by Barbara Black
Environmental engineer Maria Elektorowicz wants to see much higher priority
given to the principle of sustainable development.
While it is at the core of the undergraduate courses she teaches in the
Department of Building, Civil and Environmental Engineering, she doesnt
see it reflected in other departments of the university. One of the worst
offenders, she said in a wide-ranging interview, is computer science.
What about this? she demanded, tapping the monitor of her
office computer. Its not biodegradable, and it will be replaced
with another monitor soon. Whats Bill Gates doing about that?
Apple deserves a green ticket, she said, for causing pollution.
Why not change the chips within the old system, instead of introducing
an entirely new system? The guts of the computer contain heavy metals,
causing isotropic changes in the soil when they are thrown out.
We lack an overarching view of the life cycle of materials, Elektorowicz
said. Instead of simply looking at the cost of producing a product or
a service, we should be taking into account its entire life
from the cost of extracting the raw materials, transporting them,
producing the product and using it to the cost of throwing it away, including
its long-term effect on the environment.
Better information on sustainable development would enable mechanical
engineers to design better engines by applying the concept of exergy
instead of energy, she said. Methanol, produced from methane, a natural
gas generated by the transformation of waste, is as efficient as gasoline
as a fuel, and much less harmful to the environment.
To take another example, Elektorowicz is struck by the extent to which
we Canadians take water for granted. She deeply believes that the lack
of water and other natural resources lies at the root of many of the political
conflicts in the world today.
Research on new sources of energy can change the world, Elektorowicz
said. As scientists, we are able to think in a non-conventional
way. New sources of alternative energy, new sources of transformed water,
genetically modified crops in semi-arid zones can all fulfill basic needs,
and generate hope and peace in areas now filled with conflict.
Research hampered by lack
Her feeling is that Concordia is well placed to help out the global
village, and should promote pure science on its own. She and her
colleagues have many ideas for fundamental research which she feels are
being hampered by narrowly specific demands from the granting agencies.
Multiculturalism at Concordia is an extraordinary advantage that
can guide us into new areas of scientific development. Do we really need
to wait for a green light from the granting agencies?
Believe me, Einstein couldnt get a grant from NSERC.
Her own research focuses on the development of processes for the remediation
of contaminated soil, groundwater, sediments and sludgeprocesses.
She is applying a new twist on a method used to clear some European marshes
early in the 20th century, in which an electrical field was created over
She has discovered that by combining microbial processes with electrokinetics,
she can remove petroleum pollutants from clay. She also has proven that
the process works on petroleum mixed with heavy metals, a contaminant
mixture which has been considered impossible to clean up.
In addition to her position at Concordia, Elektorowicz is chair of the
Environmental Engineering Division of the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering
(CSCE) and president of RESOL, the inter-university network of researchers
on contaminated soil.
Thanks to Dawn Wiseman, from whose article in the quarterly magazine
of the Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science the information about
Professor Elektorowiczs research was drawn.