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Department strategic plan

Strategic Plan for the Memorial University Department of Chemistry

February 2016

The purpose of this document is to plan for research, teaching, and engagement in the Department of Chemistry for the next decade. It is aligned with the Strategic Plan for the Faculty of Science and Memorial's Research Strategy..

Anticipated Challenges for the Department of Chemistry from 2016 to 2023

  • The department is expected move into the new science building currently being built beside the University Centre. Moving into this new space in a timely and efficient manner will be crucial in terms of maintaining research productivity.
  • Research infrastructure will need to be updated with modernization of existing facilities (including those housed in C-CART) as well as procurement of new research tools to support cutting edge research and teaching programs.
  • The department needs to increase undergraduate and graduate enrolments in order to support its planned development of new programs, support growth in research activity, and meet the growing demand in the province for training in chemistry.
  • Research funding from NSERC is unlikely to keep pace with research growth, requiring the need to diversify funding sources.

Mandate

Teaching

The Department of Chemistry provides various levels of education and training in chemistry for students in all science and engineering programs, as well as training future generations of chemists at the major, honours, master's, doctoral, and postdoctoral levels. In addition to the courses required by programs, the department should also offer courses that provide education in chemistry to the broad student population at Memorial, and specialized courses in areas of importance to the department, university and province.

Research

The Department of Chemistry is responsible for the provision of a broad spectrum of fundamental chemistry knowledge and expertise that has worldwide significance in the fields of chemistry and related disciplines. This serves as the foundation for interdisciplinary research, applied research and collaborations within the university and beyond.

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The Plan

Research

Philosophy. The department believes that the long term interests of students, faculty, the university, and the community are best served by excellence in fundamental research. Research addressing a broad range of fundamental issues is critical to maintaining the ongoing health and intellectual quality of the department. This research is supported by a high level of NSERC Discovery grant funding and contributes significantly to Memorial's national and international reputation as a research institution. It provides students with experience at the cutting edge of science and prepares them for high-level employment, including further research at the top scientific institutions in the world.

The department also recognizes the importance of applied areas of research, and particularly those areas of importance to the province as described in Memorial's Research Strategy. From a university perspective, contributions to applied research are most beneficial when they are linked to advances in fundamental research.

Research Goals. The department will enhance its stature globally as a leading research-intensive department. Research within the department is primarily devoted to questions of fundamental importance, but also includes applied research relevant locally, nationally, and internationally. We will:

  1. Support and promote fundamental and applied research excellence driven by faculty, postdoctoral fellows, staff, graduate students, and undergraduate students.
  2. Attract and retain world-class faculty, students, postdoctoral fellows, and staff to engage in cutting edge research activity.
  3. Follow a research agenda designed to support the training of undergraduate and graduate students, the goals of the university, and the needs of the province.
  4. Engage with partners within and outside of Memorial to promote and support interdisciplinary research, research networking, research collaborations, and economic development.

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Current Strengths and Emerging Opportunities in Research. The department is nationally and internationally recognized for strength in the areas of:

  • computational/physical chemistry
  • analytical/environmental/marine chemistry
  • materials chemistry
  • synthetic chemistry
  • sustainable chemistry

While the department is committed to maintaining these core areas, there are also particular areas of emerging opportunity generated by the expertise of our faculty, our research infrastructure, and our location in a resource rich province with a rapidly growing but underdeveloped economy. These strategic research areas are:

Biological and Medicinal Chemistry. The synthesis of drug candidates and biological molecules as well as the fundamental study of biological molecules and reactions, by computational and/or experimental methods are key to curing and understanding health and disease. The department is home to a growing number of chemists contributing to diverse areas such as (asymmetric) synthesis of biologically active molecules, the fundamental physical and chemical properties of biomolecules, solvation of biomolecules and ions, and the synthesis and study of tissues and artificial tissues.

Computational Chemistry. Modeling, simulations, and cheminformatics, which cover all aspects of theoretical and computational chemistry, are growing areas of chemical research. Industry relies on modeling for enhanced throughput and pre-screening of experimental work. This reliance continues to grow as computational power increases, allowing for modeling of ever more complex systems. The department is well positioned to increase its involvement and impact in this field.

Materials Chemistry. Materials chemistry is intimately linked with emerging technologies and is central to applied areas of research in the department. The department has extensive research programs in the chemistry of materials that are relevant to the health sciences, environmental sensing, energy production and storage, catalysis, polymers from renewable materials, and new technologies such as molecular electronics and optics.

Sustainable Resources and Chemical Processes. There is a critical need to refine and optimize current renewable energy technologies and to develop new alternative energy resources based on conversion of renewable energy (solar, wind, hydro, etc.) to high-energy chemicals/fuels, and on the use of renewable biomass for liquid fuels and valuable chemicals/materials. Newfoundland and Labrador is a resource rich province whose economic health has relied on harvesting these resources for export. Technological sustainability requires the transition to a balance between a sustainable resource based economy and a knowledge based economy. Research in the department will provide new methodologies for environmental monitoring and, following the principles of Green Chemistry, provide technological innovation that will minimize environmental impacts. Growth in this area will enhance expertise in the chemistry of ocean and maritime environments and ocean industries.

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Teaching

The Department of Chemistry is firmly aligned with the teaching goals outlined in the Strategic Plan of the Faculty of Science. The following sections outline specific plans for achieving these goals.

Undergraduate

  1. One of the strengths of our undergraduate program has been the commitment of the faculty to involve undergraduate chemistry majors in research through both Honours projects and employment. The department will continue to promote research at the undergraduate level and endeavor to provide more research opportunities for students through applications for funding and the recruitment of more research faculty. We will also continue to encourage our students to apply for funding from the numerous available sources. We will endeavor to increase the level of participation in academic research by including our teaching staff in research projects.
  2. Curriculum development for all of our course offerings will continue to be a priority in order to keep our programs up-to-date.
  3. The department will increase both undergraduate and graduate enrolments by more active recruiting and by developing programs that provide more focus and direction than our chemistry and joint honours programs. Our goals are to make our undergraduate programs as relevant as possible while graduating students who have the required skills for the diverse and changing job market of the future, and maintaining the core chemistry ontent needed by all chemists and programs that are accredited by the Canadian Society for Chemistry. The first of the new programs, Computational Chemistry, has already been established. Proposals for programs in Biological Chemistry and in Environmental and Sustainable Chemistry, are being developed. We will consider co-op options for our chemistry programs in the future.
  4. The department will continue to hire new faculty who show a strong commitment to both teaching and research. This will help maintain high quality instruction at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. The department is also committed to hiring highly qualified and motivated teaching staff to assist in teaching lab skills, course concepts, and interested in development of undergraduate lab exercises. Faculty and teaching staff are encouraged to think about pedagogy and to consider using the latest learning technologies in their courses. Teaching is supported through Memorial University's Distance Education, Learning and Teaching Support unit, as well as from experienced and skilled faculty and staff within the Faculty of Science and the Department of Chemistry. Feedback on teaching, including formal feedback from student course evaluation questionnaires, are used by instructional staff to improve their teaching.
  5. Students are provided with compulsory classroom tutorials and/or on-line tutorials in our first year courses and some second year courses. We will increase the number of courses with on-line tutorials as they become available. Other student resources and assistance is offered through our Chemistry Help Centre and Chemistry Resource Room that is staffed with dedicated and highly knowledgeable instructional staff and provides exceptional service to a great number of students.
  6. Faculty and staff in the department will continue to upgrade its undergraduate laboratories and laboratory equipment, and will continue to introduce new, modern, and interesting laboratory exercises that supports changes to course curricula. This will include greatly increasing the use of computer based technology and the use of modern computational techniques.
  7. The department considers presentations at regional and national scholarly conferences to be a crucial aspect of the training of undergraduate students. We will continue to encourage undergraduates to attend conferences, provide funding to all undergraduate students presenting their research at conferences, and provide opportunities for students to present their work at conferences organized by the department.
  8. The Department of Chemistry will nominate deserving faculty and staff for the Presidents Awards for Excellence in Teaching and Graduate Supervision and other awards which recognize and support excellence in teaching.
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Graduate Studies

The department recognizes that teaching of chemistry students at the graduate level occurs not only in a classroom setting, but also in a research environment. Within this framework, the following principles and objectives are central to our plan.

  1. The department will increase graduate enrolments and quality by more active recruiting, and hiring more research active faculty.
  2. Graduate courses are an indispensable part of the graduate program in chemistry. They are designed to provide both breadth and depth in a student's knowledge base. In addition to the learning of new material, other key skills will be fostered, e.g. presentation skills, the effective use of the literature, critical thinking/analysis. The department will therefore strive to maintain a broad slate of graduate course offerings.
  3. The department encourages short-term placements of graduate students in academic and industrial settings outside of the department and the hosting of graduate students from other institutions. In addition to individually arranged and funded placements, support for an expanded placement program will be sought through programs such as MITACS and NSERC CREATE.
  4. The development of new and stronger ties to industry as a means to provide graduate students with opportunities to learn about the objectives and needs of industry is actively encouraged.
  5. Teaching graduate students how to conduct research effectively, ethically and safely (mentoring) is an activity that transcends the classroom and can take many forms. The department supports research supervisors in the mentoring of graduate students and recognizes that this is a high level form of teaching.
  6. The department actively encourages and funds graduate students to present results of their research programs at conferences.
  7. The department actively encourages graduate students to avail themselves of opportunities to become more rounded individuals, e.g. through the Enhanced Development of the Graduate Experience (EDGE) program, Teaching Skills Enhancement program (TSEP), service on departmental, faculty and university committees, and involvement in organizations such as the Chemistry Graduate Student Society and international student societies. The department encourages excellence in teaching with semi-annual Anderson Awards for Graduate Teaching.
  8. The department will continue to promote breadth in its graduate programs by arranging research seminars by top quality external speakers and continuing to require graduate students to attend all departmental seminars.
  9. The department will continue to support and participate in interdisciplinary graduate programs, including the Computational Science and Environmental Science programs, and supports the development of new interdisciplinary graduate programs.
  10. In order to recognize and support excellence in graduate teaching, the department will introduce an annual graduate supervision award.
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Engagement

The department is rapidly increasing its activity and expertise in applied areas of importance to the province. Future applied research in the department will focus on sustainable chemical processing; renewable energy and resources; environmental monitoring. The department will increase collaboration within the university and with industry, as well as spearhead the development of new processes and technologies that will promote the economic development of the province. Research collaborations already exist between Chemistry and Engineering in renewable energy and resources and environmental monitoring, in materials science with Physics, in membrane transport with Biochemistry, in artificial tissues with Medicine, in environmental monitoring with Earth Sciences, and in computational science with Computer Science and Mathematics; and these should be strengthened. There are future opportunities with biochemistry, biology and earth sciences in resource development and processing, materials science, and environmental science.

In collaboration with other units, we will develop focused research centers that engage partners within the university and in industry. Potential Centres Include:

  • Centre for Computational Chemistry
  • Centre for Environmental and Sustainable Technologies
  • Centre for Materials Research

Participation of faculty, students, and other researchers in national and international conferences will be increased to increase the exposure of our research and training, and to increase our knowledge and expertise. Researchers will increase their participation in university/industry events and engage more with companies to explore opportunities for collaboration.

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