Gold medal winner grateful for chemistry prof's romantic alchemy

After eight years of hard work in Rob Schurko’s lab, Aaron Rossini has a BSc, a PhD and a Governor General’s Gold Medal to show for his efforts. And while he appreciates the educational opportunities working with the chemistry professor afforded him, it was Dr. Schurko’s subtle match-making abilities for which he’s probably most grateful.

Dr. Rossini, who completed his degree last September and received the medal at Saturday’s convocation ceremony for achieving the highest academic standing among his cohort, was married last September to Erin Norton, who earned a master’s degree in 2008 under the tutelage of associate professor Charles Macdonald, whose Essex Hall lab is just down the hall from Schurko’s synthetic laboratory.

Schurko maintains he was the catalyst who sparked the romantic chemistry between the two.

“I knew that there mutual feelings on each side, but I gave them a little push, because I knew he would never do it,” Schurko says of Rossini, prompting a round of snickers from the other students in his lab listening in as he retells the story. “I kept saying to Erin, ‘Aaron really needs a girlfriend, you know.”

Rossini admits he stole Erin’s phone number from the emergency contacts list in Dr. Macdonald’s lab and eventually worked up the nerve to ask her out on a date. The rest, he says, is history.

The pair returned from their current home in France for the weekend to attend Saturday’s ceremony and catch up with family and friends. Rossini is currently working as a post-doctoral fellow at the École Normale Supérieure de Lyon in France in the laboratory of Prof. Lyndon Elmsley, who currently runs one of the premier Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) groups in the world.

Norton, who earned a degree in oenology from Brock University after completing her studies here, landed a short contract position in the lab at the Chateau D’Esclans winery in Provence in southern France. It’s about a three hour drive from her husband’s job in Lyon, but it’s provided her with some excellent experience in one of the best wine-making regions in the world.

“I hope to stay in the wine business in some capacity,” she said.

Rossini – who has first-authored 11 peer-reviewed publications or contributed to 31 academic presentations at local, national and international conferences while he was here – is enjoying life in France and the work he’s doing there. His research involves examining the chemistry on the surface of materials and finding new ways of enhancing the sensitivity of NMR.

“Basically, we’re making impossible experiments possible,” says the St. Anne’s Catholic High School graduate. “Something that used to take a day takes about 20 minutes now.”

Schurko described his protégé as “the top graduate student to finish his Ph.D. in my research group’s 10-year history,” but the low-key Rossini seemed to be taking the medal in stride.

“It’s really a nice honour,” he said.

Coincidentally, Rossini is the second PhD student to come out of Schurko’s lab to win the medal in the last two years. Hiyam Hamaed won it last year and is now working as a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Muenster in Germany under the supervision of professor Helmut Eckert.