Myrna Simpson


Myrna Simpson (nee Salloum) joined the Department of Renewable Resources in 1994 as a graduate student under the co-supervision of Professors Marvin Dudas and William McGill. Prior to this, she completed a BSc in Chemistry (Faculty of Science, U of A) and worked as an Analytical Chemist at Raylo (now Laporte) Chemicals in Edmonton.

After completing her PhD in Environmental Soil Chemistry in 1999, she embarked on a 2 year NSERC-funded postdoctoral fellowship in the Department of Chemistry, Ohio State University with Professor Patrick Hatcher, a world renowned environmental chemist. In 2002, Myrna joined the faculty at the University of Toronto where she is currently an Associate Professor of Environmental Science as well as serves as the Associate Director of the Environmental NMR Centre.

Myrna's research is reshaping the fundamental understanding of soil organic matter structure and environmental reactivity. She has already become internationally recognized for her achievements, is the recipient of numerous awards and research grants, and has published nearly 60 peer reviewed papers and book chapters since 2001. Her research program at the University of Toronto draws heavily on her unique and combined strengths in chemistry and environmental science and her long-term goal is to push the limits of the current understanding of environmental processes at the molecular-level.

Myrna's research focuses on the development of innovative mass spectrometry (MS) and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) methods to obtain molecular-level information which is used to formulate accurate mechanistic information that can then be applied to processes observed on a larger scale. In 2003, Myrna co-founded the Environmental NMR Centre which houses the only high field NMR instrument in Canada solely dedicated to the study of natural organic matter. This instrument is also one of the few NMR spectrometers in the world capable of the analysis of complex mixtures by hyphenation with chromatographic separation and MS.

Later this fall, the Centre will add a second high field NMR instrument capable of microimaging ('mini MRI') and solid-state applications. Myrna hopes to one day create a National facility for students and researchers to visit and immerse themselves in the use of NMR technology for studying soil processes.

'I didn't fully understand NMR until I received hands on experience during my postdoctoral fellowship. It isn't the same when someone else runs the sample for you so training students and researchers how to use this powerful technology properly is critical for future advancements in environmental science' adds Myrna.

Myrna looks back at her time in Renewable Resources; very fondly; 'I remember being confused for the first few months because I hadn't taken many soil science courses but I was drawn to the department for my graduate work because of my interest in environmental sciences,' says Myrna. At that time, formal environmental science programs were not as prolific as they are now. 'The faculty and staff in the department were very welcoming'.

Myrna also credits her success and ability to pioneer new research programs to her PhD co-supervisors (Professors Dudas and McGill). They were both brilliant in different ways so I had the best of both worlds;. Myrna also says that she learned to keep an open mind and has modeled the way she supervises her own students after her experience in Renewable Resources. 'I had depth in Chemistry when I came to the department but what I lacked was breadth and an understanding of competing environmental processes. I am indebted to my co-supervisors for teaching me how to be a solid scientist and how to develop good research questions.'

Friends of the Pedon also helped Myrna embrace graduate student life in Renewable Resources and she served as 'Jock FOP' one year which required her to co-ordinate the intramural softball team (called the Dirtbaggers) and the womens intramural hockey team (called the Dirtbags).

Our hockey team placed dead last every season but we had a great time!

(Article originally submitted by Myrna Simpson for the Fall 2008 edition of Landmark Newsletter).

Added: 26 January 2009