What’s going on here…today…

Things have been busy in the last few months… and here is why.

Research-wise, I have continued the urban air quality data project, where I statistically analyse 10+ years of hourly pollution data from major Canadian Cities, mostly using Matlab. The modelling component of the project aims at understanding the underlying atmospheric reactions, especially the involvement of halogens. I employ the CAABA/MECCA box model for this task.

I am also finishing up my chemometric modelling work for the MYCOSPEC project. I presented results at the Mycotoxin Summer Talks in Tulln, Austria last summer and at the 5th MoniQA International Conference “Food and Health – Risks and Benefits” in Porto, Portugal last fall.

On the teaching side, I have been teaching Analytical Chemistry (lecture and lab) in the fall and currently Chromatography and the Atmosphere and Ocean lab are on my teaching schedule. Courses are going well and I really enjoy the interaction with students!

This is the paper of the day…

Here is a teaching method, that I initially started using in my “Environmental Chemistry” lecture. It is called “Paper of the Day” and starts out the lecture with a brief (10 min) presentation of a new and relevant research paper that is tightly connected to the following lecture’s content; e.g., a “global warming” paper for the start of the global warming chapter; one of the very new “Arctic ozone hole” papers, when discussing Arctic stratospheric chemistry… well you get the drift.

I have now expanded this to Analytical Chemistry and, especially, the Chromatography lab, using environmental, pharmaceutical, industrial and biochemical/medical applications to illustrate the usefulness of the content presented and provide relevance to students.

Also, students have approached me to discuss a paper (or sometimes even a general media article) several times and I am happy to leave the stage to them, providing context whenever needed.

A new HPLC experiment for the Chromatography lab

I have been looking for a while to replace the rather old-fashioned quantitative HPLC-DAD lab (separation of phenol and acetophenone) at Bishop’s University with a modern and relevant lab for students. So, I stumbled across a paper by Bidlingmeyer and Schmitz (1995), which describes an experiment for

The analysis of artificial sweeteners and additives in beverages by HPLC: An undergraduate experiment

which I have now adapted to a 4-hour lab for Chemistry students. Preliminary trials were successful and the first students will get a hands-on experience with a real life sample in early January!

Chemistry Departmental Seminar Series at Bishop’s University

With the help of the other faculty members, I have initiated and administered the Chemistry Departmental Seminar Series at Bishop’s University during the last academic year. I have secured funding from the Speaker’s Committee for student lunches with the speaker prior to the seminar and to cover speaker’s expenses.

The seminar was primarily targeted at undergraduate students to provide them with information about current research, future employment and graduate studies. Speakers were faculty members, graduate students and professionals from various fields of chemistry in order to provide different perspectives about chemistry-related activities.

Here is the list of speakers. We started off with 15–20 students and faculty in the audience during the fall term and had an audience of 25–30 during the winter term. The seminar programme was put together with suggestions from students and faculty members. Faculty took turns hosting the speaker and student lunches.

Winter 2015

  • Éloic Colombo, CHUS, Medicinal Chemistry, New inhibitors of matriptase for treatment of influenza viruses
  • Kaylee Saunders, Bishop’s University, Department of Chemistry, Characterization and Comparison of Neat Alternative Fuels and their Corresponding Combustion Residues
  • Frederic-George Fontaine, Université Laval, Département de Chimie, Molecular Geopolitics
  • Ian Butler, McGill University, Department of Chemistry, An Overview of the Applications of Molecular Spectroscopy in Art Forensics: Infrared and Raman Spectroscopy

Fall 2014

  • Avik Ghoshdastidar, McGill University, Department of Chemsitry Pharmaceuticals, Pesticides, Mercury and First Year Students — Journeys of a Grad Student in Chemistry
  • Patrick Ayotte, Université de Sherbrooke, Département de Chimie, Life and death of a snowflake; Or how to read the global atmospheric archives in a carrot?
  • Daniel Fortin, Université de Sherbrooke, Département de Chimie, Understand the chemistry and physical properties with molecular and electronic structures. See inside the molecular world!

Characterization of Biodiesels and Vegetable Oils after Combustion using GC-MS

An Honour’s student that I supervise presented an excellent poster at this year’s Research Week at Bishop’s University: Characterization of Biodiesels and Vegetable Oils and their Corresponding Combustion Residues.

Here is the abstract

Biodiesel is one of the most common alternative fuels and is becoming more predominant on the market today. Due to the emergence of biodiesel forensic analysts should be more aware of biodiesel components and properties since it may be encountered more in arson crime scene samples. Biodiesels are vegetable oil or animal oil based diesel fuels. Vegetable oils themselves undergo burning, self-heating, and spontaneous ignition which means they too, albeit less often, are observed in fire debris samples. Vegetable oils and fuels derived from them are not effectively analyzed using regular fire debris analysis methods. A solvent extraction is more suitable than the typical passive headspace extraction that is used for ignitable liquids. The vegetable oils must also be derivatized in order to convert the fatty acids (FAs) found in the oils to the volatile fatty acid methyl esters (FAMEs) which are necessary for GC-MS analysis. This work will demonstrate and analyze the changes, if any, in the FAME components that are observed between neat and burned alternative fuel accelerants. Biodiesel blends and multiple household oils, such as soy and canola oils, will be used as the accelerants. The findings of this research will aid in further understanding and in recognition of biodiesels and vegetable oils in fire debris.

Download the poster (pdf, 2 MB): ksaunders-gkos_biodiesel2015

Teaching done for the Fall & Spring terms

Teaching is done until fall and during the last 2 semesters I have taught 5 courses:

  • Analytical chemistry
  • Analytical chemistry laboratory
  • Instrumental Analysis
  • Atmospheric Chemistry
  • Atmosphere and Ocean laboratory

I taught the first two courses at Bishop’s University and the latter 2 at McGill University. The Atmosphere and Ocean lab was run for the very first time. I spent the fall term designing the course (10 experiments focusing on radiation, chemical analysis, forecasting, atmospheric profiling, ocean currents… — with input from other faculty) and had a great first iteration this spring.

For my other courses I introduced new elements of learning, including student presentations (both, assessed and non-assessed as part of in-class work), revised lab report formats (using checklists for student self-assessments), individual feedback on report drafts… — classes are fairly small, not exceeding 40 students, so personalized teaching was quite easy and a pleasure to do. with high-quality feedback from students.

Teaching and current events

What I like most about teaching ‘Atmospheric Chemistry’ (this semester again at McGill) is the fact that current examples are always at hand: Discussing biogenic aerosols? A dust storm is never far away! Temperature inversions and increased pollutant concentrations in the PBL? Just look to the South-Western US!

In a nutshell – when talking about atmospheric processes, these examples make the taught material relevant and important for students. And in the best of cases they bring these events to class for further discussion, such as recently during a Sudden Stratospheric Warming event (including the opportunity to discuss and rectify some serious mistakes in the article).

Teaching in the current context at its best (and I have not even talked about research papers that are published every week and warrant a discussion in class!)