VIU Grad Winds Top Prize at Regional Chemistry Symposium

February 20, 2014 - 6:30am

Surprised and elated – that’s how Vancouver Island University (VIU) Bachelor of Science graduate Larissa Richards felt after winning first place in the Chemical Institute of Canada’s Vancouver Island Section student presentation contest held at the University of Victoria (UVic) in January.

Richards’ 15-minute presentation focused on detoxification of chemical warfare agents. She won $150 in prize money and accolades from experienced researchers.

The regional symposium provided an opportunity for students to apply their knowledge and explain the chemistry behind a real-world issue.

"It was great to learn about and be inspired by emerging topics and, to network with other scientists,” says Richards, who competed against students from UVic and Camosun College. “It was an excellent opportunity, although nerve-wracking, to present to peers and researchers at other institutions.”

Richards grew up in Port Alberni and never thought of herself as an academic. After a rough start at the University of BC and some personal challenges, she completed a Bachelor of Science degree at VIU’s Nanaimo campus last year (double minor in chemistry and math).

Now she’s applied for a Canada Post Graduate Scholarship through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) to fund her master’s degree at UVic next September. Eventually, she plans to obtain a PhD and become a university professor.

“Larissa is an outstanding student who has really excelled in her last two years of upper level science courses,” says VIU chemistry professor Dr. Erik Krogh. “She didn’t see herself as someone who would go to graduate school despite her amazing success in the classroom.”

While at VIU, Richards completed a Directed Studies Research project in VIU’s Applied Environmental Research Laboratory (AERL) on a project analyzing woodsmoke data.

“It combined her math and chemistry background and she did a marvelous job,” adds Krogh. “Now she’s hooked on science and preparing to present her own research results at a national conference in June.”

Besides honing her research skills, Richards made the most of her undergraduate experience at VIU. She worked as a tutor in the Math Learning Centre, and continues to serve as coordinator of the student-led Awareness of Climate change through Education and Research (ACER) group, which delivers presentations to high school students and on campus.

“My VIU professors inspired me,” she says. “They care about students and believe in student success. I never would have considered graduate school on my own. When they see potential in someone, they serve as mentors and show what’s possible. That’s exactly the kind of professor I want to become.”



Janina Stajic, Manager, Communications and Public Engagement, Vancouver Island University P: 250.740.6288 E: Twitter: @VIUNews

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