‘Cutting the crap’ on climate change
Onslow Mountain woman using chemistry to draw pollution out of the atmosphere
Victoria Downing has come a long way from the quiet roads of Onslow Mountain and wooded trails of Victoria Park where she grew up.
Today, she is joining the race against climate change, using her chemistry know-how to build a device that can clean poisonous gases out of the atmosphere, with help from her supervisor, Dr. Michael Katz at Newfoundland’s Memorial University.
“We’re trying to find a way to cut the crap out of the air,” said Katz. “I think that her research has the opportunity to make a difference in addressing this climate change issue.”
Downing has received a $17,500 scholarship from the government, plus an extra $5,000 from Memorial to help cover living costs so she can focus on this potentially ground-breaking research.
Downing and Katz are studying porous or spongy materials and their ability to capture pollutants such as carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide from the air, using a metal organic structure. Some organic materials can act like sponges that capture gas molecules and the key is being able to re-use such a device to continuously clean the surrounding air.
While carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that warms the atmosphere, sulfur dioxide can have the opposite effect.
But sulfur dioxide remains dangerous to both humans and the environment, as it causes lung damage and falls back to Earth as acid rain that damages forests and plant life. Sulphur is used in transport fuels and the federal government is tightening laws around its use.
Even as scientists are warning that climate change is a global emergency that is already causing more extreme weather, such as hurricanes and droughts, Downing herself had an optimis- tic message for anyone from her hometown seeking to follow in her footsteps.
“Often, I find children are taught to believe that there are only specific jobs out there for them, but the key is to find something you are passionate about. If you are passionate about your job and work hard at what you do, you will always end up being successful,” Downing said in an email.
Downing began her education at North River Elementary, then attended Onslow Junior High School and CEC, where her Grade 12 chemistry teacher encouraged her to follow her dream. Downing’s family still lives in the Truro area and she often comes back to visit.
Downing is due to graduate with her Master of Science in September 2019. On completing her studies, she wants to land an industry job that studies renewable energy.
“I think renewable energy is an important area for research to be advanced upon and hopefully we can steer away from the use of fossil fuels,” said Downing.
For Katz, such a goal would be fitting for his student, saying Downing wants to study realworld problems and seek a solution through her research.
Victoria Downing first became fascinated with chemistry as a high school student at Cobequid Educational Centre. Today, she is using her science skills to build a device that sucks pollutants like carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide out of the atmosphere.