Meet Shira Joudan, Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry

Environmental chemist excited about new collaborations, opportunities

Donna McKinnon - 04 April 2023

Meet Shira Joudan, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry, who joined the University of Alberta in January 2023. Joudan is pictured on campus in front of a mural of the periodic table.

Meet Shira Joudan, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry, who joined the University of Alberta in January 2023. Photo credit: Dawn Graves

In early 2020, when Shira Joudan was in the final stages of her PhD in chemistry at the University of Toronto, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. With her lab shuttered, she was still able to complete her thesis and, subsequently, take on the challenge of a two-year postdoctoral position with York University.

In January 2023, the Winnipeg born Joudan joined the U of A as an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry where she established the Joudan Lab to continue her research on the fate of organic contaminants in the environment. This research was featured in a recent Folio article that addressed ‘forever chemicals’ or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) — useful but pervasive toxins in the environment that are difficult to remove. 

This fall, Joudan will begin teaching environmental chemistry and analytical chemistry to undergraduate students. 

Welcome Shira!

What excites you most about taking on this new role?

The University of Alberta's strong chemistry department and, in particular — their current and historical analytical chemistry research — is a fantastic place to start my independent career. There is a lot of potential to collaborate with and learn from other researchers in chemistry and across the university, which is something I'm really excited about. I also get the opportunity to work with fantastic students, both in my research laboratory and through teaching. I’m excited to drive my own research interests and be inspired by my students' interests.

Over the next few years, I want to be known for performing impactful research, being an engaging educator, fostering a welcoming work environment and advocating for students. I also hope to be adaptable and seize opportunities that I may not have previously considered, whether in research or otherwise.

Please describe your current research? How does environmental chemistry fit within green chemistry?

My research group, the Joudan Lab, studies organic chemicals in the environment, with a focus on halogenated contaminants including per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). We study environmental transformation reactions of these anthropogenic chemicals to understand how some chemicals are precursors to other toxic contaminants, and how environmental reactions can enable long-range transport to remote regions.

This research investigates the details of these processes using laboratory experiments where we simulate environmental conditions. By making environmental measurements, we can use our knowledge from the lab to interpret observed trends in the environment. Ultimately, this work helps us to understand which chemicals may be problematic, and also provides insight into how to better design molecules that are not as problematic. 

Our research directly informs regulations that protect our water, food, and even our own exposures. Green chemistry is a broad topic that includes making changes in both the process of synthesizing chemicals and in deciding which chemicals should be used. My environmental research contributes to the latter category. If we can understand which aspects of molecules may have harmful effects (e.g. persistence, toxicity, global warming potential), we can inform the design of chemicals that are less hazardous. Without understanding the “bad”, we can’t figure out the “good”.

What drew you to this area of research?

I was always curious about how things worked and always enjoyed science. In undergrad, I liked both organic chemistry and analytical chemistry, and I also liked the environment. Through these interests, I found environmental chemistry where I develop new analytical tools to study environmental reactions of organic contaminants! I like the interdisciplinary nature of my work and that my research has clear implications for society.

What classes will you be teaching?

I don’t lecture until Fall 2023, but I will be teaching undergraduate environmental chemistry and analytical chemistry courses. Until then, I am setting up my research lab and working with three graduate students that I supervise.

What do you think of Edmonton and the U of A so far, and what do you do for fun, outside of work?

I’m really enjoying it! I get a lot of comments about moving here in the middle of winter, but things have been nice. I’m enjoying the neighbourhood I live in and am exploring the city, including the river valley and the campus. People in Edmonton and at the U of A have gone out of their way to be friendly, which is much appreciated.

I’m working to build a new community here, but that will take time. Since moving here I’ve been attending a weekly tap dancing class, which is a hobby I haven’t done in over 10 years and is really fun! I’m looking forward to the summer and hoping to go to the Folk Festival and take my canoe out on the river.