Where others see only waste, Farokh Laqa Kakar sees potential. The Vanier Scholar’s doctoral research focuses on using anaerobic digestion to not only treat organic waste but also produce valuable materials such as methane, organic acids and fertilizer. Methane can be used for different applications such as heating, electricity and renewable natural gas. Organic acids can be used to produce electricity, biodegradable plastics and as a carbon source for nutrient removal in wastewater treatment plants.
A major challenge, however, is the low yield of these byproducts. Kakar’s work aims to develop a new strategy to enhance their production, as well as to introduce a novel technology for extraction of organic acids from waste. Her research will use anaerobic digestion to reduce waste volume, remove pathogens from waste and produce renewable energy, helping Canada achieve the goal of COP21.
“Many congratulations to Farokh on her receipt of this highly competitive scholarship. With her passion for learning, exceptional research skills and unique determination, this is an accolade that she richly deserves,” said Dr. Steven N. Liss, vice-president, research and innovation at Ryerson. “The Vanier award will leverage Farokh’s natural vision and her ability to lead and inspire, and I look forward to following her future academic successes as she continues on her path to the very top of her field.”
What inspires your research?
The critical issue that the world is facing now is climate change. Increases in greenhouse gas emissions due to high fossil-fuel consumption and excess organic waste generation and the environmental impact of landfilling are among the main global causes of climate change. Finding a sustainable solution for these challenges and taking part in fulfilling the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals is the inspiration for my research.
What does it mean to be named a Vanier Scholar? How will this affect your research?
It’s a big responsibility because Vanier Scholars are extraordinary researchers who not only discover and innovate but also lead and inspire. A Vanier Scholar puts goals beyond themself; they are not looking for opportunities but creating opportunities for others.
As a Vanier Scholar, I will be able to take my research beyond Canada’s borders and collaborate with other international researchers in my field, which will take my research to another level. Also, it will motivate me to put in extra effort and perform to my full potential, being proud that my nation believes in me and my research.
What advice do you have for Vanier Scholarship applicants?
Consult with as many people as you can for your application, but use your own judgment as well, since the process of preparing the application can be overwhelming with so many comments and file versions. Particularly, consult your supervisor as much as possible as they play a key role in the success of your application. You should also read the evaluation criteria carefully and make sure that you follow the guidelines. Also, do not give up easily when you face a problem. Remember: there is no mountain that cannot be climbed.
How is your Ryerson graduate education preparing you to be career-ready?
Ryerson is giving me many opportunities to become career-ready. In addition to facilities, services, student groups and financial assistance, Ryerson is giving me a sense of belonging and love from the incredible faculty, staff and environment, which strengthens my self-confidence and has a direct impact on my future career.
What advice do you have for graduate students?
Do not work to get a degree but work to learn! You will get your degree with some effort anyway, but if you really understand what you are doing and set goals you will get the job and satisfaction before the degree!
Do not underestimate your abilities. Take risks. Try new things. Fail. Try again. Succeed. This is what makes you a successful graduate student!
Also, graduate life is not only about school. Explore what is outside of your institution in your area of work. Volunteer and make connections.
I came to Canada four years ago having no family and friends. I dreamed about getting where I am now but not in such a short period of time! It is all because I am in a country where it does not matter what my race, colour, religion or gender is. I advise our international students, new immigrants and refugees to believe in themselves and understand that they will be given more opportunities in this land, not less!
Farokh Laqa Kakar
Civil Engineering PhD and 2020 NSERC Vanier CGS recipient