Canadian Innovation Transforms Chemical Testing

    Waterloo Professor Wins National Award for Eco-Friendly, Portable
    Sampling Device

    CALGARY, Sept. 29 /CNW/ - We rely on chemical testing to identify toxins
in the water, pollutants in the air we breathe, and medications in our blood.
Thanks to the ingenuity of Canadian scientist Janusz Pawliszyn, many chemical
tests that were once laborious and environmentally unfriendly are now simple
and safe to do.
    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
    "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
    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 innovator and his work is now available on
the Foundation's website, with video available after October 3, 2008:

For further information:

For further information: on the Foundation, contact Bruce Fenwick,
Executive Director, (403) 645-8288 (office), (403) 390-9148 (cell) or; For more information on SPME, visit or contact Dr. Janusz Pawliszyn, (519) 888-4641 or; For more information about the university, contact Michael
Strickland, UW media relations, (519) 888-4777 or

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