Sophie Rousseaux, an associate professor in the Faculty of Arts & Science’s Department of Chemistry and Canada Research Chair in Organic Chemistry, is one of two Arts & Science recipients of the distinguished McLean Award for 2022.
The McLean Award is funded by the University of Toronto’s Connaught Fund and is given in support of basic research in physics, chemistry, computer science, mathematics, engineering sciences or statistical sciences. It is awarded to an outstanding researcher early in their career to assist in attracting and supporting graduate students and postdoctoral fellows as part of their research team.
“I'm surprised, excited and grateful to win this award,” says Rousseaux. “The McLean is particularly meaningful in that it recognizes basic research so it really gives us the opportunity to explore ideas that don't necessarily have an immediate application but could have long-term impact. It provides opportunities to explore ideas that might not get funding from traditional sources — that's what's most exciting.”
Professor Rousseaux’s work is a wonderful example of U of T research with significant impact beyond academia and the lab. She is very deserving of the valuable support provided by the award and I’m very proud to congratulate her on this, the latest of her many accolades.
“Professor Rousseaux’s work is a wonderful example of U of T research with significant impact beyond academia and the lab,” says Melanie Woodin, dean of the Faculty. “She is very deserving of the valuable support provided by the award and I’m very proud to congratulate her on this, the latest of her many accolades.”
Rousseaux’s research focuses on catalysis and synthetic organic chemistry. The work is critical in the production and harnessing of key molecules important to our everyday lives. “Every day, you’ll use, eat or consume something that was made, at least in part, using catalysis. That's just how omnipresent it is,” she says.
A key focus of Rousseaux’s lab is the development of processes that are environmentally and economically more sustainable and efficient. For example, manufacturing pharmaceuticals can produce significant amounts of waste, involve toxic reagents, and take many steps requiring large amounts of energy. But new “green chemistry” processes can greatly reduce this negative impact.
Says Rousseaux, "With the processes we are investigating, it will be possible to run a reaction that requires a lower temperature or takes three steps instead of 10 or produces less waste.”
I’m excited to receive the award but it is also recognition for all the hard work done by the students who’ve been in my group over the last seven years. It’s been such a joy to work with them. I look forward to working with and helping train the next generation of students with the support of this funding.
The award can be used to fund postdoctoral fellows or graduate students and Rousseaux will use it to recruit the latter. “There are students currently in my lab and others who are interested in joining and working on these types of projects,” she says. “What’s more, I really enjoy working with graduate students and helping their academic and research careers progress."
The students will work on a particular priority of Rousseaux’s lab: nitrile chemistry. Nitriles are organic compounds that play a major role in many different chemical reactions; they are commonly found in pharmaceuticals and, for example, help bind the drug with targets like proteins in the body.
"Our research into these compounds and finding more efficient and sustainable ways to access them could have a significant impact in the long term on the production of these pharmaceuticals,” she says.
Rousseaux adds the McLean Award to a list of honours that includes the Dorothy Shoichet Women Faculty in Science Award of Excellence and a Sloan Research Fellowship.
“I’m excited to receive the award but it is also recognition for all the hard work done by the students who’ve been in my group over the last seven years,” she says. “It’s been such a joy to work with them. I look forward to working with and helping train the next generation of students with the support of this funding.”