CBU Receives $350,000 from Canada Foundation of Innovation in Support of Research

Researchers at Cape Breton University are receiving $350,000 in funding from the Canada Foundation of Innovation (CFI) John R. Evans Leaders Fund to advance laboratory space and purchase a super microscope known as a Cryo-TEM. Once on-site, the microscope will be the only one of its kind east of Montreal.

Announced this week by Minister of Science, Kirsty Duncan, the funds are being awarded to Dr. Stephanie MacQuarrie, Associate Professor of Organic Chemistry; Dr. Matthias Bierenstiel, Associate Professor of Inorganic Chemistry; and Dr. Martin Mkandawire, Industrial Research Chair in Minewater Management, Verschuren Centre.

What makes this microscope so special is the cryo attachment. Unlike other microscopes, this attachment – the essential core of the new equipment – is used to freeze liquid samples such as cells or soft material that can then be analyzed.

“Being awarded funds to purchase this equipment shows that CBU is an excellent place to conduct research. We expect the microscope will increase research output and create additional opportunities for academic and industry collaborations. The addition of the Cryo-Tem will also enhance our students’ exposure to research training far beyond the standard study and deepen their hands-on experience,” says Bierenstiel.

MacQuarrie’s research involves the synthesis of greener nanomaterial, which leads to more cost effective and environmentally friendly chemistry.  The addition of the Cryo-Tem will allow her team to see how molecules are behaving at their level. This is very important for understanding how treatments of certain diseases work.  For example, for the past three years, the team has been doing research that involves stabilizing enzymes that could help treat or add to development of an at home test kit for patients with phenylketonuria (PKU), a neurodegenerative disorder diagnosed at birth. The team knows the materials work in the lab, but haven’t yet been able to see why. The microscope will allow them to watch the enzymes at work and help the team understand how to make them work better and faster.

Mkandawire’s research focuses on photocatalytic nanoparticles, and molecule-nanoparticles interactions for environmental and medical applications as well as biosensor for lab-on-chip technology. Specifically, his team is investigating use of sunlight to treat contaminated water. The work is trying to develop methods that can change activation energy of photocatalytic titanium oxide particles through binding them with semiconducting material. With the methods, persistent organic pollutants can be degraded and germs can be killed by simple exposure to sunlight even in low intensity. The microscope will help visualise correct coupling of the nanoparticle and the semiconductor during the development of the technology.

Bierenstiel’s research interest combines fundamental transition metal complexes and several applied industrial projects including electrode surface analysis for H2 generator and iron binding polymers as anticancer agents. The resolution of this new microscope is so powerful that it will allow Bierenstiel to visualize minute iron-binding polymer molecules in biological samples and understand the interactions of the polymer towards cells and bacteria.

“CBU researchers continue to be recognized for the innovative research that they are conducting – research that has impacts of local and international significance. The funds awarded by CFI speak to the quality of research taking place at CBU and the importance of the work that our researchers are undertaking,” says Tanya Brann-Barrett, Dean, Research, Teaching and Graduate Studies.