Cottrell Scholar Awards - 2015
Redox Switchable Iron Catalysts for the Synthesis of Biodegradable Polymers
Polymers are long chains of atoms or molecules – the term covers everything from the material of plastic grocery bags to the DNA in living cells. Polymerization is the chemical process of hooking atoms and molecules together.
We can never learn enough about polymers and polymerization, so vital is this branch of chemistry to our very existence, as well as to our economy.
Thus, Jeffery A. Byers, assistant professor of chemistry at Boston College, has received Cottrell Scholar funding to explore the use of a specific type of iron molecule as a unique catalyst for synthesizing a “copolymer” -- a polymer that combines two or more different molecules -- in this case lactide, carbon dioxideand epoxide. Other researchers have made strides in combining some of these chemicals into useful thermoplastics. Byers, however, is among the first to experiment with combining all of them to form useful new biodegradable polymers. The process also capitalizes on using environmentally friendly and abundant iron-based catalysts to achieve this goal.
While there are no guarantees in fundamental research such as this, if Byers is successful in creating useful catalysts based on this chemistry, the end result could be new or improved degradable plastics and other materials yet to be conceived.
Byers is also using some of his Cottrell Scholar funding to develop new software for electronic tablets to aid undergraduate students to more quickly understand molecular symmetry, a fundamental concept in chemistry. He is creating demonstrations and teaching aids for introductory chemistry courses to encourage active learning based on problem solving. Byers said he also hopes to institute an undergraduate-led outreach program to encourage high school students,primarily from under-represented minorities, to pursue careers in science.