Meet Professor Sophie Rousseaux, Chemistry’s newest faculty member

November 25, 2015 by Mandy Koroniak

Chemistry is pleased to welcome Professor Sophie Rousseaux, who joined our department in summer 2015. Prof. Rousseaux holds a PhD from the University of Ottawa and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Oxford University, in addition to research time at MIT and École Nationale Supérieure de Chimie de Montpellier in France. We had the opportunity to interview Prof. Rousseaux this fall, and learn about her research and other interests.

Welcome to our Chemistry family at UofT! What brought you here?

When I saw this opportunity at the UofT it was really a dream job to be able to come back to Canada, to such a great institute like UofT. The Chemistry department at UofT is one of the best in Canada, if not the best. I had met quite a few faculty members as a graduate student and I had also heard really good things about the undergraduate and graduate programs here, so those were definitely deciding factors for me to come to UofT.

What are you most looking forward to this academic year?

There’s been so many changes and it’s a really exciting time for me. Since the summer what I’ve really enjoyed the most is recruiting students and building up a lab with them, building up projects and getting things rolling. I’m looking forward to our first big hits in the lab and our first really important results.

I’m also looking forward to seeing the students evolve through the years. I’m actually really excited about starting to teach in January and interacting with some more of the undergraduate population here in the department.

Can you tell me a little bit about your research?

I am an organic chemist. During my PhD I worked a lot on catalysis, looking at making molecules in a more efficient way. During my postdoc I worked on supramolecular chemistry, looking at how molecules can interact together in a non-covalent fashion, so not linked together, to give them a new and unexpected function, for example. I’m hoping to combine some of the things that I learned in my PhD and my postdoc to my current research program.

I have some students who are working on transition metal catalysis, looking at developing greener alternatives to some of the common methods that are used in chemical industries. We’re trying to develop more environmentally friendly reactions, so maybe reactions that produce less waste, or at least less toxic waste. We're looking at nickel catalysis for that. I also have some students looking at developing catalysts that are controlled through supramolecular chemistry and we’re looking at weak non-covalent interactions to control a catalyst function in solution, trying to imitate some of the catalysts that you might find in nature, enzymes for example.

What are some of your interests outside of work?

I am an avid cook. It's probably because it’s like doing chemistry but I get to eat the product at the end! I really enjoy traveling as well. I managed to travel quite a bit in Europe while I was there for my postdoc, and a couple of years ago I managed to go to Indonesia for a couple of weeks and hiked up a volcano on a 4-day trek. Between my undergraduate degree and my PhD I traveled for 3 months and I spent about a month and a half in Africa doing some overland tours and volunteering. I also traveled to China when I was a bit younger, so I’ve been really fortunate. I also enjoy watching sports. I'm a hockey fan and I used be a water polo player, which I played throughout most of my PhD.

Is there anything else that you'd like the department and alumni to know about you?

I try as much as possible to be active in promoting STEM amongst young women. At Oxford I participated in a program for women pursuing university education. We were trying to deal with the attrition rates that we're seeing amongst women who start undergraduate degrees and then how many women are actually at the PhD level or even making it to academic positions.

There's a Women in Chemistry initiative here at UofT. I think it's really important to promote these things and to keep the discussion open, to try as much as possible to become involved and provide a bit of a support system. I especially want the women who are currently in the department to know that anything that they set their minds to is possible. I had some excellent mentors who guided me along the path to allow me to get here, but there were definitely challenges. Students should pursue the career that will make them really happy and feel confident that anything's possible.