Joseph Monaghan sits in a VIU Chemistry lab, wearing a white lab coat.

What it’s like completing your PhD research at VIU

April 19, 2022
Author: Rachel Stern

Joseph Monaghan shares his story

Joseph Monaghan says there are a lot of unknowns coming into the first year of a PhD research project but many of his questions were already answered because he is conducting research at VIU, where he earned his undergraduate degree.

“For a lot of people, there is a steep learning curve during their first year of graduate studies because they’re figuring out a new city, new lab, new equipment and a whole new institution,” says Joseph, who is a PhD candidate researcher at VIU’s Applied Environmental Research Laboratories (AERL). “Whereas, if you’re transitioning from undergraduate researcher to graduate researcher at VIU you can hit the ground running.”

Joseph graduated from VIU in 2019 with a Bachelor of Science degree, major in Biology and minor in Chemistry, and transitioned directly into a PhD program in Analytical Chemistry through the University of Victoria.

One of the reasons Joseph is continuing his research at VIU is to work with Drs. Erik Krogh and Chris Gill, Co-Directors of AERL and VIU Chemistry Professors.

“I think we are uniquely suited here, particularly with Erik and Chris, as there is really no other place in Canada where you have access to world-class instrumentation as an undergraduate or graduate student than you do here,” he says. “It’s a very unique learning opportunity where you can develop very sought-after skills.”

Joseph is researching more efficient ways to measure the chemical compound 6-PPD quinone in water samples using mass spectrometry. The compound is a degradation product of 6-PPD, which is applied to tires to stop degradation and cracking due to ozone exposure. It is highly toxic to salmon and gets released into the environment after big rain events, which washes it into storm drains and streams.

The conventional means of sampling for 6-PPD quinone can take hours per sample and would require samples to be taken back to the lab for results. Joseph is creating a measurement method that allows people to get a sample in five minutes.

Joseph says that because there are so many storm drains in a municipality it would be cost-prohibitive to test them all, so conventional methods would force municipalities to guess at potential problem zones to sample. With his research, measurements are more affordable and timely, so every site of interest can be measured and remediation efforts can be targeted accordingly. Further, the AERL hopes to deploy the technology on-site, providing chemical answers when and where they are needed.

Joseph, with the assistance of Angelina Jaeger, a VIU Chemistry major, recently published a research paper on the development of this novel measuring method.

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