The Engineer's Impact - Elizabeth Gillies

Your inside look at faculty’s research and its effect on society

In this new Q&A series, we’ll feature Western Engineering faculty members to gain a succinct overview of their research, understand its impact on society, and discover intriguing little-known facts.

Meet Western Engineering's Chemical and Biochemical Engineering Professor, Elizabeth Gillies, who has a joint appointment in the Faculty of Science in the Department of Chemistry.

GillesCan you describe your research?

Our group's research is focused on developing new degradable polymers. These polymers are designed to break down in a predictable manner under specific environmental conditions. Some of our polymers are designed to degrade in the human body—either gradually to deliver a continuous dose of drugs or under specific conditions that arise in response to disease, such as reactive oxygen species or a change in acidity associated with tumor tissue or inflammation. For example, we are developing polymer systems to more effectively administer drugs to joints to treat osteoarthritis. Other polymers developed in our lab are designed to degrade in water or soil, reducing the environmental contamination associated with non-degradable polymers.

How does your research impact society in everyday life?

Our group's research is focused on developing new degradable polymers. These polymers are designe· We are aiming to develop new materials to address key societal challenges, such as plastic pollution, and to achieve more effective treatments for diseases. We haven't commercialized a product yet, but we are actively working with companies toward this goal.How does your research impact society in everyday life?

What’s an interesting, little-known fact related to your research?

I think some people may be surprised to learn that, while it is, of course, desirable to reduce plastic pollution, plastics also play many positive roles in society. For example, they are often used as alternatives to other materials, such as glass or metal (e.g., in food packaging), which are much heavier to transport and thereby contribute more to fossil fuel consumption compared to plastics. Plastics can also contribute to prolonging the shelf life of food substantially, thereby reducing food waste, which also has significant environmental impacts. Therefore, the real challenge is to preserve the key advantages of plastics while mitigating their environmental impacts.