The Pilkington research team

Faculty of Graduate Studies

The Pilkington research team

Chemistry Professor Melanie Pilkington has assembled a mini United Nations of young researchers to work with her in the highly specialized field of synthetic and structural organic chemistry.

“We come from all corners of the world, “ says Roland Acha, a PhD candidate from Bamenda, Cameroon and one of five graduate students working alongside Pilkington. “We bring all of our experiences here and it makes for a great learning environment.”

Pilkington also supervises master’s candidates Shari Venneri and Nicholas Hurley, both from Ontario, PhD candidate Roger Gumbau-Brisa, from Spain, and post-doctorate Qiang Wang, from China. Learning alongside the graduate students are undergraduate students Suchithra Guntur and Jeff Paul.

The personal chemistry is important, says Pilkington, when she talks about the factors that contribute to the students’ accomplishments.

“We are all working toward a common goal,” says Pilkington, one of Brock’s most accomplished scientists and a Tier 2 Canada Research Chair (CRC) in Novel Hybrid Materials. “We are celebrating our differences and working together to use everyone’s strongest skills to our advantage.”

The team recently received a five-year, $500,000 renewal of CRC funding. Their research is recognized by the world’s scientific community for having the potential to assist in developing smaller, lightweight components for electronic devices such as plastic transistors. Their lab is slated to relocate in Brock’s multimillion-dollar Cairns Family Health and Bioscience Research Complex, now under construction.

“I was attracted to study here for many reasons ,” says Gumbau-Brisa who transferred to the PhD program after one year of a master’s program. “Melanie is recognized for her research. The projects are interesting. You are working in very good facilities. And the funding for the projects is very important.”

The students find themselves in the spotlight – a spotlight that brings a wealth of opportunities and, at the same time, carries some very high expectations. Topping the list of opportunities are experiences such as presenting at major conferences, here and internationally, and being involved in research collaborations with experts from around the world. As for the expectations, what sets each student apart is his or her ability to be an independent thinker, says Pilkington, and to possess the intuition and intellectual ability to apply concepts in individual situations.

“Our work in the lab is expanding my interest in chemistry and challenging me in ways I never imagined,” says Venneri.

graduate students with Chemistry Professor Melanie Pilkington

The Pilkington research group has adopted a “bottom-up” approach for the preparation of electronic materials. They start from the molecules and modify them to make them suitable for creating a nanostructure which can conduct electricity. Organizing these molecules in one-, two- or three-dimensions is a challenge because it cannot be fully controlled. Using X-ray crystallography helps the researchers understand their physical properties in a solid state. Pilkington currently collaborates with researchers at the Xerox Research Centre of Canada, working towards developing tiny electronic devices that can be incorporated into display media that will have the properties of paper, but which will integrate seamlessly into the digital world.