Dr. Stephanie MacQuarrie, Associate Professor of Organic Chemistry at CBU, has been awarded an NSERC Discovery Grant of $120,000 for her research in incorporating molecular diversity into biochar for further synthetic modification and enhanced applications. Over the next five years, Dr. MacQuarrie, along with the MacQuarrie Research Group, will be conducting research to determine whether organic waste products can be used in Industrial applications, like making molecules.
Dr. MacQuarrie has an extensive background in researching the conversion of waste into charcoal, and her prior research led to the discovery that there is great potential to use this “waste” material for much higher end applications. Her goal is to design functional materials for use in industry while employing low energy, green and environmentally responsible methods.
Receiving the NSERC Discovery Grant will allow Dr. MacQuarrie more freedom to delve into the research. “We don’t have to focus so entirely on immediate applications. We can be pioneers in the area of gaining a true understanding of what biochar looks like chemically, how it reacts and what really cool chemistry we can get it to do,” says Dr. MacQuarrie.
Biochar is a leftover carbon material that comes from burning biomass in a controlled environment. In the past, biochar has been used as a low-end fertilizer or seen as a waste to be disposed of. Dr. MacQuarrie and her team aim to show that biochar can be so much more than that. The materials generated through this chemistry can be used to absorb metals or toxic compounds from water or put to work in high-value chemical synthesis, like making pharmaceuticals. Pretty powerful for a cheap, green, natural organic material!
When it comes to real-world application, Dr. MacQuarrie’s research could play a key role in our prosperity. “One day we will run out of fossil fuels and we believe the answer to this scary situation includes a variety of alternative energy sources, like bio-oil,” says Dr. MacQuarrie.
Dr. MacQuarrie’s team is comprised largely of undergraduate students who work full time throughout the summer, along with a regular postdoc or research assistant who works in the lab year-round.
The students work toward publishing their results while getting invaluable hands-on research experience. “Research is where you can apply what you learn in the classroom. You get to see what it’s like to do that organic chemistry reaction that you’ve been drawing on paper for the past couple of years. It’s real,” says Dr. MacQuarrie.
In Dr. MacQuarrie’s lab, students are addressing important problems such as environmental sustainability in order to provide a real solution. They work as a team, relying on one another for data, ideas and safety, developing life skills that can be carried on long after graduation.