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Queen’s researcher awarded NSERC Discovery Grant for breakthrough work in novel organic coatings

Federal funding will help organic chemistry expert Cathleen Crudden accelerate new research and support training that could advance innovation across industrial, healthcare, and technology sectors.

[Photo of Cathleen Crudden]
Dr. Cathleen Crudden, Canada Research Chair in Metal Organic Chemistry

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) has awarded Queen’s researcher Cathleen Crudden (Chemistry) the highest value Discovery Grant in Canada this year. The funding, which totals to $605,000 over five years, will be used to support her research project in the development of organic coatings that bind to metal surfaces. After proving that carbon-to-metal bonds can be significantly more stable than previously thought, Dr. Crudden and her team will work to discover the implications of these linkages by analyzing films 100,000 times thinner than a human hair.

The development of novel organic coatings has potentially wide-ranging applications, as it could help advance innovation and improvements across many sectors — from computer electronics, oil and gas safety, healthcare, automotive, and more.

"What I love about this project is that we are taking something that has been known about organic chemistry for 30 years and applying it to new systems resulting in game-changing approaches to a wide range of problems," says Dr. Crudden, Queen’s professor and Canada Research Chair in Metal Organic Chemistry. "We are currently looking at using organic coatings to protect metal surfaces, which will help mitigate carbon dioxide emissions due to the need to replace metallic infrastructure."

Her fundamental research will not only serve as a baseline for further scientific innovation but could also be used for nano medicines in cancer treatment, for creating better semiconductor chips in electronics, and in the development of automotive materials.

The NSERC grants are awarded to innovative and bold research projects with the potential to create big impacts. The Discovery Grants help fund projects with long-term goals and aim to give researchers flexibility to explore multiple avenues in their field of study.

"These funds will help us pay for things like state-of-the-art analysis of samples we prepare," she says. "The grant enables us to purchase the metals and the organic components that we can't make in the lab." The funding will allow for broader experimentation and deeper analysis of samples.

For Dr. Crudden, receiving this grant also means being able to provide training and support for her immediate collaborators domestically and abroad, as well as her graduate and post-doctoral students, all of whom she credits for tirelessly supporting the work throughout the pandemic. "There's no way our lab could do even a fraction of this work without a great team," Dr. Crudden says.

Given her years of experience in ground-breaking research, Dr. Crudden advises early-career scientists and researchers that pushing boundaries is the best thing you can do, even if it produces negative results, because it always teaches you something new.

"Follow what you are excited about and don’t be afraid to try something risky!" she says. "I often tell my students that if you know how to make molecules, you can do anything."

To learn more about Dr. Crudden and her research project, see the Crudden Research Lab.