VIU chemistry student wins accolades

December 21, 2011 - 6:00am

Christmas came early for Vancouver Island University student Megan Willis.

She received a $1,000 scholarship from the Association of the Chemical Profession of BC (ACPBC) for outstanding academic achievements and activities in service to the profession of Chemistry.

“This scholarship is awarded to the top chemistry student applicant in the province,” said VIU Chemistry Professor Dr. Erik Krogh. “We’re thrilled for Megan.

“In addition to her success in the classroom, Megan has made significant contributions in the Applied Environmental Research Laboratories (AERL) at the Nanaimo campus. She has presented her work at an international chemistry conference and is the lead author on an upcoming research paper.

“Furthermore, she has demonstrated true leadership as the current VIU Chemistry Student Club president, a presenter in the public outreach initiative (Awareness of Climate change through Education and Research) and as a regular peer tutor in the Chemistry drop-in help centre.”

Willis graduates from VIU in February with a Bachelor of Science degree (double minor in Chemistry and Math). She is applying to graduate school for Sept. 2012 and plans to pursue a career in environmental chemistry research.

The award adds to Willis’s long list of accolades. She is a three-time winner of the prestigious Undergraduate Summer Research Awards from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) which has allowed her to work continuous summers in the AERL lab.

Willis, who graduated from Woodlands Secondary School in Nanaimo, said her high school math and science teachers (Don Traverse and Kip Wood) inspired her love of science. She chose VIU because it was close to home.

“Initially I planned to complete two years of my undergraduate degree at VIU and then transfer to a larger institution,” said Willis, “but when I discovered the research opportunities at VIU, I had to stay. Working in the AERL and being mentored by Dr. Krogh and Dr. Gill has brought relevancy to what I’ve learned in the classroom.”

Krogh and Gill, co-directors of the AERL, lead an exciting program of research and provide year-round educational and employment opportunities for undergraduate students like Willis and graduate students on a diverse range of applied and discovery-based research projects.

The work relates to developing better, faster and more efficient methods of chemical analysis in soil, water and air.

“We’re developing new and improved measurement strategies to analyze complex environmental samples in real time,” explained Krogh. “We are on the forefront of bringing high precision chemical measurements to the field.

“This remote monitoring capability will be extremely useful and cost effective. It will provide immediate information that can answer health and safety questions at contaminated sites. The innovations resulting from our research will provide us with new tools to study important environmental problems.”

Krogh said students working in the AERL become fully engaged in the discovery process of research. They develop skills in environmental sampling, chemical analysis, method development, data interpretation and presentation. Throughout the year, they are encouraged to participate in meetings, attend conferences and co-author peer-reviewed publications. Many proceed to graduate school.

They also benefit from Krogh’s and Gill’s close partnerships with academic research partners nationally and internationally, as well as scientists at government agencies and in the private sector.

Willis agrees the AERL experience is invaluable for undergraduate students. Her research focused on how chemical properties of contaminants, like polyaromatic hydrocarbons, affect the environment.

Willis doesn’t expect to start graduate school until Sept. 2012. In the meantime, Krogh and Gill have offered her a research job in the AERL.

“I feel really fortunate to have completed my undergraduate degree at VIU and now to have the opportunity to continue working in the AERL lab,” she said. “The science faculty at VIU clearly love teaching. They are incredibly supportive and encourage students to work independently and learn how to solve problems. Both Dr. Krogh and Dr. Gill go out of their way to give students a full and enriching experience.”

To find out more about the AERL, visit

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