Class of 2007 – HBSc, Innis
It’s been merely seven years since graduating from U of T and Innis alumnus Morgan Wyatt has already earned a Masters and PhD, lived in the UK, and published numerous articles in the most renowned scientific journals. Is there anything else to expect from Morgan? Apparently yes. Now Morgan has teamed up with his brother to develop a compost container that is the first of its kind. We sat down with Morgan to learn more about his exciting scientific journey from small town Ontario to big city research labs and beyond.
[INNIS] You come from a small town in the Thousand Islands region; what motivated you to study in downtown Toronto and at Innis College in particular?
[MW] I was always interested in attending University of Toronto, due to the size and prestige it had. I knew its resources for conducting research were large and it was connected to many state-of-the-art research facilities within the downtown discovery district. In addition, it helped that my father was a U of T alumnus, who I later found out was also an Innis College alumnus too. However, I chose Innis College based mostly on the small size and the apartment-style residence. I never liked the idea of a meal plan or sharing a room with another student, so Innis College Residence suited me perfectly.
[INNIS] You graduated from U of T with a Specialist in Pharmaceutical Chemistry. Did you enter your undergrad with a clear idea of what you wanted to study? Did you consider other programs and areas of academic interest?
[MW]I always knew I wanted to be in science and I actually had the intention to be in the Pharmaceutical Chemistry program right out of highschool. However, early on I realized there were also a lot of other opportunities available and I explored the potential of other Chemistry programs with Donald Boere at Innis College, who thought that I might enjoy Environmental Chemistry due to my love of the outdoors and strength in Chemistry. However, I ended up staying in Pharmaceutical Chemistry and have been in the field ever since.
[INNIS] You immediately went on to achieve an MRes in Biomedical Research and a PhD in Chemical Biology, would you say that your academic experiences U of T contributed directly to your graduate school path?
[MW] They definitely influenced me for sure. I had the opportunity to do a 4th year research project in the Pharmaceutical Chemistry program and it became clear that there was a lot of interesting research being conducted that was several steps ahead of our standard coursework. I knew that if I wanted to have a career in Pharmaceutical Research, I would need to immerse myself in it and gain some real laboratory skills in order to move ahead in my career.
[INNIS] Your many academic achievements suggest that you have enjoyed being a student, what was one of the more challenging aspects of your undergraduate experience?
[MW] I think initially, the biggest challenge was becoming a small fish in a big pond. Arriving at U of T with huge class sizes and the anonymity associated with that was definitely the biggest obstacle, especially since I was coming from a smaller community with the small class sizes in high school. However, as I progressed, these sizes reduced and the small community feel at Innis College and its residence really balanced out that initial challenge.
[INNIS] Having recently completed your PhD, something tells me you aren’t resting on your laurels. So, where are you now?
[MW] I have recently moved back to downtown Toronto, a long awaited reunion to city life, but I am still actively pursuing research at McMaster University as a Research Associate. A number of my projects during my PhD have potential industrial applications, including a microbial chemical that I showed can bind soluble gold from water to form gold nuggets, as well as a computer-based platform to streamline drug discovery from natural sources. Right now, I am completing some final experiments that will hopefully put us in a position to see this realized.
I’ve also started another entrepreneurial endeavour with my brother. It’s a consumer product called the Greenlid and it is a completely compostable, organic waste container made from 100% post-consumer paper so that it can be completely disposed of in municipal collection programs (Green Bin) or a home compost pile, and then you just start with a fresh new container. It essentially eliminates the need to clean your compost bin and the need to use any type of plastic bag liners. It’s a fairly simple concept that really addresses a big problem for people who collect organic waste in their kitchen.
[INNIS] So, you are working alongside your brother, and fellow Innis alumnus, Jackson Wyatt. How has this experience been working as siblings and as colleagues?
[MW] It’s been great working together. We definitely think about things similarly. So it accelerates the work on our projects. We were actually living together for several months, early on in the Greenlid’s development, which really helped us work out the details of the design, manufacturing and ultimate business plan for the Greenlid. We still live very close by and usually touch base once or twice a day to keep everything moving forward and to bounce different ideas off each other.
[INNIS] Is there anything else we should know about the Greenlid before we can find it on the shelves at a local grocery store?
[MW] A lot of the information regarding the Greenlid can be found on our Kickstarter Campaign Website (http://bit.ly/thegreenlid-kickstarter). We have an excellent video produced by fellow Innis alumnus Casey McWilliams, and his brother Kody, who shot and produced our video. We chose to launch the Greenlid using Kickstarter in order to raise enough funds to pay for both the molds (lid and containers) as well as meet minimum order requirements. It is also a great way to showcase your product online, and we are already having tremendous interest from retail stores across Canada. However, we are still pretty far from our target goal of $25k. We are hoping in the following 2 weeks to have an increase in backers, who have been putting off purchasing until the end.
[INNIS] The Greenlid sounds like both a convenient and an environmentally-responsible solution. Great work! Now let’s recap: HBSc… MRes… PhD in Chemical Biology… and now compost. Am I right in seeing a logical connection here?
[MW] [laughs] I wouldn’t say logical connection, but I definitely think that all of my academic research has helped me tackle the making of the GreenLid. We had the idea, but it was a long way from actually turning it into the final product that you see on our website. I had to do a tremendous amount of research into different materials, identify potential manufacturers (who often don’t have websites), product design, graphic design, website design, as well as developing the business model for delivering the Greenlid to consumers. We met a few snags along the way, but we were able to overcome these as they came along. They often worked out in our favour. For example, moving from a compostable coffee cup material to the 100% post-consumer pulp, that we currently have, was actually a great thing. Not only did the manufacturing cost reduce, but we were also able to make a product that was more environmentally-friendly and could decompose in home compost bins. I think all of my education has now allowed me to successfully act on ideas that I have, and I imagine there will be more like the Greenlid to come.
[INNIS] You are working with your brother, back in Toronto, and using the skillset that you began to develop as a U of T student. It sounds like things are really coming full circle for you. Congratulations! This must be a rewarding experience. Thank you for sharing your insightful reflections, Morgan. We, at Innis, wish you and Jackson great success with the Greenlid, with your many research projects, and with a career full of innovations that is sure to follow.
Click here to connect to Morgan’s LinkedIn profile.
Click here to visit the Greenlid Kickstarter webpage. The campaign closes on Sunday, March 16, 2014.
Click here to visit the official Greenlid website.