Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada
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Current Winner - 2017

E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship

E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship

Department of Chemistry

Western University

Life can be tricky and unpredictable. Whether we’re dealing with a surprise infection in our bodies, or an unexpected heat wave triggering seeds to sprout just before another shock of frost, we could all benefit from a little more control over the outside forces that affect us.

Elizabeth Gillies has created a new type of polymer that is providing agriculture and pharmaceutical companies with the means to develop seeds and drugs that are far more precise and effective. While other polymers act as coatings that encase and protect a payload for some duration, Gillies’ polymer offers something more specific: control over when and how the polymer breaks down. The Western University researcher’s polymer can be “turned on,” so it degrades only when its contents will be most effective.

Gillies’ innovative coating has already captured the attention of several companies eager to bring it to market. Agriculture companies are interested in a seed coating that will allow farmers to plant crops that only grow once the last frosts of winter are surely over, potentially saving thousands of dollars in reseeding. There is also interest in applying the polymer to fertilizers so that they provide nutrients only as plants need them, reducing the harmful environmental impacts that result from runoff from excess nutrients such as nitrogen. Pharmaceutical companies are seeing the potential of this coating to release drug molecules only at targeted sites, resulting in better treatment with lower dosages.

Elizabeth Gillies
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