Early inspiration in the lab

Award-winning PhD student reflects on his undergraduate roots.

Katie Willis - 25 October 2017

Before Patrick Moon joined the Lundgren lab in the University of Alberta's Department of Chemistry, he got his first taste of the world of research in Ottawa.

"I started studying chemistry during my undergraduate degree at the University of Ottawa," said Moon. "I worked in an organic chem lab with a lot of really passionate people. I think it just trickled down to me as well."

After graduating with his bachelor of science in chemistry, Moon met Assistant Professor Rylan Lundgren at a visiting weekend for prospective graduate students. One year in at UAlberta, Lundgren was building his lab and his research program. For Moon, it seemed like the perfect fit.

"I really wanted to join a lab that was just starting out--new equipment, new projects, and a smaller group with more contact with my supervisor," recalled Moon. "I ended up becoming Dr. Lundgren's second graduate student at the University of Alberta."

Award-winning beginnings

One year later, in 2015, Moon received the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Alexander Graham Bell Canada Graduate Scholarship for pursuing his PhD. Through the award, Moon is receiving $35K annually from 2015 to 2018 to pursue his research. "Patrick has an innate desire not just to solve the problems he is working on, but to understand them at a fundamental level," said Lundgren. "This approach has allowed us to uncover new chemistry that we would have never expected when we started."

Three years into his PhD studies, Moon is focused on finding new, inexpensive ways to create carbon-carbon bonds using copper, oxygen, and carboxylic acids. Highly useful in the world of pharmaceuticals and fine chemicals, the demand for this type of work developing carbon-carbon bonds is only growing.

"Patrick has discovered a new concept for using carboxylic acids and related species in cross-coupling type reactions," explained Lundgren. "The basic components that enable the reactions are quite simple, but the technology allows for a really broad range of molecules to be prepared. We are starting to develop relationships with industrial partners to use these transformations to solve synthetic problems they have, taking this chemistry to the next level."

Forward thinking

Looking down the road post-graduation, Moon is intrigued by both industry and academia. But first, he says, comes a postdoctoral fellowship. "I still have a few years left in my PhD work," he said. "But after I graduate, I'd like to do a postdoc abroad in Europe or the United States to get some lab experience outside of Canada and bring some of my own experience abroad."

As for his advice to aspiring chemists, Moon says that being exposed to the lab and to the process of doing research during his undergraduate degree was extremely important.

"For me, it meant that when I arrived at the University of Alberta to start my PhD, I could hit the ground running. I knew what working in a lab was like and how doing research works. It was a huge advantage--and I couldn't recommend it more."