Lycoming College chemistry student-faculty research benefits areas of health, manufacturing

Lycoming College chemistry student-faculty research benefits areas of health, manufacturing

McDonald and Ciccarelli discuss research data.

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Three Lycoming College students worked with chemistry professors at Lycoming College to perform fundamental research in multiple areas of chemistry.

Lycoming College’s Chemistry department offers faculty-led research opportunities to students every summer. The projects allow students to work side-by-side with professors to learn about research techniques and protocols, typically not done until the graduate level, which gives Lycoming students an edge over other undergraduates when applying for graduate school or employment. Working with students enables professors to study more samples and take on more complex research than they could on their own.

“A big part of the education of an undergraduate chemist is the transition from a student taking classes and learning in a teaching laboratory setting to conducting fundamental research and contributing to the literature about chemistry,” said Chriss McDonald, Ph.D., the Frank and Helen Lowry professor of chemistry. “The best way to make this transition is to engage in collaborative student-faculty research. Our focus on the complementary nature of the classroom and laboratory components of an education gives our students the advantage. They do a lot more substantive lab work than many of their competitors.”

David Ciccarelli, a junior chemistry and biology major from Williamsport, Pa., helped further McDonald’s research on finding safer and more effective replacements for the traditional yet toxic activator of samarium diiodide. McDonald and his research students also look for ways to use the new activators for synthetic organic chemical processes. The faculty-student team recently showed that a combination of samarium diiodide and the anion of triethylurea are superior to other known reagents for causing molecules of haloalkenes to become linked in a closed ring. The results of their project, “Optimization of the Cyclization of 1-Chloro-2-O-butenylnaphthalene with SmI2/TEU- Complexes,” can potentially be used for the synthesis of pharmaceuticals.

“While serving in the Navy several years ago, I realized I wanted to pursue a career in medicine,” said Ciccarelli who worked with McDonald on summer research. “Through our research work, we have been able to discover safer and better activators for samarium diiodide, which help produce complex organic reactions more effectively than other chemicals. The activators currently used with this chemical are considered hazardous and therefore require special safe-handling and expensive disposal programs.”

“It has been a true honor and privilege to work closely and learn from Dr. McDonald. The skills, discipline and techniques that I have acquired will greatly benefit my future career,” Ciccarelli said.

Along with learning about research protocols, Ciccarelli learned how to use the College’s new nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer (NMR), which is the most important tool chemists use to unravel the structure of unknown compounds.

The spectrometer, which is critical for solving structural problems in all fields of chemistry, was also used by Charlotte Wentz, a junior chemistry major from Glen Gardner, N.J. She worked with Doug Hines, Ph.D., on an ongoing project called “Stabilization of Multinary Quantum Dots with Ionic Liquids.” The project involves developing a highly conductive solvent that could be applied in electronic devices and products that use nanomaterials.

“The research was challenging, exciting and educational,” said Wentz. “Along with the information I gained from the research, I also learned laboratory and literature searching skills firsthand that I will need for my future career.”

Paige Rockwell, a sophomore chemistry major from McElhattan, Pa., worked with Jeremy Ramsey, Ph.D., to perform chemical analyses of water and coffee beans to determine their quality. Ramsey travelled to the Dominican Republic last May to analyze sources of drinking water available to Dominicans in rural and urban environments. Upon his return, Rockwell used her time working in Lycoming’s chemistry research laboratories to improve methods of water analysis for use in future scientific expeditions to Dominican Republic, with the long term goal to help provide Dominicans with clean sources of drinking water.

Rockwell also adapted methods of determining antioxidant capacity to the analysis of green coffee samples. These coffee samples were from partner farms in the Dominican Republic as well as from farms in Colombia, Ethiopia and Peru. With a focus on antioxidants, they are determining how to chemically measure quality in coffee in the hope of helping Dominican coffee farmers produce high quality or specialty coffee, which brings significantly higher compensation in the coffee trade market. Their results were presented in a colloquium setting as a talk by Rockwell titled “Chemical Analysis to Determine Water and Coffee Quality.”

The College’s Chemistry Research Endowed Fund supported all of these research projects. The new cutting-edge NMR instrument used in two of the projects was partially funded by a grant from The Pittsburgh Conference National Memorial Grant Program and the Lycoming College Franz Instrumentation Endowment.

Lycoming College’s Chemistry department has offered undergraduate research opportunities focused on discovering new chemical properties and interactions since 1988. Since that time, the Chemistry faculty have written 25 peer-reviewed scientific publications many of which have Lycoming undergraduates as coauthors.

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