In ancient Rome, the god Janus was the god of transitions and was depicted as having two faces. So when it came time to name the filter at the heart of her industrial wastewater treatment start-up, Morgan Lehtinen and her colleagues called it Janus.
The Queens University PhD student in polymer and materials chemistry began developing the technology during her undergraduate thesis year. Like its namesake, her filter has two faces – a demulsifying polymer filter and water-rejecting one. This asymmetry means it can destabilize oily emulsions and also separate oil from the phase of choice.
“I fell in love with this research project and it has been my life for the past six years,” says Lehtinen. “I hope it will continue to be for the next six years.”
Her company, Micellotech, is in the validation phase and has begun working with Kingston-area metalworking shops to clean and recycle the expensive fluids they use in manufacturing metal parts. Lehtinen hopes to also eventually make a significant impact on water treatment processes involving oil spills and other industrial waste.
“We need to solve so many environmental problems right now. I knew once I went into my graduate degree that I wanted to solve some of them. And water is essential to life so I chose that one,” she says.
It’s important to her that her company tread as lightly on the Earth as possible and so she designed the filter to work without the need for external energy. Since it relies on electrostatic interactions between its constituent polymers and the emulsion, the filter doesn’t require the additional heat or chemical coagulants necessary in other wastewater treatment technologies.
While she loves the inquiry and problem-solving work involved in perfecting an environmentally friendly filter, she also enjoys the entrepreneurial challenge of launching a start-up and has secured support from NEXT Canada, Mitacs i2I, Hello Tomorrow and KPM-Accelerate.
It’s a mark of success she says she would not have achieved without her Queen’s PhD supervisor Guojun Liu, who also is a technical advisor to Micellotech, and director of strategic development Sebastian Alamillo-Falkenberg.
“I would not be where I am today if I had not had these people around me,” says Lehtinen.
Which is why she is determined to be a mentor to other chemical science students.
Lehtinen helped relaunch of the CIC Kingston Section and co-founded the first-ever Chemical Sciences Mentorship Program in Eastern Ontario. She also is the program coordinator of Dunin Deshpande Queen’s Innovation Centre’s Konnect program to empower female entrepreneurs.
“I want to show students they can carve their own paths. I was intimidated to be an entrepreneur and my supervisor was consistent in his belief and support,” she says. “He recognized my path might be a bit different. I want to do that for others.”