Chemistry grad finds formula for research success

Augustana grad Emily Ervin got an early present before her convocation ceremony this Sunday—winning first place in a research poster competition.


(Edmonton) Chemistry student Emily Ervin got an early graduation present before her convocation ceremony this Sunday at the University of Alberta’s Augustana Campus.

Ervin won first place in a poster competition during the Western Canadian Undergraduate Chemistry Conference at the University of Victoria May 1–3. Her presentation focused on what could be a simple way to help cut costs in chemistry labs.

“My work was centred around finding a way to use pencil graphite electrodes—made from normal HB #2 pencils—in place of costly commercial glassy carbon electrodes in electroanalytical experimentation,” explained Ervin, who travelled to Victoria with her mentor, Augustana chemistry professor James Kariuki.

“It was great to see so many undergraduate students involved in high-level research, and I even met some others who will be presenting with me at the Canadian Society for Chemistry conference in Vancouver come June,” said Ervin. “And it was great and very rewarding to see how excited people became when they heard about my work with the pencils—everyone I talked to thought it was an amazing and novel idea!”


Ervin credits Kariuki with opening her eyes to the field of electrochemistry. “I have seen how encouraging and supportive he is to his students, and have enjoyed so many opportunities that I wouldn’t have considered without his mentorship.”

For his part, Kariuki says he is proud of Ervin’s achievements as an undergrad and grateful for her help in the lab and as a co-author on several papers. “Emily is proficient in all three facets: academics, research and peer mentoring.”

Ervin’s winning presentation caps off a university experience that was remarkable from the moment she arrived at the U of A’s Camrose campus. Fresh from high school, the native of Wetaskiwin won the university’s Chancellor’s Citation in 2010 for maintaining an average of at least 95 per cent.

Over the next four years, Ervin made good on her early promise by dedicating herself to her studies. “I thought of school as my job and spent just as many hours at it,” she said. “If you actually devote your time to school, it does pay off.”

And her efforts have paid off, especially in her final year. In January, she spent a week in Thuwal, Saudi Arabia, where she was among 50 of the top undergraduate students from around the world to present the results of her research under another of her mentors, chemistry professor Brian Rempel.

“Emily has a ferocious work ethic,” said Rempel, “and it was her dedication in the lab that made the research project succeed. She poured an amazing amount of effort into this project.”

As for what’s next for the winner of Augustana’s Outstanding Undergraduate Research Award, Ervin will continue her pencil-electrode work with Kariuki as a research assistant this summer, and will train a second-year chemistry student to continue her research after she leaves.

She plans to enrol in dentistry or graduate studies at the U of A, and to get in some travel—after a few more undergraduate courses, taken for interest’s sake.