By McGill Reporter Staff
McGill’s position as a global leader in the field of Green Chemistry has been cemented with the announcement that recent research has earned McGill scientists Chao-Jun Li, Audrey Moores and their colleagues a spot on Quebec Science’s list of the top 10 discoveries of 2010.
The team discovered a new nanotech catalyst that offers industry an environmentally benign way to reduce toxic heavy metals from the chemical process through simple magnetic nanoparticles. Their results were published in Jan. 2010, in Highlights in Chemical Science.
Catalysts are substances used to facilitate and drive chemical reactions. Although chemists have long been aware of the ecological and economic impact of traditional chemical catalysts and do attempt to reuse their materials, it is generally difficult to separate the catalyzing chemicals from the finished product. The team’s discovery does away with this chemical process altogether.
Li is known as one of the world leading pioneers in Green Chemistry, an entirely new approach to the science that tries to avoid the use of toxic, petrochemical-based solvents in favour of basic substances.
From pharmaceuticals to food flavouring to microchips, almost every product we use involves one or more chemical reactions, which often contribute to
environmental degradation through the release of persistent organic pollutants. The future of not only the trillion-dollar chemical industry – but also the overall economy and the health of ecosystems and populations around the world – rest on our ability to find sustainable solutions to chemical use.
McGill’s pioneering work in Green Chemistry dates back to the 1960s, when phrases such as “chemicals from renewable resources” and “non-polluting chemicals” were used. Today at McGill 25 key researchers, 117 graduate students and more than 15 postdoctoral fellows are working at ways to reduce the toxicity of chemical processes.
Readers are invited to learn more about the discovery and vote for it as “top discovery of 2010” by visiting www.quebecscience.qc.ca/. Voting ends Feb. 25. For more on these initiatives, watch the video “Green Chemistry” on McGill’s YouTube channel.