‘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.

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