Trent Chemistry professor Dr. Eric Keske is all about making the impossible possible, and with new funding from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation’s John. R Evans Leadership Fund (CFI-JELF), he and his research associates will be able to break even more chemical barriers.
The $55,000 CFI-JELF funding boost (to be matched by the Ontario government) will support Professor Keske’s experimentation with organic compounds that are virtually unreactive when placed in proximity with each other.
“A lot of what we are doing is facilitating reactions between carbon-based molecules by using catalysts, which help lower the energy barriers of chemical reactions, and make it possible for new bonds, and thus new, more complex molecules to be created from the original molecules,” said Prof. Keske.
Advancing innovation and training in materials science
This type of experimental chemistry leads to new innovations in materials. Take LED and OLED, for example. These are complex organic molecules that have been engineered to transmit light when they have an electrical current running through them. LED and OLED are used in the production of TV and computer screens. A catalyzed organic reaction is also how white vinegar is made: a strong acid is used to catalyze a reaction between carbon monoxide and methanol, which are virtually unreactive without the acid.
One of Prof. Keske’s master’s students, Kasandra Brick, is exploring the potential for greater reactivity between two specific types of carbon-based molecules using a less toxic catalyst under milder conditions (e.g. low temperatures) than what are currently known.
“Breaking chemical bonds to build more complex molecules with new chemical and physical properties can be an intense process,” said Kasandra, who is completing a Master of Science in Materials Science degree. “What I’m trying to do is conduct coupling experiments using molecular catalysts that would be preferable to chemists based on their stability and safety, but in the right reaction, can transform organic compounds with high specificity.”
Additionally, Prof. Keske has undergraduate students who are involved in this exploratory research, which is by definition on the leading edge of organic chemistry.
“In my lab, we’re building crazy molecules that are inherently more complex than what you’re starting with, and as you’re building complexity, and constructing more bonds, it can be really challenging,” said Prof. Keske.
“Students are gaining direct, hands-on experience with this work, and they are graduating with cutting edge skills that will be sought out in a range of industries, from pharmaceuticals to visual technology.”
New equipment makes all the difference
The CFI-JELF funding is granted to researchers to use specifically on investments in infrastructure and equipment, an area of critical importance for Prof. Keske’s research facility at Trent.
“We work with chemical compounds that have a wide range of chemical and physical properties and stabilities, so we need specialized equipment that allows us to control lab conditions for running experiments,” said Prof. Keske.
“The instruments we intend to purchase with this grant funding will significantly advance the organic synthesis research in our facility, by allowing us to run more optimal experiments, derive more insights from our tests and explore the full range of potential of organic molecule reactions.”
“Knowing how sensitive these compounds and reactions can be to things like air or water contamination, the CFI-JELF grant will be immensely useful as we can invest in equipment that will help us preserve materials and experimental results, and actually save us money in the long run by improving the efficiency of our research,” said Kasandra.
Learn more about Trent University’s Master of Science in Materials Science program.