Grad profile: The sun shines on Isabel Curtis

Isabel Curtis, Science

- June 3, 2022

Isabel Curtis. (Provided photo)
Isabel Curtis. (Provided photo)

This article is part of a series focusing on the grads of the Dalhousie Class of 2022. Spring Convocation runs from May 24 to June 3 in Halifax and Truro. Read all our profiles here as they are published, and for more information visit the Convocation website.

From nearly choosing a different career path to winning one of Canada’s highest honours in academia and research, Isabel Curtis represents the epitome of hard-work, dedication, and tenacity.

Isabel will be crossing the stage this week to receive her Master of Science degree in Chemistry from Dalhousie. She will not only be receiving her second degree in Chemistry, but also one of Canada’s most esteemed awards: the Governor General's Gold Medal Award in Sciences and Engineering, awarded annually to a graduate student with an overall outstanding performance during graduate studies.

Joining the Dasog Lab in 2019, Isabel has worked closely with principal investigator and supervisor, Mita Dasog, on finding solutions to some of the most challenging environmental issues we face. While graduate studies were not always a first thought during her undergraduate degree, an interview with the Dasog Lab sealed the deal and led Isabel into graduate studies in a field of research that is impactful and innovative.

For Dr. Dasog, ensuring that a lab has enthusiastic and curious students to make the big discoveries at the bench and translate them to real world applications is of the utmost importance. Isabel fit the bill perfectly.

In her thesis, Isabel focused on creating light-absorbing materials to split water to produce hydrogen. She investigated how different components of the light-absorbing material increased its functionality and how they could be optimized to produce hydrogen at an accelerated rate. This would allow more hydrogen to be produed in less time, decreasing the rate of production.

“Izzy’s work was key as she developed catalyst material made of Earth abundant element that can use sunlight to efficiently split water to produce hydrogen,” says Dr. Dasog.

Isabel's thesis laid the groundwork for numerous projects, including a one-year partnership between Dalhousie and Leibniz Institute of Polymer Research Dresden that focuses on solar-driven hydrogen production.

Beyond the science

On top of the remarkable work Isabel completed in the lab, she also gained invaluable skills in teaching, critical thinking, and communication.

“Doing a degree in science, you become very critical and develop your analytical skills which are applicable to all aspects of your life” says the award winner.

A science degree extends beyond the novel contributions a student makes to the scientific community, producing well-rounded people who are able to use the skills they have gained to contribute meaningfully to society, something Curtis exemplifies on a day-to-day basis.

In the lab, Dr. Dasog likes to ensure that her students are well rounded and provide them with opportunities to get involved outside of lab work.

“Isabel is a great example of all the amazing things you can accomplish in graduate school both in and out of the lab”, says Dr. Dasog.

During her degree, Isabel worked as a teaching assistant for first-year chemistry, participated in various outreach events including Techsploration and was a co-founder of Working Towards Inclusion in Chemical Sciences (WIC), the first chapter to be founded in all of Atlantic Canada.

During Curtis’ time at Dalhousie, she has been awarded the 2022 D2L Innovation Award, the 2021 Anna Wilson Scholarship for Chemistry, the 2021 Educational leadership Award for Collaborative Teaching, and the 2020 Douglas E. Ryan Prize for Excellence in Graduate Studies in Chemistry. Notably, she was recently awarded the 2022 Governor General’s Gold Medal Award, recognizing her excellence in both graduate academics and research.

“It was an honour to even be nominated for this award. I was sitting at the bus stop when I received notification that I was the recipient. My jaw immediately dropped; I just couldn’t believe that they picked me,” she says.

Isabel successfully defended and completed her thesis last November. Since then, Isabel has shifted directions and is now working as a legal assistant at Patterson Law. Many of the skills she gained during graduate school have greatly benefited her in this new role. Presently, she hopes to write the LSAT and attend law school with the desire to eventually bridge her interests between chemistry and law.

“I hope to inspire other students in any way possible," she says. "When I was in undergrad, I had friends who would win all of these big awards, and I never thought that a few years later I would be in the same position.


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