So, what is chemistry research like?

Guest author: Amy LoTemplio, Colby College Senior, Biochemistry Major

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Hello science enthusiasts! My name is Amy LoTemplio and I am Sara’s sister (surprise!) I work in an organic chemistry research lab at Colby college in Maine where I will be a senior this year. I am currently working on a polymer project for Professor Reuben Hudson and Professor Jeff Katz. I have been working in the Katz/Hudson lab since January of Sophomore year. I was even able to go on a research trip to Japan with my professor and a peer for a week. I have learned a lot over the past few years, and i will share some of my research with you here in this blog.

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The best way to think about my research if you are an outsider to synthetic/organic chemistry is to imagine yourself as a master chef baking your favorite chocolate cake (maybe it’s even chocolate lava cake). Your pour all of your ingredients into the bowl and then you reach for something to use for mixing. You are in someone else’s kitchen and you find a strange object with a weird shape that is labeled “use for mixing cake batter.” You follow the instructions and use this mystery device, and WOW! It mixed the cake batter twice as quickly as the cake batter mixer that you have been using your whole life. On the side of this new mixer, you see that it says “lifetime guaranteed” meaning that it can be used again and again without the need to go to Bed Bath and Beyond to buy another, or make another with materials around the house. You get super excited, and you want to understand the functions of all of the pieces on the mixer, so you scan it with your eyes, and measure it, and take notes on its appearance. You want to understand the functions of these pieces because, who knows, maybe you could use one of the parts as inspiration for you to design a new coffee maker, or bread cooker, or microwave. You then think about the possibilities of using this mixer for other purposes, like mixing cookie batter, or whipping cream for fresh strawberry shortcake. Your try out a series of recipes and take notes about how well the mixer functions for each recipe. You then wonder how you could make the mixer even better. Should you add another handle? Should you tighten the screws? The potential for this mixer is endless!

To compare the cake example to the Katz/Hudson research, the cake recipe is an overall reaction, written neatly in a lab notebook instead of a Betty crocker cookbook, the mixer is a chemical chain called a polymer that may be used to decrease the energy required for a reaction to produce products (the cake) from the reactants (the ingredients). The special thing about the polymers in the Katz/Hudson research is that they show evidence of recycling capabilities. Just like the mixer in the example, the polymers may be used multiple times before they need to be replaced. Also similar to the example, my job, along with another fellow student, is to understand as much as possible about the polymers so that they may be optimized, or best used. This entails measuring features of the polymers and using them in different reactions, in order to establish the ideal conditions and recipes for their use. In the lab, we use very small amounts of chemicals instead of large amounts that would be used in a cake recipe. This is because we do not want to waste ingredients while we are exploring the capabilities of the polymers. Instead of scanning the polymers with our eyes like the chef did with the mixer, we use large machines in order to look at our polymers because they are too small to be examined with the eye.

Overall, these chemical mixers are exciting because they may one day make converting energy from chemical to electrical energy more green, as these polymers are recyclable. This prevents the need for buying new parts for the polymers and also saves the time that would have been dedicated to building new polymers. I am happy to be a part of building and understanding this science. If you would like more details about this specific research area, I have attached some references to more detailed articles. You can also ask me questions in the comments section!

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As part of my research, I got to travel to Washington D.C. for a chemistry conference. Here is me and my labmate Georganna stopping by to visit Maine senator Angus King.

References

Hudson, R.; Katz, J. L. Oxacalixarenes in Calixarenes and Beyond; Neri, P., Sessler, J. L., Wang, M.-X., Eds.; Springer, 2016; pp 399−420.

Hudson, R.; Zhang, H.; LoTemplio, A.; Benedetto, G.; Hamasaka, G.; Yamada, Y.; Katz, J.; Uozumi, Y. Poly(Meta-Phenylene Oxides) For The Design Of A Tunable, Efficient, And Reusable Catalytic Platform. Chemical Communications 2018, 54, 2878-2881.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuel_cell

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