Abstract — Oxygen Reduction by Iron Complexes for Solar Energy Conversion

There is evidence in nature that suggests that the energy supplies primarily in use, notably coal, contribute to pollution and emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. The abundance of these gases, which leads to climate change and global warming, continues to rise due to the consumption of fossil fuels. The McNamara Lab seeks to harness solar power, since the sun provides as much energy to the earth in one hour as is used in a year. Our lab focuses on the production and storage of clean and renewable energy using solar-powered fuel cells. Although there is already a market in solar energy, it is often criticized for its high price. My project focuses on whether or not certain earth abundant metal complexes are active for oxygen reduction, vital to green energy production within the fuel cell. The summer’s work should result in information designed for an academic paper on the subject, which would share our findings and progress on solar energy with the scientific community.

P-Chem Labs and Power Testing

When most people think of chemistry, the traditional image of the white lab  coat, gloves, and goggles hunched over an erlenmeyer flask, surrounded by a slew bottles marked “DANGER,” may come to mind. However, this visual is more fitting for a synthetic or organic chemist. The research I am doing is in the concentration of physical chemistry, and while I still work with chemicals and follow standard safety procedures, one aspect of the Wustholz lab differs from the stereotypical chemistry lab: we work with lasers.

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Have you ever watched colloids dry?

At the beginning of the summer I developed a series of steps that I need to complete in order to have a successful summer researching auto paints. The first step was stabilizing the colloidal silver nanoparticles that my lab uses; we call them colloids for simplicity. Colloids are a suspension of silver nanoparticles in a sodium citrate and water solution. Stable colloids can be applied to auto paint samples, amongst other substances, for surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy analysis. The trick is getting them to remain stabilized. Over the past semester, our colloids were only stable for a max of two days. The lifespan of colloids should be upwards of two weeks. After reviewing the procedure that we had been using all semester, we found some flaws. We discovered that our sodium citrate was expired by three years and that we were not boiling the silver nitrate enough before adding the sodium citrate. We corrected these two details and now we have colloids that last for three weeks! With stabilized colloids, I am able to move on to step two, reproducibility of auto paint standards.

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Stubbornly Committed to PBG

So, I finally had my Photobase Generator, but lots of questions.

First, why did it seem to release acid upon irradiation? Upon reviewing the paper in which this molecule was synthesized, I discovered that they had published no actual pH data, only that the product had decomposed upon irradiation into two products, one of which was cyclohexylamine, the basic compound. Because cyclohexylamine was released, it had been classified as a photobase generating solution, which made sense. However, 6-nitrocoumarin was another product, and I couldn’t find any record of it’s acidic properties. My assumption was that perhaps the nitrocoumarin was actually more acidic than the cylclohexylamine was basic. Perhaps that would account for the drop of pH. However, quick tests proved that the nitrocoumarin was relatively basic, so that couldn’t be the solution.

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The Synthesis Dilemma

I apologize for not posting as much as I probably should, but up to this point, despite a large number of trials and theories, very little overall progress has been made, due to a number of extenuating conditions. Let’s talk.

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