Of the hundreds of awards granted by the Chemistry Division of the National Science Foundation (NSF), Dr. Greg Grant’s chemical research project was one of five the NSF selected for recognition for an Environmental Outcome.

Grant, Grote Professor in the UTC Chemistry Department, said “Research in Undergraduate Institutions (RUI) Grant: Complexation Studies of Heavy Metal Ions by Crown Polythioethers and Related Macrocyclic Ligands” describes something new:  a compound that reacts with carbon dioxide and removes it from the atmosphere.

“Given the concerns of rising concentrations of global greenhouse gases, any materials that can sequester CO2 from the air will be of interest,” Grant said. “This particular compound was discovered serendipitously.  We were looking at cadmium compounds for heavy metal binding (a separate application), and this compound just happens to react with carbon dioxide from the air. We had not planned this, but it was a nice discovery.”

According to Katharine Covert, Deputy Division Director (acting), National Science Foundation
Division of Chemistry, the 2010 Chemistry Committee of Visitors (COV) identified Grant’s project as “an exemplar of excellence in support of the Division’s investment in research, education, and infrastructure.”

The 2010 Chemistry COV triennial meeting reviewed grants from 2007-2009.  Impact, progress, integrity, and performance of NSF activities were evaluated and assessed.  In a letter to Grant, Covert said:

“Following a review of several hundred project highlights from Chemistry’s diverse portfolio, the COV selected your highlight as an outstanding representation of work that furthers knowledge, discovery, and learning, including some with impacts in application areas identified as national priorities.”

The NSF funded Grant and his team of researchers from 2004 through 2007 with an additional one year as an extension.   Seventeen student positions were funded through this grant and two additional positions overlapped.   Ten different UTC undergraduates students were in this group.

All of Grant’s colleagues recognized by the NSF for Environmental Outcomes conduct research at Ph.D. granting schools, according to Dr. Tom Rybolt, Department Head and UC Foundation Professor in the Department of Chemistry.

“Graduate schools are heavily oriented toward their work with graduate students doing full time research seeking MS and Ph.D. degrees, so to have a person working with undergraduate students with more limited resources recognized alongside graduate programs is a special honor,” Rybolt said.

Students engaged in this research were equipped with an academic resume filled with graduate opportunities.

Four of the students involved in Grant’s research are in medical school—studying at Vanderbilt, Memphis and East Tennessee State University.  Two are in graduate school, one at Vanderbilt studying biochemistry and another at the University of Memphis, studying geosciences.  Another student is in dental school at the University of Memphis.

“Engaging in research allows students to be creative and to not just study science as a body of knowledge but to experience firsthand the process of science.  We want our future physicians and science professionals to be able to develop new knowledge and to understand the latest research in whatever field they work.  It is a wonderful experience for undergraduate students and the successes of Grant’s past students demonstrates its value,” Rybolt said.

Additionally, the grant funded a two-year postdoctoral position from 2004-2006.  Dr. Daron Janzen was hired in this capacity.  Janzen currently holds a faculty position at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minnesota.

With Grant’s work completed in the study of heavy metal compounds that contain cadmium and mercury, his research is taking a new turn.

“We are currently funded for two grants, another NSF RUI grant and an American Chemical Society, Petroleum Research Fund Grant.  Both support an area of research that deals with the formation of molecular polygons and polyhedra. In particular, the formation of molecular squares, triangles, hexagons, and cubes involving compounds of platinum and palladium.  This can be used in applications such as the storage of hydrogen and other strategic gases,” Grant said.

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