Derek Gray and Theresa Dankovich
Chemistry Professor Derek Gray and graduate student Theresa Dankovich hope their filter will reduce the spread of water-borne disease in disaster areas.

Blinding us with science

A staggering 50 percent of all the hospital beds in the world would be empty if only their patients had access to one simple thing: clean water. With an estimated 200 children dying each hour due to unsafe water, there’s an urgent need for easy-to-use, cheap purifiers. That’s where McGill’s Faculty of Science comes in.

In 2010, Department of Chemistry graduate student Theresa Dankovich, PhD’12, received a prestigious Fessenden Prize for her research into the development of paper filters impregnated with silver nanoparticles that target harmful bacteria. When water percolates through the filter, the nanoparticles kill the bacteria, making an effective emergency purifier.

The Prize was named in honour of Quebec-born inventor Reginald Fessenden, a pioneer in radio communications who held over 500 patents. Fessenden’s descendant Erik Blachford, a former CEO of Expedia, established the award with a $250,000 gift to Campaign McGill. The Prize is open to students and professors in the Faculty of Science, and has been awarded to such novel research ideas as a portable, non-invasive tool to analyze the brain and surrounding fluids.

Blachford’s commitment to the Faculty follows that of his father, Dr. John Blachford, BEng’59, PhD’63, DSc’09, President of the custom manufacturing firm H. L. Blachford Ltd., who gave $1.25 million to fund the Fessenden Professorships in Science Innovation. These are designed to help commercialize cutting-edge research such as mobile robotics platforms that can operate on land and at sea. Both efforts promise better dissemination of science ideas hatched at McGill.

“We made a great leap in science to become what we are now,” says Dean of Science Martin Grant. “We are poised to leap again. With the support of generous and visionary philanthropists like the Blachford family, we will make that leap, and many years from now others will look back on this as a golden age of science at McGill.”