Rahaf Hussein in labChemistry doctoral candidate Rahaf Hussein took top honours in a national contest for images showcasing scientific research.

Copper photo cops photo contest honours

To Rahaf Hussein, the degradation of copper that she saw under her microscope was not simply a science experiment, it was stunning imagery. The jury of a national photo contest agreed.

Hussein (BSc 2019), a PhD candidate in chemistry, has won both a Jury Prize and the People’s Choice Award in the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s (NSERC) Science Exposed competition for her photograph, titled “Copper Beach.”

“It just looked very cool under the microscope — copper has chromatic colours when it is oxidizing, so all the pinks, blues, reds and yellows are visible,” Hussein says.

“I’m proud I got the jury prize as well as the people’s choice award because it validated the good work we do here, really solidified it.”

Named for its resemblance to the blue waters and sandy shoreline of a beach, the winning photo beat out 19 other finalists.

“All of this is for the communication of science,” Hussein explains. “I took the SAGES course and it got me interested in teaching and communicating and conveying what I do, so winning this competition is good recognition of what I believe in.”

Her research focuses on green printable electronics in the lab of professor Tricia Carmichael. Specifically, she is seeking green alternatives to existing technologies for smart packaging.

“Devices now used in packaging are encapsulated in plastic or metal to protect against water, humidity, and environmental stressors,” says Hussein.

“My research comes in to replace that encapsulation with something green and we’ve found a biodegradable product that comes from trees that prolongs the life of devices.”

The photo shows copper not encapsulated by her green product, wasting away in a humidity chamber.

“The lacy pattern you see is the copper being chewed, or oxidized, away by humidity but the encapsulant is protecting the other half, the dark part.”

Working with a collective called NSERC Green Electronics Network to make sustainable alternatives for smart packaging, Hussein has hope for the future.

“The vision is for the future that most products you get from the store will likely have an integrative sensor or some kind of RFID tag and eventually all the packaging you unravel, you put in the garbage,” she says.

“Canada is trying to get ahead of it by creating green materials that have similar value and performance at less environmental cost to entice industrial sectors to use it.”

Hussein serves as lead for the UWindsor chapter of Women in Chemistry and completed her chemistry and biochemistry bachelor’s degree after transferring from St. Clair College.

“Pursing a graduate degree has helped me a lot but having the graduate student experience is shaping who I am as a person. I just want to thank the university and the department for their lovely support and the environment we have here where we all we strive for good community.”

Hussein takes home $2,000 for the jury prize and $2,000 for the people’s choice award. Click here to see her winning photo entry.

—Sara Elliott