First Ph.D. making a difference

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Annick Anctil ’11 is already making an impact in the sustainability field.

Just two years after receiving RIT’s first Ph.D. in sustainability, Annick Anctil ’11 is already making an impact on the field. Anctil, assistant professor of environmental engineering and earth sciences at Clemson University’s College of Engineering and Science, has been elected to the President’s Commission on Sustainability, a group of students, faculty, staff and community members who coordinate the university’s efforts to become a model of sustainability for institutions of higher education.

“It’s a huge honor, considering I’ve just started at Clemson,” Anctil says. “They believed that I had a unique background and knowledge about sustainability and could therefore greatly contribute. I think my Ph.D. from RIT has given me unique skills that are highly in demand.”

Anctil received her bachelor’s degree in materials engineering from Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal. She earned a master’s degree in materials science from RIT before starting the Ph.D. program in microsystems engineering. She switched to the sustainability doctoral program when it began in 2008. It’s an excellent blend of skills, says Ryne Raffaelle, Anctil’s thesis adviser in microsystems engineering.

“Annick has a very strong, analytical background in physics,” says Raffaelle, RIT’s vice president for research and associate provost. “It was such an asset when we were discussing problems in materials science, or microsystems, or sustainability. We talked the same language and came at the problem-solving aspects of her research in a similar way.”

One particularly noteworthy experience was an internship in the United Nations’ Department of Economic and Social Affairs Division for Sustainable Development, where she worked on projects including sustainability metrics and an educational simulation tool for sustainable tourism in developing countries.

“It was a really good experience,” she says, “and actually I’m still working with my supervisor on some projects.”

She joined the Clemson faculty in September 2012 after spending a year as a research associate at the National Photo­voltaic Environmental Research Center at Brookhaven National Laboratory.

“I enjoyed the research, but I wanted to have opportunities to interact with more people,” she says. She was impressed with Clemson’s commitment to sustainability and the way the concepts are incorporated throughout the curriculum.

In addition to teaching, Anctil is continuing her research in the area of renewable energy, particularly photovoltaics. She uses lifecycle assessment to identify the main issues of current technologies and propose alternative solutions. A primary focus of her work is in the environ­mental impact of nanomaterials and fine chemicals for energy applications, in particular as it relates to reducing the impact of industrial production.

“My goal is to make solar energy as green and as affordable as it can be,” she says. “My passion is showing how to integrate sustainability into products.”

Her Ph.D. thesis adviser, Brian Landi, is certain Anctil will make important contributions to the field.

“Annick is a talented problem solver and highly motivated to succeed at each endeavor,” says Landi, assistant professor, chemical and biomedical engineering. “She brings both creativity and passion to an emerging field, which when combined with her experiences in government-funded research and working at the United Nations, will allow her to contribute to sustainable solutions of the highest order for society.”

In addition to a focus on sustainability, Clemson has other similarities to RIT, Anctil says. The buildings are red brick, the mascot is a tiger, and there is a strong reputation for engineering.

The faculty position “is a perfect fit for me,” she says. “Utilizing my technical background gets people to take notice and realize how important sustainability is to our environment.”