You’re an inorganic chemist. Can you tell me a bit about your research?
I'm working on the design of phosphorus-based Lewis acids for homogeneous catalysis and frustrated Lewis pair chemistry. A lot of the research in the Stephan Group has been on frustrated Lewis pairs, which essentially are reactive, sterically encumbered Lewis acid and base pairs. These pairs have been shown to activate a wide range of small molecules and some notable industrial applications are hydrogenation, carbon dioxide capture, etc.
You completed your undergraduate degree at the University of Ottawa. How did you choose to UofT for graduate school?
Initially my plan was to go to UBC- that's where I visited first, and then I came here. When I came during the Graduate Student Weekend I found the students were amazing, it was really well planned, and I really liked Toronto, but the main highlight was the research. When I visited U of T, I didn't actually meet Doug, but I was already fairly familiar with his research. Then, once I met his group, I was sold. Ultimately, the research drew me to Toronto, but what kept me here was definitely his group, and the whole experience of the weekend.
What outreach have you been involved in?
I am currently a member of Let's Talk Science, and I've been doing that since I was in Ottawa. This is a volunteer-based organization that’s composed of undergraduate and graduate student volunteers, who prepare and deliver science experiments to elementary school or high school students. I love seeing students get excited about chemistry and science in general! Sometimes that excitement lacks a bit in the younger ages, so I think this is a really valuable program.
I’m also involved with ChemClub and the Green Chemistry Initiative (GCI) at U of T. Recently, a few of us from the GCI designed a handout for TAs to help them teach green chemistry to their undergraduate students. I am also mentoring 3 undergraduate students- one 499 student and two volunteers, which has been such an enriching experience!
This summer I will be volunteering with the Science Unlimited Summer Camp designed for high school students and last year I also volunteered with Pueblo Science and Science Rendezvous.
As a side project, I just opened a CrossFit gym with two other people in the downtown core.
Wow, how do find time to run a business?
Fitness has always been a large part of my life. I really believe in being healthy not only mentally but also physically. So, how do I find the time? I manage my time in the lab very well, I like to think, and then my evenings are usually spent at the gym anyway. So instead of working out on my own, I'm now teaching other people and running the classes during that time.
What motivates you to be involved?
Helping and teaching other people. 100%. I get a lot of my energy and happiness from seeing other people succeed. When I can go and deliver a science experiment and have one student understand, or have the “light bulb” moment, that is so much more rewarding than anything else that I could be doing on my own. Seeing other people succeed and get excited about science is what makes me want to keep teaching it to them. It's a whole common theme - both with science and CrossFit. I really want to keep doing the outreach and mentoring students because I really enjoy interacting with other people and being able to help them.
How has the Chemistry Department helped you along?
Holy cow, the Chemistry Department has been amazing! Everyone in the department is so helpful. If I have questions about anything, whether it's in the NMR facility or in the graduate office, or within the department with other students or professors, everyone is always there to lend a hand. U of T is not only a hub for research, but it's full of really positive, motivating, and intelligent people.