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Chem Biochem students shine at the first annual CQMF awards

A group of graduate students in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in the Faculty of Arts and Science has reason to celebrate, having taken home four out of six awards at the first-ever CQMF/QCAM Colloque Étudiant on November 18.

The Centre québécois sur les matériaux fonctionnels/Quebec Centre for Advanced Materials (CQMF / QCAM) is an interuniversity strategic group working in the field of functional materials.

Concordia winners were Alexia Macina and Francisco Matias Yarur Villanueva, who each received a Best Poster Presentation Award, and Gabi Mandl and Steven Maurizio, who both scored in the top three for Best Oral Presentation.

We caught up with the winners to find out more about their work, and what this award means to them.

Alexia Macina

"My  project focuses on finding new catalytic methods to produce biodiesel in an efficient and sustainable way. Currently, biodiesel production on a commercial scale faces many challenges such as high production costs due to tedious purification processes and the inability to recover and reuse the catalyst, ultimately leading to unsustainable practices."

"My research addresses these drawbacks by synthesizing a carbon dot catalyst from very cheap and commonly available precursors such as glycine and citric acid through a simple one pot synthetic procedure. The catalyst can be recovered from the reaction mixture and be reused for multiple reaction cycles without having an effect on biodiesel yield. Using carbon dots as heterogeneous catalysts can permit biodiesel production to become a more cost efficient, environmentally friendly and sustainable process that can meet future energy demands."

"Winning was very unexpected, to be honest! I had seen other participants’ posters and there was some amazing research being done so just to be in the same pool as the others was very gratifying. Attending conferences always gives me the extra motivation that I think all students need during graduate studies, and receiving such positive feedback for not only my own research but also my fellow Concordia colleagues’ research was a validation of all the great work we do."

Francisco Matias Yarur Villanueva 

"I work in the Majewski group and my research is centered on the engineering of nanohybrid devices for photocatalysis from Earth-abundant elements. Specifically, I work with ZnO nanowires coupled with different visible-light photosensitizers, including carbon dots and plasmonic nanoparticles. These devices are tailored for the photodegradation of organic contaminants and the production of solar fuels where the electronics are well understood. The work presented at the conference evaluated the sensitization of ZnO nanowires with carbon dots for the effective generation of valuable pharmacophores under visible light illumination."

"The CQMF conference is a great instance to showcase your research with people across the province of Quebec, so It was very exciting for our group to see the amount of people that were interested in our research and came to our posters and presentations to get a more in depth understanding of the type of chemistry we do. Furthermore, winning one of the poster awards at this meeting made us feel really proud as a Concordia research group, but it was even more rewarding to see our work outstanding at this conference taking into account that our lab is not even two years old."

"We are passionate about our research and we are confident that we will keep attracting the interest of people in the academic meetings to come."

Steven Maurizio 

"Our work focuses on understanding the fundamental spectroscopic interactions between Thulium and Terbium in core-shell upconverting nanoparticles. Through our investigations, we were able to concretely determine the population dynamics of this nanoparticle composition. We also studied these nanoparticles for their “time-tunable” luminescence, meaning that they change color as a function of time after we stop exciting them with near-infrared light. This work can now be applied in a multitude of possible applications that require different emissions of light, including bioimaging, photodynamic therapy probes and microfluidic devices. Presenting my results at the CQMF Student Symposium, I was the recipient of one of the top three Oral Presentation Awards."

"Knowing that my presentation was of interest to a collection of professors and students alike really self-validated my work. It was quite the experience, presenting my research in a public setting for the first time, and with this award, I have set my bar high for my future research. I am now more driven towards the challenges that face me next."

Gabi Mandl

"The research I presented in this presentation is a collaborative effort between myself, Steven, and Dr. Gabriella Tessitore and Dr. Paola Rojas-Gutierrez. In this work, we are studying the luminescence of lanthanide-doped upconverting nanoparticles which emit UV, blue, red and near-infrared light with the intention of using the UV emissions of these nanoparticles for drug delivery applications."

"We studied the effects of changing the concentration of thulium ions in our nanoaparticles to see how that affected the strength of the UV emissions from the particles, and also why the emission changes as a function of concentration of those ions. Once we found the maximum thulium UV emissions, we incorporated these nanoparticles into a light-responsive hydrogel, in which we were able to use the emissions from the nanoparticles to break open the hydrogel, as a demonstration of a light-responsive drug delivery system for cancer treatments."

"It was truly humbling to win this award, as I do not have a great deal of experience with speaking to other materials scientists. As nice as winning was, it was a particularly incredible moment because I won alongside my labmate and best friend, Steven, and we got to celebrate our hard work and achievements together. Additionally, we got to celebrate our wins with our friends Alexia and Francisco, which made it even more exciting! We all work hard and struggle together, so its nice to be able to share a really positive moment like this. Receiving this award is an excellent boost to my CV, which will hopefully help me obtain academic funding in the future, but also is a nice boost to my confidence as a young researcher as well."

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