There is evidence in nature that suggests that the energy supplies primarily in use, notably coal, contribute to pollution and emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. The abundance of these gases, which leads to climate change and global warming, continues to rise due to the consumption of fossil fuels. The McNamara Lab seeks to harness solar power, since the sun provides as much energy to the earth in one hour as is used in a year. Our lab focuses on the production and storage of clean and renewable energy using solar-powered fuel cells. Although there is already a market in solar energy, it is often criticized for its high price. My project focuses on whether or not certain earth abundant metal complexes are active for oxygen reduction, vital to green energy production within the fuel cell. The summer’s work should result in information designed for an academic paper on the subject, which would share our findings and progress on solar energy with the scientific community.
In my last blog post, I described the process of working through a multi-step synthesis for organic compounds. It’s definitely a long process in which you come across unexpected roadblocks, but the excitement that comes from an experiment that works is thoroughly satisfying. I spent the last few weeks of my research attempting to finish my second profluorophore, often starting over to use larger quantities of reactants after I had perfected some of the reactions. Sadly, I did not finish my second profluorophore during the summer, but I am in a great place to continue working on it in the fall. I learned so much about what works and what does not work when creating this molecule, and I am now extremely familiar with all of the instruments and techniques used in typical organic reactions.
In my previous post, I described one of the challenges of scientific research: science takes a very long time to come to fruition. After just a week in the lab, I realized how much work is involved in just one step of a reaction. Another challenge of scientific research, particularly in chemistry, soon became apparent to me as well: it’s really hard to see what’s going on. What I mean is that, I may run a reaction using milligrams of a solid and microliters of a liquid, and those amounts can be very hard to collect, isolate, and sometimes even see.
When I arrived at school this summer to begin conducting research in the lab, I originally intended to explore chemical synthesis with the microwave, a tool that is widely used in the biosciences to decrease chemical reaction times and increase product yields. I proposed optimizing click reactions, which are reactions that effectively connect two large molecules through a quick and stable mechanism. After talking more with my advisor, my focus shifted.