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Research Profile: Bal Kang, Chemistry

January 13, 2012

Congratulations to Bal Kang, a chemistry PhD student who has just received a Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellowship, worth more than $270,000 US, to do post-doctoral research in Oxford after he graduates this June.

Bal was born in Quesnel, then moved to Surrey, where he graduated from Queen Elizabeth Secondary. His BSc is from UBC, and included an undergrad thesis project under the supervision of Prof. Jen Love. He also worked at two local pharmaceutical companies, Cardiome and ActivePass Pharmaceuticals. At Cardiome, he was able to work on the process development of the anti-arrhythmia drug Vernakalent, leading to its commercialisation.

Over the five years of his PhD work at SFU, he's received almost $200,000 in awards, including the NSERC CGS-D Alexander Graham Bell Scholarship, the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research Senior Fellowship, an SFU Graduate Fellowship, and an SFU President’s Research Stipend, among others. These awards allowed him to travel to numerous international conferences — including the Zing Conference in Antigua, Tetrahedron Conference in Paris, BOS conference in Riga, and the BOSS conference in Belgium — to disseminate his research results.

His work at SFU is with Dr. Rob Britton, who joined SFU in 2005. Bal says, "I originally chose SFU because of Professor Britton. He has a background in natural products chemistry and was a new faculty member that was enthusiastic about many areas of chemistry. Being the first grad student in his group gave me an opportunity to take on a leadership role early in my academic career. I've really enjoyed seeing the group grow and develop and become as successful as it has during my tenure at SFU."

For his PhD research, Bal developed a new way to synthesise a variety of insect sex pheromones, which have applications in crop protection. In addition, his new synthesis methods  allow for the generation of many natural products that exhibit potent biological activities against many diseases, including breast cancer, leukemia, lung cancer, colon cancer and high cholesterol, and anti-parasitic and anti-fungal treatments.

He says, "I enjoy organic chemistry for a number of reasons. It allows you to create complex things out of basic building blocks. It is always challenging; you are always in the search for the perfect reaction or route, you have to look at it as a puzzle, and try to find the best way to solve that puzzle. There is always a new state-of-the art technique that needs to be developed to respond to the changing needs in the field. What we make could end up becoming important drugs or natural pesticide alternatives that could have a potentially large societal impact. The methods that we develop are not only applicable to pharmaceutical or agrochemical industries, but also to the materials, petrochemical, and plastics industries."

He adds, "Being at SFU has been great. I got involved in the community at SFU, serving on the chemistry graduate caucus; I also helped organize the Banff Symposium of Chemistry in 2009. This gave me the opportunity to develop professional relationships and friends both within the university and within other universities."

He's off to Oxford to focus on the development of new catalytic methods in the construction of pharmaceutically relevant compounds. His goal will be to discover new chemical transformations that allow for the construction of complex molecular scaffolds in the most straightforward and economically viable manner.

He says, "My long term goal is to come back to Canada to apply the new skills learned to transfer knowledge into a new generation of scientists. Plus, catch up on the Canucks."

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