Fall 2023 Melanie O'Neill Undergraduate Research Award Winners

November 08, 2023

The Chemistry department wishes to congratulate William Ho and Rebecca Gerber on being awarded the Melanie O'Neill Award.

There were many excellent applications for the award, which sets out to recognize and reward undergraduate Chemistry students who have demonstrated research excellence. Among the applicants, William and Rebecca were selected for their stand-out research contributions in the department. We look forward to not only seeing the continuing results of their research and hard work, but of all the candidates that applied.

Past winners of the Melanie O’Neill award can be found at this link.

To read more about William and Rebecca’s projects in their own words, please see below:

William Ho

“Throughout my time as an undergraduate researcher in the Leznoff group, I have had the unique opportunity to pursue many of my interests within the realm of inorganic chemistry. One of my main projects was to formulate synthetic methods for accessing materials that crystallise in polar space groups, which might then display piezoelectric, pyroelectric and ferroelectric properties. The strategy was to make a non-centrosymmetric molecular complex by leveraging the stereochemically active lone pair on heavy atoms like lead(II) and bismuth(III) in conjunction with the lewis basic iso-maleonitrile dithiolate ligand.

First and foremost, I would like to extend thanks to Prof. Danny Leznoff, Jefferson Pells and the members of the Leznoff group, both past and present, for their boundless patience and support. Without such a great cast of researchers to work alongside, I wouldn't have a fraction of the knowledge, hands-on experience or appreciation for research that I have today. I am also grateful for the excellent instructors I've had throughout my degree and the learning opportunities I have as a part of SFU Chemistry. It is an honour to be one of the latest recipients of the Melanie O'Neill Undergraduate Research Award. I never expected to be nominated, let alone win, this award will be a huge source of motivation for me going forward.”

Rebecca Gerber

“As medical use of Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans has increased exponentially in the past decade, so too has the demand for the predominant isotope needed for PET scans, fluorine-18 (18F). Currently, production requires cyclotron facilities which are geographically sparse and cost tens of millions of dollars. My research has focused on providing an alternative means to produce 18F from naturally abundant 19F by using low-cost, commercially available neutron generators which cost orders of magnitude less. This is possible via the 19F(n, 2n)18F, or neutron double knockout, reaction. I have shown that it is possible to produce 18F using these neutron generators and commercially available chemical targets. More critically, I have been able to isolate the 18F in high specific yields using a novel, off-the-shelf separation method that should be immediately applicable to scaling up and applying known radiochemical methods. It is my hope that this method develops into a way for small institutions and remote communities to access this essential radionuclide for research and medical use.

Among Canadian institutions, the SFU Chemistry department has a unique and long history with nuclear science, and was founded with practical nuclear science in mind. Having access to these facilities and expertise has certainly been crucial to my research, but the opportunity would never have arisen without the excellent mentorship and personal relationships that are fostered by the department. Being able to conduct funded research, and the generous awarding of the Melanie O'Neill Undergraduate Research Award, has helped me to continue my studies in a period of precipitously increasing cost of living and has given me a deep love of research.”