Queen's University

Chemistry prof receives Polanyi Award

 
2009-01-14

Queen's Chemistry professor Philip Jessop has won the prestigious John C. Polanyi Award, recognizing a recent outstanding advance in the natural sciences or engineering.

Initiated in 2006, the $250,000 award is presented annually by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC).

Dr. Jessop, Canada Research Chair in Green Chemistry, and his research group have developed a reversible method of bringing together oil and water using carbon dioxide as a trigger and then separating them again, whenever needed, using air. This has potential as an environmentally safe alternative to existing oil recovery and manufacturing processes that currently produce large quantities of oil byproducts.

In May 2008, the discovery was named by the Canadian Institute of Chemistry as one of the Top 20 in Canada over the past century. Dr. Jessop also made a "switchable solvent" that can be switched from being oil-like (like turpentine) to being water-like. This process also uses carbon dioxide as the trigger. The Polanyi award recognizes both inventions.

"The most incredible thing about Dr. Jessop's revolutionary process is that the key to its success is a substance that's plentiful, non-toxic, and best of all, free," said NSERC president Suzanne Fortier, former Vice-Principal (Research) at Queen's, in announcing the award. "This discovery shows how investing in people and innovation can bring tangible solutions to pressing problems facing Canada and the world."

Expressing his delight at receiving the award, Dr. Jessop said, "While I thoroughly enjoy working with students and investigating new and exciting chemistry, it's a great bonus to be recognized by one's peers as having achieved something special. My greatest hope for the future is that this development of switchable materials will lead to benefit for the environment and for the economy." Dr. Jessop will use the prize money to support graduate students working on creating new switchable materials.

"Receiving the John C. Polanyi Award is outstanding recognition of Philip Jessop's recent ground-breaking, innovative, and highly eco-friendly discovery on switchable solvents and surfactants," says Queen's Vice-Principal (Research) Kerry Rowe. "Dr. Jessop is extremely deserving of this distinction, and I offer him my warmest congratulations."

Noting that Queen's researchers have received the Polanyi Award twice in its three years of existence - the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory, with numerous Queen's faculty, won in 2006 - Dr. Rowe adds: "I am very proud of the caliber of research being conducted here at Queen's."

Last year's award went to Andre Bandrauk, Universite de Sherbrooke and Paul Corkum, National Research Council's Steacie Institute and adjunct professor at the University of Ottawa.

John Polanyi, for whom the award is named, began his groundbreaking work documenting the energy status and movements of molecules at the very moment of chemical reaction. His discoveries dramatically advanced the understanding of the physics of chemical reactions and led to the development of powerful new lasers. Dr. Polanyi was the recipient of the 1986 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

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