Université Laval’s Antoine Marceau says that chemical engineering is key to Canada’s economic prosperity. Photo credit: Amélie Marceau 

When Université Laval chemical engineering student Antoine Marceau was growing up, his friends would start chatting, as kids do, about the latest shows they were watching on television. Marceau could only look at them blankly. “I had no idea what they were talking about,” Marceau says from his home in Québec City. “I was always outdoors.” 

For Marceau, being outdoors meant alpine ski racing: he consistently placed near the top at provincial meets during his teen years. “Alpine skiing was my passion; I started at three years of age — it was my thrill,” says Marceau, who later coached the sport. Marceau also took up mountain biking when he was seven. Education held little attraction, so when Marceau balked at going to classes, his mother encouraged him to try school athletics. Joining the track and field team sparked a change in attitude. His eventual embrace of academics, especially the sciences — “I just knew that chemistry was for me” — netted him an admission scholarship to ULaval. He also took on musical theatre, singing and dancing in school productions of Rent and Chicago. To top it off, Marceau became his class representative, taking satisfaction from “knowing that I was doing something bigger than just my academic program and I was helping others.” 

Fast forward three years and Marceau is continuing in the same vein, juggling a myriad of responsibilities as he works toward his final year of undergraduate studies in chemical engineering. Last month, he was the undergraduate student program co-ordinator at the 66th Canadian Chemical Engineering Conference, organized by the Canadian Society for Chemical Engineering (CSChE) and ULaval’s Chemical Engineering Department. At the previous year’s conference in Calgary, Marceau was delegation chairman representing ULaval. Marceau views such undertakings as a key component to an undergrad career. “I learn how to organize my time and organize activities. The payback is that I get to know everybody from universities across Canada.” 

Meeting others from across the country has caused Marceau to embrace a national vision and a deeper understanding of the important role that chemical engineers play in Canada’s economy. At this year’s conference, themed Sustainability and Prosperity, green chemistry was highlighted. Last year’s Calgary conference focused heavily on oil and gas and the proposed West Coast and New Brunswick pipelines. On one hand, some say “we need the pipelines; we need the oil to go all the way through Canada so we can do business,” says Marceau. Alternatively, green chemists advocate a quicker transition to renewable energy. Somewhere between these two poles, says Marceau, is “prosperity and a vision for Canada — the vision of what chemical engineering is in Canada.” 

With just one year of undergraduate studies left, Marceau is starting to plan his future. Certainly Marceau has gained enough experience through his university internships to enter the workforce as an engineer. Two summers ago, he was involved with production engineering at Procter & Gamble in Brockville, Ont. This past summer, Marceau undertook manufacturing processes engineering with L’Oreal Canada in Montreal, implementing new software, developing a few performance monitoring tools and supporting production operations. However, he is also mulling the possibility of launching a start-up­ that draws upon his diverse interests, as well as considering an MBA.

Athletics continue to play an important part in Marceau’s life. He has become obsessed with Supermoto racing: off-road motorcycles outfitted with road-racing tires. The race courses challenges riders with obstacles like banked corners and jumps as well as twisting tarmac. And despite the thrill he gets from the roar of a racing motorcycle’s combustion engine, chemical engineering will eventually play a part in taming this sport’s noisy appeal. “We need to think about the possibility of switching from fossil fuels to bio-fuel or electric bikes.”