2009 Bullitt Environmental Fellowship Winner
Juan Mario Michan, a postgraduate student at the University of British Columbia, investigates techniques to use carbon nanotubes to remove air pollutants from the environment.
Juan Mario Michan, a postgraduate student at the University of British Columbia, has been selected to receive the third annual Priscilla Bullitt Collins Environmental Fellowship. The prize, established in honor of Priscilla Bullitt Collins, the late chair of the Bullitt Foundation, carries a cash award of $100,000, distributed over two years. The awards ceremony was held on September 8, 2009.
The Bullitt Environmental Prize is awarded each year to an outstanding graduate student at a university in the Pacific Northwest who has overcome a disadvantaged background, compiled a sterling academic record, been endorsed by key professors, and demonstrated promise of emerging as an environmental leader.
Mr. Michan, a native of Colombia, South America, has had an interest in science, technology, and the environment from an early age. Being from a disadvantaged family limited his opportunities of obtaining postsecondary education, but obligatory military service opened the door to college and training that eventually led him into a job in the marine industry implementing systems to prevent and clean pollution caused by freighters and port equipment.
Due to personal circumstances caused by violence in Colombia, Mario was forced to flee, arriving in Canada as a convention refugee. He soon found work as a bicycle mechanic while completing night school and learning English. He has since become a Canadian citizen, completed an Engineering Physics degree, researched physics, optics and nanotechnology, and worked as an electrical engineer designing hardware and software in high-tech companies.
Mario’s masters research focused on electron emission from carbon nanotubes, which are tiny tubes made of carbon several times smaller than a DNA strand. Due to their molecular configuration, carbon nanotubes are stronger than steel and can conduct much more electric current than copper. This research investigated a mechanism to extract electrons from their tips by applying electric fields.
Mr. Michan’s doctoral research will investigate techniques to use carbon nanotubes to remove air pollutants from the environment. He theorizes that electrons generated by nanotubes could be used in industrial applications to start chemical reactions that will remove air pollutants that cause acid rain, smog and global warming.
Mario feels very fortunate to live in the Pacific Northwest, a region he believes is a hub for technological innovation and environmental leadership, and he is proud to call it home. He seems destined for an important role in solving the environmental challenges confronting us.