Finding the right equation

University of Lethbridge researcher Dr. Paul Hayes recruits students to work in his lab the way a mentor researcher first found him: by looking, listening and asking.

The chemistry equivalent of a hockey scout, Hayes says he looks for students with promise in different areas, and invites them to meet with him to talk about their research or academic progress and future plans.

This idea is not new to Hayes, who was on the road to dentistry when a researcher spoke with him.

"At Mount Allison University, I was approached by one of my professors, Dr. Steve Westcott, who told me he'd been following my progress, and wanted me to work in his lab," recalls Hayes.

The flattering offer led to a steady job and a dramatic change in direction for Hayes, who turned his attention toward inorganic chemistry. After graduation he moved to the University of Calgary for his doctoral degree and then to the University of California, Berkeley for a postdoctoral appointment – environments completely different from his tiny hometown of Shubenacadie, N.S.

Hayes, who has been at the U of L for four years, continues to develop his thriving independent research program which aims, among other things, to make catalysts that convert a chemical found in corn and beets into a biodegradable, environmentally friendly 'plastic-like' material called polylactide.

Thus far he has been extremely successful, having attracted more than $1.4M in funding from provincial and national agencies and published numerous articles in top tier journals. In addition, the young researcher has earned province-wide accolades, including the prestigious Alberta Ingenuity New Faculty Award.

Most recently, Hayes accepted a Distinguished Academic Early Career Award from the Confederation of Alberta Faculty Associations for his ongoing accomplishments and future research potential.

"I was thrilled to receive the award, since it comes from my peers and colleagues, and it will affect my group and research in a positive way," says Hayes.
"People like to be part of a winning team, and I am always looking for the right people. Maybe there's another wannabe dentist out there who doesn't yet know how exciting it can be to make new molecules.

For more on Dr. Paul Hayes' research, check out the next issue of SAM magazine.