June 5, 2001



N E W F A C U L T Y

Brolo (Valerie Shore photo)Childhood fascination with science still fuels chemistry prof

by Valerie Shore

When Alexandre Brolo was a child growing up in Brazil one of his favourite toys was a chemistry set. He was fascinated with watching chemical reactions and trying to figure out what was going on.

Not much has changed. Sure, the chemistry set has been replaced by a lab soon to be equipped with thousands of dollars worth of state-of-the-art instrumentation, but his end goal is the same — trying to figure out what’s going on.

Spend even five minutes with Brolo, who joined UVic’s chemistry department in January, and it’s very apparent that his childhood passion for chemistry has evolved into healthy scientific ambition. “I came to UVic to be a top researcher in electrochemistry and spectroscopy, and that’s what I want to do,” he says.

He also wants to teach, something that he got plenty of experience doing in Brazil where chemistry instructors are few and far between. During his first year as an undergraduate at the University of Sao Paulo, he taught chemistry night courses for adults. “I was the youngest guy in the classroom at the time,” laughs Brolo, who by third-year was teaching high school chemistry part-time. “When a person learns something from you, this is a very nice feeling,” he says.

By the time Brolo earned his master’s from Sao Paulo, he had narrowed his field of interest to surface electrochemistry. Then he headed north to Ontario’s University of Waterloo and a PhD and postdoctoral work that added Raman spectroscopy and pulsed laser technology to his skill set. At UVic he plans to combine all these techniques in novel ways to study chiral molecules — asymmetrical molecules that are of keen interest to the pharmaceutical industry in the design of new drugs.

“I want to create new spectroscopic techniques that are laser-based and can give much more information about the dynamics of chiral molecules,” explains Brolo, who admits he’s still driven by that old childhood curiosity. “I’ve been thinking about my research ideas for a long time,” he says, “and if they happen the way I hope, then it will be a nice contribution to science.”


Walker (with a handful of sand). (Becky Lockhart photo)Geography prof goes where the wind blows

by Becky Lockhart

Ian Walker has been at UVic almost a year, and is still regularly mistaken for a student.

But he’s used to it. He’s one of only a handful of Canadian aeolian geomorphologists — people who study wind erosion processes and their effect on the landscape — and they’re all 20–30 years his senior.

As a teenager Walker wanted to be an architect. But he didn’t get into the school he’d applied to, so he pursued engineering instead. After one semester he soon realized he should follow his passion for physical geography. “I’ve always loved geography, and I’m fascinated by land forms and their processes,” he says. “It’s amazing what you can do or accomplish if you’re truly passionate about something.”

In his final undergraduate year at the University of Toronto, Walker hounded his professors for field assistant jobs, and got one studying how river deposits are affected by land-use and climate changes (known as fluvial geomorphology), Walker’s other area of interest.

“I probably would have floated around a bit humming and hawing about grad school, but that project really spurred my interest,” says Walker, who was later urged by a University of Guelph professor to do graduate work on wind dynamics.

“It’s a pretty under-serviced area,” says Walker of his primary area of study. He looks at how wind, climate, topography and sediment transport interact in desert and coastal environments. Walker wrote his PhD dissertation on air flow and sediment transport patterns over desert dunes, and spent two field seasons in Nevada living in a tent with no running water. “It was a blast, I miss it,” he says.

Aeolian research has applications down the line in coastal, agricultural and recreational land use planning, as well as in the management of natural habitat and conservation lands subject to wind action.

Although he has big plans for his research program, Walker has spent much of his first year at UVic designing the three classes he teaches and applying for grants. “Once the front end-loading is done,” he says, “you couldn’t ask for a better job.”


Sanseverino (Becky Lockhart photo)Lecturer’s enthusiasm for computers is infectious

by Becky Lockhart

“Who gets to play with this?”” asks Mary Sanseverino as she reaches for a box high on her office shelf. Shaking the box of Lego-like pieces she uses to show students how driods work, the computer science lecturer grins and says, “That would be me.”

Delighted with her senior lecturing position that began last September, Sanseverino’s “raison d’être” is to teach. A marathon runner and avid cyclist, she has the energy and motivation to challenge students from all over the academic spectrum in her large first-year computer classes.

“I do get to do research, but it’s about teaching methodology,” says the information technology specialist, who has “industrial strength” Web sites for her students to ensure they know their stuff.

Sanseverino was working in the private sector implementing e-commerce strategies to not-for-profit companies when she was offered her position, but she’s spent most of the last 20 years on the UVic campus.

She did her undergrad and master’s at UVic in geography, and took computer science classes before it was possible to get a minor in the discipline. Then she worked regularly on campus as a visiting lecturer and sessional in computer science, and as a programmer, analyst, and consultant in the language lab and computing services.

Because she has a background in e-commerce, Sanseverino also team-teaches an interdisciplinary graduate-level class on the subject with the faculty of business. She says few people teach e-commerce because they can make “big bucks” doing it instead.

However, she feels more comfortable in an academic milieu, with education instead of profit as the bottom line. “I like to go home at the end of the day and think ‘well, I helped more than just my shareholders today, I did something good for people.’ That’s what pulls me back.”


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