Curiosity Creates: New Research Opportunities

Posted on August 20, 2020

COVID-19 has changed a lot for some Queen’s graduate students. For Mona Kanso, a PhD candidate in Chemical Engineering, it has changed the focus of her whole PhD research project.

Kanso is researching rheology and polymer processing. In this field, researchers look at how changing the structure of a macromolecule, including a virus, can impact its behaviour.Mona Kanso

“When a company tries to produce a new product, sometimes finding the best recipe is trial and error,” she said. “Rheologists try to create better, less wasteful methods to develop polymers.”

But, after COVID-19 hit, Kanso and her supervisor chose to put their polymer research on hold, and instead apply their knowledge to fight the disease. This research benefits from a close collaboration with a leading physical geometer, a mathematician who studies geometry, at the University of Nevada, Reno.

“I am currently studying how the COVID-19 virus particle rotates to dock and attach itself to its target cells,” Kanso said. “This project has helped me see how rheologists can contribute to virology and biology by using what we know of the mathematical physics of polymers to understand how COVID-19 infects.”

Kanso and her supervisor, Jeffrey Giacomin are also looking at ways to model the virus analytically and are publishing an article of their findings in the journal Physics of Fluids.

“I never thought I would work on a project related to viruses,” admitted Kanso. “I am learning a lot and hope this opens up different work for me in the future. It has definitely had a positive impact on me, and I am happy to contribute to the global fight.”

COVID-19 has presented challenges for Kanso beyond the impacts to her original research. She is staying in touch with family back home, and has had to adjust her approach to work to stay motivated.

Fortunately, Kanso has been able to tap into several communities during her time in Kingston to help stay connected, such as the Chemical Engineering Graduate Student Association (where she serves as President), clubs, and her lab.

“Queen’s has one of the best infrastructures for research in chemical engineering, and the community really feels like a family,” she said. “I also appreciated that admissions were clear and streamlined, and everything was ready when I arrived – I wasn’t left alone to figure things out.”

The helpful and friendly environment is part of what drew Kanso to Canada, and to Queen’s specifically. Prior to a 2017 internship with Prof. Giacomin, she did not see herself coming to Canada. Now, she hopes to stay in Canada and become a professor so she can continue teaching and researching.

“Since I moved here, this country has given me the best days,” she said. “It has been a great decision moving here. I love this country so much.”

To learn more about graduate studies in chemical engineering, visit the department’s graduate studies page.