Class of 2023: She fell in love with chemistry and now works to make the science more sustainable and inclusive

Dr. Anna Niedzwiecka, PhD ’23, doesn’t just want to make the world a better place through chemistry -- she wants to make chemistry itself more accessible, inclusive, and sustainable.

Niedzwiecka’s love for the field began in an undergraduate organic chemistry class -- a challenging subject often regarded as a stumbling block. Niedzwiecka, however, displayed a natural affinity for it, and was intrigued by the creative potential of the molecules’ endless combinations. Changing her studies to focus on chemistry, her graduate journey led her to UCalgary’s PhD program, which she began in 2020.

At UCalgary, Niedzwiecka continued to excel in her studies and research, working with Dr. Chang-Chun Ling’s lab on a project to develop novel antibiotics for use against drug-resistant bacteria.

"Because bacteria become resistant to antibiotics so quickly, many large companies don’t focus much in this research area anymore, so the work has to be done in smaller labs," she explains. She worked on the project throughout her PhD, officially convocating in the fall of 2023.

Now working as a MITACS Postdoctoral Fellow, Niedzwiecka’s talents quickly found a new focus just down the hall with Dr. Todd Sutherland, PhD. Together, they’ve partnered with Livestock Water Recycling (LWR), an innovative company reclaiming wastewater from agricultural processes. Through leading-edge organic chemistry research, Niedzwiecka is helping LWR make its operations greener and more sustainable.

While the projects she works on may change, Niedzwiecka’s passion for inclusive chemistry remains the same. Coming to Canada from Poland at age six, she saw first-hand the challenges many immigrants face. From language barriers to financial difficulties to a lack of connections, she empathizes with international students, and especially women, working in the field.

"Having a sense of belonging is important," she says. "I wanted to help provide that for others."

As a PhD candidate, Niedzwiecka was a leader in championing inclusivity: she worked with the graduate labour union, helped international students integrate, and recorded nearly a dozen podcast episodes focused on women and immigrants in chemistry. Her contributions have significantly advanced the department’s sense of equity and inclusivity, says Department Head Belinda Heyne.

What’s next for Niedzwiecka? She wants to dedicate her career to sustainable chemistry.

"There are a lot of things we didn’t know in the ’60s and ’70s. We made a lot of mistakes, and the chemical industry rightly had a bad reputation for pollution. But we can change that -- there are so many ways to make chemistry greener, more sustainable, and more friendly to the planet. That’s what I want to spend my life working on."

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