Research team is working to synthesize a molecule

Joining forces in research, organic chemistry professor Jason Kingsbury has been working with students Joseph Cronin, Nicholas Komlos, George French and Karam Malki Hajjar in research toward synthesizing a molecule.

According to Kingsbury, the project originally started as a collaboration of research between himself and professor of analytical chemistry professor Kate Hoffmann.

Hoffmann’s research aims to look for a new calorimetric method for studying the kinetics of enzymes, specifically targeting bacterial siderophores, which are molecules that bind ions really well, according to Kingsbury.

“There is a number of biological uses for these molecules. [They’re] kind of essential for the bacteria to be able to process and uptake ions. If you look at their starting concentrations in their environment they’re pretty low, so it’s kind of an evolutionary advantage,” Kingsbury said.

For Kingsbury’s team, he said they’d like to make a small molecule that represents what they might call a monomer. Three of these molecules might come together and form a trimer, and that’s what the ring is.

The ring is three repeating subunits of the same thing connected head to tail. The molecule the team is going to make is acyclic, which means it contains no rings of atoms, but each end of the molecule has functional groups that can attach to one another. They are bringing three of the monomers together in a loop head to tail to get a much larger molecule that has more interesting functions.

All four students are interested in participating in the summer research program on campus.

“I saw the collaboration that I began with Dr. Hoffmann as a unique opportunity to throw them all in the ring together and force the aspects of collaboration and teamwork, troubleshooting and division of labor,” Kingsbury said. “I wanted my students not only to make milligram quantities of this [molecule] but also get trained on the process on all of the standard lab techniques that one would use to research.”

French said he and the rest of the students typically meet one to four times a week to help conduct experiments in the lab.

“It all depends on what the experiment entails. We are required to work under the supervision of Dr. Kingsbury while in the lab but we tend to do our synthesis while he works on other reactions, so it turns out to be supervised but independent work,” French said.

According to Cronin, who received a Swenson fellowship to do his own research this summer, the research proposes to create conditions that are favorable for this rearrangement using reactants that can be synthesized from starting materials that are commercially available. 

“I wanted to get involved because organic chemistry is the most interesting class I have taken thus far. The idea of proposing and conducting my own research in a lab excited me,” Cronin said.

The students’ work will hopefully be directly benefiting Hoffmann and her summer research project by providing her with the successful synthesized molecules.

For Kingsbury, the end goal for this semester project would be to allow Hoffmann and her team of researchers to showcase the results of how well the analytical method works in terms of studying the kinetics of this enzyme.

“It speaks to the strength of the whole natural sciences divisions here,” Kingsbury said. “The chemistry department is not an island, all these departments are co-mingling and it’s the students who are the vehicle for that and I think that’s really special.”

Rebecca Austin
Staff Writer
Published April 6th, 2016