Archive for April 2009

Fun & flexibility for women in science

April 27, 2009

If you can’t find Margaret-Ann Armour in her office at the University of Alberta, you might very well find her in a school classroom surrounded by kids.

Take March 13th as an example. That’s when she spent the day at Windsor Park School showing grade three and grade five students how to make nylon.

“One of the great joys of my life has been going out to schools and having fun with chemistry. That means I can take all sorts of colourful demonstrations that I can get the children involved in as well. They get quite excited when, out of a beaker, you can pull a thread of nylon.”

Even I learned a thing or two listening to this amazing professor explain the chemical reaction that produces polymerization.

“We talk about the fact that nylon is made from two small molecules. And these two small molecules are in some way like people. They’ve got two arms. That means they can all join up together in a long line. And, of course, I always have the children join up. Nylon in chemical terms is called a polymer. And that just means that it is ‘many molecules’. We have such fun. I tell the children when they are all joined up with their hands that now they are ‘poly-people’. They remember that and so they’ve got the idea of the many molecules and this long chain which is why you get a thread of nylon.”  …. Read More


Social Media 101

April 20, 2009

101Twitter and other forms of social media continue to penetrate the psyche of Edmontonians. One indication is the kind thank you I received from Jason Darrah, communications business advisor for City of Edmonton within the deputy city manager’s office. He’s responsible for managing the @CityofEdmonton Twitter account (mentioned here last month). and as I found out there’s change in the wind. I asked Darrah what the City hoped to achieve through its early use of social media: Twitter, Youtube and Facebook. He gave several answers around the common theme of “listening to Edmontonians” and indicated that there is strong support to “connect better, be more open and responsive to Edmontonians.” With increased nimbleness, Darrah feels that the City will be in a better position to “engage citizens.” I must admit this was music to my social media ears but, before I get all misty, let’s back it up and talk about how the @CityofEdmonton Twitter account came to be. Of course, it’s not as simple as registering—ideally, it includes debate, planning and discussion. Darrah briefly explained that this entire social media effort is a collaborative multi-department exercise… to be sure, this hasn’t happened overnight. “The number one place we started was with a sound strategy…

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Discover the Real Kim Kerr…

April 17, 2009

Discover the Real Kim Kerr…

Okay, that is an ambitious statement when you consider what this lady has accomplished. More accurate is discovering Kim Kerr in the virtual and real worlds.

Get ready to discover a dynamo that never slows down!

Discover the Real Kim Kerr…

Perfecting Wheat Straw Pulp

April 14, 2009

pulpPulp made from wheat straw is commonly used in countries like China and Turkey where trees are in short supply. With the growing push for environmentally sustainable products, pulp and paper manufacturers in North America are also interested in wheat straw.


Over the last decade, Wade Chute and his colleagues at the Alberta Research Council have been looking at how wheat straw pulp could meet our market demands for brightness and strength. He is the team leader for pulp and paper in the Forest Products Business Unit at the ARCl.

As Chute explains,In China they will cook wheat straw to a higher yield, so they will remove less of the lignan. As a result they will bleach to a lower brightness. The lower brightness and the higher yield basically saves them money, but it is more than enough to achieve the paper objectives that they have there. In North America, we seem to have this fascination with ultra high bright, ultra white, ultra pure printing and writing papers and that necessitates that you cook to a much, much lower yield. It also implies that you use a lot more bleach. So the straw pulp that’s produced in China right now, they just cook it and bleach it a little bit differently.”

Chute says ARC’s pilot plant is now processing a wheat straw pulp that could meet the high standards of North American pulp and paper makers. What’s needed, however, is access to a full size pulping line to demonstrate that wheat straw pulp can be produced in commercial quantities. √                                                                         ~Cheryl Croucher

Triticale… a new source of bioproducts

April 8, 2009

Who needs oitriticalel from Saudi Arabia or Fort McMurray   when you can grow triticale in the back forty?

Triticale is a cereal grain hybridized from wheat and rye half a century ago. It never took off as a substitute for wheat flour. But in the 21st Century, the Alberta Research Council is betting triticale will make a dandy substitute for petroleum.

The Council has just received $15 million dollars from the federal Agricultural Bioproducts Innovation Program to show us how.

Richard Gibson is the business development manager for Industrial Bioproducts at ARC, and marketing manager with the Canadian Triticale Biorefinery Initiative. He says the main interest in triticale is its potential for chemical and material applications. “If you had crude oil coming out of the ground and you put it into a refinery, you’ve got crude oil turned into a whole range of products. And if we think about triticale as the crude oil for a biorefinery and put triticale in one end of the refinery, we’d get a whole range of products coming out the other side—anything from materials to chemicals and energy as well.

Gibson points out that triticale is a crop well suited for growing in marginal areas, and it is a good addition to a suite of industrial crops for biorefining, including hemp. √

~ Cheryl Croucher

Alberta’s Bioeconomy Potential

April 7, 2009

The current global economic meltdown could easily crush inventors looking for investment capital.

But according to Juan Enriquez, out of crisis comes opportunity. And Alberta companies focused on life sciences can profit from the emerging knowledge economy.

He is one of the world’s foremost authorities on the business of life sciences, a founding director of the Harvard Business School’s Life Sciences Project, and author of As the Future Catches You.

While in Edmonton recently for the Ingenuity in Our Community symposium, Enriquez offered his perspective. “The economic meltdown is in the financial and credit institutions, in the old economy. If you look at the top 10 performing stocks of last year, the ones that are doing very well, five or six of them are life science companies because people still get sick. People still need to be treated. People, if they have an additional dollar, probably want to spend it on a quality of life. So these are companies that have continued doing well, and that I expect will continue doing well despite the economic meltdown.

Enriquez says Alberta can build a life sciences industry based on its strong capacity in research, resources and entrepreneurship. √  

                                            ~ Cheryl Croucher

 Learn more about Juan Enriquez at