Making a Difference through Science : The CASC Intern Profiles
From mid-2010 to March 2011, the Canadian Association of Science Centres’ (CASC) conducted the Science Interns Outreach Project, as part of Natural Resources Canada’s (NRCan) Science and Technology Internship Program. These profiles celebrate a few of the interns who benefited from this funding. The profiles highlight the benefits of the NRCan internship program both for these individuals and for the field.
The alternative fuel of the future could be as simple as grass clippings or wood chips. Just ask Curtis Simmonds. The 24-year-old chemistry grad is studying how to convert biologically produced matter, also known as biomass, into fuels, chemicals and other materials – and do it in a way that’s faster, cheaper and easier on the environment.
Currently, the production of biofuels requires a tremendous amount of energy to promote the chemical transformations needed. But in the chemistry lab, Curtis is working on developing catalytic systems that would accelerate the process. These catalytic systems use earth-abundant metals like iron to speed up the conversion of biomass into useable fuels. If molecules can be created that act as catalysts for the conversion – in other words, make the process faster while using less energy – then the production of biofuels could become much more efficient, making them a very real alternative to fossil fuels.
“This is an environmentally friendly method to produce everyday chemicals,” says Curtis, who is interning at Simon Fraser University (SFU) in Vancouver. “This is research that could be applied on an industrial scale, helping to reduce energy costs and lessening the impact on the environment.”
Curtis works closely with Dr. Tim Storr, an assistant professor in the chemistry department at SFU. Dr. Storr says working with an intern on this project has many pluses. “It’s a great experience for the intern and it’s great for the lab,” says Dr. Storr. The interaction is tremendous. The interns are excited to learn and make a contribution and think about where this may take them. Their enthusiasm is contagious.”
“You’re always learning something new,” adds Curtis. “There are so many amazing analytical techniques that I haven’t been aware of. You’re always thinking about how you can improve, or tweak them. This work has given me valuable skills for working in industry.”
For more information visit http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/careers/44 ➜