Gilbert earns Vanier Scholarship

Posted on June 10, 2016

Second ChemEng grad student awarded in as many years

Peter Gilbert

TOP HONOUR: “It doesn’t make you incredibly wealthy but I don’t have to worry about rent for a while,” says Queen’s chemical engineering graduate student Peter Gilbert.

Peter Gilbert, a PhD student in the department of Chemical Engineering at Queen’s, has received a Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship.

Awarded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the Vanier is among the highest honours awarded to graduate students. It entails $50,000 per year for three years to students who “demonstrate both leadership skills and a high standard of scholarly achievement in graduate studies in the natural sciences and engineering.”

“It means I don’t have to live like a poor grad student,” says Gilbert. “I don’t have to worry that if I spend a little bit extra going out to eat this month, that I’m not going to be able to pay rent. It relieves some of the financial pressure.”

Gilbert studies rheology, the flow of polymers, which is a branch of fluid dynamics.

“Right now most polymer processing companies use empiricisms — rules of thumb — to process different products,” says Gilbert. “We’re trying to come up with new ways they can predict what’s going on in a system before doing a bunch of trial and error on it.”

The design and manufacture of every plastic part people use in their daily lives — from plastic bottles and drinking straws to water pipes, holding tanks, car parts; everything imaginable — requires an understanding of polymers and their qualities. The research Gilbert undertakes, under the supervision of Queen’s engineering professor Jeffrey Giacomin, can help industry to more easily and efficiently make polymeric parts of various shapes and sizes that have predictable qualities like strength, durability, flexibility and weight.

“Bendy straws, for example, represent huge advances in polymer rheology and processing because manufacturers went from only being able to make a tube to adding that accordion section that stretches out at the zig-zag part," says Gilbert. "Even though things like that seem small to people when they use them, to those who design them it’s a lot of work. If we can help make those processes more efficient, we can use less plastic and do even more cool things.”

Gilbert took his undergrad and started his graduate work at The University of Wisconsin where he met Giacomin who was a professor there. When Giacomin moved to Queen’s in 2013, Gilbert followed.

“Coming to Canada is probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life,” says Gilbert. “My goal has always been to be a professor and I want to teach chemical engineering.”

Gilbert isn’t the only Vanier Scholar among graduate students in the department. Hannah Dies, who studies lab-on-a-chip diagnostics under professors Carlos Escobedo and Aris Docoslis earned the honour last year.