to make history
The venerable technique of radiocarbon dating, a staple for measuring the age of ancient artifacts, is getting a new lease on life thanks to a Canadian initiative. The Canadian Archaeological Radiocarbon Database has become the world’s largest repository of these readings, so big that it can now be explored on its own as a source of fresh information about past societies represented by these specimens.
Scattering a Canadian legacy
In the 1950s and 1960s, Canadian researchers working at the NRU reactor in Chalk River, Ontario, pioneered the powerful materials analysis technique of neutron scattering, work that eventually earned Bertram Brockhouse a Nobel prize. After 60 years that reactor, the oldest in the world still operating, shuts down forever this month. With it will go much of the infrastructure that sustains neutron scattering in Canada, which is causing the scientists and engineers who rely on this method to scramble for options.
Canada’s CRISPR conundrum
The bacteria-based gene-editing system known as CRISPR-Cas9 is quickly revealing itself to be one of the most powerful research tools ever discovered, with the potential to cure disease or enhance biochemical processes in unprecedented ways. Under existing Canadian law, however, this technology falls under a class of genetic modification that essentially makes it illegal for researchers here to employ, even in the most modest ways. Members of this country’s scientific community are calling for the legislation to be quickly reviewed and updated so they can catch up with their colleagues in other countries and bring the benefits of CRISPR to Canada.
Staying ahead of overdoses
Despite the fast-growing number of lives lost to opioids and other drugs that turn out to be far more powerful than their users expect, the ability to detect and analyse these agents remains a slow business. Researchers at McMaster University are working on innovative mass spectrometry methods that should dramatically speed up these immunoassays and allow front-line workers to track drugs on the street in real time.
Research and reefers
Just as consumer use of marijuana is becoming legal in Canada, among the most excited people are members of the research community, who will finally be able to begin undertaking systematic analyses of this widely used but poorly understood drug. Members of the Canadian Consortium for the Investigation of Cannabinoids, which includes researchers from the universities of Manitoba, McGill, Calgary, Toronto and Alberta, are gearing up for a wide range of clinical studies of potential medical uses of this now sanctioned crop.
Turning radioactive trash into treasure
The TRIUMF cyclotron centre in Vancouver turns 50 this year, a milestone in a long career of producing radioactive isotopes for a wide range of scientific, industrial, or medical uses. Such production invariably yields other isotopes with no apparent use, and great efforts have been taken to store and dispose of these byproducts appropriately. Only in the last few years have investigators discovered that many of these same byproducts are considered rare and potentially quite valuable. What began as a waste recovery operation now poses entirely new opportunities for research and development.
Wrangling with resistance
Antimicrobial agents can still be found in many consumer products such as soaps, despite evidence that such widespread use accelerates the development of resistance n the very bacteria these agents are supposed to eliminate. Members of McGill University’s Chemical Biology Thematic Research Group are working to understand how this resistance emerges and what kinds of secondary compounds might be able to prevent it from occurring.
The high cost of free
When fundamental chemical data becomes intellectual property, researchers are prevented from using it any other kind of work. Members of the Montreal Neurological Institute and the Structural Genomics Consortium in Toronto blame this trend on a persistent lack of clinical progress in many branches of medicine. They are now dedicated to establishing comprehensive, universally accessible databases to overcome this problem. Nevertheless, setting up and maintaining these large bodies of “free” information is an expensive undertaking, one that demands a strategy to make them practical and sustainable.
How green is our chemical valley
The Sarnia area of southwestern Ontario is where North America’s petrochemical production got its start, and where the proliferation of allied industries turned this region into Canada’s original “chemical valley”. It is a place that remains on the cutting edge of change, as many of these industries wean themselves off fossil fuels into new generation of agricultural feedstocks and green chemistry solutions. At the heart of this change is Bioindustrial Innovation Canada, which is drawing investment from around the world to pilot this new model of chemical manufacture.
All stories are subject to change due to unforeseen circumstances and at the editor’s discretion.