Research Check-In Part 2

The current goal for my project is to synthesize a functional catalyst for the hydrogen oxidation reaction (HOR) of significant yield. Several mechanistic reaction pathways have been proposed, including methods used by lab members in past years, as well as methods from published literature. For each attempt to correctly synthesize the ligand (where the “ligand’ is a compound that will later be attached to a metal to make up the catalyst), I must perform the reaction, and then test it to see whether or not the reaction worked and whether or not I have truly synthetized what I’m looking for. The difficulty stems not from the reaction itself, but from the post-reaction purification step, which involves lengthy separation of the compound from any impurities.  From the set-up of the initial reaction, to testing the purity of the molecule post-separation, the entire process of synthesizing a ligand can take from a few days to a week. With every attempt, there always variables that can be tweaked to improve the conditions of the procedure and thus increase yield of the product.

Updated Abstract and Research Check-In Part 1

Research began on May 30th. I learned on Day 1 from my professor that I would no longer be researching organometallic-catalyzed oxygen reduction, which I had initially planned on researching this summer, and would now be transferred to a new, independent project: catalyzing the hydrogen oxidation reaction (HOR), a necessary step for green catalytic hydrogenation of organic molecules. The goal is to synthesize and identify a catalyst that can selectively hydrogenate molecules, producing as little waste as possible. For the first few weeks of research, I electrochemically tested various catalysts that the lab had synthesized over the past 5 years using an instrument named a cyclic voltammogram. Upon conclusion that none of the catalysts were active for HOR– unfortunate yet unsurprising, since none of the catalysts were designed for that purpose – my professor assigned me the task of synthesizing a new catalyst with HOR in mind. I now turn to journals of past lab members to learn the procedure for synthesizing the ligands necessary for these organometallic catalysts, with a new twist: a different state of the metal, which should help with the HOR.

Abstract — Oxygen Reduction by Iron Complexes for Solar Energy Conversion

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.

Blog #3: A Novel Unnatural Amino Acid

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.

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