Electrocatalysts Week 1

Exciting and tiring are the two words I can use to describe the first two weeks of research. I can say that forty-hour weeks are filled with much more work than I initially believed. Despite the number of things that need to be completed, I honestly believe that the other eight people doing research in the same lab help vary the days through group lunches, lab music, and goofy conversations. I feel very fortunate to be working with such a great group of people.

As for the actual chemistry, many different reactions and studies happened already. In order to run tests involving electrochemistry or x-ray diffraction, crystals of the metal complex are required. My first few days included making these crystals using a technique known as slow diffusion, as well as running electrochemistry studies on the complex. Slow diffusion, also known as layering, is a technique where the compound is dissolved in a solution, such as dichloromethane, and added to a vial. Another solvent, such as an ether, is carefully layered on top of the other solution. The vial is left to sit while the two solvents diffuse. Over a few days, crystals begin to form as the compound becomes more insoluble in the solvent it was dissolved in.

Growing crystals is only part of the battle, as my recent electrochemistry studies showed. A couple of factors, such as complex decomposition and lack of catalytic ability, make running these studies very tedious. In addition to these studies, data from one lab Dr. McNamara and I sent the crystals to be elementally analyzed came back with negative results, possibly due to the complex not being free of solvent. Despite these bumps, I am confidant that successful, and reproducible, results will occur soon.

I focused this past week on synthesizing a family of ligands. After the reaction solutions are stirred overnight, an NMR needs to be taken to see if the ligands were successfully synthesized. In some cases, impurities in the NMR spectra resulted in me needing to purify them using a silica gel column. Once NMR spectra are generated for the ligands, the next step is to synthesize the metal-ligand complex and crystalize the resulting complex.

I was not expecting this research to be easy, and so far it has been mentally tiring. Still, I am enjoying the work, and overcoming present and future challenges will be incredibly rewarding. If this is only the beginning, I cannot wait to see what the next few weeks have in store!


  1. Trevor,
    This sure does capture lab life! For every success, there are a multitude of failures, but the joy of finally getting something right definitely outweighs the stress that accompanies yet another failed experiment. It will be interesting to see how the different members of your “family” of ligands change the catalytic ability of the complex. Please do keep us posted on that!