Awesome Doublet of Quartets

The other day, our newest group member was taking an NMR of a reaction mixture that contained triethylammonium chloride. What I found so interesting was that the methylene signal was very well-resolved, showing a clear doublet of quartets. This could only happen if the N-H was also coupling to the methylene.

Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectrum of the methylene of triethylammonium chloride showing a quartet of doublets

The J-coupling to the N-H is 4.85 Hz, and the J-coupling to the methyl is 7.37 Hz. Maybe I should be calling it a quartet of doublets?! Great teaching moments ahead!

I’ve attached the data from our Bruker instrument as a ZIP file. This is a reaction mixture, so be warned, it is impure. 1,2-dimethoxyethane is the other major species in the spectrum.

Spring ACS National Meeting

Person standing next to a large sign that says "True Science"

For those of you not in the know, the American Chemical Society hosts two meetings are year, which gathers together chemists from all across the spectrum to talk about everything and anything related to chemistry. I’ve seen talks about perovskite-based solar cells, CUREs in an undergraduate curriculum, celebrations of lifetime achievements, networking and job hunting, posters and talks given by people from all across the planet… the list goes on and on.

This year, I wanted to bring along Claudia, Nick, Ellen to experience the spectacle. Nick and Claudia both presented their research in the session called “Undergraduate Research at the Frontiers of Inorganic Chemistry.” Ellen gave a poster in the same associated poster session. But what I was most impressed by was their ability to take it all in. Nick was running hard back and forth between hotels as he tried to see as many potential future PIs as he could. Ellen and Claudia spent time at the graduate school information round table discussions as well as the “Exploring Global Opportunities” session. They are all a little bit more prepared for what awaits them after Davidson, and I’m so happy we did it together.

group of runners getting ready to head out on a morning jog together

For some like myself, the meetings are also a terrific time to catch up with old friends who have been scattered across the country. One of my first undergraduate researchers, Nicole Torquato, is now at UC San Diego working with Cliff Kubiak. She sent me a text saying “where are you?” and in two minutes, she pops through the door of a research talk to sit right next to me. Stuart Smith and Miriam Bowring were fellow Bergman students who are now at ExxonMobil and Reed College, respectively, and we just all happened to bump into each other. My students really bonded with Miriam’s student Lexi (sorry if I’m spelling that wrong). I got to say hi to Ian Tonks face-to-face for the first time and see some of the research that my buddy Neil is doing with his students at Penn.

It’s possible I’ll be heading to the next meeting in Philadelphia, but the jet lag is killing me right now. I’m not going to think about it right now!

Story of Summer 2019 Told in Pictures

Here’s just a little of what is going on this summer:

First, we said congratulations to Jennie and Nick as they graduated from Davidson, Class of 2019! Jennie is heading to DC for a 2-year position at the NIH. Nick is heading to graduate school after a gap year doing research. I’m so proud!

Nick Kennedy ('19) and Jennie Goodell ('19) standing with Mitch on the lawn after graduation.
Nick Kennedy (’19) and Jennie Goodell (’19) standing with Mitch on the lawn after graduation.

That was Sunday. The following Monday, Ellen and Corey started their summer working in the lab. They both were awarded with Davidson Research Initiative fellowships to fund their research this summer. Ellen is continuing our work on redox flow battery electrolytes while Corey is helping to finish our first story on redox mediators for Lithium-Air batteries.

Two weeks later, we had a second wave. Nick came back for a few weeks to help train the next generation. Alexa is getting her first experience of synthetic chemistry, and Tashroom is trying to see where chemistry could take him as he prepares to head to college next year.

Left to Right: Corey, Tashroom, Ellen, Nick, and Alexa standing in the laboratory for a group photo.
Left to Right: Corey, Tashroom, Ellen, Nick, and Alexa

Corey showed up this past week like he was some kind of Food Santa. He brought some Caribbean food with him, and it was amazing. And then he told us about something called roasted coconut water, and my life will never be the same again.

Ellen and Nick eating Caribbean food brought to us by Corey.
Ellen and Nick eating Caribbean food brought to us by Corey.

Alexa is running her first chemical reaction of her career! Time for some new redox mediators!

Alexa, Corey, and Nick working on redox mediators for batteries while standing at the glovebox.
Alexa, Corey, and Nick working on redox mediators for batteries while standing at the glovebox.

We just finished week 4 of the summer. As the research advisor, nothing is more satisfying than seeing your group develop its own culture and personality. The lab now has a group Spotify station (I’ve even been given access to add songs!), there’s a BBQ next weekend, and we’re planning videos to teach future members how to do all the techniques we’re learned so far this summer.

Research students are posing with big smiles in the lab.
Ellen and Alexa think it’s pretty fun to wait for the antechamber to cycle in their stuff.

Corey and Alexa met up with Dr. Dave Blauch on Friday to see if mass spec. could tell us whether we made our aluminum and boron complexes… good news coming!

Dr. Dave Blauch is examining results from a mass spectrometry analysis to see if Corey and Alexa have made their aluminum and boron complexes.
Dr. Dave Blauch is looking for any trace of Alexa and Corey’s aluminum and boron complexes. The boron cation is there!

Being a synthetic chemistry group, we use all manner of techniques to make and purify our compounds. Below you’ll see vapor diffusion recrystallizations, a cannula transfer under an inert atmosphere, and a silica gel column.

Nobody had better say we don’t know how to have fun!

Students sitting in lab at their desks in the morning

I would say this summer has been one for the record books… in a bad way. On a weekly basis, there seems to have been some issue with supplies or instruments or nitrogen or … well, I don’t want to imagine what else could go wrong! Here are some pictures of me fixing the NMR’s autosampler.

Another bummer was the lack of regular nitrogen deliveries. I was so happy to see the gauge on our latest nitrogen tank say it was overfull!

As I was walking back from lunch, I noticed a group of children visiting our building. I asked if they wanted to check out a science lab, and of course, they said yes. I was so happy to show them what we were doing and to encourage them to be scientists just like us!

Early on in the summer, I asked the group if they were interested in making videos for future students to help learn lab techniques. They were more than excited, and we started brainstorming all the possibilities. Not sure that we’ll get to all of them, but we’ve already filmed 5 or 6, and Alexa has been working on the video editing to bring them all together. Check the Lab Instructional Videos page for them!

A whiteboard after a brainstorming session that includes all sorts of ideas for lab instructional videos.

Tashroom loves his camera gear, and he brought in one of his nice ones for a few science photo shoots. Check out these pictures!

And so we end another great summer!

Changing of the Guard, 2019

This is the end of my third year as a professor, and with each year, our little research family grows. Nick, Jay, David, and Claudia were active in the lab this academic year, but only Nick will be returning for the summer. That means many new faces will show up around the lab, and I couldn’t be more excited! This summer roster includes Ellen Warner (DRI recipient; go Ellen!), David Choi, Alexa Greenwood, Corey Angle (DRI-HBCU recipient from Livingstone College; yes Corey!), and Tashroom Ahsan (NCSSM).

I wanted to bring everyone together to celebrate this occasion , so we all went out to lunch last week. I gave out parting gifts to the graduating seniors (Nick and Jennie), each receiving a 3D-printed version of one of their most prized crystal structures! I love this stuff! Nick and Jennie will be sorely missed, but they did some amazing work and came a very long way from their first days in lab. I couldn’t be more proud.

Current and new Anstey group members posing for a photo.
Group members enjoying lunch and receiving gifts.

Science Pins Are Kinda My Thing Now

Not sure how it happened… I think it was just seeing the creativity out there by scientists. But now I’ve got a small and growing collection of really neat science-themed pins. It’s just how I roll now.

Big thanks to the @meganoakley, @dorbitalgames, @jenchem_ and @barbaralom for helping me make this collection happen!

What Did I See To Be Except Myself?

This is the title of a poem by Lucille Clifton, the poet laureate of Maryland from 1974-1985 and a two-time nominee for the Pulitzer Prize. From the perspective of the narrator, it describes the triumph they feel from achieving all that they have in the face of obstacles without any role models (“both nonwhite and woman”). How they shepherded themselves through each step of their life (“my one hand holding tight my other hand”). It is simultaneously uplifting and heartbreaking in its description of the narrator’s journey, which is probably the one way to describe the experience of being female and a person of color in America.

With that as inspiration, an idea began forming in my head about an event that would bring scientists to Davidson College that identify as and advocate for underrepresented people in STEM. The faculty in our Chemistry department all present as white, and several students have shared with me their pessimism about the lack of role models that show a person of color can make it in science. Just like Clifton, they have to look elsewhere for inspiration, or find it within themselves….

So I thought why not bring inspiration to them!? Here are the three awesome people that graciously agreed to come to Davidson and bring their message to our students:

Raychelle Burks is a professor of Chemistry at St. Edward’s University in Austin, TX, and is also a gifted science communicator. She’s been featured on the Science Channel, published in The Washington Post and Slate, and cofounded the DIYSciZone at GeekGirlCon. Her tweets are a mixture of science, politics, advocacy, and #BlackandStem.

Mary Crawford is a professor of Chemistry at Knox College and has been a voice for the LGBTQ community in the ACS for many years as a former chair of the Gay and Transgender Chemists and Allies. She was highly recommended by several people, and I couldn’t be happier to have her coming to campus!

Last but not least is Maria Gallardo-Williams, a professor of Chemistry at NC State. As far as I understand, she created her own track for teaching-focused academics in the Chemistry department, to ensure that those who are scholars of teaching are equally supported by the institution in their chosen profession.

This event is co-sponsored by Wendy Raymond’s Faculty of the Future fund and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s FIRST initiative led by Barbara Lom (Biology). The panel discussion with the three visitors will be hosted by the Black Student Coalition on February 11th at 4:30 PM.


EDIT: We had a great time!

Raychelle Burks, Maria Gallardo-Williams, Mary Crawford, and Mitch Anstey standing in the Wall Academic Center having a good time!
Raychelle Burks, Maria Gallardo-Williams, Mary Crawford, and Mitch Anstey standing in the Wall Academic Center.

New Members for Summer 2019

During the Fall, it’s a mad dash for students and faculty alike to find research opportunities for the following summer. And with the Davidson Research Initiative deadline coming in December, it’s a crazy time to get a new person up to speed on content and able to write a convincing proposal.

I was very fortunate to find three great people that are excited about joining me for research this summer. Ellen Warner (’20), David Choi (’21), and Alexa Greenwood (’22) are ready for action! Expect to see lots of funny photos of them learning how to use a glovebox. Hopefully, we don’t have anymore incidents of people getting sucked inside again….

I would like to make a special shoutout to Ellen because she was awarded one of the Davidson Research Initiative grants for this summer! It’s a huge honor, and a great acknowledgement of the hard work she has put in over the years to get to this point. Go Ellen!

Paternity Leave during Fall 2018!

Being a parent and a professor is commonly talked about, among professors, as a tough combo. I do agree in principle, but I’ll just say that being a parent and trying to do anything else is the hard part! But it happens, and people make it work, and everyone survives.

But thankfully, Davidson College has a parental leave policy that allows for both maternity and paternity leave, in equal measure. I’m not sure why an employer has to pay for this to happen, since our country and community are the true beneficiaries of children that turn into productive adults, but this is the situation we find ourselves in…. It certainly is a good bonus for being an employee at Davidson, so it helps with recruitment I suppose.

I took my paternity leave this past Fall, and it’s been terrific to be with our new baby as they grow up from a newborn to an infant, and finally, to a little kid. It’s also been really important to be around and provide attention and support to the older siblings that are trying to figure out, first, WHO IS THIS BRAT, and second, WHY ARE THEY TAKING ALL MY TOYS?! It’s not unlike navigating a faculty meeting.

I want to thank my department for supporting my time away from my teaching responsibilities, and to Davidson for giving me the option to be where my family needed me most.

Presenting at the EESAT

Our federal government works on a yearly schedule that officially starts on October 1st and ends on September 30th. Why? Not a clue…. But that means that over my career, this time of year is a pretty important one. It means that I’m talking about my accomplishments for the past 12 months and keeping my fingers crossed that new money shows up to get me through another 12 months!

With the generous funding I’ve received through Sandia National Laboratories and the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, I’ve supported myself and my students to get neat stuff done! Many thanks go to those agencies and my sponsors (Dr. Imre Gyuk, Dr. Babu Chalamala, and Dr. Travis Anderson). This funding has brought me to Santa Fe, New Mexico (I’m here right now!) where I gave a talk about all the great results that showed up this past year.

A big highlight for this year was the completion of the synthesis of our flow battery electrolyte ligands. I presented a lot about our guiding principles for molecular design, and I got many compliments on that. Looks like we’re set up for another great year!