Pawliszyn, a professor of chemistry at the University of Waterloo, is the 2008 winner of the $100,000 Encana Principal Award from the Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation. The award recognizes Canadian innovators who, like Pawliszyn, have made a significant impact in the world outside the lab. His invention of solid-phase microextraction, or SPME, has transformed chemical testing.
"SPME has revolutionized the way that samples are collected and extracted," says Bruce Fenwick, executive director of the Foundation. "Before the commercial development of SPME, many chemical tests were time-consuming and required the use of hazardous organic solvents. But with SPME, sample collection and extraction is simple, safe and can be done on site."
This is the fourth time in ten years that a Waterloo nominee will receive one of Canada's most prestigious innovation prizes. Pawliszyn joins Manning Award winners En-hui Yang (2007), Mike Lazaridis and Gary Mousseau (2002), and Roman Baldur (1999).
"The University of Waterloo congratulates Dr. Pawliszyn and other winners from our area, and salutes the Manning Awards for the unique work they do to encourage Canadian innovation," said UW president David Johnston. "The awards provide important and well-deserved recognition and support to people working to secure Canada's future and its citizens' continued prosperity."
Since its commercial launch in 1993, SPME technology has generated over $20 million (USD) for Sigma-Aldrich-Supelco and $1 million in royalty revenues for the University of Waterloo.
Before SPME became available, water and other environmental samples were typically transported from the field to a lab before chemicals of interest could be concentrated, extracted and analyzed. Furthermore, like an indiscriminate fishing net, older sampling methods picked up a range of chemicals instead of particular chemicals of interest.
In contrast, using SPME, scientists can collect concentrated amounts of specific chemicals on site. In order to sample pesticides, antibiotics, or even the aroma of a ripe tomato, the tester simply depresses the plunger on a small syringe to project a miniature fibre "dipstick." The fibre, typically a coated metal wire the width of a hair, selectively concentrates target chemicals from the sample in minutes before being drawn back into the syringe needle for safekeeping. Back in the lab, scientists can determine not only what is in a sample, but also how much of a chemical is present.
Pawliszyn says that, initially, many researchers were puzzled about how a small fibre could possibly collect enough chemicals for meaningful analysis. "When (a technology is) new, it's sometimes surprising," he admits. Yet, in a little over a decade since its commercialization, SPME has been widely adopted by environmental testing agencies, forensic scientists, clinical labs, the food industry and the fragrance industry. For example, investigators used SPME to test for toxins in the air at Ground Zero at the World Trade Center after 9-11.
More recently, Pawliszyn has been collaborating on medical research that uses SPME to sample blood with minimal impact on the test subject. "There are no limitations to (its) application," he says.
Pawliszyn holds the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Industrial Research Chair and Canada Research Chair in New Analytical Methods and Technologies.
The Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation
This year the Foundation will award $165,000 in prize money. Four awards, totalling $145,000, will go to leading Canadian innovators. Another $20,000 will go to Young Canadians chosen at the 2008 Canada-Wide Science Fair.
The Foundation was established in 1980 in the name of prominent Alberta statesman, Ernest C. Manning, to promote and support Canadian innovators. Since 1982, the Foundation has presented over $3.9 million in prize money through its annual awards program. The 2008 awards will be presented at an awards gala on Friday, October 3 in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
The University of Waterloo
Since its founding in 1957, UW has developed a reputation as Canada's most innovative university. The university pioneered co-operative education in Canada and runs the world's largest post-secondary co-op program. Maclean's magazine has ranked UW Most Innovative every year since 1992. Pawliszyn is a member of UW's faculty of science, where leading-edge discoveries, state-of-the-art facilities and researchers typically attract close to $45 million in research funding.
- A Media Backgrounder about the innovators and their work is now available on the Foundation’s website, with video available after October 3, 2008: www.manningawards.ca
- For more information on the Foundation, contact Bruce Fenwick, Executive Director: 403-645-8288 or email@example.com
- For more information on SPME, visit www.spme.uwaterloo.ca or contact Dr. Janusz Pawliszyn: 519-888-4641 or firstname.lastname@example.org
- For more information about the university, contact Michael Strickland, UW media relations: 519-888-4777 or email@example.com