Recognizing outstanding research
World-leading expert in the field of materials science and organic chemistry, Cathleen Crudden is the recipient of one of the most prestigious research awards in Canada: the John C. Polanyi Award. Awarded annually by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the honour recognizes her innovative and impactful approach to protecting metal surfaces using organic molecules.
"Receiving this award from NSERC means a great deal to me, since NSERC has supported my program since I was a 29-year-old assistant professor," says Dr. Crudden, a professor in the Department of Chemistry and the Canada Research Chair in Metal Organic Chemistry. "NSERC is an outstanding funding agency, run by scientists and engineers, for scientists and engineers. The funds from this award will go to support a postdoctoral research associate in my lab for multiple years, providing me the opportunity to expand my studies and collaborations."
The Polanyi (valued up to $250,000) is given to an individual or team whose research has led to a recent outstanding advance in any NSERC-supported field of the natural sciences or engineering. Dr. Crudden’s trailblazing research innovation demonstrated that an extremely thin carbon layer, applied to metal surfaces, can protect them from oxidation and extend their lifespan. The discovery has applications spanning fields from infrastructure, clean energy, electronics manufacturing to cancer diagnostics and treatment.
"It all started with fundamental research. That’s what we do: we ask fundamental questions and do our best to answer them," says Dr. Crudden. Her team worked on a technology for single metal atoms for a decade before starting to work on metal surfaces in 2012. The success of the lab experiments quickly sparked conversations with researchers in different fields and ideas for potential applications.
In 2022, Dr. Crudden’s research program received a $24 million funding boost from Canada’s New Frontiers in Research Fund, leading to the creation of the Carbon to Metal Coating Institute (C2MCI). The new institute is dedicated to translational research and aims to bring carbon coating technology to real-world solutions across industries.
Interdisciplinarity is a key component of this effort. Dr. Crudden highlights that collaborating and working with people who have different experiences and expertise is incredibly valuable, as it leads directly to greater impact and application of her research. "Our work wouldn’t be as successful as it is without the input of engineers, physicists, biochemists, and medical researchers," she states. Global connections are also a fundamental aspect of the C2MCI, which includes collaborations with academic, clinical, and industry partners in countries like Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Finland.
"We keep adding new academic collaborators to our program and deepening our interactions with industry," says Dr. Crudden. "This allows me to work with some of the best and brightest students and postdoctoral research associates in Canada and around the world. It’s a huge pleasure working with them and building on their ideas and their enthusiasm."
Having joined Queen’s in 2002, Dr. Crudden became the Canada Research Chair in Metal Organic Chemistry in 2020. Throughout her career, she has received numerous awards and accolades, including a Killam Research Fellowship (2015-2016), the R.U. Lemieux Award for Organic Chemistry from the Chemical Institute of Canada (2017), the Catalysis award from the Canadian Catalysis Society (2018), and the Carol Tyler award from the International Precious Metals Institute (2018). Dr. Crudden is also a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, the Chemical Institute of Canada, the Royal Society of Chemistry (UK), and an International Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
"The NSERC awards are extremely competitive and Dr. Crudden’s receipt of the Polanyi is indicative of the impact and widespread application of her research," says Nancy Ross, Vice-Principal (Research). "It also highlights the important role of basic science in helping to solve real-world issues – from clean energy to cancer treatment. This is a proud moment for Queen’s."
For more information on Dr. Crudden and the C2MCI, visit the website.
Note: The story originally appeared in the Queen's Gazette.