Professor Rebecca Black, Ph.D. in the lab with her chemistry students (Mathew Goldberg and Imran Alam)
Professor Rebecca Black, Ph.D. in the lab with her chemistry students (Mathew Goldberg and Imran Alam)

By Yasi Bahmanabadi

Two New College chemistry students, Mathew Goldberg and Imran Alam, are already making their mark on the science world—long before graduation.

Last month, the students contributed to a poster presentation at the Spring 2021 National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS), alongside New College Assistant Professor of Chemistry Rebecca Black, Ph.D. The presentation, in the Inorganic Chemistry Division for the Organometallic Chemistry: New Ligand Platforms Symposium, was entitled Synthesis and characterization of biphenyl-derived bisphosphine ligands bearing pendent bases.

“Our poster gives an overview of the work done in my research lab over the past few years, and specifically focuses on their recent work toward synthesizing a series of phosphine ligands (which are organic molecules that bind to metal centers),” Black said. “Once purified and characterized, we will make ruthenium (II) complexes of these ligands and test their catalytic behavior in alcohol oxidation, in a process called transition-metal catalyzed Acceptorless Dehydrogenation.”

In simpler terms, this is an organic/organometallic synthesis project, and Black’s students have been instrumental in the research.

Goldberg is a third-year chemistry student who has been working on this project in Black’s lab since last year, and second-year Alam recently joined him. The two students dedicated much of their time running experiments and applying specific techniques to observing and analyzing chemical reactions (it is part of a tutorial with Black called “Ligand and Transition Metal Catalyst Synthesis Laboratory”).

“Most of the experiments we ran in Dr. Black’s lab focused on using the Schlenk technique and working in the glove box, because the majority of the reactions are air- and moisture-sensitive,” Alam said. “The skills we practiced are techniques used in organometallic chemistry, such as analyzing NMR samples, working in the glove box, catalysis reactions, etc.”

Working on a project with this many in-depth experiments is certainly beyond what most undergraduate chemistry students experience in college.

“I have performed dozens of reactions and even designed adaptations and iterations by myself,” Goldberg said. “We used professional equipment such as a 400MHz NMR, a glovebox, custom-order Schlenk lines, and other research standard tools, in order to conduct everyday research.”

In addition to presenting their poster at the ACS Natural Sciences Seminar Student Research Showcase on April 19, Goldberg and Alam also presented at the Large Poster Event on April 21. The ACS Spring 2021 National Meeting began on April 5 and all posters were available to conference attendees on demand throughout the month of April.

“This event is a great time to explore research being done at other institutions in our field,” Black said.

Conference attendees also interacted with presenters from the Analytical, Biological Chemistry, Catalysis Science and Technology, Geochemistry, Industrial & Engineering Chemistry, and Inorganic Chemistry divisions.

Alam and Goldberg will undoubtedly benefit from this astonishing research project and all of the related experiments they have conducted over the past several months.

“Given my long-lasting position on this project, I have already recognized this work to be used in my undergraduate thesis. Given my goal to attend a graduate institution, I will eventually have to drop this project in turn for my (hopefully) future laboratory,” Goldberg said. “This research is assuredly the best academic decision/opportunity I’ve had (and I’ve gone to Peru for another completely different project before).”

Though Alam is planning to go to medical school after college, he is also certain that this research experience will not be lost during his future academic studies.

“I will still use the laboratory skills I have learned in the future. I feel the most useful skill I have learned while working in the lab is how to problem-solve very complex and particular reactions,” Alam said. “For example, some reactions have to be kept at a certain temperature for long periods of time or else side products could form. Being able to figure out how to make a reaction work or make it more efficient is a very useful skill in any topic of research.”

Yasi Bahmanabadi is an intern in the Office of Communications & Marketing.

Founded in Sarasota in 1960, New College of Florida is a top-ranked public liberal arts college and the state’s Honors College of Florida. New College prepares intellectually curious students for lives of great achievement by providing a highly individualized education that integrates academic rigor with career-building experiences. New College offers 45 undergraduate majors in arts, humanities and sciences, a master’s degree program in applied data science, and certificates in technology, finance, and business skills.

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