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The Magazine Of Queen's University

2017 Issue 3: Science on a small scale

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Real world learning

Real world learning

Dr. Pascale Champagne (Civil and Chemical Engineering) works with partners outside of the university when conducting much of her research. Since 2005, she’s been bridging the gap between academia and industry by working with municipal utilities to improve their treatment of wastewater, and she brings a team of undergraduates, graduate students and post-doctoral fellows to collaborate on her projects.
[Roland Lee (left) and Ana Ramos (right) have been working with Allen Lucas from Utilities Kingston to improve the city’s wastewater treatment process.]Roland Lee (left) and Ana Ramos (right) have been working with Allen Lucas from Utilities Kingston to improve the city’s wastewater treatment process.

Dr. Pascale Champagne (Civil and Chemical Engineering) works with partners outside of the university when conducting much of her research. Since 2005, she’s been bridging the gap between academia and industry by working with municipal utilities to improve their treatment of wastewater, and she brings a team of undergraduates, graduate students and post-doctoral fellows to collaborate on her projects.

“When we meet with our industry partners, we’re asked how we can actually make something work and what it will mean when put into ­practice,” she says. Rather than focusing on ­hypotheticals, Dr. Champagne, who is the Canada Research Chair in Bioresources Engineering, seeks to solve real world problems with her research.

The project her team is currently working on comes from trying to solve two problems at once. Utilities Kingston has an abundance of wastewater and is hoping for more efficient processes to purify it. Lafarge, the multinational building materials company, wants to reduce its output of the greenhouse gas CO2. The answer for both of them is algae. Algae have a huge array of capabilities, able to sequester CO2, purify water, catch nitrogen and generate oil from sunlight. Dr. Champagne’s team members are working to use the excess CO2 from Lafarge to spur the growth of algae in Utilities Kingston’s treatment ponds, cleaning the water faster. They plan eventually to harvest those algae and refine it into a biofuel to power both companies’ vehicle fleets.

Getting out of your comfort zone

Because of the project’s diverse components, Dr. Champagne has assembled a team from varied backgrounds: chemists, biologists, policy ­experts and life-cycle analysts. “To advance in this area, you need to incorporate people with various expertise,” she says. “Working on the cutting edge means working on the periphery of your ­comfort zone.”

Ana Ramos, a PhD student from Mexico, is working on the algae project for her doctorate. Trained in biotechnology, Ms. Ramos’ skills come into play when finding the right strain of algae for the job. “Our basic goal is to find algae species that create more oil from sunlight,” she says. “But we also need to make sure it thrives in its specific wastewater, including its climate, the pond’s flow, and the sunlight it receives.” Not content to search for an algal strain that already exists, Ms. Ramos is engineering them to find one that fits all of their criteria.

Excited about working with industry partners, she says that it means the findings of her work will be better put to use. “These are real problems that we’re working on,” she says. “It’s great to know that when we get the results we’re looking for, they’ll be implemented immediately.”

Roland Lee, an Australian post-doctoral fellow, is one of the other members on the algae project. Working near the end of the lengthy process, Dr. Lee, a chemist, liquefies CO2 gas and then uses it to extract the fatty oils contained in the algae. Many existing methods for the extraction use toxic chemicals, but the method Dr. Lee uses is not only more ecologically friendly, it’s more effective.

Much of Dr. Lee’s research has been in collaboration with industrial partners, and though he says he prefers it because it leads to greater use of his findings, he acknowledges that it has its trade-offs. “When working with industry, it’s much easier to get funding for your experiments and your work will be better put into practice,” he says. “But, ­because of intellectual property rights, it can also limit your ability to publish or share your novel findings.”

Despite this compromise, Dr. Lee wouldn’t like to do his research any other way. “Working in the field lets you see what’s important,” he says. “When we achieve results it’s gratifying to know that they’ll say, ‘we can put this to use.’”At Utilities Kingston, Allen Lucas facilitates the partnership between his organization and Queen’s. As manager of their research and ­projects office, he’s worked with Dr. Champagne and her team on a number of projects.

“When we first wanted to do things differently, we realized that rather than trying our hands as experimenters, it made much more sense for us to work with researchers at Queen’s,” he says. “The result has been a fantastic partnership.”

Where the theories take you

For undergraduate students looking to gain work experience, put their learning into practice and get academic credit, there’s a program designed to help them meet their goals. The Queen’s Undergraduate Internship Program (QUIP) has participants apply and interview for a placement with a business in Canada or abroad where, if hired, they work for 12 or 16 months in an industry related to their field of study. They get a chance to develop their skills, get a taste of working life and even get paid. In a competitive job market, the benefits of the internships are clear.

“They’re an excellent way for students to set themselves apart,” says Kathryn Fizzell, QUIP co-ordinator. “It’s a chance for them to get some work experience and apply the things they’ve been learning – they get to see where the theories they’ve been learning take them to.”

More than just adding lines to their resumés, she says that the internships leave a mark on the students who take part in them. “When the students return to Queen’s, they come with a renewed energy for their work. They sometimes want to change the trajectory of their coursework to better fit what they’re hoping for in their post-grad life.”

One student who changed her education goals after an internship was Jennifer Clarke, a 2009 Computer Science graduate. She took part in a 16-month internship with IBM before beginning her fourth year at Queen’s. At IBM, she spent most of her time doing installation testing for computer software, troubleshooting the problems that can arise when installing a program to diverse computer models running different operating systems. She was assigned the same tasks as full-time entry-level employees and, despite an aptitude for the work, she decided it wasn’t for her.

“I came to realize that I really enjoyed interacting with other people. Because I was working ­primarily with software, I had hardly any customer interaction. It was something that I knew I missed,” Ms. Clarke says. “When I got back to Queen’s, I was able to work with someone from QUIP to change around my classes and my focus.”

She is now a software designer, creating programs for the water and wastewater industry. She generates the programs that processing plants use to manage their intake and output. If a plant wants to increase its processing volume by 50 megalitres on a given day, her programs tabulate which pumps need to be run and which valves to engage. She credits her internship with helping her find a career that’s a better fit for her.

From pupil to professional

[ PIC: After her summer internships, Lauren Buttle brought greater confidence and skills to her work in the Master of Art Conservation program.]After her summer internships, Lauren Buttle brought greater confidence and skills to her
work in the Master of Art Conservation program.

With a mix of lecture halls, labs and workshops, the Master of Art Conservation program makes hands-on learning a fundamental part of its ­curriculum. The program, which only admits up to 14 students each year, has participants take classes and work on conservation treatment ­projects during the school year and work at ­internships during their two summer terms. Internships send them to institutions around the world, including the Royal Ontario Museum, the Smithsonian ­Institution in Washington, DC and the Ancient Agora, American School of Classical Studies in Athens. Students with a more entrepreneurial side can also opt to spend their summers with ­private conservator businesses.

“They end up receiving the content three times: during the lectures, during their projects and ­during their internships,” says Rosaleen Hill, who graduated from the program in 1989 and now serves as its director. “The many facets of their work mean that they get a very solid ­academic foundation as well as a chance to ­develop good hand skills.”

Those hand skills they’re developing are ­essential for the work that’s involved in the ­profession. ­Repairing a tear in a 200-year-old oil painting requires steady hands as much as it does an ­understanding of the piece’s canvas, paint and chemical profile. Taking part in internships helps students hone those skills, while exposing them to how conservation fits into the work of an ­institution like a museum or library.

Lauren Buttle, MAC’15, specializes in the ­conservation and preservation of paper artifacts. Her internship last summer was divided between the Museum of New Brunswick and the Yukon Archives where she was kept busy working on ­photographs and documents.

When her supervisor took on a major project, Ms. Buttle was given greater responsibility in the Archives’ lab. She says that this led to the internship’s greatest benefit: self-assurance. “When you’re at your internship, you’re treated as a ­professional, so you begin to feel like one too. ­Because your judgement is trusted, you develop more belief in your abilities and thus a stronger sense of judgement,” she says.

Ms. Buttle saw a similar change in peers after their summer internships. “We came back to ­campus and had greater confidence in ourselves. When our professors brought up problems or ­suggestions, we were able to bring to bear our own experiences. We were curious about their ­rationale and then talked things out. Our ­relationships became more like that of colleagues rather than students and teachers.”

With another year of classroom training ­under her belt, she’s looking forward to her ­internship this summer at the British Museum in London. Spending her whole term in one place, Ms. Buttle hopes it leads to a more thorough learning ­experience and takes her the final step from pupil to professional.


Are you experienced?

Before Queen’s students took part in QUIP, they had “The Experience Option” (TEO). Ping Yao, Sc’99 credits his TEO internship at CMC Microsystems with ­giving him the skills to land his first job in the high-tech sector. Today, Mr. Yao’s ­company, Optigo Networks, is making buildings that are more energy-efficient, comfortable and secure. Learn more in “From intern to CEO.”


[cover of Queen's Review 2015-1]