Engineering helps make the world environmentally sound

Fall 2010

Environmental Engineering Master’s student Sharmin Sultana at work in the Benedek laboratories’ fluorescence microscope room. The equipment helps researchers visualize DNA and distinguish between living and dead cells.

A state-of-the art teaching and research facility on the fifth floor of the Macdonald Engineering Building is significantly advancing our Faculty’s ability to tackle major challenges in environmental engineering.The laboratory space is a gift from alumni husband-and-wife team Andrew Benedek and Diana Mourato-Benedek.

Named the Benedek Integrated Laboratories in Environmental Engineering, the 5,165-square-foot facility is a gift from husband-and-wife team Andrew Benedek, BEng’66, DSc’05, and Diana Mourato-Benedek, BSc ’81, MSc’83, PhD’90.

The laboratories are helping McGill Engineering to move further into new and emerging areas of study in sustainable engineering — everything from developing biosensors that detect pollutants and pathogens to greenhouse gas management and research to mitigate climate change.

Star scientists
Another interesting feature of the new facility is its use of integrated research teams. In the Benedek laboratories, undergraduates work side by side with senior professors and graduate students. The physical layout, coupled with this creative teaching approach, enable students at all levels to fully pursue inquiry-based learning.

Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Education, Andrew Kirk, says the work underway in the Benedek laboratories will result in many practical applications inspired by recent advances in nanotechnology, molecular biology and green chemistry.

Examples include adaptive technologies for:
• resilient biological wastewater treatment systems;
• rapid and effective restoration of aquifers and brownfields contaminated with toxic industrial wastes;
• protecting water resources from chemical pollutants and pathogens;
• carbon capture and storage of carbon dioxide emitted from industrial smokestacks.

Undergraduate students (left to right) Angelica Lidén, Tim Sides and Juan Giha work side by side with researchers and graduate students.

Although housed in the Department of Civil Engineering and Applied Mechanics, research in the Benedeks’ ultra-modern laboratories will involve active collaboration with star McGill scientists in many departments and units. Among these are the Department of Chemical Engineering, the Brace Centre for Water Resources Management and the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Andrew and Diana Benedek’s gift has increased Civil Engineering’s environmental engineering laboratories space by almost 40 per cent. It also provides a host of new amenities.

The laboratories’ major features include:
• chemical fume hoods and biological safety cabinets for the safe handling of toxic pollutants and pathogens;
• advanced temperature control and ventilation systems;
• a clean room for cutting-edge, sensitive analytical instruments;
• chemical resistant flooring and extensive and well-equipped bench areas to conduct experiments.

The laboratories also boast a unique, cold temperature facility to develop innovative techniques to clean sites contaminated by toxic chemicals in cold, northern regions. Advances in this area could help to restore fragile northern ecosystems that have been damaged as a result of oil spills, mining operations and past military activities.

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Scientists, alumni and generous donors

Dr. Andrew Benedek and Dr. Diana Mourato-Benedek are recognized internationally for their scholarly contributions to the field of environmental engineering.

Dr. Andrew Benedek and Dr. Diana Mourato-Benedek

Andrew is a leader in the development of advanced membrane technologies used for water and wastewater treatment.

Diana, a fellow scientist and business partner, has had an equally successful career developing water treatment technologies. She is also a member of McGill Engineering’s Faculty Advisory Board.

The husband-and-wife team are currently concentrating their energies on developing alternative energy sources from waste materials.

The duo toured their new laboratory space in mid-June just as the finishing touches were being applied.

The two scientists then took part in a symposium and a poster session on environmental engineering organized for students and researchers across McGill.

In addition to the new laboratories, the Benedeks are also funding graduate fellowships in the Faculty of Engineering.

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