Packaging Under the Microscope
7 February 2019
Born in Algeria, Mounia Arkoun has made a long academic detour on her way to a doctorate of science and chemical engineering in Montreal. It’s at the Polytechnique Montréal laboratories that she and her partner, Nury Ardila, developed a bioplastic that will revolutionize the food packaging industry.
Chemical engineer, co-founder and president of Evio welcomed me into her lab. Here’s what I learned:
A budding interest
“Science, physics and chemistry were my two favourite subjects in school. I was passionate about life sciences, natural sciences, and even more so, on a molecular, microscopic level. I was drawn to molecules that were useful, like drug synthesis. At home, my parents made me aware that we should always take care of our planet. My grandfather was also an inventor. He created a procedure to dry figs on an industrial level. Did he influence me in some way?”
“In Algeria, I got my degree in microbiology. Then, in France I got my masters in food biotechnology. Little by little, my interactions with food and their packaging started to intrigue me. Chemical particles from packaging often find their way onto our food and are ingested by consumers… When I came here I knew I wanted to get a doctorate on this subject and I rose to the occasion at Polytechnique Montréal.”
“At this moment, producing packaging causes a lot of pollution. We are not saying that we are going to solve the pollution problem, or eliminate waste and world hunger. But it all starts with small actions, and with this technology, we are making our mark.” – Mounia Arkoun
“Meeting my partner, Nury Ardila, is the best thing about my doctorat. We were working on similar projects and had one common goal. We created the packaging with a chitosan base (a fibre extracted from crustacean shells). It is biodegradable, safe and antibacterial, and prolongs the shelf life of your food. If this technology wouldn’t have made it out of the lab, it would have been a shame. ‘Why not commercialize it?’, we asked ourselves. It was a nice surprise when we realized that the Technopreneur program, offered all the support and tools we needed to move forward with our business project.
We filed our patent application. We now have a partner in the food industry and another in packaging. We are completing the development phase and are aiming to start presale at the end of 2020.”
“I love research. It makes science and knowledge move forward. I love choosing a direction, finding a solution and unlocking something that we weren’t expecting at all. A solution to a real problem in the industry, or for the consumer.
I like useful, practical and concrete. I’ve also been around researchers that are developing a new technology to help people in wheelchairs. Chemical engineering is functional and can improve so many things in our society.”
Let’s go girls!
“Is what I would tell young women that are hesitant about going into sciences, and for whatever branch you choose, getting a diploma is worth it and will give you credibility and more knowledge about the field than anyone else. It will be hard, but nothing worth having comes easy.”
12.8% of practicing engineers in Canada are women
20% of students enrolled in engineering programs are women
Source: Engineers Canada, according to the 2016 report