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Past Winner
2003 NSERC Doctoral Prize

David Bryce

Physical Chemistry

Dalhousie University

This past October, Dr. David Bryce had a critical decision to make: attend his Dalhousie University Ph.D. convocation or go to a Paul McCartney concert? It was a no brainer for the winner of a 2003 Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Doctoral Prize, one of Canada's premier graduate student awards. He went to the concert.

"I am a Beatles scholar. I read everything I can about them and know quite a bit about their history," says the award-winning chemist.

This clear minded and intense enthusiasm for Rock’n Roll extends to the Ottawa native's research. Dr. Bryce's doctoral research established him as a modern explorer of the periodic table, the ordering of elements from hydrogen to xenon and beyond, that catalogues our understanding of the structure of matter.

"Using nuclear magnetic resonance, I have characterized for the first time some of the 3-dimensional interactions specific to elements such as boron, chlorine and chromium," says Dr. Bryce. "These unique NMR data are important to material scientists who are trying to understand the fundamental properties of molecules that contain these elements."

Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) technology is the close cousin of the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) used for medical diagnosis. However, rather than examine human tissue, Dr. Bryce probes atomic nuclei. This involves placing a sample of the material inside a very powerful cylindrical, upright magnet that is typically taller than a person. The magnet causes the atomic nuclei to behave like tiny bar magnets which are then hit with high-frequency radio waves. Each type of nucleus resonates in a different way, resulting in a characteristic NMR fingerprint that reveals information about a molecule's electronic structure.

Dr. Bryce's doctoral research is the first to look at these particular elements in solid form. Most NMR work involves studying molecules in solution.

"By looking at the solids you get 3-dimensional information that can tell you a lot about the environment of the metal nucleus. Then if you want to go on and look at compounds with these elements in them, my work will serve as a foundation for how to interpret those results," says Dr. Bryce, who conducted his research with his supervisor, Dr. Roderick Wasylishen (now at the University of Alberta).

This innovative NMR work with solid samples was further complicated by the fact that most of the elements Dr. Bryce was studying are "quadrupolar." Rather than having straightforward up and down magnetic poles, they also have lateral poles. The study of these elements required that he use one of the world's strongest NMR machines located at the U.S. Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington.

Dr. Bryce is presently continuing his work in developing new NMR techniques as an NSERC postdoctoral fellow at the U.S. National Institutes of Health Laboratory of Chemical Physics in Bethesda, Maryland.