Bowyer, Students Collaborate – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
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Bowyer, Students Collaborate

Professor of Chemistry Walter Bowyer and students publish in The Journal of Physical Chemistry

Unveiling the result of nearly five years of research, the majority of which was funded by the National Science Foundation, Professor of Chemistry Walter Bowyer, Isabel Olson ’09, Anne Sessler ’09, Jodi Connell ’06, Esthefanie Giordano ’10, Yessica Baez Sosa ’09 and Salvador Zavaleta ’11 coauthored an article which appeared in the March 2009 issue of The Journal of Physical Chemistry.

This month, Zavaleta and other students who have been working on the project, Wendi Bacon ’12, Ryan Young ’11 and Rachel Langenbacher ’12, will travel to Orlando, Fla., to present their most recent results.

The article, “Measurement of Heterogeneous reaction rates during indium-mediated allylation,” examines a highly used but little studied reaction in which a liquid reactant removes metal atoms from the solid surface of that metal.

However, Bowyer says, “if you want to study this, it’s tough because the surface is being eaten away.  So you need to control where on the surface it reacts.”

Usually, this reaction is done with magnesium and a toxic solvent, but in this experiment, Bowyer and the student researchers substituted indium, which readily reacts using water as the solvent.

“We found a way to control and measure the surface area at the same time as we measure the rate of the reaction,” Bowyer says.  “This allows us indirectly to get evidence to see what the reaction looks like, to understand the reaction better and therefore improve it.”  Ultimately this allows chemists to take small molecules and build larger molecules with them. 

Why is this important?  As pharmaceutical manufacturers synthesize drugs, many of the base molecules are petroleum derivatives.  Through exploring the way indium reacts in water, and thus the ways other metals relate with other reactants, Bowyer says that this work can “increase the tool set drug companies have when trying to synthesize target molecules.”

“All of the data that were collected that summer really topped off and supported Dr. Bowyer’s previous research, ” says Zavaleta.  “I first worked with Dr. Bowyer the summer between my first and sophomore year.  I thought it was incredible that as a first-year, I was already doing research.  What surprised me the most was how laid back, yet serious the atmosphere was.   I was really excited to contribute to Dr. Bowyer’s work as well as to the science community, especially at such a young age-I was only 19!”

Giordano also found the work rewarding. “After being part of the chemistry summer research team, I realized that I truly could dive into any realm of study and discover new ways of thinking and working.”

The group attended and presented research at other conferences, including the American Chemical Society National conference in Philadelphia, which Zavaleta says, “was a great way to end my first year here.  I did summer research with Professor Bowyer again this past summer, and all of this research definitely strengthens my chances of achieving my goal of becoming a medical doctor.”

In the photo above, Bowyer is pictured with Giordano,  Zavaleta and Olson.