Innovative Chemistry Opportunities Boosted at Saint Mary’s University

Dr. Kai Ylijoki in a laboratory at Saint Mary's University.

Dr. Kai Ylijoki in a laboratory at Saint Mary’s University. (Photo courtesy of SMU)

Saint Mary’s researchers looking for commercialization opportunities in areas ranging from pharmaceuticals to electronics have a new tool to draw on.

It’s not glamourous, but Dr. Kai Ylijoki says the new glove box enhances the research capabilities of Saint Mary University’s Chemistry Department and opened up new possibilities for researchers by allowing them to create more than one type of atmosphere on-site.

Glove boxes have two basic functions: to protect the worker from substances inside the box and to keep the substances inside the box from ambient contamination.

For Dr. Ylijoki, the glove box provides an inert atmosphere, free of oxygen, water and other substances, that is essential for his work to developing biologically active compounds that could be used for pharmaceutical treatments.

“Organometallic compounds tend to be sensitive to the air; they don’t like oxygen and they don’t like water,” explains Dr. Ylijoki. “The glove box also allows us to create special compounds, which are not as easy in other situations are important for my research.”

A number of the compounds are also used in pesticides, stabilizers for polyvinyl chloride, and fire retardants.

The glove box’s atmospheric conditions can be altered and will be used for synthesis of conducting material, allowing them to be used in electronics applications, he said.

The equipment was purchased with $92,000 of financial support from both the Nova Scotia Research and Innovation Trust and Canada Foundation for Innovation John R. Evans Leaders Fund.

Upgrades in software and computers included as part of the project allows for an expansion in computational chemistry at the university. Through these advances researchers can use computers to optimize a reaction before they try it in the lab, saving both time and money.

The upgrades to Saint Mary’s computational chemistry capabilities also open new doors to chemistry students, giving them more research possibilities. Approximately 15 students will benefit from extensive training in the lab over the next five years.

“Computational chemistry has become such a fundamental skill to have,” says Dr. Ylijoki. “Saint Mary’s can provide a diverse training ground for students, trained in many directions whether it be traditional organic chemistry, air sensitive organometallic, or computational.”

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